Big Moves for Small Business

Big Moves for Small Business How to make your dojo a marketing success
As experienced instructors, you know: it’s the beginner student who teaches the teacher. I’ve had a similar experience recently while transforming Fortune 500, big-budget business ideas into easy-to-use plans for dojo owners. Helping my son launch an Aikido dojo in Portland, OR, I’ve learned how this works for a dojo… applying and implementing resources when every penny was scarce and he required immediate results.

In corporate America, we began by researching and analyzing the “market” and the audience we were trying to reach – often a timely and costly endeavor. I’ve already performed some of the legwork for you. What did we discover? While teaching may be a part-time avocation for many, it’s a full-time commitment. As with many artists, business and marketing efforts become part of a continuous to-do list that may often feel alien to the teaching philosophies. It takes money to implement and requires trade-offs with more important teaching goals. But unless potential students are constantly made aware of your dojo and services, it will be challenging to realize the full potential of your dojo dreams.

This is why you need an affordable and successful marketing plan. We started with simple marketing goals: to gain exposure for the dojo and attract new students. Like many new businesses the marketing budget was scanty. So, my priority was in finding free or low cost ways to achieve our objectives.

Here are the steps we’ve taken that can surely help any dojo, yoga studio, or small business owner attract new students or community members.

Who’s in your market?

A renowned Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives famously stated “all politics is local.” Paraphrasing him I’d say, “all dojo marketing is local.” This is not literally true but offers an insightful guideline for those of us trying to attract and retain students for a dojo.

You know what services or disciplines you want to offer. You may have an idea of who you want to attract: children, teens, adults, seniors, families, the handicapped, commuters, corporations, etc. Setting your priorities is made easier with insights about which of these groups have the most money to spend in your area. Free online tools can help you find out.

• Identify all the ZIP codes and area codes within a 5-mile and 10-mile radius of your dojo – powerful data for focusing any marketing efforts. Many sites provide this information, some on a very limited free basis, and most require a registration. After checking out a dozen or so sites I found Melissa Data, a specialist in direct mail, [] to be the most user friendly and flexible.

• Learn the population demographics – that is, the age, gender, income, number households - within each ZIP code to understand where the highest concentrations of people live. This will help you prioritize your time and budget. One of the best places to start is with US Census Bureau []. Check out the “QuickFacts” link for your state and try the other data button to find the “General Demographics Characteristics” – Table DP-1 will show you sex, age, household and other demographics by ZIP code or county. Or go to Census Bureau Fact Finders, input each ZIP code you are interested in and get the relevant profile. [].

• Think about where you can easily reach the most people with a single contact. Focus on the best schools, major employers, community support groups within your target ZIP codes. There are numerous general sources available to get started or to check your existing resources, some of the more useful include: you can input “companies” and your locations to get a starting list of companies []; and online phone directories such as Verizon SuperPages [] allow you to search for companies by city. The nice thing about these online sites is the ability you gain to quickly collect email addresses or in many cases, website links, for prospects you want to target.

Neighborhood Link [] will identify local clubs and neighborhood groups in target ZIP codes. Start with a state search or by entering a ZIP code. Welcome Wagon [] allows you to input a ZIP code or city name and explore “Community” associations of various types. These proved to be excellent starting points for tapping into neighborhood links and uncovering new possibilities for improving local awareness. input your city of interest and access subject matter profile data; the “city Economy” link usually contains some industry and company data. []
Many of the best sources are the state and community websites that vary from state to state. These include area universities, state government agencies, city and state development commissions, and online libraries.

Much of the information you need is available free but it will take you time and persistence. It’s well worth it because you will now have a basis for setting priorities. You’ll know which schools to go to, where to list in which phone books, where to try to place posters, and, at the appropriate time where to pay for shopper coupons or newspaper advertising.

Attract the Wide World to your website.

In our case, we have been building and renovating our dojo. So while construction was being completed, we shifted focus from purely local efforts to general online marketing and dojo exposure. The objective here was to make it easy for people looking for an Aikido dojo to find us. We are also proud of our website in that it represents our dojo and philosophy (, so sharing it with the world was an easy step. Here are some steps for you to consider.

• Use online searches to identify “popular” or high page-ranked dojos and examine their keywords to get an idea of what the major search engines were looking for. This is particularly important for identifying local directories that potential customers use when searching for services such as yours. The key is to put yourself in the shoes of a prospect and ask how you would seek your services. • Using your relevant set of key words, conduct free backlinks analyses to identify reputable martial arts directories that list disciplines or dojos you offer (for us these were general martial arts, Aikido, Jodo and Iaido). Many excellent directory sources offer free listings, some require registration or a free subscription to a newsletter, and some only list dojos associated with a particular style or federation. But you should find a dozen or more that meet your needs. A word of caution: there are many sources that want a reciprocal link from your site. This may or may not make sense for your needs.

• Submit your site to the MAJOR search engines: Google™, Yahoo™ and MSN™ are musts (and I recommend DMOZ); each of these has free submission options, along with “for pay” alternatives.

• Local directories are a must. List the dojo in every online directory serving the neighborhoods you want to serve. By local directories I include everything from online yellow pages, to city directories, to neighborhood blogs. For the special neighborhood sites write unique descriptions about your business and how it contributes to the local area. Emphasize special programs you have designed for the community.

• Exchange links with other dojos in the area and with dojos in your federation or with whom you have special relationships.

• Leave your link in forum postings, chat rooms, and the like. Be sure to include your site name in an email tag with every email you send.

Okay, but I still need students

Now on to some free marketing ideas for generating traffic through your front door and onto the mats.

• Take a personal approach to your press release activities. Focus your attention on key neighborhood periodicals and meet the staff personally – we have found this much more effective that simply mailing press releases. You’ll be announcing dojo openings, seminars, special events, results of ranking tests and more. Get to know the key media people, neighborhood groups and bloggers in your area. Invite them to the dojo. Grant interviews about your dojo and events in your neighborhood.

• Free market data about martial arts consumers is scarce. One frequently cited article reveals some 2003 data from American Demographics “Your Questions Answered - estimated 18.1 mil Americans took part in karate or some other form of martial art at least once in the past year” and can be found on LookSmart’s FindArticles at
One finding in that article is that martial arts participants tend to be very active in other sports. In the Portland area these include many outdoor activities like hiking and snow boarding. Get to know the clubs and associations for similar activities in your market and cross-link with them, co-sponsor events, write for their newsletter, etc.

• You know where the schools are. Go to each and offer some “free lessons” as a package for their fund raising events.

• Put your company and website name on everything you print: Put it on your T-shirt. Business cards, press releases, stationary, advertising, invoices, statements, get a vanity license plate, coffee cups, posters, … the more times it is seen the more traffic you’ll see.

• Co-sponsor a community event at the dojo. An art exhibit? A fund raiser? A safety seminar?

• Consider bartering your services or a free referral from your website in exchange for services.
Several excellent sites for general articles on managing a dojo, including marketing tips, are listed below. These sites offer free articles covering numerous issues facing dojo owners.

The Fighting Arts – on their site access the “Reading Room” on the top right of the home page; click on “The business Side of Martial Arts” under Martial Arts Topics. Martial Arts Info – Click on “Articles” on the left side toward the bottom of the home page, and then click on “owners” for some pithy articles.

Please email me with any additional creativity that has worked for you and I will add to them to the list and share them with the world in future updates.
Clarence Selin

About The Author

Clarence Selin is a free lance consultant devoted to bringing the power of the internet and proven marketing expertise to small businesses. His passion is helping small businesses effectively market their services and tap into resources usually available to companies with big budgets. Before becoming an independent consultant Clarence was a marketing and business development executive with General Electric and AT&T. He introduced new consumer and telecommunications products and managed new ventures. He can be reached at

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