Why DIY Martial Arts Marketing Is Driving Students Away From Your Dojo

DiY martial arts marketing

So this week in the newsletter we’re finishing up the series on why dojo owners fail, and I’ve been talking about marketing mistakes. Monday I wrote about inconsistent marketing, yesterday I wrote about sending the wrong marketing message…

And today I’m writing about unprofessional marketing.

The DIY Dojo Owner

When I started my first school, I had absolutely no extra money for anything. I was starting from scratch, I was dead broke from working a string of minimum wage jobs, and I had a stack of debt a mile high.

So, I had to do everything myself.

I wrote my own ads. I created my own fliers. I did the design for my own ads. I distributed my own marketing materials.

I also cleaned the school myself, did my own books, answered the phones and returned messages, taught every class on the schedule, did all the intros, and opened the school each afternoon and closed it late in the evening every night.

This was all while working a full-time job to support myself, so I could roll all my profits back in the school. And needless to say, I ran myself ragged doing it all.

In short, out of necessity I became a DIY dojo owner. I did EVERYTHING myself. And sadly, it took me years to figure out that I didn’t have to do everything myself…

…and it also took me years to discover that maybe I wasn’t the best person to be handling some of those tasks in the first place.

How I Learned This The Hard Way

A few years back I took the Myers-Briggs personality test and found out I’m an INTJ, which stands for “Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging.” My personality type is rare, and what it boils down to is that I’m a bit of a tinkerer/polymath who is only saved from serial dilettantism by being driven to excel at the many interests I pursue.

In other words, I tend to hop from interest to interest and I try to master whatever interests me. Combine that with the typical martial arts instructor’s control freak tendencies, and what you end up with is someone who thinks they can do everything better than everyone else around them in their business.

This makes for a business owner who is very poor at delegation and who tends to micro-manage. It also makes for one tired and stressed out individual.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having a strong work ethic and grinding to get what you want. However, the problem with not being good at delegating is that no one person can be an expert at every single task necessary to running a business.

And by not delegating or farming out those tasks that you suck at, you end up hurting your business and stunting your business growth.

Your Ugly-Ass Marketing Is Killing Your Dojo

I almost made that the title of this article today… honestly, I did. And it’s because I see school owners making the same mistakes I once made all the time.

I look back at old ads and fliers I designed, and I cringe. After spending years (unnecessarily, I might add) learning the ins and outs of graphic design, web design, and ad copywriting, I can easily see the many mistakes I made with those ads from the past.

Quite frankly, they were ugly and unprofessional. And the only reason why I succeeded was because I did a lot of marketing, and I knew how to do one thing right back then, which was putting together a decent offer.

Yet, I wonder what might have happened if I had spent some of those early profits on hiring a good graphic artist to help me design my ads. I’m sure my dojo would have grown that much faster, because the unprofessional look of my ads was hurting my school.

Why You Can’t Get Away With Presenting An Unprofessional Image Today

Consider that everyone shops online now, and the first thing someone is going to see of your dojo is your online marketing, be it your website, Google + Business listing, Facebook page, or YouTube videos.

Also, consider that there are at least a half-dozen other school owners in your area who are competing for those same eyeballs. That means competition is fiercer than ever, and generally whoever gets the best marketing in front of the most eyeballs first, wins.

Which is why the level of professionalism that you present in your marketing matters so much more today than it did in the past. In years past when we only had a few marketing channels, all you had to do was buy the biggest ad in the local paper or yellow pages to win that war.

But not anymore. Now, you have to manage multiple marketing channels while looking like a champ doing it.

This is a hard truth that a lot of school owners refuse to face. Many of the school owners I meet are control freaks like me, who think they should be doing everything in their school themselves.

And I’ve seen that attitude kill more than one martial art school over the years.

There’s No Excuse, Because Presenting A Professional Image Has Never Been Easier To Do

But now, we’re living in an age where both online and offline marketing has become so competitive, that the quality level of small business design and image has been elevated considerably.

This is partially due to the digital revolution, because with increased computing power, graphic design programs and software have become amazingly complex and powerful. What used to take a skilled commercial artist 10 hours to do by hand, a graphic designer can now do in under an hour.

That in turn has made graphic design cheap and ubiquitous. Meaning, anyone can afford to hire someone to elevate the level of professionalism in their ads, website, and other marketing materials.

Yet, the average school owner who comes to me struggling will present with the following:

  • An ugly, ineffective, DIY website –
  • Ugly DIY ads –
  • Ugly DIY business cards and other marketing materials –

Maybe you could get away with that ten years ago, but today your competitors are more than willing to hire pros to take care of their marketing. So when your stuff is DIY and looks like your 11-year-old kid did it for you, guess what?

Your competitors are going to be getting the bulk of the lead share in your area.

Besides, Your Time Is Valuable

A business owner’s time is their most valuable resource. Look, I understand that early on when you’re broke, you might be forced to do everything yourself like I did.

But, don’t make the mistake of continuing to do everything yourself after you’ve started showing a profit. Instead, take a portion of those profits and spend them on farming some of that stuff out to pros.

Start with your website – invest in a professional design and good solid ad copywriting on every page. Then, get your other marketing materials redesigned, including your logo.

And finally, start making better use of the time that farming those tasks out will free up. Use the time that you used to spend doing $10 an hour work in your school, on doing $500 an hour work on your school.

In other words, spend it doing high-level strategy for your school. Spend it figuring out how you’re going to grow your school from where it is now to where you ultimately want to be in 2-5 years. Start acting like a business owner instead of a self-employed professional.

Once you do, you’ll be amazed at how much your stress level decreases while your school grows at a much more rapid pace. Sure, it’s hard to let that money go out the door at first, but when you look at it as an investment in getting your time back (that will also increase your revenue), it makes it a lot easier to do.

Until next time,

Mike Massie

Quick-start Guide to My Books and Resources:
– Looking for a list of books and resources I’ve written? Click here!
– Starting a dojo? Wondering where to start? Click here…
– Looking for low-cost business coaching to grow your dojo? Click here…

P.S. – Not that ugly marketing can’t work… in fact, I know some school owners who put out ugly marketing who still do well with it. But, they are master marketers who understand the ins and outs of marketing a martial art school, and after spending years in the trenches they know how to get results from their marketing, even with ugly ads.


  1. Wei-ying, Hsu on August 10, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Most dojo or martialarts schools in Taiwan do all marketing their own. That’s right, ugly ads, ugly logo, ugly poster. But, they don’t drive students away, because what the consumer can choice in Taiwan is these 95% dojos and schools…

    My specialty is graphic designing, and I plan to create a karate dojo in 2 years, so I can save a little cost of marketing.

    Sometimes I do graphic designing (logo or business card designing) for my friends who have their own dojo. Designers in Taiwan are not respected…

  2. Mike Massie on August 10, 2016 at 11:57 am

    That’s a shame about designers not being respected, because a good designer can make or break an ad. It’s good that you already have those skills, because it will put you ahead of much of your competition. Best of luck with your dojo!

Leave a Comment