The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Impactful Yoga Business
Most info currently available on how a business can do good for the world isn’t suitable for small businesses. The folks with the MBAs, the theoreticians, and people involved in big business wrote it. They don’t run small businesses. And they DEFINITELY aren’t freelance yoga teachers.
Search ‘how a small business can positively impact — for example — climate change’, online and the top article is usually from a well-known business publication who will deem it ‘imperative’ to use a third-party consultant (who’ll cost thousands) to audit your carbon use to ensure accountability.
The particular article we’re referring to here insisted we calculate an internal price on the carbon we use to assess metrics such as the opportunity cost of capital, internal rate of return, and payback periods.
Seriously? Which small business owner will measure those metrics? Come on.
Most small business owners can’t hire a carbon accounting consultant. We’re more concerned about paying our bills.
These articles are intimidating. So many of us don’t try.
The article in question was suggesting we all use complicated science to find out how much carbon we use, spend thousands figuring this out, calculate confusing numbers for a graph, opportunity costings and blah blah blah. Eventually we should invest in an equally complicated offsetting or carbon credit purchasing scheme which we measure against mind-boggling financial indicators whilst calculating our rate of who-on-earth-knows-what-is-going-on-by-this-point.
Do you know what you’ll do at the end? You’ll plant some trees.
Here’s an idea. Instead, why don’t you just plant some trees. However many you want and can afford. Same end, right?
In fact, take the 5 grand you’d have spent on the consultant, spend it on planting the trees instead, and you’ll have planted 25,000 extra trees! A mature forest has 100 trees per acre. 5,000 dollars plants 250 football fields’ worth of forest.
I’m not saying a professional audit of your carbon use is a bad idea. It should be a goal for your business if it grows to an appropriate size. But when it’s appropriate. It’s not the entry point into becoming a ‘good business’ because the cost and implications are impractical.
We need to start simply. And your first step is by building your business, even as a freelance teacher, around an impact business model.
But first, a quick intro to business models.
A traditional business model describes how a business makes money.
This can include structures such as subscriptions (e.g. Netflix), freemium (offering a limited free service with a premium payable upgrade, e.g. LinkedIn), or bundling (e.g. a fast food value meal).
Your business will use a traditional business model or models to define how you’ll make money, however you’ll integrate an impact business model alongside to define how you create impact.
There’s no need for you to get hung up on your business’ traditional business model. Just get selling your classes or courses. You’ll be using a business model whether you know the label for it, anyway.
In his book, Evolved Enterprise, (which we love btw) Yanick Silver identifies different kinds of impact business models. I’ve defined extra models which I’ve added to the list.
I’ll give you an intro and overview of each. There are no set rules. You can adapt these models to fit your business. Get creative. I’d be stoked to hear about variations you think of.
Once you start with one impact business model, you can add another, an element of another, or switch to a different model.
As with most choices in entrepreneurship, you’ll decide by educated guesses and by using trial and error. Try a model, check with your customers, your beneficiary, and your accountant or financial adviser if it’s a good idea to continue. If you get the thumbs up, do more of it. If you get a frowny face, stop it, or tweak it.
Select a model you like the sound of. Do a little more research into the model. Mould it to fit your yoga business.
The models vary in commitment required, expertise required, partnerships required, and the impact they create, but the common thread between them is they’ll do good for the world.
They are: -
Percentage or Dollar amount
Pay what you want
Donate where you want
Impact through lending
Each of these models create impact in different ways, but several are short-term solutions and you should treat them as such. By all means, offer the short-term solutions, but be conscious of their shortcomings, and learn how to work towards the deeper, systemic change as the greater goal.
Consider how effective the various initiatives are at addressing the root causes of the problems you want to address. Your long-term goal should be to contribute to the root cause of the problem. Set your large, long-term goals to empower rather than to give.
Likewise, with environmental actions. Yes, recycling is good. But not using disposable products in the first place is better.
When considering how to do good in the world, there are two basic principles which will help you address the root causes of the important issues, rather than papering over the cracks.
First, strive to empower rather than give.
Second, rather than damaging first and giving back after, strive to not damage in the first place.
Direct Impact means for every sale you make, X happens. This is an awesome way to create impact.
So, for example, if you want to contribute to climate change, instead of starting with the aforementioned expensive consultant, use this model to plant trees.
There’s a fantastic platform called B1G1 which enables businesses to set up impact giving easily. The cost of ‘impacts’ start from one cent and you can donate to over 500 different projects. Each project aligns clearly with a specific SDG to enable you to identify whether a project would do good for the greater goals you set for yourself.
Today, using B1G1, it costs 22 cents to plant a tree. So, you could plant a tree every time someone takes your class.
You could pass the cost to your customer if you need to. Or, if you sell your classes for, say, $11.78 or $19.78, when people ask about your unusual pricing, start a conversation with them about how you already plant 1 tree as part of the cost of their purchase, and if they’d like to round up the figure to the full dollar amount, the extra 22 cents plants another tree.
If you take this approach, all you need to measure is the number of classes (or whatever) that you sell. And you should do that, anyway. There’s no need for expensive consultants, and you don’t need to integrate complicated auditing procedures.
The direct impact model is simple and is a fantastic way to align your business with a cause which may be apparently irrelevant but close to your heart. For example, for every yoga class or private 1-to-1 session you sell, you could provide a meal for a street dog! The beneficiary of your giving is entirely up to you.
As it’s so cheap and easy to create an impact, you’re only limited by your imagination about how you do so. For example, you could create an impact every time somebody signs up to your mailing list, or follows you on Social Media — which is an awesome way to encourage people to follow you and build your community.
The possibilities are endless.
B1G1 creates fantastic widgets for your website and ‘giving reports’ to enable you to measure and display the impact you create, and shoot to improve year-on-year, or month-on-month.
This is the most straightforward impact business model a small business can implement and is a fantastic way of doing good.
It’s an easy and transparent way to communicate your results with your customers and staff and is great motivation for customers to buy from you. Win win win.
Percentage / Fixed amount
This model involves donating a fixed amount to the beneficiary of your choice, say 1% of revenue or of annual profit.
While you can do a significant amount of good this way, it isn’t such an obvious conversation starter as the direct impact model, but it can be simpler to implement if you’re starting out.
This model is effective. And sometimes the stuff which works, unfortunately, isn’t as sexy or fun as selecting your own beneficiaries to align yourself with, or getting your hands dirty.
Many businesses use this model by donating to organizations such as 1% for the Planet.
1% for the Planet is an organization to which businesses (or individuals) donate 1% of their gross sales (or income for individuals) each year. 1% for the Planet divides the donation using Donation Regranting Funds to ensure the donations make the most impact.
Donation Regranting Funds are like using an investment fund rather than picking individual stocks. Evaluators like 1% identify the most effective intersection of what the world needs and which funds can most effectively contribute, and your donations get distributed accordingly.
Today 1% for the Planet has raised nearly $300 million for environmental causes and is a recognized brand across the World. Businesses who donate can benefit by displaying the 1% branding on their website and packaging, and by having the external third-party validation they’re committed to environmental protection.
Other funds include:
The Global Health and Development fund
Maximum Impact fund
Climate Change fund
If you choose to use the fixed amount model, you don’t have to donate to a fund, of course. You can donate your fixed amount to whichever beneficiary you choose. If you take this approach, however, it’s worthwhile to research the charities you choose to donate to, as some charities are more effective than others.
Donate where you want
This is a model which enables your customer to choose which cause to support. This can take the form of either direct impact or a fixed amount.
You can structure this model in many ways, and you’re only limited by your imagination. You can make this model fun and get your customers involved.
You could, for example, align yourself with several charitable causes or beneficiaries, and ask your customer to choose their cause when they make a purchase with you (“Thanks for taking a class with us today! As part of our impact program, your purchase will either plant a tree, feed a street dog, fund a child’s education for a day — where do you want your donation to go?”).
I’ve seen an awesome example of this in a brewery in the US where they had a ‘wheel of fortune’-style wheel behind the bar with multiple beneficiaries on it. Each time you bought a drink, you could spin the wheel to see where your donation would go. “Woo! I won a ‘plant-a-tree’! I’ll get another beer to celebrate! Go me!”. It’s addictive.
A cool idea if you sell different products, or run different classes, is to have a different beneficiary for each product. A fantastic example of this model is Color the World lipsticks. Each shade of lipstick contributes to a different beneficiary, ranging from restoring sight to the adoption of street dogs. In addition, Color the World is an awesome example of the ‘source matters’ impact model (see below) as all their lipsticks are natural, vegan / cruelty free and hand poured.
Pay what you want (PWYW)
This is an interesting model where your customer is the beneficiary because this involves the customer paying what they can for your product or service. This is one model that the yoga industry is already a leader as donation-based classes are pretty common.
Essentially it ensures those who can’t afford it can still receive the benefits of your business.
I first learned about this strategy in 2007 when one of my favorite bands, a British band called Radiohead released an album called ‘In Rainbows’ and released the album on their website (as opposed to iTunes etc.). Fans could download the album and pay whatever they liked, or whatever they could, even if they downloaded it for free.
Radiohead were a famous band, but this approach was innovative and risky. It created an enormous buzz in the media, but Radiohead pulled it off, and 1.2 million people downloaded the album within the first month of its release.
Had they sold the album in the traditional manner, the record company would’ve sold the album for $15 and Radiohead would’ve received 15%, or $2.25 per album sold. The band would’ve received less had they sold it through iTunes — approx. $1.40 per album sold.
By using the PWYW model, 38% of people paid for the album, averaging $6 per person, but Radiohead kept all the royalties.
Even after you consider 62% of the people downloaded the album for free, the band averaged $2.28 for every album downloaded, more than they’d have received with the traditional route, especially after the iTunes reduced revenue.
In addition, 740,000 people downloaded their album for free. Sure, many of these people were tightwads, however many were people who couldn’t afford to buy the album otherwise.
Radiohead didn’t publicly state they conducted this ‘experiment’ (as they called it) for altruistic reasons, or for specific beneficiaries, however since they conducted this experiment, many conscious businesses have adopted this model to be good for their customer.
There are a few points worth mentioning.
1) This model seems to work best when there’s a ‘suggested’ price customers either pay less than, or more than.
2) Avoid using the word ‘free’. This devalues the product and has negative connotations attached to it.
3) Revenue per purchase increases dramatically if a portion of the ‘sale cost’ goes to a worthy beneficiary, so if you say “Pay what you want, and for every dollar you pay, we plant a tree!” you’d likely receive considerably more — even after you cover the costs of the tree planting — than you would otherwise.
4) This model works best if you’re an established teacher or brand with a large, loyal following who knows what you do already. Not to say it can’t work for a new teacher, for instance, however, make sure you provide guide prices.
This model shows you care about giving value to the customer, and this creates trust. You’re saying “we want you to be happy with our service, so we don’t believe we should receive the full recompense if you don’t get the required value.”
You trust the customer to pay a fair amount if they believe they receive value from you. And if they do, they’ll value the trust you gave them and become a loyal customer. And it seems to work.
There are many examples of businesses taking this approach, and while some people pay less because they can’t pay more (which is kinda the point), many people who love your work will pay more than you ask for. Society will benefit, and you’ll likely be better off financially than if you’d taken the traditional approach of set pricing.
It’s unorthodox and takes bravery, though, and if you are looking at starting or building a larger business, you might scare away potential investors by suggesting this model!
As per any of these models, you don’t need to go all-in and build your entire business around this model. Try with one product or product line to test its viability before committing. Or do it with one product and not take it further. The choice is yours.
As you might guess from the name, this model involves giving 100% of your net profits to charitable beneficiaries.
This isn’t the same as a non-profit who would generate income on a donation model. This is a for-profit business. The company produces a product or provides a service, strives to maximize sales and minimize costs in the usual way. It pays its owners, directors, employees and suppliers market rates, but donates all the net profits to the beneficiary.
NB. Net profits, not gross profits. The difference is net profits are what you have left after you deduct everything you need to ensure the sustainable operations and growth of the company.
The champion of this model is ‘Newman’s Own’, the foodstuffs company started by Hollywood legend Paul Newman. He started Newman’s Own in the early 1980s after he’d already done OK for himself in the movies, and wanted to do a good deed for the world.
And wow, has he! His company has now donated more than half a billion dollars to good causes and single-handedly inspired a whole new impact business model.
In most countries, the best way to go all-in is to create a non-profit organization or charitable foundation which is the sole owner of your operating company. Meaning, net profits from the operating company get paid as a dividend to the ‘owner’ (i.e., the charitable foundation) and in many countries, you’ll have associated tax benefits. As always, you must get legal and accounting advice in your country of residence.
Of course, as with all these models, you can be as flexible with them as you wish. You could, for instance, implement a variation of this model and donate all your profits from one product or class — much like musical artists or authors do with a song or a book.
An absolute priority when implementing this model is transparency with your company finances.
This involves making company accounts transparent and available to everybody — customers, staff, media, whoever wants to see them — ideally alongside B Corporation certification.
‘Source Matters’ is essentially your supply chain. This could range from repurposing recycled material to sourcing only local materials.
Now, you may not think, as a yoga teacher, that you have much in the way of a supply chain, but you do.
Not just the clothes you wear and the yoga equipment that you use, but with the influence you have as a teacher, by becoming educated on the topic, you have a platform from which you have a big influence over your students’ choices of yoga clothing and equipment too.
Make no mistake though, this model is complex. You won’t only have your suppliers, but they’ll have their suppliers, and they’ll have theirs, etc.
For this reason, your supply chain could involve unethical and environmentally damaging practices without you knowing about it, so be careful about the language you use when promoting the fact you use this model. Do the best due diligence you can on all products you use from the start of their journey to you.
This approach is challenging, however not a reason not to TRY. In fact, the total opposite.
You’ll do an enormous amount of good by raising awareness of these issues with your customers and community. As usual, transparency is key to this model, so explain to your stakeholders why you aren’t perfect, and how you intend to improve.
The goal for your supply chain is to -
Ensure no child or slave labor was present in the product life-cycle
Ensure all workers had safe and hygienic working conditions
Ensure all workers had fair pay and working hours
Ensure all suppliers in the chain had no part in bribery or corruption
Ensure all sourcing and procurement was ethical
And finally, to ensure your suppliers (and theirs) produced all their products using the most environmentally sustainable methods possible
So as you can see, there’s an enormous amount of complexity in assessing your supply chain, especially with regards to clothing and textiles, and more so if those textiles come from the developing world.
But there are straightforward approaches you can use.
Rather than using an international wholesaler, you could use a supplier who is extremely local to you, so you can get to know them personally and visit their premises in person. An additional bonus to this approach is customers are extremely receptive to transparency in the supply chain — particularly if you can show the face and the name of, for instance, the person who made your clothing or equipment. Customers will have both transparency and a backstory to their clothing, and you’re promoting businesses in the local community.
Ramp this up by showing a photo of your local supplier on your company website or promo material. Tell your customers their name and an interesting fact about them. People like to buy from people.
Another simple way you can start improving the sustainability of your clothing and equipment — and that of your customers — is by using and promoting already-certified B Corps as your suppliers. They’ve already done the ‘heavy lifting’ and would’ve conducted audits of their own suppliers, so by proxy, by purchasing from them, you’ll be safe knowing their supply chain is sound.
This is where your customer pays, directly or indirectly, for an experience which has a beneficiary in need.
I previously owned a surf and yoga camp in Portugal and we’d take our guests to volunteer at the local dog shelter to walk the dogs. The guests loved it as much as the dogs did.
After posting pictures of our guests with the dogs on social media, we had an influx of bookings from people purely wanting to walk the dogs! The shelter received desperately needed additional volunteers; the dogs loved their walks; the guests had a great day out, and our revenue increased from the increase in bookings. Everybody’s happy.
Many organizations who use this model are in ‘voluntourism’, which involves people paying to do good in communities which aren’t their own, but this doesn’t need to be the case.
A yoga teacher could easily partner with a local charity and run days out or workshops to show your community how and where your chosen beneficiary operates. Especially easy if, for instance, you have a related charity or social enterprise nearby. Near where I live in Portugal, for instance, we have several cork yoga mat manufacturers who are producing ethically sourced and environmentally-friendly mats, which makes for a fascinating day out for the local yogis or yoga retreat clients to see how these mats are made.
Empowered Employment / The Open Hiring Model
The Empowered Employment model is one for the larger yoga business out there who have staff.
This model provides employment opportunities for underserved or marginalized sections of society. This could include homeless people, ex-prisoners, ex-addicts, immigrants, refugees, military veterans, disabled people, or people from low-income or impoverished communities.
At its heart, this model focuses on giving opportunity and hope, and, while there are elements of risk and other factors to consider, there are potential rewards for the company for providing care and compassion, which could be all the prospective employee needs to thrive.
A cool example of this model is Second Shot Café in London who employ people who have been, or who are, homeless. They train them and transition them on to long-term employment elsewhere. In addition, they operate a pay-it-forward system, where customers can make a pre-payment, so at a later time, someone from the street can get food or a drink for free. I love the name, too.
The results of studies into hiring ex-convicts might surprise you. The gist being ex-convicts are -
- No more likely to be fired for misconduct than people without criminal records (*except for sales positions where the chances are slightly higher).
- More likely to re-offend if they’re unemployed upon release from prison. Therefore, a program to recruit ex-offenders could have far-reaching positive impact in societies, and not only for the offender themselves.
- Less likely (by 13%) to quit their job, thus saving the business considerable costs on employee onboarding.
While there are organizations who have committed to going ‘all-in’ with this hiring method and have shown amazing results, as per most of the models listed here, there are many ways to approach this, starting with one position at a time.
There are in-depth considerations here, particularly legal factors regarding compliance with discrimination rules. This is a topic you’ll need to research and discuss with professionals in your local area if you are in a position to be hiring staff. For example, in many places you can’t refuse somebody employment solely because they could have a criminal record — nor can you even ask whether they have a criminal record — and it’ll require case-by-case assessments.
More a method of charitable action rather than a business model as such as far as the yoga industry is involved, the co-development business model directly connects buyers with ethical producers to ensure maximum profits for the producers.
This could involve an example like connecting ethical jewellery or clothing makers in the developing world to buyers in the developed world (i.e. your community) and encouraging your community to buy directly from the producer rather than whichever corporation is selling similar products in your area.
By cutting out the middlemen, or by taking lower commissions than a wholesaler or traditional exporter might, you can help the producers keep as much of their profits as possible.
This is an outstanding model to impact the financial health of the producers and the communities in which they operate. Keep an eye out for local producers of these goods if you are travelling to do your yoga teacher training or a yoga retreat in the developing world. There is likely a non-profit who could help you bring the products back to your home country too.
As with many small business owners, the producers may be great at producing, but it doesn’t mean they’re skilled at selling. So either they only sell locally to tourists, for example, or they default back to the wholesalers, supermarkets, or whoever. And it’s a safe bet to assume those wholesalers or supermarkets aren’t paying maximum price to the producers, so if you are able to source small, ethical suppliers of say clothing, yoga equipment, or even simple products or gift ideas that your community may like, you can help the producers out by selling or even just promoting their products for them.
The One-for-One model (also known as Buy One, Give One — but I’ll avoid this term to not cause confusion with the B1G1 non-profit organisation) involves a business donating a product or their service to a beneficiary when you make a full-price sale of the same product.
TOMS shoes made this model popular by donating a pair of shoes to a child in need whenever a customer purchased a pair of their shoes, and could easily be used by yoga teachers to provide a class to a disadvantaged person every time a full-paying customer pays for a class.
While this model can be a fantastic model to raise awareness and connect your customer with a particular cause, you have to be very careful with the financial management of your business to ensure that you remain financially sustainable.
Impact through lending
You can use surplus cash in your business to finance entrepreneurial projects in the developing world through providing repayable loans with a microfinance organisation such as Kiva.org.
With Kiva, 100% of the money you lend goes to the recipient, and Kiva borrowers historically have a 96% repayment rate.
Once you’ve received your money back, you’re free to withdraw it for your own business, or you can repeatedly re-lend to Kiva recipients to multiply the good you do.
This is a model with the possibility of super-charging your impact, as you can recycle your funds infinitely. You can also be sure of the effectiveness of your impact, as this model empowers, rather than gifting.
Another one for those of you who have staff, the People Power model, rather than diverting your company profits, uses your people’s time.
This could involve setting aside your employees’ paid time to volunteer for your aligned beneficiary. Whichever amount of time works best for you. Even one day a year would help the recipient, and the benefits of volunteering for the volunteer are huge.
Alternatively, if your business has a relationship with a beneficiary who could accept volunteers (as our surf & yoga camp did at the dog shelter), you could invite your customers to come and volunteer with you. Same with organising beach cleanups, litter pickups, or similar. If you’ve a large reach in your community, which you will in time as a business leader, use your influence to mobilise people for good.
There are other impact business models which I won’t discuss in depth here as they’re advanced models unsuitable for smaller businesses, such as ‘Ethical opportunity’ which uses the concept of franchising to benefit entrepreneurs in the developing world, ‘Ecosystem’, which is where an organisation creates an interconnected group of companies to create its own supply chain, and ‘Shared ownership’ which is where a business divides its ownership between its employees.
Over time, you can also think about incorporating more complex or advanced strategies, such as audited carbon neutrality, life-cycle assessment of your products, or reclamation projects for your products at their end of life.
But this article, indeed everything we do at The Yoga Pro Collective, is all about empowering you to start simply and do whatever you can. You don’t have to do every good business practice. Start with one or a few.
Launching a successful yoga business, even as a freelance teacher, requires more than just your skills as a practitioner — it takes a strong understanding of the demands and strategies of the business world too.
At The Yoga Pro Collective we offer business training specifically tailored for yoga professionals to guide you through every single aspect of launching a successful, long-term yoga business!
We teach you –
- A complete, step-by-step blueprint to launching a successful yoga business
- How to create a brand that attracts clients
- How to build a business that reflects your passions and delivers a positive impact for your community and the planet
- The strategies and business techniques that power successful, long-term yoga businesses
- And give you the confidence to enter the business world
Get started by developing your own personalized yoga business roadmap here.
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About the Author
Matt Deasy is a co-founder and purpose-driven business mentor at The Yoga Pro Collective.
Aside from starting and growing small businesses for 15 years, Matt is a contributor on sustainability topics for the Yogi Times, previously worked for B-Lab, the non-profit that certifies B Corps, studied Sustainable Business Strategy at Harvard and is the author of ‘Fire your Boss and Change the World’ — a guide to starting a purpose-driven small business, which is being published later in 2022.