The “Covid” regional restrictions forced a large number of entrepreneurs and small business owners to stop operating; however, this doesn’t always mean the end of your business. There are alternative ways to overcome the restrictions, mainly through embracing a more digital way of operating.
Jessica Devi is the owner of Yoga Within, a yoga and wellness studio in Browns Bay, Auckland. They offer group yoga classes, workshops, courses and retreats. They also run Trauma Sensitive Yoga groups and have rooms available for wellness practitioners to use.
Just over four years have passed since Jessica started her business. She has dealt with several closures, lockdown restrictions, and subsequent recovery for the past two years.
As Kiwis are known for their ingenuity, we witness what happens when things get tough in this small business COVID survival story.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I started Yoga Within because I wanted to create an environment where everyone could enjoy yoga and mindful movement. Regardless of your age, size, or experience level, this place is for you. Most importantly, providing a warm, welcoming environment with a strong sense of community was my goal.
In my opinion, the messaging and advertising of yoga had become somewhat hollow. Mainly because many people thought they needed to be fit, young, slim and lycra-clad to practice yoga – that yoga was not for ‘regular people. However, I knew this wasn’t true, and I knew that yoga had been an essential source of healing and strength in my life, and I wanted to share it with others.
When people discover Yoga Within, they often exclaim how wonderful it feels, how welcomed they felt and wished they’d started yoga years ago! Their most significant discovery tends to be around mental health and wellbeing. They know yoga is good for their bodies, but they don’t realise its mental and emotional health benefits. Consequently, it often comes as a welcome surprise and is usually the aspect of yoga that keeps people coming back. Most importantly, they know it’s more than just a workout or a way to keep their bodies strong and supple. It’s about mind and body, a truly holistic path to wellness.
How has your business been affected by the COVID Lockdown Restrictions?
Coping with Covid has been incredibly difficult. The first lockdown was such a shock. I didn’t know what to do, there was no precedent, and I had real bankruptcy fears. It’s a huge studio, so the rent is therefore high. As a young business, I had not yet built myself up to the point where I was making any profit or even paying my salary, so it was a scary time. But once that first lockdown ended, my beloved community rushed back and supported the studio to recover well.
Each lockdown gets more challenging and complex. Fewer people return to classes – their finances may be affected, situations change, or priorities shift. Slowly my client base has dwindled, but I’ve managed to survive – just not thrive.
When the latest lockdown in August 2021 happened, I grasped we were in for a big one, and I knew I had to think very seriously about the future of my business and how I could pivot. Extra revenue streams were needed, and going online seemed the best way to continue to do the work I love and connect with the people who need it.
Has your approach to marketing your business/products/services changed? How have you had to change and adapt your business model or the way you work because of COVID?
Unfortunately, as an in-person business that is considered high risk in these times of covid, I cannot operate at any level other than level 1. In level 2, I can run at around 50% capacity, and in levels 3 and 4, I have to close. Not being able to operate is tough.
As part of the new traffic light system, I can operate at all levels with a vaccine certificate, but this requires excluding those who are not vaccinated. Exclusion presents a challenge. More so because the very reason I opened my studio was that I wanted yoga to be available to ALL people. To be in the position of choosing some people to offer my services to over others is an uncomfortable and saddening situation. My solution was to take my work online.
Being online means I am available to a broader audience. No longer limited to the area directly around the studio’s physical premises and no longer limited to only those who can attend in-person classes. I find this to be more aligned with my views and a more sustainable business model.
Over the four months of this lockdown, I built a library of online classes, practices, and teaching tips and made a resource with hours and hours of content. I also created an online yoga and mindful movement school where I offer a more guided experience. Clients can participate in a range of courses and at-home retreats at their own pace.
For those living abroad and my current clients, my online library offers an affordable and accessible way to connect with the work I am passionate about. My online school provides high-quality content at affordable prices and is wonderful for those who want to dive deeper into their yoga. I have a varied background in movement-related approaches to health and wellness, and I bring all of these into my online school. Clients can explore body-related ways to wellness, wholeness and health at a pace that suits them, and they own the content for life.
In terms of marketing my new online offerings – this is a little tricky. I am applying for funding to help with this as my finances are extremely stretched. I need to build an online following and get the work to the people who will appreciate it (outside of my current client base), but this requires money I don’t currently have.
At the moment, I use digital newsletters and social media to showcase what I’m offering, but I’m aware of needing to reach a wider audience and create alternative revenue streams. The financial challenges of the current situation mean I don’t have the resources to invest in digital marketing. Still, I know this is essential to the success and growth of my business. It’s a tricky time.
What new strategies or initiatives have worked well for you? Is there one that you favour over another?
In my experience, it is the personal touch that works best. It’s essential to connect with people as unique individuals. Additionally, to respect their needs and approach the process of health, healing, and wellness as a collaboration. The best results come when individuals take ownership of their health, not when they hand over their power to someone else and say “fix me”. In all the work I do, I keep this in mind. My method is the same, whether I teach a group class, work 1:1 with a client, or create content for an online course.
I use precise language, ask questions, and pay attention to what my clients are saying and NOT saying. I encourage them to ‘listen’ to what feels most helpful and invite them to participate. By doing so, even a group class can meet the needs of every student.
Although this is harder to do online, I believe I have the skills and ability to do this.
Currently, my most successful marketing initiative is my newsletters. Especially since I love to write and always incorporate personal experiences, insights, and challenges. I find that my clients respond to this. In addition, I am not afraid to share myself openly and honestly and to talk about my fears and failures. Here it makes me human and essential to my clients’ perceptions of me as someone they can trust, not someone they must emulate.
Having a health-related business can make it easy for me to become a figurehead or for people to think I’m always calm, collected, and zen – not true at all! My days are good and bad, just like everyone else’s. Sometimes I find myself in a ball of tears, screaming at my kids or wishing life was different. On the other hand, there are times when I am resourceful, resilient, and strong. Regardless, it is a normal part of life and should be accepted. Why try to be anyone else when the most interesting and best person is yourself, am I right?
In my case, I have over 25 years of experience studying and exploring health and wellbeing. When life gets tough and things fall apart, I come to the table with a pretty big toolkit of things we can do to support ourselves. I have tried and tested tricks and tips on how to recover and move through the tough times and build and sustain energy, strength, resilience, and positivity.
I try to communicate this in my newsletters and social media accounts as honestly and openly as possible.
As mentioned earlier – I’m just at the beginning stage of the marketing and adapting my business to an online model. So at this time, I haven’t changed much. Once I get some expert advice and (hopefully) funding to put this advice into action. I am hoping to integrate new ways of communicating with current clients and reaching new customers.
How has your innovation and adaption to your business benefited your customers?
As soon as they announced the vaccine certificates, I felt a huge sense of relief – at least I would be able to reopen my business and begin to recover from the months of lockdown. After this, I realised that the new system meant excluding some people from attending classes. People were making tough decisions about leaving vocations, changing lives, and clarifying what was most important to them as individuals.
Due to this, I saw and felt division as people grouped themselves into one camp or another. Consequently, I had difficult conversations with clients who would no longer attend in-person classes, and I had to let go of teachers whose choice meant that they could no longer teach yoga in person. I was deeply conflicted, and it was a difficult time for me and everyone concerned.
I decided to reach out and share this with my community and created a newsletter sharing my thoughts, hopes and fears. The response was utterly overwhelming. Within 48 hours, I received over 100 replies from clients who felt the honesty of my writing spoke to them directly. People shared their fears and concerns, and almost every email spoke to how much better each person felt after reading my words. They felt less alone and more connected with others. That the divisiveness they too felt was now less hostile, they felt hopeful and connected again.
These moments of the soul to soul connection inspire and motivate me to keep learning, keep trying, and find a way forward. It is a good day if I can make just one person feel brighter, have less pain, or feel less alone.
When it became clear I would not be able to reopen the studio, I set about creating online content. Once I had enough recorded classes and practices, I launched the video library. As a thank you to everyone who has supported the studio during the many lockdowns and difficulties of the last two years, I offered the first week for free.
Since launching the library, I have had numerous emails from clients saying the practices have helped them manage anxiety and navigate feelings of isolation. I ran into a client last week and had a short outdoor conversation with her. She talked about how hard the previous four months had been. The fear and anxiety had become unbearable for her. Due to this, she had no choice but to leave her job, and her health was suffering. This particular client had contacted me a couple of weeks earlier about gaining access to my video library. During our chat, she shared that practising with me online each day was helping. She was finally starting to feel her anxiety shift and hopeful for a return to feeling good again soon.
These kinds of interactions are everything. When someone shares how their life has improved since starting yoga, or how they can sleep better, don’t have pain at night, or feel like they can finally take a deep breath – this is huge! So many of us are living our lives knotted up in balls of stress, our health declining, and our bodies breaking down. It doesn’t have to happen. The greatest gift of yoga and mindful movement is that it is SO straightforward. The practices are profoundly life-changing but yet so very easy to do.
Simply taking a deep breath, learning how to slow down, remembering what’s important, what matters and releasing the pressure of modern living, this is what I want to share with people.
What have I learnt from this experience, and will you continue with this digital marketing strategy after COVID?
Despite the most challenging circumstances, I discovered that I am strong and resourceful.
Further, I remind myself of the importance of my work and supporting emotional, physical, and mental well-being. I am more determined than ever to reach out to anyone in need of this work in any way that I can.
Will you carry on with the online initiative regardless of what COVID may bring in the future?
Even after the lockdown and level restrictions, I will continue to build my video library by regularly filming and creating more content. I have many ideas for my online school that I’m excited to bring to fruition – I feel there is so much scope for goodness in this area. I only wish there were more hours in the day!! Business is just like yoga because you have to stretch to succeed!
The moment it entered the studio, she saw COVID legislation as something to fear, that even her most robust warrior pose began to quiver. It was only for a few weeks, they said, and hey, it’s for your good — right?
Although she always knew it wouldn’t be a life sentence… or is it? However long and coupled with uncertainty, it will always be too long a time away from Jess’s beloved fellow yogis, clients and studio.
Namaste COVID, you can keep them out, but you can’t keep them from their downward dog.
You can find Jessica at :
Website = https://yogawithin.co.nz
Online yoga school = https://yoga-mindful-movement.teachable.com
Instagram and Facebook = @yogawithinnz
Author: Jenni Harrison