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Helping Ourselves Through Helping Others

lesson learned mentor Feb 23, 2021

by Kathy Olevsky


I’ve operated a martial arts school full time for 45 years. I may have made every mistake that can be made in this business. The reason I’m still in business, I believe, is I asked for help. I learned quickly that others before me had already found solutions. In this column, I’ll point out key mistakes I made in my career, which are common errors among school owners, both large and small, throughout our industry. And I’ll share the solutions I used to overcome them.

Near the end of 2020, one of our locations was contacted by a fellow martial arts school owner looking to rent some space. He’d been forced to close his school because of COVID and was trying to restart his program while keeping costs as low as possible.

This is just one of many ways that we martial arts instructors can consider helping each other. Those of us who have managed to stay afloat and continue to teach in our commercial space might benefit from some extra income to reduce our debt load. We also can help our fellow martial artists who were forced to leave their facilities.

Of course, this process can be tricky. Renting to another martial artist is fine — as long as it benefits both parties. The aforementioned inquiry came from a tai chi instructor who wanted to rent space from a karate school. This seemed like a great partnership as long as the other instructor was a responsible person and was able to teach in the same professional manner that we expect from our staff. The school wound up renting the space for $200 a month and scheduling the tai chi class for Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, along with a time slot on Sunday, and none of those interfered with our karate classes.

Granted, $200 a month isn’t much in the scheme of things, and school owners facing similar decisions will have to judge for themselves if the risk of bringing in an outsider is worth the reward. In our case, tai chi was something we thought would interest some of our parents, so we negotiated a plan with the instructor that allowed some of our families to participate. It ended up benefitting us both.

I heard from another school owner who was able to rent space to non-martial arts businesses that had lost their leases. There were dance schools and personal trainers who utilized the school during the day before classes and late at night when regular classes were over.

Similar opportunities may come your way during 2021, at least until some of the small businesses find a way to get back into their own buildings. Remember that this type of relationship can be symbiotic. The clients of one business can bring new clients to another business.

As small business owners, we can benefit from being open to discussions about how we can help each other. What seems like a generous if one-sided offer often winds up being something that brings new business and gains for the offering party. So whether we’re being generous or just frugal, it’s good to look for situations that can help a floundering business regain some of its hold on the market.

Sometimes, at first blush, a proposition may seem impossible. In the first case I described, I wondered what hours I wasn’t already using that I could offer to someone else. Then I found out when the tai chi instructor was willing to teach. I never would have imagined those hours as productive to anyone in my business, but I was mistaken.

Since we’re all still dealing with the pandemic and the resultant business restrictions, it’s time to truly think outside the box.


To contact Kathy Olevsky, send an email to [email protected].


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