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Tools for Teachers

How to Open a Yoga Studio, Part 1: Create a Business Plan

A business plan can help you determine your goals, select a suitable location, and anticipate the unforeseen.

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Yoga Studio class

So, you’’d like to open a yoga studio. It’’s easy to understand why. Given that yoga is an optimal way to counter the stresses of work, it isn’t hard to imagine that practicing and teaching throughout the day, in your own corner of the world, could create a happier, more peaceful lifestyle. The moneymaking potential of opening a studio is encouraging, too. No one knows exactly how big the yoga market is, but with the number of yoga practitioners in the United States reaching the neighborhood of 15 million, many estimates place it in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The question is whether you have what it takes. Starting any business venture requires not only determination but also close consideration of a large number of economic and personal issues. Especially with growing legions of studios already competing for the same students–along with fairly low barriers to entry–it has become more important than ever to identify every last variable before plunking down that security deposit.

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Do you have, for example, a tolerance for risk and uncertainty? You need to be willing to make sacrifices and even lower your standard of living until the business takes off. Are you good at managing money? Chances are that the capital you initially pool will have to carry you for at least one to two years, the time it takes many yoga studios to begin turning a profit. Finally, how tenacious are you? Are you prepared to be Chief Salesperson, along with Chief Handyman, Chief Administrator, and Chief Customer Service Person?

Because opening a studio necessitates a major life change, you’ll want to be as informed as possible before making your decision. For help in determining whether you should take the leap-—and to assist you if you decide to move forward—-Yoga Journal here presents the first in a series of articles offering constructive intelligence.

First Things First: Create a Business Plan

You’ve undoubtedly heard it before, because it’s true: the first, crucial step in charting your business’s path to success is writing a winning business plan, even if you aren’t seeking investors. Having a dream to be a business owner is laudable, but it’s advance planning that will turn that dream into a reality. After all, if you don’t understand what your expenses are going to be, it makes no sense to get started at all. A business plan can be a blueprint that will help you better how to select the right space, hire an appropriate number of employees, and determine how much risk you are able to take.

Still, perhaps the most important factor to keep in mind when authoring your business plan is that no matter how much planning you do, your costs will be a moving target. Jonathan Fields, a corporate lawyer-turned-yoga teacher and owner of two-year-old Sonic Yoga in Manhattan, smartly prepared three years of financial projections when constructing his plan. Because Fields had created and run a personal training business for two years prior to opening Sonic Yoga, he knew the importance of calculating even the unexpected. “I took into consideration everything from corporate structure to renovating a space to unforeseen costs.” And Bill Wyland, co-owner of Bernal Yoga in San Francisco, encouraged studio owners to view their business plans as an organic documents. “We had a formal business plan and knew what we needed to do, but as soon as the studio opened, we started to understand what worked and make adjustments based on the needs of the people who were coming.”

Writing a business plan is less daunting than it seems. There are many books and online aids to get you started, such as Successful Business Planning in 30 Days by Peter Patsula and The One Page Business Plan by James Horan. Organizations within your community are eager to help as well. Cyndi Lee, founder of OM yoga center in New York, says she might not have assembled a business plan without the help of a now-defunct outfit called Manhattan Renaissance Local Development Corporation, whose purpose was to help women or minority-run small businesses located on 14th Street or south in New York City. The plan gave her something tangible to show the students she’d been teaching at a variety of locations–students who ultimately gave her $25,000 in seed money. “It really wasn’t enough,” she says with a laugh. “But I was too naïve then to know how quickly everything–the toilet paper, tissues, candles, curtains, mats, phone lines–adds up.”

Indeed, while you’ll want to design your plan to incorporate a wide number of variables–-an analysis of the market and a description of your marketing strategy, among others–-one of the most important pieces of your overall strategy will be your best estimates of startup costs, revenues and expenses.

Begin by asking yourself how big a business you want to run. It’s a crucial consideration, not least because the answer will determine how big a space you will need. Telari Bohrnsen, the owner of the 1,700-square-foot One Yoga Studio in Minneapolis, says she postponed writing a business plan until securing her dream space, and she’s thankful she did. “It took nine months to find the right location, but it was really important because I didn’t know how much money I’d need beforehand. If I’d written a plan for a 500-square-foot space it wouldn’t have worked. I would have had to rebuild the plan entirely.”

Because leasing and building out a space will be your biggest startup cost, it is imperative that you assess how much space you will need per student and where, exactly, it makes the most sense to open your doors.

Though there are no hard-and-fast rules, a good rule of thumb is to figure on needing roughly 21 square feet for every practitioner. This estimate takes into account a two-by-six-foot mat and still allows for one to two extra feet per person. (In cities, because rent is expensive and space is often limited, you may have to squeeze people into a slightly smaller area. Thankfully, urban dwellers are usually comfortable being in closer quarters than suburban students, who will expect their space.)

If your life is portable, compare market prices before making any decisions, as it will cost you much more to open your doors in some cities. For example, in New York City commercial property owners command an average of $80 per square foot, according to the commercial real estate advisory firm Grubb & Ellis. Meanwhile, Bostonians pay an average of $30 per square foot; folks in Portland, Oregon pay $23 per square foot; and in Oklahoma City, average rates are $8 per square foot. In post dotcom-bust San Francisco, rates that soared as high as New York City prices are now as low as $25 per square foot. In general, knowing your options will help you take advantage the market’s current opportunities.

When writing a business plan, be as realistic as possible about your start-up time, what percentage of your revenue will be spent on marketing, and what percentage of your revenue should go to rent. Naturally, the duration of your start-up time–the period between signing a lease and opening your studio’s doors–depends on how long it takes to prepare your space for business. How much you spend on marketing will be driven by how many students you can rely on at the outset. (Fliers, which most fledgling studios rely on heavily to get the word out, are blessedly cheap, especially if you design them yourself. Advertising in publications, on the other hand, will cost you. A business card-size ad in the free San Francisco paper SF Weekly costs $180, for example.) The percentage of your income that should go toward rent will vary by location, but many studio owners advise that you anticipate spending up to a third of your revenue on rent in the first year, and a quarter or less in subsequent years.

The fact is that while writing a business plan will force you to write down literally everything you are going to need to start your business, some of your initial assumptions about those needs will be correct while others—well, won’t be. Don’t be surprised. More important, don’t be disillusioned. Adapting to the unforeseen is all a part of the process.

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.