Why you should be tracking attendance at your martial arts school

Checking-in with a code or a membership card is a very common practice at fitness gyms. I haven’t seen it done often at martial arts schools, until I joined my current academy which does just that. At first I considered it a hassle – I knew all of the staff personally after the first week, so there should no need to verify my membership every time.

As it turns out though, there are significant benefits to tracking attendance, for both the instructors and the students.
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The underbelly of gym sales

There’s a basic conflict for every gym owner. On one hand, they opened a gym because they love the sport and art they train in, and would like to make it as accessible as possible to people in their community. On the other hand, they are now running a business with their livelihood on the line.

From a business perspective, gym owners are worried about their bottom line. From the sports-fan and instructor perspective (which not every gym owner is), the goal is to provide the best experience and value to gym members.

Those two concerns are often at odds with each other, and addressing one often comes at the expense of the other. The balancing act of selling and making a profit with providing the best product and value to members is the core dilemma for gym owners, and there are many different takes on how to go about it.
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Most Gym Websites Suck, But They Don’t Have To

As someone who moved a lot and likes to travel, I find myself searching for gyms in new places quite often. My first contact with a gym is typically through their website, and thus I’ve already seen a lot of variety in gym website design. Granted, it’s mostly BJJ schools websites, as that is the sport I train (with a few MMA gyms thrown in the mix).

Your gym website being the first point of contact with many potential visitors is something we already covered before, when we polled 250+ people on how they found their current gym. And yet, too many gym websites do not do a good job representing their owners.

The vast majority of gym websites suck

As I was looking for inspiration for our designer when we were working on our gym website feature, I got to see many types of gym websites from different sports.

As someone who’s been in the web development industry for many years now, and has a passion for good design and user experience (even though I’m not an actual designer), it pained me to see so many websites doing their owners a disservice.

As a potential visitor / customer, when I search for a gym I’m looking to find the following information:
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Why We Use Stripe For Payments

A story recently broke out about National Fitness Financial non-payment to gym owners. National Fitness is a gym management software, not unlike our own, but one big difference is that they handle billing and collections directly, as it would appear from the article.

I cannot comment on the exact situation at National Fitness as they haven’t released a formal response yet, however it brings up a point that we often discuss with our customers – how we handle billing on behalf of gyms using our system.

Why You Should Always Use A Dedicated Payment Processor

Processing card payments – offline or online – is serious business. There is a ton of legal and technical obstacles to overcome to do it correctly and according to regulations.

A company that builds gym management software, should not be building its own payment processing as a side feature. There is a big difference between using a merchant account for your own business, and becoming a payment aggregator for other businesses.

This is why a dedicated payment processor is almost always the best option. A company that is built around the single focus of processing payments, and proves it can do it at scale.

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5 Reasons you should be using social media for your gym

Social media has pervaded our daily lives to the degree that you’ll be hard pressed to find a member of your gym who doesn’t use it at all. Over 90% of young adults (18-29) and 2/3 of all Americans, use social media in some way.

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide you with a great opportunity to reach and interact with your gym members and potential visitors, for a relatively small investment of time and effort.

Most gym managers are aware that they can benefit from using social media, though it might not be clear to them what exactly they should be getting out of it. Let’s go over the main reasons you should be using social media for your gym:
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How to make a referral program your gym’s most powerful marketing tool

Member referrals are an extremely valuable source for finding new members for your gym. When we analyzed how people find martial arts schools, 21% of people found their current gym through a referral. However, 41% of people decided to visit their gym for the first time based on a referral – This means that an additional 20% of people looked for an opinion about a potential gym from someone they know, before trying it out.

While 21% increase in member signups is nothing to scoff at, that number is significantly higher at schools that have a good referral program in place. In addition, members who arrive through referrals already have a stronger initial tie to the gym – as the person who referred them can act as support and motivation for the key first few months of training, when most new people quit.

What makes a good referral program

In order for a referral program to make a real impact on the flow of new members, the following key elements need to be in place:
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9 Year Anniversary of the University of Jiu-Jitsu

On Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, the world famous University of Jiu-Jitsu academy celebrated its 9th anniversary. Xande ran class and shared with us some little known history on how the place came to be.

Back in 2006, the Ribeiro brothers were still teaching in Ohio. Xande, fresh off his double gold in the World Championships, was supposed to travel to a super fight in California. The fight was rescheduled to a date he had booked for a seminar in Australia, and he had to withdraw. His Brother, Saulo, traveled to the event instead – there he met Jeremy, a local business owner who was a big fan of the Ribeiro brothers.
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How to build a curriculum for your martial arts school

A structured curriculum for classes is something that is often missing in martial arts schools. The most common approach is the “technique of the day”, where an instructor would show a few random techniques during class, often without any unifying theme or continuation of previously taught material.

If they’re more diligent, instructors might prepare a week or two worth of material in advance, hopefully covering the same theme or related positions.

The problem with those kind of approaches is that it makes it harder to acclimate new members and beginners into the art. This is especially true for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and other ground fighting arts, due to the amount of different positions one might encounter while sparring, and because most of the movements feel very unnatural for beginners.

(This post is based on my experience training in BJJ for close to a decade, and thus uses BJJ instruction as reference. It should be applicable to every martial art though).

Covering the basics

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SEO for martial arts gyms

In my previous article, I covered the main acquisition channels for new members at martial arts gyms. It may or may not surprise you that search engines accounted for a whopping 46% of new gym members. If you add map services such as Google Maps to it, which is another form of search, that comes to a staggering 63%. That means that on average, almost 2 / 3 of your member acquisition will arrive via online search.

Considering those numbers, it’s impossible to ignore how important it is for your gym to appear in those online searches. In this article I’ll explore everything you should know to make sure you have the search angle covered, and help you perform better than the average gym.

As much as I tried to simplify the topic and reduce the technical explanations to a minimum, this article is pretty hefty at 3500+ words, so you might want to bookmark it for future reading. Here’s the unabridged summary, for your convenience –

  1. Do you need to do SEO?
  2. Overview of what is SEO
  3. How search engines work
  4. Improving your site structure for search engines
  5. Creating quality and unique content
  6. Promoting your site and content
  7. Managing your business listings

Do you need to do SEO?

Perhaps you don’t even need to read this article. Open an incognito browser window, go to Google search, and search for your martial art in the city you are in, and see what the results are (for example, search for “BJJ San Diego”).

If you are in the top-3 results and the information that appears looks correct, there’s probably not much you need to do much right now. It never hurts to be aware of how SEO works, in case you ever drop in the rankings, but you can rest easy for now. If you are below the top 3 results or don’t appear at all, I suggest you keep reading.

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How people find your martial arts gym

The survival and growth of a martial arts gym is tied closely to the influx of new members. Members pay the bills, and without a steady flow of new ones, a school cannot grow or even maintain its current status, as there is a constant churn of existing members.

To understand how prospective members might find your place, we ran a survey on Reddit’s BJJ community. Being that the results are from an online community, you would expect the data to somewhat prefer online acquisition channels. However, I believe it is still representative of how most people conduct their martial arts school search.

You can view the results of the survey here

The marketing term for the process in which you convert potential customers to actual clients, is called the funnel. In the survey, we broke down the funnel for acquiring new members into 3 sections:

  • Visibility – how do new members find your gym?
  • Attractiveness – what makes prospective members walk through the door?
  • Conversion – what makes people sign on as new members?

For your convenience, we summed up the results in a SlideShare presentation. To read more in-depth analysis, keep reading the text below.

[slideshare id=57808313&doc=howpeoplefindgyms-160203004610]

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