Has your business been slow lately? Don’t blame the economy just yet… it may be time to look in the mirror and take inventory of the image you’re presenting to potential clients.
I had intended to write this article for my business coaching site for martial art school owners, but image is so basic to the topic of martial arts business that I decided to share it for everyone’s benefit.
Now, some people may scoff at the topic of presenting a professional image, especially in today’s business environment where guys with full sleeve tattoos and shaved heads are running multi-million dollar companies (here’s a great article from Entrepreneur about a business that serves the MMA fan market – read it if you get a chance).
I like ink as much as anyone who grew up idolizing outlaw bikers and rebels… but there’s a time, a place, and a market for such things, which I’m going to explain over the course of this article.
But first, let’s start with…
Your School’s Professional Image (Or Lack Thereof)
Now, I’m just going to say it up front – a lot of the stuff I’m going to cover in this article is stuff I’ve been guilty of myself at one time or another. But, I learned the lesson of presenting a professional image through trial, error, and watching other successful business owners, and changed my tune appropriately.
As I explain at length in my book, image is extremely vital to your school’s success, and your school’s image ranks up at the top of the image priority list.
Think about it… if you were a parent, or an executive, or a professional (doctor, lawyer, dentist, etc.) or just someone who is germ-conscious, and you walked into a dark and dreary school where there were dust bunnies floating out from under the chairs in the lobby, the mats were filthy (or obviously about 5 years past due for replacement), it smelled like sweat and feet, the walls were marked and stained (or had holes in them), the bathrooms reeked of urine, and the office looked like a tornado went through it twice –
Would you feel comfortable training there?
I think the answer is clear. It pays to keep a neat, clean, professional-looking school. Failure to do so can mean losing an untold number of potential clients on a daily basis.
And guess what? People talk – especially moms! All it takes is for one person to come into your school when it looks like a pigsty, and before long they’re telling everyone in the PTA that they would never let their child train at that dump you call a dojo.
Trust me – it happens. Clean your school daily, and paint every six months. Your bank account will thank you for it.
Your Marketing Image – Let’s Talk Logos…
Marketing image is just as important as the presentation of your school. This involves the polish and professionalism of your marketing materials, as well as the quality and tone of the marketing copy and images in your ads.
How many times have you seen schools with logos that look like something from a textbook on cult recruitment? Or, they’re so obscure as to be virtually useless for creating any sort of brand recognition at all.
Now, I’ve told you before that “branding” is for the big guys – this is true. But, on the other hand, your business logo should appeal to your market and be easily and readily recognizable for what it is – a visual representation of the services you offer.
Don’t just assume that images and terminology that are familiar to martial artists will be identified by the general populace. More often than not, our images and language create cultural barriers that discourage the uninitiated from exploring what we offer.
So, avoid religious-looking symbology, foreign language or characters, odd looking mythical creatures, and industry-specific terminology in your ads and logos. Save that stuff for the things you use internally in your school… trust me, your black belt club (or whatever you call your diehards) will think it’s cool – and that’s because they understand it (or have been around long enough to want to understand it).
“Man, That’s An Ugly Ad!”
In addition to avoiding cultural barriers, you should also consider the professional presentation of your marketing materials. Considering the fact that printing and graphic design services can be had readily and inexpensively on the internet, there is no reasonable excuse for using lame and amateurish marketing materials.
The same goes for your graphic design. We live in a much smaller world now than we did 20 years ago, and it’s relatively easy to hire a very talented graphic designer at bargain prices online. So, don’t do your own graphic design, when you can find a pro who will work for a reasonable rate online. Hire it out, and elevate your school’s image.
Did You Know… Your Website Is Usually The First, First Impression?
Lastly, let’s talk about websites. And yes, I run a web design company so I’m bound to be biased about this topic.
That being said, I’m here to tell you that most of the clients that come to me have already gone the “free” and “low-cost” route. Those services are fine for schools that are just starting out, or when you’re on a tight budget – but I’d suggest that the first place you spend your marketing budget on is your website.
Why? Well, for starters it’s generally the first thing people see with regards to your school – the virtual equivalent of walking in your front door. And, in the same way that your front lobby should be professional and spotless, your website needs to look sharp and professional as well.
Cluttered websites, sites that load slowly, sites with no consistent visual theme or mismatched fonts and colors… all these mistakes will add up to the same thing – lost customers.
And, if you teach women and children, let me tell you – moms and women in general are the ones who are quickest to click the “back” button when they arrive at an unprofessional business website.
Spend some money on your website. If you need help budgeting it, contact me – I routinely set up payment plans on our web design and search engine ranking services for martial art schools.
And To Wrap It Up – Let’s Talk About You
What’s your professional image? Is it even professional? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with schools owners over the phone that complain about not being able to attract and retain students, then I meet them in person and they’re sloppy, disheveled, and out of shape. (FYI, I’m not perfect by a long shot, and I’m even working on taking a few extra lbs off at the time of this writing. Trust me, I’m just as hard on myself when I get out of shape. No excuses!).
Face it, folks… you MUST look the part if you want to be perceived as a martial arts expert! No one is going to be impressed by a fat, sloppy, out of shape dude in pajamas…
It’s an in-freaking-escapable universal truth – in real life, no one wants to take martial arts from Po the Panda.
Even our heroes (especially our heroes) are beholden to this truth. I mean, come on… does anyone take it seriously when they see Steven Seagal’s fat a$$ back-flipping over a sword in his latest direct-to-DVD movie of the month? Yes, we all know he’s very skilled in real life – but it’s a really hard sell when he has 40 pounds of flab hanging over his belt, and more chins than chops.
In the same vein, you must look neat and clean. This should go without saying, but get a haircut, brush your teeth, and shave everyday – twice a day if necessary. Keep a clean uniform and a toilet kit at your school, and use it when you can’t run home to shower after a hard workout.Replace old uniforms with new ones every few months. If they fade, they’re not “broken-in” – they’re broken. Buy new ones!
Dress the part outside of your school as well. Those krav maga people really had it right when they started running around in dark striped track pants and dark t-shirts or golf shirts with their logo on the front and back. A fit, clean, athletic looking image can go a long way to attracting people who want the same thing into your school.
And about the tats… I totally get the desire to be inked up. But, it really depends on your market whether you can afford to present that image. My advice is, if you want to attract more moms and kids in your school, cover them up until the last mom and kid leaves at night.
Then, when it’s just you and the guys, go ahead and show your sleeves if it makes you happy.
In Closing, If I’ve Offended You… Ask Yourself This
Now, if any of this article has offended you, ask yourself this question:
Would you rather be comfortable with failure, or success?