Last week, I led my first workshop on the finances of being a yoga teacher. I was so fired up to lead this workshop, and as soon as the workshop was over, I started planning furiously for the next one - because it was so clear that yoga teachers need a community in which they can talk honestly about money.
One of the topics we discussed was pricing. I shared that, after years of offering sliding scale pricing for my private sessions, I no longer do. I do, however, use sliding scales for some of my workshops, series, and teacher trainings. I have thought a lot about various ways of charging for the services I offer, and have experimented quite a bit over the years. In addition to sliding scales, I’ve tried donation-based pricing, as well as set pricing. I’ve set my prices low, and, over the years, I’ve set them higher. Sometimes, I’ve included “suggested donations"; other times, I’ve left it all up to fate. In my years of trial and error, I’ve come up with a few thoughts and theories that you might find useful if you, too, have struggled. to set your prices. Here they are:
Set pricing is the most common way to charge for services, and the least radical. You tell your clients what you charge, and they can take it or leave it. Many will take it, and some will indeed leave it - either because they literally cannot afford it, or (more often), because your services are simply not enough of a priority to them. This means that the students who do take it are generally the ones who really want to make you a priority. They will rearrange their budget if they need to, they will ask for financial help, or take out a loan - however they do it, they will make it work.
Of course, set pricing can be problematic. For one, it can be less accessible to folks of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and therefore leave you, the provider, with only a privileged subset of clientele. Especially for those of us who strive for accessibility and equity in our offerings, it is hard to accept that some people will find our services inaccessible.
In the same token, it can be difficult to set our prices as high as they should be, and to believe in them. Especially when we know our students are used to paying $15 for a drop-in class, it can feel uncomfortable to ask for $150 for a private session. Of course, a drop-in class is an entirely different service than a private session, so it would make sense that the cost would be different, too - but the mind cannot help but compare.
To me, set pricing makes sense for services that are 1:1, or that are paid for by an organization or corporation (i.e., yoga for school/ university students, office workers, or private parties). This way, we, as providers, are sure that we will be paid enough for our time (as long as we set our set prices high enough, of course!).
Sliding scales can be a wonderful way of creating more equity. They allow those who have less to pay less, and those who have more to contribute more. In theory, this works out so that 1) we, the providers, know what we will make at minimum, 2) people who might not otherwise have been able to access the service have more access, and 3) the teacher and cohort have a more socioeconomically diverse group of students - all great things!
The challenges with sliding scales, however, are worth noting. Over my years of using sliding scales, I have heard from many students that sliding scales cause them anxiety - that they would much rather just be told the price to pay, and then they can decide whether they can afford it or not - because not every service is for every student.
It is also tricky for teachers to decide where the sliding scale starts and ends. For example, if my “standard” rate for a private session is $150, does that mean my sliding scale should go from $125-$175? Or from $150-$200? And what if someone still cannot afford the lowest rate on the scale - should I widen the range to make it more accommodating? At what point does the scale’s range become too large?
It took me a while, but I eventually learned that when I use sliding scales, I need to decide what my standard rate is, and make that the lowest price on the scale, not the middle. So, if my private session rate is $150, my scale might be $150-$200 (not $125-$175). If the purpose of a sliding scale is to promote fairness, we need to remember that part of that fairness is you getting paid fairly for your time, expertise, and energy.
Payment by donation:
Payment by donation is similar to sliding scales, but even more radical. Some people may pay nothing at all, while for others, the sky’s the limit. In theory, this kind of pricing is the most equitable, and the students that it attracts, the most diverse. There is also something wonderful about trusting your students and clients completely - that some students will contribute generously and abundantly while others might not, but that with enough students, it will all even out. When it works out, it is awesome! Then, there are the times when you wonder, “Wow… Did anyone care at all about all the energy and time I just put into that?!”
The most significant challenge I have noticed with the donation model is that, when people do not commit anything financially, they are far less likely to commit their energy or time. I have had dozens of students register for my donation-based workshops (in person and live-streamed), only to not donate, and not show up. This does not bother me, as long as enough people still show up and pay, but in the long term, it is not sustainable; it also does not especially help me to feel valued for my work.
What I’ve settled on (for now):
For me, what makes the most sense is to offer some services with set prices, some with sliding scales, and some by donation. Here’s how it breaks down:
Offerings that have set prices:
Semi-private & small group sessions
1:1 teacher mentorship
Offerings that use sliding scales:
Group teacher mentorship
Offerings by donation:
Occasional asana classes
I am sure I will rework my pricing structure over the years, but for now, this is what feels right. If you are a yoga teacher, or service provider who sets your own prices, and wonders what kind of pricing structure you should use, know that you’re not alone, and that there is not a right or wrong way to do it. The only thing I urge you to remember is this:
You deserve to be paid well for your services. And by allowing yourself to be paid well for your services, you are, in turn, encouraging other service providers to be paid well for theirs.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to make a more sustainable, profitable living as a yoga teacher, join the waitlist for my upcoming mentorship series, Making a Living as a Yoga Teacher. We’ll discuss everything from setting your financial goals, to how to create a personal business plan. And to ensure personalized attention and discussion, space is limited to 25 students.
Keep on rockin’, y’all. And don’t forget how valuable you are!