Who Are You?
I've operated a martial arts school full time for 45 years. I may have made every mistake that can be made in this business. The reason I'm still in business, I believe, is I asked for help. I learned quickly that others before me had already found solutions. In this column, I'll point out key mistakes I made in my career, which are common errors among school owners, both large and small, throughout our industry. And I'll share the solutions I used to overcome them.

Your "separation point" is the feature that sets training at your dojo apart from other activities for children, teens and adults in your community: Why martial arts and not soccer, lacrosse, ballet, etc.? Within the arts, your separation point is what differentiates yours from other martial arts schools. Why would someone want to train in taekwondo with you, for example, rather than at the academy down the road?

You should be able to answer these questions for your school. The ability to do so can help you formulate a plan to expand your business, including the launch of a social media campaign and the creation of an "elevator speech" that any member of your staff can be trained to deliver to prospects.

If you know your separation point, it doesn't matter how many martial arts schools are in your immediate area. It doesn't matter if most of the children in your area love soccer or hockey. It doesn't matter if there are dozens of barre studios or 24-hour gyms. What does matter is that you're able to offer something the other places don't — and that you can deliver a clear statement of those benefits to current and potential members.

When I was unsure of our separation points, I would spend two weeks doing surveys in person, on paper and by email. I asked all my students to tell me their story. I wanted to know why they chose us and why they stayed with us.

When I approached my members for the surveys, I told them I needed their help to develop a mission statement for our company. Most were honored to share their thoughts. Some of our parents were executives with vast experience in corporate strategy. They, in particular, were a great help when it came to formulating phrases to describe our services.

When I compiled the survey results, our separation point stood out clearly: Our members, almost to a person, saw us as a family-oriented business. They described how we treated each person as an individual, how we worked together to achieve team and individual goals, how clean we kept the facility and how we "customer-serviced" them to death. At our school, they felt like they were part of one big family — not just individuals who shared a hobby.

We narrowed down those thoughts and put them into a speech that all our staff members could memorize and use when talking with future students. We modeled our Facebook ads and our social media posts on those descriptions.

I've learned that although our students know all this and will tell other people about us, the new people in our community have no way of knowing who we are or what we offer. Unless we tell them, they won't know that we have the atmosphere and the instructors they're searching for in their martial arts quest.

When someone calls or emails us with a question, we've learned to shape our answers based on what our students have told us are our best qualities. We scripted those answers and trained our staff so they could easily slip those qualities into conversations with potential clients. In fact, our members were grateful to have answers to the standard questions.

For us, and for most martial arts school owners, it's easy to answer common questions like "How much do classes cost?" and "What are your hours?" What we now know is how to answer these questions while telling potential students much more about what we offer. After all, knowing the hours we're open and the location of our school doesn't tell them who we are.

We all know what makes us passionate about the martial arts. It's our job to convey that to each and every prospective student. Do you know who you are?

To contact Kathy Olevsky, send an email to kathy.olevsky@raleighkarate.com.

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