Attracting Top Teachers

When opening a studio, one of your biggest concerns should be hiring the right teachers. After all, as a practitioner, no doubt you recognize that skilled, compelling teachers are a studio’s lifeblood.

In assembling your own star lineup, then, you’ll need to know a few things, like how much to pay your staff. In the Bay Area, for example, teachers earn an average of $4 to $5 per student, with many receiving a guaranteed minimum of $25 to $75 per hour. In New York, new teachers earn $5 to $6 per student until they graduate into regular classes, where they are liable to earn $60 to $75 a class. (If you have your heart set on a bigger name, likely you’ll have to pay much more–anywhere from $35,000 to $200,000 per annual salary.)

Certified teachers often earn more money than non-certified teachers, but certification needn’t be your top criteria when hiring. Says Clayton Horton, who launched Greenpath Yoga in San Francisco two years ago and employs eight teachers, on a part- and full-time basis: “Teacher certification is far less important than finding someone with great communication skills. A teacher can study books all she wants, but if she isn’t able to talk to people and communicate with compassion and sensitivity, she isn’t nearly as valuable as a teacher who can.”

It’s a sentiment that Maty Ezraty, founder of 15-year-old Yoga Works in Los Angeles, echoes. “When you have teachers drawing 7 or 8 people into class, and you’re looking at your rent and your staff, and you know you have someone else who wants to try and might be better, you have to listen to that. It’s grown especially important because students’ expectations are really specific at this point, particularly in the most populated places where they have more choices.”

Indeed, time and again, studio owners say that developing an eye for teachers who combine talent, potential, emotional maturity, and a strong work ethic is one of the most important skills that they develop. You will want to hire people who are inspired, naturally. You should also hire teachers who fit the types of classes being taught. Explains Ezraty, “At our studios, there are many different types of teachers and many different types of classes, and it’s good to know what suits whom. Some people make really good beginning teachers because they’re really compassionate and pleasant. Others are good because they know how to teach a hard class for people really wanting an intense workout. Others still know the alignment of the body so well that particular students are drawn to them.”

Not last, look for teachers who are comfortable with the amount of power that you are prepared to give them. Baron Baptiste, founder of the highly successful Baptiste Power Yoga Institutes in Cambridge and Boston, has always run his studios with little hierarchical structure. “A studio definitely requires leadership, but you also need to build up people. In my case, that has meant making myself replaceable.” For Ezraty, however, who is an advanced Ashtanga and Intensive Iyangar teacher, heading up Yoga Work’s teacher training program herself has long felt most natural to her. She says she had reservations about leading the process, yet “from a business standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to employ teachers who could then potentially leave me. I felt that I had to own the training program, and I still think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Finally, how many classes those teachers will be teaching is going to depend on what style of yoga your studio offers, and where it is located. Horton, for example, offers just three to four Ashtanga classes a day for what he calls the “before-work crowd, the after-work crowd, the mommy crowd, and the students and unemployed, who come any time they can afford it.” Meanwhile, at the much bigger Yoga Works studios in L.A., 150 classes in Ashtanga, Iyengar, and Viniyoga are offered weekly.

Many studios do some experimenting at the outset, both to find the right studio-teacher fit, and to determine their busiest hours. If it takes you some time to work out a successful formula, don’t fret. You’ll find your niche through trial and error.

Constance Loizos is a San Francisco-based writer whose work has appeared in more than a dozen magazines, including Inc., Fast Company, and San Francisco Magazine. She is currently writing a book about businesswomen.