Change and progression can be challenging

When you first start teaching martial arts, often the last thing on your mind is ‘Which martial arts business model should i follow?’. Most martial arts coaches start teaching as a hobby and often fall in to coaching professionally by accident. I don’t think you necessarily need a specific destination when you first start teaching martial arts classes, just a general direction.

Newton’s laws of motion states that an object stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force. I would suggest that this is also true for martial arts coaches, clubs and organisations. Without labouring the point, if you want to get different results, you need to change how you do things. If you continue to use the same business model for your martial arts club, you maybe missing out on opportunities for growth.

Often we get stuck in our comfortable ways and need a kick in the ass to force us to reassess the current situation and see where improvements can be made. This is not just in terms of managing our martial arts business but also in our everyday life. If this sounds like you, consider this the kick you need.

Confirmation bias describes the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs. This is what i think happens when we are comfortable in the way we do things. We think that we already have the ‘best’ way because looking for new ways takes brainpower, effort and occasionally a change in mindset.

Change isn’t necessarily good or bad but often the uncertainty of change can cement us in place. I think that a solution to this problem is to put yourself in a position of uncertainty a little more frequently. The most restrictive phrase I hear from martial arts coaches is ‘……but we have always done it that way’. Just because you have always managed your club in a specific way, that does not mean there is not a better way or that your current way cannot be improved.

Whether you change with the times or not, change will still happen all around you and if you are not careful and you will be left behind. Over the last decade or so we have seen some ‘too big to fail’ businesses disappear from our high streets due to their inability to move with the times. Some of these companies and had been around over 100 year.

The changing levels of your martial arts business model

Over the last 5-10 years, information and help around running a martial arts club as a business has exploded. The number of people making a living from teaching martial arts in the UK is higher than it has ever been. The great thing is that instructors are building successful martial arts businesses using many different business models.

You can operate a martial arts club at many different levels. Many start by teaching as a hobby, which then leads to a ‘side hustle’ and then some take the leap and become self-employed. Earning a living from teaching martial arts can be a big step but not quite as big as moving from being self employed to running a business. The difference between the two is that when you run a business, you spend more time working on your business rather than in it. That’s not to say that you give up coaching altogether but you teach because you want to rather than because you have to. If you can get to this stage, you are able to take time off if you are ill, for courses or a couple of weeks holiday and while you are away, your business still functions as normal.

Just like belts, your martial arts business can progress through different levels
Just like belts, your martial arts business can progress through different levels

The last step in this business model is to become a multi school owner or to franchise your product / service. To do this effectively you need to have a documented business model, great branding, some form of operations documentation, a staff handbook, a marketing plan / materials and most importantly the right staff. We currently run two full time centres and I would be happy to have a third but only if we have the right, motivated staff ready to take on the challenge. While I could earn more money by opening more venues, without the ’right’ staff, this could be a fool’s errand and end up costing me mentally, physically and financially. Dave Kovar has a great cautionary tale about trying to expand too fast without the staff needed to do so. That said, he now 8 successful martial arts centres and has some amazing staff.

The level you want to operate at should be inline with your ‘why’

Before you decide to what level you would like to take your club to and which martial arts business model you will use to get there, you need to focus on your ‘why’. The ‘what’ you want will be determined by your ‘why’. This is important before you go ahead and build a monster organisation that takes up all your free time when your ‘why’ is spending more time with your family. Get clear on your ‘why’ and then start working towards developing your business to a level that facilitates your vision for the future. 

Often at this point the next question is how will I get to where I want to be. Remember the saying ‘You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”? It turns out this is true and can affect you in more ways that you realise. A study by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler carried out extensive research that showed that if you had an obese friend you are 45% more likely to gain weight over the following 2-4 years. They also found that if your friend smokes, you are 61% more likely to be a smoker yourself. On a more positive note they also found that if your close friends are happy, this increases your probability of being happy by 25%. The take away from these studies is to surround yourself with people you would want to me more like.

Martial arts business coaches

In the last few years we have seen a massive increase in the number of life / business coaches and mastermind groups. While I do believe that coaches and mentors can help you along your journey, I also know that finding the right one is just as important as your decision to have one. While I know some people suggest that ‘Free advise is worth every penny’, I don’t think that by putting a hefty price tag on the same advice somehow transforms it into liquid gold. Examine the values of any mentors that you are considering working with. Are they inline with your own?

The last thing you want is a business coach that only has a hammer and sees every problem as a nail.

While it is not essential that business coaches have had amazing results running a martial arts club, it is important that they have been able to help others reach goals similar to yours. Try to ensure that the coach / mentor you choose has experience at helping people progress through various martial arts business models. The last thing you want is a business coach that only has a hammer and sees every problem as a nail. For more information on mentors and if you should have one, read the article i wrote on “Do instructors need martial arts business coaching?”.

Choose your mentors, coaches and masterminds carefully and don’t just jump on the first one you come across. If you can’t afford to pay for a mentor or coach, closely follow people that you admire and would like to be more like. Subscribe to their blogs, read their books, listen to their podcasts and jump on courses face to face whenever you get chance. Likewise if you cannot afford to join a mastermind, have a small group of friends that you can use to bounce ideas off and help hold you accountable. If you consider the studies by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler mentioned above, you should try to make sure that you have at least one person in your group that is further on the path than you. If you are the lowest on the ladder in your group, all the better.

When is the right time to ‘level up’ you martial arts club?

Confidence is something that we push our students to develop and often we nudge them towards completing hard tasks. Yet in many cases we fall short of challenging ourselves on a regular basis. Now I am not necessarily talking about making huge changes and taking unnecessary risks.

When you feel ready to move your martial arts business to the next level, do your homework and if the odds are in your favour, have a go. I usually find that upgrading the level of your business or changing your business model altogether never really results in excellence or total failure but lands somewhere in the middle. What ever happens, take the results as feedback and then go back and see how you can make improvements. Don’t forget than many people that taste success have often had their fair share of failures too.

Summary

Quick takeaways to help you choose your desired martial arts business model:-

  • Regularly question the way you do things, even if you have done them that way for a long time
  • The more you are exposed to uncertainty, the easier it will be to deal with
  • Take time out to research new methods to improve both the business and coaching side of your martial arts club 
  • Understand the differences between being self employed, running a business and licensing / franchising your product
  • Identify your ‘why’ and build everything else around it
  • Surround yourself with people you aspire to be like
  • Always do your ‘homework’ and then execute