Marketing Tai Chi
Part Two – Word Of Mouth and Public Relations
When marketing your Tai Chi Chuan school, advertising may feel easier. You call a magazine/newspaper and don’t have to deal face-to-face, allowing you to stay in your comfort zone. Even printing flyers feels easier than public relations but the reality is that if I see your ad or receive your flyer, it might do nothing to persuade me to go to your school. Ok, your flyer may tell me why I should go but where is the trust? I don’t know you. There is no relationship built up where I feel comfortable to give you my money and be open enough to accept you as my teacher. Public relations introduces you without a sale being mentioned. It lets potential students know who you are and allows them to see that you are someone from whom they may want to learn.
A lot of the time people want to learn martial arts and just simply go to the nearest school or a place they have heard of before. My “product” is quite unique in that i teach martial arts in a foreign language (English is a foreign language here in Japan). This is not a marketing ploy, just a reality. This may get me some attention but believe me, it takes much more than that to get students to join. I like to think it is because I establish a relationship with them and they feel comfortable with me. They see pretty early on that this is not a business, it is a school.
Public relations may be magazine articles, newspaper stories etc and they are all great. For me though, the biggest without any doubt is word-of-mouth. People hear from someone that they already trust that they can trust me. If it is a friend of mine introducing someone, usually they are an English teacher introducing a student or friend of theirs. They trust their own teacher and the relationship is somewhat extended to me. If it is an existing student introducing a friend of theirs or family member it is even stronger. Trust is very important in the martial arts. You trust your teacher to know their stuff and know how to share it with you in the best way. You students trust you to care for their development.
Although I don’t do demonstrations outside of my school they are a good way to let people know you are there. I believe strongly in being a part of the community not a business in the community. Give your time and share what you have with those who can benefit from it. Be friendly and approachable. Establish a relationship with people before they see your flyer. They will already know who you are and there is a small level of trust already established. But beware, word-of-mouth goes both ways. I recently heard a story of a Karate Teacher in America who was joking with a student about racist things in a multicultural class. I’m half a world away and heard about it. How many people locally do you think have heard the same thing? Some of what is heard is not true and you can be almost bullet proof by having your strong personal image mentioned in the previous article. A student of mine stopped training when our schedules didn’t match up anymore yet a few months later a family friend came to my school. Kids to whom I used to teach English at an international preschool later become students of my school when their parents heard of my school by chance. I’ve been contacted by American Marines stationed in Japan who were looking for classes and heard of me through a friend of theirs. Although I couldn’t work with their schedule, I was able to introduce them to another school of which I thought highly.
Years ago a friend of mine took me to the karate dojo at which he was learning. I went out of interest – not to join. Upon seeing his teacher I was surprised to see he had a physical disability that affected his walking and kicking ability on one side. Not at all what I imagined from a Kyokushin karate teacher! Yet he was well known in the community for being a great teacher and practitioner. I had heard of him before and had never heard of his disability. Another example is the local Kendo teacher who happens to also be a police officer. He was a strong, imposing man yet was well known for his gentleness and patience with kids and foreigners (something unheard of in the country area where I lived at the time). The community will get to know you one way or the other. So, put your best out there for word-of-mouth to spread.
That’s all ok if you have someone to talk about you in the first place, but if you are just getting started in a new community where you know nobody, it can be challenging. In the last article I said don’t give discounts. However, I have to quote Sun T’zu again here:
“Win the war before going to battle.”
Teach your friends or family who may be genuinely interested for free. Get a small group going and strengthen yourself to where you can begin formal classes. Talk to people. Tell them you are training in the mornings at a park or whatever time you can continually keep. Invite them along. Those who are dedicated will show you and will stay with you.
Many people use their websites to attract students. The big question with websites is, “Why do you have one?” Is it for potential students to find you? Is it information for your existing students to learn from? Is it a history lesson? As martial artists, lineage and the history of our style is important to us. But recently a friend of mine was looking for schools to attend and asked “Was it a martial arts school or a history school”? Jokingly, he pointed out that many sites have a little too much historical information on them if the site is supposed to represent a school. Give your students and potential students information that will help them at this stage of their training, not a history lesson. Have relevant information that will show them what your school teaches and what the lessons are about. I guess less is sometimes more! Either way, people will talk about you, your school, your site, etc. Give them something positive to talk about!
– by Steve Gilshenen
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