Wednesday, June 17, 2009

That Big Small Business

Growing Pains...the sweetest pains there are. This is a sure sign that things are going in the right direction. For any business, having growing pains is an inevitable part of expansion. It sure beats going bankrupt.

At the same time, businesses, especially service-driven businesses, must never lose sight of the reason why they have expanded in the first place: service.

What does this mean? A basic marketing primer will tell you the 4ps (product, placement, price, promotion). How does this apply to a martial arts school?

1. Product - the quality of the lessons must be first and foremost. That means the best instructors with the best curriculum taught in the best facilities. The product and delivery must be professional. It must meet the needs of the students.

2. Placement - the location must be accessible to students. Only people in movies train on mountaintops.

3. Price - affordability, hopefully on several levels according to a student's desire/ability to commit.

4. Promotions - family plans, friend campaigns, special seminars, etc. to encourage repeater business

But...isn't there something more? YES...PERSONALIZED SERVICE.

The modern scientific world of marketing and business has become a dehumanizing place.
Most of us no longer know the people we do business with for our most important purchases - the grocer/butcher, the car dealer, the realtor, the travel agent, etcetera. The internet especially has made it more convenient to not talk to people or get to know them.
This is dehumanizing and subconciously most of us want something more personal.
Even a generation ago, we did business face to face. Our parents knew these people in their neighborhood. We must be extra-careful not to hide behind blackberry, email, mobile phones, and the like. Real people do Real Business in a Real Way. Face to face. Old school.

Abraham Maslow did important work understanding our human needs and our inherent desire to have these met. Once we go beyond the basics of survival, that is, food, shelter and warmth, we must deal with our needs as a human being. That means addressing our need to belong, our need for self-esteem/respect, and our need to fulfill our potential and be creative.

A martial arts school is in a unique position to deliver many of these needs in a way that makes the students happier and healthier. In fact, all successful businesses appeal to as many of these needs as they can. How do you do this? And how do you do this when you are going through growing pains?

Belonging - mentoring is a great way to make sure new joiners are part of the family. Senior students can be paired with newer students to help them in class. Assistants can be assigned a group of beginners to mentor, which helps the students connect, and helps the assistants develop the foundations of customer service and interpersonal skills that will make them good teachers later on. In many companies these people are called "account managers". Simply telling people to reach out will not be enough. It has to be a direct and purposeful focus activity. Even simply, this means everyone knowing each other's names. There is no excuse not to.

Self-Esteem/Respect - This is done through the testing and curriculum, whch gives students concrete goals to focus on. The next level is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each student, and helping them get the additional support they need to build up those areas. This can be done through keeping class sizes limited, and also by having one-on-one trainings, small group seminars, personal assessments, and the like. Of course, knowing each sudent personally is part of it. All students must participate in the lessons actively, rather than passively. All students must be treated fairly.

Self-Actualization - Once all the other needs are met, at the apex is self-actualization. This means we have an innate desire to reach our true potential and use our creativity. Many times this needs is self-consious, but will manifest over time under the right teachers. Students often start with one goal in mind (ie. combat training), and later find other goals appear (personal health, longevity, spirituality). Good teachers encourage these transitions as part of the students' growth and maturity. I would argue that the unique nature of Filipino Martial Arts, with the emphasis on concepts rather than rote techniques, allows a level of creative expression that few other styles can match.

make no mistake, most students are aware of the atmosphere and what is going on in their school. You may only watch them 5% of the time, but they watch you 100% of the time. It is critically important to LISTEN to the students and get their feedback. They will tell you what they want.

At the other end of the spectrum from this are martial art lessons run in community centers and health clubs. These cookie-cutter dojos leech the spirit away from legitimate schools, and promote an "MTV" culture of martial arts being cheap, shallow, faceless, instant gratification - not so different from a cable TV cooking show.

As we grow and expand, we must be vigilant not to lose sight of the fact that schools are built on individuals, and individuals are what make it a success.

Nobody should have to train at "McDojo"

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