by Kathy Olevsky
I’ve written this column for 10 years now, telling the world how I’ve survived 45 years in the martial arts business despite having made many mistakes. In fact, I have not even begun to cover them all. I share my stories to help you learn from them — and because it’s important to know that you, too, may blunder along the way but that your school can survive.
After the major changes and constant unpredictability of 2020, the martial arts industry started to come back strong in 2021. During this time, we had to get experimental — sometimes successfully and sometimes not. At this time, I would like to share some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my years of running a school (not just 2020) in the hope that the solutions I found can help you as our industry continues to revive.
Pay and Charge Your Black Belts. In our early years, we followed the tradition that holds that when students reach black belt, they’re no longer charged and they start teaching. Now, we know that we will continue to teach our black belts for many years, so they should pay to be students.
If they teach for us, they should be on our payroll. This way, there’s a clear understanding of expectations. We set the policies, and they work for us and teach our way.
It’s OK to Close on Holidays. Our thinking was that if we closed on holidays, our students would get mad and think they weren’t getting the proper value. In reality, instructors need time off just like the rest of the world. We function better when we have some downtime.
Most martial artists work crazy hours — and often two jobs. Time off reduces burnout. For the past 30 years, we’ve taken off a week in July, a week in December and all major holidays, and we’ve never had a complaint.
Don’t Undersell Your Services. We used to love to tell people that we were the best deal in town when it came to martial arts training. At that time, we were charging $79 a month for unlimited attendance. A mentor said we were amazing martial artists with no business acumen. That explains why we could barely cover our expenses and were not paying ourselves.
His advice was to see what music lessons, gymnastics lessons and dance lessons cost in our area, then decide if we were as valuable or more valuable to our clients. He told us to start charging new students what we thought we were worth and gradually increase rates for our older students as they came up for renewal.
New students did not even blink at paying more, so we knew he was right. It took three years, but we gradually got everyone up to a more appropriate fee.
Keep It Simple. Over the years, there have been many approaches for memberships in the martial arts industry. At one point, we had a program for beginners with three options for paying. We also had three programs for advanced students with three options for paying. Each option gave different benefits.
The lesson we learned is that the more options you give, the harder it is for a customer to make a decision. We currently have one option for beginners and another for everyone who continues with us after the first year. It doesn’t matter if the person is a 5-year-old white belt or a 45-year-old black belt. Now, the selling takes place when the student participates in class or the parent watches class. Enrollment is simply paperwork. For us, the days of the hard sell are gone.
Pay Yourself. Looking back, I can’t believe all the years we operated a dojo for love of the art and didn’t pay ourselves. If this is you, budget yourself into the bills now. If your rent is $1,500 a month and your utilities are $600 a month, don’t you think you’re worth $200 a month? Even if you pay yourself only $50 a week, you must start somewhere. I promise that if you do this, you’ll find a way to make your paycheck grow with your academy.
Please read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki. Listen to it while you’re driving to work if you don’t have time to read. It might change your life like it did mine.
To contact Kathy Olevsky, send an email to [email protected].
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