Improving your dojo and creating word of mouth…

Two months ago we moved location and took over a dance studio, so a lot of the work was already done since the building has the same basic purpose – a training floor and reception area.

Basically there is a dividing wall between the tatami and the waiting room, front desk and bathroom. However, the reception area while functional in the short term, requires some work to make it more comfortable, spacious and inviting for students and families.

So in order to figure out a list of improvements I had to walk in my student’s and family’s shoes to see what they see and to experience what they experience.

Now some instructors say, “To heck with the reception and seating! Maximize the training space. Parents and students waiting for class can wait outside, or in their car…”

I say, “That’s a stupid idea!”

Here’s why: When you build a place where people want to go they’ll keep coming back. Build a place that caters only to your needs and it’ll be perfect for you to train by yourself. =)

So that’s why I had to walk a little in my student’s shoes… to understand what they want.

Don’t underestimate how poweful this can be! Providing an area for your families allows you to connect with them. It allows you to get to know them and build relationships. And relationships are HUGELY important in building a successful dojo.

You don’t want to have the “gym” mindset – a front desk, and no seating. The only people you’ll ever get to briefly “know” are those paying their bills and walking onto the floor.

But if you have a place that provides seating for friends and family… guess what? Pretty soon you have people WATCHING your classes… which creates interest. Ever heard the term “word of mouth” marketing? I’m sure you have and this is a PERFECT way to get people talking.

So anyway, back to the list of improvements. I took a seat in reception and realized that the windows in the dividing wall are too high to see the floor unless you’re sitting with your nose pressed against the glass. So this is one improvement we’ve got to make – we need to resize the windows for better viewing.

Secondly I noticed that during the change over time between classes reception becomes very crowded with up to 30 people squeezing by each other… kinda like a rock concert without the alcohol. So this is another area we need to address.

Thirdly I noticed that in the 2 months we’ve been there I haven’t “decorated” the waiting area. There are no pictures on the stark white walls and it sort of feels like a hospital – minus the sick people of course.

So last weekend some friends and I got to work. We demolished a wall to create more space. We also worked hard to prime, paint and decorate reception.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Last night so many people remarked with expressions like, “This is great! Now I can see”, and “Nice job. Now it’s got a warmer feeling to it”. Already it’s creating “word of mouth”.

Stage 1 of 4. Wall demolished to create
one large room with seating for  16.

What improvements were done on last weekend were just stage 1 of 4 that I’ve got planned. And I can only help but think if people were that excited about the small improvement we did, they’re going to love what’s coming next.

What improvements can you make to your school? What improvements can you suggest to your sensei? And if you’re training in a community gym, how can you provide seating and start creating an atmosphere?

Keeping Your Students Motivated!

Do you ever have a hard time getting your students to push themselves harder?

Are you ever frustrated by their lack of effort?

Does what they’re doing actually look like karate or does it resemble tai chi more?

If your class is struggling to give their best, here’s a list of some of the one liner motivators I use to get my students to push themselves harder. As different students respond to differently, some of these motivators use the carrot, some use the stick… but all work well.

One Liner Motivators

  1. “You can rest LATER! NOW it’s time to work!”
  2. “Black belts give 100% everytime. If you want to be a black belt, you’ve got to start doing the things black belts do! Now come on!”
  3. “C’mon you guys, my grandmother is faster than that!”
  4. You call THAT karate? That looks more like…dancing!”
  5. “Is this the world’s slowest punch competition? You all won first place if that’s the case!”
  6. “Did you ever hear of the slowest gunfighter in the west?”
  7. I’m looking for the person with the BEST technique right now… who’s it gonna be?”
  8. “The person who does the next part the best, gets to choose what we do for the last part of class today. Who’s it gonna be?”
  9. “Does anyone see a sign that says, “Please try your worst?”.
  10. “C’mon, you’re better than that!”
  11. “Great job. I see your black belt in the near future!”
  12. “What the heck was that? I see push ups in your near future!”

Feel free to try some of these motivators above in your classes and see which work for you.


– Jason

P.S. What do you tell your students? What do you use to motivate them? Post away below…

Flushing money down the toilet…

I was standing at my reception desk getting ready for class when he walked in. He was wearing a suit and carrying a satchel. He must be selling something I thought to myself.

“Hi there”, I said to the business man.

“Hello”, he said, “my name is Steve”.

“Hi Steve, I’m Jason. Nice to meet you… whatchya got there?”

Steve went on to explain he’d gotten laid off from his advertising job last year with the downsizing of his company. He then explained he’d started his own business selling ad space in a local coupon magazine he’d put together that goes out to 10,000 homes in the area.

“How much does it cost to advertise in your magazine?”, I asked.

Turns out I could buy a 1/6 page ad for as little as $160 including the artwork set up, or $200 for a 1/4 page add, around $500 for 1/2 page and about $1,000 for a full page ad.

I didn’t want to fork out a wad of cash, so I said, “I tell you what Steve, I’ll take the $160 deal and if I get a couple of students from it then next month I’ll take a larger ad.”

“Great!”, said Steve. “We have another martial arts school advertising with us and they say this has been their best source of new students. They enrolled 4 students last month as a result.”

“Ok, let’s do it”, I consented.

So Steve set up the ad and the magazine went to press about 2 weeks ago.

And I waited for the phone to ring.

And waited….

And waited…

And waited…

And nothing.

A couple of days ago Steve called me to let me know that he was getting ready to finalize the magazine for the next edition and to see if I wanted any changes to my ad.

When I told him I hadn’t gotten a single call he sounded very surprised.

“Well sometimes it takes a while, people must get used to seeing your ad so consistency is important”, he said suggesting I should run the ad again.

“Sure, I realize that however I didn’t get a SINGLE call”, I reminded him. Out of 10,000 homes this magazine supposedly went to even with the worst direct marketing stats (0.1% response) I would have expected at least 10 calls.

“Sorry Steve, but since I didn’t receive a single call let alone someone try a class, it’s difficult to justify spending any more money with you. Had I gotten a couple of people to walk in the door, sure I’d run it again, but without a single call I can’t”, I told him.

“Well, see how it goes. If you get some calls over the next couple of weeks, maybe you can run it the following month”, he suggested.

“Ok, I’ll let you know, thanks”, and I hung up the phone.

Saturday afternoon the phone rang. Finally I received a call!

The voice on the other end of the phone in broken English wanted some information, asked how much class was, etc. I explained everything clearly and he asked me again some of the same questions he just asked. I explained again and to my understanding he understood and made an appointment to try class for the following Monday (last night).

Of course he didn’t show.

Then it hit me like brick in the head falling from the sky what the problem was all along. And I’m mad at myself I didn’t realize this until I’d spent the money as I’m acutely aware of it.

Just like running a successful web site, it’s all about quality traffic. Unless you enjoy flushing money down the toilet the people you’re advertising to need to be people who fit the demographic who are going to buy from you.

And I advertised in a coupon magazine! Who typically looks in a coupon magazine?

Usually the demographic who wants a discount on everything. And that usually means lower incomes, and often those who can’t speak the language. These are not the people I want as students as I can’t help them. This may sound harsh, but what’s the point spending dollars on advertising if I can’t communicate with them, and they’re going to have a hard time paying for class?

This is a great way to go out of business!

So the moral of the story is this…

Spend your advertising budget wisely. Target those who want what you have and have the money to pay for it… and if someone comes selling you ad space in a coupon magazine, avoid it like the plague!

Until next time…

– Jason