Unless you have had your head in the sand, you will have heard that some martial arts clubs are getting many of their new members through paid Facebook ads. There was a time when you could do reasonably well attracting new members by sharing information on your club’s Facebook page but those days are gone. As time has moved on, Facebook has moved to monetise its platform and position itself as a ‘pay to play’ application. As things currently under 2% of people that have liked your page would be lucky enough to see your posts. 

Before we get started with Facebook marketing, make sure you have your martial arts marketing basics down.

Facebook basics

Besides your personal profile/timeline, you also need to know the difference between a Facebook Group and a Page. Pages were introduced to be official profiles for entities like clubs, businesses etc and can be ‘liked’. Previously this allowed your followers to receive updates from when you posted information, photos, videos and links. These days the only users that see your content without paying are the ones that have interacted with your posts previously.
A Facebook Group is a place for small communities to hang out and chat about a shared interest. We have one Page for each of our martial arts centres and then we have private Groups for each of our programmes. Although some would suggest having a Facebook Page for each market you intend to advertise to, as we only ever need to advertise for young students to replace the ones that move up from our Dragons programme, just one Page for each venue works fine for us.
On top of the programme specific Groups we also have separate Groups for our directors, our martial arts leaders programme and another for staff communications. Posts shared on groups have a much higher chance of being seen by its members but this may change in the not too distant future.

Personal profiles/timelines

Although Facebook can be a great tool to help attract new customers while also servicing current members, it can also be destructive if used without care and attention. My recommendation is that you don’t post anything on your personal profile that you would not be happy to hang on the wall in the venue you train. This rule should also be used for all instructors or anyone that has a position of authority at your martial arts club. Try not to forget that people in authority in your club are role models for your members. Suggesting students should live by one set of values and then living by another set is as motivating as your parents telling you ‘Do as i say, not as i do’.

Boost a post or create an ad?

The are two main ways to obtain new members through Facebook using paid ads, these are to boost a post directly from your Page or create an ad via Business Manager. If you ‘boost’ a post you are in effect creating an ad optimised for ‘reach’. This is fine to start with but if you create the ad in Business Manager, you can also optimise for objectives such as collecting leads, driving traffic to a web site, raising brand awareness, building engagement etc. While this method is more versatile, it is also more complicated and needs a little more time to learn. As a side note, try and publish your ads from a laptop or PC as doing it from your mobile can reduce your reach.

Selecting an audience

This is one of the most important stages of creating an ad that will give you a good return on your investment. After clicking ‘boost post‘, rather than letting Facebook select the audience for you, click ‘People you choose through targeting’. Then click the edit link so you can select the audience yourself. Select the age of your audience based on your target market (for 3-6 year old students we tend to use 25-45 year old female adults) and then enter the postcode of the venue you teach your martial arts classes from. Once you can see the location of your venue on the map, click ‘Drop Pin’ and then click on the building where you run your classes. Just above where you entered your postcode you will see map coordinates and a drop down box giving the current radius from the pin you dropped. I usually set this to 6km but feel free to change this to 8 or even 10 km depending on how rural your area is. Remember that as a rule of thumb, most people will not travel further than 15 minutes when looking for a new activity for themselves or their children. Under the placement header untick the ‘Instagram’ box. My suggestion for a budget is £20 to £30 a day for 7 days. This may or may not sound like a lot but that comes down to your average lifetime student value. If you know that students stay at least an average of 12 months at your club, the return on your investment could be made back in quite a short time period. The last ad I ran at the beginning of March 2019 cost £140 for 7 days and we booked in 23 new students, of which around 12 joined. In this case the cost per new student was under £12 but this is not always the case. As a rule of thumb out of 60 enquiries, you may get 30 booked in to come down and try your martial arts classes and from this you may get around 15 join. These figures are of course estimates and and will vary based on many different factors. Reviewing these figures afterwards could highlight the stage new prospects are dropping out of your process.

Choosing your images

Although selecting the correct audience for your ad is very important, it is great images that will grab people’s attention. As the saying goes, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. In the past i ran an event photography business that specialised in martial arts events. Taking shots of students dressed in white, moving fast, inside poorly lit halls was challenging but was also a great learning experience. If you are going to be taking shots for your social media pages as well as paid ads, i recommend you invest in a budget DSLR. My first DSLR was a Canon 300d, though the latest version is currently the 800d. For the last 15 years i have used Canon 1d bodies but these are heavy and overkill for taking shots in class for marketing. If you can save up for it, go for something like the Canon 800d or the equivalent Nikon camera body. As an added bonus the current crop of new camera bodies are also pretty capable at recording video too.

Child performing martial arts front kick
An example shot of a child during a martial arts grading

Here are a few tips if you are taking the shots yourself:-

  1. Make sure you have enough light. If you have natural light, make sure it’s behind you but lighting the subject of your shot.
  2. Focus on the subject that is in the foreground. Many images I see posted on Facebook are ‘back focused’. This means the background is in focus while the people you want the photo of look fuzzy. If you are a budding photographer, google the term ‘back button focus <insert your camera name>’. This method of focusing will help you focus and frame your shots better.
  3. Choose an image that portrays emotion. When we advertise our children’s programme we tend to prefer images of children smiling and having fun. Sometimes we also use ones where the children have a focused look on their face.
  4. Make sure the students in the photos are a good representation of your membership.
  5. Unless you run a competition based club, I would not use images of students sparring. Although you may look at the image and admire the technical aspects, a prospective student or parent may worry about their child being on the receiving end of that awesome technique.
  6. Although it isn’t always possible, try to shoot with a clean background. Failing that, position the subject closer to you with the background further away. This will help blur the background and make the subject stand out.
  7. Don’t have text on your image covering more than 20% of the image size. You will know when you get this wrong as Facebook will reject your ad when you go to submit it for approval.
  8. If you are taking photos of children, don’t forget to ask for permission to use the photo. You may already have permission built in to your membership form but it’s always good practice to confirm it’s still ok. In most instances parents will even share the ad to their friends and family.
    If you really want to avoid the situation of people revoking permission, you can ask them to fill in a ‘model release’. I would probably only do this in a scenario where you are spending a lot of cash for a prolonged marketing campaign m.

Optimising your camera setup could be a whole article in itself but if you stick with the points above, you should be able to produce some reasonable images.

Ad Copy

Producing compelling ad copy can be a bit of a dark art in itself but here are a few quick tips:-

  1. Have a great headline that grabs their attention
  2. Make the benefits you list address the problem of your target market
  3. Only target one market per ad
  4. Include a compelling, time bound offer
  5. Have a specific call to action such as ‘message now to book your place’ or ‘comment with your child’s age’. Try not to ask the reader to post the same one word comment as Facebook are cracking down on this.

When writing your copy, a good phrase to keep in the front of your mind is ‘What’s In It For Me’. This is the question you will need to answer if you want the reader to care about what you are saying. Try not to get caught up with listing all the world titles you have won or how many champions you have trained. Although these may be interesting to your current students, new prospects are more interested in what problem your service can can solve for them. 

Booking people in for their first martial arts class

There are a few different ways of booking people in for a trial class. You can add a message button to the ad and communicate via messenger or run a lead generation ad where people will give you their contact details. My current preferred method is to ask them to comment on the ad itself. From here you can not only message everyone that comments but you can also invite them to ‘like’ the page you are running the ad from. The only draw back of this method is that I have noticed an increasing number of reports of other local instructors messaging people that comment on your ads. So much for martial arts instructors practicing what they preach in terms of values. As far as I know this has never happened to us but that’s not to say it hasn’t. In future i will be testing ads that ask the prospect to message as well as ads optimised to gather leads directly.

Retargeting

This article is only a basic guide to using Facebook and although i won’t go in to retargeting in much detail, it is worth mentioning. When a Facebook user interacts with your ad, this information is logged. You can then retarget these people and serve them follow up ads. This allows you to run different ads to different audiences.
A cold audiences could be defined at people that are not currently aware of you or your service. A warm audience is aware of you and has had some form of interaction with you or your club. A hot audience is people that have purchased from you previously or know, like and trust you enough to give you their business. You can also target ads at visitors to your web site. See the article on ‘Optimising your martial arts website for Google’ for more information.

Expanding your knowledge further 

If you want to go deeper in to the facebook ads rabbit hole,  download Liz Melville’s podcast ‘Ads That Convert’. She puts out information that is comprehensive, actionable and straight to the point. Martial Artist and entrepreneur Gordon Burcham also runs some good courses on marketing through Facebook. His new web site is currently under development but if you join his facebook page, you will get to hear about new courses as they appear on the calendar. 

I hope you enjoyed this article and it helps you build a sustainable martial arts club that is around for years to come. Feel free to check out our other articles that can help you develop your coaching, business and technology skills and make sure you like our Martial Arts Coach facebook page for more updates.