One of the more challenging aspects of running a dojo for me is the issue of dues. Like many martial arts instructors, I do not teach for a living; I have a day job that I enjoy immensely and, if I am to be honest, allows me to cover my family’s needs far better than I could if I were a full-time martial arts teacher. That said, when we moved our dojo into its own space, I knew that I had to run it as a business–a profitable business–or else things would quickly fall apart. I emphasize “profitable” because at first I merely hoped for the dojo to break even. But that’s a limited goal; if I shoot for break even, odds are I will always risk falling short. So I shoot for profitable, knowing that every penny over the break-even point is a buffer that can help cushion the lean times in dojo membership.
Yet I greatly dislike having to talk about money with my students. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid talking about money with my students. Training should be about training, after all. My role is to help teach, not to remind students about their financial obligations. So, when the dojo started, I came up with several ways to make things as easy as possible for everyone. We have a yearly membership rate, for example, that offers students a substantial discount. We have a recurring membership, so dues are paid automatically. And so on. Most of the dojo takes advantage of these options, which works out great for everyone. The students don’t have to worry about whether or not they paid their dues on time; I, on the other hand, don’t have to remind people that, for the dojo to function, it needs everyone’s financial support.
Despite my best efforts, however, there are always a couple of students who pay on a month-to-month basis. Most of the time, this is not an issue; unless they are late. Then I have to remind them about their obligations and see what happens. I’d like to say I don’t like doing this because I don’t want to deal with the business aspects of the dojo. But this isn’t true. I understand that the dojo’s a business and needs my attention in that regard. I don’t like reminding students to pay dues because, to be blunt, I shouldn’t have to. No one joins the dojo unless they are an adult or are sponsored by an adult. And, as adults, we understand that bills must be paid on time. I consider reminding people to pay their dues to be on the same level as reminding students that they really, really, really should make sure their feet are clean before they get on the mat. I’ll remind them, but do I really have to?
The same issue applies when students need financial help. I understand very well that there are some times where paying dues is very difficult. I have never had a problem coming up with creative solutions to help students who might be in times of financial stress. But I don’t feel it’s my obligation to suggest these solutions unsolicited. If a student needs help, I believe they should feel comfortable talking with someone–either myself, or a senior student–and stating that they need some assistance. It shows that the student is interesting in finding a solution for themselves, as opposed to having a solution handed to them.
On the plus side, the dojo has finally grown to the point that it very nearly (if not completely) covers its own expenses. A remarkable achievement for a business that’s only been open for 7 months. And, as I mentioned, the more the dojo grows and becomes profitable, the greater the buffer when there are lean times. It also ensures that we’re better able to help students who have some need of financial aid.