I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on Christy Haussler’s excellent podcast Brick and Mortar Reporter to talk about my work at Urban Martial Arts.
In the interview, we talk about:
- Why I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur
- Why sometimes you should NOT listen to your customers
- Why the best marketing in the world won’t help if your product sucks
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Christy: Thank you so much for joining us today for the Brick and Mortar Reporter Podcast. I am extremely excited about today’s guest. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience in both the corporate world, in being an entrepreneur by herself and establishing her own businesses, in marketing, in all things to do with internet marketing. She’s also recently put all her eggs in one basket and joined in the family business. So I’m so excited today to have Carmen Sognonvi from Urban Martial Arts in New York with us.
Carmen, we are glad to have you here, we’re going to talk about a lot of things that you’ve experienced over the course of your professional life, but do you want to get us started by telling a little bit about you, maybe anything we would need to know personally and kind of give us a little bit of your history professionally, if you don’t mind.
Carmen: Sure. I’m so happy to be here. I’m excited about this podcast because I love bricks and mortar business, there’s not enough emphasis on those, so I’m glad you’re doing the show.
Carmen: Little bit of background on me, I think, like a lot of entrepreneurs, I have a little bit of a checkered past and I know that prior to us doing this interview we had exchanged emails a little bit and you had asked me if I kind of expected I would go into entrepreneurship?
Carmen: I think in many ways, no, I didn’t, because a lot of—and these may be stereotypes—but I feel like a lot of the entrepreneurs we read about have these traits where they’ve always been the rebel, they’ve always been like the bad boy, they never did well in school. I was the opposite. I was the nerd, I was the teacher’s pet, I pretty much always got straight A’s, always did all my homework, didn’t really question authority. I think growing up, you would have not thought that I’d be the next Richard Branson—not that I am—but you know what I mean.
Christy: Right, right. No, it’s good to hear that though because I tend to follow the same thing. I was the conformist and the one that followed the rules and wanted to do well and meet everyone’s expectations. It does show that it can take all personality types to get out in the business world, so we all have something to contribute.
Carmen: Yeah, exactly. Basically I went to college at Columbia University in New York City. I’m from Hong Kong originally and kind of bounced around in various places when I was a kid. I moved to New York for college and when I graduated, most of my life I wanted to go into journalism, that had always been my passion, and then when I got to senior year, I freaked out and if you have any concept of what it’s like at these colleges, pretty much the way you’re brainwashed is that if you don’t land a job in investment banking or management consulting, your life is worthless.
Carmen: So pretty much I kind of gave up my dream and I thought, oh, man, I got to go with the program. I did **** [0:03:48.3] a job at Goldman Sachs, so that was my very first job out of college, was I was at Goldman. It was interesting because that’s like sort of the ultimate big, corporate job. I think it’s interesting that I landed in the particular department that I did because this department was within the legal department and it was this tiny sort of chiefdom that had been established under one woman and I realized a few months into it that, wait a minute, everything that we’re doing, we’re duplicating the work of three other departments and essentially this was glorified data entry. It took me a while to realize it because it takes a while for the glamour and the glitz to wear off, and then you suddenly realize, wait a minute, this is such a big waste of resources.
I think it was the fact that that was my first job, that kind of put me on the path toward entrepreneurship. From there I kind of bounced around. Actually one of the most formative experiences is when I spent about a year and a half working at a marketing agency, where I had actually interned when I was in college, and that was a place, even though there were definitely a lot of issues with the way the place was run, that was a place where I really got into internet marketing and so I really started reading, and this is in like 2000, 2001.
Carmen: I really started my own education in online marketing, I did a lot of projects that related to that, and I learned a lot there. Even though pretty much for the rest of my career I had never done marketing really as my actual job, that’s where really my passion for it ignited and since then I’ve just always kind of kept up with online marketing, reading blogs, reading articles and just kind of being into it on a personal level.
Christy: That is so interesting because the internet marketing has changed and evolved so much over the past several years so it’s nothing that’s ever going to be completely boring.
But I also can completely relate to getting out of college and getting that first job. For so long there’s the honeymoon period and then one day you realize that you’re doing meaningless work and you don’t know how in the world you’re expected to do this for the next 40 years and be completely happy. I can remember that day and just thinking, oh my god, am I stuck doing this? I think those are sometimes the seeds of the independent spirit that have to be nurtured in order to get some of us that are very conformist out into the entrepreneurial world.
Take us to the point at which, where you are now, well, let me back up a little bit. You joined a business that I believe your husband started, is that right?
Christy: The martial arts? So tell us about, because I know even as starting a business in the family, even if you’re not working in it yet and you’re doing other things to supplement the income, boy, there’s got to be a lot of fears and a lot of sleepless nights going into that decision. Tell us about that.
Carmen: Sure. My husband, Serge, he’s been a martial artist for about 20 years and it had always kind of been his dream to open a school. The way that this happened was in 2008 we were both working corporate jobs, so he was working at a bank in the production department, I was actually an executive assistant—or actually at the time I was working publishing, magazine publishing. In addition to our day jobs we were also working side jobs, so I was hostessing at a restaurant, he was working security at a bar and restaurant, so essentially we were kind of really spinning our wheels and doing—really working hard and not smart, I would put it that way.
Carmen: In addition, I was also getting really involved in activism, around like racial justice issues so I was doing a lot of blogging and speaking about that, so that was becoming like a new career on the side for me.
Basically what happened is one night he got into a really bad car accident and he got out of the car, the car was totaled and he managed to escape without a scratch. It was really one of those classic miracle stories where it really made him think, okay, this is a sign, I need to do something with my life, I just can’t keep on this hamster wheel and just keep running and running because this is what happens. He pretty much worked like a 20-hour day that day between the 2 jobs.
I was sleeping that night, and I remember him coming home at like 5:00 in the morning and waking me up and saying, “Hey, I got into an accident, I just want you to know I’m okay, but I think we really need to talk.” The next day we just spent a few hours really talking about, wow, what are we going to do with our lives? Whatever we’re doing right now, it’s not working.
Carmen: Pretty much from that day on, six months after that we ended up signing the lease on the martial arts school and basically things just kind of started rolling really quickly. Even though Serge has a lot of experience in martial arts, he’s never actually run a school. So it’s sort of like it’s one thing for you to be a student versus one thing to run an actual school as an instructor and have this organization. That was definitely a really scary moment because when we signed that lease, the monthly rent on that space was three to four times the rent of our home.
Carmen: Just the fact that we were committing to paying this amount of rent for five years and of course like all the zeroes are adding up in my head like, “Oh god, how are we going to do this?” So yeah, it was definitely a scary time. But at the same time it almost felt like we were propelled by the kind of faith where it was like, this is just what we need to do, this is the path we need to go down.
Christy: I’m sure that epiphany, so to speak, after the car accident is something that gives a lot of clarity in a very short amount of time. Many people don’t have—and I don’t even want to say the benefit of that, not that the car accident was a benefit, but many people do not have that one critical life-changing moment where you walk away forever changed.
It’s so interesting to hear that at that moment, once you started taking those next steps, within six months you had the lease signed and it became very, very real very, very quickly. It’s like once you had the epiphany, then the action followed and every other action followed, even though there was a tremendous amount of fear and risk. I can completely relate to that.
So you had a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out how to get the business going, and you know, that’s another thing, too, I think so many people that do get into small business, they are experts in their craft, which doesn’t always translate into expert at running your business. To me, I think it is a shame when you have a master craftsperson that specializes in this, that or the other, that is not able to do that simply because they can’t get the business part of it taken care of.
Did you ever get to a point where after you opened the business that you thought, this is a complete mistake, we never should have done this?
Carmen: Fortunately, not.
Carmen: I think one of the reasons we never got to that point is we were fortunate to have a lot of good mentors. Serge had a couple of friends who already owned successful martial arts schools in New York City and so he was able to really get good advice from them, they pointed us to good resources. So because of their advice and then the advice from these other organizations the he linked us up with, we were actually able to really cut our learning curve and also to avoid a lot of expensive mistakes. That’s something that I think we’re really fortunate in. For folks that are out there kind of doing it on their own, definitely if you can find someone who’s already successful—and the thing is, you want to make sure that you want to talk to someone who’s at the top of their game. You don’t want to talk to someone who’s doing the same thing you are and is a little bit better because they’re probably making mistakes and you’re going to make the same mistakes.
Christy: Well, yeah, you go right in with them doing the same mistakes.
Now, did you ever have an issue, because I think sometimes we perceive that if you’re in the same industry as someone else in the same city and you go to them for help or advice that somehow they’re going to perceive you as competition and not really give you the information? I mean, is that just something we build up in our minds or did you ever experience any of that?
Carmen: In this particular case we didn’t and that really has largely to do with geography. His friend has schools in the Bronx and we’re based in Brooklyn. So it’s pretty much like if we were in the burbs, we would probably be in competition, but because we are just so densely populated, it’s almost like we’re in two different worlds.
Christy: Gotcha, okay.
Carmen: But that said, a lot of it depends on personality types, so if you’re dealing with someone who has that kind of scarcity mentality, even though you’re so far from them, they may perceive you to be competition, so that is a real thing.
Christy: True. I will also say that just in my, I mean, I have a completely different experience base, but I have found and am more and more finding that as I reach out to people for help, many times it’s just the simple act of reaching out that makes them completely willing to kind of open the door and say, “Absolutely, I will help you, what do you need?” I think so many times we put up those barriers and we can’t get out of our heads and we think, oh my gosh, no one is going to want to help me, it’s going to take up their time, and many, many times, it is the exact opposite and just that simple act of asking will get you exactly what you need to get to that next step.
Christy: I think that is so critical and I think it is so good of other more seasoned business professionals to really see mentorship or coaching as kind of a part of your pay it forward kind of duty, to help bring along other people. So I think that’s fantastic.
Along the way of building this business with your husband, you at some point in time decided it was time for you to leave the work force and join him. Can you talk a little bit about that decision-making process and how you figured it was the right time? I think maybe a lot of people struggle, you struggle as a business owner on when can I afford to hire somebody else and now I’ve got two families that are depending on me for an income. If you have a separate income as a spouse, then you at least have a little bit of a safety net. So switching to all your eggs being in the business of the family, it definitely changes your safety net and your comfort level.
Carmen: Yeah, no, definitely. I think in our case, we were actually fortunate, just because of kind of the nature of our business, in a martial arts school all of our classes were essentially in the afternoons and evenings, so after school hours. For the first six months, Serge was actually able to keep his day job and do the school. So essentially we would just book all the classes after 6:00 and so he was able to finish work at 5:00, get back to Brooklyn, and then work those classes. For the first six months he was able to keep his job and then after that six-month mark, we felt like, okay, it’s time for you to let that go and really go full-time.
Then I kept my day job for the first year and a half. For me, definitely that year and a half was pretty tough because I would be waking up at like 5:00 AM, I’d get into Manhattan at, you know, I’d be at my desk at 7:00 and leave work at 4:00, commute back to Brooklyn, and then I’d be at the karate school until like 10:00 PM. Toward the end of this I was like super, super pregnant also, while I was doing this.
Christy: As if it didn’t get tough enough on its own, you had to add that to the mix.
Christy: I think you see over and over again that truly that entrepreneurial spirit kind of kicks in and many times you’re willing to do the hard things. Working a full-time job and then committing every night to go and putting your best foot forward teaching kids or teaching other people, I mean, that’s a physical thing, it’s not a real passive business that you’re in, but you’re willing to do that and know that it’s for a limited amount of time and you’re going for the reward at the end of it whenever you can completely have your passion support your lifestyle. I think that is so critical and I’ve seen it again and again and again where entrepreneurs do what it takes for whatever amount of time until they can finally let go and get rid of the golden handcuffs or whatever else that’s keeping that day job coming in.
Now, Carmen, I know you kind of are the general manager of the martial arts, but I think you have a special knack for a lot of the marketing techniques. I know while you’ve done a lot of internet-type marketing techniques with some of the other things you’ve done with the podcasts and the other blogs that you’ve done, I think that you are finding some success with some real old school techniques for your brick and mortar business. I wanted to see if you could share a little bit about what you’re doing, what you’re finding that works for you and maybe any ways that another business might be able to use some of the techniques that you’re using with old school marketing.
Carmen: Sure. Yeah, I am very passionate about old school marketing or offline marketing. I think right now obviously everyone is talking about online marketing, which of course is critical and there’s a lot of talk about social media, but I think that what sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is a lot of the marketing articles and advice that you read online are often geared more toward online businesses. Because of that, there’s naturally going to be more of an emphasis on online versus offline marketing. I think that if you’re neglecting offline marketing, then you’re really leaving money on the table.
Christy: Can we just take a minute and define kind of this, what this offline marketing and even what we consider these old school techniques to be in case somebody is not really familiar with that?
Carmen: Sure. In our particular business, I would say that the three most effective offline marketing methods we use are flyers, signage, and promotional booths.
Christy: Oh, okay.
Carmen: Flyering, that’s the ultimate, sort of old school very low-tech marketing, but it’s still extremely effective. Actually I recently ran an analysis of our revenues and I found that a third comes from online marketing, a third comes from referral or word of mouth, and then a third comes from offline methods.
Carmen: So if we were kind of jumping completely on this online bandwagon and not doing the offline stuff, we would basically be 30% smaller of a business that we are now. So I definitely urge people listening to this, don’t neglect the offline stuff.
Carmen: I’m happy to give some tips on these three methods.
Christy: Sure. Yeah, tell us exactly what you’re, like whenever you’re talking about flyers, what you’re doing, how you’re using them, same thing with the signage and promotional booths because there might be someone in another area of the country, they might have a completely different business, but these are strategies that they could implement and just start looking at their numbers and see if they’re getting a return on that.
Carmen: Yeah, definitely. With flyers, there’s a lot of different ways to use flyers. With flyers, obviously we do hand-to-hand distribution, where we’re actually, you know, standing out on the sidewalk and giving them out to people. Also what we do a lot of, which is very effective, is we have our flyers in probably 150 different stores in our immediate neighborhood.
Christy: Wow, okay.
Carmen: If you’re planning to do this, what I recommend is using 4 x 9 **** [0:14:36.5] cards because they fit very nicely into a plastic holder that takes up very little room on a reception desk.
Essentially what you do is just go into your neighboring businesses and you say, “Hey,” you know, you introduce yourself, tell them about your business and say, “Hey, is it okay if I leave some of my flyers here and I’d love to take some of your flyers and leave them in my business so we can cross market.” You’ll find that if you offer to reciprocate right off the bat, 9 times out of 10 people will be like, “Okay, yeah, sure, leave it there.”
Now the key with this is, if you plan to do this, you can just make this a one-time thing, where you go to different stores, leave your flyers and then never go back, because you need to have a maintenance plan. What you basically want to do is go back every week or every two weeks, go back to that same store, refill those cards, and very often when you go back to that store you’ll find that the rack cards are gone. At that point you can basically say, “Hey, I had spoken to,” whatever the manager’s name is, “he had given me permission to leave these here, do you know where they are?” Sometimes they might have just thrown them out completely because they thought they’d never see you again. So you should have another set ready and just, with the holder, with the rack cards, put it back there and say, “Okay, great! No problem, here’s your replacement one and I’m going to back next week to refill them.” If you keep going back, pretty soon they’re going to realize, okay, this person is serious, they’re going to keep coming back every week so I’m not going to throw these out and eventually they’re going to just keep staying there. So that’s really effective.
Christy: Let me ask you about your flyers. Are you using any type of an offer or anything like that on your flyer or is it just surely information or education that you’re offering?
Carmen: No, we definitely have an offer and this is kind of a larger point that is sort of the larger strategy behind the marketing that we do. I think that a lot of businesses, when they think about marketing, they think of it as I want to get my phone number or website into the customer’s hand. What you really want to think about is kind of flip that dynamic, so instead of that, you want to say, “I want to get the customer’s phone number and email address into my database.”
Christy: Oh, okay.
Carmen: Because of that, essentially that’s a different way of saying you want to focus on lead generation as opposed to just blasting your stuff out there. The way that we designed our flyers is we always have, we basically say, for example, for our karate, kids’ karate classes, on the flyer it will say, “Hey, to get the schedule in details, visit this specific landing page or you can text this keyword to this phone number and we’ll text it to you right away.
Christy: Ah, so you’ve got two different ways they can actually go ahead and get in touch with you.
Carmen: Exactly. Then of course our phone number is really big on the flyer as well, if they want to just call us. But the key is really that we want to work on capturing their contact information in exchange for information about what we offer. So our flyers are designed specifically in that way.
Christy: That is a great kind of a paradigm shift with the way you think about that because you’re right, so many people do focus on, “I need people to know we have an offer, I need to get people in here,” and in actuality, they say the money is in the list with internet marketing and when you have a brick and mortar business, it’s even that much more critical because those are your people that are going to be coming in time after time and you can continue to market to over the course of their lifetime. That’s fantastic.
Now about signage, tell us about how you’re using that and what that entails.
Carmen: Sure. For signage, I think a lot of brick and mortar stores will, they view signage as, “Well, we have a sign, we’ve got our main sign and that’s it.”
Christy: [Laughs] It might be ugly, right? Yep.
Carmen: Obviously that main sign is critical to your business because that’s the thing that kind of captures attention. There’s a lot more you can do with signage other than that. You can think about having temporary signage where there are things that you stick in your window that are maybe promoting seasonal specials or kind of a short-term item of if you’ve got some new program or a new product that you’re rolling out, that’s a great way to display that.
You also want to think about indoor signage. I think those of our brethren that are in the retail business are probably already masters at indoor signage, but a lot of people who are not in retail may not think about that. What I mean by that is, once people are in your store, what kind of signage do they see? I think sometimes we assume that our customers know all the different kinds of things that we do as a business, but the reality is they probably don’t. They come to you, you’re a bakery, they come to you because they love your cupcakes but they have no idea that you also do custom birthday cakes.
Christy: I see.
Carmen: So using indoor signage is a great way to kind of promote the other things that you do and to kind of give a fuller exposure to all the different things that your business has to offer.
Christy: You know, I think it’s also worth mentioning that when you’re talking about temporary signage or seasonal signage, many times if you’re in a place and you have static signage and nothing ever changes, people get used to that and so they’re really not seeing it, but by changing it up and putting different things up, pretty soon you’re kind of training your audience to look for that. What is going on? What is new? Oh, they have something else they’re telling me about. Before you know it, you’ve kind of retrained your customer a little bit, rather than just ignoring the same old sign that you see year after year that’s collecting dust, that it’s more like evergreen content up there on the wall.
Carmen: Yeah, no, that’s a great point and I think now, of course, with technological advances, you can also do a lot with digital signage. That’s something I haven’t dipped my toe into yet, but I’m hoping, fingers crossed, if we can make it work financially, later this year to kind of convert to that, but that’s another great way, where you can have constantly rotating things as opposed to one static sign.
Christy: Excellent point on that. Now, you also mentioned that the other thing that’s very effective for you guys is a promotional booth.
Christy: So how are you using that right now? What exactly is that and what does that entail because it sounds like it might be a little bit larger of an investment than just a sign?
Carmen: When I say promotional booth, what I basically mean is any time you have some kind of a table or a booth at an event. If you’re in a business-to-business context, very often that would mean you have a booth at a trade show. In our case, we’re a business-to-consumer company and so a lot of the promotional booths that we do are at street fairs. In New York, especially in the warmer months, there’s a lot of street fairs that happen all over the city, where they’ll block off 5 to 10 city blocks and there’s a bunch of vendors set up booths. A lot of businesses may not think of street fairs as a way to market your business because you’re used to thinking about them as a lot of the vendors sell stuff. There’s food vendors, there’s vendors selling tube socks, which is the perennial favorite, but you can actually, there’s nothing stopping you from having a booth and you don’t have to sell anything, you can just be there promoting your business.
We do a lot of these street fairs throughout the warmer months and they’re extremely effective for generating—and again, you want to go in with a mindset of not, “Oh, I’m going to stand here and just hand out flyers until my wrists fall off,” you want to really be in the mindset of, “I want to capture leads and capture their contact information and add them to my list and my database.”
Christy: Are you doing, at that point in time, are you doing some sort of a giveaway or some kind of an offer to go ahead and get that contact information?
Carmen: Yes, absolutely. That’s another important thing. Talking about your rookie mistakes, the first year we were in business we signed up for a table at this street fair in our neighborhood and this was a big deal. It was a big investment for us at the time and we were like, man, if we kill it, then this is really going to set us up really well. I had the brilliant idea of getting tote bags made, so I thought, okay, we’re going to get red tote bags made emblazoned with our logo, we’re going to give them out and so everybody walking around with these free tote bags is going to be like a walking billboard for our business.
Carmen: So it worked really well, we ran out of tote bags within a few hours and they were walking around with them and they were walking billboards, but what I realized not so much later on, is that the people that we were targeting, there was nothing about giving out tote bags that was helping us zoom in on our ideal client. We were not focusing on people who are interested in kid’s karate classes or adult kickboxing classes, all we were doing is targeting people who really like free tote bags.
Carmen: So you want to be strategic about what the giveaway is because a lot of businesses just give away stuff, like pens, notebooks, hats, and that’s good, people like free stuff, but you’re not necessarily narrowing it down to people who have any interest in what you do.
Nowadays what we do is we actually give away two free weeks of classes. Understand when you do this, and let’s say you work a street fair and you collect 150 leads, very likely on 5 of them will actually come in and take a class, but they’ve given you permission to market to them in the long run and so we’ve had people that signed up at a street fair with us 2 years ago, who now last month joined finally.
Christy: Yeah, I can imagine that it’s one of those things where timing is going to be a factor with that and it might be their children are too small right now, but two years from now, whenever they’re trying to keep them out of Peewee Football or whatever it is, they’re looking for something else. So I think that definitely makes sense to get those people that even if they’re not your specific avatar right now, they could turn into that at some point in time in the future. That is a good lesson and I think you’re right, many times we get focused on what is the giveaway and do we have the nicest tote bag and do we have something that looks cool or do we have this, that, or the other? Anyone will walk up to get free stuff, but it’s a completely different person that says, “Oh, you’re giving away two weeks of karate, I’ve always wanted to try it, here, let me see if I can get that.” Before you know it, you’ve got a completely different type of mindset with the marketing, very, very interesting.
I was going to say, I think regionally you’re going to find, like you have street fairs and that sort of thing, there are festivals, there are even farmer’s markets and local-type market areas that are popping up all over and even if every single week you spend a certain amount of your time educating whoever you talk to, eventually I think people will see, just from the exposure, if they get to a point where they’re looking for whatever it is your business is, you’re going to come to mind and not just that, but you’re also out mixing and mingling and kind of interacting with other local businesses, which can also be a great way to get referrals, because everybody knows somebody.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s a great point and I think a lot of it is about building trust and we’ve definitely heard from people where they’ve said, “Wow, we’ve seen you at this event three years in a row, now we feel like you’re really part of the community,” and we want to be a part of what we’re doing.
Christy: You’ve proven to have the longevity to earn that credibility there. Carmen, we’ve talked a little bit, just barely touched on the internet marketing, we spent more time on the offline marketing, which I think every business has got to find what works for their business and what works for you might be different than what works for a different type of business. I was wondering if you had any experience with doing any sort of offers through like some of those coupon companies like a Groupon or Living Social? I think even right now like Amazon Local and all these big companies are really trying to suddenly turn into local. Have you used any of those offers and can you tell us about that if you’ve got any experience with that?
Carmen: Yeah, sure. We have had experience with Groupon and it’s been a little bit indirectly. Basically we, up until recently, we were actually licensing a fitness kickboxing program, we recently moved away from that, we’re just kind of doing our own in-house one, but this particular program was a nationwide **** [0:28:58.2] program and so they would do national deals with Groupon. They would run the deals and then list us as one of their locations and then we would have people calling us to redeem their Groupons.
I think Groupon definitely gets a bad rap and rightly so, I would say, in many cases, but I think that if you’re going to do a daily deal, the most critical thing is you need to have a conversion strategy. There’s no point in doing a deal if you don’t have a specific path that you know you’re going to lead that customer down to become an actual permanent, paying customer. With us, the way this particular company was doing their deals is you could either purchase 5 or 4 or 10 kickboxing classes and the way that we would do the conversion is when they came in to take their first class, we’d give them a great experience, after that, we’d sit them down and say, “These are the different programs that we offer if you want to keep training,” and what we’ll do is, you spent, let’s say $50 on this Groupon, what we’re going to do is actually credit you that $50 back, so we’ll take $50 off of this program that you’re going to join, so you get that money back and you get to keep training and have more of the benefits of being a full-fledged member.
That has been pretty effective for us, so actually we have a pretty popular kickboxing program and I’d say about a third of our members have come to us originally as Groupons.
But there is definitely a lot of down sides to Groupon and a lot of the complaints that small businesses have are very true. A lot of people purchase Groupons do fall into this category of being extremely price sensitive, they have no intention of ever becoming a real customer of yours, they’re just chasing a deal. That in and of itself is not such a big deal but I think where it really affects small businesses—and I’ve heard this from a lot of other people, it’s not just something we’ve dealt with—is a lot of times when you run a Groupon, it automatically equates to negative Yelp reviews because a lot of, unfortunately, we got a lot of my favorite members came from Groupon, so this is not a blanket statement. But unfortunately a lot of people who come through that door feel like they can just do whatever they want, they can show up to a class without making an appointment, they don’t read the rules or regulations even when you explain things very clearly, they feel like you need to just let me do whatever I want or I’m going to blackmail you and leave you a one-star review.
Pretty much like 100% of the negative reviews we have on Yelp are from people who came to us through Groupon who refused to make an appointment and then got mad at us because they couldn’t take the class.
Christy: You know, I think that’s so valid to be able to take, not just explain, but make the point of if you can kind of control the process, like you were talking about with your conversion strategy, if you take that Grouponer and you still insist on running them through your program, instead of letting them control it, then you end up with either a valuable customer or somebody that won’t buy into the process and is going to leave you the negative Yelp review that you’re left explaining. It definitely, I think getting them into your process and your conversion strategy can also be part of the value proposition beyond the great financial deal that they just got because that’s the foot in the door, that’s the bait, so to speak. Then getting them in and providing that great experience and something that they really didn’t expect above and beyond that, I think can be the difference in turning them into a customer rather than just a negative Yelper for that, so I think that’s very valid.
Do you think it’s something that you would dip your toe any in the future, to continue with that kind of a thing? Or have you done it and you’ve been there and you don’t need to do it any more?
Carmen: I think in this current business that we have, I don’t really see us doing that any more. The writing is really on the wall, I mean, the daily deal industry, I really feel like it’s essentially these companies arose because of the recession. This is really a recession industry and even **** [0:33:49.8] program over the last couple years, we’ve seen those numbers drop dramatically. We used to get a ton of leads through Groupon, that’s dropping. The numbers are dropping and the quality is dropping. So I don’t see ourselves doing that.
I would say that if I were to start like a brand new business today, I might still do a Groupon or a daily deal just to kind of get that quick traffic in the door. If you’re in those shoes and you’re a brand new business and you kind of want to just get some momentum going, I think it’s still worth doing, as long as, again, you have that very specific conversion strategy in place.
Christy: That completely makes sense, but I agree with you that I think the daily deal ship has sailed, so to speak. Consumers are a little bit frustrated, consumers might feel a little bit bait-and-switched sometimes and I think the small business owners or many of them, not seeing the return on the investment and they’re feeling like they’ve gotten beat up by the daily deal site, just to get these terrible customers in there. I agree with you that I think they’ll be something better that will come along that will definitely help provide more of a value there.
Now, I’m assuming with the type of business you’re in, we talked a lot about acquisition of new customers and not just that, but doing the promotional-type things. I would assume that some of your focus and marketing efforts revolves around the repeat customer or retaining your martial arts students through all of the levels that they could go through. What strategies are you doing right now that are working for retaining customers or getting that repeat customer?
Carmen: Yeah, I think that’s very critical in our business, because we’re a membership-based business so obviously for us it’s all about renewing, keeping people in our programs from a financial perspective.
Carmen: I think that what we’re doing, for kid’s karate, the nice thing is that the retention techniques are kind of baked in to the nature of karate training, in the sense that it’s very motivating for kids to test, to be constantly testing for the next belt and to keep seeing that progress and moving through the ranks. In a way, that retention is already built in there because they’re excited about every quarter moving up a little step, a little step, a little bit closer to their black belt.
On the fitness kickboxing side, actually we don’t have any ranking system because it is really just a fitness program, but what we have done, which has been really effective, is when someone completes 75 classes with us—
Christy: Wow. [Laughs]
Carmen: [Laughs] When they first join kickboxing, they get a pair of free boxing gloves and they’re pretty good gloves, they work well, but when they complete their 75th class, which for us, we kind of have like a class card that we track attendance on, so when that first card is full, which is 75 classes, then we actually give them for free a pair of red, professional-grade boxing gloves that are worth about $150.
Carmen: That has been really effective because when you’re a new kickboxer and you’re in class and you see all these people around you with these red gloves, you’re like, “What’s the deal with these red gloves?” Then we explain it to you, we say, “Yeah, when you fill in your first class card, you’re going to get those red gloves,” and it’s really motivating and it also gives sort of the people that have been with us for a while that are really committed to the program, it gives them a certain visibility and then it also allows them to kind of almost become mentors to the newer members. So that’s been really effective for us.
Christy: Right. Very clearly seeing the status of somebody and think, “Wow, they’re an old pro if they’ve got those red, those gloves are it.” Excellent. That’s the funny thing about it, is that seemingly is a very subtle marketing strategy for retention, you know what I mean? That’s not real overt. But I think a lot of businesses could do some sort of reward or incentive that motivates customers and customers don’t even realize it’s about their retention and continuing to come in for the class after class. So I think that’s very, very ingenious idea for that and giving them something that’s actually useful toward the class and something that kind of gives them a little higher status than everyone else, so that’s a great technique there.
Now, for your business right now, for the Urban Martial Arts, what performance indicators or what business metrics are you guys currently measuring to see how you’re doing and then if you can kind of give us any idea of why you feel like those indicators are important to your business and to track those.
Carmen: I think in our business, probably the number one metric that we look at is what is our active billing amount for each of the four main programs that we have. Since we are a membership-based business, we really are concerned with seeing what is the actual billing, monthly billing that each program is bringing in. So I think for us, that’s probably the number one metric that we look at.
I’m also always interested in looking at how many leads are we generating, because I’m like a marketing nerd, so I need to know all these hours I’m putting in is actually leading to something.
Carmen: So kind of like number of leads, and obviously we’re, of course, also measuring wellness, how many new people are we signing up every month and how many existing members are we renewing into a new program. I would say for us that those are the main metrics that we look at.
Christy: Okay. When you say that your business is a membership-based business and unfortunately I’ve never taken karate or anything like that, so that might be something I need to try my hand at some point, but is it where you pay every single month and you have like unlimited number of classes or do you buy packages? Can you kind of explain how your membership works a little bit in case someone needs ideas for what they might want to do with their business.
Carmen: Yeah, sure. Our kid’s karate classes, you basically are in either a 3-month, a 7-month, or a 12-month program. You pay every month and it is unlimited in the sense that you can take as many classes as you want that are offered within your rank. So obviously if you’re a yellow belt, you’re not going to be taking a purple belt class.
Christy: Right, right.
Carmen: So it is that way. In our fitness kickboxing program, which is for adults, we also do either 7-month or a 12-month unlimited training and that is truly unlimited, because we offer classes 6 days a week, so if you wanted to take every single class, you could, although obviously no one does that.
Christy: Yeah, really, they’re the die hards. I think we’re all familiar with the membership model that like a lot of gyms have. You go in and once you sign up, you pay, you got your monthly bank draft coming and many, many times, I think people’s experience is, that the gym really could care less whether they show up or not, in fact, they’re counting on being able to oversell their membership spots and only having so many active people showing up to use the equipment. I do think it’s really neat that even in the fitness kickboxing, the reward of the free boxing gloves, you’re trying to incent the participation and whether they’re in it for 6 months or 12 months or however long they’re in it for, the more often they come—you don’t get a financial gain from that, other than you get an avid hobbyist that is just getting addicted to being able to come in and do the fitness kickboxing, right?
Christy: It’s for the love of it, I mean, that builds part of your brand and it builds part of the loyalty because those people get in that routine of doing that and pretty soon if they face the possibility of that not being part of their life and part of their routine, they completely miss it. Then they’re coming right back and signing up. So I think that’s great that you’re incenting people to come even though you know you’re getting a fixed amount from them no matter how many times they attend classes. So that’s great.
Carmen: Yeah, if I can just jump in there.
Carmen: I think that one of the misconceptions about businesses that do monthly memberships is that the business model is based on—and I think many gyms do operate on exactly how you explained it. They’re counting on only a smaller number of people actually actively using the equipment, but they’re massively overselling their membership.
Carmen: I think there’s sometimes a misconception that all monthly membership-based businesses follow that model, where they just want you to pay them every month and they’re hoping that you don’t show up. In our business, and I know for a fact that the same is true for a lot of other businesses, we don’t operate that way because for us it’s not financially beneficial for that to happen, for someone to just sign up for a program and pay us and not come. It’s not beneficial both from a financial perspective and then also from more of a purpose-drive perspective. I’ll talk about a purpose-driven part first, obviously we started this business because we’re really passionate about helping people improve their lives and really become their best selves through the practice of martial arts. If somebody is paying us and not showing up, we don’t feel good about that because we’re not delivering the value that we show up every day to do.
From the financial perspective, again, it’s actually not beneficial because I think people assume that oh, once you sign someone up into this program, you’re automatically dropping their credit card every month, it’s a sure thing. No, it’s not. Once they stop showing up, eventually their credit card is going to stop working as well, that’s just how it is. If you have someone who is a member that is not attending, they’re very quickly going to become a delinquency. There’s no point in having someone who’s a member that doesn’t show up because it’s going to become a problem for you.
Then the other thing is that when they are a member with us, from a financial perspective, it benefits us if they’re attending because they’re much more likely to refer their friends, they’re much more likely to maybe purchase other things, to join other programs. Let’s say there’s someone in our kickboxing program and they have kids, they’re much more likely to sign up their kids for a karate program, so we’re able to cross-promote these programs a lot more. So I think that if you are in a membership-based business, I think that if you are kind of like Planet Fitness, where you’re only charging $10 a month, it’s such a negligible amount that you can probably get away with people not coming and still paying you, but once you’re charging any kind of a premium price, you have to deliver. You have to deliver a quality experience in order to justify that amount because it’s just not going to work out for you.
Christy: So let me ask you, like if you have somebody that signs up for the fitness kickboxing and you begin not seeing them, are you doing anything to proactively reach out to them and try to get them coming back?
Carmen: Yeah, we call them. So if someone doesn’t show up for eight days, which is basically more than a week, we have alerts set up where we’re going to call them and say, “Hey, just want to make sure is everything okay, hope to see you back in class soon,” and we keep calling them every week until we get them back in class.
Christy: Excellent. I think part of what you have just described is the difference between using a local, independent business where the owners are doing what they’re passionate about doing and it is truly their life’s work and they’re invested in your enjoyment as a customer, then comparing that to the national franchise that has different people rotating in and out and you can’t even find the same people working there from month to month. So what you just described about the different views of a membership and an auto bank draft coming through and saying, “It doesn’t feel good to me when we’re taking money from you every month and not giving you something back,” is exactly the reason to choose a local independent brick and mortar business over one of the national chains. I feel like that right there is part of the difference, it’s the connection that you have to those people and the people that are in it and working there are the ones you’re going to see day after day, month after month and year after year and pretty soon you’re growing a relationship, they’re seeing the progress that you make in your life and your fitness and your stress level and all those other benefits, and really sharing the joy in that and feeling probably as good about that as they do about any of the financial rewards in that business.
So I just wanted to get that plug in there for the differentiation, because I think we’ve all felt like we’ve been run through the cattle call on the New Year’s resolutions, going to the gym and we sign up and never see anybody again and never know anyone’s name and never hear from anybody again but we just see that bank draft going in month after month.
I wanted to get you to kind of do a little bit of 20/20 hindsight, looking back on, as you started your business and the experience you had opening a local business, what is the overarching lesson or the main thing that you’ve taken away from this process that you could share with us?
Carmen: I would say that probably one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned over the years is the importance of strategic focus. I’ll explain specifically what I mean. When we first opened our doors, we had a kid’s karate program and then an adult karate program. The kid’s karate program was pretty successful right from the get-go, the adult karate program was always kind of flailing a bit. Part of that is due to just it’s a different customer, adults have a lot going on, they’re a little more flakey, kids have their parents driving them to class, whether they want to go or not.
I think particularly with the adult program we kind of tried a lot of different things. We did karate for a while, then we kind of **** [0:49:47.8] let’s kind of do more of a fitness class, then we saw obviously the popularity of mixed martial arts, so we’re like, all right, let’s maybe jump on this MMA bandwagon and kind of offer, mix in a bit of MMA, **** [0:50:03.0]. Basically we realized, we got to a point where we realized we can’t be the best at everything. We have to pick what we’re really good at and just stick with that.
After a little bit of experimentation here and there, finally we’re at the point today where all we offer is karate for kids and fitness kickboxing for adults. If you want to learn how to fight, don’t come to us, we’re not the place. If you are an adult and you want to learn like kata and like all this traditional karate stuff, we’re not the place for you because we don’t have an adult karate program any more. What we really do well is fitness kickboxing, kid’s karate, and that’s it.
That’s something I would definitely urge other business owners to keep in mind. You’re always going to be led astray if you listen to your customers and just do everything that they suggest. Now, that’s not to say, obviously you always want to listen to your customers in terms of getting good feedback, but you need to process that feedback through a filter because I’m telling you, if we did everything our customers said, we would be doing Zumba classes, we’d be doing step aerobics, we would be doing yoga, and we suck at all of those things because that’s not our core competency. Don’t get carried away with trends and fads and what the squeaky wheel is demanding because you really need to focus on what is the thing that you do the best and do that. Ever since we kind of focused in on those two things, our revenues have gone way up. I think strategic focus, that’s really the biggest lesson for us.
Christy: I think for a lot of business owners, what you just said makes absolute and complete logical sense. However, whenever you’re starting a business and trying to grow a business, it’s a little bit counterintuitive to have to say, “Oh, well, if you want to do that, we’re not the place for you,” because we see everyone that comes in the door, well, if we could offer this, we could capture them as a customer no matter how poorly we do it, we might have them for a minute.
I think it is critical what you said is that once you realized what your core competencies were and when you realize what your strengths were, you could just go full bore into that and easily say, “If you want to do this, we’re not the place for you, but I probably know where you should go and let me refer you to them,” and suddenly you built a referral network back and forth between different niches. It just really does go into, it’s kind of a maturity level that a business has to get to where you can feel confident enough in your overall success to say, this is what we do, this is what we do well, and this is what we’re going to stick to and these are the avenues we’re going to grow rather than doing the step aerobics and the Zumba and all these other things that people keep saying, “Oh, you should do this, you should do that,” as if the thought never occurred to you.
Carmen: Also, I 100% agree with you, it takes time to get to that point and you do need to kind of experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. I would also, you know, to the point of listening to your customers but with a filter, understand that a lot of times when customers say, “Man, if you offered this thing, I would be all over that,” they’re just saying it, they’re not going to actually buy it. I’ve seen with my own eyes businesses made that mistake of taking their customer’s words for the truth and they launch these new things or maybe even launch separate businesses and then they realize, “What the heck?” These people that were saying, “Oh, if you offer this thing, I’m going to totally pay you,” they’re not paying you and they’re just like, “do, do, do, do, do.”
Christy: Where are they now, right?
Carmen: You’re the one left managing these expenses for this thing that you rolled out thinking that there was this great demand. So know there’s a difference between talk and purchase.
Christy: So much of what I see with internet marketing, there’s this push to validate your idea. Can you get 10 people that will say, not just is this a great idea, but I would be willing to pay you money today for that. It’s the exact same thing you just talked about, getting those people to go ahead and put the money, if you did a program where you were able to go ahead and say, “Give me the money and we’ll create the program,” you might see enough interest to say, “This idea is valid and maybe we should try it.” But you’re right, a lot of times you just get people spouting off whatever and then they go on their merry way and meanwhile you’re left taking action and expanding in a whole different direction that you never intended and taking the hit on revenues for that. Excellent, excellent advice.
Now, I know that you’ve had a lot of exposure to a lot of things that small businesses are doing right now, so from your personal experience, are you seeing some things that maybe other small businesses in your community are doing that you feel like they’re doing really well right now and that are really working for them?
Carmen: I would say that one of the small businesses I came across recently that I was really impressed by, they’re not really in my community, but we’re users, we use to run a lot of our stuff, we use InfusionSoft, which is kind of marketing and email software. I go to their annual user conference each year.
Christy: Wow, okay.
Carmen: Each year they kind of give out this award for Marketer of the Year, so four different business owners kind of come up and do a presentation and try to compete for the award. I was really impressed by one of the finalists from last year’s conference, he runs an orthodontics—hope I’m saying that right—orthodontics practice, it’s called Burleson Orthodontics, his name is Dr. Burleson. I love his story because of course he’s a brick and mortar business owner, we have a soft spot for that, but I was really impressed with some of the referral techniques he’s using to generate referrals. Not to say that for us that’s always been a bit of a weak spot, I think we actually get a good amount of business through referrals, but we don’t really have any real solid programs in place to generate those on a systematic basis, it kind of happens organically. But he’s got some great systems in place and his business is a little bit similar to ours in that he kind of has two different audiences, he’s got the kids who get the braces, but initially it’s the parents that are the buyers. In order to generate referrals, he actually incentivizes each audience in different ways. With the kids, he’s really incentivizing them with gadgets, refer this many friends, get an iPad, refer this many friends, get a Wii. With parents, it’s slipping my mind what the main incentivize is but I’m guessing it’s more kind of cash-based or maybe discounts and stuff like that.
Christy: Right, right, rebates, something.
Christy: Interesting. It kind of surprises me to hear that you as a brick and mortar business are actually using InfusionSoft. I mean, it gets such great publicity from so much of the internet marketers that are out there, it also has a very steep learning curve. I guess once you make the investment in learning it and it sounds like you’ve got it working exactly the way you want it, people swear by it. I think that’s really interesting that you as a brick and mortar business are focused—your business model is focused very similarly to the internet marketing capturing the leads and lead generation and getting the database built, rather than just throwing all your stuff out there and seeing what sticks with what customer, so I think that’s great.
On the flip side of what you’re seeing small businesses doing, have you seen any mistakes that we could share that you’ve seen that we maybe could steer people away, get them to avoid before they actually step in it?
Carmen: Daily. [Laughs]
Carmen: As a customer. I think at the end of the day, you know when you asked me about retention techniques earlier, I mentioned some of the red gloves and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, you have to deliver a good product. That’s really the end game. If your actual main product or service isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how awesome of a marketer you are, you can’t put lipstick on a pig. I think I could point to tons of business that could be doing more in terms of marketing and this and that, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is delivering, putting most of your effort into delivering the best product or service you can and then yes, definitely investing the time into doing great marketing so that you can get that out in the world. But if you’ve got great marketing and a crap product, you’re not going to last.
Christy: Right. It’ll be a one-hit wonder with every customer. They’ll try you but they will not come back, so I definitely agree with that.
So as you look at, I know we just started 2014 and it’s the time when a lot of businesses do some strategic planning and set goals for the New Year, so what’s next for your business? What do you guys have on the horizon?
Carmen: I think for our business, we’ve definitely set certain growth goals, of course, but I think that some of the, I guess more projects or areas that we want to focus on more this year, one is we’re going to focus a lot more on generating more online reviews. That’s definitely an area where I have kind of neglected things a little bit and if you allow me to get on my soapbox for a little while—
Christy: Step on up.
Carmen: We’ve already bashed Groupon, this is a small business show, it’s time to bash Yelp as well. No, but seriously, I think that for a lot of businesses like ours, there’s a lot of businesses in industries that don’t naturally generate reviews. You may have raving fans, but it would never occur to them to actually write a review about your business unless you ask them. I think ours is definitely a business like that, especially brick and mortar businesses, but there are tons of industries where I feel like the same thing applies, dry cleaners, local delis. The problem with that is the only time you’re going to get reviews is if something goes wrong.
Christy: They’re bad, yeah.
Carmen: Exactly. You don’t sort of generate a natural flow of positive reviews, so you’re getting really slammed by negative reviews, which brings us back to the Grouponers I talked about before. I think that we haven’t really had a good system of constantly asking people to write reviews for us, so it’s a little spotty, so I think that’s definitely something we’re focusing on this year, is to try to really systematize generating reviews. Did you have a question about that?
Christy: I was just going to say, you’ve stepped up on my soapbox, so welcome to my soapbox. Not that I’m about shameless self-promotion or anything like that, but one of the things that I have started is a website. It’s Bizuki.com and it’s good local for the conscious consumer. Essentially it’s not about lambasting every negative experience you have with a local business, but it’s simply trying to get those of us that are the champions of local business—there’s some of our tribe at every community, that would prefer to do that—and essentially it is a video sharing website for video reviews of local businesses. The goal is, everyone is carrying their smart phone with them, everyone, if you’re at a local business and you have a great experience, why not take a moment, whip out your smart phone, do a quick video review, tell us what you loved about it, upload it right to the website and then it’s there. In search rankings with Google and that sort of thing, everyone knows video is really big right now so it’s sort of like, eventually—and granted I have not been able to do as much with it as quickly as I wanted to, we’ve still got programming to work on and making it all pretty and everything like that, but the whole thing is, I would love to get to the point where you as a small business could exactly say, almost solicit the reviews. It might even be that you set up a corner confessional booth in the karate studio or whatever, where somebody could go and say, “Oh my gosh, I just had the best workout ever, this instructor is awesome,” whatever it is, but then they can immediately be uploaded and that review is out there. Google is going to find it and every other search engine is going to find it, it’s going to rank higher, it’s getting your name out.
I’m going to be doing a lot with that, but it’s just the whole premise of what can we, as small business consumers, do to give you that holy grail of marketing, which is the testimonial, which is the review? I think we’re so stingy with that unless we’re completely pissed off. I hate to say it, but it’s true, I think as consumers, as we get more conscious about where we’re spending our local dollars, it becomes a responsibility of us to do the referrals and to do the testimonials because it’s in our best interests, it’s our communities that these businesses are building. It’s these businesses that are then turning around and supporting the Little Leagues and the charities and the other things that go on in the world right there in your local area. So it’s all of our responsibilities to get behind the local businesses.
It’s just something that’s out there and we’ll be doing more with it, but I think it’s a great thing to get to the point where you as a small business are not afraid to say, “Hey, could you give us a review? We need some, we had some people kill us on Groupon.” Especially if it’s not reflective of what your overall customer is feeling and you know you have a ton of satisfied customers, but they’re not the ones getting on Yelp or they’re not the ones getting somewhere else, it can make a huge difference. I definitely think that is a huge area where we as consumers as failing our small businesses.
Carmen: I love it, that’s a great idea.
Christy: Anyway, we can go ahead and put the soapbox away, we’ll give it a rest for another day, but like I say, we can go on and on about that, but I think that’s a very valid point.
You mentioned InfusionSoft as a tool that you use to run your business. Are there any other favorite-type tools that you have found extremely helpful with just the day-to-day running of your business? Sometimes until we hear about somebody else having success with them, maybe we’re a little bit gun shy about either trying them or maybe the fact that we would have to learn something new. Is there anything you’re particular fond of for running your business?
Carmen: No, I keep it pretty simple. I mean, InfusionSoft is probably the main tool I use and then other than that, day to day, I’m really in my Gmail. I know that all the productivity gurus say you shouldn’t use your inbox as your to-do list, but I’ve tried a lot of other methods and I seem to keep coming back to it.
Christy: You know what? What works for you might not work for somebody else, but the bottom line is if it works, I mean, there are some people that will swear by the white board and they want that dry erase board, they want it visual, they want it right in front of them, they want to keep that list, and so I say whatever works for you as far as your organization, that’s what you’ve got to use, so that’s great.
As a parting thought, anything that you would share with us that maybe if you look back and think, man, if I had only known “blank” whenever I had started, I would’ve been so much better off. Can you give us anything like that that maybe somebody else could say, “Ah! I’m not going to have to go through that one by myself because I just got this piece of wisdom that’s going to steer me in the right direction.”
Carmen: I would say—and I know we’ve been harping on this a little bit throughout the interview—but I would say definitely you’ve got to build your list and your database. Even though I had a background in online marketing and on the other kind of activist work I was doing, I was very up on building a database and email list, I’m embarrassed to say that for the first two years or so of running Urban Martial Arts, we never asked anyone for their email address. Not only that but all the people that came through and did an introductory lesson and didn’t sign up, we never put their information, which included their address, mailing address, into a **** [1:09:04.3] database.
I would say definitely from day one, even if you’re just opening your doors today, you’ve got to build that list. The reason that it’s so important is that it gives you control over your business so that you’re not just at the mercy of the elements, so to speak. Just heading back to January in New York City, we’ve been really slammed with terrible weather, we’ve been really slammed with snow, and it’s had a real affect on our walk-ins and our leads coming in, people just kind of don’t want to do anything because the weather is so bad.
Christy: They’re hibernating, right?
Carmen: Exactly. But because we have the database that we’re able to send emails out to, we’re able to have that control so we’re not just hoping that people walk in through the door.
Also, just to kind of quantify this a little bit for you, I’ve noticed that in any given month, approximately 20% of the new people, the new members we sign up, are people who have been in our database for 6 months or longer.
If you don’t have some kind of a database, if you don’t have a way of regularly keeping in touch with people, and it can be as simple as a single monthly tip you send out by email, at the very basic level. I do a lot more than that, I’m a little more aggressive, but if you’re not doing that, then you could be leaving up to 20% of revenues on the table.
Christy: I think it’s so interesting that you mention that because the important thing is sometimes not even knowing what you plan on doing with your list, because you don’t always know how it’s going to evolve, but if you go ahead and start building it, then you have it at your disposal. So when you decide it’s time to do the tip of the week or do the weekly or monthly newsletter or do a campaign for fitness or whatever it is you’re doing, or suddenly you want to start content marketing, you have that and it’s at your disposal and then you haven’t lost valuable time. Like you said, the first two years, wow, I know you wish you had some of that back so you could go back and put them back in the database, but definitely, you don’t always have to have the exact strategy laid out and I think people find what they’re comfortable with. Like you say, the tip of the week or whatever, fitness tip or whatever it is, might be the way someone feels comfortable starting out.
Christy: But as you see success with that, then it will evolve and morph into something else and pretty soon you might be sending out a link to your YouTube channel because you have some type of new instructional video or something up. You don’t really always have to have a grand plan for the marketing of the email or the database, but it’s important that you start it so that you have it at your disposal when you get it all figured out, so I think that’s great advice.
Carmen, is there anything, you’ve been extremely generous in sharing so much of your experience and even just giving us down to top three things that are working and explaining all that, so I wanted to give you any ability that you might want to take a minute here and promote anything about Urban Martial Arts, because I can imagine that we have listeners that will be in your area that maybe they’ve never been exposed to you. Is there anything that you would like to promote as far as your business?
Carmen: Yeah. I guess if you’re interested in checking out our website, it’s UrbanDojo.com. We’re in Brooklyn, New York, we have classes for kids, for adults, we do a summer camp, we also do a karate after school program. Then for any business owners who are interested in getting some tips on local marketing, I do have a blog, it’s not updated as frequently as it should be! [Laughs]
Christy: [Laughs] Yeah! Story of our lives, right?
Carmen: But hopefully by the time you hear this it’ll be on a more regular schedule, but if you want to check that out, it’s CarmenSognonvi.com. I’m sure you will not know how to spell Sognonvi, so there’s a shortcut, you can go to CarmenBlogs.com and it’ll redirect you there.
Christy: Ah, great, CarmenBlogs.com. What I’ll do is I’ll put all of these things, places to reach you and find you in the show notes and so somebody can go to BrickandMortarReporter.com and under this episode, we’ll have all these links there so we can get them to the right place.
Just so people have the information, because sometimes they might want to Google you or something like that, your name is Carmen, C-A-R-M-E-N, your last name, Sognonvi, is actually spelled S-O-G-N-O-N-V-I, so if people want to find out more about you, I think you’ve got some interesting things out there on the web as far as tips and other things that you’ve done before that are still out there and people just being introduced to you can still benefit from stuff you’ve done in your past, so I think that’s awesome.
Carmen, I can’t thank you enough for spending time and taking time away from your business and your family to share your experience with us. I know that people are going to be able to take so much of this interview and actually come up with things that they can change their strategies and actually implement so many of these things that you’ve given, tips that you’ve given us today. Again, we’ll have all of it in the show notes, so if you need any extra help, just go to the that.
It’s just been an honor talking to you and again, I cannot thank you enough for being here with us today.
Carmen: It’s been my pleasure, this is really fun.
Christy: You can find all the resources mentioned in this podcast in the show notes at www.BrickandMortarReport.com. If you’ve enjoyed listening to this interview today and you’ve enjoyed the content and the experiences that were shared here, I would be so happy and so grateful if you would take the time to go into iTunes, leave us a quick review or rating. We appreciate all of your feedback, we love hearing from you. We want to make this podcast the best it can be with every single episode. Hop on over to iTunes, I’ll have the link listed in the show notes and you can give us a review and/or rating and we thank you for it.
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