The Contractual Conundrum: Student Contracts (Part 1)

I regularly get calls from martial arts school owners asking for advice on how to handle various problems. They range from contract negotiations with landlords to the best way to deal with parents. While each situation is different and certainly there is no one right answer… my advice always begins with “Do the right thing for the right reason.”
Generally, this is met with dead silence on the other side of the phone. After a few moments, the conversation continues with more specific an in depth talk about what that particular individual is trying to deal with at the moment. The conversation always comes back to “what do you feel is the right thing to do?” Followed by, “Well I think I should do this, but this would be a lot easier. What do you think?”
Each time I hear this, I can’t help but shake my head. So often, we trade the right path for the easy path and it is a slippery slope that we travel when we take that first step. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t compromise or attempt to find a middle ground when there is room for negotiation. When, however; there is a clear bright line between what we should and shouldn’t do then we should always error on the side of what we know is right regardless of how hard it is.
Good examples of bright line issues are student contracts. Any martial arts school owner that chooses to utilizes contracts in any form will eventually find someone (fortunately these are the minority) that does not feel they must follow the terms of whatever they have agreed to do. While it certainly can be easier to acquiesce to a squeaky wheel, in the long term it will create problems with the clients that remain behind. You can’t bend the rules for one person and not another without good reason. It is important to be fair to all of your clients.
Contracts are put in place to protect the school owner and the client. Certainly, there are situations that will require modification of an individual contract, but that should be spelled out either under an exigent clause (i.e. unforeseen military deployment, loss of income, etc.) in the contract or through written business practices. If you have done your due diligence, and follow those guidelines the rest is simple.
If you did your job upfront, the client knew what they were signing and they were most likely getting some benefit for doing so. Often schools will reduce fees for individuals on contracts or in the case of short-term contracts like auto pays it is a matter of convenience. Either way, it is a matter of ethics and of law.
Don’t be ashamed of asking them to do what you do everyday, live up to their commitments. You as a school owner have to step back and say, if I don’t pay my bills under my purchase/lease contract with my bank or my landlord will I still have a business to run? If the answer is no (and we know it is) then why should we not hold clients to the same standard?
Coming soonPart Two: When is it Okay to Cut a Student Loose?
Jeff Helaney is a 9th Degree Black Belt in TaeKwon-Do. He is president of the United States Kido Federation and is an Advisor to the International JunTong TaeKwon-Do Federation



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