The Quality of your Life is the Quality of your Communication

The quality of your life is the quality of your communication.

Having said that, how's business?

By the time you read this, we'll be kneed deep into 1997, and with summer fast approaching, the season notorious for fitness business slow-down, will you be one of the lucky ones able to sustain your club another year, or like many I've spoken to recently, are you seriously considering closing the doors of your club once and for all? If you find yourself leaning toward the latter, have you ever considered you might be your biggest problem?

Here's one of my little stories.

I was sitting with an old friend the other day sipping cappuccino when a beautiful statuesque blond waltzed by our table. “Why can't I meet a girl like that?” he questioned, turning his head around further than I thought humanly possible. “Well, you can meet a girl like that.” I answered with a slight smile as I looked over his forty-plus inch waistline, wet and torn black canvas sneakers, ripped, dirty jeans and unshaven face. “But once you meet her, what do you think is it about you that would attract her to stay? Are you really communicating what it is a woman like that would be attracted to?” Needless to say, our conversation was a short one.

As a club owner, you not only want prospective students signing up. This is a business you're running, and you need the income. New members are your life's blood. Unfortunately, things like the psychology of selling, advertising, phone procedures, the art of negotiating, verbal communications skills, hand-shaking, dressing for success, and the art of closing a membership agreement were never taught in class or covered during your black belt grading. But you ran out and started up your own club anyway.

So I'm going to ask you again. How's business? Would you consider your club to be a booming success? Are you having a tough time handling that over abundance of cash flow? Would you like to invest in a movie? Or are you like most club owners I know – surviving?

Lets talk about your club. To the uninitiated, martial arts clubs can be very intimidating places. There are a lot of people in there dressed funny, and yelling quite a bit. Most of the public's perception of the martial arts is what they get from watching television and movies, and we, as martial artists, know there's nothing further from the truth. But then again, is it really? What exactly are you doing to dispel these myths? Do the name of your club, and sign you have hanging out front just ooze comfort, or are they intimidating to the average person? You know, big ugly dragons that people may interpret as cult like, or pictures of people fighting and throwing high-flying kicks through the air. Does your storefront window display martial arts weapons that to the public conjure up thoughts of fear and violence? Think about it. Who are you selling to? Martial artists? No. Draw the public in on their level of comfort, and then introduce them to your world. The way some of you are doing it now, you're not even getting them in your door.

Once inside the club, does it smell? There's nothing more unattractive than a place that smells. And the stench of sweat is bad enough, but that carpet you got for a song from the furniture company that went out of business after 50 years is way worse. Lose it! And that couch you expect your student's parents to sin on? Enough said.

Now lets take a look at you. I know that you judge others by their physical appearance – most of us do – so what do you think the public sees when they meet you? No offense, but is there a reason people don't feel comfortable approaching you? If how you appear to the public is bad for business, you might consider changing. It is, however, your choice.

When a prospective student enters your club, how do you greet them? Do you make eye contact immediately and welcome them with a hearty handshake, offering your name first and asking for theirs? If not, try it. And Heaven forbid asking a prospective student, “Can I help you?” You don't want them saying “No” before you even have a chance to tell them the benefits of your club. Try asking, “What brings you into my club today?” They may just say that it's cold outside, but at least it's something you can talk about. You can then drive the conversation in any direction you choose.

I could go on forever, and normally I would, but space here doesn't allow it. So just consider these few points.

Wearing your gi and black belt to meet the public may serve to intimidate them, and as a businessman, is that really your goal? Would a nice tracksuit with the club name embroidered on the breast better serve your purpose? You might be surprised at how many orders for tracksuits you'll get from students.

Don't oversell your club. Of course you're proud of your accomplishments, but wait until your relatives come in to talk up a storm. Only you know your sales presentation, so I can't help you there, but you might want to consider peppering it with a statement such as, “So what do you think?” They'll have to answer, and when they do, if favorable, stop selling! They may have seen enough, and your next question should be “Will that be cash, check or Visa?”

And some things, although simple, can be easily forgotten, but their impact on the public can be great. Like don't call your membership contract a contract. Nobody likes contracts. It's a membership agreement. And don't ever ask anyone to sign it. Ask them, if they agree that all the numbers discussed are correct, to endorse it. We've been taught all our lives never to sign a contract, but no one really minds endorsing an agreement.

Running a successful martial arts club doesn't begin and end with your ability to punch, kick or flip. It requires that you be, among other things, a top notch motivator of people, a sales manager, a marketing manager (your yellow page ad is often the first thing the public sees and should be designed with that in mind), and a public relations guru – all wrapped into one neat little professional package, dressed for success.

I could make a list of martial arts club owners I know that could, and should be modeled by most others. And you know who they are too. You've been complaining about them for years, and for good reason. You say they ‘steal' your business. But do they really? Or is it that they understand that the quality of their life is the quality of their communication?

They're professionals.

Having said that. How's business?

Till next time, stay sharp!

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