Martial Arts School Owners
Why some schools Fail?

    In Western society we talk about success, goal setting, time management, and proper education. For our children we stress studying and always doing well in school.  Stemming from the grading system in school we either are doing great, mediocre or failing.  For example if you follow the A,B,C and D grading system an - A is applauded while a B is tolerated or for some still accepted as a success.  I applaud my mom for always celebrating my successes with me no matter how small they were.  A - C is just about failing and frowned upon, while receiving a D is considered failing.  If you fail more then once or over and over you are considered a failure and this is frowned upon by everyone. 

    No one really looks at Failure as a part of Success!  The reality is Failure is essential in Success. Without it, life’s lessons are lost.  In the martial arts there is a saying, fall down 10 times get up 11.  This is basically saying the only difference between success is whether you quit or not, because if you keep going, eventually learning from your mistakes, you will succeed.  In our society we sometimes discourage people from doing things they fail at due to the fear that they may want to quit, lost motivation or hurt their self-esteem. Especially with parents in my school, I have heard comments such as “well if he isn’t good at this, I would rather put him in something else that he is better at.”  To me, with that philosophy the lesson is lost. 

    This is basically a push to make all my next level clients realize that in order to be a success sometimes you have to make mistakes.  On the other hand, I have made mistakes for everyone and I want to save you the pain of that by sharing them with you and the methods to not repeat them in the future.  I want to show you why some school typically fail and this ad is not a joke, it is an actual ad run in a local paper and also a flyer distributed by a school owner.  Imagine with all the consulting sources out there, graphic companies and other resources you would think you wouldn’t see something like this every surface.   Low and behold, here it is.


5 steps to make sure you are on track

1)    Ask yourself – is your message, flyer, ad or image giving the correct impression/
2)    Is your school as good as it can be, have you been neglecting the important things or the little things that make a huge difference.
3)    What can you do this week to make a significant change in your schools appearance and overall look and brand.
4)    What is it that you have been putting off, you know should be done. Get off your butt and do it.
5)    Last but not least, who are you? Where are you? And what do people think you are?

Common Problems
Martial Arts Schools


Underestimating Cash Flow needs

The lack of operating capitol is the biggest mistake small business owners make and most certainly the biggest down fall for most martial art school owners. The thing to keep in mind is as the school grow also does the need for cash flow. As you grow the need for salaries, taxes, supplies, advertisement, inventory, insurance, cleaning and higher rent for those that expand. Make a financial plan, use a financial planner to help you project, establish a working relationship with a bank, keep a savings. Planning correctly can be the difference between life and death of your school. Design and the plan and work the plan..

Failure to broaden teaching skills and curriculum

Johnny Karate School owner begins to teach a kid’s class and an adult class, then he offers an advance class 2 times a week as the school grows. He hits the mark of about 50 or so students and stays there year after year. Now if Johnny school owner expands his curriculum to include lets say a tiny tiger class of 3 to 5 - year olds and offers a basic adult fitness kickboxing class. Then he can easily add an additional 30-40 students possibly and almost double his base. A school owner must remember to expand your classes and curriculum to hit peak success. Broaden your vision and way of thinking. You can teen classes, day classes, stress relief yoga or tai chi or even an after school karate program. The most important thing is to create it and make it fit the vision.

Hiring unnecessary Employees

Revenue increasing activity. Is that person you hired assisting you with your schools vision, growth, the plan and increasing revenue through their activity? Or is there being there allowing you to focus on more revenue increasing activity? This is the key if not then you have an unnecessary employee that is a cost and not a benefit to your plan. Remember to add employees only as needed and at the proper time. The key is to avoid over doing it too fast. Most school get over zealous and add staff or open a new location before it is time with their budget.

Opening multiple location(s) too soon

The only time you should open an additional location is to give a senior qualified staff member a career opportunity to step up the career ladder. Secondly, is if you have reached a successful peak with your current location and have the additional income and the staff to support another location. Too many owners let the ego drive their ambition and over step with the infamous next location before they are ready to meet the operating needs required.


Failure to share your school vision with your staff

You should be having weekly or bi-weekly staff meetings. This is necessary to allow the members of your staff to know your vision and to work towards the common goal. This is to assure that your all on the same path and working towards the same goals. These meetings also are great method to track progress. Keep track of your progress, share the vision share the gory and stay on track with your plan.

Failure to stay objective on business decisions

Even though you are the boss and may be the “Master” of the school. Keep in mind that you will not know everything about everything involved in your operation. Network with other owners, peers, other business associates, friends, relatives or a combination of all the above and ask their opinion. In the film industry they run a premiere to test it in their market before fully releasing the mass marketing. They use this to gauge how it is received and get the markets opinion so they know if changes or revisions are needed. Be open minded and seek advise occasionally. It is alright not to know everything.


YOU AND YOUR STAFF

How to make your staff feel appreciated? This is often the most difficult challenge a school owner faces. As an owner we must understand that a happy staff is vital to your schools growth and the students retention. Keeping your employees attitude at an all time high and creating high-energy environment is your goal. Changing an employee’s attitude takes time however changing a student’s and parent’s negative perception of your employees takes even longer. This is why it is critical to maintain a high- energy, positive school atmosphere and staff that meets that same energy is critical to the schools success and plan.

As a school owner we can not forget that it is not only important to give our students recognition and make them feel good, but we want to make our staff feel good and give them recognition as well. Here are some suggestions:

    1. Provide training on martial art and teaching skills and also understanding how to teach and motivate students.

    2.Write a "good job" notes and put it in your staffs pay check envelope.

    3.Employee of the month plaque with their picture.

    4.Build your staff up on the floor. Make everyone aware of their accomplishments and their abilities. Talk .them up when speaking to parents and students. Keep in mind they are your product.

    5..Employee outings. Do some thing fun with your staff monthly, (bowling, dinner, softball, etc.) this builds a great team spirit. However, be sure to keep this on a professional level.

    6.Be a "good finder". Don't just be someone who is there to correct them when they don't perform well, recognize them for the good that they do.

    7. .Have employees policies and make sure they clearly understand them. Policies can cover everything from dress code, conduct, tardiness, sick leave, vacation, pay, etc.

    8 .Reward results. Share the vision and share the success. Reward the goals achieved and progress. This helps keep the staff motivated and them to repeat great performance.

Employee contracts

I strongly suggest you use employee contracts to keep the relationship between you and your staff on an honest note. Employee contracts can be used as a tool to protect your school against any unwarranted acts by your employees, or to be used as a chance to put everything that is expected of your employees down on paper, that way everyone is in full understanding of the employee / employer relationship.

Bench Strength

The key is not to just develop active staff members, but to develop future staff members as well. Suppose for one reason or another you lost an active staff member, what would you do? How prepared are you to replace him/her? By having an active staff and a "bench staff", in the case that you open up an additional location, lose a staff member or re-locate a member to another position you want to have other team members waiting to get in the game.

Train your staff properly

Assure that you have trained your staff “properly” and give them he tools to succeed at their jobs. This includes their initial training and their follow up training after they have been hired. A perfect example is sending the staff training each year at the your association or billing companies annual convention.

Make sure it also understood that they are apart of a team and should come to you whenever they have a question. Open communication makes your staff feel comfortable with you and the team and keeps them from hiding their shortcomings that could possibly snowball on you with time.

Make sure policies are set and understood. Policies can include dress codes, rules of conduct tardiness, sick leave, holidays, pay increases and much more.

Reward the results with bonuses, pay increases win vacations etc. Share your growth good fortune that are your staff helped you procure.

Make sure that you training is not just focused techniques or teaching methods but also on keep them energized and motivated, dedicated to your goals and vision.

The key to staff development in three words is training, training and training.
Contract or No Contract that is the Question?

To many school owners it is the only way to do business, to others it is feared like the plague. When I began teaching the martial arts in the early 80’s the very thought of having yearly contracts was taboo. The talk amongst owners was much different back then. If you had agreements like the health spa’s you were selling out and were a commercial school. Still to this day this mentality amazes me. If you charge one penny you are commercial, so why not be professional about it. Still to this day, the question still arises “Contract or no Contract.” Since I opened my schools early on I instituted yearly agreements. We use the word agreement because that is exactly what it is an agreement between two people. Since the word contract has become the taboo that people fear, we eliminate the word entirely. Of course people are not stupid we are not fooling them. We are just saying it like it is.

I have many schools in my area – competitors - that scream proudly in the streets each time a new student comes through their doors that they have no contracts. One of the moms and hundreds of others that joined my school had just come from another school and said to me “I have to ask you are contracts, I immediately corrected her, agreements, she repeated, I mean agreements a bad thing. Because the guy down the road talked about it like it was. Should I be afraid of them?” She new nothing of agreements and he used the very fact that he didn’t have them as a selling tool. I do exactly the opposite and it is quite obvious in this case that if worked to my benefit and not his. I use my yearly agreement as a selling tool and it has helped me take my studios from 50 to well over a 1000 students in less than a decade.

My goal with writing this article is to explain why I believe agreements/contracts are your link to having a successful school.

Student and Parent Commitment. In my school students have had the thought of dropping out for one reason or another. Example: Mrs. Smith called and said we are taking Johnny out he is bored. I immediately did the damage control and the re-motivation speech. They said well that is it, he doesn’t want to come and we don’t want to force him. I reply: Mrs. Smith you realize you are going to pay no matter what. S resounding what do you mean usually follows. I remind them “remember the agreement you signed.” What will it teach Johnny if you break your agreement? You are setting up a cycle for him to follow. We need to teach him commitment. 99% of the time they bring little Johnny in to finish his time period. We then re-motivate him and they end up continuing in our program and what parent wants to pay for something they are not utilizing?

It continues the revenue stream –People tend to take off for periods of time on extended vacations and camps. Many people will justify “If I am away for 2 weeks then what is the sense of paying for a full month, I am going to give him/her a break for the other two weeks. You realize that breaks are the de-motivators of the martial arts, training our students to stay on task is what keeps people in our schools. Due to our agreements the payments are being made even if the student or their child is not actually training. I will extend the time they missed for free at the end of their agreement.

We are guaranteed growth of our school. If I have 200 students in yearly agreements then I know that 200 people are paying for the year. If I add on 50 more than I know that 250 are now enrolled. In schools that boast they do not have agreements they can have a huge fluctuation in income when the slow time comes and attendance drops RE: summer, the holiday, bad weather (winter). Who wants to be in this unstable of business? I know I don’t.

Showing the student or parent that we are committed to helping them achieve their Black Belt and receiving the many benefits that we have to offer is the most important part in getting people into agreements. How many public or private schools in the educational system that you know of would allow you to sign up on a month to month basis? The reason is they have a commitment to the children that are coming to their school. So they set their plan around them not the prospects that may quit next month. In the martial arts we are building peoples futures, we are not just teaching fighting techniques. We are molding peoples lives. We need to be able to take that individual past or over those stumbling blocks. I think if a parent/student wants that from you they should commit to a 1 or more year agreement for their own benefit.

Over coming objections to the dreaded contract (agreement).

Don’t get me wrong we have lost a few people that did not want to commit their 5 year old to a yearly agreement. Here is how the conversation usually goes. I can’t commit my 3 year old to a yearly agreement. I usually ask, Why? They say “what if he doesn’t want to go. I can’t force him. Again, I usually ask why? Their reply is what do you mean. Here is where my speech usually begins why can’t you force him. Don’t you force him to do what is good for him. Mrs. Smith “Yes of course but this is not the same. Mrs. Smith it is exactly the same. It is just like school. In fact it is just as important than school. We are going to teach your child how to deal with school better, how to become a better student, how to fend off peer pressure, how to deal with negative behavior, how to set goals, how to plan his future and what it takes to be a success in the real world, oh by the way we will also teach him how to defend himself in case he ever needs it. Don’t you think that is worth pushing him on the days he doesn’t want to come? What do you think they say? Of course yes. I also ad in you force your child to do a dozen things a day don’t you. Go to bed on time, wash his hands, eat right (Ha), act a particular way and so on. By now I think most of you get my drift – right?

You see it is not the objection, it is not the lines you feed a person during the sale, it is about how much you believe in you’re the growth of your business. With that growth you become a better martial arts instructor and are able to help more students. As you grow you will see the student population grow and you will also see the students stick around a great deal longer. So Agreement or No agreement that is the question you should be asking yourself.

Making the Change to EFT – Overcoming the objections.

In my 18 years of owning my own martial arts school I have been through many paradigm shifts. So it comes as no surprise that there was another decision that I had to make and many more around the corner. Coming from a background of traditional thinking, I had to decipher what was good for my art as well as the business that I ran to preserve the art that I taught. I sat in heavy meditation when I came up with the decision that would be the best thing I ever did for my martial arts school.

For about 8 years I debated on whether I should make the switch to just EFT, checking debit, credit card EFT's or hiring a billing a company and the resistance that I received every time I tried to sell and EFT to a client was not helping me make my decision. The end result is that I offered many options to my clients. For over 5 years I offered monthly billing, coupon booklets, credit card EFT and direct checking EFT’s. The two EFT’s where the least requested, the monthly billing being the most. I needed to reevaluate why people were choosing one over the other.

Resistance and loss of control -


Many people in the world we live - chose the path of least resistance. Understanding the things that make a person tick, and the human desire to avoid pain and feel pleasure it was obvious that a client would make the decision that made them feel the safest. People want to have control over their lives and especially their checking account. Even after relaying to my clients how easy it was to do an EFT, they still opted to choose the monthly billing. I tried to ease their concern by explaining it was a discipline. Wow, that was a no, no. No one wants to be told they don’t have discipline. Then I went on to tell them how I do that with all of my mortgages. I really struck a nerve when they found out that I had more then one. They replied with sometimes you have no money in the account and then they try to debit and it really becomes a problem. To say the least they didn’t go for EFT’s.

I needed to make a change and get people to realize that the EFT was the best choice for them as well at it being the best choice for my school. What I needed to do was make a decision on whether I was behind it one hundred percent. After I did that it was all smooth sailing. Well, not exactly.

I had a meeting at Comstat – our Command center for Statistics. We got this from a book most of my staff and I read called “Leadership” by Rudolf Gulianni. This is our annual weekly meeting where my entire staff gets together and we talk about all the stats from my 6 locations. Then I told them of my decision to take nothing but EFT’s. Of course the staff asked the question, what if a student absolutely flat out says they are not going to do it. Is it worth losing a student over? I then asked everyone’s opinion. We came up with the solution of having people pay in house or monthly billing with a 10% increase in tuition. I also spoke of the option of people paying up front and receiving a 10% discount of pay in fulls.

We then agreed and put the plan in action. In two months we have renewed at least 60 people in my main location. Out of which we had a handful of people that were resistant. What we did was remove the other options. The minute I told them that they had a choice of either EFT Checking or EFT Credit card, they thought which of the two they prefferred and said okay and took the path of least resistance. Plus, they didn’t want to pay 10% more and realized that it was best for our school. So it has been easy sailing ever since. I will keep you up to date on that.

Make sure that you are 100% behind the decisions that you make. Find different reasons to back up your decisions clearly to the client.
Remove all the fear that the client may have about the change.
Educate the client why it is good for your school as well as for them.
Give them a guarantee that if things go wrong and they are unhappy that you will back them up by taking care of the issue immediately and remove them from the EFT. Also, make sure you clearly state that it must be a problem on the school or banks end. Not a lack of organization and checkbook accounting skills.
Make sure that you ease their decision by helping them to understand that it easier than they think and that they still have full control over their checking accounts and can cancel at anytime.

The benefits are endless from an accounting stand point, as well as reducing the amount of delinquent accounts your billing company may have to deal with monthly. You won’t become the bill that gets paid last or put at the bottom of the pile. You will be right up there with the top of the heap.