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How to Run a Martial Arts Referral Program For Your Business 


Like other businesses in the fitness industry, the martial arts landscape is competitive. Martial arts studios generate around $4 billion in revenue each year in the United States. Often, you can have two competing schools nearby. So, how do you stand out from the competition, attract new students, and keep hold of them? 

Well, a referral program could be the answer you are looking for. Referrals can be a powerful marketing tool when used correctly. It allows you to leverage your existing students into cheerleaders for the business while keeping them motivated at the same time. In this article, we will take you through the steps you need to know to run a successful martial arts referral program for your business.   

What is a Referral Program? 

Referral programs are a systematic and effective way of putting your existing customers to work as brand ambassadors. Simply, happy students refer their friends and families to your business and are rewarded for their efforts. Referral marketing can be a very cost-effective tool as you only have pay when new business comes in.  

You’ve built a great community, and your students are engaged and love your teaching style; now is the time to start a referral program. A great referral program lets your members do your marketing. Like many companies in the fitness industry, members or students are at the core of the business. New members mean more revenue to use to expand and grow your brand. 

A successful referral program consists of the following key elements: 

  • The right offer – a great offer provides an incentive for both parties. 
  • Excellent communication – a good referral program won’t go that far if you don’t communicate and promote it well. 
  • Simple execution – complicated programs that require a lot of time and effort to complete won’t work. Aim for a simple and well-planned referral program that’s easy to use. 

For gyms and fitness studios, we’ve already put together a quick guide for creating an effective gym referral program. We cover all the steps you need to take to make a referral program just right for your fitness center. 

Why Your Martial Arts Business Needs a Referral Program 

A referral program is a low-cost and effective way to use word-of-mouth marketing to promote your business. Word-of-mouth marketing brings in twice as much business as paid advertising. When you’re happy with a service or love your latest workout spot, it’s natural to share it with your friends and family. A referral program not only rewards students for sharing their recommendation but shows that your business is delivering top service to its existing members. After all, no one is going to recommend your business if they’re not happy with it in the first place. 

When considering a purchase, 82% of Americans will seek a recommendation from friends or family. 60% of marketers say that referral programs generate a high volume of leads. Once set up, a referral program can be easy to manage and useful in bringing in new students. With the right incentive and strategy in place, referrals can form an integral part of your marketing plan and bring new students through the door. 

Referral Channels 

Turn your martial arts students into your biggest advocates. When it comes to creating the right referral program for your students, think about how you usually communicate with them. Whether it’s through email, phone, or via your branded mobile app, the answer will help you to choose which referral channels to use. The entire process of the referral should be as simple as possible. 

Depending on how your students like to be contacted, your referral channels may vary. Whatever channels you use, you’ll want to inform your members, so they know exactly what to do. Options for referral channels include:

  • Email – send out a business newsletter to your students with a link to the form. Make it easy for them to send invites to friends. 
  • Mobile App – if your martial arts school has a mobile app, you can use an in-built referral program so they can invite friends easily from their phone. 
  • Posters – if not all of your students are in the digital world; print advertisements are the perfect way to spread the word about your referral program in-person. 
  • Referral Cards – hand out several referral cards to your members to give out to friends and family. 

6 Steps to Create a Martial Arts Referral Program 

Whether you run a kickboxing studio, teach Krav Maga, or own an MMA fitness center, a student referral program might be just what your business needs. As martial arts trends continue to evolve and grow in popularity, new studios are popping up all over the place. Here are six simple steps to follow to create a martial arts referral program. 

1. Create a Compelling Offer 

So, you’ve decided to start your referral program. The first step is to create a compelling offer that’s attractive to both your current students and new ones. What kind of offer will attract potential students to your martial arts studio over a competitor? 

Your offer might depend on which area of the business you’re looking to drive more revenue in. If you provide one-on-one training and are looking to sell more individual training sessions, then it may be beneficial to offer a referral contest. For this, you would provide a free one-on-one training class for every friend your student refers to the studio. 

It’s not just about classes and training; if you sell any other services or have a cafe or juice bar, then it’s worth using these within your referral program. For example, a free smoothie for the referrer and a friend after a workout is an excellent incentive to encourage new and existing students to try out more classes.  

Here are some more examples of referral incentives:

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  • Discounted session   
  • Free gear – if it’s branded to your studio, even better!
  • Private lessons 
  • Free class passes 

Incentive options are endless, and referral programs can take on any form. By looking at your members and target customers, you can offer an incentive that will resonate and encourage them to click through and share. 

2. Audience Targeting 

Customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher conversion rate and are four times more likely to refer more customers to the brand. A large part of your referral marketing strategy lies on the basis that you have a good knowledge of your target audience. To encourage new referrals and ultimately get new business, you need to have a full understanding of both your current and potential students. 

In the digital world, you want to communicate the right message to the right people. For example, if you offer both memberships and pay-as-you-go options for classes, will you target students who have memberships or casual customers that visit once or twice a month? Once you know who you’re targeting, you can use that information to decide how and where to reach them.  

3. Make it Fun

Make your referral program fun. This will help to keep your students engaged with the program and want to compete against each other. Create a fun vibe and sense of community and camaraderie with a little edge of competition. One way to do this is to create a leaderboard within your studio. The leaderboard will show which student has referred the most people and is therefore winning. By turning the program into a game, this will help to make it a lot more fun. 

As well as a leaderboard, encourage students to share workouts and tag the business on social media channels. This can help to bring in new students. Instagram is a fantastic place to share workouts through posts and Instagram Stories. You can then feature their Instagram Stories on your business page. This feels like a natural way to push organic content rather than feeling like paid advertising. When a student genuinely loves your service and what you do, it shows through the content and allows viewers to relate. 

4. Promote It! 

After putting in the time and effort to create an effective referral program, you need to promote it. Get the word out there that you are ready to reward your current students, and you also have a fantastic offer available for new students. Communication is vital to a successful referral program. You can introduce the referral program on all your channels via email, your website, and social media. 

Be sure to make full use of all your social media channels. Pin your referral post to the top of social pages, use banners, and create content that quickly communicates what your customers need to do and what reward they will receive. You can use additional channels of communication like printed ads as well to promote the program in-person as well as digitally. 

5. Make a Plan

Make a plan and stick to it. Keep everything about the referral program simple. Anything that takes too much time or appears too complicated will not be as successful. An example of a brand that’s made a very easy to follow referral program is Uber. The company lets you give friends discounts on their first ride. You can do this all through the app, with a distinct call-to-action to refer friends. In a few taps, Uber has access to a new customer, and the referral process is complete. 

Continue to build awareness of your referral program after you’ve introduced it. Mention the program without coming across as too pushy. When you sign up new students, remember to bring up the referral program as they will likely be more than happy to recommend your brand with the right incentive. Leave your business cards at the front desk next to information about your referral program. While people are waiting to sign up for classes or check-in, this will give them a chance to read about it. 

Gym brand 24 Hour Fitness’ referral program gives members a few different incentive options. Members can choose between a 50-minute free training session or a $20 coupon at MyStore. All they have to do is refer a friend, and their referral will receive a three-day pass. The incentive benefits both parties and encourages the referrer to invite more friends. 

6. Keep Track of Referrals 

The final step to take when creating a martial arts referral program is possibly one of the most important. Make sure to keep track of your referrals. Whether it’s online, in-person, or on social media, you need to monitor your referral program. There’s nothing worse than offering an incentive and not delivering on your promise. By tracking the key metrics of your referral program, this will allow you to update the program while it’s live. 

Perhaps you need to change the incentive itself or edit the wording on your campaign to improve its success. With referral placements on social media, and through email, you can monitor the number of shares, clicks on the offer, the number of people referred, and the conversion rate of the referees. So, how many referred friends become your customers? 

You could monitor your referrals with an excel spreadsheet, but ideally, you use your gym management software to track referrals. Gym management software can help take the stress and time out of managing a business by streamlining your business into one dashboard. If you’re looking to implement new management software or update your existing system, we’ve put together a guide on how to choose the best gym management software for your business. 

In Summary

With a structured plan, the right incentive and tracking in place, a referral program is a useful marketing tool. Member referrals are precious and can have a real impact on the flow of new students. By keeping it simple, raising awareness, and choosing the best incentive for your target audience, you can create a compelling and successful referral program for your business.

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