The Top 3 Ways To Simplify Your Martial Arts Business

The top 3 ways to simplify your martial arts business

Tell me something –

  • Do you ever feel like a rooster with it’s feathers on fire, running 90-to-nothing trying to find the water trough?
  • Do you ever wonder if things would ever get less hectic in your martial art school?
  • Have you ever thought that maybe you’ve taken on too much in your business, and that you bit off more than you can chew?

In other words, do you feel like you’re always busy, always rushing, always working your tail off – but you’re never ever really getting ahead in your business?

Well, what if I told you that the problem wasn’t that you can’t handle things, or that you just need to work harder, or that you need to hire more staff…

…instead, it’s that you’re just making things too hard on yourself. What if I told you that you’re simply over-thinking things, and adding unnecessary complexity to what, at its heart, is a very simple business?

And what if I told you there’s a simple way to fix this, to stop running yourself ragged, and get your life back?

Would you be interested in hearing what I had to say? Good, because I’m about to share with you what I’ve learned about simplifying your life and business over two decades of running martial art schools. So, here goes…

The Top 3 Things You Need To Focus On To Simplify Your Martial Arts Business

Yes, there are just three things you need to focus on to make everything easier and less complicated in your business. Just. Three. Things.

Now, I know the temptation is to run off this year to the martial-arts-stupendous-whatever show, or the billing company convention, or the association pow-wow, and bring back all sorts of cool and fresh ideas to your school. But just because all the cool kids are doing it, doesn’t mean you have to do it too.

Now here’s the thing – if you’re already working more than 50 hours a week in your school, and you don’t have a steady enrollment year-round of at least 150 students, and you’re not grossing at least $25K a month from those 150 students…

…then you need to quit farting around with adding more STUFF on your plate, and get back to focusing on the basics in your studio.

And here they are in no special order of significance.

Attracting New Students

Yes, attracting new students is one of the bare bones, foundational basics to running a successful martial art school. In fact, I’d say it’s the first thing you need to think about when you wake up, and the last thing that should be on your mind when your head hits the pillow at night.

You should be dreaming about how to get new students in your sleep. You should be thinking about it when you brush your teeth, when you’re driving to the studio, when you’re working out, and when you’re eating sushi or kimchi. The pursuit of new students should consume you like that obsession you had with Debbie Donovan from the pom squad in the 10th grade.

The real reason everyone moves to Texas...

The real reason everyone moves to Texas…

Until you’re hitting a steady active count of 150-200 students year-round, 70-80% of your work day should revolve around getting new students in the door. And to attract new students, you should FIRST focus on the critical trifecta of martial arts marketing:

  1. Website/Lead capture
  2. Direct-to-consumer marketing
  3. Referral programs

I don’t have time here to get into the details of what all that entails. Just know that anything that doesn’t fall under the three marketing categories I listed above should be eliminated from your marketing plan. Immediately.

In other words, stop wasting time, money, and effort on what doesn’t work, and stick only to those things which have been proven to work time and again in getting new students. This alone will simplify your life tremendously.

Keeping The Students You Have

Let me make this simple for you – it’s about the PEOPLE. And when it comes to people, it’s all about BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS. It’s not about running the latest super-hyper-fly martial arts curriculum, and it’s not about teaching the hardest classes in town, and it’s not about aligning yourself with whatever the latest flavor of the month is in the martial arts industry.

Nope; instead, it’s about helping other people get what they want. Period. Exclamation point. With a cherry on top.

Your Success is our goal

Once you get it through your thick cro-magnon skull that your job is to help each and every one of your students to reach the goals they’ve set for themselves, your job in retaining clients becomes a whole lot easier. That’s because there are only three things you need to do to accomplish this:

  1. Enquire
  2. Encourage
  3. Motivate

“Enquire” means finding out what their goals are. This means actually talking to and getting to know your clients. You can’t do this from the office, and you can’t do it from the front of the training floor. You have to get out and start interacting with your students (and their parents) regularly, with face-to-face time, both on the floor and outside of the training schedule.

“Encourage” means helping them believe they can actually achieve their goals. I would like to point out that this is the opposite of “discourage”, which a lot of martial arts instructors seem to be particularly good at. So stop that. Be positive, find real actual things your clients are doing right to compliment them on, and always send them off after each class feeling like they did something a little bit better than the last time they came to class. Simple. Elegant. Effective.

“Motivate” is different but related to encouraging them. You can encourage someone without motivating them, because feeling good isn’t the same as having the desire to chase down a goal. Ah-hah! Goals. Give them goals to follow, and incentives for achieving them, and you’ve solved the motivation puzzle. And, I should mention that not everyone is motivated by getting another colored belt. So, you have to find multiple ways to motivate your students to succeed. That means finding other things that get them juiced to train. Be creative, and when in doubt go back to #1, “enquire.”

Getting Paid

“Getting paid” includes getting paid on-time and getting paid enough. This requires two simple components:

  1. Some sort of recurring electronic billing system –
  2. A systematic approach to regularly increasing your tuition –

The first one is easy. Technology has made it super simple to run recurring electronic tuition billing in-house. There is no longer any need for hiring a third party to do this for you. It’s cheaper to do it in-house, and more reliable in most cases as well. (Don’t look to me for the best solution; go do some research and figure out what’s best for you.)

getting paid

The second one takes a bit more thought and effort. First thing you need to do is test price elasticity. This isn’t hard – just do some research to see what lessons are going for in your area, and set your rates at the top of that spectrum. Then, raise your rates by 5-10% every quarter until your enrollment numbers start slightly dropping off. It’s that simple.

Second, once you’ve found the sweet spot you need to raise your tuition every year in proportion to the rate of inflation. Again, a simple calculation.

That’s it – once you do those three things your work is done.

The Fourth Wheel…

Yes, there is a fourth thing you need to do that is elementary to running a school. But, I like the number 3 better than the number 4, so just consider this a bonus and don’t get your undies in a wad because I misrepresented this article to you…

The fourth thing is numbers. Numbers tell the tale. Numbers hold the secrets, and numbers hold the key to doing everything better.

doing the numbers

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. So, track your numbers, and refer back to them often and regularly to figure out where you need to focus to improve the EFFICIENCY of your operations.

Efficiency is the key, not complexity. Always use those numbers to refine what you’re doing to become increasingly efficient. Never add complexity when you’re trying to improve efficiency. If your numbers are deficient, work on being more efficient. That is all.

When In Doubt, Simplify And Go Back To The Basics

Whenever you find yourself floundering in running your martial art school, simplify and go back to focusing on these basics. Doing so will help you get back to the things that really make a dojo run like a Swiss watch. Everything else is window dressing and a distraction from what really counts.

Now, go out and kill it this month.


  1. Bradnon on March 6, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Good to know I’m doing at least one thing right. Enquire, Encourage, and Motivate is probably the easiest thing (for me) to do, as it’s the interacting with my students and watching them progress that I absolutely love doing. Now I need to go back and work on the other stuff.

  2. Mike Massie on March 12, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Brandon, then you’re like the majority of martial arts instructors I’ve coached. Most of them are very conscientious and dedicated instructors who just need a little guidance on the business side of things. Recognizing that you’re lagging there is the first step. And honestly, running a school really is that simple. Teach great classes. Follow a logical and repeatable method of attracting new students every single day consistently (and I do mean every day). Get paid what you’re worth and get paid on time. That’s it.

  3. Pablo Zamora on November 15, 2018 at 10:07 am

    This is a great article. Often times when things are going tough for us I remind myself and my staff team of this… what we do is simple. Maybe not easy. But simple if we remain consistent on the things that bring the results.

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