Starting and Running Your Own Martial Art School
By Michael Massie
So, you want to know what starting and running your own martial arts school takes? For starters, a lot of guts, plus a willingness to do what it takes to make it a success. Plan on spending the first year or two working harder than you ever have in your life.
Now, if you can handle that, here is a bare-bones breakdown of what you need to do to start your school...
"Keep up the good work, this is the best business info site ever."
The very first thing you need to know about
how to launch a martial arts school that is
how to write a martial
arts business plan. There are two very
good reasons for this:
1. If you are going to seek outside funding,
there isn't a lender in the world that will
consider giving a prospective entrepreneur a
loan if they don't have a solid business plan.
2. More importantly, you need to have a clear
picture of the steps you will take to
successfully launch your martial arts school,
from start-up through the first 3-5 years you
are in operation.
For details on what a good business plan includes, you should visit the following website: http://www.sba.gov/starting_business/planning/writingplan.html
We discuss planning and budgeting in chapter
seven of my manual (and I also provide a
sample business plan in the appendix).
Most people only consider one or two choices
when they choose their financing options for
launching their martial arts school: their
personal savings and bank loans.
However, there are many other options to
consider, such as borrowing from a private
investor, government grants, and using your
personal credit. Each of these methods has
it's pros and cons; it'll be up to you to
decide which will best suit your resources,
needs and goals.
You should know that there are options
available to you for financing your studio
that require much less financial risk. You can
refer to chapter 4 of my martial arts business
manual to find out more on this subject.
Choosing a Business Structure
The next step to consider is to choose a
business structure. Will you operate as a sole
proprietor, a corporation, a limited liability
company, or a partnership?
If you spent the time to write a good
business plan, this is something that you have
probably already given a great deal of
consideration. Be advised, some business
structures have tax and legal advantages that
you'll want to consider before you choose.
If you decide to operate as a corporation or
LLC, you will most likely require assistance
with filing for recognized status as a legal
business entity in your state. In that case,
you'll want to speak with a local attorney in
your area for assistance.
Also, in chapter five of my manual I talk
about what you need to do to avoid legal
pitfalls, limit your legal liability, and
protect yourself from lawsuits.
Finding the Right Location
There are many things to consider when choosing a location for your new martial arts school. Is it better to be in a high-foot-traffic area, and pay considerably more in rent?
Or, should you get a location that is a bit
off the beaten path, and spend the money you
save in rent on advertising and marketing?
Although we discuss this in great detail in
the "Small Dojo, Big Profits" manual, suffice
it to say that we have found the latter option
to be the most risk-averse. Keeping expenses
as low as possible is often the wisest path,
especially if you are someone without much
experience starting and running your own
martial arts school.
On a related note, you'll definitely want to
find someone to help you negotiate your lease,
like a real estate agent or an attorney.
Commercial leases are generally long,
complicated, and contain a lot of legal
jargon, making them difficult to understand
for the average layperson. In addition, they
are often written to weigh heavily in favor of
the property owner.
Even so, with any lease the terms are often
negotiable, so be sure to get someone who
understands real estate law to help you
interpret and negotiate your lease. (This
is all covered in more detail in chapter six
Advertising and Marketing
Effective marketing and advertising for your
new martial arts school can mean the
difference between long-term success and
imminent disaster. This is the one aspect of
starting a martial arts school that is perhaps
least understood by new school owners.
Why? Well, because there are a lot of factors
to consider when you set out to market your
studio, things like your budget, your intended
audience, marketing channels and media, what
type of promotions you're going to offer,
public relations, special events and
appearances - the list goes on and on.
Once again, informed planning is the key to
effective advertising, so if you don't have
any experience in this area you might consider
reading up on the topic or getting outside
I devoted chapter 10 to this topic in my
manual; you might also take a look at my
Martial Arts School Marketing Mini-Course,
both of which can be purchased and downloaded
in the "Products" section of this website.
Pricing Your Services
This is actually a component of your overall
marketing strategy, but it deserves a separate
mention because it's so crucial. Do yourself a
favor and read our three-part series on this
in the "Articles" section of this site. For
more detailed information, you can also read
chapter eight in my manual.
Billing and Collecting Tuition
First off, you don't need to hire a billing
company - at least, not right away. However,
you might consider using one from the get-go
to avoid having to convert your members over
to third-party billing later on.
Although I once used a full-service billing
company, I've since switched to a semi-DIY
company that allows me more freedom and
control of my billing, and I save money on
fees as well.
Chapter nine in my "Small Dojo..." manual
goes into detail about the pros and cons of
hiring a third party billing company to
collect your tuition.
Inventory and Equipping Your Location
Now, about inventory... it depends on how
many students you will have (to buy equipment
from you) when you open. If you won't have but
a few dozen, then just stock your place with
2-3 uniforms in each size, so you can have
them on hand when new students enroll.
I use several companies for equipment, and
have wholesale accounts with each (it ususally
just takes sending them a copy of your resale
certificate or business license - some will
even accept a business card or advertisement).
Century and Asian World of Martial Arts have
great prices, and Tiger Claw is close behind.
The thing to do is to find the lowest prices
on uniforms and order all your stuff from that
company - after you've done this a while, you
can ususally negotiate even better prices.
My current school is 1600 sq ft. with 1000
feet of training floor. About 200 sq ft up
front consists of the entrance, viewing area,
and office. Another 400 sq ft in back is used
for the bathroom, a small room for our after
school kids to do home work in (we found it
necessary to offer after school pick up due to
the demographics of our town, something I plan
to write an article on soon), a storage room,
and a changing area.
We have our entire floor covered in mats, but
we started with carpet and waited until we had
enough students to afford to buy mats
(AWMA.com's wholesale site has puzzle mats
super cheap now - $13 bucks a mat). I have 8
Wavemasters (needed them for the kickboxing
class, otherwise would only have 2-3), 6 large
kicking shields (reminds me I need to order a
few more), about a dozen square hand targets,
a few clapper targets, and 5 pairs of muay
thai arm shields.
However, I recommend you start with the
cheapest equipment - and that would be the
square hand targets. As you get new enrollees,
use their registration fees (should be about
$100 a person, if you're not running a special
discount) to buy new equipment as you grow.
That way, you keep your start-up costs really
Finally, spend some money on posters (put
them in frames from Wal Mart or Target),
flags, potted plants or even rubber plants,
and so on. Spending a $100 or so on things to
make your school look exciting and inviting
will really make a difference in your
Customer Service, Curriculum and Retention
Retention is a key issue for your martial
arts school, one that your long-term success
will likely rest on. You'll want to make sure
that you have a great curriculum, excellent
teaching and motivational skills, and
outstanding customer service - all these
factor in to your retention and attrition
rate. Chapter 11 in the my manual has a lot of
useful tips and techniques for retention that
will help you keep your students around for
the long haul.
Other Considerations in Starting and Running Your Own Martial Arts School
Bookkeeping - Hire a bookkeeper
and find a good accountant to do your taxes at
the end of each year. Trust me, it will save
you some serious hassles.
Hiring Employees - Without getting into the particulars, I would advise that you try to avoid it if you can. Employees are a hassle and payroll can easily become your biggest expense. For more on this, you'll want to read chapter 7 and chapter 13 in my manual.
Additional Income Streams - There's more on this topic on our articles section. Also, I spent a whole chapter writing about this in chapter 12 of my "Small Dojo..." manual.
Enrollment Procedures - More on this topic can be found in other articles on this site. If you don't have any sales experience, you'll want to do some role-play with a friend before you open your doors. Just sit down and pretend you are enrolling them for classes. You may also want to read chapter 8 in my manual if you need more help on this.
Contracts - Too complicated an issue to get into here. I suggest that you read chapter nine in my manual, then talk to some successful, experienced school owners (note the qualifying adjectives) to get their take on it.
I hope this article at least gives you an idea of where to start and what steps to take to get going. If you're serious about starting a martial arts school, please, read our manual - it'll save you a lot of headaches and confusion when you are starting and running your own martial arts school.
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Mike Massie has been a full-time school owner for more than 15 years of his 25 years in the martial arts, and has started two successful martial arts schools from scratch. Mike provides business coaching for instructors who are starting their own martial arts schools via the members area of this site.