Private Lessons

It’s funny but the majority of my posts come from conversations or questions that I get asked.

A lot questions about making it in Jiu Jitsu

How to make money in Jiu Jitsu?
How can you do Jiu Jitsu full time?

There are lots of ways to make money in Jiu Jitsu. Maybe I will do a later series of posts covering some of the other sources of income available to athletes and instructors.

Obviously, the majority of Jiu Jitsu practitioners won’t be in a position to do private lessons.

But for anyone considering a career in Jiu Jitsu. This is a major stream of income especially for athletes/instructors starting out.

It’s a relatively low investment, high reward situation.

Think about it.

All you need is your knowledge and a space to train and you can literally take in hundreds of dollars per hour.

Starting out

Starting out, no one’s going to take you seriously until around the purple belt level. Before this it’s just the blind leading the blind. So it’s best to be at the point where you have mastered the basic movements of Jiu Jitsu, fundamental techniques, and self defense. While starting to develop your own style and game.

I remember being really nervous the first time I taught a private lesson.

I’m serious.

I was nervous about what techniques I would show.

I was nervous if the student would like my teaching.

I was nervous about accepting (a lot) money for something that I love to do.

Even if you lack confidence in your abilities. At this point you know more about Jiu Jitsu than 99% of people.

That’s all you need to get started.

Breakdown

If I had to break down what type of students take private lessons. I could narrow it down to three simple groups (ordered from lowest knowledge investment to highest knowledge investment)

1. Belt test private lessons

Most students interaction with private lessons often start as a crash course lesson to help them prepare for their belt test/promotion.

These lessons serve as a refresher for techniques that they might have missed or need help on.

Depending upon the academy. Belt test privates are a good and recurring source of income and not very difficult.

2. General private

This level of private lesson is more complex than the belt test private. Where you have a fixed number of techniques that you need to cover.

While a general private is really a consultation.

A student will come to you with questions on how to improve their guard.

Or possibly assistance on a specific position that gives them trouble. Like passing a knee shield.

You will see general privates more at blue belt level (and sometimes even higher belt levels). Where students will start investing more time and energy developing their own Jiu Jitsu.

Once you have mastered the fundamental techniques of Jiu Jitsu and have a firm grasp of the techniques of modern Jiu Jitsu.

All that’s left for you is to create your own unique style.

Of course, you can emulate others techniques and movements. But at the end of the day you will still have to make them your own.

3. Style specific private

The highest knowledge level of private lesson.

Students actively seek out a particular instructor for a specific move or set of moves.

These are the ones that I really enjoy personally because as a student of Jiu Jitsu I’ve put hundreds of hours into my game and the techniques that I use. So I’m more invested in showing my own moves versus more general techniques.

Example: You want to improve your butterfly guard so you take a private lesson with Marcelo Garcia.

Academy Privates

Most private lessons take place inside of an academy.

If you’re an instructor at an academy then there is really nothing stopping you from having a thriving private lesson business.

In fact, I’m surprised by how many academies (big and small) ignore private lessons.

Academies with hundreds of students might have 2-3 weekly privates going on.

My advice to you is just to promote private lessons more with in your academy.

I’ve been to a lot of academies where they never once talk about their private lesson programs and then wonder why no one takes privates.

If you’re not an instructor at your academy but you are a higher belt or high level athlete/instructor then your ability to do private lessons may be affected.

Some academies only let instructors do private lessons. So you will have to find alternatives.

Some academies charge a fee for every lesson that you teach. I’ve seen anywhere between 10-30 percent.

That means if you charge $100 for a private lesson. Your academy could be taking $20-$30.

Again, you will have to find the best situation that works for you.

In Home Lessons

In home lessons is a good alternative to doing private lessons inside of an academy.

It allows you the flexibility of working during non-standard hours when your academy might be closed or unavailable and all of the proceeds go to you.

Pricing

Pricing your private lesson is very subjective. Traditionally, higher belts charge more for their private lessons than lower belts.

At the high end I’ve seen athletes, world champions mind you, charge anywhere between 250-300+ per lesson.

It all depends on your competition accolades, teaching skill, technique, demand and a whole list of things that is too many to count.

Group Privates

I’m a big believer in group privates. As an instructor it’s easier for me to show a move on one student while the other(s) watch versus having to walk a student through a technique solo.

It’s also more efficient to have the students practice their moves on each other versus having them all practice their moves on you individually.

Group privates are a great alternative for many students that are turned off from the pricing of one-on-one privates.

$200 might be a lot for a lot for a solo private. But split 4 ways is only $50 per person.

Private Packages

In most businesses you give a discount for customers paying in advance.

Sure they can pay full price for a one off lesson.

But say they want to take 5, 10, or even 50 privates with you.

At that point it’s okay to show that you appreciate them deciding to work with you.

Privates aren’t cheap.

But knocking 20-25% off of your usual pricing won’t kill you and can even help promote your lessons.

I know many academies that will nickel and dime their loyal customers. But that’s just a lack of business knowledge.

You reward those loyal to you.

Don’t be afraid

Private lessons are a great source of income that is often under utilized.

I even know world class black belts that still feel weird about teaching private lessons and worry about bringing value to the students each time.

These are guys that are high level and just by conversing with them about Jiu Jitsu would help grow your understanding of the game exponentially.

Ultimately you have to realize that you have a lot to offer and that people will spend good money to learn from you.

And that’s okay.

Bringing in 2017

2017 is quickly approaching and as with each new year this brings with it a rush of new potential clients looking for help in achieving their fitness, personal growth, and life goals.

This time of year can really set the pace for the rest of your 2017. Whether your academy will see real growth (in member numbers and gross income) or if you will continue to just get by.

I won’t lie.

Most Jiu Jitsu academies ignore the potential that the new year brings.

But I can assure you that other martial arts academies and the entire fitness industry are already preparing to take full advantage.

Think about this for one second.

People with cash in hand. Looking for a fun way to sweat and to release stress in a safe environment.

If this sounds like your academy why not help them and yourself?

From bring in the new year (2016):

“January is to the fitness and martial arts industries what black friday and cyber monday are to big retailers. If you’re not marketing your school for the influx of people looking to make good on their New Year’s Resolutions, then you’ll really miss out on the best time to grow your martial arts school.”

Systems

In 2016, I talked a lot about the importance of having systems in place. Specifically, in creating marketing systems to help you generate more leads. I plan on doing a quick review of that but I want you to think bigger picture.

You should have a system in place for everything!

There should be a system that you use in planning your classes.

A system for training new employees and instructors.

You should even have a system for how to clean your academy.

By implementing systems you make your business more efficient. Which means more time and energy for making money and doing what you love.

Examples of systems

Website

Your website is often the first experience a potential client will have with your business.

There should be a process by which visitors (new prospects) can go to your website. Leave you their contact information and you continue to market to them until they try out your services.

There are a few ways to set up a system for your academy that does exactly this but for now I will leave you with a simple checklist of things your website should contain.

  • Branded Items. Have your logo, image, and social media information available so that they know that you are a real business.
  • Contact Information. Phone and email so that interested prospects have a way of contacting you.
  • Schedule. Self explanatory.
  • Instructor information. Post about yourself, who you’re associated with, and of course your credentials.
  • Lead Generator. Have some way of collecting prospective clients contact information. At least a first and last name, a phone number, and an email address so that you can send them more information.
  • Address. Don’t underestimate the power location has in turning a prospect into a paying client. Place your address some where easily accessible and include a map and landmarks if possible.

Live Telephone Answering Service

It seems like common sense but you never know when a prospective client will call.

The worse thing you can do is let your telephone calls go to voicemail.

It’s like having an attractive girl text you late at night to see what you’re doing.

If you’re wide awake at that time and able to respond to her message. All is good.

But what if you happened to be really tired that night and end up sleeping through her message.

You can bet she’s going to be less interested the next time around!

That’s why you have to strike while the iron is hot.

With an automated telephone service, new prospects will call your number and speak to a virtual receptionist available 24/7 when you’re not able to get to the phone. This works really well because they can forward calls to your sales staff to close the deal, or they can collect the prospects contact information and even input their email address into your other systems.

Once you get a prospective student’s email or phone number you can gauge their level of interest and react accordingly. If they’re really gung ho, go right ahead and sign them up, but if they’re not quite ready to give your program a try, use email to build a relationship with them. Inform them of the benefits that you offer, tell them your history, offer them free guides and videos. Whatever it takes to build interest and eventual get them in your doors.

Lesson Plan for Fundamental/Beginners

Coming up with a lesson plan each week from scratch is really time consuming and it sucks.

I’m talking from experience here.

With more advanced classes you have more freedom in planning classes and working different concepts.

But when you’re dealing with with beginning students it’s best to stick with the basics and have a structured game plan.

At my academy we implement a system of lessons for our beginner (white belt) and intermediate level (blue belt) students. That’s designed to teach them the basics of Jiu Jitsu without overwhelming them.

If your academy is smaller and just starting out then it doesn’t make sense to divide your members up. But as you continue to grow and you have students at all levels. It will become increasingly harder to add brand new students to your (mixed) classes without the higher belts feeling like they have to slow down in order get the lower belts up to speed.

At that point, it becomes more effective for the newer students to work on techniques that are appropriate to their experience level (i.e. learning how to shrimp before learning heel hooks).

Eventually you will need to have a system in place that will help your beginner students learn the fundamental techniques of Jiu Jitsu and prepare them for more advance techniques/classes.

Again, developing systems creates less headaches and worry for you. Which means that you can focus you energy and attentions to other areas of your business.

Marketing Your Academy

You should be marketing your academy and your services year round. Especially during the first quarter of the year (January to March).

This time is great because people are actively seeking solutions to their health and fitness goals.

I know a lot of Jiu Jitsu academies have a negative view on marketing.

Why do you have to market your academy when you are the best in the city, or you have the best competitors, or the highest ranked students?

While this is all good. I can tell you right now that the average person off of the street or visitor to your website has no clue how good your academy is compared to the academy down the street.

They don’t care about how many tournaments you’ve won.

They don’t care about how many champions you’ve produce.

But I do know what they do care about.

They care about themselves and how your business can help them reach their goals!

“Our job is to connect to people, to interact with them in a way that leaves them better than we found them, more able to get where they’d like to go.” – Seth Godin

An easy way to get started is to research the local academies in your area.

Check out their websites.

See what they’re offering prospective clients to try out their programs.

Then use that information to create your own marketing strategy.

A strategy that will set your apart from all the rest.

“Think different” – Apple Computer, Inc.

Online Marketing
This is a fairly broad topic but it includes all of your online marketing efforts and social media, digital products, etc.

We talked about setting up your website earlier. Above all else, it should be informative and simple to use and share.

A few questions to help you get started

  • How is your social media presence? Are you posting new things about your academy and programs daily/weekly/infrequently?
  • Are there any videos of your classes, you teaching, interviews, etc?
  • Are your clients sharing your posts, pictures and other content?
  • What comes up when someone searches your name or your academy? How can you use that to promote your brand.

Direct Mail
I’m talking about good-old fashioned physical marketing tools such as flyers and mailers. It may seem old school but it’s still effective and relevant for a physical location. A well designed mailer, with a modest list depending on the population in your area could generate massive returns.

For example if you purchased a list of 10,000 lead addresses and only had 5%(0.05) of those leads contact your academy. That’s potentially 500 new clients.

Referrals
Your biggest resource and best ally is going to be your loyal clientele.

Do you have a system by which your clients can refer their friends, family members, and coworker’s?

A free trial pass.

A business card.

Even a brochure that your clients can give out would be a low investment -> high reward tool that you can easily implement.

Improving Your Academy

There are going to be a few days during the holidays when you’re academy will be less busy or even closed.

Why not take this time to make some minor (or even major) improvements in and around your academy?

Little touches like:

  • Deeply cleaning your entire academy
  • New coat of paint
  • New/different furniture in your reception area
  • New mats
  • Adding more fitness equipment
  • Wifi for members
  • Complementary body wash

Show that you value your current clients as well as helping you sell your brand to prospective clients.

There is no shortage of things that you can do that will help prepare your academy for the new year.

Having systems in places to help run your academy and focusing on those little touches that will set you apart from those other martial arts/fitness businesses in your area is a good step in the right direction.

The more value you give in terms of the programs you offer, the amenities, and instruction.

The easier it will be to market and sell your services.

This could be the difference between running your academy like a side hustle that barely covers your living expenses versus a business that can generate wealth for many years to come.

Can you make it in Jiu Jitsu?

I know many athletes pursuing Jiu Jitsu as their career all over the world and the general consensus is that making it in Jiu Jitsu full-time is hard.

Even if you’ve made a name for yourself and established yourself as a skilled competitor and instructor. It’s still hard.

As much as I like writing about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a martial art and will continue to. It’s still a business at the end of the day and many athletes will still have to pay tuition to their academy, pay rent, tournament fees, nutritional supplements, health insurance, etc.

As Jiu Jitsu continues to grow, more and more people are going to look to make a career out of it, it’s only natural. In the U.S. we’re always told that you should follow your dreams and do what you love.

But what are the options for someone looking to make a career out of Jiu Jitsu?

The most obvious, and the one that I hear everyone say is that you should open up an academy.

Get a black belt, open an academy.

Win a world championship, open an academy.

No other skills, open up an academy.

I expect most high level Jiu Jitsu competitors have had this thought cross their mind at some point. But running an academy is a business, and just like you have to prepare your techniques before entering a tournament, you also have to prepare yourself to run a business.

Starting an academy takes preparation, patience and resources.

And if you foolishly rush into this it can be an expensive lesson.

I will save my views on opening an academy for another post. But for now I want to focus on those that are maybe not ready for this step or have yet to raise the capital to get to this point. Which I believe is where the majority of my friends and many of my readers are at in their Jiu Jitsu careers.

What can you do?

I think the best thing that you can do at this point is to learn about business in general.

If you are dead set on having an academy one day in the future then you should be learning about the business aspects of running an academy as soon as possible.

Easy test: If you had to work the front desk at your academy for one hour would you be able to handle everything without a hitch?

This could include answering the phone, dealing with unhappy clients, signing up new prospects, etc.

You would be surprised that many academy owners and instructors are completely lost when it comes to handling basic business operations. Let alone doing basic accounting, marketing, and sales. Things that make businesses successful.

All the Jiu Jitsu technique in the world won’t help you when it comes running your business.

However, you don’t have to confine yourself to just learning about martial arts businesses. Really, any business experience would be helpful and translate over well.

One summer, I was lucky enough to intern with a friend’s start up during a break in my training.

Of course, I did a lot of errand running but I was also able to develop an understanding for basic business principles by interact with clients, helping close deals, research topics, and doing whatever else that was asked if me.

I’m a big advocate of working for yourself and starting your own business but you have to start somewhere. You need a base of knowledge in some field to work with but this often takes time.

So you need a way to buy yourself time to develop valuable skills while also allowing time for you to train.

Work Part-time

If you are serious about pursuing a career in Jiu Jitsu as a competitor or an instructor you will need a lot of mat time. I’ve seen a few people manage this while working full time jobs and raising a family. But every year it gets harder and harder.

A decade ago you could train once a day while managing a career and still be competitive, but in 2016 you have blue and purple belts training and competing full time.

So you will need to maximize your time spent on the mat while also being able to support yourself financially.

Benefits of working part time

Working part time is a smart way to make money initially while also transitioning into a Jiu Jitsu career. Depending on the part time position, not being confined to an office for many hours will allow you the flexibility you will need in order to train Jiu Jitsu and improve your skills.

Know your finances

I have to write a little bit about finances. If you’re starting to pursue a career in Jiu Jitsu and you don’t already have other streams of income or savings. You are going to need to have your finances down. There’s just no other way. Things that normal people take for granted such as going out to eat, concerts, and most activities involving money won’t help you get closer to your goals.

Travel costs.

Tournaments cost.

Training costs.

There are ways to subsidies these things once you reach a certain level when you have access to sponsors and other entities helping to cover these costs. But for someone starting out, with no name recognition or major tournament success. Your entire focus should be on improving your skills.

There is money in Jiu Jitsu contrary to what many blogs, social media posts, and Internet memes might suggest. But you have to have the skills either in competition or marketing to gain access to that level.

Teaching Jiu Jitsu

Getting a part time position at your academy would be the easiest place to start.

Most Jiu Jitsu writers will suggest starting with the kids program and moving on from there but I would argue that teaching kids Jiu Jitsu is harder than teaching adults Jiu Jitsu and will take longer to get good at. Kids instructors also don’t start off making a lot so you will be doing a lot of hard work for not a lot of pay.

I started off teaching kids when I was just a seventeen year old blue belt and while I’m grateful for all the experience that I gained. I believe it’s better for new instructors to start out by assisting with adult beginner classes and gaining experience before moving on to teaching kids.

Working with adults will allow you the proper environment in order to develop your teaching ability and all the other skills you will need as an instructor such as the ability to speak confidently, logically conveying techniques, and commanding respect so that you will be ready to instruct kids.

Let me tell you this.

When you’re teaching kids your skills have to be on point. They can smell weakness or inexperience and will eat you alive.

It reminds me a lot of when a substitute teacher would cover a class in grade school and the entire class would descend into chaos.

I think many academies have this backwards. They often put their least experienced instructors to teach their kids classes. When I have observed that it’s often better to have your best instructors working with those impressionable minds. But that’s a topic for another day.

Front Desk/Manager

Even if your plan is to teach Jiu Jitsu or to compete. I think you should spend some time working or helping out at the front desk at the academy that you train at.

If you really want to understand how a martial arts business works this is where you need to be. I know so many really talented instructors, with great techniques and knowledge of all things Jiu Jitsu but never took the time to actually learn basic business concepts.

This is okay if you decide to partner with someone with actual business experience. But most academies start off small time and are self financed.

Take a look at just about all of the top academies and you will realize the world champion instructor was just the talent in the equation. Often there is an investor with way more business experience and financial backing that handles everything outside of instruction, at least initially any way.

Examples. The Art of Jiu Jitsu academy and RVCA or Marcelo Garcia and Josh Waitzkin.

The point that I’m trying to impress upon you is that the top academies, the ones that are really grossing six figures or more per year, all have a strong business foundation.

Things that you can learn working the front desk

  1. How to interact with clients
  2. Generating leads
  3. Converting those leads into clients
  4. Organization
  5. Following systems
  6. Talking to people
  7. Writing emails
  8. Responding to emails
  9. Negotiating
  10. Having uncomfortable conversations
  11. Dealing with past dues
  12. Dealing with special cases
  13. Getting shit done

Even if your academy isn’t in need of a front desk manager that doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss business with them or the owner or whoever is in charge of running the business. I’ve found that most times it’s as easy a just asking, especially if the person in charge is business savvy and actually enjoys talking about their business.

I’ve also found that less knowledgeable and less business savvy academy owners are less open to talk about their businesses.

What if there are no openings at your academy?

At larger academies there might already be a large supply of instructors on hand to teach and cover most of the classes.

Even smaller academies might not be able to bring on any supplementary instructors.

I still suggest finding a way to get experience even if you have to volunteer to do it. Think of it as an internship or an apprenticeship that will pay off largely in the future.

Alternatives

There are a lot of part time positions available. Your biggest resource will be the network of students that attend your academy. Many of whom probably have their own businesses or are in positions to hire.

Begin promoting your brand

For higher level athletes and instructors looking to make it in Jiu Jitsu now is the time to start building your own brand. Competing and winning in major tournaments will be the easiest way to get your name out into the collective Jiu Jitsu community.

The first step is the hardest.

I will never forget during my last year as a brown belt. I was working part time for a popular yoga apparel company and still uncertain of my future as a competitor.

I was visiting my former instructors’ academy after a few years of not seeing each other and he sat me down after the training session and we just talked. We talked about my goals and what I was doing to achieve them and he gave me much of the same advice that I’m sharing with you right now.

What I took away from this conversation is that we all have doubts but when you’ve poured so much of yourself into this art. You owe it to yourself to see it through and sometimes it takes someone to just say some motivating words to help you get through those rough patches.

It seems so simple now but having someone that I looked up to, someone that I trusted, say those words to me aloud really motivated me in a way that had an instant impact.

Have you ever had a lightbulb moment when something just clicked?

Well, that’s how I felt after this conversation.

Even if you haven’t had a lot of success there are ways that you can use to differentiate yourself. Competing and winning is definitely the easiest way to do this but I can name many others that were able to find their own unique niche in which they were able to promote themselves.

Alternative sources of income for high level athletes

  • Seminars
  • Private lessons
  • Professional tournaments
  • Online product
  • Instructional DVD/digital download
  • Association
  • Sponsorships

There are a lot of options out there if you have the skill and knowledge. Sometimes it just takes you putting yourself out there. Letting people know that you available for different opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities when they arise.

Start small by teaching a few private lessons, even if you have to discount them. Just focus on building a clientele until people start actively seeking you for lessons.

The same concept applies to getting seminars. Offer to teach a seminar for a charity event and then leverage that into getting paid to teach.

Keep developing yourself

I think it’s important as athletes and martial artists that we continue to develop ourselves outside of just our techniques on the mat.

One day you won’t be as fast or as strong as you once were. Even if that is a few years off, one day your priorities might change so that you are not able to maintain the same level of training. Whatever the case, you will want to have other skills to fall back on.

The worst case scenario is that you become a really talented competitor that has failed to develop outside of competing. What happens when you become less relevant?

I started writing this post as a guide for many of my friends grinding out there. But I think now more than ever they need encouragement to continue on the paths that they have chosen.

So many people in Jiu Jitsu are struggling. Many of them academy owners struggling to keep their doors open while trying to make ends meet. Others trying to make it as full time competitors in Jiu Jitsu while struggling to get their names out there in the Jiu Jitsu community so that they can do seminars and private lessons.

There is so much potential in Jiu Jitsu and it’s growing every year. It’s been a slower growth relative to MMA, but compared to many of the other combat sports/martial arts there are a lot of possibilities.

Just like how I saw that there was a ray of hope out there. I want you to know that there are ways for you to make it in this industry. No one’s going to lay it all out for you and sometimes it will be hard and you will be discouraged from moving forward. But there is a way.

One of my favorite sayings in Jiu Jitsu is that each person’s journey is a marathon and not a sprint.

Sometimes it takes just hearing that you can make it to actually inspire you to take action and continue on your path.