Benefits of Long-Term 
Student Contracts, Part 1
Photo Courtesy of Marcia D. Watters

The most prosperous school owners operate their businesses using student contracts. I’ve always referred to them as “contract schools” and to those that don’t as “month-to-month schools.”

I’ve spent much of my career operating a month-to-month school, which makes me far from an expert on contracts. However, I do recognize the value of using contracts, so I spoke with someone who is an expert in that field.

Marcia D. Watters, Esq., runs the business side of Mr. Jimmy’s White Tiger Martial Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland. Her husband Jimmy Smith does most of the teaching, and he steers clear of all things related to office management, leaving them to Watters, who is also a taekwondo master instructor at the school. She agreed to provide insight on the subject of contracts.


How do you get people to sign contracts, and why do some instructors choose not to use them?

“First of all, we use ‘enrollment agreements.’ We don’t call them contracts even though they are legally binding. Many school owners know that most parents and adult students will immediately become hesitant about enrolling if you shove a long-term training agreement in front of them — before they even get on the mat!“

This is because most people who walk into your facility have not trained before and have no idea what they are getting into. You end up scaring away potentially awesome students, which may include the sister, brother or parents. The key is to get the person on your mat and enjoying and benefiting from their training before you offer that long-term enrollment agreement to them. The distress of losing potential students is why a surprising amount of schools are hesitant to use contracts at all.”

What has White Tiger done to overcome this?

“We start with a one-month initial enrollment. We do not give away any training other than perhaps a 10-minute introductory lesson. We allow prospects to observe as many classes as they want. If they want to try it, we explain that to truly figure out if they will enjoy training, they need to attend numerous classes. A month is sufficient time to determine if they’re going to enjoy training in martial arts, our school, our schedule, the instructors, etc.“

We make that month affordable, and we provide a uniform for free. Once on our mat, they experience how awesome the training is, [and] they are hooked. Oftentimes, siblings that weren’t even interested want to join, as well — even the parents.”

What happens next?

“As that month is coming to a close, we ask the new students how they are enjoying their training and [if] they want to continue after their month is up. I estimate that 19 out of 20 students want to continue, and I attribute that to the excellent instruction by our master instructor Mr. Jimmy. He makes sure that students experience a full range of fun and skill development so that students want to keep training.“Here’s when we present them with the long-term enrollment agreement, which can be six months to a year or more. At that point, most people have experienced our school long enough to understand the benefits of martial arts training and that they or their child are truly getting something valuable in return for the long-term investment. They sign right up with no problem and re-enroll time and time again — we retain our students for years and years.”

How does the contract — I mean, the enrollment agreement — benefit the students and the school?

“We like the term ‘enrollment agreement,’ and there are many reasons. It contains a liability waiver, which can protect our instructors and business from liability if any student is injured or there are accusations of wrongdoing against the facility or staff.“

An enrollment agreement can [serve as] a written understanding of the expectations/responsibilities of the student/parents and the instructors/facility. This can be very important! Having some specific guidelines on expectations of all parties can also be good to have so it can be relied upon if necessary for correcting a student or explaining that certain rules are in place and were agreed upon.

“For example, testing occurs when all techniques required at a belt level are mastered in the opinion of the black-belt staff. Additionally, some states simply require facilities such as a health fitness club, which martial arts schools are considered a form of, to have specific consumer-protection rights in writing and proof of disclosure to their customers on file, so it’s wise to just put them into the written enrollment agreement, which adds protections for the facility and instruction staff, as well.”
(To be continued.)

For expert assistance with martial arts business management, contact the Martial Arts Industry Association at maiahub.com. Or attend the Martial Arts SuperShow, which is scheduled for July 18-20, 2022, in Las Vegas. Information is available at masupershow.com.

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