Covid-19 – building an online webshop and virtual dojo

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Social distancing?

I work with JKA Scotland, the national association for traditional Shotokan Karate. When Covid-19 hit, I knew we were going to have an existential and practical emergency. Practically, our sport is built on three facets of training: Kihon, Kata and Kumite. Social distancing was no issue with Kihon, which means basic training, or with Kata, which is a series of moves performed solo. But kumite involves contact (lightly). The exercises leading up to free fighting (jiyu jumite) all involve blocking and countering practice to specific targets on your opponent. Even attempting to attack is infringing the 2m expectation! Even before that specific anxiety, however, we had another – existential. How do we keep being able to afford hire or rent on our dojos if our students were not allowed to travel for anything other than emergency purposes? For some of my colleagues in JKA Scotland, the liabilities were personal, and they were facing the double whammy of no rent holiday and no income to cover costs.

The Challenge: How do we continue to generate an income, and keep our students training so that when we can return to training, we will have a membership ready to come back? In March 2020 my clubs, led by professional instructor Sensei Bert Stewart, were all based on face to face interaction. We had a basic brochure website only.

Budget Dashboard

What did I do?: I ran sessions on business planning to assess our options. We decided to invest, which meant Zoom Pro and Vimeo Plus accounts were possible options for us. Working with Sensei Stewart, we devised an offering involving virtual Zoom classes and access to an enhanced members’ area, plus a new e-commerce webshop on JKA Karate East Lothian.

Underlying technology stack: We settled on Vimeo Plus as the hosting service for our Zoom class recordings because storage was much cheaper through Vimeo than Zoom. We choose Zoom Pro because our classes are over an hour long, and we wanted to have stronger controls for child protection reasons. We set up the members area on a WordPress website using the S2 member plugin, with all financial details handled by Paypal. We invested in additional security through my client’s hosting provider. The total new costs for the association were below £300 a month – in theory, you can do it all free of charge but we felt the peace of mind and additional benefits were worth it.

Outcomes: We knew we were going to see a drop off, and budgeted accordingly. We succeeded in getting a higher portion of members to spend on the premium membership than forecast. We have saved money on administration and resource production by putting everything online now. This will deliver a recurring saving.

Lessons Learned

Starting the journey back from a dark placeof no income and no future took a lot of hard work and learning, particularly from colleagues who took on the tasks of contributng content to the Members’ Area.

YouTube and LinkedIn Learning resources on WordPress are excellent, particularly around the area of security and virus checking.

There are a lot of hackers sending bots out to target WordPress sites. It will scare you to see how many attacks even benign small business e-commerce webshops get each day.

Perseverance and patience helps for everyone in the project, particularly when tech knowledge needed some work – that training and teaching investment is absolutely vital in delivering a sustainable long term solution for a small business.

While I’m leading on the administration and providing a longer-term consultancy on these sites and technologies, now I’ve trained Sensei Stewart on content creation, my commitments are limited (and more affordable for the association going forward).

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