Should You Open Your Own Yoga Studio? One Teacher's Path
I got to talk to one of my favorites, Melissa Hughey, about opening and owning her own yoga studio. She’s not only a wonderful teacher, but she’s also a badass boss when it comes to running her own studio, Lemon Balm Yoga and Wellness.
This is not just any yoga studio. This is a studio in the smack middle of the Mississippi Delta. The Delta is an extremely rural area — a breathtaking, mysterious, storied, beautiful place, this is true. And amazing people live in this region.
But, truth be told, it’s the country, and its little towns have been known to lack progress and to be negligent of health, especially alternative health. Poverty levels are high in these counties, and education is a major issue.
Melissa and her bright, fresh studio are lighting the way in a place that needs it more than others. The motto of her studio, You are the light of the world , takes on a more profound meaning in this context. She is, through her studio, bringing real light into the world. Not just into her student’s lives, but she’s promoting the light of consciousness in the community as a consequence of everything she does.
I taught a workshop in her light-filled space and think about it so fondly. I felt at peace as soon as I walked in. Melissa is passionate and enthusiastic about what she does, and she fills her studio with that energy. You can feel it when you walk in there. To teach at Lemon Balm Yoga and Wellness was a joy because my own workshop was augmented by Melissa’s joyful spirit and the transformational experiences that are happening within those walls.
Here’s what she had to say about opening and running a yoga studio in probably one of the most challenging places to run a business, let alone a yoga studio dedicated to alternative, holistic healing:
1. What was your personal intention in owning your own studio?
When starting yoga training, I had no intention of teaching. I wanted to learn more for myself, which I did. But I also saw the need in the community to share this “thing” that changed my life. When teaching classes during teacher training, the students wanted more. So, I couldn’t stop there. I started off teaching small classes in an extra room at my house. After about a year, I was asked if I would be interested in an available space in Indianola. The timing seemed right, and the location opened the opportunity to offer yoga to more of the community.
2. What was it like, trying to get it going at first?
I’m not sure that I ever got it going (giggles)! I tell you, answering the questions right now has me thinking about the big picture of it all. So often, our everyday life seems so meaningless and as if we’re not accomplishing much. Looking back over the past few years, the aspects that have had a part in my business plan have naturally made their way into my life and set me up for the “grand finale,” or say, of opening the studio. That’s not to say that it hasn’t taken hours of hard work, but when you’re promoting something you love and believe in, it all seems worth it.
I remember spending an entire weekend before opening, pretty much not moving from my seat, setting up my website, of which I had no experience in setting up. Google can teach you a lot if you’re persistent and hard-headed enough. Needing updates and integrations now, the website, along with other things, took some work and time. That’s ok. Take a deep breath, yogi! There’s no cookie cutter way to open a yoga studio. Your hard work and efforts will pay off as it all comes together. Don’t be scared to ask for help either.
3. What types of marketing do you use?
I have done some advertising in our local papers, but mostly social media - Instagram, Facebook, and email newsletters. Our generation is glued to their phones and computers. So let’s reach them through it, and then teach them how to detach from them for an hour at a time. If you live in a small community like myself, word of mouth can be your best friend. So make sure to make a lasting impression. Some senior students and others still like to see things in writing. So, I try to post upcoming event flyers in and around the studio.
4. Do you sell anything besides yoga?
Yes, I was selling oils prior to teaching yoga, which was also done accidentally. As a believer and user in the oils that I use, people automatically became interested. At first, I would direct them to someone else, as I do not see myself as a salesperson. As the interest grew, I decided to slowly offer the products myself.
I also sale all-natural products that I make - chest rub bars, lotion bars, and bath salts. I started off making these products as little happys at my workshops, and then people wanted to buy them. The All-Natural Eucalyptus & Lavender Lotion Bars are a favorite. They are solid until rubbed on the skin. The warm temperature melts the bar. The bar leaves a seal on your skin like none other and have been known to help relieve sunburn, eczema, psoriasis, and such.
I also keep a few tanks, yoga mats, eye pillows, etc to sale. This has been decided on by needs/desires of clients. I have a massage therapist that comes in once or twice a month and try to offer different ways of self-care.
5. How do you think your brick-and-mortar studio has affected your community?
Being located inside of a women and children’s boutique along with a few other businesses has opened up the opportunity to reach more people. The spark of interest of people that may have never stepped foot in a yoga studio is a benefit of the location. I hope that even if it’s one person at a time, these interested people will continue to wander through Lemon Balm’s door and take advantage and reap the benefits of being able to practice yoga in our own small community.
6. What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Balancing the business aspects with a yoga state of mind. Running a business —marketing, scheduling, etc.—is time consuming. Honestly, I feel like I stay behind in this area. Knowing that there’s always “more” you could do, but knowing when to be content with your efforts and coming back to your belief in what yoga teaches is important for your well-being. Your studio being your source of income or a hobby affects the challenges you may face as well. I opened my studio while working a full-time job. So I had income to back the studio, but not always the time to build my business. Then, the transition happened. I no longer had my full-time, and that’s been scary. Because let’s be honest, although we may love what we do, yogis have to eat and pay their bills too. I’m still figuring it out as I go, but I do have peace in no longer being in a career that I felt was holding me back from living out my life’s purpose. Trust your gut. Trust in timing, remembering the universe has your back.
Know when to say no and when you need help. At the moment, I’m opening to the possibility of having someone help with marketing and some of the business aspects. If the opportunity arises and it feels right, then I’ll know it’s time. I just don’t want to portray that you should be doing it all.
7. What has been the most rewarding thing about your studio?
Of course, witnessing yoga and other alternative practices transform people. Seeing a place in the delta, that is known for being behind in so many areas, opening and awakening to a different way of thinking and believing - is truly rewarding. Also, it’s so freeing to be able to be myself.
8. What programs have been especially beneficial for your students and for your studio?
Listening to your students’ needs is important. They will tell you exactly what they want and need. But don’t be scared to encourage your students to open their minds to alternative ways of thinking and practices.
I have been blessed to have some gifted resources to help benefit my students. I have two unique yoga instructors that are able to teach styles differently than mine. I have a lady that comes weekly to practice something that she calls “Beyond Reiki” on specific clients in need. She has a true gift from God, and she so willingly shares this with the ones that are directed to her.
You’re not supposed to be educated in it all. Reach out to people that you know can make a lasting difference in your student’s lives to collaborate classes and workshops at your studio.
You came to Lemon Balm earlier this year and shared your knowledge of nutrition integrated with yoga. I have students that still talk about the workshop. I love this, because I was able to help them receive knowledge that I wasn’t qualified to give them, that they make have not gotten otherwise, and that they can use for a lifetime to improve their overall well-being.
9. What would you suggest to other yoga teachers considering opening their own yoga studio? If you could start all over, what would you do differently?
I would have taken a little more time to get a structure set up, instead of diving right in without a clue into how to run a business. Fortunately, it’s worked out for me, but once you open your studio you’ll be busy with details of scheduling, marketing inventory of your products, and teaching classes. So if you’re able to, take some time to plan it out. Are you going to set up an LLC? Find an accountant you trust to help you make decisions like this if you’re not familiar. Figure out the things you would like to provide, and have a system down. Are you going to use a scheduling software? If so, go ahead and get that set up. Set up your social media accounts. Are you going to sell products? If so, how are you planning to keep up with your merchandise. It’s okay to make changes as you go, but it will help you out if you have an organized plan prior. Unless, you seem to do things backwards like me.
10. Lemon Balm Yoga and Wellness is such a great name. How did you decide to name your studio that?
Melissa officinalis, the plant also known as lemon balm, received the name “Melissa” because of its sweet, fresh, citrus-like fragrance which was known to attract bees (Melissa is Greek for “honey bee”). I came to know about the wide range of health benefits and uses of this herb through the use of essential oils. Melissa oil is known as “the oil of light” and is believed to help awaken the soul to truth and light. This oil assists you in releasing anything and everything that is not in harmony with the Divine Source of Light, so you are able to live and dream in higher realms. The meaning of this oil is exactly the offerings I hope to radiate as a studio owner and instructor. And since my name is Melissa, the name was simply provided by the universe.
PS: Melissa gave me one of her Eucalyptus and Lavender Lotion Bars to try out. They smell so good, it’s amazing, and I love how they melt on your skin. I had eczema, and I tell you, IT WENT AWAY! I bought ten bars as gifts, and every single one of those recipients of the magical lotion bar loved it (I didn’t ask - they called me and told me).
Melissa says if you want to order one of those lotion bars (incredible) or other products just contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org because her store is not up and running yet. She says she’ll be happy to make some and send to you.
If you’re interested in purchasing essential oils, Melissa can advise you on what you need. Click here for Melissa’s doTerra oils.
Do you own your own studio? What can you add to this conversation?
Related: How to Take Your Next Step as a Yoga Teacher
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