Yoga Teacher Marketing: Do Free Yoga Classes Work?
You are trying to set up new yoga classes and you wonder if you should offer a free yoga class to get prospective students through the door? What do you do?
I see this question a lot posted on yoga teacher groups – and there are always a diverse set of answers. This is a thorny issue! And I know there will be lots of yoga teachers out there who disagree with what I’m about to say - some vehemently! (However, I’m ready, I think, for what I’m sure will be the heated responses I might get!).
So… at the risk of being shot down in flames, I’m going to put my head above the parapet and come off the fence on this issue – and instead of saying “well, it depends...”
I’m going to say “No! Generally speaking, I do not think it is a good idea to offer a free yoga class to prospective students.”
Give me a moment to explain why. And let me start by telling you a story.
16 years ago, I started my first business as a coach. I naively left a well-paid job, with not much savings behind me, and no existing paying clients and suddenly realised (Doh! See what I mean about being naïve?) that if I didn’t bring in any money within the next few months, my children wouldn’t eat - never mind my funding them through university!
In desperation to find paying clients I tried a number of tactics – one of them offering what I called “pro-bono” work. I would offer a coaching session or even a half-day training session for free, so prospective clients would be able to see what I could offer and hopefully then pay for one of my programmes.
It was an unmitigated disaster.
Contrary to what I thought, I didn’t actually get many take ups on my offer. And of those that did, less than 5% actually went on to become a paying client. Some clients didn’t even turn up! And I might have done quite a bit of preparation for their session. Some clients turned up but weren’t committed to taking the actions they agreed would help them achieve what they said they wanted.
When I spoke to other businesses in my mentoring group at the time, many of them said the same, so I knew it wasn’t just me.
What I learned was this: generally speaking, people do NOT value what they get for free.
Pricing is always a tricky issue. For any business. And for yogis it somehow seems an even trickier issue. There seems to be something in the psyche of many yoga teachers which feel that we should be helping people for free – that it is not “Yogic” to make a profit – and honestly? I think this thinking is very unhelpful – for us AND for our students.
(And if this is something you struggle with, please do join the Facebook Business Community and tell me what challenges or questions you have about how to price your classes or how you feel about the whole money thing! I suspect this might be an area with which I could help a bit more. A healthy debate on this would be good).
Anyhow, back to pricing and offering a free class.
I’d like to suggest you offer some form of discount or other thing of value (maybe two for the price of one? That way you get two potential new students!). But, make sure your new student pays something.
The benefits as I see it of charging for new students:
- From the very beginning of their relationship with you, they show they understand what you have to offer is a skill – from which they could derive massive benefit, and like any other form of learning they might take up – it has a price attached. They haven’t come along just to fill in a spare hour with no real intention of ever coming back!
- You are likely to attract more serious students as opposed to time wasters. Here’s the thing. How much did you spend on yoga teacher training? Let’s face it – it is not cheap. But, when you’ve dipped into your pocket with so much money, you are more likely to try to make a real go of it. If it were given to you for free would you have been so committed?
- It’s a sign of valuing what you have to offer – not demeaning it.
- You learn to value yourself. This one is a biggie for me.
After all, how much have you invested already in learning your trade? If you went to a complimentary therapist, a doctor, or attended any other form of training – would you expect to pay? Of course you would! Why then are you not worthy of that same value?
So, what should you do to entice students to give your sessions a try?
Here’s some tips which have worked very well for me:
1. Offer a discount on a normal drop in rate.
I charge £10 for drop-ins. A new student pays £5 – a 50% discount.
It’s enough to ensure they see a value in what they are about to learn – but they feel they are getting something at a reduced price – and who doesn’t like that?!
2. Make it clear this is a discounted rate, so they can see if this is something they want to continue.
I make it absolutely clear up front that this is a one-off offer. I explain I understand that they need to see if it’s what they expected, or if I’m the right fit for them as a teacher. They get this new student discount whether it’s a regular class they attend or a course I’m running. I tell them I promise I won’t be offended if they come and feel it’s not for them. There is absolutely no obligation to come again – and all they’ve lost is a fiver and an hour or so of their time. If it’s a course, and they do come to the second week, they know they have to pay for the remainder of the course fee on week 2. If it’s a regular class, they have 5 options they can then choose from, including continuing to come as a drop-in – but they would revert to full price for that drop-in.
When many yoga teachers I know run a business model which has students sign up for a whole term with no flexibility, my students seem to feel this is a very fair and flexible way of doing things. It does mean more admin for me – but it seems to work!
3. Have information and a registration form ready for them to take away.
All my new students get an “information pack.” Well, it’s not a pack as such! But they receive the following:
A copy of my latest newsletter (I do a printed newsletter for my students once a month).
A copy of an article I wrote which helps to explain a little about my philosophy and how I’d encourage them to approach our time together in class.
A copy of a registration form – which, if they do come again, they know to bring with them the following week.
A copy of the pricing options should they decide to continue to come back.
We have a chat. They can ask questions – and already they see value – and maybe a difference from the teacher at the gym or down the road.
I believe these tactics show me as professional. And professionals charge for their services – their clients wouldn’t expect anything different.
Are there times when I don’t charge or I reduce a fee or amend a membership?
Absolutely yes! I’ve had students I know who have had real issues which have meant they cannot come to class or they are struggling to pay their usual membership fee. I know most of my regulars by name. I am privileged to know a little about some of the things which happen in their lives – and I feel we have built a community. Where I see hardship – I bend the “rules.”
And I give 10% of any profit I’ve made at the end of a year to an age-related charity – often to Dementia research – because that is what I lost my mum to – and it is a devastating disease. And as my confidence has grown, I have ideas about how to bring yoga to more older people in my community who may not be able to afford regular classes through giving some of my time and through sponsorship of halls.
I have learned that we are in the best position to help others when we take care of ourselves – it’s that “fit your own oxygen mask first before helping others” message you hear on aeroplanes. When we have enough to take care of us, we are more able to give. And as yogis, hopefully our awareness of the Yamas and Niyamas will ensure we do our bit to be of service.
For me it is about balance – and understanding the nature of most humans! It’s also about value and respecting our own needs. After all, we have bills to pay just like anyone else.