A controversial topic, and no doubt one that will ruffle the feathers of a few students and teachers alike. Screw it, I’m throwing caution to the wind, putting my big girl panties on and ready to face the potential huffs and puffs from the inter web.
I’m starting to really despise the phrase ‘these unprecedented times’. Errr no sh*t Sherlock!
At the moment, there isn’t a soul that hasn’t been affected in some way by Covid-19. If you haven’t, please let me know what planet you are on and whether I can visit (with the social distancing of course!).
My entire business has changed and sadly I know I am not alone. Back in March, in the space of a few days, I had to make my entire business model virtual. I painstakingly spent days trying to figure out how I could deliver a high quality virtual environment for my students. I even learnt basic video editing so I could offer pre-recorded classes for those that needed it.
So what’s the problem?
When I launched my online schedule back in March, I was nervous but excited, and also relieved my regulars wouldn’t be left without.
However, full disclosure, while my customer base is good, my online classes have not been as busy as I thought they would be. The problem I have found with moving my business online, is that every other teacher and fitness instructor in the world is doing exactly the same thing. What is frustrating for me as a small business with a modest social media following, I am now competing with the popular influencers who have millions of followers.
These ‘influencers’ are offering free classes at practically every hour of the day. The issue I have with this (and for reference always have), is that it hurts all other business in our industry. Free classes set up the expectation that people in the fitness and wellness profession should teach for free. The market is so saturated with teachers offering free online classes, there now seems to be this attitude that instructors should be contributing their services just out of the pleasure of doing so.
What has been wonderful with the transition to Zoom, is that I have found many of my longtime students have remained loyal and supportive. Cue – warm, fuzzy feelings. I have been overwhelmed by the feedback from those that keep signing in every week and quite honestly, it has given me hope that the service I offer is valued and appreciated.
Why my classes will never be free
The only circumstances I will ever contemplate offering free classes is if it falls in two camps. Either, the class is for charity, in which case all donations will be given to a worthy cause. Or, it will help grow my business. Even then, I have to be sure it is the right decision as free classes just don’t sit well with me.
In my opinion, teaching classes for free undervalues our profession and all the effort we have put in to professional training. When this pandemic does eventually chill the f*&k out, it will be much harder to charge students afterwards. It feels like a race to the bottom.
I am not here to dictate what teachers or students should or shouldn’t do. At the end of the day, it is your choice whether you offer free classes or not, and if you can afford to do so then great. For me it is absolutely not viable for my business.
I know we live in difficult times right now. All too often, even £5 is too much for some people to pay for a class. I want to encourage those people who find themselves struggling, to reach out to their local yoga teachers. Chances are arrangements can be put in place so you don’t go without your yoga fix. I’m more than happy to help those in need, truly. I just cannot afford to turn a good business into voluntary work. My yoga business needs to survive when all this is over and universal freebies are just not the way to do it.
VIRTUAL CLASSES COST TEACHERS MONEY
Before setting up my own online schedule, I participated in a few Zoom classes myself and was beyond disappointed with the classes. The video quality was poor, the teacher was cut in half for standing postures, the background noise was practically deafening and the sound from the host was sub-standard. It distracted me and created an environment for a really unproductive practice. I’d often find myself leaving the meeting or hiding my video and get on with something else.
I wanted to offer my students something better.
A virtual yoga class that I could justify charging for and be proud of. I have to admit, having a partner who is a photographer was really handy too. His technical know-how and endless supply of tripods made setting up a home studio much easier.
However, all this comes at a price. I invested in studio lights, a professional camera, head mics, the best webcam I could buy and a premium account with Zoom. Some equipment we had already, but tallying up the cost of my virtual studio, I easily hit £3,000. That doesn’t take into account the new plant I bought and new yoga pants (turns out black yoga pants on a black mat just doesn’t work!).
Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely possible to set a virtual studio up for free. You can use the free option on Zoom, Skype or even Facebook Live, and use just your laptop or tablet and Bob’s your uncle. I just wanted to offer the best I could given my own experience, and I am really pleased with the results.
VIDEO QUALITY IS EPIC
By investing in professional kit, our studio lighting setup means our videos are consistent. This means our videos are unaffected by sunlight or the time of day.
Our live classes are filmed in full HD so that you get a clear video broadcast. You can clearly see the detail of each pose. You can even expand your view into full screen without losing any clarity of the class.
We film using an ultra-wide field of view. This means that you will be able to see the full range of movement in every asana. No limbs getting cut off here!
We also spend at least 20 minutes before class starts, setting up the studio. The camera is set up meticulously. The result? You get a bright, balanced picture with the correct exposure, so you never need to adjust your screen.
We know all too well, that it can be really difficult to get motivated to do a home practice. Even the smallest distraction and that’s it, game over. In classes I participated in as part of my market research, I found that cluttered home studios drove me crazy. It really doesn’t help with the zen. Also, as much as I love a snuggle from a pup or a cuddle from a cat, I really don’t want to see them when I’m trying to do yoga. I even did a class where people were walking back and forth in the background. It drove me nuts!
Full disclosure, my studio room is not minimalist. The room has to be a home office and craft room as well as a studio. I had to spend ages, Marie Kondo-ing my space so that I could create room to film a space that wasn’t busy with stuff. For me this is the difference between ‘homemade’ and ‘professional’. I always want to be the latter.
I film in the same place every time. This consistent set up and background means you have continuity from class to class. I don’t have pets (sob) or children so classes are also free from interruptions. My partner knows my online schedule and knows to keep schtum during class times.
Don’t feel too sorry for him, I do the same for him :)
TOP NOTCH AUDIO
I use the latest radio mic system designed for instructor-led sessions. This means you get distortion-free sound for clear instruction.
There is no background noise from traffic or people – just the sound of the teacher.
The professional head mic output is so good, we can even use it effectively for Pranayama exercises and teaching breathing techniques.
Perhaps the things I’ve mentioned above aren’t important to you. Perhaps you value a freebie above a quality class. That’s completely fine. You will get no judgement here. You Do You. As my partner often says to me, life is about choices.
These are the things I personally look for in an online yoga session and I’m more than happy to pay for it.
I charge for my classes and always will, because quite frankly I’m worth every penny. I’ve invested time and money in training and studying to be the best I can be. Just like anyone else, I too have financial obligations as well as a business to run.
The expectation for free classes is overwhelming. This doesn’t make me feel valued for my time or my services. I’m passionate about improving the health and wellness of my clients and always will be, but soul food has a cost just like food in the grocery store.
Simply put – by charging for classes, I can invest in training, equipment and services that ultimately give my customers the best possible experience in each and every flow.
And isn’t that what we all want, really?