Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.1
A recent conversation with a friend (who wants to start a Martial Arts studio) inspired me to revisit the topic of business vetting. The questions in this article were inspired by our conversation. What better place for a “victorious warrior to win first and then go to war…” than in vetting the business of a martial arts studio?!
The High-Paying Activities of Business Vetting & Negotiation
Negotiating is one of the highest paying activities if the return is measured by the time spent negotiating. Higher still is the activity of business vetting. The stakes are, by definition, higher than any deal the business will ever do. After all, no money can be made (or lost) in a business that doesn’t exist.
What’s at stake when vetting a business, however, is far more than money. People invest a large portion of their lives into a business to make it successful. If the time & money invested doesn’t lead to a return, or leaves them in debt, then it would have been far better to have not started the business, at all.
I’m big fan of acquiring the skill of business vetting.
One of my wife’s favorite shows is “Shark Tank”. We often get drawn into vetting business ideas when watching that show. I wrote How to Vet a Business Idea in 10 Minutes to express my thoughts on the subject and make a reference that might help others.
Business Vetting is Space-Time Travel
Do you think I’m exaggerating by saying business vetting is a form of space-time travel? If so, I beg to differ. If you don’t take it that seriously then you’re in danger of losing large chucks of time and money. The stakes of either a “Go” or “No-Go” decision are immense. The mission, if you choose to accept it, involves:
- Deep consideration of the experiences of others.
- Knowledge of location and service.
- Intimate knowledge of self.
Keeping all these factors, and more, in mind, around a business that doesn’t yet exist, is serious mind-work. Li Ch`uan sums it up, as follows:
Given a knowledge of three things—the affairs of men, the seasons of heaven and the natural advantages of earth—, victory will invariably crown your battles.1
Martial Arts Studio – Questions, Factors, Mentors & Ideas
Subject expertise is only a starting point in creating and running a business around that expertise. I have no expertise in the Martial Arts or the studios in which they’re taught. Someone with expertise could make a better list. But, they wouldn’t make a better list without placing a high value on business vetting and letting go of their fears of exploring the unknowns.
Dojo’s seriously value their pedigree. Who started the art? What inspired them? What problem were they trying to solve? What is their philosophy? Who were their first students? Then the same questions start over, again, with the first students and the next.
Certifications & Organizations
- Organizations to become member of?
- Do members typically make a profit?
- Mentor sign-off/Certification?
- Entity Choice?
Tools: Studio equipment, posters, mats, props, safety, uniform suggestions, patch design, belt systems, belt requirements, rate of progress?, web site formats/info, accounting programs, taxe, entity choice?
- What factors do successful studios consider before choosing a location?
- What factors would successful studios have considered if they could relocate?
- What is the expected # of students per population size of the city?
- What is the needed # of students needed to pay for average expenses?
- What is the average age range of students that make a long-term commitment to the art?
Mentor Modeling of …
When vetting a business, the ideal is to find a real-life mentor who’s “been there before”. If you find one, do whatever it takes to spend time with them. Take your potential business out for a virtual walk by asking them about theirs. Every word out of their mouths is pure gold. The mission is to Simulate Virtual Failure (To avoid actual failure).
- Number of Instructors needed per students served by studio?
- Do you pay advanced students to handle instructor overflow?
- How Much?
- Seasonal Considerations?
- Private Lessons
- What’s your day/week/month/year like?
- What do you wish you had done (that I could do, now)?
- What are you about to try (that I could also try)?
- Profit expectations per location?
- What obstacles were crucial to overcome to breakthrough to success or smooth operations?
- What are common obstacles that have taken down other MA operations (That I could start planning to overcome, now)?
The Ideal Time to Fail, and to Succeed
The ideal time for a business to fail is before it starts. That is, before time and money (or fortunes) have been invested that may never be recouped. Ironically, as captured in the Sun Tzu quote at the beginning of this article, the ideal time for a business to succeed is also before it has started.
The “enemy”, for business vetting purposes, is any factor, external or internal, that would cause the business to fail, or become unsustainable. Would you prefer to subdue your enemies after they surprise you or before they even know there’s a war?
For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.1
There’s so much to running a business that owners must subdue most “enemies” without fighting. Otherwise, they’ll be fighting all day. A Martial Arts studio, especially, ought to save the fighting for the mats.
Try to Talk Yourself Out of It
Entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic. To counterbalance this natural demeanor, try talking yourself out of the business you’re vetting, instead of into it.
If you can talk yourself out of a business idea, then you should. Doing that, gracefully and thoroughly, is what How to Vet a Business Idea in 10 Minutes is meant to accomplish. As my friend, David, used to say:
If you want to be a writer, then don’t. If you have to be a writer, then good luck to you.
Successful Vetting ‘Failures’
I have no idea if a Martial Arts studio is a good business or not. In this section, I’m not speculating, either way. I’m merely offering an example of what a successful vetting “failure” might look like.
What if my friend gets to the end (or middle) of vetting her business and realizes that running her own studio is not going to work? Maybe it won’t pay for itself, won’t make enough of a profit, would require 70-hours-a-week, or that she’s got the right idea for the wrong location, etc. Would that mean she’s, somehow, failed?
Not, at all! She could then redirect maximum effort and resources back into her passion for the Martial Arts. She’d only be able to do that with resources that weren’t lost (on a business that wouldn’t have succeeded, anyway). One of the worst possible outcomes of a failed business is to leave the owner, not only drained of money and energy, but drained of passion for the service, or product, that made them want to start a business in the first place!
If a Martial Arts studio is a “No-Go” for her location then perhaps her “Go” would be to switch gears to offering private lessons, only. Perhaps those private lessons could be made available only to exclusive clients who would pay more for her time. Maybe there’s a resort in her area that would love to have a Martial Arts teacher on tap to teach high-paying classes to guests. If a studio-sized operation won’t break-even, or make a profit, then she’ll be making more profit on her first private lesson than she would have made by running an entire studio!
Passion vs. Business Forms of Expression
I believe all non-destructive passions are good. And yet, where the application of our passions may fit into a business is not always obvious, or conventional. One of the best payoffs of good business vetting is the preservation of our passions so they may be optimally applied, later. The conventional application of well-known passions or talents, may have little or nothing to do with what makes money. It may also have little or nothing to do with their optimal deployment. We should indulge our passions, anyway. Develop them, and enjoy them, while vetting business ideas that may lead to their optimal deployment.
100 to 1
Be willing to get to the end of a hundred business ideas that never start because they can’t succeed. Only then will you have the full confidence and resources to fully engage in a business, around your passion, that will.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”1
Yep, that Sun Tzu dude knew what he was talking about!
- “The Art of War.”, Sun Tzu ↩