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The 80/20 principle, or how to focus on what works
A few years ago I had a practice as a Yoga teacher, workshop leader and Thai Yoga Massage practitioner. My clients were friends, friends of friends, and people I had met through the weekly classes I taught at my local YMCA. While I was very fond of a lot of my clients, I found that I always had to deal with a handful of people that required a lot more energy from me.
One client would forget his massage appointments, then call the next day to apologize profusely and offer to pay for the session, so we’d schedule for him to come over to my office, where he would arrive late, pay for his missed session and start recounting his horrible workday, his upcoming divorce, his fear of death and so on. Another lady would attend the chanting workshop I gave, sitting with arms crossed in front of her chest, debate my definition of Sanskit terms and then would disappear in the bathroom for 20 minutes while we wondered if we should wait for her to continue the workshop.
While I was trying to figure out how to deal both with these situation and my own irritation, my other clients that were easy to deal with faded in the background. I remember two brothers who came to every single class or workshop I offered, gladly paid the full amount, participated to the best of their ability, were always grateful and told their friends about me. One could call them perfect students. I can barely remember giving them any thought, being consumed with the difficult client of the moment.
Recently I was introduced to the 80/20 principle or Pareto principle, a basic business rule of thumb that states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So no matter what project or business you run:
80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers
80% of your complaints come from 20% of your customers
80% of your profits come from 20% of the time you spend
80% of your sales come from 20% of your products
So if you apply this idea to a yoga teacher or health practitioner, to maximize your effectiveness, revenues and overall enjoyment of what you do, you would focus your efforts on the 20% of your students and clients that are the most committed, devoted and willing to engage with what you have to offer. If I had taken more time to think of what kind of classes and workshops those two brothers would have been most interested in, not only would have make more money, but I would have had more moments of sharing something that I value, more positive impact on my community, more depth of connection over something that matters.
I had to learn on my own to put boundaries with clients, to basically tell them that unless they were willing to follow a simple set of rules ( be there on time, pay without haggling, let me be the teacher) I would not continue to work with them. The new lightness I felt was worth it, and I also think it was a lesson for those clients that was useful.
Have you ever had en experience of spending too much time on “difficult” clients or students and not enough on those who actually bring you the most?