by Frank Silverman
It’s hard to believe that as I write this column, we’re still talking about COVID-19. Although to be honest, it’s not so much that it’s hard to believe; it’s more that I don’t want to believe it. When I received an e-mail saying it was time to send in my essay, I — probably like everyone reading this — was at a unique spot: I had some extra time on my hands because the world has not yet returned to the pre-pandemic “norm.” At the same time, I’m crazy busy trying to adjust to the new norm and figure out how to operate a business under these conditions.
I also wasn’t sure if I should continue writing about how to reopen martial arts schools or if most already will have done so by the time this goes to print. Maybe I should I address how to handle a second wave of COVID-19? Will there even be a second wave?
Then it occurred to me that we’re in back-to-school season. What will that look like? Will it be virtual or in classrooms? With or without social distancing? One thing I do know is that students across the country will go back to school one way or another. I also know that, as we have seen throughout this pandemic, different states (and even cities) will have very different guidelines.
With that in mind, I could address the back-to-school season in a thousand ways. So I chose to focus on “Back-to-School With a COVID Twist.”
This is supposed to be the busy season for all of us. It’s meet-the-teacher time and afterschool-pick-up program time. It’s time to get new members — in some cases, martial arts schools get more new members in the next three months than in the other nine months combined.
We need to approach this back-to-school season aggressively. Assuming elementary, middle and high schools are open in some capacity, we need to educate not only the parents (who are ultimately our clients) but also the school personnel that a dojo is a safe place for children to enroll. We must respect every rule that the schools may have. If a school requires that masks be worn, we need to wear a mask. Now is not “statement time.” If we follow their lead, they will help us in return.
Ask a local school to allow you to set up a booth as they conduct their back-to-school night or teacher meet-and-greet event. If they do not have in-person events scheduled this year, they more than likely will have a big virtual presence. Offer to sponsor those virtual events. In exchange for some type of donation, you can expect some “advertising time” onscreen; if mailers go home, you can have your ad in them. Referrals are more important now than ever before. If a child is in your martial arts school, that means the parents trust you.
Arm your members with VIP cards. Make sure you have a great referral reward program. There’s no better testimonial than a parent telling another parent that your facility is a safe place to train. Be as visual as possible. Have bright back-to-school T-shirts made and for sale in your pro shop. Let students know that if they wear your shirt to school within the first one or two weeks, they will get a free 10-minute private lesson on any topic they choose. It’s all about getting out there again.
Contact the PTA, guidance counselors and principals and ask how you can help them. When you help others, they are more apt to help you. Also, try to be an “in person” type of professional. Yes, texting and emailing fit very well with the COVID-19 norm, but it’s much harder to say no when you’re face-to-face. Ask to teach PE at the school for a day. Offer to set up a booth at an event. Ask, ask and ask some more.
Have a great social media campaign but understand you have to do more than just click a button to get new members. Follow-up will be key. Scheduling will be key. Social distancing is sure to be around, but it’s far better to kick and punch air or bags than not kick and punch at all. If the choice is to social distance or not hold classes at all, let’s all choose to social distance until the crazy times get back to normal.
We all want a great back-to-school season. We can make it happen. It will be hard work, but so is getting your black belt, doing your first MMA fight or competing in your first tournament. Life isn’t easy. This isn’t easy. But we will persevere, and we will be stronger in the end.
To contact Frank Silverman, send an email to [email protected] Find him on Twitter and Facebook at @franksilverman.
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