Why Dojo Owners Have It Made

Why dojo owners have it made

Common Instructor Complaints That Are Self-Inflicted Injuries…

I’m about to ramble a bit, but stick with me to the end of this article, because the payoff will be worth it.

Everyone knows I run three groups/pages on Facebook that are related to the martial arts industry. A paid and private, member’s only group (the MAbizU private coaching group); the private Small Dojo Big Profits group (now closed to all but my app subscribers); and the Martial Arts Business Daily Facebook page.

Something I hear a lot in the SDBP group, and something I’ve heard countless times over my two decades of coaching school owners, is how hard it is to start, grow, and run a successful MA school.

Common complaints I hear from school owners include:

  • “It’s hard to get students.”
  • “It’s hard to keep students.”
  • “People aren’t committed these days.”
  • “People are flaky.”
  • “My overhead is killing me.”
  • “The competition is killing me.”
  • “My location is killing me.”
  • “No one is interested in learning _________.”
  • “I can’t find good help.”
  • “I can’t afford to hire good help.”

And on, and on. That I’ve heard the same complaints year after year is telling, and it speaks to the fact that martial arts instructors face the same issues no matter how good or bad the economy is at any given time.

Sadly, all of these complaints are self-inflicted issues. Every last one. If these instructors spent time educating themselves on even the most basic of business and marketing principles, they wouldn’t have these problems.

We Don’t Know How Good We Have It

What’s striking to me is how most martial arts instructors are clueless regarding just how good we have it in this industry.

No, I’m not kidding. This business is a small business owner’s dream. Allow me to explain.

The business of teaching martial arts is a relatively lucrative one, with a low barrier to entry, low overhead, and high profit margins. There are no licensing requirements, little if any regulation in the industry, and the only credential you need to open a studio is an instructor’s certificate from a reputable organization.

You don’t need a great deal of capital investment to open a studio, either. A successful small school can be run in as little as 1,200 square feet (or even less, although it’s not ideal, as some of my past coaching clients can attest), opening with nothing more than a few grand spent on mats, some paint and decorations, a bathroom, an office (not even necessary), some chairs or benches for the lobby/observation area, and a reception counter.

I’ve opened studios for under $5k, including what I spent on first and last month’s rent when I signed the lease.

Add a grand or so more for an initial marketing push, a few grand to pay rent until the place starts breaking even, and a grand or so for miscellaneous expenses, and you have a business model in which a profitable location can be opened and in the black in a few months for under ten grand.

A Simple Business, But Not Easy

Of course, this makes it all sound quite easy, when it really isn’t. A few caveats, of which the members of my coaching group are likely painfully aware:

It’s a lot of work to open a studio from scratch. No doubt, you’re going to bust your hump during your first year in business. Yet, because most people attend classes in the evening, it’s quite doable, even for someone who is working a full-time day job.

Opening any business is risky, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get enough students to break even in your first few months. That’s why I teach the bootstrapping approach I outline in Small Dojo Big Profits. (If you’re reading this an unfamiliar with the approach, read the book.)

Planning is everything, and having a good marketing plan is essential to launching a successful studio. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily end up owning a studio that’s just barely making rent, essentially buying your way into a second job that’s little more than indentured servitude. Again, this is why it’s so important to read my materials, join this group, and get coaching before launching a studio.

Yet, I still think martial arts instructors have it made. I can’t think of a single other industry where you can open a profitable business for under $10k.

The closest thing I can think of is the personal training industry, but to own a studio you’d need to spend many tens of thousands on weights, machines, and other gear to have the necessary equipment to do your job properly.

Even opening a Crossfit box costs many times more than it does to open a martial arts studio, due to the capital outlay in equipment necessary to the business model.

Is This The Greatest Advantage of All?

I’ve written about all these issues before, and extolled the many advantages and benefits of being a school owner, time and time again. Yet, of late there’s another advantage to being a professional martial arts instructor that I think few studio owners have considered.

And that is, you’ll never be replaced by AI.

This might seem painfully obvious to you, and it may even seem silly that I mention it, but hear me out. I’ve been following the recent developments in the field of AI closely, as it’s a topic that has interested me for years.

The reason for my interest is partially due to my inherently geeky nature, and partially because I moonlight as a professional fiction author. And believe me when I say that authors are worried about the impact that AI engines like ChatGPT will have on the publishing industry.

Consider that AI is already replacing many jobs in the creative industries. Tools like Midjourney AI are wiping out entire cottage industries of book cover artists, digital artists, and more. Other tools that use ChatGPT to power them are replacing entry-level ad copywriters, SEO copywriters, and blog article freelancers.

Every day, I’m hearing about some creative who is considering shifting gears, retooling their skillset in order to pivot to a second or third career as they face the coming AI-job-pocalypse.

Folks, this is serious. It’s happening, right before our eyes. And it’s about to affect other industries like accounting, legal, and more that we haven’t even considered.

Yet, school owners need not worry about this sea change, this radical shift in the job market and economy that’s about to hit the world in a major way. You don’t need to concern yourself with AI taking your jobs, because you work in an industry in which face-to-face service is nearly essential.

Proof of Your Job Security

Heck, we learned this during the pandemic. Every martial arts studio suddenly shifted to online instruction out of necessity and demand. Yet, how much of that stuck?

None of it, that’s how much. As it turns out, for the most part people do not want to learn martial arts alone in the comfort of their own homes. They take up martial arts practice for many reasons, and one of them is to interact with their instructor and fellow students in a social environment.

And, as it also turns out, businesses that provide opportunities for social interaction are more in demand than ever. People spend way too much time online, and they are having an ever more difficult time connecting with each other in meaningful ways.

The Opportunity No One Is Talking About

This creates a tremendous opportunity for studio owners, if you’re sharp enough to capitalize on it. By emphasizing the social aspects of what you do, both in your ads and in how you deliver your services, you can become an indispensable and vital part of your students’ daily lives.

The best part? You’ll never be replaced by an AI… or at least, not in the semi-near future. Maybe someday, when robotics and AI technologies progress far enough to make life-like android martial arts instructors a possibilities.

But by then, we’ll all be drafted and fighting for our lives in The Robot Wars, so it’ll all be a moot point anyway.

Going Deeper…

I want you to carefully consider the ideas and concepts I’ve presented here. Think deeply about the social aspect of martial arts training, about the difficulties modern adults face in connecting with others and forming meaningful peer groups, and how your studio can solve that issue for the adult market.

Now, ask yourself if your marketing and advertising is conveying that to the public as a central marketing message. Is it? Are your ads and posts showing adults in groups laughing, sweating, and having a good time?

Is your sales copy emphasizing how much fun martial arts training is at your studio? How the connections you make in martial arts training become lifelong friends?

If not, fix it.

Then, ask yourself if the actual manner in which you deliver your services reflects that message. Are your classes fun? Is the atmosphere warm and friendly? Do students actually have the opportunity to interact in meaningful ways, before, during, and after classes?

Yes? No? Maybe?

The Bottom Line

You might be confused about the answer to these questions, so let me help you out.

If your classes are run like a military boot camp, with you and your staff running around yelling at students like drill instructors, then the answer is a definite “no.”

But if your teaching style is more relaxed, if you push students to do their best while encouraging them verbally, if your students leave every class sweating and smiling, then you’re likely on the right track.

And if you set your school up so that there are places for students to hang before and after class, like bleachers, or a coffee lounge, or just a welcoming front lobby or observation area, then you get bonus points.

Subtract those points if you’re chasing your adult students off after class. Add points if you encourage extra training and conversation after the last adult class of the night, after open mat each week, and after adult special events.

I know, it’s a pain. You just want to go home and relax. Well, I hate to tell you this, but your job description has changed out of necessity, so you need to adapt. Get used to it.

Again, consider these issues I’ve discussed here, and figure out how to make necessary changes happen at your school so you attract adult students for the long haul. Make your school a welcoming, warm, social hub for your adult students.

Mark my words, this is how you’re going to thrive in the coming years.

~Mike Massie

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