I have been a Martial Artist for 26 years. I’ve been running Martial Arts academies for 20 years. When I was younger, it was all about the energy and excitement of the academy. Classes rocking night after night. Smiling, ecstatic families shaking my hand year after year, telling me that I’d changed their kid’s life. The challenge and thrill of competition. The comradery and “family” culture of our organization. I was honored. I was doing what I loved to do.I was successful. I was on fire.
Fast forward 15 years. I’m still running a successful academy. Some things never change: Classes still rocking night after night. Families still honoring me with accolades and heartfelt thanks for what I do for their kids. Our organization still feeling like a “family”, still feeling like home. However, one key change – in me and in where I wanted to be both personally and professionally. Here’s the gist of the question that crossed my mind more than once at that point in my career: “How can we be working so hard, and provide such great experiences for people, but still not be making the money that I want us to make?”. Now don’t get me wrong – by most accounts, we were doing well. Our student count, our quit rate and our monthly gross all looked healthy and on point. Yet somewhere, somehow, amidst the steady, hard-fought growth and relative success of my business, the rewards no longer outweighed the investment of time, energy, risk and work. Somewhere there was a disconnect. We (my team and I) were doing everything “right”. So where was the magic key that would unlock our full potential and get us to consistently hit the numbers and financial goals I wanted? Here’s how it happened:
As a young school owner/operator, I began my Martial Arts career with the mindset of: “If we just teach good martial arts and treat people right, the money will come”. I ran great classes and attended seminars and conferences throughout the year to stay in tune with the latest trends, education, and development our industry had to offer. By around 2009-2010, this formula was proving successful – but only up until a certain point. Around this time I hired a consultant to come in and work with me, in an effort to dial in on my finances. After all, if our martial arts, curriculum, marketing, ongoing education and team members are all solid – the nuts and bolts of my company’s finances and books must be what’s holding us back from reaching the next level, right? Again, close but definitely no cigar.
During a tumultuous 2010-2011 period, I questioned if I really still wanted to own and operate Martial Arts academies. Could I continue to withstand the toll it was exacting on me and my family personally and financially? After all these years of just working harder, working smarter, taking the high road, showing up early and staying late, developing amazing Instructors, delivering exceptional service – was I ready finally to throw in the towel? During this difficult time, my business endured change – some of it exciting and some of it painful. In hindsight, all of it necessary for us to experience in order to prepare us for what was about to happen: Real, measurable change. Seismic change. Big, audacious, scary change. And here’s what we had to do: BE.
Up to this point, I’d gone to nearly every conference, seminar series, bought into consulting, marketing and business development programs out there – both in our Martial Arts industry and outside the industry. In my earnest efforts to improve my business, I had taken pieces of other successful Martial Arts schools and layered them on top of an already successful system created by those who came before me. I bought things, I went to seminars. I paidconsultants, I read books and magazines. Someone had to be able to help me, I just needed to keep buying programs, work really hard and learn what other people were doing. As a Martial Artist and a competitor, it was in my nature to achieve and win – as long as a more knowledgeable person (like my Instructor) was telling me what to do – as long as someone was giving me The Answer.
Now, I want to take a moment here to be clear: I am NOT downplaying or casting any negative light on our industry’s great consultants and business leaders. There are owners and consultants in our industry who have successfully coached and supported hundreds – perhaps thousands – of academies over the years with real, helpful, powerful information. I am one of those owners who has gleaned solid, worthwhile information from Martial Arts education and business development consultants and organizations over the years, and I want to be clear about that. The point of my experience is not that all of that was worthless – far from it. It’s just that using others’ systems and strategies helped me up to a certain point, at which my team and I plateaued. What happened next for us was what bolstered us over our plateau. It’s my truth and my experience, plain and honest.
In late 2012 I met Rudy Miick and he helped us define –not create -our purpose and values. My work with Rudy also gave us a toolset called Conscious Communication©. Over the next three years we became very explicit about who we were and where we were going. During this time I realized we didn’t need another program, we didn’t need another consultant, everything we needed we had.We just needed to do the work, and make sure it was rooted in purpose and values. We just had to BE – all the time, every day , BE On Purpose. I am telling you that this deceptively simple sounding concept has been the most challenging, deep, potent level of professional training that I have ever experienced. This is not a fluffy Facebook meme, accompanied by a picture of a sunset or a waterfall. This is hard, complex, laser-focused work. This is consistent, relentless follow up, leadership and support for my team. This is serious stuff. And it works.
Since 2013, I have instituted four major changes in my business.
#1: Purpose and Values. Who are we? Is every single team member here for exactly the same reasons? What do we stand for? What do we really do? The answers might surprise you. My team and I got ridiculously explicit about who we are, what we do and why we do what we do. We took a solemn vow to remain resolute on what our Purpose is and what our Operating Values are. Key point: We use these as active, live tools every single day, in every interaction with each other, our students, families and community members. These are not mission statements that hang on a wall. They are as real to us as a computer, mats, software and pens & paper in our daily business operations. I have found this aspect of our Purpose and Values to truly differentiate the potency and subsequent results that my team and I have experienced.
#2:) Conscious Communication©. This – and this is HUGE – is how we communicate with each other. To do serious, impactful work we must have serious, impactful communication tools. Anything else is finger painting and paper towels; We are here to create a masterpiece.
# 3. Open book management. Gone are the days when my wife and I knew exactly how our business was doing each month, but like children, our staff only needed to know that “things are going well” or “things are a little tight”. No more. I expect that my staff will make mature, adult financial decisions for our company – On Purpose, guided by our Values. In order to do this, they must be treated like mature, adult professionals. That means that they know where every cent comes from and where every cent goes – every month. My P&L, including what I personally take home – is seen and discussed by our staff at weekly meetings.
#4. Staff training. My team and I continue to train on, practice and develop our communication skills, as well as our understanding and use of Purpose and Values. We train together every week on this, and actively use the tools with each other and our students throughout the week. As Martial Arts students, we did not learn a piece of curriculum, practice the moves several times, never re-visiting, practicing or using those moves again until the day of our Black Belt test, expecting to be great. The same is true for our skill sets – they are real tools that we use every day. They are alive, moving in real time, allowing us to solve real problems and to move forward in measureable ways as a team. I also continue to reach out to great Martial Arts leaders and business people in our industry, to keep fresh knowledge and ideas flowing into my academy throughout the year. My team and I have had the privilege of working with Master Greg Horton and his Mastery Martial Arts team in the last few years, which has been a valuable and worthwhile experience. My team attends fantastic seminars with Master Dave Kovar, and we plan to attend additional seminars and conferences in 2017, to expose our young team members to the greater Martial Arts community across the nation. The big difference now is we look to these people for knowledge, not answers. We gather knowledge, filter it through our Purpose and Values, and come up with our own answers for our business.
Implementing, committing to and following through on our work with Rudy Miick has given our company the following results:
By the Numbers:
By 2014, we made a slight profit up from the previous year. By 2015, our Net profit was over six figures. As of the time this article is published, our Year to Date Net profit is up 30% from last year at this time.
Culture, Lifestyle, Future Growth:
- Opening a new location in June, 2016 with a fully trained Chief Instructor able to run the academy to our Brand Standard. This location broke even within the first 30 days of opening its doors!
- My wife was able to quit her job, and now we get to spend most of our time together, rather than seeing each other for a few hours at night and on weekends.
- My staff is so ingrained with our Purpose, Values and our communication tools that they make decisions for our company every day that I do not need to be part of unless I choose to.
- My team and I have had very difficult conversations and interactions – and come out on the other side feeling heard, supported and stronger. As great a company as we are, I do not believe we can truly say that would have always happened even 5-6 years ago.
Why is my story powerful? Why did I write this article? I do not expect my path and my story to click or resonate with everyone. We are individuals as martial artists and as business owners. What is true for me may not be true for you. What excites and motivates me may not do the same for you, and vice versa. But here is what I know: For 2 decades I worked my tail off, providing customers a Martial Arts experience of a caliber and level of excellence they simply cannot find anywhere else in our area, and, I believe, is one of the top Martial Arts experiences to be found in our country. BUT I was personally bringing home money that I easily could have made at a white collar, 9-5 job.. Heading into my 40’s, I wanted financial results that were different than those I had been satisfied with in my 20’s or 30’s. Purpose, Values and Conscious Communication© got me there. The skill sets that I have implemented and continued to train with my staff, as well as other businesses in my area have been game-changing for me. I already was everything I needed to be in order to “unlock” the potential I believed was there. I was enough. My team was enough. We are enough; we just need to BE. We had to be willing to leave the finger paints behind and get serious about creating our masterpiece. The invitation is to get serious about who you are and where you want to go. Be resolute, be willing to work incredibly hard at something that seems ridiculously simple. Commit, resolve and do not waver. It takes more courage and perseverance than you may realize to simply BE who you and your team truly are. If this interests and excites you, I would be honored to talk to you about my work and training. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org and my cell phone number is 262-844-6030. The invitation is out there, for anyone willing to take it.