No matter who we are, we have all been impacted somehow this year by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve really appreciated some of the small businesses that I patronize like vegan-favorite Detroit Street Filling Station being so open, honest and transparent about the pandemic-induced struggles they have been facing. I’ve also found it eye-opening–and validating–to talk to some of my students who are also small business owners, like the proprietor of Sweet Heather Anne, and others who are massage therapists and own cleaning businesses, about how the pandemic is affecting them. I think that unless you’re a small business owner yourself, you really have no idea what goes on behind the scenes and how much work it takes to keep a small business running. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my own ‘year in review’ update about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on my small business. Buckle up, it’s a long and bumpy ride…
The past 4 years had been such a huge time of learning curves for me – buying a new house; renovating a yoga studio; a bathroom remodel and other home updates; pool maintenance; a new built-from-scratch online booking system for the studio; and a new website (that I had planned to put off until next year–until my old website got hacked and made it an urgent matter)–that both my brain and nervous system were fried. I was mentally exhausted and felt overwhelmed most of the time. I could tell the ongoing stress was affecting me physically. By the time the last of the above-mentioned things was finally crossed off my list this February, I had made the firm commitment to make the rest of 2020 a Year of Self-Care. I was going to relax more, read, treat myself to semi-private Pilates classes with a friend, get an extra yoga class in each week…life was finally going to ‘get back to normal.’
When the pandemic hit in earnest in mid-March I agonized for a weekend before making the tough decision to suspend in-person classes–right before the shut-down order came from the Governor. We had just started a 4-month session that would run through June (that students had already pre-paid for), so I decided to record weekly Hatha and Vinyasa audio sessions to email to students in lieu of group classes until the need for social isolation had passed. (At the time, I think we all believed it would be a couple months at most.) Recording audio sessions to a room full of no one was odd at first, and came with its own unique set of challenges, including having to re-record full 75-minute classes at least a couple times. Now, 70+ sessions in, I can (and sometimes do) do it with my eyes closed! ;) I was very grateful that nearly all of my students were very understanding and supportive about this ‘pivot.’ They were actually more than understanding; they were extremely appreciative that I was giving them some semblance of normalcy in their lives each week. I took real comfort in that knowledge until…
March turned into April and I started seeing emails in my inbox and posts in my Facebook feed about all the things other yoga studios and teachers were doing, and how I needed to be doing them too to keep my business afloat during the pandemic and beyond! By the time May rolled around panic had set in. If we weren’t back to in-person classes by June I would need to start thinking about what I was going to offer my students when this 4-month session ended. Bigger yoga studios with more staff were livestreaming classes, making videos, offering online memberships, hosting Facebook Live sessions–and a lot of them were giving these things away for FREE! While I think that is an absolutely terrible business model that de-values what I and other hard-working yoga instructors and studio owners do to earn a living, I was worried that I would not be able to compete. I was only one person and, as I mentioned a few paragraphs back, my brain and nervous system were still fried from the past 4 years. I knew I could not cope with learning how to run Zoom classes by myself, or figure out the intricacies of video production. Luckily, I’ve been doing this yoga and meditation thing long enough that I have some skills to draw upon, and I am good about soliciting advice from wise teachers, so I took some time to pause, gestate and make a conscious pivot, adding only what I knew I could comfortably handle to an upcoming summer course offering that had been brewing in my mind, ‘Soothing Yoga for Stressful Times.’
I kept my fingers crossed that all my students would stay with me and enroll in the brand-new course (continuing the weekly Hatha and Vinyasa audio sessions, and adding a few extra bonuses: a new on-demand Video Library that I had slowly and painstakingly started solo-producing; a weekly Zoom talk with my ‘spiritual guru’ that I hosted; and pop-up poolside classes when the weather and my neighbors’ lawn mowing schedules permitted). Having put a lot of time and effort into this new course, I will admit I was a little disappointed that ‘my numbers,’ as we say in the yoga biz, dropped by almost 20% for summer.
Nevertheless, summer ended up being the busiest time of the year for my business. Luckily, I was able to offer socially-distanced private yoga sessions on my patio, as well as Aqua Yoga sessions in the pool. These sessions kept me busy, and made up for my diminished income. I continued offering these outdoor classes as long as I could into my next early-fall course. I know my students really appreciated being able to come together to practice in person outdoors. It was so great to finally be able to see each other face-to-face (albeit from a 6-foot distance)!
I kept my fingers crossed that once the nicer weather was over some of my students who were missing during the summer would return for my brand-new ‘7 Weeks to Better Posture’ course. (When I say brand-new, what I mean is that I created never-before-taught-by-me 2-month courses with specific themes, and each class sequence within the course focused on a different aspect of that theme. It is a huge undertaking to create even one brand-new course (and something most teachers never do). Over 6 months, I created three of them back-to-back-to-back in an effort to keep my students engaged. I actually enjoy this aspect of my job–but it is VERY time-consuming. (I’ll leave the very time-consuming aspects of my job that I don’t particularly enjoy for another blog post!) The hard work I put into the Posture course–which included weekly Hatha and Vinyasa audio sessions, more new videos, a few pop-up outdoor classes and a few live Posture Clinics on Zoom–was greatly valued by many of my students. However, enrollment still dropped by another 20% for the fall.
With the re-opening of fitness centers and gyms in September I made the decision to not re-open the studio. The ‘rules of re-opening’ made it impractical because of the size of my space and the capabilities of one person (me!); plus, I still did not feel it was safe for myself and my students, and my intuition (thanks to all those 6th chakra/3rd eye practices) told me another shut-down was likely. I did not want to have to pivot and then pivot back again. I had already started working on one more new virtual course, ‘7 Weeks of Wellness,’ to finish the year, so I continued plugging away at that, adding a bonus weekly online Zoom meditation offering, as I knew that many students were really feeling fatigued and stressed out about the impending election and the realization that we would need to keep social-distancing through the cold winter months. As of this writing we have just a couple weeks left of this course, and I’m happy to report that ‘my numbers’ remained pretty steady going into late-fall.
Sadly, I had to cancel my annual Fall Yoga Retreat this year, which I have been leading since the early 2000s. Though participation had ebbed and flowed over the years the retreat had been very well-attended the last couple years so it was disappointing to call it off, even though it was the right thing to do. (I know we all missed the delicious meals the ladies at Inn at the Rustic Gate prepared for us, especially our favorite Stuffed Squash dinner and Tower of Power brunch!)
Outdoor private sessions and Aqua Yoga ceased with the colder weather, and with that the extra income they provided, but I am extremely grateful for the couple of students who have continued doing weekly private Zoom sessions with me. I am also grateful for the handful of students whose schedules hadn’t allowed them to come to in-person group classes pre-COVID, but who have been enrolling in my virtual courses throughout the pandemic. I’ve even had a few students share what I’m doing with friends–some who have signed up too. And of course I’m most grateful for the long-time students who have stuck with me all year. Some of my new experimental offerings have been hits, some have been misses but, regardless, I still feel very supported by so many of you. I do not take that for granted. While I know my audio session format doesn’t work for everyone, I have been pleasantly surprised by the many emails I’ve received from loyal students saying they love being able to put their screens away, close their eyes and just listen to my voice guiding them through their weekly practice. I am going to close this long blog post (if you actually made it to the end, let me know!) with an email I received from one of them just the other day:
“Thanks for sending this week’s Yoga session. And, thanks for hanging in there with us and for us through these difficult days. You mentioned supporting small businesses, and what you say is something all of us (your students) should do and are likely doing. Please keep in mind, though, that it is you who are supporting us. Through your calm and insightful teaching, you give us an hour of yourself each week with which to find balance in our lives, to restore our sense of positivity, and to help us feel good about ourselves. These difficult days will pass, and maybe by Spring we can be together to practice Yoga with you again in person. Until then, please keep the weekly sessions coming. Thank you.”
This is what keeps me going.