Building a solid client base is one of the prime goals for any yoga teacher. With good reason: There’s nothing more demoralizing than showing up week after week prepared to teach, only to look out into an empty class! But how do you build up a loyal student community that truly represents your vibe? While there is no easy answer or template, this expert advice will help you on the road to success.
1. Know thyself—and then sing it loud and proud
“The more you teach what you know and share the specific ways that yoga has helped you, the more you’ll attract the very students who will benefit most from what you have to offer,” says Sage Rountree, PhD, E-RYT500, author of The Professional Yoga Teacher’s Handbook. To do so, you may have to ask yourself some ardent questions: What is your reason for being? What ignites the fire in your belly? Indeed, the more you are honest with yourself, the more you can show up authentically.
Don’t be afraid to share your journey and yoga experiences with transparency and sincerity. When you do, you will be inspired by those who respond to your authenticity, and consequently attract those who intrinsically connect with you and your unique approach to teaching yoga.
2. Identify your audience
Once you have decided who you are and what your unique talents are, it is much easier to identify who you want to attract as your clients. Laura Munkholm, president and co-founder of Walla, a next-generation studio management software system, recommends asking yourself : “What does your ideal client need in their life? What are they looking for in a practice? Are you committed to a particular demographic?”
This questioning can help you find your particular niche, and make you stand out in a sea of generalists. “Dialing into this foundation will make all of your future decisions easier,” says Munkholm. Think of this as building a system of asteya (reciprocity with all things), where you share your knowledge and passion for yoga, and your audience shares their curiosity and interest as to how well this connects to their needs. If this relationship connects with how you want to teach, then you know you’ve found your community. The riches are in the niches.
3. Keep in touch—and educate while you connect
Once you are clear about your niche and student base, Rountree suggests figuring out “how you can share tips and other content using the channels that your students like to use.” Social media is a good place to start, but know that every client has a different mindset and background, so diversifying your methods of connection will ensure you reach the widest possible client base. “Go beyond Instagram and into other channels, maybe even into the newsletter for your local gardening store, senior center, or bike shop,” recommends Rountree.
An important guiding principle is to ensure that your content is educational and relevant to your selected audience. Michael Supina, founder of the digital marketing company, Motiv Mktg says, “Keeping people engaged requires teaching them something they didn’t know.” Be intentional when you are posting, and keep your content relevant and on-brand. But as you do, Rountree warns, “Don’t try to be all things on all platforms.” You are targeting your content to students who connect with your voice and your particular message, and sometimes this is based specifically on the platform they use to connect with you.
4. Network it
Networking can seem intimidating, but it is an important way of growing your skill set, building a client base, and creating lasting connections—professional or otherwise. Networking, when done right, is about sharing knowledge and experiences, working through problems, and building confidence for everyone involved. In turn, these experiences can often translate into new opportunities to teach to larger, and/or more specific, audiences.
Joining groups on Facebook or organizations such as Yoga Alliance can open up excellent networking opportunities with yogis who might not find you otherwise. Success in networking occurs when you take the approach of being curious about, and then helpful to, others. These experiences benefit your budding client base by showing them who you are and what you’re about, and might also shine a light on a whole new market that you are uniquely qualified to fill.
5. Collaborate (and listen)
No yogi is an island. Collaboration is, in its essence, a collegial and connection-forming pursuit. Similar to networking, it is about nurturing mutually beneficial relationships with your colleagues. You can start by teaching classes online to a small student base, but why not start by teaching at a studio. Your bottom line may be smaller starting out, but Munkholm believes the pros outweigh the cons: “A studio you believe in is key because studios will do the marketing for you. Every teacher who thinks they can simply build a huge online following without spending thousands of dollars a month on ads, retargeting, and promotions is unfortunately living in a dream world. Studios spend thousands of dollars each quarter on ads, referral programs, and staff to manage social media. You take advantage of that by having your face, and expertise in front of the crowd they attract.”
It may also be beneficial to align yourself with other teachers who complement your skill set by co-teaching classes and workshops. This is a good way to get you in front of their clients, and in turn, promote other teachers you respect in your own classes. Building partnerships that are in line with your ideologies also promotes an environment of abundance. It benefits everyone when you can build your audience and, as a yogi, practice the important yama, aparigraha.
6. Seeking loyalty? Start with yourself first.
Showing up is one of those time-worn, pudding-proven methods of building any type of customer base, yoga or otherwise. “Consistency is deep down the same trait all successful professionals possess,” advises Supina from Motiv Mktg. Indeed, “energy flows where attention goes,” advises Jennifer Skondin, founder of Skondasana, which specializes in marketing and design for yoga-specific brands. “This is true for your yoga classes and your Instagram account. If you consistently show up and share with your students and social media followers, you nurture those relationships. The more energy you put into those relationships, the more you will get back in return,” continues Skondin.
Think of your own practice and how you show up for yourself day in and day out. By regularly sharing your joys, lessons, and techniques with your students, you open up a pathway of connection with them.
7. Set goals
An important key to success is setting actionable goals and creating a plan to achieve them. This can feel intimidating at first when starting from scratch. Skondin advises breaking down your goals into actionable steps: “it’s like learning how to get into handstand. You can try jumping right into it, but that usually doesn’t work. You need to set small goals to build awareness, strength, and balance, and work at them every single day.”
Being patient, methodical, and intentional will allow you to build a truly loyal customer base of yogis who are not just interested in the whimsy of the day, but want to get to know the real you. Skondin recommends, “setting a 3, 6, and 12-month plan, set milestones, assess your progress, and make adjustments as needed.” Maybe a year later, with your milestone plans executed, you’ll find yourself lifting up in your metaphorical handstand after all, and teaching in front of the audience of your choice.
8. Practice Satya
If you’ve used the above tips and are still struggling to build a client base, it may be time to take an honest look at where you are. Building a strong client base follows a path of discovery similar to the path of yoga: it’s never linear. We often find connection in the most unexpected places, so be open to unique opportunities and stay curious about what kind of energies you attract. Throughout the process, keep asking yourself if what you are doing makes sense and eliciting the results you are seeking. If it is not, it may be time to change course.
Don’t lose yourself in the process of achieving your dream; authenticity is your superpower. If you find that you are unable to stay true to yourself, it won’t be worth the extra clientele it may bring. Building your student base in an authentic way while upholding your values is just as much part of your spiritual journey as your daily yoga practices. So go get ‘em. And do so with grace, authenticity, and satya.