by Cris Rodrigues
In March 2020, our industry was shaken to the core. COVID-19 hit us like a ton of bricks, leaving many school owners feeling helpless. For some, switching to online classes was pretty simple; for others, it probably felt like preparing for a quantum physics exam.
Resources that my team and I put out, like the Virtual Martial Arts Blueprint and the Ultimate Facebook Ads Workshop, flew off the shelves as school owners searched for digital tools to help them survive. Many schools, however, took a hard hit. Freeze requests poured in. Cancellation emails and phone calls happened daily. School owners watched as their tuition billing declined.
When a mass exodus of clients happens with any business, often the owner will have a knee-jerk reaction to eliminate expenses. Unfortunately, said owner frequently eliminates the one expense that actually can bring in more revenue, and that’s marketing.
With many of the traditional forms of marketing thrown out the window because of stay-at-home orders, online marketing was and still is the most viable option. But online advertising costs money and requires two things: skill and strategy. Most martial arts school owners have plenty of both when they’re on the mat, but put them in front of Facebook Ads Manager and they’re tying on a white belt.
When times are tough, leaders adapt and overcome. And while paid advertising is the fastest way to gain new students — regardless of whether you’re in a pandemic — it’s not the only way. Smart school owners leverage the power of social media and the internet every single day. And while many of you don’t have a large marketing budget, that doesn’t mean you’re out for the count.
This is why I put together the seven strategies for reaching a larger audience online for free. That’s right — they won’t cost you a dime. They will, however, cost you some time. As with everything in your business, you’ll need to invest time and energy, or money. It’s your job to determine which skills you want to learn yourself and then put in the time and energy needed to implement them, and which skills you want to delegate or hire out. Keep this in mind as you consider the seven strategies below.
Strategy 1: Use Facebook Live
Marketing has come a long way from the days of radio, television and billboards. It’s evolved to include live-streaming video and interactive content. Facebook Live is the best platform for engaging viewers via video.
Why use Facebook Live for your academy? Consider these stats: According to HubSpot, businesses that use online video grow revenue 49 percent more quickly than those that don’t. Some 59 percent of marketing professionals say that video has the best return on investment. Approximately 78 percent of executives who use live video for business say it offers deeper interactions with viewers.
With that said, Facebook has more than 1.66 billion daily users. And in five years, Facebook is projected to be mostly video. Those are some insane numbers.
When you incorporate Facebook Live into your strategy, you provide real-time information and unique content for your viewers like you can with no other platform.
So what can you use Facebook Live to do? A good strategy would include:
One of my favorites is organizing live Q&As. Your audience has a chance to ask questions and get answers in real time. An added bonus is traffic on your page, which organically increases your Facebook reach.
Strategy 2: Engage With Posts
You already know that being online is crucial for your business. You likely have also heard fellow school owners say things like, “You’ll never be able to beat the algorithm. I’ve wasted so much time posting things on Instagram, but that doesn’t bring customers in my door.”
Well, this is where I tell you that it’s quite the contrary. There are many things you can do to increase your online engagement, and the rationale is pretty simple: The more people who see your content, the more people who see your services, the more people who will buy from you.
Using social media gives you an opportunity to be omnipresent. And at the end of the day, the best-known beats the best. Simply put, you have to be the best-known martial arts business in your community.
So how do you do this? Most important is being consistent. Lack of consistency severely impacts your reach. If you posted once last month and then post again today, you’re telling the social networks that you’re not active on their platforms. That means they won’t give you preference in their feeds. The social platforms want you to play by their rules — and play often. If you’re a loyal friend to them, they’ll be a loyal friend to you. So post often.
Next, engage first. The social networks are smart. They know your behavior. If you’re simply a passive user, scrolling but not engaging with anyone, then guess what? You won’t get any engagement when you post. So before you post, invest some effort and engage with your friends, leave some comments and like other people’s posts.
It’s also good practice to interact as your business. You’re on these platforms to gain exposure for your business, so interact as your business. Engage as your business by commenting, liking, sharing and posting. This way, you bring awareness to your business profile, which will bring people back to your business page so they can connect with you.
Finally, talk to your audience rather than at your audience. We’re all human beings, trying to navigate these artificially intelligent platforms, and we want to be recognized as such. These are social platforms, after all, so they want you to be social. This means talking to people and with people.
When posting on social media, remember that you’re looking for engagement. Ask open-ended questions and join the conversations that ensue. This will increase your engagement, which increases your visibility and ultimately increases your class size.
You may be thinking, OK, that sounds great, but what do I post? I recommend checking out MAIA Edge. It comes with a done-for-you social media calendar that takes all the guesswork out of posting.
Strategy 3: Repurpose Reviews on Social Media
If you gave me a choice between a lead received on Facebook and a lead received from one of my students, I’d take the referral every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Your students should be advocates for your school. As such, they are among the cheapest and best ways to get more students via word of mouth.
If you’ve had a Facebook profile for some time or a Google My Business account, you should have a plethora of positive reviews from your students. Maybe you even have full-on video testimonials from them. How simple would it be to repurpose those reviews and testimonials for use on your social media pages?
Here’s a fact: No one was taking online classes in your community prior to COVID-19. Guess what this means? They never experienced it and had nothing to compare it to. Some still might find it difficult to see the value of learning martial arts online. Which is where “social proof” comes in.
The term was coined in Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book Influence, which is a great read for any business owner. He writes, “Social proof describes a psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others in an attempt to undertake behavior in a given situation.”
A simple post in your Facebook Group asking your students for some testimonials that pertain to your online classes will give you plenty of content to post on your Facebook business page. Presto! You now have social proof on your social media outlets, and that will spread awareness of all your virtual programs.
Strategy 4: Host Free Community Events
As a former MAIA Elite client and now the organization’s digital-marketing consultant, I can attest to the power of hosting mass intros through free community events. Prior to the pandemic, we hosted such events at least once a month, and they were among our top marketing strategies for signing up new students.
So what is a mass intro? For your business, it refers to a marketing event that’s organized to maximize your chance of signing up as many new students as possible in less than an hour. For your community, the term refers to a free community event that introduces people to the wonderful world of martial arts, after which they receive a special offer to continue their training.
Many times, these free community events have a theme like Stranger Danger, Bully Buster or Focus for Better Grades. During the school year, my academy would use its partnerships with local elementary schools to help fill these gatherings.
School may be out, but you still can create a Facebook event on your business page and use it as a way to drive traffic to your online community event. It costs zero dollars to create such an event, and it costs nothing to have students share it with their Facebook friends so it can gain traction. At the end of the community event, offer a weekly virtual program option or pitch a paid trial.
Strategy 5: Update Google My Business
Let’s switch gears from Facebook to Google. Using Google requires what’s called intent-based marketing. This term describes any kind of marketing that aims to meet a prospect’s intent, or what the person really wants or needs at a particular moment.
Let’s say you just purchased a bicycle. You go out for a ride, and all of a sudden, the bike breaks. You now have an intent (a need) to fix your bike. So you grab your smartphone or laptop, and where do you go? Do you open Facebook or Instagram to get your bike fixed? Of course not. You head to Google and search for “bicycle repair shops.” Why? Because you have an intent: Your bike is broken, and you need it repaired.
This type of marketing helps us scoop up today’s buyers. In contrast, platforms like Facebook and Instagram help us pick up future buyers. Which do you need? Both.
Now that you understand what function Google serves, you need to understand Google My Business. Google describes it as “free and easy-to-use tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Search and Maps.”
Your martial arts school will have a Google My Business listing. Once you verify your listing, you can edit your information so it helps your prospects and customers find you and tells them your story, gives them offers and keeps them up to date.
Since this is a free listing that appears for your business on both Google Maps and Google local search results, it’s imperative that the information is correct. Due to many martial arts schools operating on virtual office hours, you should update the following for your facility:
Finally, make sure you post on your Google My Business listing. (More on this in the next section.) Make it a habit to go in once a quarter and spruce up your listing with whatever is current. And make it a habit to go in once a day and just post. Now, let’s dive into that strategy.
Strategy 6: Create Google Posts
Similarly to how you can post on social media platforms, you also can post on Google. Many school owners and businesses in general are unaware of this — which is good for you! This will help your listing stand out from your competitors.
Earlier, I explained that you should use Google as intent-based marketing, which is quite unlike social media, where people scroll because they’re bored. What does this mean for you? The prospects you connect with because of Google are actively seeking what you offer, and Google My Business posts allow you to update your special offers right on your Google My Business listing — again, for free.
You can add offers, updates and events. And right now, Google My Business features a special “COVID-19 Update” section that enables you to make sure prospects get a clear picture of what’s happening at your academy. Posting there consistently makes it clear to prospects that your business is concerned about staying current.
Strategy 7: Write Relevant Blog Posts
While I know most of you didn’t open your martial arts academy because you wanted to be a writer, one thing I do know is that school owners love to talk about the martial arts. Writing relevant blog posts like “At-Home Online Activities for Kids” is a great way for you to show up on the first page of a Google search. Be sure to use longer keywords to do this. If you want to take it a step further and add your city name, you will have the potential to receive traffic from clients who can sign up at your academy once this is over.
To leverage this free traffic, you need a website that allows you to post blogs. My personal favorite industry website company is Market Muscles. If you decide to give it a try, tell them Cris sent you. They’ll take great care of you.
So there you have it! Seven free ways to reach a greater audience online. Small budget? No problem! No budget? No problem. Take some time and implement the strategies described here, and you will take a giant step toward positioning your school at the top of the minds of the members of your community, and that will give you and your team the opportunity to serve them with your virtual martial arts program.
Cris Rodriguez holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a third degree in taekwondo. The co-owner of Gracie PAC MMA, she has 25 years of experience in the martial arts and 18 years of experience as a teacher. Based in Tampa, Florida, Rodriguez has studied internet marketing for eight years and is the founder of Grow Pro Agency, a digital-marketing firm that runs Facebook and Instagram ads for martial arts school owners.
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