Thinking about opening your own school? There are many things to consider and plan for before taking the plunge. In this article we’ll go over the top 10 things to think about in preparation for starting your own school.

  • Know Your “Why”
  • Location, Location, Location
  • Don’t Neglect Your Website
  • Free Marketing – Social Media
  • Building Your Student Base
  • Manage Your Costs
  • Discount With Caution
  • Pitfalls to Avoid
  • Know Yourself
  • Use The Right Tools For The Job

Know your “Why”

Opening up a martial arts school is the dream of many practitioners. Cultivating your own gym culture and having your training facility – and not to mention, spending every day doing something you love – it can seem like the greatest thing ever. It is not uncommon for higher belts to strive to own their gym one day. 

However, the actual work of running your own studio is a grind and has many business aspects you might not be ready for. Paying rent and utilities, collecting membership payments, making sure you’re covered legally, doing taxes and more – it’s not all fun and games.

Make sure the “dream” you have doesn’t cloud your thinking. Consider both sides of the equation before committing to this adventure.

Location, Location, Location

There are several important factors to consider when picking out a location –

  • The neighborhood it’s in – higher income areas will allow you to charge more per student, but will have a higher rent at the same time.
  • Easy access to public transport and/or parking (especially in areas that are only accessible by car)
  • Proximity to residential areas. Most of your members will be coming from home, especially the junior ones. The further away you are from their home, the less likely they are to check you out.
  • Competition in the area – Are there any existing schools in the area? are they training in the same discipline as you? it can be hard to compete against an established location if they have a good reputation.

Don’t Neglect Your Website

Long before 80% of people ever walk through your academy doors, they’ll most likely try to do some research about you and your school on the internet. This search is when a well-designed and informative website comes into play.

You must put all your relevant information in a very organized fashion. Ensuring your website is prepared to receive traffic is essential since that’s one of the most powerful ways to attract new customers, so don’t give the impression your school is unorganized by having a disorganized / amateur website.

Check out our article on what makes a good martial arts school website to learn more!

Free Marketing – Social Media

Social media is the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way for you to target potential new students. At the same time, many other gyms are competing for attention on social media.

So how do you get your martial arts school to stand out among the social media noise?

Here are five simple steps for marketing your martial arts business on Facebook and Instagram. Before you know it, you’ll be heading to your social media rank promotion.

  1. Be Consistent

Social media isn’t something you set up and forget. It’s consistent work to communicate with your followers and audience.

As a martial arts academy owner, this can be the most challenging part to maintain. You’re busy wearing enough hats as it is – teaching martial arts classes, hiring staff, paying bills, and overseeing essential gym management.

Adding this hat on top of your head can easily be one of the most burdensome. Fortunately, there are tools out there to help lighten this load.

  1. Be Relevant

There’s too much stuff on social, and it’s all competing for the attention of your prospective students. Focus only on what is relevant to your business and what may attract them to walking through your doors.

An easy way to do this is to think of your social media platforms as a resource of information for your future students. For example, start by answering obvious questions that you may get when discussing your style or academy: for example, is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu good for kids?

On top of that, add a bit of personality by making a video so that your target audience has a face to look for when they’re ready to walk through your academy doors.

  1. Be Timely

You don’t always have to stick to martial arts-related posts all the time. In fact, on July 4th or other national holidays, it’s a good idea to post a patriotic message. Messages like these let people see your studio’s human side and get a sense of your staff’s personality.

But when you stray from martial arts, make sure you’re doing it to connect to a current event or trending topic that many people are talking about.

  1. Be Present

Almost all of us want to be heard, right? It’s no different on Facebook and Instagram. Your target audience doesn’t want just to be talked to – they want to be listened to.

Besides sharing fresh and regular content on your pages, be sure to engage when followers comment on your posts. Remember, all social media platforms are two-way streets. Make sure your engaging audience knows there’s a real person on the other end.

  1. Be Accessible

Social media platforms allow you to reach established martial arts students as well as newcomers. Ensure students of all ranks, experience, and levels feel welcome on your social media pages and to visiting your school. You don’t have to present a persona that you’re some badass instructor online. The more warm and welcoming you are, the better.

Building Your Student Base

Having a more extensive student base means you can afford to do a significant amount more. Successful schools typically have over 200 students compared to many schools that struggle to keep more than 50.

There are two aspects to consistently growing your student base – acquiring new members, and retaining existing ones. Many school owners focus on the former, sometimes at the expense of the latter. Avoid business practices that net you revenue in the short term but are not consumer friendly.

Try to build your reputation by always putting members ahead of your own needs and ego. A solid instructor with a good bedside manner and business practices that make everyone happy will do much better than an amazing competitor with lousy attitude that is known for sending collectors after members who want to leave.

When your members are happy, they can become your greatest marketing tool.

Manage Your Costs

In order to sustain and prosper as a business, you need to budget your cost and make sure you have enough cashflow to sustain it.

Make two budgets – one with all the recurring monthly costs and one with the startup costs you need to open your school. Everything from equipment costs, mat purchase, installation and labor and even lighting. Monthly costs include rent, utilities, payroll, professional services such as bookkeeping or management software.

Plan ahead on how to meet and exceed those costs with a reasonable timeline and revenue growth. Make sure you have the capital to reach profitability before you run out of money.

Discount With Caution

Discounts can be a good way to convince people new to the sport to give it a try, as it can be hard for newcomers to appreciate the value of training. It can also be useful to get whole families to join together (the family discount).

Watch out for gym hoppers though – people who are always asking for discounts and deferrals even after running through all of your promotions. These individuals can negatively impact the community you’ve worked so hard to build. Discounts start adding up over time and not in a profitable way.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  1. Not having a defined curriculum

This aspect is where most (in my experience) new schools fail. Martial artists who are experts in their chosen discipline, are not necessarily experts in pedagogy and instruction. Having a curriculum in place is important for having structure, especially for beginners, and having a repeatable process to teach your style.

  1. Letting Bad Behavior Slide

Every class will have a “that student” – that’s just a fact of life of owning a martial arts academy. The only difference between lousy behavior being a minor nuisance to blooming into a full-blown problem is how you respond to it, and that is where many instructors will go wrong.

You want to avoid trying to make too much of an example from troublemakers. Be too harsh, and you risk running them out of your academy. Instead, address the individual away from your academy’s community. Stay firm but positive. Your repercussions should appear more like guidance than punishment. If things need to be escalated, do so, but be sure that the punishment fits the crime.

Know Yourself

When you move into the realm of opening or running a full-time gym, you will need to commit to it to make it work. You need to commit to the students who come through your door by consistently coaching to the best of your abilities, being stable and reliable during the classes you offer, and always being there when needed. You need to commit an awful lot of time to make this work.

Most people should expect the above, but this often leads to overcommitting and becoming overwhelmed. Ensure you have a team and tools that support you and can help usher you and your newfound business to success.

Use The Right Tools For The Job

Your previous schools might have used pen-and-paper, an excel spreadsheet or some software tool that looks like it came from the 90s. But this is 2021 – everyone has a supercomputer in their backpocket, and powerful business tools can make your life that much easier.

The goal is to streamline your operations – from signing-up members and collecting waivers, to processing membership payments and tracking attendance, there are many ways in which gym management software can reduce the burden of managing your school.

Martial Arts on Rails provides martial arts school management software that is simple to set up and use. The software enables gym owners and staff to manage members’ information, contacts and agreements, track billing status, and send notifications for absences or birthdays.

It allows you to see which training sessions attract members and which are empty and need to be addressed. You can monitor income, and resolve payment issues. Staff can run Email marketing campaigns, track prospects and follow up until they convert into a paying member.

And best of all, it provides a premium experience for your members through the online member portal, where members can view exclusive content, track their own attendance and progress and pay their bills.

You’re going to be a business owner before a martial artist or martial arts instructor. Prioritizing your business while still providing an excellent experience on the mat is the key to running a successful martial arts school

Make your business work for you by following strict guidelines for yourself and your team as well as making sure there are processes in place for everything. The more you make your everyday tasks either automated or simplified using a system that works for you, the more time you’ll have to provide an amazing training experience for your students.

Published by Patrick Skinner

Patrick Skinner is a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Level 3 Practitioner in Krav Maga, and Level 2 in the US Army Combatives system. Aside from martial arts, he’s a father of two and an award winning writer. When not on the mats or with is family, he he writes about anything from software to martial arts.