What I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Yoga Studio
“We are what we repeatedly do” said Aristotle. If that is true, then the early days of a small business start-up story line can be scary to read! Even with business planning and preparation down to the finest detail – we don’t know what we don’t know until we are in the trenches, and often we aren’t exactly sure what to ask.
Like a child’s growth, a business has various phases that demand different types of attention and love as it matures. Birth and “infancy” in a business is exciting, demanding, frustrating, tiring, and still (somehow) joyful! But like your new baby, no matter how much you are pushed to the end of your rope, you cannot and would not ever give it back! We learn to flow with each stage of its growth. I hope to shed light on a big topic; to share my unique vantage point to inspire colleagues on the way to studio success!
1. Identify your key differentiators early on, and plan your marketing strategy accordingly. With a quality product and operation in place, it is vitally important to know what sets your business apart in a noisy space. From there, marketing is an important focus to have. A poor product is a poor product and no amount of marketing will change that nor will a business survive! Certain your operation is singing? You need to toot the horn to let them know you there! You can have the best thing in the world going, but unless no one knows about you, struggle is likely. What will make your business stand out and ultimately survive in a saturated market? Clarity in your purpose (your Why?) and a good marketing strategy. From finding your traffic, to capturing these folks, to nourishing your relationships and getting the sale (again and again), you must invest in creating differentiation in your niche and commit to a sound marketing plan. If we could do it all again, we would invest substantially more time and money in this all the way back to pre-opening days. Do it now.
2. Your vibe attracts your tribe, and your team is everything. Your staff is a literal extension of yourself, and walking representation of the brand you are building. Hire carefully, watch and listen, trust your gut, let go if it isn’t working. Your reputation and survival depend on it. Small businesses do not have the luxury of wading through long, drawn out PIPs – every team member plays a pivotal role in the success of the business every day! Do not be afraid to make a necessary team changes, nor dwell on what others might think; make shifts thoughtfully and take timely actions that you know are best for your business for the long term. You alone hold a huge responsibility of keeping the business alive for everyone involved!
3. Focus on your strengths, hire out for the rest. You will not be great at everything. Small business owners have a lot on their plates, and limited resources to get it all done. Every moment of your time management matters as a studio owner. Focus on what you are really good at, and hire out for the rest when you can. Case in point, accounting is not my strong suit. Before opening a studio, I attended accounting classes and read bookkeeping books. At the end of the day, guess what? Accounting is still not my strongest suit! Do you know what is? Engaging clients, generating leads, connecting to my community, creating a team, business strategy, visioning, and more. I was spending too much time refining a skill I struggled with, rather than efficiently utilizing my natural talents in business. While I have a great understanding of the stats and data analytics in my business, I always have a trusted accountant and bookkeeper on my side! Your professional skill-set will certainly grow over time, but do not hamstring yourself early-on and create more stress! Budget for the services you know you will need help with in advance in your business plan and capital needs.
4. Consider how to expand your boundaries sooner than later. My business partner and I ask ourselves as strategize. “Where are the yogis, to still-to-be yogis, and how will we reach them?” Truth be told, there are plenty of yogis now but with plenty of yoga class options! So our question is valid and on-point, but we are also constantly figuring out best ways to reach yogis outside of the “traditional” physical radius around our studio. Can you take your fitness studio services into the online world in any way? The world has grown smaller in many ways, and our ability to reach grows greater every day. Consider the possibilities, and decide best ways to stretch outside of the boundaries you may have once set for your fitness studio.
5. Manage your time and create healthy self-care practices, or burn-out is imminent. It is a fine life to pursue your passion, do what you love each day, and make a living doing it! But that creates inherent grey in our lives, when we work days and into the night, and “occasional” weekends too! We love it, right? Business depends on us and we are happiest there, right? Sure. But the fastest way to steal all the joy from the experience is to never allow for separation, for adequate rest and recovery of your body, mind and spirit. Personally, I felt guilty when I wasn’t doing something, anything, to “move the needle” for the business. Then I began to resent what was once the greatest gift of my life. Now, no matter what, one half to a full day a week is dedicated to taking a break by going on a hike, making a coffee date, anything non-work related. And I (gasp!) silence my phone. Figure out what re-charges your battery, and commit to it like your life and business depend on it. Because they do.
Cherish the saying “hold the vision, trust the process”. Studio ownership is a marathon, not a sprint. The transition from being a stellar fitness and wellness professional, into studio ownership and actually operating a successful fitness studio is huge and the leap cannot be underestimated! A sound business and marketing plan, your mission, vision, and core values will continue to guide the decision-making process and resultant action-plans as your grow. Seek mentors, follow your instincts and be patient. Enjoy every step in the journey and use every mis-step as a learning experience. When you know better, do better and good luck!
Post was originally published in 2017 by the Association of Fitness Studios where Bahneman serve son the Industry Advisory Panel.