Shannon Brasovan, Two-Brain Yoga Business Mentor
If you’re anything like me, you opened a yoga studio because you are a total yoga nerd, you wanted to do what you love every day, and you wanted to make a difference in the world by sharing this incredible practice with everyone.
When I opened my studio 10 years ago, I started out with the dream of a donation-based studio. I hoped to pay myself enough to live and give the rest to organizations I believed in. “Screw capitalism!” I thought.
I tried the “pay-what-you-can approach,” thinking that folks would donate $20-$50 a pop out of the goodness of their hearts. And maybe they did for the first or second class, but the donations soon became smaller and smaller. The cash available to pay myself and give something to the charitable organizations dwindled to peanuts. My idealistic joy faded, and I was ready to throw in the towel until I realized I was going about it all wrong.
Here are the problems I hadn’t accounted for:
1. I live in the United States. Our economy is based on capitalism. In order to give money away, I had to make money.
2. People are charitable—I really do believe that—but unless you set giving up for them on a recurring basis, they have too many other competing priorities. They can’t give “out of the goodness of their hearts” all the time. And who wants to get cash out of the ATM anymore? Conversely, if you are using a payment processor to avoid using cash, you end up giving a cut to those companies, which reduces the benefit to the organizations you actually want to support.
3. Yoga is a gift, a total treasure. If you own a yoga studio, you know the practice can change lives. But offering yoga for free, at a low rate or at a pay-what-you-can rate cheapens the value of the gift, and suddenly no one wants to pay for yoga. In the “old days,” the gurus were paid first. They were taken care of so they could continue to focus on delivering the highest quality teaching. And while I believe gifts should be given with zero expectations, head back to No. 1 above: We have a capitalist economy.
4. I forgot about reciprocity: People want to pay for things that they find valuable. Nothing brings me more joy than going to a farmers market and handing over my well-earned money for organic, sustainably grown produce. I would feel wrong taking it, and it brings me joy to pay for it. Plus, I get so much benefit from those products.
How Profit Helps Others
After realizing all this, I pivoted. I started charging for classes, and the most incredible thing happened: People paid, I got paid, and I was able to give a portion of my money to the organizations I supported.
Over the years, we have raised our prices, and the more money we made, the more I could give back. I was able to offer the gift of yoga to more students, and I stopped overtaxing myself. Additionally, we were also able to start offering a 100 percent paid-for teacher-training scholarship for people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. None of that could have happened if we were just scraping by.
One other amazing thing: We kept one donation-based, pay-what-you-can class on the schedule, and it is beloved by the community. We even use it as an opportunity for our new leaders to teach their first classes, and it is one of the most beautiful exchanges in our community.
I have now been doing what I love for over 10 years. I give my time, money and energy to incredible organizations because I have the stability to do so. As a studio, we have given tens of thousands of dollars to organizations we believe in, and I have created dozens of fulfilling part- and full-time jobs in a stable business. Best of all: I have watched the practice of yoga change countless lives.
So how to make a difference owning a yoga studio?
Start by writing out your values, your “why” and your budget.
Money can be intoxicating, and if you run your studio right, you’ll make a lot of money. So when the cash starts rolling in, you should already have a clear plan for where you will invest it. Maybe you’re passionate about a single organization or creating jobs or being a reliable community hub. Whatever your goals are, your plan will ensure you direct money in the right direction.
Next, make sure your goals are clear and you have measurable metrics for success. Measuring your goals objectively will help you make sure you are making a difference instead of just hoping you are.
Finally, celebrate your success by sharing it with others. If you raised money for an organization through your studio, share that info. If you are living your best life, share. If your students are feeling better than they ever have before, share. Positivity and good stories are infectious and will inspire others to make a difference in the world as well.
A Final Note
A lot of folks who want to start a yoga studio are tender-hearted people who truly want to make a difference. Those same people—myself included—often conflate making money and bad behavior. But money is just an energy. Making money doesn’t make you bad, and if you use profit right, it can be an incredible force for good.
Go onto nonprofit websites. While they might accept physical donations, the No. 1 thing they ask for is money. If more tender-hearted people lost their fear of turning a profit, they would be able to put that money into causes and people they believe in. If that happened, the world would be a very different place.
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