Making of a Yoga Center, Pt. 1

published in March 08 issue of Yoga Therapy in Practice.

 

After more than ten years working as an independent contractor, YTIP contributor J. Brown has decided to open a Yoga Therapy center in his neighborhood of Williamsburg Brooklyn. In this series of personal essays, he shares some honest detail about the process.

 

First obstacle was financing. I had already been turned down at the bank, it seems traditional lenders are not interested in start-up ventures. Web searches had produced nothing but dubious lines of credit. Then the universe smiled, and my eleventh Google search revealed a company in California called Strategies for Small Business (www.strategiesforsmallbusiness.com). I had discovered the SBA Community Express Loan.

In May of 1999, the U.S. Small Business Association initiated a program that encourages select lenders to provide low-interest long-term loans to people with good credit and no collateral by offering an 85% government guarantee. The SBA determines eligibility criteria; however, dispersal of the loans remains at the discretion of private lenders. Even with the guarantee, lenders remain reticent to make such loans.

But one woman, Sue Malone, has pioneered this capital for people like me through Strategies for Small Business. When I told her my credit score, she just about dropped the phone. After 12 years of diligent student loan repayment (recently completed), strong credit was the one thing I had going for me, at least as far as financial institutions are concerned.

As part of the loan agreement, direct payments must be made from a business checking account. So I took the opportunity to form a single-member limited liability company and obtain a federal tax ID number. Not absolutely necessary, lawyer and publishing fees are indeed scary, but it felt like a smart thing to do and showed favorably on the application.

With all these matters, there is a steep learning curve. The experience of making a formal business plan and applying for loans was horribly intimidating. Thanks to the invaluable service of Sue, and Strategies For Small Business, I was successfully approved and funded.

The next major hurdle was securing a space, no small feat when dealing with the fickle and sometimes ruthless world of NY real estate. Timing is of the essence, and even more important is enough money to pay for a good broker. I had hoped to avoid this severe cost. However, making it happen eventually required doling out the cash. Upon signing the lease, I had already spent a large chunk of my loan money. The rent is more then I budgeted, but the location, right off the subway with lots of foot traffic, warrants the risk.

After commissioning a logo design and ordering equipment, I could go no further without first informing the owners of Yoga centers that currently employ me. In particular, one center that is not too far from where I plan to set up shop. I have taught at this center since it opened seven years ago, developing a considerable student base there. I was careful to find a location that is a respectful distance away, but some migration is likely unavoidable and, to be frank, desirable.

In the past, I have witnessed senior teachers, who are branching off on their own, attempt to keep their plans a secret while they covertly promote. Invariably though, the owner finds out and summarily fires the teacher, creating unfavorable sentiments all around. I decided to call the owner of this center straight away. Over the years, I have always had good communication and friendship with the owner, and anything less then full disclosure felt disingenuous. Nonetheless, it was a difficult conversation.

On a personal level, she was supportive. She understood that this is something I need to do, and appreciated me being forthright. At the same time, from a business standpoint, the situation was sticky. It made no sense to have a teacher on staff who, in two months, was opening a center of his own in the vicinity. However, firing me immediately would probably have meant an even bigger hit financially then keeping me on.

Ultimately, we talked it through and came to a mutual agreement. I would finish out the year, given that I not make any formal announcements or circulate any promotional materials. In return, I was permitted to inform longtime students on a one-to-one basis, an open letter to everyone explaining my departure was posted, and the front desk will disclose my whereabouts, upon request, after I'm gone. Satisfying concerns on both sides did allow for an amicable parting of ways.

My new center will be dedicated to a personal, breath-centered, therapeutic practice. Generally speaking, I've become known as the "breath" guy. Students who have injuries, chronic conditions, or find themselves disenchanted with the usual fast-paced vinyasa, are referred to my class. Attendance has demonstrated an obvious need, and market, for an alternative to athletic or ascetic approaches.

Assembling a staff for the center has been difficult because I know very few teachers who are working within this framework. In fact, most teachers feel pressured to cater to popular, sometimes injurious, notions. To deal with this, I am including teachers who are currently working in more conventional styles but are interested in cultivating a therapeutic orientation. I plan to begin a professional training program, and teachers who are part of the inaugural staff can take this training for free.

One month away from my official opening day, I oscillate between fear and excitement. On the practical side, I am taking on considerable debt, but if all goes well, I stand to double or triple my income in the next two years. On a heart level, I feel myself on the precipice of an uncharted course.

What I find most difficult is resisting expectation. There is no way of knowing in advance if this is really going to fly. But with my best plans laid, and an overwhelming list of tasks at hand, I have no choice but to believe.