This article was written by Alan “Gumby” Marques, a Ralph Gracie black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the owner of Heroes Martial Arts in San Jose, and one of the original founders of On The Mat
The Covid-19 Pandemic is unprecedented in scale and uncertainty in the future and many school owners are left wondering if they schools will survive the ordeal. If I can take comfort in anything, with a large percentage of the planet on some form of shelter in place is that this is truly a moment in history where we are all truly in it together.
It is that sense of community, which as a martial arts school we should try to foster anyway, is how we are going to navigate out of this situation together. While contacting the advice in the article would have been good before the proverbial @#$! hit the fan, it’s even more important right now. Your ability as a leader and effective communicator will crucial in times like this.
1. Gather your staff
Obviously business as normal is going to be quite changed in the near future, and while you might not have the answer as to what is to come, at least you need to communicate what is going on, what your needs are and what are the risk factors going in.
Open and honest dialog here will be the difference between your team pulling together and working towards a common goal, or putting them in place where they have to look out for themselves. Out of everyone you are going to have to demonstrate the willingness to make the biggest sacrifices here.
2. Ask for easements
Talk to your landlords, creditors, bills dues etc and if necessary see if something can’t be worked out during this crisis. Remember that many folks (landlords especially) have concerns about the situation as well and are looking to be severely impacted.
If you have been a good tenant and wish to maintain a long partnership remind them that your success is tantamount to their success. Be fair and demonstrate your ability to make things work. If nothing else know that a lot of jurisdictions have a moratorium on evictions and in the economic climate new tenants might be hard to come by.
3. Talk to your students
Be honest and realistic about your situation and needs. If you are asking your students to continue paying tuition for this duration, offer a plan of compensation for the time missed. Some options are offering online classes, private (distance) consultations, offers of privates and/or merchandise after the quarantine, or deferment of tuition at a later date.
Times are tough for everyone right now. If someone cannot or will not continue paying dues during this time let it be known that you will happily suspend payments for this duration as well. One offer I made at my schools is that if anyone wanted to use their month deferment to help out a student who can’t afford to train otherwise because of the Covid-19 we will happily and anonymously apply their credit to them.
4. Utilize online instruction
A lot of studios are moving to distance learning to keep their students engaged at this time. There are a number of options including Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, Zoom, YouTube Streaming and more.
A radical proposal would be to not only think go this as a need to retain students, but also an opportunity to market to new ones. A lot of people are cooped up in their house looking for something to do, might as well reach out to them as well.
We have already launched our online efforts at Heroes, which you can check out here. We are keeping a regular schedule provided online, as well as offer online private lessons and video content with a donation option.
5. Connect with your local business community
Contact any local business groups or associations and see how they are aiding small businesses at this time. An example would be a downtown association or a chamber of commerce.
If you are not sure where to start you can try typing in Google “Doing Business in _” with the blank representing the name of your city. Depending on the population of the area your school is located you might actually have multiple organizations based on your county, city or even specific neighborhood.
Most of those places will actually have a staff member(s) dedicated to helping attract and retain small businesses and they are going to be working pretty hard right now.
6. Contact the SBA (for US gyms)
Contact your local branch of the SBA (Small Business Association) –https://www.sba.gov/ – especially now that they are handling the Disaster Relief Loans and the brand new PPP Loans (Payment Protection Plan), the former handled directly from the SBA and the latter from banks who lend to small business.
The website alone has a ton of resources. If you have questions or concerns about how to file paperwork there may also be organizations in your area that are supplemental and eager to help. Be aware of scams at this time however, most of these organizations are here to work free of charge so if someone asks for your credit card to help they might be trying to rip you off.
7. Contact your local municipality
Contact your City Hall and see what what programs they are enacting and how they are working with the state and federal government during this time of crisis. I have found at the bare minimum a certain amount of knowledge if not involvement with the city government has been very useful, and it’s even more crucial right now.
You also want to be very visible during this crisis; I am finding that during the shut downs, declarations of non essential businesses and thoughts of what can be done to help that Martial Arts, Fitness, etc is something of an afterthought compared to other more high profile small businesses such as restaurants and bars. You want to make sure any decisions are handed down with your business in mind.
8. Consider doing volunteer work
With the shift in society new needs have arisen, the vulnerable are more vulnerable than ever and there is more of a need for volunteers right now than ever. I have found that while I am busy, my schedule has been pretty radically altered.
Being able to do something at this time to contribute quite frankly will be good for your own well being, rather than sitting around feeling helpless given the situation. A bit of good karma will go a long way as well.
I am rooting for you, we are all in this together and while times are going to be tough, our martial arts training should prepare us to not only survive, but try to prevail through this.