If you’d like to understand what starting and running your own martial arts school takes, the following is a good solid overview of the process.
Before I get into the steps involved in starting a karate school (or other martial art), I’d like to be frank in telling you that starting any business is hard work… probably harder than any other undertaking you’ve ever attempted in your life. There will be setbacks, disappointments, and hardships along the way, but if you stay positive and focused on your goal, take a proactive stance and seek a solution or workaround whenever you face challenges, and stay the course – the payoff will be tremendous.
Okay, enough with the pep talk… let’s get on to discussing what you need to do to start a martial arts school…
The very first thing you need to do when you are starting out is to write a martial arts business plan. There are two very good reasons for this:
1. If you are going to seek outside funding, there isn’t a lender in the world that will consider giving a prospective entrepreneur a loan if they don’t have a solid business plan.
2. More importantly, you need to have a clear picture of the steps you will take to successfully launch your martial arts school, from start-up through the first 3-5 years you are in operation.
For details on what a good business plan includes, you should visit the following website: http://www.sba.gov/starting_business/planning/writingplan.html
We discuss planning and budgeting in chapter seven of my manual (and I also provide a sample business plan in the appendix).
Most people only consider one or two choices when they choose their financing options for launching their martial arts school: their personal savings and bank loans.
However, there are many other options to consider, such as borrowing from a private investor, government grants, and using your personal credit. Each of these methods has it’s pros and cons; it’ll be up to you to decide which will best suit your resources, needs and goals.
You should know that there are options available to you for financing your studio that require much less financial risk. You can refer to chapter 4 of Small Dojo Big Profits to find out more on this subject.
Choosing a Business Structure
The next step to consider is to choose a business structure. Will you operate as a sole proprietor, a corporation, a limited liability company, or a partnership?
If you spent the time to write a good business plan, this is something that you have probably already given a great deal of consideration. Be advised, some business structures have tax and legal advantages that you’ll want to consider before you choose.
If you decide to operate as a corporation or LLC, you will most likely require assistance with filing for recognized status as a legal business entity in your state. In that case, you’ll want to speak with a local attorney in your area for assistance.
Also, in chapter five of Small Dojo Big Profits I talk about what you need to do to avoid legal pitfalls, limit your legal liability, and protect yourself from lawsuits.
Finding the Right Location
There are many things to consider when choosing a location for your new martial arts school. Is it better to be in a high-foot-traffic area, and pay considerably more in rent?
Or, should you get a location that is a bit off the beaten path, and spend the money you save in rent on advertising and marketing?
Although we discuss this in great detail in the “Small Dojo, Big Profits” manual, suffice it to say that we have found the latter option to be the most risk-averse. Keeping expenses as low as possible is often the wisest path, especially if you are someone without much experience starting and running your own martial arts school.
On a related note, you’ll definitely want to find someone to help you negotiate your lease, like a real estate agent or an attorney. Commercial leases are generally long, complicated, and contain a lot of legal jargon, making them difficult to understand for the average layperson. In addition, they are often written to weigh heavily in favor of the property owner.
Even so, with any lease the terms are often negotiable, so be sure to get someone who understands real estate law to help you interpret and negotiate your lease. (This is all covered in more detail in chapter six of Small Dojo Big Profits.)
Advertising and Marketing
Effective marketing and advertising for your new martial arts school can mean the difference between long-term success and imminent disaster. This is the one aspect of starting a martial arts school that is perhaps least understood by new school owners.
Why? Well, because there are a lot of factors to consider when you set out to market your studio, things like your budget, your intended audience, marketing channels and media, what type of promotions you’re going to offer, public relations, special events and appearances – the list goes on and on.
Once again, informed planning is the key to effective advertising, so if you don’t have any experience in this area you might consider reading up on the topic or getting outside help.
I devoted chapter 10 to this topic in my manual; you might also take a look at my Martial Arts School Marketing Mini-Course, both of which can be purchased and downloaded in the “Store” section of this website.
Pricing Your Services
This is actually a component of your overall marketing strategy, but it deserves a separate mention because it’s so crucial. Do yourself a favor and read our three-part series on this in the “Articles” section of this site. For more detailed information, you can also read chapter eight in my manual.
Billing and Collecting Tuition
First off, you don’t need to hire a billing company – at least, not right away. However, you might consider using one from the get-go to avoid having to convert your members over to third-party billing later on.
Although I once used a full-service billing company, I’ve since switched to a semi-DIY company that allows me more freedom and control of my billing, and I save money on fees as well.
You can contact the company I use by clicking here. Also, chapter nine in my “Small Dojo…” manual goes into detail about the pros and cons of hiring a third party billing company to collect your tuition.
Inventory and Equipping Your Location
Now, about inventory… it depends on how many students you will have (to buy equipment from you) when you open. If you won’t have but a few dozen, then just stock your place with 2-3 uniforms in each size, so you can have them on hand when new students enroll.
I use several companies for equipment, and have wholesale accounts with each (it ususally just takes sending them a copy of your resale certificate or business license – some will even accept a business card or advertisement). Century and Asian World of Martial Arts have great prices, and Tiger Claw is close behind. For great MMA gear and training equipment that lasts, however, I highly recommend and heartily endorse RevGear. The thing to do is to find the lowest prices on uniforms and order all your stuff from that company – after you’ve done this a while, you can usually negotiate even better prices.
My current school is 1600 sq ft. with 1000 feet of training floor. About 200 sq ft up front consists of the entrance, viewing area, and office. Another 400 sq ft in back is used for the bathroom, a small room for our after school kids to do home work in (we found it necessary to offer after school pick up due to the demographics of our town, something I plan to write an article on soon), a storage room, and a changing area.
We have our entire floor covered in mats, but we started with carpet and waited until we had enough students to afford to buy mats (AWMA.com’s wholesale site has puzzle mats at great prices – $13 bucks a mat at the time of this writing). I have 5 Wavemasters (needed them for the kickboxing class, otherwise would only have 2-3), 4 large kicking shields (reminds me I need to order a few more), 10 square hand targets, a few clapper targets, and 10 arm shields.
However, I recommend you start with the cheapest equipment – and that would be the square hand targets. As you get new enrollees, use their registration fees (should be about $100 a person, if you’re not running a special discount) to buy new equipment as you grow. That way, you keep your start-up costs really low.
Finally, spend some money on posters (put them in frames from Wal Mart or Target), flags, potted plants or even rubber plants, and so on. Spending a $100 or so on things to make your school look exciting and inviting will really make a difference in your enrollments.
Customer Service, Curriculum and Retention
Retention is a key issue for your martial arts school, one that your long-term success will likely rest on. You’ll want to make sure that you have a great curriculum, excellent teaching and motivational skills, and outstanding customer service – all these factor in to your retention and attrition rate. Chapter 11 in the my manual has a lot of useful tips and techniques for retention that will help you keep your students around for the long haul.
Other Considerations in Starting and Running Your Own Martial Arts School
- Bookkeeping – Hire a bookkeeper and find a good accountant to do your taxes at the end of each year. Trust me, it will save you some serious hassles.
- Hiring Employees – Without getting into the particulars, I would advise that you try to avoid it if you can. Employees are a hassle and payroll can easily become your biggest expense. For more on this, you’ll want to read chapter 7 and chapter 13 in my manual.
- Additional Income Streams – There’s more on this topic on our articles section. Also, I spent a whole chapter writing about this in chapter 12 of my “Small Dojo…” manual.
- Enrollment Procedures – More on this topic can be found in other articles on this site. If you don’t have any sales experience, you’ll want to do some role-play with a friend before you open your doors. Just sit down and pretend you are enrolling them for classes. You may also want to read chapter 8 in my manual if you need more help on this.
- Contracts – Too complicated an issue to get into here. I suggest that you read chapter nine in my manual, then talk to some successful, experienced school owners (note the qualifying adjectives) to get their take on it.
I hope this article at least gives you an idea of where to start and what steps to take to get going. If you’re serious about starting a martial arts school, please, read our manual – it’ll save you a lot of headaches and confusion when you are starting and running your own martial arts school.
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