Steven Oliver Seminar and Running a Dojo

Last Friday, Michael, Thad and I went down to Mesa to attend a seminar given by Steven Oliver on running a successful martial arts school. While his web page design makes me want to weep openly, the seminar had a lot of good advice, especially since it was free.

The fundamental premise of running a successful martial arts school is what so many owners refuse to do. Run it as a business. Pay for advertising and marketing. Track your metrics religiously. Get good at sales. Understand your customers and provide value to them.

Mr. Oliver promotes charging more than most schools in your area, using pricing as an indication of value. But he also backs up the pricing with very well structured programs, especially for kids. He also advocates using contracts, chiefly as a commitment to training, but also to make sure that revenue streams are predictable.

He advocates an average student value of $200 a month through use of a variety of programs including a black belt club and leadership development team. They have a very developed sales strategy of presenting the value of these programs on a regular basis.

Mile High Karate, Mr. Oliver’s organization, believes that the martial arts industry is fast moving toward a franchise model, and that independent schools will soon be extinct. While he talked about this a bit during the seminar, he didn’t focus heavily on it.

One of my chief take-aways of the day was that people really can make a living running a school, and do quite well in the process. While there were some things that I would be uncomfortable with personally, I don’t think they would be deal breakers if not implemented.

He talked a bit about how, like in other businesses, you get a good practitioner of a craft who gets an “entrepreneurial seizure” and goes off to do their own thing. Unfortunately, often times that practitioner doesn’t have a solid business understanding, and has a hard time applying the seemingly callous aspects of a business to something they love.

I definitely have this impulse myself at times. Martial arts has a mystique for many long time practitioners that feels cheapened by bringing money into the picture. But I have to say, this is the first time I’ve felt that I can make a decent living in the martial arts rather than just having it as a side gig.

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