Rossland BJJ – Year in Review

After a year of opening Rossland BJJ, I feel like I have earned my Blue Belt in running a Jiu Jitsu gym and I thought I would share with you the lessons that I have learned along the way.

Lesson 1: Find your first Students before opening the doors

I didn’t even want to open up my own gym.  As a Purple belt in BJJ, I feel like you have a good understanding that you know very little.  You are falling down the rabbit hole and have a good idea of where you are going but that hole is deep, dark and dangerous if you don’t watch yourself.  Opening my own gym seemed like a terrible idea and I was worried I would be exposed as an imposter.

I was training at a gym that was a 30 minute drive away in a different town and had met a white belt from the town I was living in who was training there too.  We hit it off and had a few good rolls together.  After a few training sessions he talked about wanting to roll a bit more and asked if I would teach him sometime.  I had 100 square feet of home mats and my girlfriend and I had a 900 sqft art space, so I invited him over. 

He ended up bringing his friend and kids to a few sessions and they seemed to enjoy it.  Then his friend brought his kids and that small 100 sqft of mat space started filling up.  At this point they told me they had a few more people interested and that I should plan a concrete schedule and they would be excited to pay.  We talked about costs and what it would take for me to commit and keep the doors open and they seemed happy to pay what I suggested.

Before even opening the doors to the public, my first students paid their first monthly memberships for them and their families and we used their money to invest in more mats.  They are still coming to this day and are our biggest supporters.

Lesson 2: Start Small

It feels like a dream to me.  1 year ago today at 4:30pm, 9 kids walked through the newly decaled doors of the Rossland Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy.  We had just added 300 more square feet of mats bringing our mat space to a tiny 400 square feet but it gave us enough room so that everyone could roll around and not bump into each other.

I think my decision to only put in 400 square feet of mats to start with was a good one, although I could have saved a bit of money had I bought more to begin with, hindsight is 20/20 and I didn’t even know if I was going to be open after that first month.

Lesson 3: Posters, Promotion, and no obligation trials.

Marketing is a funny thing.  In some sense it is like shooting into the dark and hoping you hit something.  If you do hit something, shoot more in that direction and if you don’t then aim somewhere else.

The first thing I did was make some posters and got 100 of them printed.  I plastered as many as I could around town.  I did some Facebook advertising that got us a couple likes on our Facebook page.  I put a free post on our local community website (something like craigslist) and then I waited… impatiently I might add.

On opening day, I hadn’t even received an email expressing interest.  I didn’t think anyone was coming.  I was anxious to say the least.  Then 1 by 1, people started walking in.  As they walked in I greeted them and asked how they heard about us.  It broke down to about 80% saw a poster and went to our website, 15% saw the post on the community website and 5% saw our Facebook page.  To this day, I still post posters around town ( and should probably do it a lot more).

This worked for me in Rossland, a tiny mountain community in the middle of nowhere.  When it comes to marketing, shoot in the dark a few times and see what hits.

I also have a 1 week free trial with no obligations or hidden terms.  I know jiu jitsu is not for everyone but the more that try it the more stick around.

Now that we are more established the #1 driver of new students is our current students.  Word of Mouth is king and I try to reward our students when they bring new students in.

Lesson 4: Community

Rossland is a town of 3500 people.  We mostly choose to live here because of the area and community.

Something that I admit that I just got lucky with was having a teacher from the local high school ask if I would be able to teach her grade 9 a few BJJ classes as part of their Physical Education class.  I always say how I wish I started BJJ earlier and jumped at the chance to teach kids from my old high school something that I loved.

I think we initially had 5 classes scheduled, which quickly turned into 10.  Then they brought their grade 10’s and then their grade 8’s and 7’s.  We will be working with their grade 6 class in the near future as well.

This has been a great way to get involved with the community, teach some bullying defence and even get some new students because of it.  These School classes are some of the best times I have had teaching so far.

I also strive to help promote the grappling community in our area.  If you are paying dues at other gyms in the surrounding towns then you are always welcome to drop into our gym and train with us, free of charge.  I feel this helps us all grow and get better at Jiu Jitsu.

Lesson 5: Costs and Income

Before opening the gym, I did a lot of research.  It seemed that everyone agreed that running a gym is not the best way to get rich.  You do it because you love it.  I can’t stress how true this is.

After 1 year in business the school has made $19,654.80 but had $18,467.34 in expenses for a grand total of $1,187.46 in profit.  CHA CHING!  Time to retire.

For those curious, the major expenses have been Rent: $5670 (which is quite inexpensive compared to most major cities), Mats: ~$6,000 and insurance: $1130 as well as all the little things like power (~$60/month), supplies, we bought some custom rash guards, etc.

This being said, most of the expenses have been 1 time expenses and we should get years of use from them before needing to update/replace.  If next year stays on the same trajectory, I won’t be burning through my savings to eat.

At the end of the year we now have 39 full time members and couple of drop in members every week so things are looking good for the start of this year.

Lesson 6: The things you don’t think of

Running a gym is a lot more than instructing and rolling.  That is what I consider the fun part, the play time, the relaxing part and the part that you get to spend the least time doing.

The best advice I got from my black belt instructor before opening the gym was: Love mopping the floors and doing laundry.

He should have added in dusting, cleaning bathrooms, picking up insane amount of hairballs, fighting the swarm of flies that somehow got trapped in your gym overnight and so much more.

He was not wrong.  No one else is going to do it and it is something that has to be done daily.  I think you should take a long hard look at yourself if you ever want to open a gym and ask yourself this question: Do I love doing laundry and mopping floors?

I was one of the keeners that stayed behind to help my coach mop the floors.  I used that time to pick his brain about Jiu Jitsu, Life, and other things and in turned learned to love mopping the floors.  So I felt I could honestly say yes.

Get a curriculum and be prepared for class.  Do extra study.. don’t watch videos of a technique while you are at the gym and then teach it.  Learn it, love it and admit it when you don’t know something perfectly yet.

Be on time and don’t change your schedule.  I made the mistake of changing the schedule due to epic amounts of powder this winter that I wanted to shred.  People started showing up at the old time, then some would come for the new time, others would ask every week what time class was at.  Make a schedule and stick to it.  Your students will thank you for it.

You can’t take breaks.  I remember rolling 7 days a week while training at my old gym.  But when I needed a break, I could take a day or two off.  As the sole instructor, I have to be there for classes and because of not being able to take that many breaks, I feel a lot more beat up because of it.  I don’t get to roll as much now because I can’t afford to be injured or sick.  I know my personal training has suffered because of this but it’s all worth it to see all of our students progressing.

Get ready for hard talks.  That smelly dude is now your problem.  The guy that is going to hard or trying his “self-defense” ball grabs is now your problem.  The kid that cried because he was hit a little too hard and the kid that hit him is now your problem.  The kid that wants to learn Jiu jitsu, but is also known for bullying kids at school is now your problem.  But don’t worry because the heart of Jiu Jitsu is problem solving.  You got this.

Next Steps:

My goal is to continue on this journey for as long as I can.  I absolutely love my life right now and can’t thank my team enough for the love and support we have built at Rossland BJJ.  I was able to promote my first student to Blue Belt with my Black Belt instructor/Great friend beside me.  It brought tears to my eyes for many reasons that I won’t dive into at this time.

With the major expenses behind me, I hope that I can turn this into a profitable business that allows me to stay focused on building a Jiu Jitsu community in a town that I love.

Rossland offers world class skiing at Red Mountain and I hope to be able to convince more people to come and enjoy our area while also being able to do seminars, camps and tournaments.  If you are coming to the area, please give us a shout, we would love to have you train with us.