Mary Fran Matichak Interview, Part 2

22 Apr

To be successful you need to find something you truly love and can embrace and share.

– Mary Fran Matichak

I left off part 1 of this interview at the point where Mary Fran opened her first studio. I have a feeling that as this site grows, there will be many questions about what it takes to open your own business: it’s a daunting dream and, I think, a mysterious process.

Who supported you when you decided to open a studio?

“We had always been savers thanks to my parents example and did not live beyond our means. We both quit our jobs and moved to Maine. Both unemployed.”

What steps did it require?

“We purchased an old farmhouse on a lovely pond with 3 acres of meadow and a distal view of the ocean. The barn was in bad shape as built in the 1800’s. My husband and a friend painstakingly rebuilt the barn from its foundation, preserving and strengthening and adding a loft which housed my studio. It was really cool!!! But… a never ending job for my husband. He worked at a boatyard 4 days a week and spent most of his other time on the barn. I went to massage therapy school for a year as well. I also began working towards my certification program which requires mentoring with a senior level teacher and a lot of work. It also takes quite a bit of funding as I had to travel. Luckily I had a friend in Boston who always had an open couch and dinner awaiting. I still travelled to Florida to work with my first teacher and also with Patricia Walden in Boston. The testing and whole process took about five years from that point even with the previous experience. The Iyengar certification process can be grueling and one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. Much harder than my presentations to the CEO’s of some huge corporations.”

Were there skills from your previous career that helped you?

“Yes for sure. I was an advertising major in school. I’ve always loved working creatively in artwork and I had strong ‘people’ skills from my sales experience.It’s funny though how it’s much easier to talk up and promote as an employee versus your own business.

I created my own logos. Twice actually as I’ve had 2 studios, the one in Maine and here in Oak Park. I handled my own marketing and promotions but I lived in a very small town….

I also felt that God had in mind exactly who He was going to send my way and it would all work out if it was meant to be. We planned an open house in Maine and both Steve and I looked at each other wondering if anyone would show up. At 1pm sharp though on a Sunday afternoon they started coming and streamed in for 3 hours. I think we had over 100 people which was amazing. I guess people were excited to have something new in town! As you can see my husband was instrumental and a huge reason I was able to get the studio going. I could not have done it with having to pay rent in a tourist town. Financially there was not the client base to make this work in that area if rent was in the business plan.”

What traits do you feel running your own business requires of you?

“Fearlessness and trust are big. I am an Aries with a strong Virgo rising. Really I do not know much about astrology or even pay attention to it, but I did have a chart done to give a friend some business. She explained Aries are always forging ahead into the unknown and are natural entrepreneurs. They are big picture people. Virgos are organized and methodical and get things done. I guess that is a good combination for a small business owner.

“You need to have some sense of organization and to be able to go with the ebb and tide of things without getting upset or worried. You never know how many people are going to walk in the door and when it’s one or none it’s hard to stay upbeat. It’s much easier now than when I first started out and it still happens! A small yoga studio is a unique environment. People come who need help and/or want to improve themselves and their lives. You need to be a good listener, know when to speak out and encourage and also when to let things roll off. You must be able to work with many types of personalities.

“It requires a tremendous amount of physical and emotional energy with the Iyengar style of teaching. So, one must be very focused and present and engaged yet also allow an environment for fun. You have to allow time for your own practice and some good rest as well. It makes you delve deeper into all of the practices of yoga. Mr Iyengar says being a teacher is a noble profession but one of the most difficult.

“People come to yoga for so many different reasons and you never, or hardly ever find out why they leave and do not come back. One of my teachers told me never to waste energy trying to understand why people do not come back if you are doing your best. They could have left for health issues or moved but still you must be willing to review your ‘self’…. I study a lot during my own practice and teach from what I discover. I read and study and am very blessed there is so much recorded by the Iyengar association and made available to us. My trip to Pune India was a super great experience both as a practitioner and teacher. I learn much from my students about myself and this has been a very transformative process. I am very grateful to my students. I have received so much love in return it is truly amazing.

“To be successful you need to find something you truly love and can embrace and share. Most people do not have that opportunity or try to create the opportunity but it is possible.”

Once you opened a studio, did your work/life balance change from your previous career?

“Absolutely, I went from 50- 60 hours per week to about 18. And of course the income ratio was even greater however it was totally worth it. I could cook our meals, hang with dear friends, do my practices, care for my animals. I slept through the night!”

What is involved in running your studio nowadays – training, accounting, networking, advertising?

“Now I have big rent so it’s a bit different. I still use the same strategies and I am sure I could do more but things are going fine. There is much more competition this last year but they are power yoga and Bikrim which is not the art and teaching of yoga that is personified in the Iyengar style. I just keep the faith. My trainings are less as I can’t afford to be away from the studio and they are expensive but I still have them several times per year. I take a class here and there when a senior teacher is in Chicago as well. Unfortunately I do not have a local teacher. There are some great ones out there but our schedules conflict.

“I do my own bookkeeping. I do not network as much as I used to as I think if people want to do yoga now a days they look on the internet. My website is my biggest marketing tool and I am branching out in offering other programs like the ‘gong baths’ and Djembe Drumming meditations. These attract a whole different clientele and my meditation class is growing. This makes me happy and I really enjoy these events. These people both appeared to me like magic. Some others have come who were not right so you really have to experiment and trust your gut. Also, I have more privates and Reiki clients which is what keeps the place open financially and each session is a unique experience. Though I may get tired I have to say I love what I do.

“I have several teachers with me now at the studio which I love as they are gems. I’ve had a few who did not quite fit and even some who upset my students so this has been interesting. This is a very unique business and much much more than a business.

“I try to get as much listed in the newspapers calendar of events as possible… it’s free. I put my card schedules all over town – where they let you anyway. I need to branch out into the new craze of ‘social media’ but this really is not my forte and I do not like being on the computer. My location on South Blvd was a huge help even though it doubled my rent.

Are there parts of owning a studio you don’t really enjoy?

“I have had some difficulty with some students which can be hard. It’s a fine line between encouraging someone and them feeling ‘picked on’ sometimes. I do get tired at times or don’t feel well but usually once I start class things flow and I make it through without things being apparent. I would like people to learn the names of the poses and embrace the practice more seriously but sometimes they are not ready. It gets tiring trying to teach someone to correct a habit over and over and each time they come back there is no change. These are small things though in return for the rewards of watching the friendships unfold and people healing. It’s great. The e-mail letters I send out, I would love to improve the looks but computer work is not my thing.

“I have created a jewelry line but not had time to launch it. It has a yoga theme and I’m anxious to see how it is received. I also have begun to write and hope one day to submit a short story and children’s book line for publishing. Long term things that will unfold more when the time is right.”

What makes you feel successful in your work?

“I could push and try to add more classes and other styles of yoga but for me it is not about getting rich in the traditional sense. It’s about having basic needs covered and a good quality of life and a business that is green, enriching and doing some good in others lives. I’ve watched many people heal through physical, emotional and spiritual trauma. I am really blessed. Yoga is my path to God so to be enmeshed in it daily even on days when you don’t feel like it is really a gift.”

Like I said, I feel like Mary Fran offered a very rich insight into running a business, training and discipline, and what it means to feel successful when you have found your life’s work. Thank you so much for your time and effort to answer so many questions. I really urge my Oak Park readers to check out Mary Fran’s classes. I hope that even if you don’t dream of owning a yoga studio, you’ve found something inspirational in Mary Fran’s amazing life of work.

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