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Building your martial arts marketing foundations

We already know the ‘build it and they will come’ marketing model requires very deep pockets and can often affect the sustainability of a martial arts club. For this reason I thought it would be good to look at what it takes to get new students through your doors and on to your mats. This article will provide a brief crash course on marketing basics and subsequent articles will examine the different marketing methods and channels. To try and answer some common questions I thought it would be different to write this article as a list of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’. Feel free to let me know if you think the format worked well or not.

What problem are you trying to solve?

I know your product is a martial arts programme but your customer is looking for a service to solve a problem for them. This could be weight control, improve physical fitness, boost confidence, help with self discipline etc. It is important that the benefits of your service aim to solve the perceived problem(s) of your target market. If you need inspiration in this area, do a little market research with your current customers. This can be as simple as putting out an annual questionnaire and just sitting and chatting with them and collecting opinions.

Who is your target market?

Although we would like to think that everyone could benefit from training in our martial arts programmes, it is very difficult to produce good marketing materials that appeal to everyone. If you have different programmes targeting different age groups, create separate marketing materials for each programme.

Why would customers buy from you?

Often called a USP (Unique Selling Point), what is different about your martial arts club and the way it operates that positions it as the obvious choice for your ideal customer? They’re maybe many activities capable of solving your potential customers problems, why would they choose your service over others?

What is the difference between strategic and operational marketing?

Marketing can be split into two sections, strategic and operational. Strategic marketing is your big picture tasks such as carrying out any market research, identifying your ideal customer and positioning your service to serve your chosen market. The operational side of marketing is the day to day tasks such as choosing your marketing channels and preparing advertising copy.

How much should I charge?

Pricing is often a personal and sensitive topic for most martial arts instructors. While it is not my place to tell you what you should charge, here are a few observations I have made during my time mentoring and interacting with other coaches.

  • Quite a few undervalue the benefits of the service they provide to their students
  • Some presume that if they charge less, they will attract more students
  • Many feel guilty about charging what they think their service is worth

The only advice I will give you on pricing is to charge what you feel is appropriate for your position in the market. This will ensure that your pricing is constant with the service you provide. I remember back in 2010 sitting my staff down and asking them to watch a DVD produced by one of the martial arts business experts from the USA titled “Everything counts”. This DVD emphasised the point that everything in your martial arts club / business should reflect your position in the market. If you are charging a premium price, make sure everything is congruent with this positioning.

How do I know if my marketing is working?

Another important aspect of marketing that is often overlooked is measuring results. There are many different ways to do this but results of previous marketing should guide where you spend your future budget. Missing this step can be responsible for continuing investment in ineffective marketing activities.

In 2014 I opened my second full time martial arts centre. At the time, the small community magazines were still quite popular and I thought this may be one of the forms of advertising we would use to launch the venue. To give me a better understanding of it’s effectiveness I randomly phoned 5 companies that were currently advertising in the magazine. I was pretty shocked when 2 out of the 5 companies didn’t even answer the phone and out of the ones that did, non recorded how new customers had found out about their service. Please don’t fall in to this trap. Make sure you are answering all enquiries and that you always ask ‘Where did you find out about us?’. If you are not a full time coach and cannot answer the phone the majority of time, don’t put a phone number in your ‘call to action’.

Who is my competition?

I know there are mentors out there that will suggest that you are only in competition with yourself (as there is only one of you) but if you are selling a similar service to a the same market, you are in competition with them. If you sell the same service but your end goals are different, they are still indirect competitors. That said, parents shop around less than you would think. It would give me a warm glow inside if I thought that our customers were checking out our competitors and selecting us because of our highly qualified instructors or that they had visited 3 other clubs are we were the best they had experienced.

While researching the motivation of children to train in taekwondo for my Masters Degree, I had the chance to interview parents at different martial arts clubs. While I was mostly focused on the motivation of the children, I did slip in a question or two about the criteria the parents used to select a club for their son / daughter. I was disappointed to learn that the top two reasons were that the club had classes at times and days they were available and that the club was within a 15 minute travel time. I say I was a little disappointed as I expected parents to give answers like, the instructors communicated well with the students, the venue looked safe and the instructors were all DBS checked, the club had a great reputation in the area etc. 

Do I need a marketing plan?

Many marketing experts identify consistency as one of the most important parts of the marketing process. Having consistency means planning your marketing. Here is a quick and easy way to create a 12 months marketing plan. Think of the successful marketing campaigns you have run in the past and then plot the next ones on a new 12 months calendar. Try and plan a new campaign at least once a quarter but once a month if possible. Leverage all your marketing assets for each campaign (more on this in future articles) to help you achieve the desired outcome.

Do I have to market all the time?

We all have those months when marketing gets pretty tough (for us, it’s July and August). In these times you have two options; you double down on your efforts or take a marketing holiday. If you are under pressure to increase your income as fast as you can, look for alternative methods to attract new members. If you don’t ‘need’ customers immediately, this time can often be better spent taking a break or getting some renovations done at your venue (for those that have full time martial arts centres).

How much should I spend on marketing?

Marketing is generally paid for in time or money and it make sense in the early days to leverage your time until you have enough money to pay for advertising. If you have the funds, most business groups suggest your marketing budget should be somewhere between 7-12% of your gross revenue. As a quick example, if you have a monthly turnover of £5000 a month, 7% would be £350 and 12% would be £600. Remember that gross revenue does not take into account how much profit you are making. While this percentage can be important, there are two other factors that are more important, these are the ROI (Return On Investment) of you marketing efforts and the speed at which you would like/need to grow. While adding an extra 100 students to your classes sounds like a great idea in terms of the revenue, if you don’t have the infrastructure needed to service this addition customers, they can be leaving out of the back door as fast as they come in the front.

Do I need to work on developing my brand?

Investing time and effort in to building your brand can help lower the friction when it comes to asking for a sale. Think of branding as a method of positioning yourself with a solution for a specific problem, for a specific market. By now you will have heard that potential customers need to Know, Like and Trust you before they will buy your service. Think of your brand as your reputation and having a great reputation can help increase the effectiveness of your marketing.

How do I maximise the time and money I spend on marketing?

Try and have a central place where you record the progress of all leads from the point they enquire to when they become a member or are no longer interested. There are various stages on the way to becoming a member when they can fall between the cracks. If you want to maximise the time and money you invest in your marketing, my advice is to follow up until the lead becomes a member, tells you they are no longer interested or they are non responsive to your communications. If you follow up for 30 days using different methods (text, email, phone) and they still do not respond, they become a ‘cold’ lead. You can still market to these leads but less frequently.

How do I use marketing to grow my martial arts club quickly?

If you thinking of taking on a full time venue and you need to grow your current numbers quickly to help offset the impending higher costs, here is a simple process that has worked for some of the coaches I mentor:-

  1. Decide how many students you want to teach or the level of income you would like to achieve (Note: Bigger is not necessarily always better)
  2. Invest your spare time and money into marketing to get to the break even point as fast as possible
  3. When you pass the break even point, continue to reinvest all extra profit in to marketing until you reach your desired number of students (or income level)

I said this process was simple but that is not the same as being easy. As you grow and scale your club there will be lots of shiny things that will pop up and try and take your attention and resources. If growth is a necessity, stick to the process and don’t get distracted. 

Remember that this process is solely focused on growth and does not take in to account how you optimise your administration processes or uphold the standard of your service. This is a whole new topic and something we may come back to at a later date.

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