Yoga Teacher Talk is a new series on YBC for current, prospective yoga teachers. Over on the Yoga Forum, we've been getting some questions about teaching private yoga sessions, so I thought I'd share my advice and experiences here.
In many ways, teaching private sessions can seem much easier than teaching a public class. I mean, your money generally more than quadruples in just one little hour of work so that's incredible, right?
Well, yeah, the money can be great, but in my opinion, I find them more challenging for a number of reasons. After lots of good and some seriously bad experiences, I feel like I've got a solid handle on how to make private sessions work for me. Here are my tips to meet with success.
Private Session In-take and Logistics
1. Decide where you will hold lessons
- local gym: you might be able to negotiate a deal with a small, family-run gym and give them a percentage in exchange for use of the space (note: this likely will not work at a corporate facility)
- local studio: studios sometimes will rent out space for you to teach your private session. The benefit of this is having props readily available. The downside is that this is often pretty costly.
- your home: I'll let you know up front that I am serious about my safety. Probably to the point that I am a little crazy about it. True story: I have had clients come to my home and I've felt anxious for hours beforehand (even though I sort of knew them). While physical harm might be pretty unlikely, I'll tell you what's not: people overstepping their boundaries in other ways (overstaying their welcome, saying or doing inappropriate things, etc). I just cannot stress enough the importance of protecting yourself. Therefore, I do not recommended holding a private in your home unless you know your client well and can say with 100% certainty they will respect boundaries.
- their home: also not recommended unless you know your client well and can say with 100% certainty they are safe and sane (well, relatively sane - we're all a little crazy), and you know the area well in case you have to make a run for it. (See?! I'm nuts!)
- hotels: true story - my yoga teacher made up brochures, left them with the concierge at high end hotels in London and wound up teaching Morgan Freeman. Just remember hotel rooms are small so unless they have a suite, you'll have to negotiate another space with the hotel. I've taught privates on the hotel's private beach before, and that worked out pretty well although there were people around.
- public space: a beach or a park are great options, but obviously will be dependent on season and weather, and there will likely be people around. You'll have to have a plan for how to deal with people in case something comes up. I used to teach a morning beach class in Florida and a guy, still drunk from the night before, came up to us and just stared for a solid minute before I had to walk over and ask if I could help him and if he wanted to join in (hey, I figured I could get further with kindness!). He laughed and said no thanks before stumbling away.
- community center: Get creative! Think about what your community offers in terms of public spaces and see where there might be an open spot. Sometimes churches have spaces you can use and if you offer a percentage of your earnings as a donation they may be just fine with letting you teach a private there.
2. Figure out why they're scheduling with you.
People schedule privates for a number of reasons. They may be too intimidated to go to a public class due to lack of experience or perhaps their weight. Other times, it's just something as simple as not being free during normal class times. This is also the appropriate time to begin looking for red flags (there I go again with the safety thing!). I think it's important to ask why they're scheduling a private session so as an instructor, you can begin to understand their needs and research what to do if you don't already know.
3. Conduct a pre-session interview and prepare
Once you figure out why they're scheduling, you can then begin to ask what they're looking to get out of the session. Do they want to go deeper than your run of the mill studio class? Do they want a focus on arm balances? Yin yoga? Something really powerful or more restorative? Any poses they absolutely love or absolutely do not want to have in the practice? Any prior injuries? (Research the heck out of these injuries if you don't know how to modify for them.) The bottom line is be prepared. Go through your ideal flow for your client so you can feel how the practice feels for the body. Have modifications in your back pocket and feel confident in your ability to switch up the flow if you see the person's range of motion or ability just isn't quite there yet.
4. Invest in some quality props and make your session stand out
Your client will likely have a mat, but may not have a great quality block, strap, or bolster. Invest in the little things like an eye pillow and heavy blanket. These add to the quality of your session and make it more special. Bring essential oils and offer their use as well. Anything like this that you can add to the practice is fantastic because it's something they likely wouldn't get in a public class and therefore adds value to your private session.
How much to charge for a private yoga session
1. Charge what you're worth most of the time. Other times, charge more than you're worth.
Deciding what to charge is a weird thing because I don't know about you, but I feel that many of us, particularly women, are taught to be humble and downplay their strengths and abilities. You know what I say to that?
Know your worth and own it, dammit.
Coming up with an appropriate price is like looking in the mirror and acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses and saying them out loud. It's uncomfortable, it's not what we're used to doing, it might be a little awkward, but it's so important.
Here are some guidelines:
- the cost of a private yoga session will vary depending on whether you are in Los Angeles, California or Batesville, Arkansas. A quick google search will let you know the average rate of private instruction in your area.
- the cost will depend on where your lesson takes place (charge more if you have to travel to someone's house or have to cover rental at a studio)
- generally, a private yoga session will be more or less in line with what a massage therapist in your area charges
- newer yoga instructors should charge $20-50 less than more experienced instructors
- deal with the money after the session. This is also a good time to get feedback, and schedule the next session, if they'd like.
- the most I've ever seen is $2,000 for a one and a half hour session (this instructor was world famous), and the least I've seen was $60/hour.
When to charge more than you're worth
Ok the subtitle above is admittedly a joke - obviously it's not recommended to go running around ripping people off, but I'm going to tell you a story. This past summer in LA there was a man who kept asking me for privates via twitter. He seemed like a normal, kind person - when I had consulted twitter about the best places to eat or fun things to do in the area, he had always chimed in with tips - but there was just something a little off that I couldn't put my finger on. I felt I couldn't ignore him or give a good reason as to why I couldn't schedule with him because he hadn't really done anything that raised a red flag, but I just didn't get a good vibe, so when he asked my price, I named a price way, way more than I would typically charge. I said $450 (remember, this is LA, a cut and color at a nice salon runs around the same price!), and then decided that even if he said yes (again, this is LA) I wouldn't do it. I'd be "busy" or "get sick" or whatever. Well, he never replied and then a few months later, after not hearing from him at all, he sent an inappropriate message (which promptly got him blocked), so the moral of the story is: always go with your gut, and if it doesn't feel quite right to you to say no, just charge way more than you're worth and let your price be the deterrent.
As an aside, should you decide to take a private at someone's home and you're not feeling 100% about it (and heck, even if you are), let them know ahead of time you will be bringing security. Your average yoga client is not going to bat an eye when you let them know, and the creeps will likely cancel. If you do wind up bringing security, just have them sit in a room nearby with a book. Make sure your price reflects the cost of needing security (and you can always decide whether or not security is needed for future sessions).
The actual class
1. Be generous with assists
If I'm paying $100+ for a private yoga session, I want to feel like I'm getting my money's worth, so I hope the teacher will assist me frequently and correct my alignment as we go along. If you're not comfortable with assists, I recommend practicing on a friend or making it a goal to assist every single person in one of your public classes just to gain more experience. Of course, it's always important to ask the student if they want assists, as some people aren't comfortable with hands-on adjustments and in that case, you can just give verbal cues.
The nice thing about a private session is it takes the pressure off having to guess what your student wants. You can ask them whether they want music or not, lighting or not, candles or not, incense or not, what the temperate of the room should be - this is their time and luckily you just have one person rather than a whole room of people who will let you know what suits them best. Let them design the ambiance. This makes them feel like it's special and it takes the guesswork out of it for you.
Marketing Private Yoga Sessions
1. Tell your public classes
Let your regular students know that you're branching out into privates, and inform them of your specialities and how you can help their practice. Instead of talking about how it'll benefit you (i.e. avoid saying, "Guys, there isn't a lot of money in yoga and I really need to make more!"), explain the benefits to them. "This is an opportunity to get in-depth answers to questions that always pop up in your head during class that you don't have the time or nerve to ask." Or, "This would be great for people who are ready to take their practice a little deeper and who want to focus on particular pieces of the practice." Create multi-session discounts or special rates if they come with a friend and let them know about it.
2. Design a flyer
Ok no one said teaching yoga was a glamorous job! A little hustle will pay off! Roll up your sleeves, print off some flyers and buzz over to your local health food stores, massage therapy offices, acupuncture offices and any other holistic health places you can think of to hang your info.
Piggy backing on that, once you arrive at the holistic health centers, talk with the owners and workers. See if they want to partner up and offer some sort of promotion, like if someone books both an acupuncture and yoga session, they'll get 20% off both services. Create business cards and hand them out to people likely to book, or people with friends who are likely to call. Bonus points if you have something printed on your business cards that gets people knocking on your door. "50% off your first session" would be a good thing to print up because that makes your card instantly more valuable and people are more likely to hold onto it and remember you.
4. Social Media
Social media can be a great way to get the word out about your private sessions. I once booked a well known author through twitter, of all places. Just be really, really safe.
- Don't forget your liability insurance!
- Print off copies of liability waivers and be sure to have your client sign the waiver before the session
- Sorry, another safety tip: bring pepper spray. You really never can be too safe.
- Collect feedback from your client so you can continually grow and improve
- Bring a little gift for your student to show thanks. Something small, like a packet of your favorite single steep tea or a small box of incense. A little gesture of thanks goes a long way.
Edited to add some notes from a reader to offer the client perspective:
1) If you schedule and communicate via email / social media, be prompt in reply. If you state on your web site a response in 24-48 hours, be sure to do so. This is a bigger deal based on your online presence because if you're posting stuff but not replying to clients, it creates a bad impression.
2) While maybe not during the session, take client profile notes, especially if you think they'll be repeats. Remembering details (spouse's names, they hate triangle, knee issues, etc) adds a personal touch and leaves a positive impression. A good hair stylist has notes on how you like your cut, what you did in the past, etc.
3) State that tipping is not expected, unless you expect it. A massage therapist usually expects a tip on top of fee (depending on location) I only mention because a first timer may not necessarily know this and may be embarrassed to ask.
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Let's talk What tips would you add?