For the most part, for somebody who is reasonably good at martial arts, and reasonably good at running a business, the hardest part about running a taekwondo school is gaining more students. The key to your success is finding and keeping students. So really there are three categories of skills you need to be really good at:
- Getting students: Marketing - bringing new students into your school (and for many people, this is the hardest part)
- Keeping students: Providing a great experience for your students - that's how you keep them coming back
- The business: Running it like a business: understanding your expenses and revenues, knowing how to manage a staff
Starting Small Edit
If you're just starting up a new taekwondo school, one option is to "start small." Find a community center or other space that you can use for your classes, before investing in your own storefront. Remember that many of the original Nine Kwans started this way: Moo Duk Kwan started in a storage room at a railway station, Song Moo Kwan used space in an archery school, and Chang Moo Kwan started at a YMCA. Advantages to starting small:
- You can build up a body of paying students before leasing your first storefront.
- You can work all the kinks out of the system before incuring bigger costs: what to charge, how to process payments, how to recruit students, what your curriculum should include, what equipment you'll need, etc.
Choosing a Location Edit
There are two schools of thought when it comes to choosing a location for your school. Some authors believe the location is less important than other factors, such as quality of instruction. Others believe that like any other retailer, location is key.
- Cost - of course the one over-riding requirement is that the space you rent fit within your budget. The price of real-estate varies widely from region to region.
- Proximity - the reality is that most students choose a martial arts school that's very near to where they work or live, regardless of the style. So probably the most important thing is to pick a location near to a lot of homes or public schools, a location that's not already over-crowded with martial arts schools.
- Curb appeal - especially when you're trying to attract new students via open houses and other walk-in recruiting, selecting a school with an attractive physical storefront is useful.
- Accessibility - a location on the front-side of a retail area rather than the back side (i.e., one that's more visible and accessible from the road) is likewise going to attract more walk-in recruits. Also, access to good parking and public transportation is helpful, as is a good avenue for drop-offs and pick-ups.
- Neighbors - if, for example, you'll be running youth classes, having something nearby for the parents to do (a gym, a coffee shop, etc.) can also help with both walk-in recruits and with student retention.
- Size & space - you're probably going to want more space than you realize, but of course extra square footage comes at a price. In addition to the dojang floor, you're going to need room for an office, a front desk, equipment storage, restroom facilities and changing rooms, etc.
- Sound - martial arts schools tend to be loud and trafficy. You might want to make sure you have neighbors that can deal with this.
- Ceiling, light, flow - high ceilings, natural light, good flow from dojang floor to the auxiliary spaces -- a pleasant space helps attract and retain students.
- Cleanliness - some of your students might not care if your school is spic-and-span, but some of them will, and of course you should too. As you look for locations, keep in mind that you're going to be cleaning this school a lot. Is this a space that's easy to keep clean? Does it have good sinks and drains? Are there any areas that will be difficult to get to?
- Room for expansion - if real estate is expensive in your area, then this especially is a secondary consideration. Still, as you look at potential storefronts, keep in mind that you might want to expand in a few years. If you move your storefront more than a mile away when you expand, it's not uncommon to lose 50% of your students in the process. (That's not just martial arts schools, that's any business - hair salons, dry cleaners, etc.) So if your storefront is expandable, or is very near another storefront (like, in the same parking lot) that you might be able to expand into in a couple of years, that's a bonus.
Equipping the SchoolEdit
As a martial artist, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what equipment you'll need. (See also: Taekwondo Schools.) What you might not realize is that you don't necessarily have to purchase all that equipment up-front; in many areas of the country you can rent or lease equipment from companies that lease gym equipment. Of course in the long run its preferable to own your own equipment, but doing that requires an up-front investment that you might not have the funds to make. It's worth at least exploring the option of leasing equipment and doing the math to see whether or not this is a reasonable option in your area.
And of course in addition to the martial arts equipment, you're going to need a point-of-sale system (to accept payments), office suppliers, cleaning supplies, and daycare/camp supplies if you're running a youth/family-oriented school.
Setting your PriceEdit
If you're just setting up a new school, you're going to need to figure out how much to charge students:
- In a recent, informal survey of dojang owners on Facebook, the total monthly revenue per student ranged between $220 per month and $170 per month...but these figures include all sources of revenue: tuition, after-school programs, testing fees, merchandise sales, etc. A typical monthly tuition is in the ballpark of $125 per student, but of course that can vary quite a bit from one city to another, or one school to another.
As with any business, there are two key factors to consider:
- Your costs - once you account for rent, utilities, salaries, taxes, etc. how much do you need to charge in order to break even? That's going to depend on how many students you can attract of course, so you're going to need some estimate of how many paying students you're likely to be able to attract and keep.
- Your competitor's prices - you shouldn't let your competitor's prices determine your prices, but at the same time, it's prudent to remain cognizant of your competitor's prices.
Most successful martial arts schools tend to have on the order of 200-300 paying students at any time. If 200 students are paying you $125 per month, then your revenue will be $25K per month, or $300K per year. That may sound like a lot of money, but it's not, especially once you take into account the cost of your payroll: additional instructors, somebody to work the front desk, the cost of an accountant if you're not doing your own books, etc. Then there's rent, utilities, taxes, fees...it can add up quick. Do the math before you set your price.
Example Prices and CostsEdit
See the wiki article Dojang Costs and Revenue for example prices and costs.
In economics there's a principle called the Gambler's Ruin. Suppose you as a gambler know that you're going to win 60% of the time, so that as long as you keep gambling long enough, you're going to make money in the end. Then it makes sense to gamble, right?
The problem is that other 40% of the time. If that other 40% of the time losing is sprinkled and mixed within that 60% winning, you should be fine. But what happens if that 40% comes as one long losing streak? Then you run out of money, and you're out of the game, even though the game is a money-maker for you in the long run.
The point is, you can go broke even when running a profitable business, if you just happen to have a long run of bad luck. That's the Gambler's Ruin. The only solution to the Gambler's Ruin problem is to go into the game with a thick wallet, and don't bet more than you can afford to lose. When it comes to running your business, the same thing is true. Most new businesses make no profit for the first two years, so if you're just starting out a new martial arts school, make sure you have pockets deep enough to withstand the initial losses. Your business might well be a money-maker in the long run, but you'll never know if you can't make it past the short-run.
After-School Programs, Summer Camps, etc.Edit
Not all taekwondo schools include youth programs, after-school programs, summer camps, etc. But there's a reason why so many of them do. If you're already paying rent and utilities on a facility (and this is true for any business, whether it's a school or a factory) the more use you can get out of that facility, the quicker you recoup the facility costs and start generating profit. So as a martial artist your goal in life may not have been to run summer camps for toddlers (or maybe it was), but as a business person it makes sense to your investments generating revenue to the greatest extent possible.
That doesn't mean you have to resort to after-school programs, summer camps, etc. even though a lot of schools do. The larger point is, try to keep your facility generating money somehow all throughout the day. After all, you're paying for it all throughout the day. Are there a lot of stay-at-home moms and dads in your area? If so, maybe daytime fitness classes could be the scheme you use to keep the dojang busy. Whatever option you choose, remember: an idle floor is costing you money, but not generating any money.
Gaining Students Edit
According to one estimate, a typical number of regular students needed to keep a martial arts school in business is only about 150 students. If you're charging $125 per month (as an example) and you can keep 150 students paying every month, your school's revenue will be $225K. Again, that may sound like a lot of money, but once you take out rent, utilities, payroll, taxes, fees, etc. that's not necessarily going to leave you with a lot to live on. The best ways to increase your revenue beyond that are: (1) gain more students, and (2) put your facility to additional uses (after-school care, summer camps, etc.). You can also generate more revenue by selling gear with a markup on the price, but in this day of online shopping that can be tough competition. Test fees can also generate more revenue, but generaly you're going to want those fees to mostly just cover the cost of testing; if you start using exorbatant fees to generate revenue, you'll likely lose students.
Of course advertising is a key element for gaining students. Some tips:
- Keep it local. In most cases, most of your students are going to live or work in a 5 mile radius from your school. Don't waste money advertising far away from your school.
- Use local centers. Within that five mile radius, identify local centers of mass: Starbucks, libraries, schools and PTAs, community colleges, churches, community centers, police and fire stations, scout troops, etc.You're going to return to this list year after year: these are where you want to target your advertising.
- Offer discounts and free trials - at the local centers especially, make special offers to attract new members
- Use word-of-mouth - once you get a foothold in local centers, make special offers to current members ("free classes for one month," or "discounted uniform") if they refer new members into your school. As a rule-of-thumb, an incentive in the range of $50-100 is probably a bargain, if it brings you a new long-term (one year or more) student.
- Flyers - flyers are cheap and effective if (a) they're well-made, and (b) you put them in spots where people linger (coffee shops, libraries, etc. and anywhere where people have to stand in line or wait: dry cleaners, etc.). See below for additional detail.
- Use your staff. Offer incentives to your staff as well, for bringing in new students. Again, incentives in the $50-150 range are typical.
- The web. Have a good website (see below) and make good use of social media (Facebook, etc.) This is another thing you can tap into your students to help with.
As previously mentioned, flyers can be a cheap and effective way to advertise. It's really important though that your flyers be well-made. Some things to keep in mind:
- Name of school - The name of the school on the flyer doesn't have to be huge. The biggest things on the flyers should be (1) the fact that it's a taekwondo school, and (2) whatever the one "hook" is that you want to use to pull people in ("two free classes!" "great for weight loss!"). The name of the school should be prominent enough so that people can find the name on the flyer, but the name of your school isn't what you're advertising, so keep it small-ish.
- Taekwondo - Somewhere on the flyer (probably prominently) you'll want to identify yourself as either a martial arts school or a taekwondo school. That item should be big and colorful.
- Styles - Newcomers won't know what terms like ITF or Olympic-style mean, but not all your audience members are newcomers. Some may have studied martial arts previously, and they know exactly what they're looking for. So somewhere near where you identify yourself as a martial arts school, in smaller text consider identifying specifically what kind of school you are - what styles you offer.
- Main Graphic - Most flyers tend to look best with one main large graphic: a black belt doing a side kick, a child practicing, etc. It's worth the time and effort to make this be an excellent graphic, not just "good enough." License a stock photo from the Web, hire a professional photographer to take a good photo, hire a graphics artist to illustrate a figure, or find a talented amateur who's willing to help. This is the graphic that's going to catch people's eye, so make it good.
- There may be a temptation to put yourself on the flyer, under the theory that "people will want to see who they'll be learning from." That's absolutely sensible and logical. Sadly, sense and logic have little to do with advertising! The purpose of your flyer is to grab people's attention when they see it only out of the corner of their eye, so that they'll stop and look closer. For that reason, a flashy graphic is more important than an informative graphic.
- Contact information: address, telephone numbers, website; how to find your school on social networks: Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Your website especially is an extension of your flyer. This is where you can put the additional information that might attract people to your school. In particular, make sure the "practical" information on your website is easy to find: class schedules, location, prices, etc. If people have to "hunt" for this information, they probabl won't bother.
- Pro Tip: Especially among younger people, if they're curious about exploring something new, they're more likely to text an inquiry than make a phone call. Consider setting up a cellphone line just for your school (don't use your personal phone) and including the cellphone number on your flyer, encouraging the reader to text you if they have any questions. People nowadays feel much more comfortable about texting.
- Fine Print: If you want to include additional information, there's nothing wrong with that, but put that in the fine print. These tidbits should be additional pieces of information that might attract people to your school: "Open Saturdays and Sundays"; "After school program available" (unless this was your main selling point above); "Adult and children classes"; ...any additional pieces of information
Websites that offer flyer templatesEdit
There are websites that offer (usually for a price) templates for martial arts flyers, brochures, etc. If you can't afford to hire your own graphic designer (or if you don't have any talented amateurs you can tap into), these can be a good option. Here are a few websites:
If you're just starting out, you might not be able to afford a real website. That's okay, nowadays you have some good free options: free online blogs (such as Wordpress or Blogspot) and social media sites such as Facebook. In fact, if you don't know what information you want to put on a website, it might be better to not even bother paying for a website. Do a little bit of Googling and you'll see that there are plenty of martial arts schools that have websites which say almost nothing.
What should you say on your website?
- Styles of martial arts taught
- Who this school is geared toward (kids, adults, families, serious martial artists, people looking for a fun fitness workout, etc.)
- Why people should use your school, what makes it unique or commendable (quality of the instruction, special programs, uniqueness of style, etc.)
- Special programs offered - after-school programs, summer camps, demo teams, clubs...anything special that your school does that merits further explanation
- "About us" - who runs the school, how long you've been in business, why you're well-qualified
- Class schedules
- Curriculum - what students will be required to learn at each gup/dan level
- Pricing, if you don't mind advertising this online (some schools prefer not to)
- Any special promotions going on ("first month free!")
- Downloadable content (applications for promotion testing, study aids, etc.)
- Links and logos for whatever federations and associations your school may be affiliated with (ATA, ITF, WTF, etc.)
- Contact information: address, phone number, Facebook page, Twitter link, etc.
Can you get all of that information online without having your own website? The short answer is, yes, you actually can, and you can even make it look pretty good. There's not really that much information that you need to provide. If your school is still new and you're trying to do things "on the cheap," then with a combination of Facebook and free blogging sites, you can probably get all the information you need online for free.
Of course once your school is up-and-running well, a good-looking website lends your school an additional air of professionalism. At that point you can either hire a professional web designer, or just purchase a website template from any of the many sites offering that service (see the links below for examples). Some things to perhaps avoid:
- You can rewrite yet-again the history of your martial art on your website, but honestly, in this day and age, there are so many good online resources for this already (like Wikipedia, or this wiki) that you might as well just link to the content you need.
- Instructions for how to perform forms or techniques - again, this stuff is already available online (at this wiki and elsewhere) that you're probably better off just linking to the content you need, rather than recreating it.
- Unless you want to be updating your website regularly (which can be a pain), you might prefer to use Facebook and Twitter to describe upcoming events, new announcements, etc.
- Likewise, you might be better-off using Facebook and YouTube for your photo galleries and video galleries. Those are easier to maintain and keep up-to-date than a website.
Some additional resources to explore:
Open houses are a lot of work but they can be amazingly effective. Some schools recruite the bulk of their new students via annual or semi-annual open houses. Tips for conducting an open house:
- Advertise the open house ahead of time (flyers, etc.)
- Advertise the open house on the day of the open house - just as high school teams will have students canvas the local shopping center to direct customers to their ongoing fundraising car washes, you can do the same thing: as the open house is going on, engage some of your students and volunteers in passing out flyers, wearing sandwich boards, holding signs, etc. to draw potential students into the open house. Make sure they wear their uniforms!
- Have a reason for people to pop-in: free hotdogs, snowcones, demo-team shows, moon bounces, etc. - give people a reason to poke their heads in the door for at least a few minutes
- Engage with the visitors - once somebody pokes their head in the door, have students or volunteers ready to engage the potential students: introduce yourself, offer a tour, show some videos, ask about the potential students interests and hobbies, etc. Make sure they feel welcome.
- Be prepared to sign them up on-the-spot - make the signup process easy. Have the paperwork ready to go, set aside a table and volunteers to work the sign-ups.
Sponsor a TeamEdit
There are a couple of good ways to use sponsorship of a local team (soccer, football, softball, hockey, etc.) as a way to recruit new students to your school:
- Number one of course is that you create more brand awareness by having your taekwondo school's name on the team's jerseys and other gear.
- Number two, you can use your dojang as a base-of-operations for things like team meetings, victory parties, season-end celebrations, etc. That gets people into your school, and gives them a chance to get to know you and your school better.
The team (or teams) that you sponsor can be either youth teams or even adult teams. How much does sponsorship cost? It depends on the team, but as a rule-of-thumb figure that $100 per athlete puts you in the ballpark.
Free Classes: Try before you BuyEdit
Some schools offer free classes as a way to encourage potential new students to try taekwondo, and in general this is an excellent no-cost approach to gaining new students. (You're teaching a class anyway, so what's the additional cost of having a few extra students in the class?) You probably don't want to require anything at all of your potential new students: don't make them buy uniforms or anything; let them workout in their regular workout clothes. In fact, some schools will set-aside one class each week as "free classes" for the public in general. That has the advantage that it makes it easy for your students to drag friends along to free classes, and once those friends are hooked on taekwondo, you have new students!
If there are a lot of martial arts schools in your area, you're going to want to find a way to differentiate your offering from all the competitors. There has to be a reason why people should choose your school over someone else's school.
- Lower price is one way to do that, but this approach only makes sense if there's some legitimate reason why your costs would be lower than everybody elses, which is rarely the case.
- Better instruction is a better approach to differentiation. In this case, "better" means "crowd pleasing." That doesn't mean you should lower your standards and become a McDojo, but it does mean you should give the public what they want: if you sense that your students are there for the physical fits, focus on the physical fitness; if they're there for self-defense, focus on self-defense, etc. Better instruction translates into good word-of-mouth, which is the most sustainable way to gain new students all the time.
- Unique offerings - there are a number of things you can offer at your school that might differentiate you from competitors: weapons training, training for special-needs students, self-defense training, women-only classes, seniors-only classes, Sunday classes, before-work classes, demo teams, after-school programs, summer camps, demo teams, etc. You probably can't offer all these things without going broke! But identify which things your competitors aren't already offering and consider using those as your discriminators.
- Research - it's worth reiterating that identifying your school's unique offerings will likely require doing some research. You can't know what makes your school unique without knowing something about the other schools and clubs in the area. Again, a 5-mile radius is probably sufficient, in terms of which schools to research.
- Convenient / attractive location -
Other Recruiting Tips Edit
- Local Demos / Presentations / Talks -
- Family Memberships -
- Align with a Charity -
Providing a Great Experience Edit
People study martial arts for a variety of reasons, so you're going to have to gauge the interests of your students in order to know how to tailor your instruction. But the reality is, most people study martial arts for fun. If it's not fun, they're going to quit. That doesn't mean you need to throw ice-cream parties after every class, but you should make your school a fun place to learn and exercise. If you have trouble deciding where to draw the line between "fun" and "educational" imagine yourself running a different exercise business: a gym, a dance studio, a yoga studio, etc. Where would you draw the line between fun and education if you were running one of those businesses? Sometimes - by imagining yourself running a different exercise or sport business - divorcing your thoughts from your own prejudices on "How taekwondo should be!" will help you make better decisions.
- Involve your students - teaching, coaching, mentoring, demo teams, leadership teams, participation in local tournaments, hosting of tournaments, open houses, recruiting, even chores around the dojang! People are more likely to stick-with something they feel involved in. You might feel like, "I don't want to bother my students by asking them to help me with this..." but you may be surprised by how much your students enjoy pitching-in.
- The social experience - even if your school is not a club, there's nothing wrong with treating it like a club. People make friends at work, school, church, etc. so there's no reason to think they aren't also going to make new friends at their dojang. Encourage that, especially among teenagers (who are seemingly always looking for new social outlets), and don't be afraid to sponsor "non-martial arts" activities. Host an evening cookout for your students, have a movie night, host overnight sleepover practices...make it fun.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate - make good use of your Facebook page and your school's Twitter feed, put plenty of useful content on your website, keep your students informed. Also, provide easy venues for asking questions. Classes are often scheduled back-to-back-to-back which means you don't seem to have a lot of time to answer questions...at least, that's how it may look to your students. If that's the case, make sure they have some easy venue for asking questions, and encourage them to do so!
Pitfalls to AvoidEdit
- Overcrowded classes (not enough floor space, or not enough instructors)
- Lack of quality teaching
- Inconvenient practice times
- Inconvenient parking / transportation
- Unaffordable fees
- Lack of student involvement
- Poor atmosphere
Run it Like a Business Edit
There's nothing really special about a martial arts school as compared to any other small business (hair salon, trophy shop, pizza parlor, etc.). This wiki page can't provide you with a complete tutorial on how to run a small business, but the good news is there are a TON of resources out there already to help you.
- There are plenty of books at the library or on Amazon.com that will help teach you how to run a business.
- Many local organizations (such as the local Chamber of Commerce) can help connect you to retired small-business owners who like to volunteer their time to help mentor new business owners. Really, the decision to take advantage of this service could be the most profitable decision you ever make.
In a nutshell though, your two biggest challenges are going to be (1) money, and (2) staffing problems. The key to managing your money problems is to just be logical, divorce emotions from your business decisions. Don't be shy about charging what your services are worth, don't give in to wishful thinking in terms of how profitable you might someday be, etc...just make your business decisions by the numbers. Calculate your costs, calculate your revenues, and let the numbers guide your decisions. As previously mentioned, the key to your financial success will be the ability to attract and retain students.
The same advice applies to topic #2. You don't ever need to be mean, there's no need for anger or harsh words in business dealings...but that doesn't mean you can't be strict in your dealings with people. Be brave enough to communicate with your staff often and candidly, be fair in how you deal with people, but be strict. It's nothing personal, it's just business. If somebody isn't getting the job done, give them plenty of notice, but then let them go if you have to. You don't want your business to be a treadmill of people coming and going, so make sure you reward loyalty and good work, but also be sure to cut your losses if a staff member just isn't really working out.
See Also Edit
- The book Martial Arts Instructor's Desk Reference includes useful information for taekwondo instructors, owners and managers of taekwondo schools, and organizers of taekwondo tournaments.
- Starting and running a Martial Arts School (PDF) http://www.efcmartialartsbilling.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/efc-whitepaper3.pdf