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Are you making one or more of these mistakes? 

Marketing a martial arts school is harder than ever. With the digital age fully upon us there’s a lot to learn and very little time to learn it.

That’s how mistakes happen. It’s not your fault.  You’re a martial artist not a marketing guru, but what if someone had already gone before you, made the mistakes, and could give you a fresh look before you waste any more money on advertising? 

I’ve spent literally over a million dollars on advertising. For martial arts schools, these are the top three mistakes I see that are completely sucking your bank account dry and not returning any measurable results. If you’re making one of these mistakes, you can stop the bleeding and know that it’s not your fault.

These mistakes are pervasive throughout the country and are being perpetuated by a chain of unknowing dojo owners copying the competition for just long enough to find that it doesn’t work.

1. Boosting Posts on Facebook 

Occasionally, if you post something on your Facebook page, you’ll get a notification from Facebook that says something like, ‘Your post is doing 80% better than other posts on your page. Other page admins that boosted a post like this reached fifty thousand people,” then a nice convenient button to boost it for $5 a day…

So what’s wrong with that? You probably think, “Man…if people just knew I was here I would probably get more students, right? Besides, it’s only five bucks a day…that’s not bad.” So you click boost and off you go to teach class….

A month later you’ve spent $150 and NO NEW STUDENTS… Then you get frustrated, turn off the ad, curse Mark Zuckerberg for stealing your money and look for some other way to get students.

Here’s the REAL problem with boosting posts…

Unclear Message: Your post probably doesn’t have a clear call to action, telling your audience exactly what you want them to do when they see the ad. Think about the difference between perfume commercials and McDonalds commercials…. 

You’ve seen these commercials for perfume…no one in their right mind has any clue what the commercial is for, the imagery is always amazing and captivating, sometimes there’s a celebrity saying a bunch of nonsensical words and trying to be all artsy…then you see a logo for some perfume, and you think…what were my eyes just exposed to?

On the other hand, McDonalds gives you a few key benefits, shows a mouth watering burger up close, and says “Come in Today and Get one for a Dollar.” I personally don’t even like McDonald’s food at all (yuck), but when the commercial comes on my mouth waters and I get hungry for a burger. 

See the difference? When you boost a post, you’re telling Facebook to show your crazy post to a bunch of unqualified people. 

The good news is that Facebook has a business manager with all sorts of advanced tools to not only target a better audience, but there are way more options for the types of ads and actions you want to tell your audience to take. This means you can run a specific ad, with a clear offer (like Get a Free Week of Karate), and only show the ad to a specific audience (like moms who live less than 10 minutes from your school).

2. Running Your Paid Trial Offer as an Ad

I see these ads all the time. 

  • Get 5 weeks for $55
  • Try a week for $19.95
  • Etc

And don’t get me wrong, in the long run they can be profitable if done correctly. The problem is that these ads will have your cashflow upside down for months before you actually see the profits. It might cost you $300-400 per trial on a good campaign. So you’re paying $400 to get someone to pay $19.95 and then you have to hope they sign up as a student after the trial so recoup that investment over a few months. Now try to scale that and you’re paying $4,000 to get ten trials…you see where I’m going with this.

Yes, they will generate very qualified leads, because these people are ready to put their money up to try a class. However, you’re going to miss out on a LOT of leads that WOULD gladly pay you for a trial, but they don’t know enough about you yet, and they don’t trust you yet. To get someone’s attention on Facebook or any type of advertising, your offer has to be “Crazy” and irresistible. But you also have to have a plan to recoup your ad spend or at least offset it so that you can scale your advertising to create real sustainable growth.

That leads to the next problem…

3. Running an Ad for a Free Trial Without a Solid Upgrade Plan


A lot of school owners tell me, “I tried running a Free Trial ad and I couldn’t afford to keep it going.” Makes sense, right? I mean if you’re going to give away a week, how long can you run that ad without bringing in any money? Seems like the paid trial would be a better option since you’re actually bringing in some revenue and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel months later. But we have found a way to not only offset, but in most cases be profitable in the first couple months.

The secret sauce is having a solid upgrade plan from day one before going into the first lesson.  You can actually make money by offering a Free Week AND a private lesson IF you have a solid plan and a Better Offer that they will want to take instead of the Free Week.

What’s Better Than FREE?  More Value (for a tiny upgrade) 

That’s where the magic of a solid upgrade plan (we call it the Value Ladder) comes in. Here’s how it works:

Let’s Break this down
Since we’ve established that the only way to get enough attention is to offer the free week, we now need to figure out how to recoup that spend quickly. Profit is great, but cash flow is king. If you have a big pile of money in the back of the dojo to spend on advertising, then you can skip this part. Otherwise, here is how you can afford to continue advertising a free week perpetually…

The “Better Offer” upgrade

Once they come in to your school for the free week, you want to figure out how to collect money from them as fast as possible. It’s not because you’re greedy, but in order to continue advertising, you need some cash flow asap. So, the best way to create cash flow is to offer your potential students something of more value for a small upgrade.

It’s easy to go from Free to $50 after they’ve met you, seen your school and understand all you have to offer to improve the lives of your students. Especially if you include a “free” uniform as part of the paid trial.

We recommend that you offer them the choice between the Free Week (in street clothes) and a $49 one-month trial with a Free uniform. In our example we are showing 75% (3 out of 4) choosing the paid trial over the free week. In reality, it’s closer to 95% once you get the hang of explaining it.

The secret to getting almost everyone to upgrade is all in the words you choose. Believe it or not, your words matter, and the way you put them together matters. A lot.

The best time to present the offer choices is at the end of the private lesson. And here is what we say:

Okay, I see that you’re here on the Free Week Offer, and that’s great. Little Johnny can come in wearing his street clothes or work out gear, and he can participate in the class all week…no problem.

We also have another offer going as well, and I think its a better offer. This one is $49 for a whole month long trial and it comes with a free uniform, so little Johnny will feel like part of the class, and he gets a whole month to try it out and see how he likes it.

So it’s really up to you, you can do the free week in street clothes or you can do the forty-nine dollar month with the free uniform, and you can go home with the uniform tonight (then hold up the uniform so the student can see it). Which one is better for you? (and look at mom/dad and be completely silent.)

Once you get used to this, almost everyone will choose the $49 paid trial.

Upgrade to a Program in Week 2 or 3 of the Trial
After 2 or 3 weeks in the trial, they should be so in love with your school that upgrading to a program should be a no-brainer. The key to helping them make the decision is to have a private meeting with mom/dad, and genuinely complement the student, pointing out how well he/she is doing in class, and then ask them how they feel about the time spent in class.

Then explain the program you recommend for the student, and tell them the price with confidence expecting them to sign up.

The Bottom Line
We’ve figured out that the WORSE case scenario if you’re doing everything right, is that for every $300 you spend on ads, you should see at least 3 paid trials, and at least one program enrollment. This means that if you’re in a tough market, you should at least make up your ad spend in the first month, and then every month after that you’ll be making more and more profit.

Most of the schools we work with are doing 2 to 10 times better than the “worse case” scenario. Obviously we can’t make any guarantees, because it all depends on many factors outside of our control. All we can do is tell you what other schools are doing so that you can do your best to replicate those results.

If you’re sick of wasting time at community events and kids expos trying to “get your name out there” only to return with a couple names… 

If you’re tired of getting bogged down in all the technical stuff of marketing…

Then, I want to share with you how we consistently fill the mats at martial arts schools with PAYING students on my Free Case Study Webinar. (CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE FREE CASE STUDY WEBINAR AND SEE FOR YOURSELF)

About the author: Jon Evans is an author, entrepreneur and owner of, a marketing agency that specializes in helping Martial Arts Schools grow.