by Kevin Nevels
When my wife and I opened our first martial arts academy more than 10 years ago, we didn’t know much about running a business. To be honest, we hardly knew anything about running a business. However, we were sure about a couple of things: We knew how to teach good martial arts, and we knew that we needed to get out into our community and let people know what we were doing.
These two ideas turned out to be the beginnings of a blueprint for success.
In the years that followed, I’ve observed that most school owners know they should go out and tell people about their schools, but they don’t know how or where to get started. Some school owners say they don’t see the value in getting involved in their community because it doesn’t lead directly to the acquisition of new students. If you’ve read MASuccess for any length of time, you’ve seen the recommendations that MAIA consultants have shared to help you organize events that will get students in your door. Well, those suggestions work best when you have local relationships — when you’re involved in your community.
My goal in writing this article is not only to convince you of the importance of creating and nurturing those relationships but also to help you understand the revenue boost you’ll get from focusing on your community. Along the way, I’ll share a few stories about what we’ve done to get involved in our community to make sure the public knows what’s happening on our mats.
Before we start our dive into this, I want to note that community involvement has three main facets that I consistently discuss with my team. These are the areas that have had the greatest impact for our martial arts schools and consistently get the most results. Over time, being involved in all three has afforded us many benefits over our competition, and they can do the same for you. The areas are your local school district, your municipality and your chamber of commerce.
Let’s start with school districts. Over the years, I’ve spoken with dozens of martial arts business owners who said the same thing: “I can’t get into our local schools. They shut me down every time I try to drop off fliers.”
Yes, your local school district will shut you down every time try — unless you change things up after the first unsuccessful attempt. You must convey the notion that you’ll bring value to the school and the students. It should not appear that you simply want the district to serve as your personal flier-distribution center, especially if the school officials don’t have a relationship with you. You must start from a place of giving, not a place of taking. Over my decade of interactions with our school district, I’ve learned that there’s a three-pronged strategy that works wonders:
Example: A few years ago, I found out through a parent that a local PTO was trying to raise money to purchase a 3D printer for the school. Because we were already a PTO sponsor, the president was more than willing to meet with me so I could share ideas for helping them raise funds. In the end, they allowed us to set up a table at a meet-the-teachers night, and we sold 23 trial offers priced at $69 each for our martial arts school. We donated 100 percent of the trial-offer money back to the PTO. The organization wound up raising more than $1,500, which enabled them to purchase the printer.
Here’s how we benefitted: Of the 23 people who signed up for the trial offer, we converted 16 into regular students. Over the next 12 months, that turned into $25,000 in revenue.
It’s safe to say that any one of us would gladly donate $1,500 to earn $25,000. However, the benefits didn’t stop there. We built an amazing amount of goodwill with the PTO president. Afterward, she emailed me to invite us back next year.
The second area of community involvement takes place at the city or town level. Many people look at their city as an inconvenience, an entity whose only reason for existing is to collect taxes and enforce codes and regulations. Yes, this is part of what your municipality is responsible for, but there’s typically more to your average town than just that. Learning about your local government, how it works and what public-facing divisions you can leverage will change your view of how your city can work for you. The three main areas I’ve had my martial arts business focus on are:
Example: A few years ago, we got a call from our city’s special-events coordinator. She’s responsible for putting on public events for our community. Her office was organizing a public screening of Lego: Ninjago and needed a local martial arts school to perform a demonstration before the movie. Because we had worked with parks and rec for years, we were the first school they called.
In the end, our demo team got a chance to perform, and we were allowed to have a booth and directly market our school to the public. We set up a board-breaking area so kids who came for the movie — who were already interested in martial arts — could try what they had just watched our demo team do. It was a huge success. We had a line at our booth during the entire movie, and we booked at least 50 trial appointments.
A lot of people have asked me how we got in so close with the special-events coordinator. Honestly, it was simple. Our city puts on two parades a year: one for the Fourth of July and one during the holiday season. There’s no entry fee because all the city officials want is more floats in the parades. My school is a consistent participant. It’s good exposure, and it means that those in local government remember us.
Furthermore, we’re remembered because we often rent local park facilities for events like “class in the grass” and school-anniversary parties. When I make arrangements for such occasions, I always submit the application in person and then pay in person. It’s better than doing so online or by mailing a check because it gives me facetime with the parks and rec people, which keeps me at the forefront of their minds. It also gives me an opportunity to ask what the next big event is and see if there’s an opportunity to set up a booth or be an exhibitor.
Chambers of Commerce
The third area of community involvement that many school don’t understand how to utilize is the local chamber of commerce. The chamber of commerce has been a mixed-bag experience for the martial artists I’ve spoken with over the years. Many have said that they joined their local group and nothing happened. I must say that they are 100-percent correct — if you join your chamber of commerce and do nothing to get more involved, you’ll be wasting your time.
You simply have to put energy into your chamber-of-commerce outreach if you want to get results. Speaking of results, these are the areas that have paid off the most for our schools:
Example: Our local chamber of commerce hosts an annual health-and-wellness expo for all fitness-based businesses. This group is where I invest the majority of the time I allocate to our chamber of commerce. At the first fitness expo we attended about seven years ago, we set up a booth and a “whiteboard challenge”: The Person Who Does the Most Jumping Jacks in 10 Seconds Wins a $50 Gift Card. We made sure to get a parent to sign up each child who showed an interest so we could capture a name, phone number and email address.
We had more than 30 kids stop by our booth and take the fitness challenge. The young lady who won was so excited that her parents signed her up for an annual membership and paid in full. Afterward, we made sure to let everyone else feel like they also had won by giving them a coupon for a free martial arts lesson. In this way, a $50 investment at one event netted almost $1,500 in revenue.
So far, I’ve explained how getting involved can bring in leads, attract new students and boost revenue for your business. Now, I’ll describe some of the unexpected benefits that await you, benefits that we’ve enjoyed over the years.
Social proofing is one of the best ways to bolster your reputation in your community. When you’re out raising money for schools, volunteering at events and giving your expertise back to the community, you get recognized. And when people talk about you …
Thank you for taking the time to read my recommendations for getting more involved in your local community. The best advice I can give is to start right now. It doesn’t matter if your school is 10 months old or 10 years old; building powerful relationships within your community will pay dividends for years to come.
I know that many schools have had their fair share of struggles this past year because of the pandemic. That’s even more of a reason to reach out to your local community. If you would like to explore other ways to get involved, I suggest you attend the 2021 Martial Arts SuperShow. It’s been a valuable tool for me and my entire team, one that’s helped us maximize our potential and grow beyond our wildest dreams. Be sure to look for me at the show.
Kevin Nevels is a MAIA Elite member who owns Coppell Taekwondo Academy and Championship Martial Arts in Las Colinas, Coppell and Irving, Texas.
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