When you’re first beginning any business endeavor you face a serious chicken-and-egg problem. People want to buy proven, successful products and services. But how can you create a proven, successful product or service when nobody will buy from you? You have to fake it until you make it.
I’d like to share a little story from the very early days of my dojo. Like all new businesses, we struggled in our early months. We had a non-trivial monthly overhead (mainly rent and utilities). And since we had very few students (because hey, we’d just opened the doors), those payments came straight out of my own pocket.
I did something I didn’t want to do: I opened a class for 4 and 5 year old students. I resisted it. I’d taught this age group before, and the reality is that most kids at this age just aren’t ready for this kind of class. But my wife and I sat down, thought about it long and hard, and decided to give it a go. We put a ton of effort into it. We developed a special curriculum just for that age group, structured the class differently than we’d ever done before, altered our expectations, and altered the belt promotion timeline. If we were going to do it, we decided that we’d do it right.
We only had one teacher available for that class: my wife Morgon. Due to the times we scheduled the classes for, I couldn’t get out of my day job to teach it. And preschoolers require tons of attention. So to ensure that we maintained a good class, we capped that age group at six students per class. Also, because we only ran it once per week (vs two sessions a week for our normal classes) and also for a shorter duration (45 minutes instead of an hour), we basically charged half what we did for our normal classes.
Put those two factors together and it’s easy to see that we never really made a lot of money off the class. But it did have two major benefits. First, it didn’t bring much money, but we desperately needed every dollar of it in those early days. If we hadn’t run that class, we probably would’ve had to close the doors. We came close enough to that as it was.
But more importantly, the class was always full. Always. Over a few years of running it, we only had two kids stay with it past that age group – and one of them was my own son. Kids rarely lasted more than three months. But we had a regular influx of new students joining the class, and that made up for it.
So we advertised that. We put that out everywhere we could: these classes are full. And it had the effect of elevating the status and prestige of our entire dojo. I mean, if our classes are full, we must be awesome, right?
Well, not entirely. It took six months before we had our first regular adult students. And our classes for older children grew steadily, but we had plenty of room for more. But it was still true: our preschool classes stayed full.
We faked it until we made it.
Now, I will put an important caveat on this: never, ever lie. It will come back to haunt you. But one of the secrets of marketing is that you don’t have to tell people everything. Tell them the good parts – and emphasize the best parts. No product is perfect. Your customers know that.
A second caveat: your product doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does need to be good. If your product sucks, then people will be unhappy with their purchase. But if your product is good, and its priced reasonably, your customers will stay happy even if it’s not a perfect product.
Tomorrow: why you should never, ever blindly follow your competition.
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