The California shelter-in-place was the first in the country that required owners of “non-essential” businesses to shutter their physical locations—and without much notice. Jean-Marie Moore and Zola James, co-founders of Anasa Yoga in Oakland’s Laurel neighborhood, made some quick decisions that have helped them adapt their business to stay afloat and serve their community.
These are some of the lessons they learned in the mad scramble to move their entire business online.
Be open to learning new things
Find the yoga value of a dictionary
Zola had never taken an online class, much less taught one. But there was no choice. Entrepreneurs are used to quickly executing new ideas, and that skill was much needed in this moment.
“The idea of teaching a 3,000-5,000-year-old tradition virtually and traditionally was mind-boggling to me: we had to learn not just the technology, but how to teach well virtually.” – Zola
All good yogis —and business owners—know they can’t be afraid to make mistakes or adjustments. The first few classes were an experiment. Teachers learned to use more verbal cues to teach yoga poses from afar, and Zola has enjoyed being creative with household yoga props; it turns out a dictionary makes a perfectly good yoga block.
Make a to-do list
Check the toilet
Jean-Marie created a road map of things that needed to happen to shift from a physical business to a virtual one. Her checklist includes:
Talk to Staff: When shelter-in-place came down, they immediately had a virtual meeting with all their teachers to see who would be interested and able to instruct online.
Client Communications: They didn’t want to panic the community by just closing and felt it was important to share their plan to reopen virtually. This required email communication, social posts, and a website update.
“It’s time to hone project management skills – from the beginning I’ve been like, ‘OK, this is a project.'” – Jean-Marie
Property Management: They needed to secure their shuttered studio. They alerted security, cleaning crews, utilities, and the landlady. Security cameras are on, phones are off and forwarding, utilities were suspended or slowed, and valuables were removed. Another tip: popping in to flush toilets occasionally makes the sewer system less likely to back up later.
Record-keeping: Jean-Marie has kept a file on her computer called “Items to change back after COVID-19.” This will help her remember to change things like “in the sign-up app, all of our classes are re-titled with ‘online’ right now,” and will serve as a “What to do” if this should happen again.
Stay connected and consistent
Remember to unmute
Outbound communications across channels are important, but so are more personal check-ins. Each community member is dealing with a different level of trauma and uncertainty.
Yoga is all about connection, and so this is the one thing that we really value and want to hold onto. Our students are just so grateful to see each other and their community. – Jean-Marie
Jean-Marie and Zola try to maintain their customer service level and welcoming atmosphere virtually. They have a host in every class, and they’ve created a script so hosts know what to say before, during, and after class. Attendees are unmuted at the beginning and end of class, so people have a chance to say hello and goodbye.
Harness the power of your community
Tap into funding
“In the beginning, this was really daunting… but if you use your strengths and the strengths of people around you…” – Zola
Even before the shutdown, Jean-Marie was talking with other yoga studio owners on a Facebook group about their plans. She’s also active on her local small business Yahoo Group, where people share various grants and funding programs.
Jean-Marie has applied for an SBA PPP loan, an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), and 6 grants — a Verizon-LISC small business recovery grant, 2 grants from Reclamation Ventures for people of color/underestimated groups, another from Hello Alice, the Bumble grant, and the Amber grant.
Her tip: set aside dedicated time to apply for financial support. Once you do one, the rest are easy. Save your answers, and copy and paste them into other applications.
Appreciate expanded boundaries
Finding the upside in this disaster is, perhaps, not unexpected from two women who teach an ancient spiritual tradition. Beyond learning a new digital skillset, they have a sense that their communities will come out of this closer than before.
Jean-Marie and Zola are grateful for the opportunity to expand the boundaries of their community. Through their digital classes, they’re reconnecting with people who have moved away, and they’re seeing friends and family members of both students and teachers attend classes.
And, of course, this Great Slowdown does give all of us the time to do some of the things that we can’t typically enjoy. Whether or not we like the reason for it, this is an opportunity for us to both stretch ourselves and focus on what’s in front of us.
“I love cooking and gardening, and we have all this time to do it, and I’m actually rather enjoying that.” -Jean-Marie