Things to consider
IntroHere are some things to know about opening your own martial arts school.
- Check out the competition. Look for other martial arts school in the area you want to start your school. How long have they been open? How are they doing as a business? What do they offer? Can you compete?
By studying the competition, you can learn from their mistakes. Learn how much students are willing to pay, what they expect for the money they pay, and how you might be able to offer better training for less money, while still making a reasonable profit. If one school dominates the market space, focus on what they don't do well and how you could fill this gap. If there aren’t many schools in your area, find out why. It may be because there is no demand for them.
- Define your target market. Targeting everyone means you are targeting no one. You need to define your target market and focus everything you do, such as location, décor, website, marketing, etc., on reaching and serving that market. The only way to give people what they want is to find out what they really want. They may say they want to learn taekwondo for self-defense, but they may just want to feel better about themselves. Speak to potential customers through social media and focus groups to find what they really want from a martial arts school. Getting involved with your potential customers will show you care, build loyalty, and increase the possibility of them recommending you to others.
- Select a business structure. Are going it alone or forming a partnership? Thinking of incorporating or forming an LLC? How you structure your business can reduce your personal liability for business losses and debts. Some choices can give you tax benefits. Some choices can make things complicated and more expensive. Do research and choose wisely.
- You need to get paid. Many new school owners start out by putting profits back into the business to make it grow faster. If you need an income, you need to plan for this from the start. If you plow all your profits back into the business, it is not really a business, it is a hobby.
- School name. Put a lot of effort into choosing a school name. It will be the center of all your marketing. It will need to work with an available internet domain. It is the first thing prospective customers see, be what people use when they refer to your school, and it will be how your school and your students are defined for years to come. You want students to associate with the name and stay loyal to it.
- Location. Where you locate your school may be the single most important decision you make. Many factors come into play such as proximity to suppliers, the competition, transportation access, demographics, and zoning regulations. Do a lot of research and choose wisely, the wrong location will doom your business from the start.
- Marketing. Having a great school means nothing if no one knows about it and you can’t attract enough students to pay the bills. Martial arts student turnover is high, so you need a constant influx of new students. You will probably not have a big marketing budget, so start small and focus on building relationships. Use social media and network to start building a reputation, not just with potential customers, but with local journalists, suppliers, businesses, and business organizations. Start a blog, be active on Facebook and Twitter, offer to write articles, give demonstrations, or visit schools. Use the spare time to get closer to your customers on social media. Make sure your business plan accounts for marketing costs.
- Build an internet presence. Build a professional looking website. If you can’t afford to pay professionals to do it, then learn to do it yourself or find a friend or a student who will do it for you.
- Build a unique sales proposition. Students may leave other schools and come to yours if you offer something better or different. Don’t try to compete against bigger schools in their market. Offer something better and their potential customers may come to you. It may be because you have a unique style of martial art, you offer a better customer experience, you provide more support, or it may the way you price or offer payment. Find your niche then make sure everything you do is true to it.
- Write a business plan. A business plan is vital to the success of your school. It helps you prove to yourself that every aspect of your endeavor works and makes sense or if it should not even be attempted. Also, you will need it if you need to get loans, grants, or other types of funding.
- Getting funding. It is best if you can self-fund your new school; however, for most people, that's not possible. Many prospective owners seek to fund their schools from friends or family, try getting a bank loan, seek small business grants, or look for an investor. Since most small businesses fail within a few years, if you have incurred a lot of debt, it will haunt you for years or even decades after the school is closed. If you got your funding from friends or family, those relationships will suffer. Make smart, well-planned funding choices.
- Use accountant and or tax professional. They become a valuable and trusted source of financial and business advice. Seek professionals with experience in your business sector who will give you individual attention. Ensure you can afford to pay for the advice and that you use it wisely.
- Procuring potential partners. Who could you benefit from working with? Forming a relationship with a business in another sector could help you tap into a whole new customer base. For example, offer self-defense classes to local shelters for abused women.
- Licensing and legal issues. Check with the local government to find out if you need any special licenses. There is a host of other legal obligations to consider so it's best to get at least one session of legal advice. You will need legally binding contracts, liability waivers, etc. It is best to at least have a business attorney assist in the establishment of the school.
- Registering your business name. Registering a “Doing Business As” name is only needed if you name your business something other than your personal name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation. It is inexpensive and easy to do.
- Getting a Tax ID. Not every business needs a tax ID from the IRS (also known as an Employer Identification Number or EIN), but if you have employees, run a business partnership or corporation, or meet certain IRS criteria, you must obtain an EIN from the IRS. You’ll also need to start paying estimated taxes to the IRS.
- Registering with tax authorities. Employment taxes, sales taxes, and state income taxes are handled at the state-level. Learn more about your state’s tax requirements and how to comply.
- Opening a business bank account. You will need a business bank account, so find one at a local bank that understands your business and with whom you feel comfortable dealing with on business matters. Most banks also offer incentives for new businesses.
- Staffing. If you will need employees, plan for finding them, paying them, and meeting all the local, state, and federal employee requirements.
- Getting insurance. You are required by law to have employer’s liability insurance if you have any staff and liability insurance for customers or suppliers who enter or use your facility. You must also insure any vehicle you use. If you sell products explore if you need product liability insurance. Insurance can be expensive, but could your business or your financial future survive should the unthinkable happen and your school, equipment, or stock was stolen or damaged or a student was seriously injured.
- Getting business training. Consider taking business classes at a local college. Some local, state, and federal agencies or local business organizations offer classes, sometimes for free.
- Using technology. Plan for ways to use technology to do five things for your school: save time, save money, stay in control, make more sales, and deliver a better service to your customers. Use hardware and software that allows you to create a business plan, build a website, manage your accounts, track students, and access legal documents and email all in one place.
- Use mentors. There's nothing better than having an experienced business mentor to turn to for guidance. Use your master or other successful school owners within your national organization for advice and assistance.
- Launch day. When you're ready to launch your business, don't rush to quit your day job. You may need it as a backup until your new school gets established or you may need to go back to it if the school fails.