If you don’t know me, I am CONSTANTLY tinkering with new programs and products to streamline my life, and, coincidentally, the dojo (plus my own small business of operating a low rise apartment building that will eventually turn into bed and breakfast sometime in the next… decade.) I love keeping up with the latest in management and marketing, and what makes them even better is when they’re free. This is because for a lot of us, if we’re struggling to get things off the ground, the less we spend on overhead the better. Small businesses, dojos included, are prone to failure–current numbers from the small business bureau put the failure rate at 30% in the first year, 50% within 5 years, and 66% within 10 years. Therefore every little bit helps–after all, a penny saved is a penny earned.
Now, before we move forward onto the list, there’s such a thing called “opportunity cost,” which is the unseen cost of not using the best (and often paid) product on the market for your needs. All of the products that I’ve tested that made it onto the list (and you can be certain that I’m not getting paid for this–not even through affiliate links because no one’s going to touch a free Blogspot account) are comparable to what’s on the market for my specific needs–it may vary for you so please carefully determine if they do before fully making the switch. I chose not to include free products that I know have a heavy opportunity cost to them or a large barrier to becoming extremely useful (such as free website hosting.)
You probably saw some of these in my last newsletter, but since then I’ve added a few more. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to hit me up on Facebook or email me at email@example.com.
Canva is my new favorite toy. It’s a browser-based newsletter/poster maker with oodles of templates and clip art for your use. This means it’s time to say goodbye to downloading software on your computer which could slow down performance… or if you work on a Chromebook which can’t download software like I do. It has a paid version that opens up access to a lot more clip arts and images. I haven’t needed the paid version for my purposes as of yet.
It replaced Photoshop for me since that was what I was using to make it page by page, from scratch, converting to PDF, and then combining them into one file. Sound hella tedious? You can be damned sure it was. It would take me approximately 8 hours of nonstop work if I had all the material ready and written. Canva allowed me to do a newsletter (automatically combining files together into one cohesive multi-page file) in about 3, and that was only because I was experimenting with its capabilities that first time. You can see the result here.
The hundreds of templates it has make it easy to choose a feel that’s right for you. I tend to change styles every quarter but that’s just me, you can easily stick to one and just switch out pictures and text.
I also use this to make tear off flyers that I keep in my bag. I go shopping at multiple stores that usually have community bulletin boards and having them on hand makes it easy to pin one up when I see it.
Which brings me to my next new toy…
For those of us who write A LOT and have to deal with a bunch of text at once, whether for dojo website content or newsletters and posters, sometimes we miss grammatical or spelling errors. Grammarly is a Google Chrome plugin that automatically does grammar and spelling checks for everything we write online and provides an easy click to fix when we hover over the errors it highlights. Obviously it sometimes misses colloquialisms or slang, but overall it’s a great little tool to make sure you don’t accidentally write the wrong word and become a meme before you know it–the “i” and “u” keys are quite close on the keyboard, which makes for some awkward moments for an enthusiastic owner of ducks like myself.
It also offers performance checks, such as readability score based on the Flesch reading-ease test plus word count and character count. Grammarly has a paid version too which offers plagiarism checks, but for me it’s not necessary. For those who are professional copywriters or need even more writing help, you might want to use datayze.com/readability-analyzer.php (also free) which is similar to Grammarly but provide a few more scoring systems plus complicated word detector and awkward structures. It is, however, not a plugin. Most agencies require a readability score of over 65 for web content (Hey, isn’t that a nifty little tip? I picked it up doing a few requests from copy agencies. That’s the minimum requirement for good web copy so you should run your dojo’s website text content through these to see.)
It absolutely stinks when you’re making marketing materials or setting up your website and you run into the issue of not having high-quality images to use for the visuals. You can’t just pull whatever picture you want in the images section of your web browser since that’ll open up a whole can of worms when it comes to copyright laws. There are certain instances where using photos, with attribution, can be done without the original owners’ consent, but those are grey areas I’d rather not touch since I’m not qualified to comment on the dumpster fire that is image copyright.
Pexels, however, has extremely high-quality stock photos for free. I tend to use them for background images, or if I need to find an object I can vectorize or edit. You don’t need attribution, and they’re free for use.
4. WordPress.org (NOT .com)
Speaking of websites… WordPress.org is a browser-based website editing software that gets installed directly to your website hosting company. While it’s not completely free–in that you do need your own domain and website host (which are paid), WordPress is a very intuitive program that, with a little bit of a learning curve, you can be designing gorgeous websites. They have hundreds of templates with more coming out every day that you can easily customize to fit your needs.
It also has a bunch of widgets and plugins that make importing from an old blog, making schedules, showing maps, e-mail input and subscribe, and product purchasing (plus more) super easy to do. I make and maintain my own, so if you’re curious about what someone like me, who has very rudimentary coding skills is able to do by myself via WordPress, here’s the shameless plugin of my personal website. Of, if you were curious about our dojo’s website, you can follow this link here.
If you’re uncertain how you will like this and would like someone to walk you through it, or if you’d like someone to sit and teach you how to use it, feel free to contact me! Or, during our 3 day seminar with Andy Demko of the USAF Technical Committee and his son, Michael Demko (BJJ blackbelt and coach), I’ll be doing a WordPress website demo and building workshop–so if you have a domain and a host (or even if you don’t and want to be walked through getting one), we’ll be taking some time to do that.
A browser-based Photoshop alternative, because I’m one of those nuts who use a Chromebook for everything I do. I have some issues with the final quality of the file, but it’s pretty darn good for what it is, and you really only notice if you’ve done a lot of Photoshop work. For simple image editing and poster creation, if you don’t want to use Canva, Pixlr is for you. You will have to be familiar with Photoshop’s UI to be able to use Pixlr though.
If you don’t care what the user interface is and can download software, GIMP is also an excellent Photoshop alternative that doesn’t have the slight quality change once the file is created. There is a (sometimes steep) learning curve to every image editor, but familiarizing yourself with it could make your marketing material stand out. It’s why I recommended Canva first, rather than these since Canva’s drag and drop features make it more useful for those who aren’t inclined to learn image manipulation.
If you’re as tired of chasing people down for monthly payments as we are, but don’t want to splurge for quickbooks credit card processing, consider utilizing Paypal as a payment option. They do take a small fee, but you can easily invoice and track electronic payments. Alternatively, you can use Venmo.
7. Google My Business
If you look up a business name, sometimes you’ll see it pop up on the right-hand side of your search if you’re using Google’s web browser, and sometimes… not. While Google often goes around and picks up business names and sticks them in locations due to them constantly updating their maps, they don’t have all the information needed or sometimes they can accidentally put in wrong or outdated information. So you know how for some businesses you’ll be able to see the entire gamut of hours, reviews, website, phone number, photos, etc. while for others there’s just a name and an address? It’s because the owner of the business “claimed” it which allows them to change/add information.
People get wary when there isn’t much information, mainly because it can give off that creepy serial killer hideout feel, except online. Once you claim it, Google will send you a physical pin on a postcard to the location of your school to confirm it’s there. You’ll be able to change the hours, add websites, and all that other good stuff. You will also be able to see and respond to reviews!
Yelp most likely scrapes websites and Google maps in order to populate their database with locations of businesses so you might be surprised to find your dojo/school already on Yelp, but without information, or very little information. Lots of people use Yelp, young and old, and it’s one of the most trusted sources of knowing whether or not the business is worth going to. Like Google, you’ll need to claim it. You’ll need a non-cell phone number for the business in order to do so (Google Voice, which I listed below, works.) If you want to know more about the back-end of Yelp and what the business profile does, feel free to check out my post on being walked through it by the representative. Make sure if you’re asking your students to review you, you limit it to one every two or three weeks, or else you’ll trigger Yelp’s algorithm to hide that review in the “not recommended” area. Yelp also provides some great data insights for business owners as well (which I explained in my other post.)
We’ll be having a workshop with Yelp where I show everyone the business account interior plus a small cross-dojo assistance type thing during our Summer Intensive on 6/22/2019.
EDITED TO ADD: After comparing cost per click between Facebook Ads and Yelp Ads, FB ads provide an exponentially higher number of clicks for the 1/5 of the cost. YMMV but we decided to close out Yelp Ads (but kept the Yelp profile) and focus solely on FB/Instagram Ads.
I have an alarm on my computer, set for every 4 days, to renew the ads I have for the dojo on Craigslist. Since it’s location specific, people checking for things in that area will likely come across your ad. After a few renews, you’ll notice it no longer allows the renew option (the renew option is a “bump” option which pushes your ad to the top of the page) in which case you can delete and repost directly from your account page. It’s easy, low key, and doesn’t take a huge amount of effort. It does take consistency though, and a willingness to be on schedule.
Some people have questions about how to market, and I always have to point people to look at the actual (not perceived) potential market they’re looking at… which requires data. I have some preliminary stuff here that can help you determine what kind of language and direction to go with your marketing campaigns, but be on the look-out for the motivations and beliefs survey Adam and I did for Aikido Journal, which will be out in the next couple of weeks. After that, there will be a formal article we plan to publish with a peer-reviewed sports journal. This information will be super helpful to understand the current market trends.
Groupon is one of those “set-it-and-forget-it” type ads which is quite helpful in that you don’t pay unless someone redeems it, which, for service-based industries, is perfect because you’re not using up any product or resources. The only issue I had with it is that the control is not in your hands to fix things, and that’s good or bad, depending on what you want to do (and how much of a control freak you are.) I had to talk to the team responsible for my ad several times to fix all of the issues that I saw, but they eventually got it. They are very responsive, but I think I would have preferred to do it myself.
We are all familiar with Facebook these days and it seems like few dojos/schools DON’T have Facebook. If you’re setting one up, make sure you use a Facebook page and not a profile. You can switch between your personal and the page’s account to post and respond to comments. You can make announcements and engage with both your own community and the broader martial arts community. I do like Facebook since it tracks shares of posts very well (we get an average of 11 – 25 shares per video post, so I want to see where it goes. Instagram doesn’t offer that unless someone tags us.) Be mindful that Facebook’s crowd is slightly older and there are other social media apps that are geared to younger communities, which I will provide below.
It also offers insights (albeit rudimentary) of the kind of audience who are looking at your post. Facebook can also provide paid ads that boost your posts too, which offers more in depth insights on their Insights area (this requires a bit of tweaking to adjust what you want to see—such as number of replays, number of click throughs, how long people watch the video for etc.). Another interesting tip I learned was that 40 characters is the optimal and minimum length of a Facebook Ad! This means the longer you write, the more engagement drops (for a click-through ad.)
For more in-depth ads, 200 – 300 words for the body and 60 characters for the title is optimal. Visit this page to see how easy it is to set up your own Facebook ads, successes other dojos have had, and a peek into the ads we run for the Long Island Aikikai.
A favorite of the 20 – 30-year-old crowd, its simple user interface and instant gratification provide a place to stick videos and photos to engage your audience. I’m not going to go through how to use it or how to most optimally deal with increasing your social media outreach… because I wrote an in-depth post on it already here. We are currently, at the time of me writing this, at 10.4k followers (shameless plug in of our own account–follow us at @liaikikai.) It cross-posts to Facebook and Twitter beautifully, and if you start out with a business account, it offers you analytics about who your audience is. I haven’t made the switch because there are some rumblings that switching lowers engagement, and that it’s possible they do it purposely just to push you to use their paid business tools. Your mileage may vary.
Reddit is one of the most popular online forums (if not THE most popular one) now offers a profile feature, which means you can pin your posts to your profile that includes links. There are “sub-reddits” which are individual topic forums (and yes, r/Aikido exists already), from locations to different martial arts. The “currency” there are upvotes and downvotes and is similar to the “like” of Facebook, in that upvotes indicate how many people agree with you, and downvotes are how many people dislike what you say (although this was not the original function.) Your total “score” is available on your profile, which is called “reputation” or how many upvotes you gained. I’m at around 120k. It’s anonymous, which often allows people to say what they want without much consequence.
Please note that each subreddit will have its own set of rules (if any.) I am a moderator of r/Aikido, a community of over 6k members, and we created the rules to generate productive discourse. If you choose to engage with our community, please read the rules carefully, since if you don’t, we won’t hesitate to issue warnings and bans. If you’re not sure what you’re posting is within the guideline of the rules, feel free to contact the moderators (I am one of three current ones), but a good guideline for posting can be found on the Aikido and The Gates of Speech post. If you are rude or aggressive, regardless of whether you’re defending Aikido or not, your posts or comments will be removed or will have a request for edit. We stickied a “promote your dojo” post where you will be able to link to your dojo website, location, name, and style. This is so interested people can find dojos in their area, if they wish to speak with members of them first.
Reddit has a very large teen and young adult audience that also caters to older audiences too. Just by posting interesting (even unrelated material) and engaging in the Reddit community has driven traffic to my websites.
Discord is a live chat system (with voice chat functions), originally used for gaming but now has sprung thousands of communities with different topics. The majority of users are teens and young adults. An Aikido discord exists, as does a lot of different martial arts. A link to an invite is required for anyone to find them. I’m currently a co-owner of a martial arts discord server (400+ members), and a small business one (100+ members), and I created one for members of the United States Aikido Federation (not official and in it’s infancy but it’s a place where we can all connect.) It can be both browser-based and phone app based.
Please note that each Discord server has its own rules, kicks, bans, and quarantines get handed out to those who don’t follow them. You can easily create a private one for your own school so your members can keep in touch and ask for help, without having to wonder who is currently online and who isn’t. It does require some knowledge of coding, so if you need help, hit me up!
Twitter has a great function that can send text messages to students who sign up for it but we stopped using it due to the next tool I listed. However, if choose to use Twitter for mass announcement functions, you can have students text “follow TWITTERHANDLE” to 40404. Every time you tweet something, it will be sent as a text directly to the students phones. It was fine for what it was but due to the fact that students had to opt in themselves, some of them didn’t and would miss messages.
This is a fun free app (although it requires the owner to input the phone numbers rather than students doing it themselves) to send out dojo wide messages in the form of text messaging. Great for closures and reminders of events, and you can group people too which means you can send out instructor specific messages, student specific messages, or messages to the entire school–depending on how you organize them.
If you’re using Quickbooks for bookkeeping and are tired of paying monthly, Wave is a pretty close free option for invoicing, receipt processing, and accounting. If you want to collect payments with a credit card through it, then it does charge a competitive fee of 2.9% + 30 cents per transaction (which is comparative to Quickbooks.) A very small learning curve if you’re familiar with QB, and there’s the option of adding your accountant as a collaborator so at the end of every year, they can generate their own reports. If you don’t plan on collecting credit card payments through it, then just the invoicing, receipt processing, and acounting is completely free and very useful if you just need record keeping.
18. Google Forms
We’re pretty familiar with the entire Google Suite which has cloud based spreadsheet, document writing, slideshow creating capabilities (not to mention, of course, email) but this and the next few tools are going to be showcasing the special abilities that you might not realize you can use for it!
Google forms is a form creation tool that dumps the data collected into Google Sheets. The survey we did for Aikido Journal utilized it–for those who took the survey, you’ll note that it was capable of providing multiple choice, checklist, grid, and open-ended answers, as well as skip you to other sections if you didn’t qualify to answer. The data in Google Sheets can be downloaded as an excel file, or you can even connect R (an analysis software) directly to it. You can also use it for student sign up.
Now, a word of caution. Survey construction is a science all on its own (and is part of Adam’s PhD program), and requires quite a few processes to make sure you’re not subconsciously biasing the data one way or the other. It took us over a month to construct the survey itself, including utilizing sample groups. We had to decide what kind of structure the questions would be, and diligently record our every move. After all, we want to make sure our results as reliable as possible. If you got that down, then entry and exit surveys are helpful for schools to figure out why people are joining and leaving so that you can see what needs modifying in your school or curriculum.
19. Google Analytics
I was recently writing articles for a data company on Google Analytics (which is free) and Google Analytics 360 (which is the paid version.) Essentially, you can embed this into your website and it will provide insights on all the people who visit it–from where the traffic is being driven in from (where are people seeing your link the most and clicking?), to the age (if available), to how long they stay on each page, to the bounce rate, to the flow reports, to showing you how people are navigating across your website, it offers a plethora of data to see how effective your website landing page is getting you customers or reaching your audience.
The one thing is that if you’re retrieving over 500,000 instances of data, it does sampling, which is just taking a sample of 500,000 instead of running the analytics on all 500,000 instances. There are workarounds though, so if that’s something you are running into, then you can set the time frame shorter in order to eliminate sampling.
20. Google Voice
If you don’t want to spend money on getting a dedicated phone number for the school just yet, use Google Voice. It can forward calls directly to your cell phone so you can differentiate between unknown spam numbers and those who are interested in the dojo (and respond with your opening message accordingly–“Hello, Long Island Aikikai, how can I help you?”) rather than guessing. It can also receive text messages, and transcribe voicemail. Yelp accepts it as the business number where it may not have accepted your cell number.
With GDPR and other data protection laws coming into play, privacy policies are now a must. There are a few free ones out there including Termsfeed, freeprivacypolicy.com, privacypolicies.com, and, oddly, shopify.
22. Pure Chat
This is a free website chat generator that allows chats to be pushed to a mobile app by an available agent. It has code snippets if you don’t have WordPress, and if you do, it is an available plugin. There are other options out there including a plugin that goes to Facebook messenger. Thanks to Skip Chapman for the recommendation!
R is a programming language and data analyzing software that can generate reports–anywhere from simple time series analysis to cohorts to reliability tests. It’s free and well-liked by data researchers due to its flexibility, ease of use, and functionality. There is a learning curve, but its capabilities are broad. It’s what we are using to analyze the data from the Aikido Journal survey. Why does it matter? Well, take cohort analysis for example in terms of student enrollment and retention. You can see the actual breakdown of student enrollment compound month over month or year over year so it can give you a clear picture of how you’re retaining students or getting new students. The USAF’s yearly report of how many students are registered with them, for example, shows that it hovers stable at around 4k. HOWEVER, we don’t know the breakdown of it–perhaps we are gaining the same amount of students we’re losing, or we’re only retaining our old students.
To put simply, it creates a graph that shows you which students that signed in the month or year before has continued to sign in again the next month/year (or whatever your time frame is.) On top of that, it shows if there are any new students that have never signed in before show up. Below is a cohort analysis created from the information we got from our front desk tablet sign in program (which Adam wrote himself so if you were looking for help on that, feel free to contact him). The lightest blue is everyone who signed in within the month of January. The next darker blue is any new student ID’s that did not sign in during January but did in Feb, while the light blue above it is everyone who signed in January that continued to sign in Feb and so on. The next darkest is every new person who signed in within March that did not do so in Feb and Jan, plus everyone who signed in for Feb that also signed in within March being shown as the slightly lighter blue, and then the lightest blue is everyone who signed in January that also signed in within March.
The coding to this can be found here: https://analyzecore.com/2014/07/03/cohort-analysis-in-r-retention-charts/
This is just one example of what R can do. It can, of course, help analyze surveys you construct as well, especially if you have a large number of instances/responses (when you have hundreds of responses, it may not be efficient to do it by hand.) You’ll even be able to see the correlation between age and days of practice, rank and age, etc. If you want help creating a cohort analysis or anything else related to data analysis of students for your dojo, feel free to hit me or Adam up and we’d be happy to meet and discuss what it can do. On that note, we will need to speak with those who will ultimately be making the decision of what the data does, since a lot can get lost in translation if there are people between. It has happened in the past that our conclusions end up being taken apart and only selective parts reported to the people who needed to see the whole picture.