Business model: No more work/trade

Having students earn free classes in exchange for  working behind the desk at a yoga studio seems like a good idea. The studio doesn’t need to hire anyone, and someone who may not otherwise be able to take yoga can. While those things are true, I think the proliferation of a work/trade economy in a yoga studio outlines some fascinating problems.


1. Rob the teachers to feed the studio

If there are folks taking class for free, the teacher is not getting paid to teach them. This degrades the value of what a teacher has to offer. In fact, it places the worth of a work/trade student’s job above the worth of a teacher’s job.

Solution: Working behind the desk, learning software, dealing with money, and being nice to customers IS worth something. Yet, how can you compensate someone without it coming out of the mouths of your teachers? Hire someone. Yeah, you know, like an employee. 🙂 Maybe they work part-time, or maybe you pay them on a per-class basis–up to you. They can spend that money on whatever they like. Even yoga classes.

Then you can have delegate responsibilities greater than just working behind the desk. Part of their job can be to clean, to work with payroll, to make posters, to water the plants, to wipe the mats. This gives the owner even more freedom than the work/trade system.

2. Work/trade folks are not the best representative (first face) of your studio

After someone’s first class, they are going to have lots of questions. Not just about buying more classes/passes, but about yoga.  A work/trade student is a student of yoga, but the level of expertise varies widely between them.

A work/trade student has no investment in representing your studio accurately, of doing the job particularly well, or finding the right resources to help your paying students. It’s no comment on personality; they just have no skin in the game.

Solution: Obviously, the owner is the best first face of the studio. Of course, you probably can’t be there for every single class. Second place would be your teachers. Teachers know how to talk about yoga, know about your studio and its events and programs, and know other teachers’ preferences and styles and can talk about them intelligently. (And please, pay them for their time.)

3. The Uncanny Valley (kinda. It’s just a metaphor.)

Work/trade folks can’t afford $15/class and aren’t ever going to pay for it if they don’t have work/trade. Getting in the door for free does not mean that they will come back with money; it means they are there because they got in the door for free. You are not going to bridge the gap between giving away free product –> selling more product.

Solution 1: There are a whole lotta folks who can’t afford $15/class. Instead of helping a handful, lets explore ways to offer less-expensive yoga to greater numbers of people. Lowering overhead? Sponsored classes for specific groups?

Solution 2: There are better ways to use word-of-mouth marketing. Social media? Student-to-student sales?

ed: great comment from Elise…

Elise

“Thanks for the fascinating insight into the word/trade system. I think you made a very good point about “skin in the game”. I’ve seen work/trade folks doing their homework instead of checking in students… refusing to sell a student a new mat after class because they wanted to leave on-time… etc. I like the idea of yoga teachers manning the front desk, and it’s a great time to meet & greet with students! But I also agree with you – they should be compensated for their additional responsibilities :)

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2 thoughts on “Business model: No more work/trade

  1. Thanks for the fascinating insight into the word/trade system. I think you made a very good point about “skin in the game”. I’ve seen work/trade folks doing their homework instead of checking in students… refusing to sell a student a new mat after class because they wanted to leave on-time… etc. I like the idea of yoga teachers manning the front desk, and it’s a great time to meet & greet with students! But I also agree with you – they should be compensated for their additional responsibilities 🙂

  2. Dearest Allison,
    While I applaud your constant questioning of the status quo, there are a couple of things you have not considered, both in in your earlier article advocating that teachers be paid a salary and in this one. There are at least two business models in the world of yoga studios: one that pays the teachers by head and one that pays a flat fee. Our studio operates under the former, so that is the model I will address. We average under $12/head per paying customer. (We also pay teachers when we donate classes to charity, so it is actually even less than this) Of that, $6 goes to the teacher directly. $3 goes to rent, $1.50 goes to things like advertising, supplies, insurance, utilities and about $1.0 goes to the studio. There simply is not enough in the pot to do the lovely things you propose. I hope I am not wrong in believing that the teachers feel they get an positive energetic exchange from having the workstudies working at the studio: they do not have to clean the floors before class nor deal with the frustrations of the computer and finances when they are gathering their energies to teach class. Speaking for myself, I love having extra bodies in class which only adds to the energy in the room. Do we wish we could pay our teachers enough that they could quit their day jobs? Of course! Do we wish we could finance our workstudies’ college tuitions? Of course! But understand that usually studio owners are working for the love of it and not for the very few dollars an hour their annualized profits bring in.

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