7 Essential Tips for Starting a Dojo In Lean Times

If you’re thinking of starting a dojo but you’re not sure if it’s the right time to be thinking about starting a business, then today’s article is for you. Despite the “soft recovery” we’ve been seeing, I honestly don’t think it’s time to start celebrating the end of the recession just yet (remember, Japan’s depression that started in the 1990’s lasted two decades).

Karate teacher in his dojoEven so, life doesn’t stop just because times are tough. Even today, many people are still starting successful small businesses in this economic environment. The only thing is, they are being a lot smarter about it than in years past.

You need to take that last sentence to heart if you’re considering starting a school in this economy. And that’s why today I’m going to go over a little Small Dojo Big Profits 101 by providing you with seven essential tips for successfully starting a dojo in a down economy.

Tip #1: Be Practical

Now, many of my contemporaries would have you thinking that if you only concentrate on puppy dogs, unicorns, and rainbows, then the economy won’t have any impact on your business.

That kind of thinking always makes me laugh. Sure, having a positive attitude is essential to running a successful business, but you also have to think in practical terms as well. Wishful thinking never made any business a success, and hard work alone won’t do it either.

Instead, you need to think practically while applying everything you know about the business of martial arts to making a go of it. Call it “pragmatic enthusiasm” or just common sense, but having your feet on the ground while you plan and grow your dojo is one of the best things you can do when you’re first starting out.

Tip #2: Be Positive

Okay, so I just told you to keep your head out of the clouds. That doesn’t mean you need to be focused on doom and gloom all the time. By focusing on all the bad news that’s out there, you’re just going to program your brain to see more bad news; that’s not necessarily what I would call cultivating an attitude for success in business.

So, shut off the T.V. set, tune out the negative Facebook posts (mine included), and keep your nose to the grindstone in your business. Not only will this improve your attitude and outlook considerably, but also it will allow you to have a sustained focus on growing your new dojo, a must for achieving rapid success as I’ll explain shortly.

Tip #3: Stay Focused

“The hunter who chases two rabbits will catch neither.” – Japanese proverb

Distractions (like the news, for example) will only serve to detract from the necessary energy and focus you’re going to need to grow your martial arts school over the next two years. Yep, you heard me right; it takes about two years of continued and uninterrupted focus to successfully grow and stabilize a new martial arts school.

That’s two years of working long hours and working late (especially if you’re holding down a day job while you start your school). Two years of giving up going out, taking vacations, and having a significant social life. Two years of living like others won’t so that afterwards you can live like others can’t.

Sure, it’s a sacrifice. But so is living paycheck to paycheck working as a drone for the next twenty to forty years as a nameless cog in a wheel in some corporate or government machine. I know that I just described a life of fulfillment for some people, but for you that just won’t cut it or you wouldn’t be reading this article. So, stay focused.

Tip #4: Learn Marketing First

I say this over and over and over again, but some people just refuse to listen. Marketing is the one skill you simply cannot do without when you’re an entrepreneur. Forget all that crap you’ve read about coming up with a viral idea; that’s a load of bull and mostly applies to products and services with a national or international market. Your market is local and focused, which is why you need to learn practical marketing skills.

First, find out all you can about martial arts school marketing, avoiding any “system” that focuses in on just one method of marketing (internet, traditional direct response marketing, referrals, etc. – they’re all important). Then, start studying each component of marketing one piece at a time, focusing on a new aspect of marketing each month. After that, be ready to apply everything you’ve learned at least three months before you open your doors. Which brings me to my next point…

Tip #5: Plan Ahead

In the short view, starting and running a martial arts school by the seat of your pants is a surefire plan for disaster. You need to learn how to write a business plan and then follow it. That means you don’t go buy a business plan off the internet and then think you can just follow that; every business situation is unique, so you need to be educated enough and smart enough to create a business plan that is tailored to your unique situation.

And in the long view, you need to have an exit strategy. What happens if you get injured or suffer a catastrophic illness? What if your school burns down or gets damaged by some other natural disaster? What will happen to your family if you pass on? How are you going to retire? These are all considerations that you need to discuss with your insurance agent, attorney, and financial planner. Start by reading Dave Ramsey’s materials (see #7 below).

Tip #6: Stick With The Basics

Also, stick with the basics. Ten years ago when I wrote Small Dojo Big Profits I introduced my readers to Pareto’s Principle, which states that 80% of the outputs in any business are derived from the top 20% of the inputs. What that means is that there exists 20% of the most essential tasks that you must do in your business FIRST to generate the first 80% of the profits.

Therefore, focusing on the basics (the stuff I outline in Small Dojo Big Profits) is how you’re going to run your school in the most efficient manner in order to maximize your time and profits. Do not become distracted by offers of “advanced martial arts school business strategies” and other such nonsense, at least not until you’ve spent at least two years mastering the basics.

Also, don’t listen to anyone who tells you you don’t need to follow the basics. For example, anyone who tells you that you can run and grow a successful school without doing any significant marketing is full of it. Marketing is such a basic concept to running a business, anyone who tells you to skip it is either delusional or an idiot. The basics are called “basics” for a reason; ignore this advice at your peril.

Tip #7: Keep A Tight Rein On Your Spending And Expenses

There’s a reason why I called it “Small Dojo Big Profits” instead of “Huge Dojo Small Profits”. I know that a lot of business gurus (not just those in our industry) will tell you to focus on making more money. However, all you have to do is look at how many NFL players and lottery winners are dead broke and bankrupt to know that all the money in the world won’t keep you from going broke if you don’t stick to a budget.

So, start from the very beginning by living frugally at home and keeping your expenses down in your business. When you finally do start making lots of money, use it to pay off your debt instead of buying a lot of stuff you don’t need (new cars, big T.V. sets, a mortgage that’s well above your pay grade, etc). Also, start reading Dave Ramsey and follow his advice. Believe me, you’ll never be sorry that you learned to be frugal and live below your means, especially 20 or 30 years from now when you’re starting to look at retirement (please refer back to tip #5).

Following these tips when starting your dojo won’t necessarily ensure that you’ll meet with unmitigated success in your business, but it’s a start. Just remember that above all you must remain practical in your approach to business while avoiding being led astray by those who are more interested in bilking you out of your money instead of leading you to success. By focusing on the basics, staying practical, and maintaining an absolute focus on growing your business, your odds of success will increase considerably, despite whatever economic circumstances you may be facing.

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