Business Overview


Unlike some other forms of martial arts, the purpose of self-defense training is to help people ward off an attack. Because of this, you may end up working with police officers, martial arts instructors, and assorted trainers and managers.

Who is this business right for?

This business is great for people who are already healthy and active; looking “fit” is one of the best ways to advertise yourself. A prior background with martial arts and/or self-defense training can be a major help, as is any prior background in fields such as law enforcement and security.

What happens during a typical day at a self defense training business?

The bulk of any given day may be occupied by preparing and conducting lessons for your students. You may also spend time prospective for future clients, communicating with existing clients, reading current self-defense literature and advertising your business.

What is the target market?

Some of your best clients will be young adults. Many of them may be living away from the support structure of their parents for the first time and are interested in actively managing their own safety. Such learners are typically receptive to your instruction and may stay students for many years.

How does a self defense training business make money?

A self-defense trainer makes money by charging students for lessons. You may ultimately charge different amounts based on the age of the student, whether the lessons are private or as part of a group, and whether it is part of ongoing training or a one-time session.

What is the growth potential for a self defense training business?

While the most recent data for self-defense trainers is not available, the job growth of this field is modest, with the adjacent fields of fitness instructor projected to grow by 13% and kickboxing instructor projected to grow by 8% between 2014 and 2024.

Getting Started


What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful self defense training business?

Previous training in martial arts, law enforcement, security, and/or self-defense are all helpful in establishing your business. Existing connections with law enforcement, college, gym, and high school administrators can also help you establish yourself more quickly.

What are the costs involved in opening a self defense training business?

The cost of opening this business depends greatly on the location of where you conduct lessons. For instance, many self-defense instructors start out offering lessons out of locations such as their own home, clients' homes, and public venues such as colleges and gyms (with the cooperation and compensation of the relevant administrators). If you go with route, you can start this business for less than $2,000; the majority of that money will go towards setting up a professional website (which may take about $500), printing out fliers and business cards to leave in the appropriate areas (this should cost $250 or less), and safety mats (which should cost $250 or less). The rest should be spent on advertising yourself via radio, newspaper, and possibly television, money permitting.

If you desire to have a standing space to conduct lessons, you should consider renting a studio apartment. It will provide the space you need for individual and small-group lessons, and you can typically get started with $3,000-$6,000 (this is assuming you have to pay first month's rent, last month's rent, and a security deposit; the exact cost will vary based on studio size and your region).

What are the steps to start a self defense training business?

Once you're ready to start your self defense training business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your self defense training business is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your self defense training business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a self defense training business?

Don't forget the importance of branding. Spend some time coming up with an interesting business name and having a logo designed. Don't be afraid to observe other instructors and reach out to them for tips on what mistakes to avoid when you are first starting out. Finally, make sure you have an active presence on social media: while this is important for most modern businesses, your young adult clientele will be particularly active on social media.

Growing Your Business


How to promote & market a self defense training business

As mentioned earlier, it wouldn't hurt to start out by advertising in local media such as newspapers and radio stations. However, fliers and business cards are surprisingly useful: you can leave them at gyms, colleges, business offices, and anywhere else you think people would be interested. As mentioned above, it's important to have a professional-looking website and a healthy presence on a variety of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This helps you reach your key demographic at virtually no cost and allows people to communicate with you and get key details about your business almost immediately.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

In addition to the marketing above, consider offering some of your shorter lessons for free at places like colleges and high schools; this demonstrates your talent and will leave folks wanting to come back for more. You may also consider some traditional promotional techniques such as holding contests for free or discounted lessons and also offering discounts for those who sign up for multiple lessons. As for retention, one of the best things you can do is make sure your lessons are constantly evolving. Clients want to know how to be safe in a wide variety of situations, so making sure each lesson has new techniques and new scenarios will keep them coming back.

How and when to build a team

Most fitness instructors work alone. This often makes it easier to operate and reduces your overhead. However, there are some scenarios where you may want to build a team. This may include more people wanting private lessons than you have time to conduct, or maybe a desire to expand your brand into neighboring cities. You may also want to bring people on board so that you can offer certain niche services (such as women's self-defense courses).

Legal Considerations


State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a self defense training business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

Release of Liability

To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, self defense training businesses should have their clients sign waivers. This waiver is often included within the services contract. Here is an example of one such form.

Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional release of liability form for your self defense business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.

Certificate of Occupancy

A self defense training business is generally run out of a studio location. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a self defense training business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your self defense training business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Services Contract

Self defense training businesses should require clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project.  This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example of one such services agreement.

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential


How much can you charge customers?

How much you charge customers varies based on certain factors. For instance, you may charge $40-$50 per hour for private lessons, or $10-$20 per hour for group lessons. You may consider charging more for an initial lesson (up to $180) and then less for follow-up lessons (such as $35 to $45 per hour), which provides incentive for purchasing ongoing lessons. You may also consider modified charges for longer lessons with children, such as $120 per 90 minutes to teach up to ten children.

What are the ongoing expenses for a self defense training business?

The ongoing expenses of this business hinge on where you conduct your lessons. If you are conducting them from your home, clients' homes, or public venues, then you have no real ongoing expenses except fuel, fliers, and business cards, and the cost for these will vary but should be under $200 a month. If you are renting a studio apartment to conduct lessons, you will pay an additional $1,000 to $2,000 per month on rent and another $200 or less on utilities. You should definitely consider getting liability insurance, which should cost less than $500 per year.

How much profit can a self defense training business make?

How much profit your business can make is contingent on how many clients you have and what you are charging them. For instance, if you were able to conduct thirty-one private sessions in a week and charging $50 per session, then you could make over $80,000 a year, and it's possible to do more sessions (this example is assuming approximately 31 hours of actual lessons per week). Keep in mind that the potentially very low overhead of this business means that the vast majority of what you make is pure profit for you.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Don't be afraid to raise prices (within reason) as your business thrives. Once you have a steady stable of clients, bumping the cost of lessons up by $10 can move the needle nicely on your profits. Consider diversifying the kinds of self-defense classes you teach and reaching out to certain niche audiences to increase your revenue streams. Finally, always be researching and integrating that research into your advertisement: when groups like college students know the risk that may be at late at night and you have statistics to back it up, they are much more likely to see the usefulness of what you offer.

Next Steps

Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Tool.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

Sign up at the Business Center to access useful tools for your business.

Related Business Ideas