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Business Owner v.s School Owner

I’ve mentioned this before in a previous post and stand by my argument that many martial arts business owners are stuck in their traditional ways which prevent them from running their academies as a business. Being business minded does not make you a vulture. Rather, having a proper business model can create opportunities for your students as well as solutions to ongoing retroactive problems. As aforementioned, entrepreneurs are problem solvers.

If you are thinking about opening your own martial arts academy one day (as most white belts are once they’re in that initial BJJ honeymoon phase) keep these tips in mind before purchasing your first set of mats:

Business Plan

Early on in our journey, one of our mentors provided us with in-depth business advice and advised us to create a business plan. At the time, I found this to be more of a nuisance as I felt it really slowed down our exciting venture. However, as we started writing our business plan I realized in that moment that opening an academy was more than just slapping a bunch of mats on the floor and teaching a few arm bars and hip escapes.

Your business plan should be as detailed as possible. This may take you a few months to put together, so don’t rush it. You have to think about the worst case scenario (which I learned in 2020, a fire is not the worst thing that can happen to your business). Ask yourself hard questions about the market you are pitching your idea to. Has your idea been proven before? Is your market too saturated? What are the behaviours of your service or product and what trends have you seen in the current and past market? While this may seem tedious, I promise you, knowing the ins and outs of your industry will help you better understand where you want to take your business.

Create Boundaries with Yourself

It’s great to dream big, but you have to be realistic about the expectations that you put on yourself. You have to think about how this decision will impact your family, your current lifestyle, your mental health, and the mental health of your family. For the first few years, your business will not be fun. It’s work. If you’re not creating boundaries, the time you reserved for your family will now belong to someone else (i.e your clients).

Create boundaries for yourself that separate your business from your home life. I cannot stress how important this is. With all the hype on social media with people throwing around quotes like “no days off”, “grind”, “hustle”, it is easy to get lost in that entrepreneurial culture without clear expectations. You can start by making a schedule for yourself and only work on your business from 8 AM to 12 PM for instance. Creating healthy boundaries will ensure that you are not getting lost and neglecting your health.

Create Boundaries with Your Friends

The biggest and most humbling lesson I learned throughout my years of running a business is that you are doing a disservice to your friends if you are relying on your friends to support your business, and you are doing a disservice to yourself if you are seeking friendship from your business contacts or clients.

Walk into your business with zero expectations from people in your circle and remain focused on your goals. This does not mean that you should become benumbed or jaded. Just remember that you are offering a service for a fee. Your client is in turn paying you for that promised service. As awful as this might sound to you, offering freebies or bartering should never be part of your framework. There is a very very fine line between friendship and business and you should be cognizant of the two when conducting your business.

Know Your Numbers

Unfortunately we live in a world where half of Canada’s population puts everything on credit and many Canadians find themselves in debt which can rack up over a very short period of time.

Before opening up another credit account, know your numbers. Create a spreadsheet in Excel or Google Sheets and start projecting your pessimistic numbers over the next 1, 3, 5, and 10 years. This projection should also go in your business plan. Look at trends in your industry, call around and get in touch with others in your line of business, set up business meetings to talk about their experiences, do your research! Factor in all of your capital costs, business expenses, personal expenses, taxes, and don’t forget to put money aside for a rainy year. Yes you heard me right. Not a rainy day, a rainy YEAR. You should put aside 6-12 months of rent and expenses that you can only use during an emergency. If 2020 was any indication of what could go wrong in a business you should know that literally anything can affect your business and your numbers. While this process can be grossly overwhelming and depressing, it is absolutely necessary to constantly study pessimistic numbers by creating a plan for what you will do to get your numbers to where you want them to be. Reverse engineer your goals starting with the numbers you have.

Don’t Be Afraid to Profit Off Your Business

For some reason in the martial arts industry, many people fear that they can *God Forbid* profit off of their students. There is a ridiculous myth among martial arts practitioners (especially in BJJ) that instructors should only be teaching to increase the “brotherhood” and enhance the student culture of the martial arts by charging almost nothing while providing amazing classes, complete with free private lessons to those who help out in kids classes, discounted merch to friends, and the list goes on.

You have to remember that you are running a business. Your core focus should always be to go above and beyond for your students, because as I said before, you are providing a service that they are in fact paying you for. To give your students anything less than what you promised is to unfairly shortchange them. Your students have a right over you, but you also have a right over yourself and that is that you have to pay yourself for the time that you put into your business at the end of the day. Track the time that you put into your business by setting a salary or wage for yourself. You can do this by researching the industry standard and compare it to the current wages in your locality. If you fail to do this you will soon learn that burn out can affect your mental health which can then in turn affect your business and your members. You also have to know the difference between what your wage is, what profit is, and what you will invest back into your business.

Ask for help!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just because you might be a black belt in your martial art, does not mean that you are a black belt in business. Find people in your industry that can help enhance your business. Keep in mind that investing in your business means that you are enhancing your student experience.

If you’re not financially able to do so, you can always turn to good old Aunt Google and research trends in business. The world is changing and that means that your business model is allowed to change as well. You need to keep up with the times, and research, research, research!

Remember Your Why

I attended a seminar with Rosey Hwang ( and she asked the attendees a question that has stuck with me since, “what is your WHY?”. Why did you open your business in the first place? What is it about your product or service that lit a fire under you? You genuinely saw potential in your business. You genuinely saw a demand for your idea or service. It’s very easy to become complacent once you’re in the thick of your business. Always renew your intentions and remember why you started in the first place. Just like your progression in BJJ, you are going to hit highs and lows. It’s not always going to be linear.

I hope you found these little tidbits helpful. While it is extremely rewarding, running a business is no walk in the park. It is totally doable, however just remember (as my mentor Cris always says) “the most prepared are the most dedicated”.



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm Zenab! I hope you enjoy reading about my musings in the world of entrepreneurship as I navigate reaching my Jiu Jitsu goals while helping other women achieve theirs. 

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