Transparency Notes: On Pricing and What its Worth

The other day I made a facebook live video explaining some details pertaining to this years Online Immersion, Emotional Literacy for Yogis.

I also told you in that video why I decided to lower the tuition price even though we had already "launched" enrollment. Which from what I have gathered from traditional marketing advice is sort of a no-no.

I’m telling you more of the story now to lift the veil in my business and shed some light on pieces you may not know or may be occurring in your own work but around which you feel silenced, shy, ashamed, worried, confused or stuck. 

First some context.

When I first began Applied Psychology for Yogis with a decade of teaching under my belt and a fresh masters degree in my hand, I was asked by my colleagues to share with them in the realms of what I had studied and been implementing that seemed to have great impact. I wanted to share with them elements from neuroscience, attachment research, group dynamic research, relational skills, and developmental movement patters as they relate to the psyche. 

I also had plenty of time to work. No child. No extra responsibilities. Just work. Be married and work. 

These were also what I would call the "Anusara Recovery" years. Honestly, much of my work in the beginning was helping people understand and heal from abuses of power and privilege, unhealthy relational dynamics, old triggered wounds, projections, transference in the hopes that we could mature in a way that would awaken us to these pitfalls of practice and not repeat. At the time I also provided a lot of context in developmental processes, rites of passage, and soul development for my colleagues to land their experiences in whole and sane ways. I was one of the whistle blowers. 

So this work grew directly out of a need my both my immediate and global yoga community had. And it grew out of my own journey and returning the findings back to my community big and small. While in graduate school at Naropa I was always testing and experimenting with which psychotherapeutic tools translated to the context of yoga teaching. What understandings from neuroscience regarding how we learn and log memory, how we develop in relationship were relevant to understanding yoga in a way that was still deeply personal and transformational, but while also being healing and relational. I pushed the edges of bringing yoga into the therapeutic context and I asked what therapeutic benefit or even psychotherapeutic benefit yoga held inherently, without it being therapy per se. Trauma-Sensitive yoga was getting hot. Polyvagal theory was getting hot. 

And honestly, getting online was hot. More and people were “getting online” with their work and businesses and the bubble hadn’t yet burst for the online world of teaching yoga or topics related to yoga. I would say the bubble has burst. Or its about to pop. 

I did not go online to "scale" my business. Though I did go online because my community, partly of my time in Anusara, was global and we used social media to be connected. I also went online because I needed flexibility. Just as my work seemed to be taking off, I was asked to leave my life in CO for NYC with my husband. I gave up my regular public classes and most in person local programs and went with him to a city that was very daunting. I never found my stride as a local teacher in NYC. But my online work blossomed. I also had plenty of time to work, and no child to care for. My days were devoted to work and study. Curriculum design, teaching, practicing and mentoring. 

Right out of the gate, with enough teaching experience to apply the work I had been doing in Somatic Psychotherapy to the context of classes, and that degree in hand, I laid out web based courses and designed Applied Psychology for Yogis. There was a time I was running about 5 classes a year online. We set it up as a school. People wanted to know how I could have possibly built it from scratch. I was sold systems and protocols. I was also solicited to sell my intelectual property more than once.

Now before you think this is some global online psycho take over, let me tell you that my courses have never been in the hundreds. But that was also never my goal, to have courses to hundreds at a time. The most we have had is forty. Which I think is really a lot when you also include individual work with each student. I have also taught online courses that had ten students in them. And for the first time this summer, I cancelled a course because one person enrolled and I just couldn’t make the push through.

One of my goals with teaching online is to cultivate an environment that is worldly in its reach yet safe and contained. I have always tried to be accessible financially but still honor that this is masters level work actually, and that I have a degree to back it up and burgeoning clinical experience. 

The first course I ever offered and charged for was Twelve Essential Terms Every Yoga Teacher Should Know. It was thirty five dollars. I think forty or fifty people actually signed up for that. A bunch of smaller courses were offered following that and what some of you know as the full curriculum came into view. By the time Emotional Literacy was born I think it was priced at two hundred dollars and then quickly went up to three or four hundred when I realized how much work and how many lessons of my time actually were needed to do it justice. 

I have experimented with many different payment structures for courses over the years. Some of which were inspired by what I saw folks I admire doing and other times by what felt right in my own sense And other times by what some business person thought I should do. I have played with pricing courses very low. I have played with offering tiers that you can choose your own amount. I have played with offering discounted rates and packages. Last year I played with bringing the cost of Emotional Literacy up significantly. 

And I have also played with formats. Making courses longer and shorter. Lessons longer and shorter. Bringing in speakers. Partnering with a co teacher. All. Of. It. I have learned what my preferred formats are for which courses. And of course, wide open to a reboot. 

In full disclosure I have also in the past offered scholarships and trades. The trades only worked twice. The scholarships I have never ever regretted. One year about half the enrollment of thirty people in a course payed and the other half had reduced rates or full scholarships. I did not make my financial goal for my business with that course, but it exceeded my expectations for service. I have given a lot away for free. Mostly in ways I feel really great about. 

Also let’s talk about how the market is way different now than six years ago. Than even three years ago. Saturation is one aspect. Another is an expectation to give huge amounts of content online away for free. Apparently this “content marketing”. Endorsements, social leveraging and affiliate marketing all play a role as well. 

Oh, I forgot to tell you I do not do any affiliate marketing. I do not dislike or disagree with this style of marketing and business model. I just don’t feel it is the most ethical for me. Many people have an experience of repair or healing through engaging this curriculum. They may even experience something psychotherapeutic in a course and it does not feel totally clear to me to have affiliate marketing involved in any interaction of that—to me. People who recommend this course or any program or who invite me to teach in different trainings, do so because they want to. They are simply paying it forward. And to that and to them I am incredibly grateful. This business has predominately grown from work of mouth. I have never bought likes or course sales. Again, not because I think it is wrong to do so. It is just not my style. 

Ok back to pricing. 

As I told you previously, I have tried many different approaches to finding the best pricing model. Always aiming to find the right balance between approachability, accessibility, market demand, self-worth, and expertise based on my degree. 

So in the beginning, with less experience, I charged a less. Now I know what it really takes to run an online business and platform. From the energy required to all the little pieces that go into building a platform. I have overhead. Not brick and motor. But my overhead includes digital space, presentation platforms, website etc. I also do a lot of work myself. If you email, I write you back. If you ask me a question on our facebook groups, I write you back. If you need a phone call, we talk. There aren't five soldiers protecting access to me. Though honestly, sometimes I wish there was. I also seek counsel for difficult feedback or when I get triggered. I'd consider that overhead. (Okay, I'll stop with the cheeky now).

Last year I priced Emotional Literacy at the highest it had ever been. $1008. I felt great about the number mostly because I finally was paying myself for the actual amount of all the work involved. And I also felt like after a while of being in the game and refining so many times over, this was what the expertise was worth—my expertise. We honestly had way fewer people enroll than we projected. I mean, the course was awesome and people were really engaged and it was a delight as always. I also added about eight extra classes for them because of how our cohort flowed. It is all good. No regrets or wishes otherwise.

This year, I originally priced out the tuition for Emotional Literacy at $1247. The most I had ever asked for an online course. This included the lessons and the two individual hour long mentoring sessions with me and all the other stuff like manuals, tutorials, bla bla bla. 

Even at that rate, I had some business people tell me I should price it higher. Higher cost, more buy in. Higher cost, more desirable. That sort of thing. I see some coaching programs out there costing way more and participants receive way less. I also see people giving away tons of content away for free all the time. I wonder, when do these people actually make money? There is no steady or sensical pricing with offerings online.

I realize I work with yoga teachers. And yoga teachers often do not make a lot of money. Many of them are working their asses off for little pay. Others are on maternity leave. Others are working pro bono. Others have crafted unique lives to support their lifestyle. Some have day jobs and teach on the side. Some are full-time teachers looking for continuing education. But any way you slice it, affordability always comes up. 

Some business savvy says, price the trainings higher to raise the bar. Some business savvy says to lower the cost so everyone can take it. 

Look, there have been times when I couldn’t afford a training or even go to a yoga class because my back account was overdrawn or I didn’t have the $20. And I have also stretched my pockets to make the thing I want happen. And I also know that stretching in that way is a mark of privilege. I never want to be so expensive I couldn’t pay to take it myself. And I never want to be inaccessible in a way that plays to privilege only.

And I also know that what we are doing in this course, and all my courses online is actually graduate level work. And graduate degrees cost a lot of money. It is why many folks do not go. And I want to be a place for yogis to come and get very high quality education in a very specific topic, just enough to do what they need to do in their work effectively, safely and of course, ethically.

I also know that my time and energy is actually invaluable and at a premium now. No really, they are. I have a toddler remember? I really actually do not have the extra time anymore. I really actually can’t work unless I am not with her. You get the idea. And I know that my evolving experience and expertise through trial and error only makes this work more robust and rich. 

So all of these factors, awarenesses, insights, desires and values swirl into setting pricing. Hence this years $1247. 

I shot the arrow with that number.

After I had set that tuition and we opened applications for enrollment, I laid awake at night feeling icky about it. I ruminated on it. I couldn’t let it go. I did more market research that I thought would help. I sat with the discomfort and asked what I was hoping for and what I my values were here. The number felt misaligned. In my body. 

I talked with my assistant for a long time and reevaluated some numbers, ultimately deciding to bring the tuition down to $1000, just slightly less than last year. 

Here are few ways of how I came to this decision:

I wanted to strike a balance between valuing where this work had come from and where it is now. Honoring the growth of time in how long the course takes to do now—so how much content offered. And time in how long we have been at it and actually laying influence into the yoga culture we have now. 

I also wanted to be respectful of what folks had payed preciously, who had received scholarships, and not engender fear around the process just always destined to increase. This number feels more aligned with that.

I wanted to honor choice in how much contact people have with me in the course. I have always offered individual mentoring sessions as part of this course. And that makes the cost higher as a result. Honestly, one of the trends I have observed is that people are paying for this time but they aren’t always using it. Or they want to use it two years later. I am not in online education for students to be anonymous. But I am also not in it too control what you do with your learning or how involved with me you want to be. So to this end, I have removed the individual mentoring sessions as included or required. If you want this time with me, great! I am into it. You just haven’t paid for your session yet. This means that you are not being asked to pay for something you didn’t use. I like that. 

I kept a payment plan for accessibility. I tracked which plans over the years have been the most popular and retained those. $1000 for a yoga teacher can be a big ask. So hopefully generous plans can make it affordable on a monthly basis. No penalties or being charged more for being on a plan. 

I realize this still will not please everyone. Some people will think its fair and other won't. Some will think its undersold. Some will think its oversold.

I do not want to run a business where I feel like I can’t change my mind or can’t shift course based on what I am observing. I want to be able to make mistakes and then redirect. I am not interested in having perfection in anything I do anymore. I just want to be whole. And sane. And in alignment with my values. I want to always ask how my business can be more just and fair.  I want you to feel the same spirit working with me and engaging with this work. We are not here to profit off of your neurosis or capitalize on your fears. We are hear to give you tools and move with you through a process of maturity so you become the leader you want. We also aim to be a resource and refuge in the world of contemporary yoga. 

I use transparency and self disclosure as a very specific teaching tool. I use it to build report and cultivate shared dignity. I use it to smash assumptions and projections. I use it to exemplify a teachings and themes. There are many times sharing in this way my not be appropriate and other times when it truly sings. 

As I reflect on the moments a mentor, teacher or leader I respected lifted their curtain so I could see the wizard behind the persona, I recall feeling relief. I recall feeling connected. I recall feeling affirmed. There is so much air of mystery out there. We are not about mystery. We are about practical, tangible awe and magic. Honesty and dignity that foster transparent relating between us an in all we do. 

So thats the story of changing my mind, changing a price and what its all worth to me. 

Livia Cohen-Shapiro