The number one question I get from individuals who want to teach others in the NRA firearm disciplines is, “How do I find students?” My answer to them is always, “YOU tell me!” After all, you should know your community and where your potential students are. I emphasize that it takes more than just hanging your “shingle” out. It takes knowledge of your market that is specific to your community, and it takes some imagination.
Remember, you are competing with other instructors who are also trying to convince new gun owners that responsible ownership includes not only training, but combating the lies that the public has been told by the media. You are also dealing with a segment of the population that thought they would never own a gun and are actually frustrated and angry that society has forced them to now become a gun owner.
There are three things that you need to focus on when looking for students: Identify your target audience; reinvest in your business; and advertise. Students are out there; you just have to find them!
Identify Your Target Audience
One of the most important things you can do to find students is to identify your target audience. This can be a very difficult task for a new firearms instructor. The default approach most new instructors employ is the “shotgun blast” method. They post a flyer or pass out literature advertising their class. This might work once or twice if there are no other instructors in your area, but soon you will run out of random students that see your information.
New instructors need to think outside the box when it comes to attracting students. Consider holding a women-only class. Many women are looking for a class where they can attend with other likeminded women, without the pressure of having guys in the same class. Another idea is to conduct a class covering general firearms safety, designed for the younger audience. Many parents are willing to send their kids through any type of class that keeps their children safe. These are just a few ideas. My point is to get creative.
Another target audience to consider is specific groups or organizations. Realtor groups are always looking for safety courses to keep their employees and realtors safe. Do not overlook Boy Scout Units in your area. Boy Scout Leaders are always looking for training to enhance their own skills. Even the Boy Scouts need certified firearms instructors to complete their training. Boy Scouts in a troop might be working on their Rifle or Shotgun Merit badges and need an NRA Certified Rifle or Shotgun Instructor to help them complete those requirements. You can always consider reaching out to local Boy Scout units and offer your services, set up a class, and help the young Scouts in your community achieve their goals.
Utilize all your resources when looking for a target audience. Upon completion of any NRA Instructor training course, all candidates receive the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program (MQP) book. The NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program is a self-paced program that allows shooters to achieve different proficiency levels. The shooter can earn medals and patches as they work their way through the curriculum.
There was a student in one of my classes who was asking a lot of questions throughout the day about where to look for students. Toward the end of class when I introduced the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program, I asked the students if anyone was interested in this program. The only student who commented that he was not interested in this program was the one who was questioning all day long where he was going to find students! I followed up with, “you may not be interested in this program, but other shooters in your community might be.” I explained to the class the importance of thinking out of the box when looking for students. There might be individuals or groups of individuals who might be interested in the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program but would prefer working with an instructor to help them achieve their goals.
Reinvest In Your Business
We have all heard the adage, “It takes money to make money!” This applies to firearm instructors just as much as it applies to any other business. For some reason, many firearms instructors refuse to put some of their profits back into their business. Any business that refuses to keep their classes fresh and up with the times, will ultimately fail. This is done by replacing old and tattered training aids with up-to-date teaching materials, and purchasing back up equipment when classes are booming!
I never understood why some instructors continue to use old and worn-out training aids, many of which have been sloppily repaired. This says a lot about the instructor. It shows that he or she does not take pride in his or her classes. It also shows that the instructor is only in it for the money, and not for the students. Students pay a lot of money to take a firearms training class, and they expect to get their monies worth.
By reinvesting in your business, you are marketing yourself as a modern instructor that keeps up with the latest firearm trends. Word of mouth from past students is one of the successful ways to market yourself to new students. Often, the condition of an instructor’s equipment can make-or-break you in the eyes of students. You put on a poor class, and word spreads. On the plus side, you put on an excellent class, word also spreads in a positive way!
It is important you have relatively current examples of firearms in the discipline that you are teaching. This includes makes or models of firearms that you normally would not purchase for yourself. For example, my whole life is centered around hunting and hunting firearms. It is what I do as a career, and it dominates my recreational time. The vast majority of my firearms are walnut-stocked, bolt-action rifles. But I had to ask myself, “How could I effectively conduct an NRA Rifle Course if I did not have a Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) to demonstrate in class?” The result was that I purchased a common representative of an MSR just for my classes. In other words, I spent $900 on a rifle that I normally would not have in my collection, and one that I will probably never shoot. But it makes for a great “training aid” in my rifle classes!
Advertising is the best way to get the word out about your services. It serves no purpose to identify your audience, spend lots of money, and keep your business up to date if potential students cannot find you. If you look at any successful business, there is a successful advertising program behind it. You can spend thousands of dollars on advertisement, a few hundred dollars, or take advantage of free advertisement services, but the success of your outreach depends on who is reached and where.
Placing brochures and pamphlets at local gun ranges and gun stores are great places to advertise your services, and are usually free or a very minimum cost to do so. The problem with these locations is that you may be competing with other instructors in the area who also may be trying to advertise their services and classes. Most individuals going to these ranges and stores are already shooters, and most do not think they need a class or additional training. There are things you can do to increase your chances at these locations.
At the gun range where I teach, I figured out how to set myself apart from the other instructors. I approached the owner and offered to give anyone who buys a gun from him a discounted price to enroll in one of my basic handgun classes. This benefits both of us by the owner getting an increase in sales because of the “special” offer, and I got more students because the employees direct these customers to me!
Continue to be creative when looking for places to advertise. Do not overlook church bulletins. Many churches and their congregation are looking for firearms training because of the uptick in crime in their communities and places of worship. Other possibilities include community papers, bulletins and club newsletters. The best part is that many of these publications can be found in electronic format, and posted across social media avenues to reach even more people. The idea is to use your imagination.
I found a unique place to advertise in the community where I live. I designed a full-color, 4’ x 8’ sign, and arranged for placement in a prominent location at the little league field where everyone going to the park must walk right by it. My investment was a one-time cost of a few hundred dollars. When I ask them how long the sign would be up, thinking it was an annual payment, I was told it will stay up until the next hurricane blows it down. Needless to say, I took extra baling wire and made sure that it was secure!