What You Can Do to Make 25% More Income Next Year

Study and Master Student Retention
This is a subject I have been studying for years. I have not fully learned it, or learned it well, but I would like to share with you what I’ve discovered (rather than claim to “teach” you what I know… Man’s gotta know his limits!) in my few years of teaching.
See, as businessmen we are told to accept certain things that I don’t think we should have to accept:  that 90% of us will fail in a year or less, that most of our students will stink at the martial arts, that 95% of our students will not make it to the instructor level, that only the gifted will excel at this art, that Black Belt first degree is the beginning….
Blah, blah, blah.
We all search for the next new thing that will add to our bottom line so that we can have the school we really want, or teach the way that we really want to teach, or choose the students we want–you know the deal. So I figured that over the year, most of us will lose 75% of the students who sign up in our schools. So I also figure that we are spending a disproportionate (or not) amount of our time trying to replace the guys who quit. So I figured… what if?
What if we could slash that figure, and actually keep most of the students who join our schools?
Wouldn’t that be something? By my guess, if we could cut by 2/3 the number of students who who quit over the year (and I’m no mathmetician), next year this time–hypothetically–we’d have 25% more enrollment next year, and that number should grow year after year after year! Man, we’d all have McDojos without actually adding “After School Karate”. Imagine that!
So, the next question is, why do we lose people? Is all about contracts? Or students not being “serious enough”? I don’t think so. I think there is something in the way we run our schools that causes people to lose interest. It can’t be plain old fickleness. Many of these people have stuck with other activities they completed for years, like high school, marriages (okay, not that many!), beauty school… We just have to find out why students have lose interest.
I have a theory.
I believe that most of these people who quit do so for several reasons.
  1. they aren’t seeing results
  2. they’re bored
  3. it’s too expensive
  4. they’re bored (no, this isn’t a typo)
  5. classes are too hard
  6. classes are too easy (see #’s 2 and 4)
  7. they don’t see the end of their journey on the horizon
  8. maybe… they’re bored
When a student feels his body getting stronger, he feels more and more like he can take on 10 men, he is going to keep going. When he looks in the mirror and sees himself getting slimmer and more muscular, he will keep going. When he experiences an increase in sparring ability (what? you mean you DON’T spar???) he will keep going. When he doesn’t see his fighting ability (not drills ability, but fighting ability) improve, it will discourage him and he will quit. When he doesn’t see himself progressing–in skill and in rank–closer to that day that he will become an “expert” or whatever the pie is in the sky at your school, he will feel like he isn’t getting anywhere and quit. And if he’s (get this) bored, he will quit.
None of us want to admit this, but boredom is perhaps the number one reason people quit. Trust me it ain’t the money. How many men with a beautiful wife will say one day, “Baby, you’re getting too expensive for me to keep, I’m breaking up with you”? Only the guys on “Unsolved Mysteries”… And the mystery is, not that he killed her, but why this idiot didn’t work harder to keep this beautiful prize he has. A man will take on an extra job to keep his sports car or to support a gambling habit, or something else exciting. But he will cancel a gym membership if he’s still fat/skinny after 12 months.
Does that make sense?
We will work hard for what excites us and makes us happy, and will leave what bores us.  Money is never an issue. It is why people allow their lights to get cut off, but will still buy chrome wheels for their cars and eat out. It’s why they bring peanut butter sandwiches to work, but will still get their nails done every pay day. We finance what we want, and scrape for what we need. Even in this recession, the cigarette shops and liquor stores are flourishing.
Your job is to find out what you can do to make your school more exciting and encouraging so that your students absolutely can’t wait to get to class again. When you can figure that out, you will keep more students and ultimately grow your school every year.
Thanks for visiting my blog.

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!