Business of Teaching the Martial Arts: Don’t Be Discouraged

As the oldest FMA school in my city, I am visited by many teachers of the arts as well as those wanting to teach. Most of these visitors are from out of town; the local guys are either pretty bored with the novelty of me and my school or they just don’t care to keep in touch. But I think the main reasons many of them stop by are to pay respects or to ask my advice when they are planning their own schools. One topic that seems to come up the most is what is the best source of new students.

As teachers of obscure fighting styles, we are not part of the mainstream can cannot use what most martial arts school rely on for our recuiting:

  • Back-to-school season
  • Popular new action movies
  • Advertising in Family and Children’s publications
  • Alternatives to daycare/summer camp/after school activities

My two best sources are the internet and flyers that I distribute myself.

Okay, the internet–that’s a given. Any school that is looking to hold an enrollment and replace dropouts should have a website. It’s mind-boggling that I came into the Advanced Age so late and remained in business. My first website was built by a 12-year old, and I didn’t even have the password to my own email account until 2000. But the little we did–internet forums, web directories, and link exchanges and paid advertising–kept me afloat through a recession that has killed even million-dollar McDojos. I can always count on inquiries at least 8 – 10 times a month into my school, although I am only signing up one a month, if I’m lucky. But hey… it’s a new student!

The second best source are flyers. I swear by them. But this is one thing that the so-called martial arts marketing “gurus” discount. Owners of closed martial arts schools will promise you they don’t work. Even consultants will downplay their importance. But the truth is, they work. But what about all you senseis, sifus and guros who did flyers and didn’t sign students up?

First, let me say this. The big name marketing experts are selling a product, and if they admitted that flyers worked, there wouldn’t be much hoopla over their products. Yes, it’s simple. Seemingly too simple, for some people. They’d want to sell you fancy talk (those of you who know me personally should know I am not capable of that), fancy ad copy, fancy graphics and marketing techniques. All that is fine, but the bottom line is that you have to get your message out to as many people as you can, and you have to get that message READ. However you do it, that’s the mission of marketing. I am not a guru of business, but I know how to make a buck. And you don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars to learn that little lesson.

Print advertising is good. I do it often. Years ago, it was the Yellow Pages for me, but that got expensive and I had a bad year which put me on the bad side of the local company. But when I broke free of the Yellow Page nipple (the small ad I got was around $400 a month), I realized that there were many other avenues that were cheaper and just as effective. Direct Mail was also a good investment… sometimes. There were times I’d spend thousands for 50,000 copies of a beautiful ad in affluent neighborhoods and didn’t make a dime. Other times, I could spend one week passing out 2,500 flyers in a lower middle class area and sign up 5 new students. Direct mail is good if you have the money to burn or gamble, and it wouldn’t kill you to not make the money back right away. The big thing about direct mail, print advertising, and other forms of paid ads is that you need a cushion of expendable income or you might as well stick that money in a slot machine at the casino.

If paid ads are like throwing thousands of marbles at a small hole and hoping one makes it in, distributing flyers is like walking up to the hole with your marbles and tossing them in, one at a time.

That’s why I like flyers. People get discouraged too easily when using this form of advertising. When you put the ads out yourself, there are many chances that you may meet potential students, face to face, and will be able to tell them personally about your school. I have recruited several students this way. Once, I actually received an invitation to spar a student on the sidewalk, and guess what? He signed up that week. I met a student once when I was going to rent videos at Blockbuster, and just decided while I waited for my wife to get her movies to pass out flyers for the few cars (probably less than 10) in the parking lot. He was on the verge of signing up with a neighboring school, and after meeting me he chose our school. Both students stayed with me for years.

But advertising this way will not bring you instant results all the time. It’s one of those things that you have to have discipline to do daily, regardless of the rate of return you experience (or lack of it).  Think about it:  In your city, possibly 50 students a month will sign up at a school, somewhere. They really aren’t dead-set on any particular school, usually–they just have to see a school that piques their interest. All you have to do is to find them. Pass out a thousand, you may or may not sign up a few. But keep it up, and eventually the word will get around, and one of those 50 will think of you. There is a saying that potential students will contemplate your school 5 – 10 times before actually coming down and signing up. The more they hear from you, see your ad and are reminded that you are there, potential students are that much closer to actually calling. When you reach as many people as you can, you are increasing the chances of tapping one of those 50 on the shoulder.

So I guess I said all that to say this:

Don’t let the slow response to your efforts discourage you. Keep doing what you do and hang in there, and the only way you fail is if you quit.

Hey, isn’t that what fighting is all about? It isn’t always about who causes the most injury, as it is the one who gives up first will be the loser? I can’t say that I have been prosperous every year of my school’s 18 year history. But I stayed in business when many people gave up, and that’s why we’re still here. If you want your school to succeed, you will have to continue trudging along, achieving small milestones and victories along the way. Flyers are inexpensive, limitless form of advertising, and they pay off if you stick with it long enough. Just don’t let the slow response kill your drive.

Hope this gave you some inspiration to keep at it. Thanks for visiting my blog.

By the way, I do have a book on this subject, Make a Living with Your Backyard/Garage/Community Center Dojo, and it’s only $9 on my “Offerings” page. Get a copy!


Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

4 thoughts on “Business of Teaching the Martial Arts: Don’t Be Discouraged”

  1. Your blog keeps getting better and better!
    I’ve been following your posts for a couple of months now and I gotta say that although your older posts offer as much insight as the newer articles, they are getting better every time I read a new one. You have a lot of great ideas. Keep it up!

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