How to Open a Martial Arts School: Eight Proven Tips From a Successful Multi-Studio Owner

How do you open a martial arts school? Teaching martial arts can be a fun and profitable way to earn a living, but if you want to run a school successfully, you need to approach it as a business. Whether you want to teach Taekwondo, Jiu-jitsu, Karate, Kung Fu, Tai Chi, or other art, starting a martial arts school successfully requires covering some essential business basics.

Key ingredients include a business plan, an office management strategy, and a marketing strategy. To save time and money running your school, you'll also want to familiarize yourself with crucial business automation tools such as accounting, billing, and marketing software.

If you're new to running a business, you might wonder where to start. To point you in the right direction, here's our guide on how to start a martial arts school in eight steps.

1. Create a Martial Arts Business Plan

One of the biggest keys to running a martial arts school is starting with a sound business plan. A business plan lays out the essential components of a winning entrepreneurial strategy, such as how you plan to finance your operations, manage your company, and promote your school.

Putting your plan down on paper forces you to think through how you will run your business, giving you a much more realistic chance of success. In fact, one of the biggest causes of small business failure is failing to start with a business plan. So, if you feel tempted to skip this step, don't.

The heart of a business plan is your financial plan. You need to estimate your expenses so that you know how much income you need to turn a profit. This also will tell you if you need financing to cover your startup costs until you become profitable, and if so, how much funding you'll need.

Typical startup costs associated with opening a martial arts studio include:

  • Security deposits
  • Equipment, such as mats, uniforms, and personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Retail inventory

In addition to these initial costs, you'll need to cover ongoing expenses such as

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Payroll
  • Marketing

As you're itemizing your expenses, you also can think of ways to minimize your costs. For instance, you may be able to reduce rent and utility costs during your startup phase by cutting a deal with an existing facility such as a dance studio to rent your space part-time until you grow enough to afford your own place.

Your business plan also should include a marketing and sales strategy to help you generate income. A good marketing strategy should be based on solid market research. One thing you'll need to do is identify your target market. For example, are you trying to attract MMA fighters, women seeking self-defense training, or young students curious about the martial arts?

The name you choose for your martial arts school is another essential part of your marketing plan. A good name should speak to your target market in a way that identifies what benefits you offer and makes you stand out from competitors. If you find yourself at a loss for a name, a simple strategy is to combine your geographic location with the name of your art to create a name such as "Smallville Taekwondo." A variation on this strategy is to include the name of your target market in your business name, such as "Central City Women's Self-defense Studios."

Another consideration is how much you'll charge customers. To determine this, start by researching how much other instructors in your area are charging. You'll want to price yourself competitively. However, beware of the temptation to undercharge, which can cut your profits. Make sure you're charging enough to cover your expenses.

For more details on how to write a business plan, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers online guides and templates to assist you. The SBA also partners with organizations such as SCORE, which can connect you with experienced business mentors who can help you develop your plan.

2. Complete Legal Paperwork and Registration

Opening a martial arts school will require you to complete specific legal paperwork for starting a small business. You'll need to:

  • Set up a business mailing address associated with your business name. This doesn't necessarily need to be the same address as your studio location. Its primary function is to provide an address you can use for tax and banking purposes and to receive business mail. You can use your home address if needed, but you'll look more professional if you have an official business address.
  • Decide how you want to form your company as a legal entity. Depending on how you plan to run your business and manage your taxes, you may set up as a sole proprietor, limited liability company (LLC), partnership, or corporation. Differences between these business structures include how many owners control your business, whether your taxes fall directly on your business or your company's owners and shareholders, and what legal liabilities you face as a business owner. Consult an accountant or business attorney with detailed questions.
  • Register your business with your state revenue department. This involves filling out an online form letting your state know critical details about your business, such as your company's name, business structure, and industry.
  • Obtain any required state or local business licenses or permits. In the United States, you generally don't need a special martial arts business license above and beyond a regular business registration. However, requirements can vary geographically, so check with your state and local authorities. Also, note that if you're affiliated with a franchise chain and want to use their brand name in your marketing material, you'll need whatever certification they require.
  • Register to pay federal business taxes. You'll need to apply for a tax identification number (TIN) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In some cases, you can elect to use your Social Security number (SSN) as a TIN or apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) distinct from your SSN.
  • Set up your business bank account. Keeping your business finances separate from your personal finances will make it easier to manage your bookkeeping and prevent potential problems when paying taxes.

Note that completing these steps will incur some small fees. Your state revenue department will have information about costs for registering your business, and you'll need to pay an annual fee to keep your business registration active. Don't forget to factor these costs into your expense planning and tax deductions.

3. Select a Location

As in many industries, location is the key to success in running a martial arts school. In many cases, your location can make or break your business.

An ideal location should be accessible to your target demographic, visible for promoting your business, suitable for your class needs, and within your budget. Start by researching your target market's demographics to help narrow down potential locations. Talking to a business real estate agent may speed up your location-hunting process.

After settling on a location, you'll need to follow up with a couple of items. Local governments generally require commercial facilities to obtain a certificate verifying compliance with local building codes, known as a certificate of occupancy. A certificate of occupancy usually is required when a new property is constructed, when a previously residential property is adopted for business purposes, or when a commercial property changes ownership.

You'll also want to obtain business insurance. At a minimum, you'll want general liability insurance. If you have employees, you'll need workers' compensation insurance in most states. Other desirable types of insurance include medical payment insurance and commercial property insurance. Some insurance companies offer special liability insurance for martial arts schools. Talk to a business attorney or insurance agent about what coverage you need.

4. Recruit Qualified Staff

The quality of your staff plays a huge role in the success of your school. This includes the staff you teach your classes and, potentially, the staff you use to run your office and promote your marketing campaigns. In some cases, these could be the same person if you have the right business management tools.

Most critical is your selection of instructors. A good martial arts instructor should not only be competent in their art but also skilled at teaching it to others. Simply being a good martial artist doesn't automatically make someone a good teacher. Consider developing a special training program to cultivate best teaching practices in your instructors. You'll need instructors for each location if you plan to run multiple locations.

Other key staff members may include administrative assistants, billing specialists, accountants, marketing personnel, and IT support. You don't need to hire all these positions full-time, especially for a small school in the startup phase. Consider outsourcing functions to third parties such as accounting firms and marketing agencies. Alternatively, you can also reach out to martial arts consultants such as those at InCourage Systems to provide you essential operational and backend support.

5. Establish an Accounting and Financial Reporting System

Your finances are the lifeblood of your business, and a good accounting and reporting system can help you maintain your company's financial health. It's critical to record and track financial key performance indicators (KPIs) such as sales revenue and the amount of money you're owed (accounts receivable). For optimal performance, you'll also want to stay on top of marketing and sales data, such as keeping track of sales opportunities (leads) and monitoring the percentage of your leads that generate sales (conversion rate).

MyStudio's reporting features help you track and manage your key performance indicators. You can use any device from any location to see your sales numbers and follow up on sales opportunities.

6. Establish a Billing and Point of Sale (POS) System

Billing customers and collecting payments is a critical part of any business. You can process payments in your studio at the point of sale (POS) or online. To maximize efficiency and promote repeat business, you can schedule recurring payments. You can combine recurring payments with discount offers to encourage retention. For example, you might offer a lower monthly rate for customers who commit to a multi-month recurring billing contract.

MyStudio provides a point-of-sale solution that lets you collect payments using any device, including Apple, iOS, Windows, and Android. You can process both one-time and recurring billing transactions.

7. Set up Your Membership, Scheduling, and Customer Service Software

For your customers, the quality of their in-class experience determines whether or not they decide to remain with your martial arts school. You can improve the quality of your class experience by making it easy for customers to schedule and attend classes and ranking tests.

The most efficient way to do this is to use membership software with scheduling features, such as digital calendar tools that let customers register for classes online. You'll also want to track attendance to see when students are eligible for rank tests and to recognize and reward attendance milestones. MyStudio includes class scheduling and attendance automation features to assist you with these tasks.

A best practice for promoting attendance is to create a membership agreement specifying details such as which classes the student is eligible to attend, how many classes they're entitled to attend, price points, and other vital information. Your agreement also should include a liability waiver. Consult with your business attorney about the wording of your membership agreement.

8. Market Your Business

To get students into your studio, you need to market your business. Proven martial arts marketing ideas include:

  • Free demonstrations through venues such as schools and health clubs
  • Holding open-house events
  • Hosting tournaments
  • Offering seminars and workshops
  • Sponsoring community events
  • Teaching self-defense classes for women
  • Offering family classes
  • Partnering with local businesses
  • Digital marketing through search engines, social media, and videos
  • Blogging
  • Publishing content online and through print media
  • Doing holiday giveaways and contests
  • Offering rewards for referrals, such as discounts to students who get a friend to sign up

In today's digital economy, your website forms an essential component of your marketing plan. MyStudio includes tools to help you create a custom website design and deploy marketing tactics such as:

  • Generating leads from your website by capturing visitor contact information
  • Communicating with leads and customers through digital channels such as SMS texts, in-app messages, and email using marketing software
  • Managing customer contact information, communications, class schedule, and payment data through membership management automation
  • Empowering customers with self-service options to schedule attendance and make purchases online

These functions usually require you to purchase multiple software apps. However, MyStudio conveniently brings them all together into one interface to simplify your marketing management so you can focus on running your school.

Empower Your Martial Arts School with All-in-one Studio Software

Following the eight steps outlined above may seem like a lot of work, but fortunately, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. The MyStudio membership management platform helps you streamline your startup process by automating critical tasks you need to run and promote a martial arts school. Our all-in-one solution includes features to help you market your school online, sign up new members, process payments, track student ranking progress, and more. Start a free trial to experience for yourself how MyStudio can help you get started on the path to running a successful martial arts school.