I have very good retention rates. I need stronger skills on the marketing end.
Here are some of the things that have helped my student retention:
1) Honesty and sincerity when dealing with students. First and foremost, they must understand that you, the instructor, exist to help them. Be up front about it. Let them know that you value them, and not just as a source of income. Make it clear that their needs are your needs. Take comments (good and bad) and follow-up. And above all, if these is an issue, be up-front about it.
2) Connect with your students on a personal level. Personally, I feel uncomfortable calling people if they miss class, because a phone call can put people on the spot. However, I keep in touch with all of my students via email. I touch base with them even if they DON'T miss class. I like them to have a means of interacting with me privately, in case anything should ever arise.
3) This one's obvious: know everyone's name. Use it as much as possible. Be inclusive. Rotate who you use to demonstrate. Give people that personal touch. If they get through a class without feeling like you noticed them, they will get discouraged.
4) When it comes to MMA, BJJ, and other arts that can be "rough," be clear on your expectations for performance, behavior, and hygiene. It's important that you help the student be realistic with his/her expectations, and that they see that you are helping them reach their goals. It is also clear that they understand which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. They must also see that you have their back when someone else violates these rules. Lastly, be on top of hygiene, because it can make people uncomfortable (especially if they have to work with the stinky guy again).
5) Lastly, I don't see myself as a salesperson. Some people will argue that as the owner and head instructor, it is my job to sell lessons. In a sense, this is very true. However, I think that lessons are sold through the value of the program. When my students are in class, and they are feeling the excitement, the inclusion, and the progress that they expected to, THAT FEELING will sell more lessons than any talk we could ever have. The most important selling is in "producing the goods." I have never once asked a student to buy more lessons or sign a contract (I don't even DO contracts). I know that they will experience the value of my classes, and they will keep coming because they see the quality of instruction.