Facing Uncertain Economic Times

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Facing economic hard times

During the holidays last year, Gabriel and Amy Williams began noticing business slowing down a bit at It's Yoga Utah, their studio in Provo. So did Sandy Gross, whose Evolution Yoga is located in an upscale shopping mall in Woodmere, Ohio.

"We've had quite a few people who haven't renewed membership because they live too far away," Gabriel Williams says. "It's more of a psychological slowdown around here." It may not actually be a financial burden to drive 10 or 15 miles to class; however, with the recent rise in the price of gasoline, people are more conscious of how much they're driving, he explains.

Whether the U.S. economy is officially in a recession or not, it is exhibiting signs of a slowdown—besides the increase in the price of gasoline, which impacts the cost of goods that need to be transported from producers to consumers, unemployment is up, the stock market is unstable, and the housing market is in a slump. And in these uncertain economic times, consumers are reining in spending. "Yoga is a discretionary expense, which is the first thing to get cut in a recession," says Brent Kessel, author of It's Not About the Money, a book about people's emotional relationship to money.

Most yoga teachers are innocents or idealists when it comes to money, says Kessel, who has defined eight types of relationships to money in his book. The innocent puts her head in the sand and doesn't want to pay attention to money, while the idealist is repulsed or skeptical about it. By understanding your type, you can be less unconscious about your financial situation, change financial behavior, and manage your business in times of economic uncertainty.

Know Your Numbers

First, teachers and studio owners should know what they're making and what they're spending, Kessel says. If teachers and studios have tracked their income and expenses month by month, year by year, they can see how much of an increase or decrease their business is experiencing and adjust spending accordingly.

Cut Your Expenses

This can include personal as well as business expenses. "Do less retail therapy," Kessel suggests. This includes decreasing spending on everything from yoga clothes and mats to packaged food. "Go to farmer's markets. Go to fewer retreats. Handle personal growth via groups of friends or DVDs," Kessel says. No one is suggesting curtailing continuing education. However, now may not be the time to fly halfway around the world for a retreat. Sign up for a free online course instead.

Lower Class Prices

Summer months are traditionally slow as students' schedules change or they go on vacation. Studios often promote a lower-priced, unlimited monthly package. Or consider lower-priced unlimited deals even after summer ends.

"People are going to stop spending $17 per class and instead go to the place where it's $29 per month," such as a gym, Kessel says. Some studios occasionally offer lower-priced classes as a community service or give discounts to single mothers. If the economy worsens, consider adding more lower-priced classes to your schedule. When Its Yoga Utah ran a "recession special" during the Republican and Democratic primaries, lowering the price of packages by about 15 percent, the studio saw its business almost triple percent increase in business.

Teachers and studios might also consider a "pay what you can" fee structure (with a suggested minimum) to encourage economically challenged students to continue their practice. This strategy can have an additional positive result: By offering more discounted classes, you can extend the benefits of yoga to more people.

Get Creative with Marketing and Promotions

Last March, Williams masterminded a three-week yoga challenge promotion. If students came five times a week for three weeks, they'd get a free month of classes. The promotion brought in more students than the studio had ever experienced, with students rolling out mats in the lounge outside the 1,800-square-foot studio. "We've never seen numbers like that in all the years we've been in business," says Williams.

Build Community

In June, Its Yoga Utah encouraged its students to "go human-powered" by walking, running, or biking to class. The reward? Raffle tickets for prizes donated by local businesses.

Williams says the promotion helped create a sense of community as students shared stories about how they got to class. "People had a common goal, and they started sharing with each other how they got there." And when he started noticing 8 to 10 bicycles parked out front rather than one, it seemed to be working.

"Creating a real sense of community among teachers and staff will also spill over into the student body, which is an important element for any studio," says Chrissy Carter, who teaches in New York and New Jersey. "With so much going wrong in the economy, it's valuable to surround yourself with like-minded people who promote positivity, offer perspective, and reflect back to you the things that are most important in your life."

Make Your Business Your Practice

Luckily, not everyone is feeling the economic pinch. In New York City, where students routinely take the subway or walk to class, some teachers are not noticing a decline in class size. Carter says her classes are growing, not shrinking. "People are allocating a portion of their income to a practice that makes them feel better in an environment of extreme financial duress," she says. "I think people are using their yoga practice to weather the uncertainty. I can't think of a better time to put yoga into real-life practice than in times of hardship or great personal challenge."

Gross advises looking at your long-term goals in teaching yoga or running a studio. "If it's just about money, it's going to be a tough time for a lot of people," she says. "But this is a form of yoga too—running the business in such a way that you're going to still be here 2 or 10 years from now."

Jodi Mardesich is a freelance writer and yoga teacher living in Cedar Hills, Utah.