Graham Slater talks all things martial arts business and an exciting movie opportunity for school owners.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL LEARN:
- The importance of getting your assets and martial arts school insured and protected
- Why working with third-party people is beneficial if you lack expertise in a specific area
- Graham Slater’s concept of circle of knowledge: why he doesn't think about other martial arts schools as his competition or enemy
- Why promotion is key and how you can raise awareness about your martial arts brand
- How to get your students become Hollywood movie stars and become the next Jet Li or Jackie Chan
- And more
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.
Hi, this is George Fourie, welcome to another Martial Arts Media business podcast, episode number 36. I’m really excited to have a guest on board again with us today, who is Mr. Graham Slater. Now, this interview could have gone a lot of directions, but we focused on insurance, protecting yourself as a martial arts school owner. We also discussed marketing and a really, really exciting venture that they have going with a video, a video production show, where you as a martial arts school owner can really benefit from. So listen out for that, we go into details with it towards the end of the episode.
And I also have to apologize to Graham, because I made a bit of a blunder and I've done this once before and I caught it in time, but I'm definitely going to adjust my process with what happens. So, let me fill you in: the way I normally do the podcast interview is, I never really meet the guest. We start talking on Skype, we have a bit of a chit chat and we get to know each other. And the conversation easily gets carried away and I forgot to clearly mention that we are not actually recording the podcast yet. And the conversation kept rolling and about 30-40 minutes in, I actually realized that we made a mistake and that Graham was actually under the impression that we really have been recording.
And we have restarted from that point, so because the story was just… there was so much shared in the first 30-40 minutes, what I decided to do is actually give you the raw, uncut conversation that I was having with Graham and at the end of the show, if you keep on listening after the outro music plays out, the raw conversation between me and Graham will be added onto that, OK? A bit of a bonus for you, we cover a lot of ground. This is a bit of a longer episode if you listen to it all the way through, but we record the podcast as an episode, which is kind of a normal length and cover everything in that and then at the end, you will also get the bonus as such.
Alright, so I hope you enjoy that, I'm going to jump into this, just a couple of things: of course, the show notes are at martialartsmedia.com/36, so that will be the number 36 and a few other exciting things that I will mention at the end of this show, but first and foremost, let’s jump into the interview and please welcome to the show, Graham Slater.
GEORGE: Good day everyone, today I have with me graham Slater all the way from Melbourne. I’m already planning episode 2, the part 2 follow-up of this interview because there’s a lot that we can discuss, but welcome to the show graham.
GRAHAM: Thanks, George, thanks for allowing me on the show.
GEORGE: All right, awesome. So I've got a bit of a background of just how you got started and so forth, but do you mind sharing just how you got started in the industry from the get-go?
GRAHAM: Oh, OK. I suppose, a bit of my story is around on the website, but I started round back in 1973 in the UK, in Liverpool. First from boxing and then I started into Goju Karate. With all the gang warfare from there, so lots of attacks, random attacks you'd experience almost on a daily basis, so the whole mindset was really on self-preservation, you know, what you can do to defend yourself and what really worked. From that, I came to Australia in 1975 and fortunately, I found a Kyokushin karate school, which is just fitting for me because we did full contact in the UK and it allowed me to do that. I don't think I could have done that, because I wasn't a particularly aggressive guy – I was a big guy, but I was hardened by the initial environment.
So that helped me get through that and I did that for about four years, but alongside that I was doing kickboxing and Kenshin Kan and other stuff and my friends were doing aikido and jiu-jitsu, I was playing around with that for that period of time and then I trained in Kyokushin (for 4 years). Then school closed down and then I was training with one George Trench (Shotokai Karate) after a year or so George said to me ‘why don't you open up your own school? And I said, well, I'm only a brown belt and I was really just there for the training.
Well I did that on his behalf and then I found that people enjoyed it and people joined and then he said to me, my instructor said, look, I'm leaving, you can have my two schools as well, so I inherited two other schools, so I couldn't actually learn from other people, because I was teaching 4 nights a week.
So I stuck with that for a while and then I got disgruntled and I was going to pack it all in because I wasn't learning anything, I was just teaching. And then I met another group who had a Japanese sensei, and before I knew it, I was going over to Japan. Just before that, I got into the gym industry and I was a full-time aerobics instructor, a gym instructor. As well as being a martial artist so I was training really 6 hours a day plus, and that really prepared me for that Japan trip.
So when I was over there, it completely changed my life, because the training there was so harsh, so repetitive, so intense, that when I came back, I thought I had to train differently. I was inspired and then, I continued training in Shotokai Karate, mainly focusing on that for that period of time and then, round in 1990, I separated from my teacher and I didn't have another teacher and I was really just a ronin, looking around for more education and training.
So I started training with other instructors, knocking on their doors, saying, hey, I'm Graham, can I train with you? Some were receptive, and some weren't and that was a lot of fun. I started teaching other schools as well, just randomly on special concepts, here and overseas. And in 1993, I opened up schools in the UK as well and then I opened also the karate alliance, which allows to train with other people and have regular instructor meeting, I was thinking of myself, of learning. And then we incorporated the martial arts alliance, which allowed more people from other disciplines to come in who were reluctant as a karate organization and then we launched Martial Arts Australia to focus on the needs of instructors in Australia.
A lot of this was not really intentional, it was really more just for my own enjoyment, to be able to learn from other martial arts people in a formal practice. But we found that in all these conversations, the underlying thing was business support. What we do for insurance, how do we get gradings, what are the tools out there to market my school, how can I raise my profile? so all these questions were coming up and I had a marketing background, I had a business background in a few areas, I thought, maybe we should discuss it and that's what we did and I found the needs got greater and it took more of my time and I had to make a decision: do I close my schools and focus on the needs of school owners, or do the opposite.
But I thought, if I can help school owners do better job, grow the community, that is me doing a better job for the community, because just teaching in a school, I can only influence, I can only positively influence people in my local community and I wanted more than that, I wanted to help more people and the way I could do that – and I haven't got all the time to go into different countries and do that personally, so I thought, well, how can I do what I really want to do? If I help instructors and I put on the right path, enable them and empower them, that's a lot easier.
So that's what I do now, I do that in the ways that they need and because I stick with instructors all day, every day. If I probably in touch with, communicate with probably a 1000 – 1500 school owners in a month, so I get a lot of stories. I don't always talk to them verbally, but I communicate with so many people and their stories and by listening to them, we introduce all the services that we do right now. That's probably it.
GEORGE: Awesome. So Graham, with speaking with so many martial arts instructors and being so in touch with the industry, what is sort of the common problem the common story that always comes up?
GRAHAM: It’s a good question because it’s actually in multiple parts because you've got people who are just opening up a school, or have got a small school of 25 people are the hobbyist. You've got people who are the 100-150 or hoping to go to 250-300. And then you've got these bigger schools around 500 to 1000 or more. But those guys don't need so much. They’re actually doing a really good job, so down below end, the people who are starting up, they don't generally have a lot of confidence in their curriculum, their grading system, their obligation to OHS, the insurance requirements, how to improve their skills to know that they should keep ongoing school searching, and not just stay where they are.
So that's where they are and we can help them quite easily, with some very basic elements that will get them on their way and when they get to the next level, we have a different conversation. And it’s the same in between people. But also, I don't have all the skills and I don't have… there’s a lot of people that, a lot of school owners that have got the fundamental skills of the total management of their school and the staff training and the protocols. See, I don't get down to that because people do that a lot better, it’s stepping outside of that in the general marketing business structure that I come in and introduce services that make the management of their school a lot easier.
And when I don't know something and I think there's a great expert, I'll introduce people to a great expert who will say, hey, you should learn from this guy. He's offering to give you this and you should learn that. And other resources that are available, I put people in touch with that, so I'm really enabling them to find what they're looking for if we don't have it ourselves. That's why we use a lot of third-party people who we trust and prefer and where we give it everything under the one stop shop, so hopefully, I answered that, it’s all different.
GEORGE: Yes, for sure. So and what I'm hearing is, you're not so much into the nuts and the bolts as such, but more in the bigger, sort of a more 30,000-foot view of how the business should work and join together, does that sound about right?
GRAHAM: Yeah, so look, instructors I feel need to look at each other, they need to learn from each other. So that is like a circle of knowledge: don't think about other schools as your competition, your enemy: think about that… the circles that I’m going with locally are very much the opposite, they're all thinking that they're all friends and they’re all doing that and they accept and share their knowledge so readily, one school across here said, you know what I did to get so many people? I did this campaign and it really worked.
But what I do find is I give people a marketing perspective. The old type of marketing with flyers and so forth, that used to work and the percentage was actually quite low then. But in some circles in Queensland, that actually still works! But I don't know whether it works in other places, well actually, people complain about how much they've got to spend and I said, you know it’s a lot easier now to get students into your school than it used to be and you don't even have to leave your lounge room, so all the social media and so forth.
But people don't know how to do that and that's forever changing, so I just put people into the reality of: these are the things that are available to you and it's really easy to refine, but also, not to have unrealistic expectations. You're not going to go from zero to hero in five seconds, you've got to put the work in. If you haven't got a proper curriculum, you haven't got advancements and you haven't got systems in place and staff support and a marketing campaign you keep working on and if you're finding that you're spending more time on the books and not on the floor, your hearts not in it!
So you have to look at constantly be changing and making sure that you are doing something for yourself each day. So I suppose I'm in the mentoring aspect and I say to them, look, you need to protect your assets. And they go, well how do we do that? Well, you need to have insurance and a lot of people don't know how exposed they are. They could lose their house, they can lose this and random people can come into their school and not even train at this school, yet sue them and we've got a number of cases.
So I put a reality check in it, were not sort of alarming them, but saying, look, you need to put protocols in place, like instant reporting. You need to have a proper attendance register, so if that person attended or didn't attend or said he attended, you can say that no one attended of that name on this day – I've got one at the moment, where it’s happened. So some things that they don't know about protecting their assets and school, because I mean insurance, so we hear the risk factors, we hear the stories and I want to put solutions in place so that they never have to go down that pathway. That's what we’re doing.
GEORGE: Awesome. So that insurance aspect goes a long way, because obviously, you need to – yes, you protect your assets and so forth, but then as you say, you're working with kids and you're working with students and there could be accidents, there could be situations to deal with, so you've got that aspect as well, where I guess you can get sued and have those type of implications. So how do you prepare people for that?
GRAHAM: Well, we give them manager manuals, we give them waiver forms, instant reporting, we have got training courses cover that. We just encourage them, ask your instructor: if you're leading your instructor, you're working with your instructor, you open up a school, obviously you are being taught by somebody. But what I'm finding is the school owners aren't teaching the students before they go out and teach or they're leaving early and they haven't grasped that. They haven't looked for that; they didn't know what they needed to know to run a business.
So that's the major issue with a lot of schools, and some of them have been, I've got 25 years of martial arts training, I'm OK – do you know that you're supposed to have first aid? Do you know you need to work with children? You could be fined 25,000 or 5 years of imprisonment. No? So the people say, oh, I've got all these years of experience in martial arts, but they don't have any business sense and they say I'm qualified – well, how are you qualified? Every day I'm speaking to people and I have to ask them about their qualifications and some of them are indignant about it: oh, I've been doing it for so long, I said, look, as far as the insurance companies are concerned, if you don't meet the criteria, you're not insured!
You need to be qualified and they don't want to, so you need to tell me and then I will interpret your qualifications and tell you whether you fit within the parameters of the insurance complaints, or not. If you're somewhere close, we can give you insurance, but you need to do this before we know the following year, you need to do the basics. Have you got first aid? No. Well, you shouldn't be teaching, you need to have somebody there at every class who’s qualified in first aid. People don't know that, because they're not going to be applying the appropriate duty of care, they don't have that. Someone can find a hole and say you're negligent and the insurance company doesn't want that.
So I'm on that end of the business side and the reality check. I use my marketing skills to guide people, but as I say, there’s a lot of good people out there. I find out, I have quite a broad range of skill sets in various different areas, but only limited specialty areas, so you can't be over everything, and also, technology is changing, circumstances are changing, student needs are changing. The number one question that people ask me: how do we get more students? That's it. And I say, look, have you built your profile up? Have you got a website, have you got a Facebook? I've got Facebook – is it active? Uhm, no. Well, I think so. So what do you need to do, what's a profile?
So if you think about a student, they want to be able to look to their instructor and brag about you as their teacher, because reflect on them being good. So they want to say, my teacher is this, that, he's fantastic, have a look at him online, have a look at my teacher. This is my teacher, that's why I'm so good; even if I'm not so good, I feel as though I can make a claim of that. So if you understand the psyche of the students, you just play that game. I remember, every time I was teaching, I was going out in a big hall and parents would come in they would say to me, are you qualified? And I’d have to have this conversation to justify that I as qualified.
So what I did, I put out cut-outs and photos of me on a big laminated board and I put a couple of them and I actually had a couple of articles, so when they come in now, they come in and talk to me. I’ll just say this, this is a couple of things I've done over the years, it’s a bit of school history. Oh – where do I sign? Just negates the conversation. So if you've got a good website, a good Facebook, it's active, it looks credible, you have good brochures, people are just going to go: well, you've got the lasses and then when you meet them face to face, it’s all professional, they go, right on, I want to join this school.
And then they bet down and they decide whether they like the curriculum and so forth, there are all the elements, but you want to get them into the door by making sure all those are right. If you've got videos of you talking and presenting, you put those in there as well, some of your achievements and trophies, people are just afraid to stand on a box and say, hey – I'm really good! There a point where you can do this as a third person, and that's what changed when I did.
I’m quite reserved, English reserved and I wouldn't normally get up, soapbox and say, I'm pretty shit hot and this and this. But now I’ll say, look, I'm going to put down some of my achievements, and you can make a decision yourself. And it does positively influence about 80% people that see it. 10% perhaps think you're an egotistical maniac and 10% are indecisive and I always work with the 80%, like most of us all should.
GEORGE: That resonates with me so much, but you know, I think the perception that you think the people that are thinking you are showing off: the only people that would actually really think that would be the other instructors that don't have their profiles up, and that's not who you're trying to impress anyway. You're trying to install trust really, with the students.
GRAHAM: Trust, that's exactly right.
GEORGE: And to show, yes, I've got this problem, I want to train martial arts, but why can you help me? Only to answer that in my head before going ahead, cool, this is what I want to do, but how do I know you can help me? And you know, the old saying of, you are as good as Google says you are. Because if people can't find you, they can't find that information, they're going to get their own assumptions. And you better not hope that it's coming from some dodgy forum where people are just bad mouthing each other and that's the things that come up.
I really resonate with that, because that's a big thing we talk about, it’s really about that positioning and putting good information and content on your website and pages that people can find you and then make educated decision, that when they walk in, they can say, and obviously when they see you that it's congruent with what they've seen the message that they have seen online resonates with what they see when they see you as such.
GRAHAM: Absolutely, yeah. I look at other people that don't do that, that are too reserved and they don't get students and the revenue and they get disgruntled and there happen to be some fantastic teachers out there that just fall out of it because they just don't get the students and the revenue. But they can't all have the broad based skills and a lot of them don't feel they have the place to go to ask people, so we want to be the place to go where we can put them in touch with people. If we can't do it ourselves, there are lots of places that we can put them in front of. Because we want to see those good instructors who are doing a good job in their community prosper, so they can still stay out there.
So that's probably part of it, but yeah, promotion, promotion is the key, because imagine when someone comes up to you: they've only come to your door because of they've just Googled. They got there because they got some base information and made a decision, and everybody is time poor, they want the information they want to see, they want to go, he's confident, they've got good classes, it’s in the location that I want, the instructor is qualified, he's got a bit of a profile – so they're ticking off all the points that satisfy them and then, they go, oh it’s got a free entry – it’s not a free program, it’s an intro program, it's $50 or $99, yeah I'm OK. I’ll pay that and I’ll join in.
A lot of people are giving them for free and we know that free is not always a good thing. So a lot of guys that I talk to now are actually doing an intro program where you pay and it gives a uniform, allows them to fit in a lot easier and then they feel part of the school, they made a commitment both sides and then they can upgrade them just before that intro program – that's been the most successful stories that I'm hearing.
GEORGE: Awesome so, let’s dig a bit deeper into marketing because that's a topic I like to discuss and you've got a lot of knowledge about that. So what is behind the website and the profile and so forth, what is your the big picture guidance that you’d like to give instructors moving forward with growing their school?
GRAHAM: Well, usually what we do is not always the same as. it’s not always relating to what a martial arts school owner does. So if I said to you I have 25 websites, you probably wouldn’t know that, but I've got 25 different websites. We've got different industries in different areas, where we want to move our competition out of the space in Google. So we do that by multiple domain names, pointing and redirecting, getting all the appropriate wordings for the search strings, having content, not duplicating content and just making sure every page is targeted for what we want to put out there.
School owners can have more than one website, so for example, people don't take up the advantage of what we have. We got a school directory in here, which is one place where someone can find you. You can set it up as profile, you can link it to your Facebook, its free. You can do that, you can have your Facebook, you can have your Twitter and you can have a mobile app, which you can get from us for free as well. So the mobile will squeeze everything in there, you can put your social media, any other website in that one hand.
So you've then got one, two, three, four places where people can find you, you've got your own website and if you want, you can get another website and call it a different name and point it. You can actually put your name if you've already got an existing school, it says it's John Smith’s Karate in Bentleigh – why not put John Smith’s Karate in Fitzroy, if it’s a branch and you have a separate site for that. And you can do other things, so you can actually bump out the spaces, but also make everything specific.
So understanding how all that works to get maximum space, multiple spaces to push out your competition is important. That's an area that I've learned, but I haven't got my head around it, and that's changing, obviously with Google algorithms as well, but I have people over here that are really experts, who keep in touch with all that and then what we do, we have experts in different fields, they're constantly working on that and we’re relating that information and working out what our needs are and the same thing, we’re looking at instructors and saying, what do these school owners need, what's pushing them out, why aren't they getting the right position?
So we’re helping them work as it’s all changing and trying to give them the best decision to be found. And what are you teaching? You look at someone's site and you say, I don't know what you're teaching, what is your product? I can't even see a timetable. People are lazy, they want to look at the product that you're selling, they want to see that you're qualified, look at the timetable and know how to contact you straight away, so if you haven't got that call to action, there's no incentive. Everything we do is all based around that, but the other I guess is passive income.
You're only getting paid when you've got instructors in front of you. I wanted to be earning money while I'm asleep. So I created passive income earners, so from drawing from different countries and different time zones, so instructors can do the same. They can have an instructor curriculum, a video curriculum, they can have a bi-correspondence course, as their profile grows, the people will come in different countries and go, oh, I've heard of that guy! I would love to train with this guy, how can I get access to him? And they go, oh, you've got an instructional course.
And some people say, oh, but I can't grade him, you can watch my videos, but people don't understand the full package that motivates them and drags them to buy your product is, they want the credibility. They want to learn the skills, they want to be validated for the skills and assessed, and say, hey, look, I'm this great! So we’re going to feed all those areas for the person to say, oh hey, I’ll pay your subscription, I’ll learn from you. So those things are valuable and that's what we’re building on. We want school owners to have a passive income.
GEORGE: Let's go a bit onto that because I know you were sharing earlier how this infrastructure that you've put in with the video broadcasting and the things that you've set up for instructors and then I would like to finish up with an exciting project that you are doing for martial arts students. But firstly, if we can talk about the video project and so forth?
GRAHAM: Yeah, we created a full-time facility. Among other things, it’s a video studio. It has various different movable sets from action to instructional to news desk board lounge and all that stuff. So we've opened that up to school owners who can come in there depending on their profile, we will film them for free and we’ll do a profit share in selling their product, OK?
Some who haven't got a profile means that you have to do the work. We’re not going to invest in you unless you've got a good curriculum, present well and we can market you. So if we have to do all those elements for you, you've got to pay. But the facility is there and an economical way for them to raise their profile and develop a passive income, so we know the stats, we know the people who do it well, how much they're earning, so we know it’s out there and they can get a good return on their investment.
But moving on to the new project is Action Star TV series and competition. That's particularly exciting for me because I was involved in one ten years ago, K star, where it was a search for the next Jackie Chan/Jet Li. Very, very exciting. So now we've brought it back, we've developed it ourselves, we developed action star entertainment, we've got two other partners Glenn Coxon and Peter Mylonas and we've commandeered, or we've actually got alliances with the stunt academy and anime studios and so forth. And what it brings together is the TV series where any individual, whether in sporting industry, fitness or martial artist, potentially a martial artist, there's more of a demand for martial artists, you can walk into a competition, you can do some performance, you'll be training stunts and acting and win a movie role, only movie star, straight away.
So you don't have to do multiple auditions as an actor, train and all this. You can walk off the martial arts audition floor and walk into a movie role. And we've got all the training preparation and enabling you. Then it’s up to the individual if they take it any further, so we’re very excited about that. A bit like “So you think you can dance,” or “Australia's Got Talent,” but the grand prize for this year 2017 is they fly to Hollywood. They've got training in the stunt academy, they've got acting and they've got movie roles. So it’s pretty exciting.
GEORGE: Wow, that's awesome. So how can martial arts school owners benefit from the Action Star?
GRAHAM: Great question! What they get to do, they send their students into the competition, they will get the kudos of creating a pathway for their students to become movie stars – that alone is a great benefit. What we do is, we validate their input and we actually post their school, the students need to be represented by a martial arts school, so we get the connections there. So they get the opportunity to instructor gets to brag, my students are entering into the action star competition. It's big news, he may be the next Jet Li, he may be the next Jackie Chan.
So they've got the opportunity, they can ride on that promotion, we will give them the tools to raise their profile by being part of the Action Star program. So that's the main thing, I think students are going to get some kudos from this, but they need to validate, and also in part of the filming we include the instructors from that school as well, and they can actually help them with the fight choreography for that school and get the kudos for actually helping them with their fight scenes as well – there are lots of benefits for the school owners, don't you worry about that!
GEORGE: Going back to what we were talking about your profile and so forth, just having – even if they just actually enter, just having that as part of their movement would give you so much traction.
GRAHAM: Yeah, there's something to talk about in social media – oh, follow John! Vote for my student! They get the vote as well and then you see who's really popular and they ride it out. And, I didn't know young Johnny was that popular, he's got thousands and thousands of people voting for him. I’ll make sure I look after that student, well, they should be anyway, but a little more about what's going on, then you think about an idea that will complement action star: what else could I do in the community that would give me that sort of traction and attention? So it opens up the mindset of thinking, that worked about action star, we’re going to follow in the voting, what elements in there that triggered the community to respond? And then you work out your own next campaign, so it just stems from there.
GEORGE: Awesome. Graham, it’s been great chatting to you. Where can martial arts school owners get in touch with you for this or anything else that we've discussed?
GRAHAM: The competition, they can go to actionstar.tv – www.actionstar.tv, Kapow TV, kapow.tv is a lot of videos and free videos and stuff about a lot of things that we've done. And of course, if someone wants to help in the business side of things and insurance, you can go to martialartsaustralia.com.au. And that should cover it.
GEORGE: Awesome. Graham, awesome chatting to you, we’ll have all those links in the show notes and I’ll definitely like to follow up this conversation and do this again.
GRAHAM: Yeah, thanks George for having me on the show. Hopefully, I've been of some help to some people and put a few messages out for them. Yeah, it’s been great working with you, thanks, George.
GEORGE: Awesome thank you.
And there you have it. Thank you, Graham, I hope you enjoyed the interview, and I'm really excited about the video project that they have happening, really, really exciting stuff.
If you need help with your marketing, we have just started releasing our workshop, weekly workshop that we've been doing, which is at martialartsmedia.com/workshop and what I’ve been doing is, I've unpacked everything out of my mind about what we do and how we help martial arts school owners and I've put it into a visual presentation. It’s interactive, we cover a lot of ground and I give you the core foundations of what it takes to position yourself as the authority martial arts school in your area.
So it’s a really exciting workshop, I've put a lot of time and effort into it and frankly, I should probably be charging for the workshop. But it’s my way to get my message across and the value that we provide, so it’s arguably one of the best 90 minutes you will spend on your business and if you just apply one of the things that I mention in this workshop, it could be worth a lot for you. So I highly recommend it, it’s at martiartasmedia.com/workshop. Jump onboard and check it out and I hope to see you on one of the workshops.
Alright – thanks a lot for joining us – as I mentioned, show notes as well on martialartsmedia.com/36 and I look forward to seeing you again next week with another awesome guest or solo show, that will depend, we’ll have to see. I have a few great guests lined up.
So that's it for now, have a good week and remember: we've got the bonus of the uncut conversation with Graham and me when the music finishes, so if you want to hang around and listen to that, I’ll chat to you soon. Cheers!
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