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Student Recruitment On A Shoestring

By Christopher Caile

You can spend a lot of money recruiting new students for your martial arts school, but you always don't have to. Many small schools, or those teaching through recreation programs, or clubs in high school, colleges or at universities, just don't have the financial resources to expend for traditional advertising. But this doesn't mean there aren't effective low cost alternatives.

"Ask your students to become ambassadors for your school."

A simple but effective recruitment method is utilize your own students -- they are your most valuable asset. Use them to publicize your school and to distribute promotional materials. But to make this work, you have to organize a program that can consistently and effectively work for you. Here is a simple program that has proved effective for others.

Postcards

Give your students postcards (mini flyers) to distribute to their friends, family and other potential students. They can offer a free introductory class or classes.

To increase their effectiveness:

Include a personal message from you, the instructor or owner, talking about the benefits of study.

Ask the recipient to talk to the person actually giving him the post card about his or her own dojo experience and what value the student found in practice. This cements interest in your school and in the value of study before the potential student ever gets to your door.

Flyers

Ask your students to hang flyers on bulletin boards of grocery stores, convenience stores (such as 7-Eleven), houses of worship, windows of stores in your neighborhood, and in local high schools (you will need permission), colleges or universities.

One effective method for flyers is to include small "tear off strips" at the bottom of the flier with your dojo's name and telephone number (printed vertically). If you use these, however, it is important to replace the flyers regularly.

Design the flyers for the area and audience where they will be posted. Use different colors, messages and pictures. You can highlight special summer programs, after school classes, pre-school age classes, classes to build student's self-confidence, self-defense programs, etc.

When a student calls or comes in with a flyer or tear off sheet, find out where it was seen and note which message was on the flier.

VIP Passes

"Utilize your own students -- they are your most valuable asset."

Ask your students to become ambassadors for your school. Create a business card size VIP guest pass entitling the recipient to two or four weeks of free lessons. You might also include a free uniform. Your students can be encouraged to always keep a few of these passes with them.

Encourage your students to talk to friends, schoolmates, relatives and people they meet about your school, their own experience and what they have gained from study. And ask them to hand these passes out whenever they ever start talking about their martial arts.

You or selected students can also visit school guidance counselors. Explain the values of discipline, role models, building respect and etiquette that your art can provide. Give examples of particular success stories. Suggest that your VIP Pass might be just the thing for students who could benefit from study.

Give out special VIP Passes to local churches, schools, summer athletic clubs or groups, special organizations for their fund-raisers and raffles. If you check the area within a couple of miles of you dojo your will be surprised at how many of these type organizations exist.

Offer more than just one or two free lessons. The offer of a free lesson is expected and is therefore is perceived as having little real value. But two weeks or four weeks of free lessons is something else. It will be valuable to the student and will give them enough time to catch on to your martial art and develop and interest in continuing.

You will easily be able to tell which new VIP Pass students are most enjoying your art and their new experience. Don't wait until the end of the free lessons to talk to them about joining. If they are interested you can also offer them incentives to do it now rather than waiting until their free program ends. This way you can benefit from their enthusiasm.


Special Promotions

Once or twice a year have a contest with prizes for the person who distributes or posts the most fliers, post cards or VIP Passes or brings in the most new students.

Tracking Your Efforts

Track which effort, flyers, postcards or VIP Passes work best for you and where.

Track flyer messages. Which produced the best results, and where?

Track when new students join. Do they join at the end of the summer, or when the new year begins? Then, tailor your distribution of new flyers, postcards and VIP Pass distribution to these periods to generate maximum effect.

Track your students who are most effective in your promotional efforts. Have each student initial the back of the postcards, flyers, and VIP Passes he or she distributes. Flyer tabs can be similarity marked but this effort is often too much for many students. Either pick a time for everyone to get together and mark your promotional materials, or do it yourself with a simple 2-3 number code assigned to the students participating.

Reward Your Students

When a new students signs up and you can track their recruitment to an existing student's effort, reward the student.

The reward can be a fixed value to be used toward the purchase of anything in the dojo, entry to an event or tuition. Everyone can be treated equally, or you can create a graduated reward program to provide extra incentives to you biggest achievers.

Give special recognition to the most successful students. Mention them at the end of class, or at special school occasions; use their names in school newsletters, give them special awards or recognition plaques, or hang their pictures with the goal achieved in the school where you post other special information.


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About The Author

Christopher Caile has been a student of the martial arts for over 40 years, and a teacher for more than 35 years. He has an MA in International Relations with a specialty in southeast Asia, and has lived and traveled in Japan, Okinawa and south and southeast Asia. He is 6th degree black belt in Seido karate under Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, a long time student of aikido under Roy Suenaka (Wado-kai aikido), as well as a student of other martial arts (including daito ryu aikijujutsu, judo, boxing and several Chinese arts) and Zen. He is also a teacher of qi gong (Chinese energy medicine), in which he trained under Master Zaiwen Shen and is Vice-President of the DS International Qi Medicine Association.

In his business career he has been a newspaper journalist and entrepreneur of several business ventures, and he designed innovative telecommunication and marine products which were developed in companies he founded. In 1999 he founded FightingArts.com (which went live in August 2000) and its parant company eCommunities LLC.

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