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There’s a lot of theory floating around about marketing a martial arts school. It seems like we’re in an age of “gurus” who are giving out a lot of advice, but it can be tough to decipher between the tactics that “sound good” and the processes that have been tested and actually work.

I’ve been a student of marketing for over a decade, and I say student because much like in the martial arts, you’re never done learning. Even though I have mastered many of the techniques of marketing, I still consider myself a student.

And again, much like in martial arts, part of being a student is to evaluate your own techniques and watch for areas where you can improve. Here’s what I have found after marketing schools all over the country, from California to New York, from Minnesota to Florida, and all sorts of places in between…

Word of Mouth is Not a Marketing Strategy

Often times when I ask a school owner how he is marketing his school, he’ll tell me that it’s mostly word of mouth. When I ask how that’s working he’ll often reply, “Well, it’s not. That’s why I’m talking to you.” 

What’s worse is when a school owner tells me that most of their new students come from word of mouth. 

You might be surprised to hear me say that getting most of your students by word of mouth is a bad thing but hear me out. I understand that word of mouth is a badge of honor for a business owner, and we all want to say that our students love our school so much that they are telling all of their friends. But the reality is that if you’re getting most of your students by word of mouth, then you’re not spending enough time, energy and money on marketing.

Don’t misunderstand me. Word of mouth is definitely a part of a marketing strategy, but it can’t be the full (or even majority) of it, because you are giving up all the control of your new student flow.

When it comes to growing your school, you need to be in control of how many new opportunities you have to enroll students and word of mouth does not give you that control. You have to make up your mind that word of mouth is a bonus on top of the strategy you’re implementing if you actually want to see measurable growth in your school.

Events are Unpredictable

Community events are a great way to spend an entire day or weekend if you are a glutton for punishment. Of the many myths of martial arts marketing this one prevails as king. This tactic is so unpredictable that even the school owners who swear by it tell me that it’s a total crapshoot when it comes to events. 

Sure it might boost your ego when someone says, “Didn’t I see you in the parade?” or “Man, it was really impressive to see all those kids in that demo at the kids expo,”  but when you actually look at it from a marketing perspective and measure the ROI (Return on Investment), it’s so evident that you cannot rely on events alone to boost your bottom line.

Not only do they require a lot of hours from you and your staff, but they often require a financial investment as well. I know for a fact that many of these events want you to pay $1,000 or more just for the booth. Now, if you do the math you can rationalize that even if you only get one student from this event it will pay for itself, because the average student lifetime value is $2500. That’s true, but there are two problems with this scenario:

First, if you don’t get any students from this event you’re out $1,000 and you have no data to look at to figure out why there are no new students.

Second, how many events can you physically do? Are you going to spend every weekend at an event? Are there even enough events for you to attend if you wanted to spend every weekend at an event? And can you afford to spend $50k per year doing events and hoping that you can enroll enough students to make it profitable? These are often questions that are left unanswered and even more often unasked.

We just think it’s something we ought to be doing and we don’t even go deep enough to ask why.

I know the feeling of sitting at an event all day long, and walking away with a few leads and an empty bank account. It plain sucks. Not only does it hurt financially, but it knocks the wind out of you. 

Again, I am not advocating for us all to abandon community events, but imagine if you had a steady flow of predictable students coming in from a reliable marketing strategy, and you could go into these events with no pressure and just enjoy the time. It changes the whole perspective of the event. And with that attitude it becomes even easier to enroll students at theses events. 

“A rising tide lifts all boats!”

Schools are Going Paperless to the Detriment of Partners in Education

I talk to a lot of school owners on a monthly basis and there’s a murmur going on right now about the school system going paperless. Apps like Peachjar and other services make it very convenient for schools to disseminate information to parents, while at the same time making it all the more difficult for Partners in Education (like Martial Arts Schools) to reach those same parents. Email inboxes are bombarded with useless information and parents have to make snap decisions about what they read and what they ignore.

Gone are the days when you could print off some flyers and drop them at the school and have a blowout fall enrollment season, or a summer bump simply because a flyer went home with little Johnny on the last day of school. 

As more schools go paperless, tapping into them as a resource for marketing is drying up.

Buddy Week is Getting Harder

As the world moves more and more digital, kids are becoming less and less social. Back in the day, we’d ride our bikes across town to visit a buddy and talk about the stuff we liked. We would show off our moves and “try out” our new techniques on our friends, which sparked an interest in our buddies to come with us to karate class.

But now, our kids are interacting through screens and connecting on XBox with a microphone and headset. They’re more impressed by the skill level of the gamer than the belt you get in Karate class. So naturally, when we’re pushing buddy week the sheer number of opportunities to ask a buddy is so much lower than it used to be. I’m sure you see this in your school if you’ve been around more than 10 years.

Paid Advertising Can Be a Money Pit

Paying for advertising sometimes feels like going to a voodoo doctor. There’s so much that seems mysterious, and there are so many metrics and stats that you can track and in reality it feels a little like everything is happening behind the curtain. I’ve even heard some school owners accuse digital platforms like Google and Facebook of cheating the system and charging for “fake” clicks or false profiles.

I can’t say I have seen any significant number of false clicks or fake profiles, at least not enough to cause alarm, but I can say that when you’re running an ad and it’s not performing well, there are times when you scratch your head and wonder what is wrong.

I have personally spent well over $200,000 on digital marketing in the last couple years, and managed a lot more for other schools across the nation, and found that the thing you think is going to work almost never does, and the the thing you’re thinking will never work often does.

Marketing is a science of analyzing data, while at the same time an art of trying unconventional things out until something works. There’s a lot of testing that goes into marketing before you find that magic formula.

The Good News

The good news is that we’ve been specializing in marketing specifically for martial arts for long enough to have tested all sorts of campaigns all over the US and found a few key strategies that are working like clockwork. We’ve been able to duplicate these strategies for all sorts of different kinds of schools with relatively consistent results. We’ve worked with schools in small towns and schools in big cities. We’ve helped small schools get big and big schools get bigger.

Recently we helped a school just starting out, with only 5 students, renting temporary space in a “Pump it Up” bounce house. In one month he was able to enroll 25 students into his monthly program, and that gave him the revenue bump he needed to get his own space.


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 or trying to “figure it all out” …

If you’re ready to find out how to get a steady flow of new martial arts students in your doors consistently and on autopilot, so that you can focus on what you’re good at (teaching martial arts)….

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.