How can a Dojo be classified as successful? Is it the medals it wins in a competition? The Instructor´s credentials? How about the number of students it has? Or is it the number of full capacity classes it has during a week? It´s not a simple question, however from a strictly business point of view, a Dojo is successful when it is financially sustainable.
Many Karate instructors often fear approaching a Dojo from a business point of view because they think it might damage their reputation or have a negative impact in the Karate community. However, I believe that, like anything in life, a Dojo needs a balance between the technical side and the business/management side.
In Venezuela there´s a common saying: “Amor con hambre no dura”, that means that a love relationship will not last very long if there´s hunger. That principle or saying is perfectly applicable to a Karate Dojo, or at least it´s essence. I have seen and heard of many great instructors and top level competitors who own a Dojo but their expectations with the project have not been fulfilled. In many cases the cashflow is too slow, in others is the communications difficulties with the parents, now and then the initial investment was too high, or at times is the marketing and social media invest that is out of control, but in most cases it´s just simply lack of proper management tools.
As a Karate Instructor for over a decade now and a dojo owner myself, I´ve identified 5 key processes that have helped not only to reach a breakeven point very fast but also to enjoy performing in both sides of the tatami.
This is not a recipe, but rather key questions you need to ask yourself and your team periodically. From my experience, this answers pave the way to a roadmap that will take you from where you are to where you want to be.
- Training: this is the technical side, or what happens on the tatami. From a business point of view, this is your product. Key questions: Who´s your target? Is it children under 12 years old? Are they teenagers? Seniors? What are they looking for: self-defense, conditioning, competition? How many classes do you have during a weekday? Weekend? Is the Instructor following a program? Is the Instructor capable of managing small-medium-large classes?
- Marketing: If you don´t sell your product, who will? A strategic marketing plan is the secret not only to differentiate yourself from other martial arts, but it´s the way to capture new students and keep the cycle going. In all dojos, students come and go, however it´s recommended to use simple and low cost marketing mediums such as social media to create brand awareness and if successful enough, create the necessity. Key questions: How much are you willing to invest monthly? How much does a new student cost? Do you have a graphic designer? Do you know anything about social media or publicity?
- Fundraising: it doesn´t matter if you own one dojo or ten dojos, fundraising is very important in order to reach big goals. Dreams come in many sizes: sometimes is a tournament you want to participate in, or maybe a seminar. Every so often is the construction of an office or to bring a top level competitor to the dojo. In any case, when you don´t have the funds, you should knock on some doors. Key questions: Who´s doors are you knocking? What do you plan to show to that potential sponsor for that important event; a letter? Presentation? Nothing at all? Are there any benefits or incentives for that sponsor? What´s the exposure that they will have? Is their support tax deductible? Can you make an alliance with this company/person?
- Administration: This is without a doubt the core process of the dojo management. Without a clear, objective, but above all a well-organized administration, you might as well be the lost son of Bruce Lee, but your dojo is not going to be successful. Key Questions: Are your students paying on time? Do you charge late fees? Do you sell suits, shirts and protection? How often? Are you paying a just salary to the Instructor? Is he/she happy? How many dropouts do you have per month? Do you have a profit at the end of the month? Do you have any reserves for an emergency?
- CRM (Customer Relation Management): Who pays the classes? The parents. Then in that case, your parents are as important as your students. You need and should have them both happy. They need attention and above all, they need to be informed. This is not an easy task, but you should be aware that in many cases the parents don´t understand the dynamics of the Karate world. Key questions: How often do you have a meeting with the parents? Do you send them emails or text them frequently? Birthday gifts? Christmas party? Do they feel you care? Are you building a community? Do they have fun?
Managing a Dojo could be a very complex task, or as I like to put it, a series of small well- defined simple tasks. It´s your choice. When I opened my first Dojo I did not have the answers to all these questions, but I followed a well-known advice: I asked for help. Guess what? It´s OK.
Keep training, keep managing, and I will be further developing each process in future articles.