Lately, I have been watching as many of the MAIA webinars (and Facebook videos) as I can. I am amazed at the effort Mr. Silverman and his team have put into supporting the huge number of martial arts schools, even as our collective industry worries that we are teetering on the edge of financial collapse.
I normally consider myself a business technocrat: I am always in favor of new opportunities which would allow small business owners a better chance of success, whether this be via traditional banks, credit unions, trust companies or even the new FinTech industry.
I recently wrote a MAIA blog on FinTechs, in which I suggested them as alternate sources of financing for martial arts school owners. Then COVID-19 happened and the world of business suddenly changed. The businesses who counted on walk-by traffic and locals stopping by daily were suddenly gone. Group settings were now banned. All competitive sports were put on hold. The class setting of martial arts schools were too communal to allow them to continue. The life blood of our industry was being taken away from us.
As a semi-retired business consultant, I have watched a number of my friends struggle with their businesses during these trying times. This includes some who are martial arts school owners, and sadly, there is a high likelihood that some of them will never open again. This realization hit me harder than I had anticipated, especially after watching one school struggle with their remote classes while trying to persuade students not to quit outright.
I was prepared to complete some research including interviewing a couple of school owners in order to write some business analogies and advice, but as I was writing I quickly discovered that I was highly affected by this unforeseen “interruption” in our lives. What we are experiencing is unprecedented in our history and any financial sage advice I can give feels a bit crass in these trying times.
I am old enough to have experienced most of the epidemics and financial adversities in the past 50 years and even with all my business, banking and martial arts experience, it is hard for me to sit here and tell others how to conduct themselves during a time where any consideration of a “personal touch” is frowned upon.
As mentioned, I have been watching the MAIA webinars and Facebook Live sessions (again, another major shout out to Mr. Silverman and his team) and the effort MAIA is making to remain positive while giving excellent advice is better than I could ever do. I will repeat their advice of always having enough savings to cover at least three months’ of expenses (for times like this) and to remain in constant communication with your students, parents, your suppliers and especially your banker.
Regarding your banker, here I will give you some small advice. The MAIA team has been stressing that you need to visit your banker as soon as you can, especially to initiate the process of applying for the various governmental relief programs being offered during this pandemic. They even mentioned the one point I also wish to emphasize: When your banker is not being very helpful (and making up excuses), then you need to find a new banker.
What is wonderful about the U.S. banking system is the diversity of its banks. Please remember, here in Canada, almost 90% of all banking is dominated by six banks, including some of the largest in the world. In America, there are over 5,000 separate banks (and that’s even after the disastrous 2008 financial recession). This means that there’s a good chance your banker knows not only your business, but is probably your neighbor and could even have kids going to the same school as yours.
No true banker wants to foreclose on a client, especially after years of developing a relationship. Even in dire circumstances, your banker will usually do their best to get you back on track. You should always try to work with your banker when times get tough. When you are dealing with a smaller local bank, your relationship should be at the point where you banker is always proactively working for your business interests. With today’s circumstances, I hope that your banker has already contacted you to see how they can assist. Please take them up on their offer.
The aim of any consultant, whether they are your accountant, banker, lawyer, business mentor or professional advisor, is to develop a rapport with their clients. This is the only way for the relationship to be a win-win scenario. This connection is what I like to call the Personal Touch, which is where your consultant, or banker, in this case, truly wants to help. They really wish to see that you succeed, which in turn allows them to succeed.
Watching the MAIA team continually reaching out to those martial arts school owners by doing all the legwork in gathering government assistance information, not to mention the constant positivity reflected by their team, has been an amazing effort by all! Personally, I feel humbled by the efforts of everyone in our industry so I am reaching out myself to see how an old guy with 45+ years of business and martial arts experience can help those small school owners. I encourage all those able to do the same... even if it’s as simple as volunteering to put on a ZOOM class and/or help disinfect the dojo afterwards.
I really wanted to write something profound and intelligent, but today’s circumstances have shown me how little control we have in the big scheme of things, but it is with the support of our family, our friends and our community (both in our physical location and within our industry) that we will get through this.
I am also so encouraged by those who have stepped forward and shown leadership in this unique and unprecedented times. We must forgive the occasional stumble as there is no script for what we are going through. What we must do is to acknowledge those that have stepped up and took the leadership responsibilities so lacking these days. Leadership during these tough times not only requires tough decision to be made, but to do so with some empathy and a personal touch, even in our era of social distancing.
There is a saying that the business of business is business, but when you have the wellbeing of so many people depending on you, including your staff and your students, it may be the business of our business is the welfare of our community. This is why we teach the way of the martial arts, why we teach not just techniques but life skills and it’s in times like these that these life skills show their value. Be safe and stay the course. We will all become better people at the end of all this thanks to the fortitude we show today.
Andries Pruim is a 6th-degree black belt in Shotokan karate with over 45 years experience training in his home country Canada as well as in Japan. A former martial arts school owner, Pruim has 38 years of corporate financial and business management experience. He is a Certified Financial Planner, and continues to renew his CFP designation and update his financial knowledge and skills. In the martial arts world, he is currently a Senior Instructor at two karate schools in Langley, British Colombia, Canada.
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