by Kevin Nevels
When my wife and I opened our first martial arts academy more than 10 years ago, we didn’t know much about running a business. To be honest, we hardly knew anything about running a business. However, we were sure about a couple of things: We knew how to teach good martial arts, and we knew that we needed to get out into our community and let people know what we were doing.
These two ideas turned out to be the beginnings of a blueprint for success.
In the years that followed, I’ve observed that most school owners know they should go out and tell people about their schools, but they don’t know how or where to get started. Some school owners say they don’t see the value in getting involved in their community because it doesn’t lead directly to the acquisition of new students. If you’ve read MASuccess for any length of time, you’ve seen the recommendations that MAIA consultants have shared to help you organize events that will get students in your door. Well, those suggestions work best when you have local relationships—when you’re already involved in your community.
Here is where to start:
I’ve spoken with dozens of martial arts business owners who said the same thing: “I can’t get into our local schools. They shut me down every time I try to drop off fliers.”
Yes, your local school district will shut you down every time you try—unless you change things up. You must convey the notion that you’ll bring value to the school and the students. It should not appear that you simply want the district to serve as your personal flier-distribution center, especially if the school officials don’t have a relationship with you. You must start from a place of giving, not a place of taking. I’ve learned that there’s a three-pronged strategy that works wonders:
• Build a relationship with the administration and the superintendent’s office.
• Work directly with the principal and teachers on campus.
• Fundraise and work with the parent-teacher organization.
Many people look at their city as an inconvenience, an entity whose only reason for existing is to collect taxes and enforce codes and regulations. Yes, this is part of what your municipality is responsible for, but there’s typically more to your average town than that. Learning about your local government, how it works and what public-facing divisions you can leverage will change your view of how your city can work for you. The three main areas I’ve had my martial arts business focus on are:
• The office of the mayor/city manager
• The members of the city council
• The parks and recreation department
Chambers of Commerce
Many have said that they joined their local group and nothing happened. They are 100% correct — if you join your chamber of commerce and do nothing to get more involved, you’ll be wasting your time.
You have to put energy into your chamber-of-commerce outreach if you want to get results. These are the areas that have paid off the most for our schools:
• Business-to-business networking
• Civic networking
• Your reputation. Chances are the people in your community have several choices for their martial arts training, and that competition is good for the industry because it motivates all of us to work harder. Yours may be the best school in the area, but when someone else says you’re the best, that is power.
• You set your business apart from your competitors. When people visit your city’s Facebook group and ask who has the best martial arts school, your business will be the one members recommend. Because you give so much back to the community, you’ll have a solid reputation.
• Your network. This might be the most important benefit of getting involved in your community. When you expand the network of people and businesses you deal with, you meet successful professionals in other industries who might serve as role models, and you meet other successful martial artists who might serve as mentors. It’s not unlike when you were learning your art: You found an instructor to help you.
The best advice I can give is to start right now. It doesn’t matter if your school is 10 months old or 10 years old; building powerful relationships within your community will pay dividends for years to come.
I know that many schools have had their fair share of struggles this past year because of the pandemic. That’s even more of a reason to reach out to your local community. If you would like to explore other ways to get involved, I suggest you attend the 2021 Martial Arts SuperShow. It’s been a valuable tool for me and my entire team, one that’s helped us maximize our potential and grow beyond our wildest dreams.
Be sure to look for me at the show.
Read the full article (complete with examples!) in the January/February 2021 edition of MASuccess, or online on the MASuccess blog.
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