The title of this post should really be 5 Steps to Have a Career that Makes the World a Better Place. But the first thing about making the world a better place is that if you really want to do that, you’ll have to make some compromises. Like, I have to write blog post titles that will rank high in Google searches instead of writing the titles I feel most like writing.
I’ve been on a yoga rampage—going to yoga every day for two weeks. I have gone to classes in Madison, WI, Chicago and LA. And I’ve noticed that people who open yoga studios are probably going to fail. Here’s what they need to know:
1. Bringing peace is not a differentiator. Of course every yoga studio brings peace, harmony, and blah blah blah. That doesn’t make the studio special enough to compete with the 10,000 other yoga studios around them.
2. Personality is a differentiator. To a non-pro, most classes are similar, but either hard or easy. This means the differentiator is how the teacher talks during the poses. Are you calm and soothing? Are you funny and irreverent? If you just tell people the list of poses you’ll do, you aren’t special at all. Yoga classes are like blogs: the information is a commodity and the personality is the differentiator.
3. The real money is in workshops. Of course teaching 100 people over a weekend is more profitable than 50 over the course of a week. So do workshops. But you have to have your own studio to get invited to workshops. So the studio is marketing for the workshops and the workshop is marketing of your brand so you get big enough and don’t need to teach studio hours.
4. Yoga teachers are selling product not practice. You can’t sell yoga to people—the customers already know they should do it. You need to sell them something else, something only you have: the community you create with the studio, a special type of practice, or maybe exorbitantly priced clothes in the waiting area (which is almost like selling blue jeans to miners during the gold rush).
5. If you want to do yoga, take a class, don’t run a class. Yoga teachers are more about talking and marketing. They are not actually getting paid to do yoga. People do not get paid to do yoga. They do yoga for free, to get peace and harmony.
Okay. So you think the yoga stuff doesn’t apply to you, but it does. Running a business is about marketing and sales. If you want to change the world in a direct way, you should work for someone. When you have a steady paycheck, you can focus on helping people instead of drumming up business. If you work for someone then they can worry about sales and marketing and you can worry about direct action.
Direct action is a word people use in the nonprofit world, mostly to convey frustration with the fact that they sign up to help people but they are so far removed from the people they help, writing proposals, grants, research, and so on—everything but helping directly.
People who want to do good should do good. People who want to earn money have to find a good fit for them to earn money. If you need to earn a lot of money, you will need to do something that most people can’t do (write high-level code) or don’t want to do (give up their personal life to run a big company).
Most of us would benefit from a more broad view of helping people. For example, working at a company that sells widgets and being an amazing manager actually improves the lives of employees and their families.
Also, people who want to take care of people and can’t stand doing work that doesn’t relate to that should probably be parents. There are very few jobs that are truly just taking care of people. And most of them pay very poorly, if at all. So you may as well do it for your own family, where the pay is not so important. It’s ridiculous that we don’t think of taking care of a family as a career path. That’s a good path for some people. Just like earning a shit-load of money is a good career path for other people. In fact, those two types of people should marry each other.
Actually, this brings us to the real key to opening a successful yoga studio: marry one of those middle-aged divorced guys who hang out in the back of the room, struggling in downward dog, who have more money than God. You know who I’m talking about. Alec Baldwin is the Hollywood poster boy for rich-guy-marries-yoga-teacher, but he’s just the tip of the cliched iceberg. Keep your yoga studio running long enough to marry one of those guys and then they’ll fund it.
You think I’m cynical. But I’m not. I just know a good idea when I see one.
Here’s one: Kid Rock was trying to figure out how to compete with free downloads and he wanted to release an album with a cover that had a picture of someone snorting cocaine off the cover of a CD and the title would be You Can’t Do This On An MP3. Great marketing. I’d buy the CD even though I don’t have a record player.
Another idea: A guy was a bartender and people kept asking him if they could charge their iPhones behind the counter so they don’t get stolen. So he invented a charging station that works like a locker. You lock up your iPhone while it charges, but you can leave it there. How can you not love that idea?
A yoga teacher wants personal growth and peace and serenity and the yoga teacher wants to bring that to other people. But that’s not a great idea. That’s just being a nice person. Alex Stoddard is an eighteen year old who takes photos of himself in remarkable but oddly relatable positions.
(The photos on this post don’t do justice to Stoddard’s portfolio. Go to My Modern Metropolis to see more.)
His ability to balance remarkable and relatable in the context of serenity and loneliness actually meets the same goals that the yoga teacher has, but he does it in a way that is fresh and new and (in a moment of grand social justice) he can make money doing it, by selling the prints. That’s a good idea.
My point is that we know what a good idea looks like. It moves us in some way. We nod because we get it and we feel connected. A yoga studio that helps you have peace of mind is not one of those things. Do what you love, fine, okay. I think it’s terrible advice, but it only works if you also do what other people value. Better advice is focus on what you can do that is special.
And recognize when your ideas are stupid. A stupid idea is one that does not create value for people around you. It’s charming, actually. It’s the belief that we are here to help each other with our ideas.
So don’t be delusional about your idea. A yoga studio is generally a wish that your own passion is a gift to other people. But ironically, most yoga teachers who start studios are not paying attention to other people at all. And most entrepreneurs who are raking in money are paying very careful attention to what helps other people.
It’s very hard to evaluate our own ideas. It’s so hard to see when you’re a cliche. It’s hard to see when you’re special. So look for someone to respond immediately with a look of a light bulb going off in their head. Otherwise you risk being a non-differentiated yoga teacher, or worse, a middle-aged man chasing her.