5-Step Guerrilla Marketing for Martial Arts Schools

Need summer conversions at your martial arts school? Try guerilla marketing. We assure you it has nothing to do with bringing an actual gorilla along with your demo team. While that would be impressive…we don’t recommend it.

Guerilla marketing is a catchy turn-of-phrase that describes marketing techniques that stray from the traditional methods you may know—direct mail, radio, print ads, and even today’s digital marketing—to get maximum exposure and impact. Examples include putting underwear on a statue, branding public spaces (with permission, of course), and vending machines creating awareness about areas without clean drinking water.

During the summer, martial arts schools typically experience a shift in enrollment. Parents are less interested in enrolling their kids in activities that they perceive as year-long activities and more interested in filling their summer with activities that can be enjoyed without disrupting summer vacation plans.

Creating your own guerrilla marketing strategy means that you don’t have to accept that summer gets slow. You can take actions that not only keep you afloat but give you more cash flow—if they’re done in a creative, thoughtful way that sets you up later for success.

As martial arts school owner and Member Solutions sales expert Rick Ellis says, there are specific ways you can market and network yourself (and by default, your school) that build rapport, reputation, and eventually, profit. Create your guerrilla marketing strategy with Rick’s 5-step plan.

1. Get a School Contact List

Market to local families with children within your desired age group as early as February. Get a list of mailing addresses for prospective students within your school district. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Before Spring Break—Introduce yourself as a community leader to administrative offices. Communicate your intention to provide a safe, productive summer activity for kids and ask for a list of addresses. We promise it’s legal—under the Freedom of Information Act, you can request this information as a taxpayer. Expect to pay for the list of names you receive.
  • Starting the New School Year—If your local schools are not willing to give you addresses, avoid fighting it. Your reputation as a leader is more important. Instead, find out if your school district’s PTA distributes school phone books to students. Ask your martial arts students to bring in a copy of the phone book from each school. Reward the first child from each school who gives you the phone book with prizes like a free t-shirt, a free private lesson, or a raffle ticket into a larger prize drawing for an item like a game console.

2. Be Creative with Marketing Materials

Prepare marketing materials, like flyers and pencils, with your martial arts school name and phone number. Why flyers and pencils? You’ll be ready for any kind of situation—giving you the option to decide which is best for the moment. For example, schools may have rules about allowing you to pass out flyers but be perfectly fine with your passing out pencils (which they see as less aggressive in marketing intent). Because both are easy to give out to prospective students, you will never be unprepared.

3. Strengthen the Relationships You Have

Continue to build strong relationships with parents and current students. Your existing relationships with current students and their parents are your business’s stronghold. In fact, one great way to get in front of kids of your target age group is to name a “student of the week” during the peak sign-up season. Make the award lunch with an instructor. Winners can choose their favorite instructor at your school to eat with them in the cafeteria. Parents your program will be happy to advocate on your behalf to get this scheduled with administrators.


4. Network to Expand Your Connections

Offer to be “on call” anytime a teacher wants the day off. While demonstrations are a classic way to showcase the value of martial arts and your school, some academic institutions may be wary of allowing new visitors into their space. Take a different approach by connecting with P.E. teachers and others at the beginning of the school year. Introduce yourself as a community leader who specializes in personal development and martial arts. Offer yourself as a substitute teacher.

If you are able to set this up, don’t miss making this a memorable event! Invite other teachers in the school to watch your presentation. Bring your demo team to put on a big show.

Teach something that makes the adults in the school glad you came and feeling like you are a resource to them and the community (e.g. stranger awareness, bully defense, and courtesy). Ask for permission to send students home with your school’s flyer in place of getting paid. (If you’re approved to substitute but can’t give out flyers, this is where your branded pencils come in.)


5. Create Future Marketing Opportunities for Yourself

Don’t forget to invite yourself back next year (and schedule it right away!). At the end of an in-school visit, talk with teachers and administrators who said yes to your visit. Ask them if they were happy with what happened that day. Assuming you did a great job, and they say yes, ask if they would be open to setting up a repeat visit the same time next year.

If they say yes, book it right away on your calendar. Send everyone involved an invitation through email. Don’t wait until you get back to your school to do this—do it from your smartphone!


Remember, You Define Your Success

By creating a two- to four-week summer program available at a discounted price that includes a uniform, you can get families to fall in love with your school. Add in your 5-step guerrilla marketing plan now (with tweaks as needed for your needs), and you’ll convert new students by the end of summer.

Fitness Boot Camp – Brick & Mortar vs. Dirt & Grass

Tire jumping during outdoor fitness boot camp event

Let’s have a look at two completely different scenarios.

Scenario one:

You have been running a boot camp outside for the summer and have built up a fantastic group of regulars. However, now that the colder weather is here, not many clients are participating. The indoor boot camp is looking more and more promising. But is it really the way to go?

Scenario two:

You have an indoor boot camp with a room of raving fans that love your energy and everything seems great…until the first of each month when you write that huge check to the landlord. Monthly rent and sunny weather makes the outdoor boot camp look more promising. But again, is it really?

The explosion of boot camps has created a debate among participants and instructors as to which is best: the indoor or outdoor. Both have strong arguments that we will explore to help you make this decision. Remember, there is no right or wrong choice here: only what is best for your fitness business and the target demographic you want.

This is, and always should be, why you make your decision. We will look at 4 key factors that your fitness business will need to consider when making this important decision.

Fitness Boot Camp Factor 1: Cost to Operate

The first thought here is that an outdoor boot camp should win hands down. However, that is not always the case.You will need to do some research here before you make this decision for your fitness business. Many cities and regions require permits to use park or field spaces for commercial purposes. These fees can be high in some areas. Where I live, it is $20 per class. If you are running the usual 4-6 classes a day, then that is $90.00-$120.00 per day fee.

A 1,000 sq. /ft. space is typically $2,500-$3,500 per month. That comes out to $85-$115 per day. You would also need power and utilities for the indoor space, but the outdoor space requires a van or truck for transport. The huge savings may not be there. Another factor is that outdoor fitness boot camps require additional insurance coverage in most states and provinces, so please check this out before you start.

Overall winner: If no park fees are required, outdoor boot camps will win; otherwise it is a tie.

Fitness Boot Camp Factor 2: Climate

This is one that indoor fitness enthusiasts will champion because of not wanting to work out in the snow and excessive heat. However, I know some people that have successful boot camps in harshly cold and hot climates. The catch is that these classes are specialized. This gives them a unique demographic that is not weather dependent. If you are running an indoor space, you need temperature and air quality control. Climate control can add to the cost of the space per month, but it will keep the gym smelling better and the temperature where it is comfortable for the masses.

Overall winner: Since the masses are what most of us market to, indoor wins.

Fitness Boot Camp Factor 3: Atmosphere

Outdoor camps always have nature on its side. This could be beaches, mountains, beautiful parks, or wooded forests. All have the fresh air and natural stimulus that people love. Indoors has music and multiple tailored or branded surroundings. You can logo walls, keep it a brick or garage feeling, or soften it for a specific demographic. While indoors, you can have access to facilities like bathrooms and showers. Easy access to these staple facilities gives you a powerful argument for the indoors.

Outdoors will build a better connection to getting your people active outside of the boot camps, and this may build long-term success for your campers that some forget to take into consideration.

Overall winner: I am going to call this a tie as I think that both offer many pros and too few cons to make it a deciding factor.

Fitness Boot Camp Factor 4: Equipment

This is also a deceptive one. At first glance, most people will say that the indoor boot camp will have greater access to equipment. This may be true, but I have never seen this as a limiting factor for the fitness boot camp operator. After talking with hundreds of operators and campers, it appears that almost all indoor and outdoor providers use the same tools; BOSUs, TRX straps, med balls, ladders, ropes and various other dynamic exercise pieces that are easy to set up and portable.

Rarely do I see or hear of fitness boot camps using free weights, benches and machines, so I do not see this as a huge advantage for the indoor people. However, access to other amenities such as toilets, change rooms, and showers is a huge plus. Also, the indoor camps can easily upsell additional products that they keep ready, such as bands, nutritional products, or training gear.

Overall Winner: Just for the access to amenities, the victory is the indoor camp.

After everything is tallied up, the indoor fitness boot camps win in two key categories: climate and equipment, both of which will allow the fitness business to have a much wider target demographic. I really like that part. With a tie going to atmosphere, it leaves the outdoor fitness boot camp with the big win of cost to operate.

Before the outdoor people all run off to sign a new lease, there is one more factor that I need to mention. Do not ever sign a lease on a space if you have not built up that much-needed group of campers. Before you move your fitness business to the great indoors, test things outdoors. Then find a nice cheap space close to where you have been doing your outdoor camps.

The bottom line is that outdoors is where you should start and then move to a nice indoor space once you have established a great following.

David Chang’s Answer: What Steps Should I Take to Add Extended Child Care to My Summer Camp?

Client question: We run a Summer camp that’s held from 8 am to 3 pm. We’re considering offering extended care from 3 pm to 6 pm. What issues do I need to consider when setting up this option?

Offering extended care for your Summer campers is an excellent idea. Not only can it provide an additional stream of revenue, more importantly, it can make the difference between whether or not a parent signs up for your camp!

For many working parents, picking their child up at 3 pm is not an option. You need to be capable of watching their child until the parent gets off work, or they will find another camp that can.

Here are four steps to get started …


Step 1

Check with your legal counsel to determine whether or not there are specific requirements in your state with regards to caring for children. Depending on your state, licensing may be required.

Step 2

Make sure that any staff members you hire to watch the children are properly screened. I recommend running a background check on every employee in your organization, but this is particularly important for any employee who will be caring for children.

Step 3

Protect yourself by training your staff on how they should care for children. Have clear-cut policies on safety standards and disciplinary procedures. For example, you want your staff to know exactly where the children may not go. You need them to be clear on what to do if a child is misbehaving. Your staff should not be allowed to go into a restroom alone with any child.

Shield yourself from potential lawsuits by ensuring that everybody under your employ understands and follows your procedures.

Step 4

Provide plenty of games and activities to keep the children entertained for three hours. Some suggestions are board games, puzzles, Lego blocks, and stories.

With a well-thought-out plan, providing extended care can be a real boon for your Summer camp.

Meet the author: Sifu David Chang and his wife Elizabeth Chang are the owners of Wushu Central Martial Arts Academy with two locations in California. Sifu Chang is a former Wushu style forms national champion and Elizabeth is the brains behind the business. They teach over 600 students and currently employ 17 instructors.

Martial Arts Summer Events & Marketing Strategies

Calendar on tablet

Anyone who follows the show Game of Thrones knows the famous saying, “Winter is coming,” which is a warning of difficult times to come.

For most martial arts and fitness-based businesses, fall and winter tend to be our best times of the year, with high enrollment and phenomenal retention, while spring and summer tend to be the most challenging and slowest. This begs the question, why can’t spring and summer be the same as the rest of the year?

About four years ago, I noticed that my accounts receivable were down nearly 25% during June, July, and August. Summer became the worst time of the year for me and my business. It seemed like a struggle just to make it through.

Fast forward to a few years later, I can now honestly say that I look forward to Spring and Summer as much as Fall and Winter. With proper coordination, event planning, and marketing, any season can be a success.

Here are a few ideas that I have implemented as part of my program to help keep my classes busy and drive new members to my school.

1. Fun Fridays

Many of our members – especially the children – perceive martial arts or fitness as a “school” or “work” related activity to be only done during the school year. This makes it imperative that we adjust our programs to add more fun and excitement during the Summer.

One of the most exciting things that we do during our Summer months is our “Fun Fridays” series. I take every Friday that I am open during the summer months and choose a specific theme or activity for that day.

Here are a few of the themes that I do for my Fun Fridays:

  • Crazy Hair Day: Kids wear their wackiest hairstyles during class
  • Pajama Day: Kids can wear their favorite pajamas during classes – so long as the outfit is appropriate
  • Weapons Day: Safely practice a weapon that the belt has never done
  • Buddy Day: Kids get to bring a friend or two to take a class with them, which is a great way to attain new students
  • Ice Cream Day: I purchase ice cream cups and give them out to the kids when the class is over. This is by far the most exciting Fun Friday!

You can get as creative as possible, but make sure that your activities are well-structured, well-staffed and provide value to the parents as well. Although the atmosphere at your school during these Fridays will be more relaxed, it is important that parents understand that the children will still be practicing and training in martial arts.

2. Events

Another idea that I use to increase member retention, as well as acquire new members during the Summer months, is conducting seasonally themed events.

Annual Picnic

I always plan an Annual Summer Picnic at the beginning of August. I rent out an entire park with a kitchen and invite my entire student body and their friends to join. At last year’s picnic, well over 400 people stopped by throughout the day. At the picnic, I provide food, carnival games, a dunk tank, bounce house, pie eating contests and much more.

Hosting this picnic is a great way to keep members excited during the Summer as well as reinforce a family atmosphere that can help create a bond between you and your members … AND it opens the door for prospective new students.

Water Gun Parents’ Night Out

I believe that we all, at one point or another, host Parents’ Nights Out throughout the year. With my Summer Parents’ Night Out, I make it water gun-themed. As you can suspect, the students go crazy over this. At Parents’ Night Out we play games, serve dinner (pizza and juice) and block off a section of the grass that is located behind my school to set up a safe zone for water gun wars.

Movie Night

For Movie Night, I reserve a local theater and invite all of my students to spend an afternoon to watch an age-appropriate movie and to enjoy some popcorn and snacks. Movie Night is also a great way to market your school because, not only can you set up a booth and banner at the movie theater, you can also ask your students to wear your school shirt.

3. Attendance

Another great idea to help with retention is to give out attendance rewards to all of the students who were consistent during the summer months. Everyone likes feeling special and receiving awards, which gives the children an incentive to never miss a class during the summer. Winners of the attendance award are publicly praised during one of the fall belt exams.

4. Marketing

For the most part, I have been talking about tactics for retention, as that is one of the most important factors for staying successful during the Summer months. However, many of the events – picnic, buddy day, movie night, etc. – bring in a lot of referrals during these challenging months, which can turn into prospective new members.

From a marketing standpoint, I like to offer Summer sign-up specials to help draw in new members. You can offer a discounted price for the first month or two of training, include a free t-shirt or equipment set with registration or offer a free month of classes for any family member who is not currently signed up at your school.

These techniques helped make last summer our best one yet. I hope that you can take some of these ideas and use them – or modify them – to help you grow your school.

As always, success is in the preparation. Begin preparing today to have your best summer ever!

About the author: Master Peter Trikilas is the Owner and Chief Instructor at Master Peter’s Academy of Martial Arts (MPAMA) in Dayton, New Jersey. He has been training in martial arts since 1985 and opened his school, MPAMA, in 2011 — which has over 500 students to date.