You are about to open your new yoga studio. It is an exciting time—a time when all of your hard work is about to pay off. Unfortunately, in many ways the work is just starting. It's time to start marketing your new business, because unless you get the word out, your studio—no matter how compelling—will flounder. So how do you let the world know about your endeavor?
At the outset, you'll likely have to advertise on the cheap, and that's okay. In fact, turning to flyers, postcards, and mailings to give neighboring residents a sense of your presence often works, and it costs next to nothing. Tim Dale remembers when he and his wife Tara founded the first of their four Yoga Tree studios in San Francisco. "People didn't just come running in the door," he laughs. On the contrary, the Dales had to strap on their roller blades and go to work. "We plastered homes, local cafés, and health food stores around the city with flyers. It was a great way to build awareness." The owners of many budding studios have done the same and enjoyed great results.
Giving away a free class or two is typically helpful, though you don't want to go overboard. Says Jonathan Fields, a corporate lawyer-turned-yoga teacher and owner of two-year-old Sonic Yoga in Manhattan, "You want your studio to be buzzing as early in the process as possible. But there's a delicate balance between offering free classes and undermining people's perceptions of the value of the service you're offering." Indeed, Telari Bohrnsen, who opened One Yoga in Minneapolis in July 2002, says that after offering one free class to students last year, she decided to switch gears. "It was great exposure, but a lot of people who came just once never came back, so we started rewarding our current students instead." The studio occasionally gave its loyal students class passes and even sent birthday cards to students who submitted their personal information (since that information is so valuable for marketing).
Community outreach is another inexpensive way to reach potential students. Cyndi Lee, founder of OM yoga center in New York, holds various benefits every year to better acquaint the community with the studio. "We have a birthday party to celebrate OM. We also have a raffle, for which teachers donate private classes, and students can win a dinner for two. It goes a long way toward extending the practice beyond our own four walls."
So does getting local media involved. If you manage to land your new studio in the local paper or in TV or radio news segments, you can reach hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Getting media coverage can also be a lot more effective than purchasing advertising. Says Maty Ezraty, founder of 15-year-old Yoga Works in Los Angeles, "At first we advertised in local papers, but it was costly. Then we did some analysis that determined that the advertising wasn't doing all that much for us. In the meantime, though, we were featured in L.A. Weekly, and that was huge."
Ezraty had the good fortune of opening her business at a time when owning a studio was still seen as novel by the media. Yet even in a highly competitive market, you can capture the attention of journalists by being creative. Some studio owners offer reporters free classes. Others give out mats and other goodies. Though Fields declines to elaborate on some of the attention-grabbing campaigns that Sonic Yoga has orchestrated ("trade secrets," he explains), he is among many studio owners who recognize that in order to get editors' attention, you have to be unique in the way you present your press materials and the subjects those materials advertise.
One expense that you can't and shouldn't forgo is building a snazzy Web site. It's hugely important in creating your image and brand and in providing potential students with the information they need. Says Fields, "Because one of the first things people do is go online and 'Google' the name of your studio, it is critical that you have basic information posted in a clear and appealing way—even if it's just on a one-page Web site."
The Web site of Sonic Yoga features community areas, a searchable library, downloadable MP3s, and an online store where visitors can buy Sonic Yoga-produced videos and DVDs. It would also have cost an eye-popping $25,000 were it not for "a lot of connections," says Fields. For a five- to ten-page high-quality Web site, on the other hand, you can get away with spending as little as $1,000 to $2,000. Be sure to list your studio's name, location, schedule, contact information, and teacher biographies. But take care to post the information in a way that's easy to navigate and looks polished. As Fields has learned firsthand, "the quality of a Web site strongly reflects the experience a student will have at a studio. At least," he adds, "that's the perception."
Perhaps the most important thing to note is that according to many yoga studio owners, approximately 85 percent of their business derives from word of mouth. So if you really want your business to thrive, keep your students talking.
Says Baron Baptiste, founder of the highly successful Baptiste Power Yoga Institutes in Cambridge and Boston, "What I've learned is that it's very important that you have a product, or ministry even, that teaches something that really speaks to people and makes their bodies and hearts sing. You want them to have an amazing experience." If they do, they'll want to tell their friends and family all about it.
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.