I have been a martial artist for a long time. My years in training as a student as well as an instructor has been filled with countless "ah ha!" moments where lessons were learned too late. There was a small fortune spent in both time and money on my road to enlightenment. I've had great teachers called experience.. trial and error.. failure.. and of course stubbornness. So in this monthly article my goal will be to share some of the lessons learned in starting and running a martial arts school with purpose. Is it a how to manual? No. But what I hope it will do is facilitate creative thought and maybe inspire those who have the dream of opening a school of there own but don't have a clue where or how to start.
Let me first start with a disclaimer. In no way do I consider myself an expert in business.. In fact most of the things I have learned go against what the typical "business" would consider sound advice. I have a vision of how I want my school run and I decided long ago that I wasn't going to sacrifice that vision for common or shady business practices. So if you have the courage to stay true to your values and not accept anything less than the success you deserve.. you'll be off in no time running the school of your dreams.
Part 1 - The Vision
So you got the itch to start a school do ya? Outstanding.. I often say that there isn't a more rewarding job. But there is a lot of questions to answer before you start on your journey. After all ... you need to know where you are going.
First.. what type of school do you want to operate? Do you want a big school with 500 plus members or a small school with fewer than 100 members? Do you want to go for profit or dive into the world of 501(c) Non Profit status? Where do you want to open and in what time frame? What are you going to name your school and how are you going to brand your school? The questions that need answered are endless and evolve into new questions as you go along.
One of the biggest questions you need to answer is how much startup capital do you need. If you listen to typical businessmen they'll tell you that you will need 6 to 9 months of your operating expenses to give you a buffer until you become profitable. This can be anywhere from 30k to 150k depending on your business plan and where you are located. I don't know about you, but I don't know very many people that have that much of expendable income to invest into a new startup.. especially in this economy. This method however does work and if you have the money to invest and a rock solid business plan then this avenue is available but not without its risks.
It is possible however to start up with virtually nothing. My wife and I started our school with just $2000. Enough to get our business license, insurance, and a few pads. We started small and began to build slowly and painfully until we had enough money to expand. What made this possible was our vision. We knew from day one the type of school we wanted to have. We sat down and answered a very long list of questions that helped us refine our vision. We sought out Master Instructors like Tom Callos (the 100) and Dave Kovar to see their vision of a school and then compared it to our own. We thought long and hard about ethics and reminded ourselves that our business was there to serve the community and not ourselves. Once our vision was set we started on the planning stage.
Below is a small selection of questions that will help you define your vision of a school. Give some time to answering these questions. After a few weeks revisit them and see if your answers have changed or evolved into something greater.
Defining your vision is really exciting but can be overwhelming. Some of these questions may not be applicable in your situation. Make sure you do your due diligence and research local and state business laws. Make sure that your vision is flexible for when things don't go to plan (and they don't always) you'll be able to assess the situation and change course easily. In my next article we'll go into start up options and branding. If you have any specific questions please post them on here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll answer as quickly as possible or will use your question for a future article.