Case Study: How a yoga instructor handled losing 40% of her income

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As I’ve been traveling around on my media tour, I’ve been doing local meetups in a bunch of cities. One of the things people have been telling me is they want more in-depth case studies of people dealing with money. Today, I’m trying something new. With the help of Janna Santoro, we’re posting in-depth looks at how people deal with money.

Let me know what you think — is the style right? What would you like to see more/less of? And if you’re interested in having us do a case study of you, follow the link at the bottom of this post.

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This is a guest post by Janna Marlies Santoro, a freelance writer and editor working toward the goal of increasing her income by $1,000 per month.

In this profile, meet Asia Nelson, owner of Pranalife Yoga in Ontario, Canada, who who went from earning $5k/month in a stressful corporate job to earning almost $3k/month working 1/3 the time doing something she loves. As you read, notice how Asia:

• Uses free time to earn more (instead of whining about how much her expenses are)
• Has a low monthly burn rate and ahead for slow business by setting up a rainy-day fund
• Is productizing her knowledge so she can scale her business

Now, read on…

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Asia’s Financial Stats

Pay Day: on average $2,800/mo
Expenses: $2,300/mo
Big Ticket Items:
Car=$700/mo, including monthly payment, insurance, registration, maintenance and gas.
Rent=$550/mo, including Internet and utilities.
Food=$400/mo.
Urge to Splurge: Travel
Money Philosophy: “In yoga, breath is the source of life and your key meditation tool. Money is like breath: You definitely miss it if it’s not there. If you have an even flow in and out, you’re healthy. If you can take more in when you need it, and let it out when you need to, you’ve got a good system to feed your life.”

Hard Numbers

When Asia left her job as an interactive design advisor to start Pranalife in 2006, she was making well over $5,000 a month. That number dropped to as low as $500 during her first six months of business. The only reason she made that leap, she says, is that she was so in love with the idea of teaching yoga.

During those first months, Asia lived on a line of credit until her bank called with the news that the credit line was about to turn into a loan – a loan that she’d have to start paying back. “I asked myself what I really wanted and what I’m willing to do to get it,” she says. “I didn’t want to replace a stressful life that I didn’t enjoy with another stressful life that wasn’t making any money.”

It forced her to start looking critically at what she was doing. She made drastic changes and implemented several critical strategies:
• Purged negative and unsupportive relationships
• Took time to observe what parts of her business worked and focused on doing them well
• Recruited mentors, asking them what to do today to stop the bleeding
• Leveraged relationships at her bank and, with projected income statements signed by studios where she taught, petitioned for a new line of credit
• Got a commissioned sales job, which allowed her to work on her own time and still bring in extra cash

Before the sales job, Asia says she was freaking out, attempting to run Pranalife based on earning money as fast as possible. She was broke and had to get people to come to her yoga classes. The sales job freed her to make smarter business decisions.

Breaking Even

From there, Asia came to a place where, over time, she established a name for herself. She also knew the value of a quality web site. Because of that presence, one phone call gave her the niche she’s built her brand around.

“A big breakthrough came with discovering private yoga instruction,” Asia says.

But when she got the call, Asia had no experience with private yoga instruction. So she spent money to make money and signed up for her own private sessions, which allowed her to learn the nuances of private instruction and modify her teaching accordingly.

“Now I can make $60-$120 an hour from one client instead of trying to herd people into a class for the same or less money. I niched and flourished.”

Asia is also no stranger to feast-famine cycles. “My father was a contractor in the oil field so we were always having to plan for the down times,” she says, “and I’d been a student for seven years, squirreling away when I needed to and dealing with ups and downs.”

By dialing in her income cycle – the motivated months of January and September versus the slacker months of December and August – she budgets accordingly for the year based on her average monthly income. She adapts and uses the down times for personal development, research, business planning and writing.

Asia also considers herself a low-maintenance spender who lives simply. “I keep my material possessions to a minimum,” she says, “and put money toward a good trip instead.” But she does spend when necessary, like on her car: a $5,000 purchase that she’s paying off at $400 a month. “I hate interest,” she says, “so I take the big per-month hits in order to get things paid off quickly.”

Forecasting

Once she stopped worrying about her cash flow, Asia moved from short-term, fast-money-making thinking to understanding long-term investments. Her long-term investments with Pranalife include developing training for yoga teachers, planning yoga retreats and writing a book. Moving away from the time-for-money model, she’s implementing things now that will bring her returns in five years.

Asia now averages about $2,600-$3,000 a month, working 1/3 of the time as her previous job. “That’s where I’m really rich,” she says. “I have control over how I spend each day, which is more valuable to me than anything.”

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42 Comments

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  1. This is great! Please keep up the series. Love the book, btw.

  2. Excellent – I like this a lot. I love to hear action orientated stories of how people manage their careers and finances.

    Couple of questions:

    1. It states her pay day (I assume total income) is $2,800 and her expenses are $2,300. Where does the extra $500 go? Savings, invested back into her business, shopping, etc?

    2. I like the second sales job to supplement income. Is this meant to be a short-term solution to generating income while her business gets up and running? Also curious to what kind of sales job allows her to work reasonable hours to generate commissioned sales, while also allowing her to spend the majority of her time to focus on the business.

    Good stuff! Keep it up.

  3. It’s always inspiring to see someone take charge of his or her life and work for goals. Asia is being proactive and I personally would like to see more stories like this.

    Dave

  4. I like it, although I would like to see more specific information about her spending, much like my favorite ‘money diaries.’

  5. This post came at the perfect time for me! I’m also in the process of starting my own business (life coaching and writing) and there was some great information in here that gave me some confidence in my own success.

  6. I like this case study idea a lot, Ramit. I’d also be interested in being able to follow updates on her successes and lessons learned.

    She will undoubtedly have to mitigate unforeseen obstacles, and I would love to see how she applies sound financial principles and solid decision-making to address them.

    Cheers from Atlanta.

  7. I’d like to know how Janna is doing with her 6 month goal :)

    I would like to see more details on the 5 critical changes she made; think they would make for great posts. Enjoyed this very much though.

  8. The concluding paragraph states: “Asia now averages about $2,600-$3,000 a month, working 1/3 of the time as her previous job.”

    Does this include her part time sales job? If it does, does she forsee being able to give up that sales job in the future?

  9. I like it, but would love to see more detailed info on discretionary spending a la The Money Diaries. Blending the 2 would make a really interesting series.
    And as someone else mentioned, having followups would be neat too.
    I would participate if I can be anonymous!

  10. Great post. I say, if possible just do what feels right to you. For example I just switched to four day work week. It’s what I always wanted, to have more free time, to read, exercise, visit art galleries… So I went and talked to my boss about it. He of course wasn’t happy, but after two months he’s as happy as a very happy person. That’s because my work improved dramatically and that’s what matters. And working 4 days and having 3 day off compared to 5/2 makes a big difference.

  11. Great article!

    It’s important she was able to recognize the feast/famine cycles. I wonder how many years it took her to recognize that as a normal cycle of her clients, vs something differently she was doing (marketing?) to affect it.

  12. Good job.
    1. I like the “Financial Stats”
    2. Maybe fix: “in Ontario, Canada, who who went from earning $5k/month”
    3. I think we all appreciate a detailed breakdown of “hard numbers” and then an explanation of how people manage making sacrifices for things they truly believe in (control over her time, in this case).

  13. I see this post incorporates a bit of Tim Ferriss’ ideas of valuing one’s time as much as the money that comes with working. A very good remainder that finding a balance between making a living and taking control of one’s time are equally important when it comes to defining success.

  14. Wow – I’m so glad everyone was happy to read my story! Janna – awesome job!!

    To address some of the follow-up questions. The “extra” money I make (it never really feels like that!) goes directly to paying down that loan from when I was starting up and on a steep learning curve. For my second job I did sales for an industrial sign company, so I took contracts when I had the time and it was very flexible. I did that job for about a year, and then was able to move to full-time yoga instruction when my private yoga business picked up.

    I’ve been in the fitness industry for years, so I’m aware of the feast/famine cycles. It took me about a full year to realize that yoga is no exception to that rule. People show up in droves in Sept when the kids (or they) go back to school, and in January after the Christmas binge. Summer fun and Christmas obligations tend to have them skip the workout – and the yoga. Fortunately, I’ve fired my bad/uncommitted clients and nurtured my good clients, so only my classes (over which I have less control) show a noticeable flux these days.

    And Dana – I LOVE Tim Ferriss!!! That book was a key turning point for me. Finding it and finding Ramit’s blog were major contributions to making and sticking with the changes I’ve made to have the life I love!!

  15. Ramit,
    The case study work format works well for a couple of reasons:
    - it humanizes the big picture topics you so often discuss.
    - when people share their story it allows readers to take bits and pieces of their experience and apply to our own financial lives.

    Asia,
    Thank you for sharing your story!

  16. Asia, thanks for posting an answer to the follow up questions! I’m glad to hear you were able to drop the sales job in a relatively short time span :)

  17. Seven hundred a month for the car- 150 more than her rent? WTH? She should live in the car…
    We have three vans, one a business vehicle and I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than $400/mo for total vehicle expenses. This is in Cali, btw.

  18. yeah i like these case study things. they’re much more personal and inspirational than a regular article.

  19. Paying $700/month for a car is foolish. I’m not following in this person’s footsteps. Sorry.

  20. 700/month seems about right with everything included. It’s high, but it’s not unbelievable. I bet if most people (paying on a new car) broke down car payment/insurance/gas and all that it would be something around there.

  21. Ramit, I think the case studies are tremendous, It is always encouraging to see real life examples of people that step out and make things, happen…I stepped out a year ago and failed but I learned and I am ready to step back out.

  22. I really like the case study and the money diaries…I think its great to see real world examples in action. I love reading the comments on it too…in this case, this looks like a pretty together women who wants to go after her dreams. Great stuff!

  23. Inspiring tale..Must say that this has inspired me to give really hard thought on the way I look at my money… It is imporatant at the end of the day to be master of your own money and time.. this is waht one tends to achieve by achieving financial independece. The absolute amount is not that important.
    Please share more of such stories.

  24. Yes, my car expenses are crazy right now! Keep in mind that $400/mo of that is the payment I’m making so as to have the car paid off in one year. Also, with most of my private clients I go to them in the comfort of their homes so I spend a fair amount of time driving places each day. And because my car is central to my biz and I spend so much time in it, I have the best insurance possible.

  25. Thanks for sharing this story. It’s very positive and interesting.

  26. Why are people criticizing the fact that she’s paying extra on the car? That means paying less in interest overall.

    Asia, I like your website a lot. Very simple and to the point.

  27. What a great inspiring story to start the day with!
    Thank You & Abundant Blessings to all!

  28. Thanks, Asia, for sharing your story and your comments on this article. I’ll check out your website next. Interesting to hear you were inspired from this blog and the 4HWW – it would be great to hear more of the internal dialogue you had to go through to get through “the dip” as Seth Godin calls it.

  29. I’m hoping to launch my own small business in the next few years. This post’s topic was spot-on and I’d love to see more of it.

    I want to echo those asking for more detailed information on someone’s personal finances for a case study. Those details are sometimes the most fascinating parts.

  30. Nice story, really well-written (‘sound bite’), although I wouldn’t mind some extra depth either, as in how did she arrive at some of her ideas (e.g. the book).

  31. good post. it gives me an idea

  32. Great new series, very inspirational so I hope you keep it up! Both this and The Money Diaries make for great stories, reading about financial principles is really all the same, but seeing how some people live (or don’t) them out is the best way to inspire changes in one’s own financial house! I only hope that someday I’m as lucky as Asia and find a way to niche myself into self-employment. :)

  33. Asia, I’m not sure what you mean when you say you “fired your bad/uncommitted clients.” Are you referring to your yoga students? Everything is always in flux, including your students. And as a yoga student of 15+ years, whose finances frequently bottom up, I’m simply unable to commit to ongoing lessons. It saddens me to think that you would “fire” those who can’t commit to you, when you seem unwilling to commit to them and be supportive of life stuff that often keeps people from doing the things that can help them blossom and grow.

  34. Something about the car bothers me. Does anyone here know if trying to pay off a $5000 car in one year makes sense? If I have a car that I completely need for work every day and drive it around a lot, one that’s bound to have some serious repairs soon since it only cost $5000, and then I pay high insurance on it to keep me safe and pay for repairs that might amount to more than the car is worth . . . is she flushing money down the tubes? Sounds like a money drain with tons of money ahead of her to keep that car going and with no return on her money, because with all those added miles, who would buy it? Am I making sense? I think she has caught herself in a bit of a money trap with that car. Even though the thought of making payments on, say, a $10,000 car may seem scary, you can get a good car for that price, one that holds its value and probably won’t need more than the usual maintenance checks. Thoughts on this?

  35. “f I have a car that I completely need for work every day and drive it around a lot, one that’s bound to have some serious repairs soon since it only cost $5000[...]”

    Amy, that view is fairly narrow-sighted. There are MANY fine examples of cars in that price range that will last, price has NOTHING to do with the mechanical needs of a car. I’ve heard many horror stories about brand new cars having failing components, all the way up to total engine failure before 10k miles. (The newest bad stories I’ve heard involve the Mitsubishi Evo X, all sorts of things go wrong with some and they’re BRAND NEW. I’ve had at least two stories from two different people about two different problems. Same car, though.) My $6k car works just fine and has never left me stranded, and is also raced regularly while still being a daily driver.

    Of course, it’s all up to opinion. If she wanted, she could see about tax benefits for claiming part of the car for business purposes. That would maybe let her have a newer car, though it sounds like the older one was indeed a choice.

  36. The Mitsubushi you mentioned, yes. It mostly depends on the model you choose. I think I made a valid point, and I do feel that a $5000 car is probably one that is rapidly approaching (if not exceeding) 100,000 miles, and all kinds of maintenance expenses once that mile marker is reached. Going gung-ho on paying it off with huge monthly payments, and getting no return on that car once it’s reached its end . . . combined with huge insurance payments on a car whose damage in an accident could easily exceed or at least come close to exceeding its value . . . just stuff to think about.

  37. I like the case study format!

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  39. I like the case study format.. To the 2nd commentator and others who are interested, “hiremymom.com” has a lot of commission based and work from home jobs available.. I signed up in Feb and was able to get 2 offers/independent contractor jobs within a couple of weeks..

  40. I would LOVE follow-ups and some of the more in-depth info because I have been considering yoga certification. Rather than work for a studio, though, I would want to do more of my own thing, but the idea of renting a space did not sound very appealing. How great to learn there’s another way to run a yoga business that works.

    @Amy–How did you find your locations, and what sort of agreement did you work out with those spaces? I like your site, by the way. Very clean look and well organized.

  41. I love this–I need to read how other people are becoming improving their lives (or not). It helps me make my own decisions. I’m re-subscribing to your site, because of this post. Please keep it up!!

  42. Ok, 2 points to address:

    1. When I “fired” my clients, that meant I dropped private clients who weren’t matching my vision and dedication. For example, I had a handful of people who had the money/could afford me, but who were not dedicated. This meant I would often be left outside their home during a scheduled session time b/c they forgot to let me know they’d be gone. They’d still pay me, but that’s not the kind of relationship I want to have with my clients. It’s as much an energy exchange as a financial one. Letting go of those clients freed me up to take on the clients I have now, who are all enthusiastic about their yoga practice. We create a mutually positive experience!

    2. The car. Oh, the car. Seems to be causing quite a stir. To be clear, my car is a ’97 Lexus. A bit up on the scale, but it was so well taken care of (had less than 100 000km when I bought it), previously owned by a little old lady who used it to get groceries and almost never drove it in the winter. I couldn’t pass it up. Yes, I could’ve let those payments be lower and pay longer, but I simply preferred to have the thing paid off right away. Now, as of next month it’s paid and I’ve adjusted in the meantime to spending an extra $400/mo. Once my last payment is done, I’ll seamlessly redirect that $400/mo to a better health insurance plan and more investing in marketing.

    Hope that provides more clarity!