Right now, I am in Long Beach, California, on my way to take my 12 year old nephew, Yahya, who has just spent 4 weeks with me, back to Washington, DC. I wanted to put him on a plane alone, but 3 hours before his plane took off, he decided that he did not want to fly alone, and my ticket cost me almost 3 times what it would normally cost me to fly to DC. This is a trip I take once a month because I have started a school in Northern Virginia, and I have students there. But this month, 3 cannot make the class because two are on vacation and one is TDY (temporary duty) with the military. I have the flexibility to change my plans as I seem fit, because I work for myself and I am the boss. Isn’t that lovely? Well, as it turns out, I will be there this weekend to teach the students who still want to train, then returning in three weeks to train the others, along with whoever else would like to join us. So, in one hour I will be on a plane to DC, then tomorrow I teach my class, and a few hours after that, I will either go and visit friends or get back on a plane back to California.
When we checked in, the customer service rep told me that for $599, I can buy a ticket which will let me fly anywhere JetBlue goes (no, I am not getting paid to tell you this), any time I want, for as often as I want, for a month. So, my wife wants to go to Puerto Rico on her next day off. While I am down there I am going to visit some martial arts schools and look for opportunities to teach. No guarantee, but I think we are going to do it (I can still use the ticket to teach my class on the third weekend of Sept too).
I hope you didn’t think I am trying to rub it in anybody’s nose, but I wanted to make the point that when you work for yourself, you can globe-hop when you feel like it. Can’t do that with a job. You have to get permission first.
Back to the article.
So, many people would like to take the plunge and open a school, but they are afraid to let go of the comfort of their jobs. Yes, you can teach and work at the same time–like most people do–but you seem to get stuck there because the job pays the bills, the school enrollment does not get high enough to let you quit the job, and you can’t increase your enrollment because you can only work at your school part time. This is what is meant by “planning to have a baby” (which Yahya asked me what the title means)… that the same way young couples can never get the “time right” to plan their baby–money, time, purchase of the new home, etc.–the best thing is to just do it.
But in business, you have to plan a little better. Not just a savings account. You will need to educate yourself on business models for your school. Will you have students sign agreements? What is the difference between a “contract” and an “agreement”, anyway? How much will your tuition be? What will be your target market? What will be your specialty? Or will you cater to several segments of the martial arts market? To McDojo or not to McDojo? Will there be children? Contact sparring? What hours will you be open? What will be the name of your school?
These are important questions you should answer before you open a school. When I opened my school, I did not have a name because I was in the base gym at Bolling Air Force base. When I opened my first commercial location less than a year later, I needed a name. We had four names before I settled on the name Typhoon Philippine School of Martial Arts. That fact, the four names, was a bad thing, as each time I renamed my school, I looked like I closed and reopened, or I was trying to avoid creditors, etc.
If you have a school, you will need a plan of attack to leaving your job. It will be a combination of having a strong marketing plan that is already in the works, as well as a target enrollment (to pay the bills), and a back-up plan in case of road blocks. And as I keep saying, you will need to educate yourself. Make the time to read books on marketing, sales and operations. There are good motivational books that will help, too, because you will have a lot of people who will tell you (like Linda Lee Cadwell’s mom told Bruce Lee): Mr. Lee, the world needs doctors, not Judo (whatever!) and you will have to be self-sufficient with the belief that you can do it. Just like you don’t go into the ring not knowing if you will be the winner, you don’t go into business if you aren’t sure that you will be successful.
Let me recommend a book for all of you, if you are serious about being successful with your school. It is called “Good to Great”, by Jim Collins. This is the first step for your path to success. Please, get a copy, google it, begin reading it, and then check back with me. In my next article, I am going to break this down as wells as I can (with my limited education and intelligence) and guide you towards a strong business plan. Believe me, if someone like me can do it, I know you can.
Again, in order for you to be successful, you will have to be prepared. I strongly recommend that you take the path I took, and do all the steps I took, and do it as if I’ve offered you a money-back guarantee only if you followed every step (I sound like a businessman, don’t I?) I will arrive in DC at 5 a.m. tomorrow, and teaching by 12, so I have to get to sleep. After everything is done, I will tell you all about Good to Great.