I‘ve been operating a martial arts school full-time for 39 years. I think I may have made every mistake that can be made in this business. The reason I’m still in business, I believe, is because I asked for help. I learned quickly that others before me had already found solutions. In this reality-based column, I’ll point out key mistakes I made in my business career, which are common errors among school owners, both large and small, throughout our industry. Then I’ll share the solutions I applied to overcome them.
November was once a time of year when we used to take a deep breath and feel relieved that it had finally come. The thought was that we had been so busy with all our new back-to-school business, we deserved slower months in November and December. There was a huge mistake in this line of thinking. Those two slow months in a row at the end of the year would also mean three more months of trying to recover from zero growth.
In fact, this is a great time to start working on an action plan to get all the business you can at the end of the year. It’s well known in the corporate world that if you have money in a budget, you must spend it by fiscal year-end or you might not get that money next year. While you, as a school owner, may not be trying to gain corporate funds from businesses, you certainly are fighting to get money from potential students who may be allocating money to holiday gifts.
In addition to trying to get new clients to spend their holiday-season dollars with you, this is the most important time of year to ramp up training and commitment of current students. After all, most of us take a few days off at Thanksgiving, followed by a week or two off at the end of the year.
Be aware that there’s nothing that will cause a student to re-think his or her martial arts membership expense more than breaking the habits of training. This is the best time of year to announce to your students a contest that runs for December and January. Maybe it’s an attendance contest. Maybe it’s fitness-goal contest. Maybe a referral contest.
There are also students who joined your school in January. If they joined on a one-year membership, this is the critical time to build enthusiasm in their training and help them see their future in the martial arts.
Again, if you don’t build, build, build, they will likely find another activity before their membership comes up for renewal. You can be sure they’re going to analyze how successful their New Year’s goals were from the beginning of 2018. We need to be part of that success. If we haven’t already established their undying desire to be in martial arts, it better happen in the next few weeks!
November and December are great times to do all kinds of activities that give students extra reasons to come to the dojo. If this sounds silly or like a lot of work, just think about how busy all of the parents are in your school in December. Between school concerts, holiday parties, travel and visiting relatives, it’s no wonder they don’t have time to come to karate.
In our school, we have a few traditions that take place in those months. Again, it’s just a way to keep them committed to our program and excited about coming in to class.
Every year November marks the culmination of an entire year of work for our group of black belts working on their next level of promotion. We have our big show the first weekend of November. This usually keeps the excitement going for another few weeks and referrals tend to increase at this time.
In December, we have two weeks of planned activities. We digress from our normal extreme-health routine and allow Cookie Week. In addition, we follow that week with Holiday Hat week. The students are told they can wear anything on their head, as long as it’s holiday-themed.
These activities are well-accepted and participation is high in children’s classes, teen classes and adults. Yes, even adults prefer to have a little bit fun at this time of year.
It is then important to take all this built-up attendance and tie it into some important announcements for January. We want them to miss us and come back for more.
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