These same instructors, myself included, often feel uneasy about charging what we feel is a significant amount of money for tuition because our instincts to help our students at any cost usually take over. "I know things are rough. Don't worry about paying this month, just keep training and we'll figure it out as we go." That's a conversation I've had more often than I care to admit while running my storefront school (which I later closed, but for unrelated reasons which I'll talk about later in this article). What clicked for me was when I sat down with my fiancé at the time going over our personal bills, and noticing that we were struggling when on paper I had more than enough students to cover all of our expenses with additional profit. So what was happening?
The problem with most martial arts schools is they are run by martial artists. What I've just described is all too common, and many instructors face divorce or bankruptcy over it. We place our passion for martial arts over the needs of the business, and our personal lives, and that's just not sustainable long term. So what's the solution? Do we never give people a break, and become "cold" and "heartless" businessmen? No, of course not. But there must be a system in place to compensate for the loss of tuition. Perhaps quarterly fundraisers that go into a separate account, to be used in place of short-term tuition lost so if a student comes to you and says "I can't really afford it this month, I'm going to have to quit," you can turn around and say that it's covered and you can work with the student to figure out the following months. That's the benefit of being a small business owner instead of being part of a national chain or franchise.
The other problem is that while we set our prices, many times we find ourselves keeping up with other schools in the area. If you're charging $125, and the other schools in the area are charging $75 per month, it's only logical to lower your rates to keep up, right? WRONG! If you feel your program is worth $125, or whatever it is you're charging, then you need to stick to it. People are always saying "you get what you pay for" and nothing could be more true, but you must show how you set yourself apart from the other instructors. Whether it's your credentials, your experience, the quality of your training or whatever it is, you must be willing to back up your claims of being worth it.
When I closed my storefront in June of this year, people thought I was insane for closing down a profitable business. Like everyone else in my area, I was running after-school pickup and summer camp programs. These programs are very lucrative, but they were not attracting the clientele I wanted. As a martial artist I wanted students, not just customers. There we days I dreaded going to my own dojo because of it. So I walked away, but I didn't lower my rates when I began teaching out of my home. I still charge $125 a month for new students, with more advanced students paying $150. Why? Because that's what I feel is a fair rate for the experience I provide. As an instructor, I don't just provide daily 45-minute classes. I am available for my students 24/7 if they are ever in need. Even students who are no longer actively training or paying. They can contact me anytime with training questions (and often do), or something more personal and they know I will be there to help in any way I can.
You see, it's not the facility that makes the dojo, but the people. The word dojo translates as "place to practice the way," not "million dollar state of the art training facility." So wherever you are offering instruction, whether its in a garage, a backyard, a park, a gym, a storefront or a large building, you are entitled to receive the compensation you deserve for passing on information that you have put numerous years of blood, sweat and tears into obtaining. There's nothing wrong with being compensated fairly for your services. People pay ridiculous amounts of money for the latest gaming system, or electronics, or clothes. Why should martial arts instruction, which is so much more than just an extracurricular activity, be worth any less?