So, you've got a single school and would like to market the school and recruit more students....how do we do that without breaking the bank? Marketing is not merely as simple as putting out glossy print ads, fancy commercials, or using a professional publicist services. Believe it or not, good marketing and building a good reputation is based on a honor, respect, ethics, and a bit of social skills as well. Here are a few simple tips (and a few rants):
1) Word of mouth is always the best spreader of good or bad news. Provide a good curriculum, maintain a friendly yet disciplined atmosphere, train your assistants well, be dedicated to teaching each student to the best of your abilty, and your students will spread the word. On the other hand, if your school is shabby and unfriendly, that news will spread as well.
2) Freebie marketing on social networks: Facebook and Twitter have been great ways that many businesses market their services. However, social networking ettiquette asks that you don't "ego-post" or "flood the network" with only your advertisements.....it would considered "spammy". Poeple on social networks like to see interesting news or material....stuff that makes sense and shows you're human and not money-driven. Of course, making money is part of business, but you don't want to appear greedy either!
Being a Twitter fan, I've seen too many people "Ego Tweet"...only posting their ads,and only RTing ("re-tweeting") people that seem to only benefit THEIR business, ignoring all others if they don't appear to be useful to their own marketing. If someone retweets you, say thank you. Don't be afraid to retweet people that don't even have anything to do with your business...remember word of mouth is important. I've mentioned and RT'd people that have nothing to do with martial arts, and have made wonderful and valuable local networks from seemingly "unrelated " people from across the country..... If you stick to only the people in your niche that are "useful", you've limited your market and it gives you an arrogant appearance on the social media circuit.
3) Remember that nothing a a "waste of your time". If requested to donate a martial arts demonstration for a charity event, children's event or community festival, go ahead and do it....its a good way to get your name out there. Just because you're not being paid for the demo doesn't mean it is a "waste" of your time. If you think so, you've just "wasted" the opportunity to have your school seen and heard by many people, who by the way, may have spread the event via word of mouth. Your loss!
If an event offers to pay your group for a performance, be sure to set a fair price. Remember you're not the only martial arts group in town. And even if you are, if you set too ridiculous a fee, event organizers aren't necessarily going to pay you out of desparation for performers. As your reputation as public performers grow, you'll be surprised at how the events will increase the amount they're willing to compensate you (assuming that it is kept within their budget).
4) If you're a new teacher renting space in another studio, do NOT attempt to steal the studio's students, especially if it is the same category of martial arts you and the other studio is teaching. Many studios will rent their floors during off-hours to new teachers, as the new teachers gain a base to open their own studios. Recruit from outside the Dojo, not from within. If its the established Dojo's students to choose to cross train with you, that's fine (so long as the established head instructor deems it as acceptable), but ettiquette should dictate that you deeply discount the established student's training fee to half or more than half your stated fee, as a token of goodwill and respect for the school who giving you this opportunity. Some new teachers will teach established students for free, so that it motivates them to recuit from outside the school.
5) Professionalism: Carry yourself as a teacher at all times, but do show you're human. You're not perfect so don't act like you are. You don't know everything regardless of your years in practice, so don't look down on students who arent "getting it" yet. Don't attempt to correct other teachers or tell them "better" ways to do things or bad mouth them..., that's just bad form that makes you look arrogant or desparate for upper level recognition.
6) Professionalism II: I've seen people sabotage their own reputation by seemingly "innocent" flirting with students or by speaking to others about their "hot student" or "beefcake new guy". If another teacher was talking to me.....I don't want to hear about how cute you think their student is, how they and a student are "getting along", and I definitely don't want to hear about the tryst they had! They will lose me as a colleague and networking hub if that ever happens.
7) Just because you have the skills, doesn't mean your reputation should instantly be comparable to the big names right away. You should't expect to charge $100 per hour for private lessons just because the well known Gracie JuJitsu teacher in the next town does. It is not merely about the marketing or advertising...its about the blood, sweat, and voluntary hours that the big names had put in to build their reputation. So be patient and do your thing to build your school's reputation. Many people will argue "Well, I should charge a lot of money for my classes so people gain a sense of value about my school". True, I say, but if you're arrogant and lacking in the teacher skills and social skills department and in it only for the money, then congratulations....You've just added the label "McDojo" to your oh-so-elite school!
Surpisingly, a few months ago, I've had parents ask me "When are you going to increase your monthly fees?". I said "What"? And the parents said "Well, you've had the same price for years and years....and given the quality of instruction and attention the teachers give the students, Its only fair that the school is compensated for that!". Wow, they're asking ME to increase the fees! Interesting what building rapport does for building a good reputation.
8) Ditch the "My way or the highway" method of running your business and allow the feedback and assistance of other people. The adage "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself" is very outdated! Yes, you can have "your way" to do things, but if you don't make use of others who are willing to help you, you've just sent a sign that states "I don't trust you", or "You're terrible at this, I'm the only one that can do this right!". That will surely bump a few people off your network.
The "My Way" thing is not an issue of whether someone else can do the job....really, its a issue of you feeling that you've relinquished control and an issue of you not being accepting of change. If you get the same results through a different method will it kill you that "you" didn't do the great job? No it won't. Will it kill you to give kudos to someone else? No it won't. So leave your Ego at the door.
9) Free events: Not every activity or event you have at martial arts studio should cost people money. Although you'd like more students, it makes no sense that they have to pay to see your school. I've seen a few places that won't even allow you to see a class till you sign the contract! Hold periodic free events such as open houses, free women's self defense, children's bully-proofing, etc. This "giving back to community" is a great way to give you and your students the wonderful feeling of giving! :)
Allow the public to attend free of charge, but be sure to not appear to make the "car sales approach" during these events...hard sell tactics, while they may may work for some schools, will make your "free" events just look like disguises for your hard sell tactics. Have brochures available and have "special discounts" available for those who attended your event, but don't bug the attendees. Surprise them by allowing them to enjoy the event without the sales hype....because chances are, somewhere in the back of their mind, they're expecting the sales pitch.
10) Newsletters: Ask if visitors to your school can be added to the newsletter list. When putting out your newsletters, don't forget to include other linterestin local or neighborhood news that is not related to martial arts.....even non-martial-artists will be more prone to read (and pass on) your newsletters.
It is a fine line between highlighting your strong points and skills, and arrogantly bragging about yourself. Be proud of what you do but knock that chip off your shoulder!
More tips and rants and raves to come as they pop into my head. :)