Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Monster Post of Martial Arts Marketing Tips and Tools


Updated this post to reflect current tools I'm using, and to compensate for some changes in what's available out there.  I also have a companion post, Return of the Martial Arts Marketing Monster, which goes into some of the things I've been seeing and suggested corrections.

When it comes to promoting ourselves - our art and our schools - well, many of us just hate it.

Dude! You haven't posted on your Facebook page in three years!

We believe, on some level, that advertising well is "selling out".  We associate doing a good job letting people know about who we are, what we do, and how they can come join us with being a "McDojo".  I see why that would be; all things considered, the "McDojo's" and chain schools do a great job in marketing. That's how they thrive while Joe's Authentic Dojo struggles to make the rent, even when Joe is offering a much higher quality training.

I think for some of us, it feels too much like putting yourself out there to be glorified, and that's against our martial arts philosophy and style.

I also think there's a lot of intimidation out there about doing marketing/advertising/promotions properly, so many of us avoid it altogether or do as little as we can get away with.

I'm in your shoes - I totally understand why you might feel that way, because I struggle with the same problem.  The marketing stuff as when Mid-Cities Arnis up back in Texas up and running was possibly the hardest part of getting it off the ground. It is just as hard now that I'm working on a new project in a new city.  I'm feeling that pain as I type.

Hand's up, who hates marketing?

But as a marketer by profession, I'm here to tell you... it ain't THAT hard.

If you bother to teach martial arts, one of your main jobs is one passing your art on to future generations of students. If you are not doing what you can to attract students to your school... you're not doing that job.  You will have few to no students if they don't know you exist or what you offer.

Let me make this a big statement because it's really important:

To do the right thing and keep your art alive - you're going to have to market your services.

In today's world, it's easier - and cheaper - than ever to get the word out.  Social media is basically free, web sites can be had very cheaply (and blogging is super easy), and there are free or very cheap tools you can use to help you do it. The options for paid advertising are many and often quite reasonable.

There's no good excuse not to do marketing - not to have a basic web site and Facebook Page at a minimum, but really, you can do more than you might suspect, especially on the internet. Word of mouth is something that has to be built - it does not happen on its own.  The "Field of Dreams" method of marketing (build it and they will come) is a lie and if you don't "do marketing", don't complain that your potential students end up at the McDojo down the street because they did make the effort to recruit students.

You can do this.  You must.

As a marketing professional, and as someone who wants to see the martial arts grow and prosper, I'd like to offer a little advice. There's a lot to say on this topic, and I'm only skimming the surface of it all, so if you want to learn more, reach out to me directly.

NOTE: There is some fantastic advice being offered, on the cheap or even FREE - out there in the martial arts world, including via organizations like MAIA.  Outside of our space, there's literally thousands of free tips and tricks to help you learn this stuff, so you have no excuse not to have at least a cursory understanding of how to market yourself, your school, and your events online.  Use your Google-Fu, friend, and spend some time boning up on this subject.


Your potential student base is not every living person you can get in a gi. Think about who your student is - is it kids (and their parents)?  Teenage boys interested in combat sports? Adults looking to get fit? Women looking for self defense training? Seniors looking for exercise? Talk to them about what is important to them.

Don't mix messages in a single ad or post. You can have more than one message for your school as a whole (both kids and their parents AND women's self defense for example), but generally, your advertising message needs to speak to just ONE of those audiences in a single go.

Probably not the best combination of audiences.  Just saying.

Negative advertising - talking bad about your competition - can backfire very easily. Stay focused on what you have to offer, not what the other guys do or say.  I really can't emphasize this enough - DO NOT, in your marketing, online (even your personal profile), or in person bad-mouth other local schools and styles. It does not make them look bad, it makes YOU look bad.

Be where your audience tends to be.  That is, if you are targeting young males, do not use Pinterest (which has an overwhelmingly female user population) as a channel. If you are targeting parents, Facebook is a good place to put your efforts (it skews ages 35+).  If you're after young adults, use Instagram and Snapchat.

Don't be me, me, me.  In social media in particular, you can't be 100% all about yourself and your services.  Find and share good relevant content from other people - martial arts magazines, forums, groups, pages, and schools (hey, who doesn't love "Enter the Dojo", am I right?).


Use ALL CAPS only for headlines or to call special emphasis to a word or two if you cannot use bold or italics or color to make that word stand out.  Do not use it for long blocks of text. It's very difficult to read overall and online, comes off as yelling and rude. Nobody likes to be yelled at.  Use mixed case for almost all blocks of text.

I shouldn't have to say this, but I've seen it far more than I'd like, so here goes: be very careful with rough language in your advertising.  One curse word can turn off a lot of potential students. Which ones to avoid?  If you wouldn't say it in front of a kid, your mom, or your religious leader - don't write it in your advertising.

Say what you want to say as simply as you can - don't use more words than you need to.  Use short, easy to understand words and avoid martial arts specific jargon that isn't well understood outside your school in your advertising.

Don't go crazy with the fonts.  Use a basic Sans-Serif font (like Arial, Helvetica, Franklin Gothic) for headlines, and a Serif font (like Georgia, Times New Roman, New Century Schoolbook, or Garamond) for body text.  Use the funky fonts rarely - usually just to call out a specific word or phrase (like "SALE!" or "SPECIAL!") or in a logo design.  It's now seen as a bit demeaning to use the fonts that seem to be "Asian" in character, so be very careful if you ever use those.

NO.  BAD.  JUST... no.

Don't worry too much about online pundits who say you shouldn't ever use Comic Sans or Papyrus or other specific fonts, as they're just being a bit snobby, in my opinion.  In limited application, it's fine.  The important thing is readability - is this thing very easy to read? How about on a phone versus a web page or a printed page?  What about someone who is near or far sighted?  In bright light as well as in a poorly-lit area?  The simpler, the easier it is to read.

Dark text on light backgrounds is easier to read than light text on dark backgrounds, but in any case, the more contrast, the better.


Images associated to your Facebook post, your Twitter post, or your blog post will almost always have better views and engagement than posts that are all text.  Video is more engaging that static images (and don't forget gifs, animated images, which are a lot like video).

If you put it out there, expect for it to be seen - and it may be commented upon (especially video), and not always in a positive way. Be careful about what you publish publicly and be prepared for negative feedback.  Don't get into internet fights with people who are critical. It's a waste of your time and energy.

Images used online have a different resolution than images printed on paper.  You need a high resolution image for printing and what looks great on your screen might be pixelated and blurry on print.  Talk to your local printer about suggestions for the resolution you need for poster or handout printing.

Video on phones has come a very long way over the past few years, and today, most of them are just fine for online video for your school.  Just make sure the resolution is clear and the sound isn't fuzzy or muffled.

Images you do not create yourself are not free for you to use in your advertising - the owner may go after you for using them and they have every right to do so.  You must purchase stock photos OR use resources that allow you to use images for free by license.  Note - meme images are rarely problematic legally (although it's possible to get in trouble with these, so it's always a risk), and if you use an image from someone else, make sure you attribute it back to the person you got it from.  NOTE: This includes background images (such as wallpaper)!

It's best to have releases for images from the people in photos you create.  You might consider asking students to sign a standard photo release for the purpose of school advertising as part of your onboarding process (I certainly do).

Consider your audience when choosing images.  If you are marketing a kids program, it's probably not a good idea to have an image of two adult guys beating each other bloody. But if you're a boxing gym - happy kids in gis make no sense.


I use a number of cheap and free resources for this blog and our martial arts school - everything from social media management, to image acquisition/editing/creation, automation tools, video editing, and other free tools that I find useful.  I like cheap, and I definitely like free - I promise you that writing this blog is not contributing to the monthly payments on the Stick Chick Yacht!

Mr. Chick and I hit the high seas.  NO, NOT REALLY. 

The key is balancing your time/efforts vs. paying someone else to do it for you. If you're on a shoestring, DIY is better than nothing (and sometimes the only option).  But sometimes it's more time and cost effective to hire a professional. Mike Massie has good advice on this HERE for you to consider).

Here's a list of tools I use or I know about, and are free to use or VERY cheap:

  • Social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MeWe, GooglePlus, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.).  Facebook has some very powerful built-in tools for pages, including the ability to create and schedule posts for future publishing.  I do NOT advise that you get on all those channels, mind you, just pick the ones that are best for your school and make your content there the best it can be.
  • Web hosting - Blogger,, Wix, Weebly, Yola, Webself are just a few.  You can get a free website at these places in minutes. Be sure to choose a template that is mobile-optimized (most are these days).
  • Canva is the best, easiest image creating tool online. You can create quick images for your social media channels, flyers and handouts, all with built-in templates, images, and tools.  You can load your own images to your account library.
  • To edit images (for more than just cropping and adding filters), I use LunaPic online. For just simple cropping and filters, I use Google Photos and the Photos app built into Windows 10.
  • To edit video: I am a Windows user, and I used to use Windows Movie Maker as my go-to video editing tool.  I still have this on older machines.  Today, the photo app Photos also has video editing capabilities for simple edits.
  • For managing email lists and sending out things like newsletters, I suggest MailChimp.  The advantage is that it will manage opt-outs and bounces (bad email addresses) for you, which is a huge deal because if you keep sending email to people opting-out you can get in big trouble and ISP's will refuse to carry your emails to your recipients as a result (you'll look like spam).
  • Business tools:  Google Apps - Sheets, Docs, Slides, Voice (free phone number separate from your phone's), Gmail, Calendar, Tasks, Photos, YouTube, Keep, Drive (free cloud-based storage - competes with Microsoft's OneDrive which is also free for basic use), Contacts,  MyBusiness (if you have a physical school)... Google has TONS of free apps that can help you.  One competitor I also like, as least for basic office applications, is LibreOffice, which actually comes with a database program much like Microsoft Access as well as a nice basic Draw tool.
  • Royalty free, no attribution required images: Pixabay, Morguefile and there's tons of freebies included in Canva if you search by a topic.  Canva even offers lots of great images for just a buck each (if you ever price stock photos you'll realize this is a very good deal).
Unfortunately, social media scheduling tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, etc. are getting to the point where you can't use them for much more than a single social media channel, so I can't recommend them as a free tool. I do use Hootsuite (I have a subscription) and I like it a lot. You should look at IFTTT, a site that helps you automate lots of things with Recipes. I use IFTTT to auto-post fresh blog posts from my blog to my Tumblr account, for example.

The list above isn't complete or in any way comprehensive.   There are new tools appearing, and old ones disappearing, every single day.

(Note - every image in this post was created using free tools!)

So I hope this helps, and please feel free to reach out to me to find out how I can help YOU with social media and other free tools.