If you go read the CrossFit.com message boards all the way back to 2001, you’ll find questions about marketing.
The very first affiliates struggled with marketing. Affiliates in 2014–during the highest-growth period of CrossFit affiliates worldwide–still struggled with marketing. And in 2018, affiliates were still struggling with marketing.
So when some gym owners started to find success with various Facebook marketing strategies, I was thrilled. FINALLY, we could talk about actually running a business! FINALLY, more affiliate owners could afford the service that would really make a difference: mentorship!
And it happened: on more and more “Free Help” calls with affiliate owners, I heard: “I ran this six-week challenge and now I can afford mentorship!”
It appeared that the marketing problem was solved–at least, temporarily. No Facebook strategy lasts more than a few months, but I hoped that gym owners were being given some breathing room to work on the stuff that works forever.
But then I started hearing about the “bait and switch” advertising (I refuse to call it “marketing”.)
You know how it works already: “FREE challenge! Sign up here!” Then the potential new client is told the challenge is actually $499…but they’ll get their money back IF they leave a good review…and check off a bunch of other boxes.
I heard stories about coaches leaving, because they no longer trusted the box owners (“If they’re lying to clients, they’re probably lying to me, too.”)
I heard stories about great, long-term clients being “washed out” of the gym by the tidal waves of short-term, in-and-out groups of 30 or more.
I heard stories of burnout by owners. Stories of clients who thought they had “done CrossFit…and now I’m looking for the next thing” because they thought CrossFit was an 8-week mass challenge.
Stories of marketing companies charging tens of thousands of dollars for this stuff!
But what really broke my optimism was this: “People have commitment problems. They never stick around after 8 weeks!”
That’s not a commitment problem. That’s a leadership problem.
What kind of leader promises something to get you in the door, and then tells you the truth later? Not one that I’d follow.
What kind of relationship starts with a lie?
Since starting TwoBrain, I’ve wrestled with the question “What do gym owners actually NEED?” many times. It’s my mission to make gym owners wealthy–because I am one. I’ve asked the question about data sources; about booking and billing software; about handbooks and templates and courses and seminars and mentorship.
But what gym owners actually NEED is the ability to change lives. That means leadership. It means business strategies that stand on their own: logical, replicable, and honorable.
What gym owners don’t need is tricks. That’s what made the industry so corrupt BEFORE CrossFit!
So when two members of the TwoBrain family–John Franklin and Mateo Lopez–told me about their success with Facebook marketing, I was eager to hear their story. I love these guys. I trust them. They’re great leaders. They do things the right way.
They showed me their strategy. They’d taken years (and over $80,000 of investment) to learn how to market their four gyms well. I loved their method, but I don’t sell ideas; so we tested it. First in mentors’ gyms, then in a dozen TwoBrain gyms, then in a hundred. Their Facebook marketing strategy proved SO successful that we built it into the Incubator permanently. Every gym owner who works with TwoBrain receives mentorship in Facebook Marketing now.
Our strategy isn’t a swipe file or one specific campaign. It’s not an over-promise-and-pray plan. It’s mentorship.
What works in my market might not work in yours. Hell, I wouldn’t WANT another gym running the same ads in my city anyway. But John and Mateo have built a mentorship program for marketing on the TwoBrain platform that makes me proud. It’s one-on-one help (not big group calls); a help desk; tons of samples; coaching on ad spend and mentorship on testing. And it’s a fraction of the cost of these challenge-brokers, because I think that’s the right thing to do.
We also make gyms fix up their operations, retention strategy, coaching development plans, and pricing before teaching them marketing…because that’s ALSO the right thing to do.
I want to make gym owners wealthy. That means the ability to stay in the game for 30 years; to build long-term relationships of trust; to lead. Does your marketing make you proud…or does it make you a fraud?
The circle is broken.
The relationship between coach and athlete is now mostly one-way. It wasn’t always like this.
In years past, most fitness coaching was done one-on-one. A client would do their workout in front of their trainer; take homework or book their next appointment, and then the trainer would plan their next workout.
No one “programmed” a month ahead, because tomorrow’s program depended on today’s result. For example, if a client was doing a 3-minutes-on-1-minute-off HIIT workout, and couldn’t finish all five rounds, their future workouts would be altered to reflect their performance.
Likewise, if a client was running 400m repeats at a 1:16 average pace, their coach would program the next workouts based on that score (maybe 200m workouts with shorter rest breaks, or 400m repeats with a target time of 1:15…)
Now, it’s easy to do this with a 1:1 client. It’s even possible to stretch one client’s program enough to cover a second client, if that second client is similar in goal and ability.
It’s very hard to do this with a gym full of members taking group classes. VERY hard. But why isn’t anyone trying anymore?
The original HQ programming, as I understand it from Coach, was reviewed monthly. The workouts were all designed to have objective scores attached. So coaches could look at the scores and say, “90% of our clients improved their max deadlift this month, but only 5% improved their Fran.”
And then they’d program shorter HIIT workouts. Not too complicated, really.
So why aren’t we doing it?
Why are we searching for the hardest workouts we can find, instead of the best possible workouts for our clients? Why are we choosing “hard for the sake of hard” over “here’s where the majority of my clients are weak?”
Constantly varied, functional movement covers all the bases. Eventually. But what if your programming has a strength bias? Are you turning a willful blind spot to the fitness of your clients?
And how would you know?
Look, I’m guilty here. I browse workouts online and think, “Ooooh, that looks spicy!” and then put it in my own programming. There are a lot of fun workouts to choose from, and dozens of creative programmers out there. But is programming “hard for the sake of hard” what’s really best for our clients?
How do YOU track overall progressions and regressions, and what are you doing about them?
What’s your job?
When you start working out, your job is to become as fit as possible.
When you become a coach, your job is to get others as fit as possible. That comes first. Your workouts–though necessary–come second.
When you open a gym, your job is to make the gym profitable. That comes first. When your primary work is done, you can coach. And when the coaching is done, you can train.
This is a message I’ve repeated very often, because it’s a fundamental concept–AND it’s often forgotten.
Some gym owners refer to “the business side” of owning a gym–as if there were any other side. Owning a gym is owning a gym. Coaching is coaching. They’re not the same. Business isn’t what you do if you have time left over between appointments. Business is what makes the appointments possible.
Other gym owners are running their business upside down: they open a gym so they can train first, coach second, and worry about “the other stuff” in the time left over. Of course, these gyms don’t last long.
But most gym owners started a business to buy themselves a coaching job. And if your dream is to coach for 5-8 hours every day, working only with high-paying clients one-on-one or in very small groups of 2-3, then sure: the model can work. I started out this way. But someday, you might want some time off; or a raise; or a business that doesn’t close its doors when you get sick. And when that time comes, you’re going to have to work ON the business instead of IN the business.
Not sometimes. ALL the time.
It’s not hard to spend 50 hours per week running the business. There’s more than enough to do. And if someone isn’t dedicating at least 40 hours to managing and growing your gym, it will take YEARS to become successful.
Let’s say it takes 2000 hours per year (50 weeks x 40 hours) to run a great gym. That includes time spent meeting new clients, training your coaches, collecting money, stocking toilet paper, building your processes…I can’t even list everything.
A gym owner who coaches 20 classes per week will have, at BEST, 20 hours per week to work “on the business”. Because she also has to eat, and sleep, and train, and talk to clients before and after class…
That means she has a maximum of 1000 hours to invest in business operations and growth per year. And that means it will take her twice as long to become successful as a full-time owner.
What if she’s tired from coaching? What if she spends some of that time following bad advice she found in a Facebook group? What if she spends 10 hours designing a new t-shirt or arguing about the profit margin of Kill Cliff vs FitAid?
The more she coaches, the less effective her time will be on “other stuff”.
If she has 500 productive hours per year–or 10 per week–it will take her FOUR years to reach the level of a full-time gym owner. And probably more. As someone who’s tried to grow a gym on ten hours per week, I can attest: those ten hours are not very productive. The only thing that saved me was having a mentor, because then I maximized those ten hours to get a LOT done. But Catalyst’s recovery and growth still took years longer than it had to, because I was coaching too much.
Running a gym is a full-time job. Now I have an amazing GM at Catalyst named Jamie. He likes to coach a couple of classes per week (literally two.) But his job isn’t coaching; it’s running and growing the gym. And he’s great at it, and his hard work creates jobs for the coaches.
What’s your job? As soon as you take responsibility for the welfare of others, your job is to make them as successful as possible. As a coach, that means making your clients successful. As an owner, it means making your staff successful. That means building the business first, and coaching in your “free time” after the work is done.
In this week’s edition of Marketing Monday, I’m going to walk you through:
How the Facebook algorithm works
Why using specific, interest-interest based targeting doesn’t work, and
How you can use the algorithm to your advantage
If you’ve ever launched a campaign only to watch it fizzle out and die after 4 days and you don’t know why, then click to watch this week’s video!
Have you ever tried to sue someone for their gym fees?
I haven’t. And I don’t want to. So I don’t have contracts.
“Never make a rule you won’t enforce” is something my first mentor taught me. But he didn’t tell me the harder lesson: that you have to enforce the rules that you make. And you have to enforce them the same way every single time, or they won’t work.
When we sold Open Gym memberships at Catalyst, we had a full page of rules:
Clear out before group starts
Don’t come near the floor while there’s a group going on, even to warm up
Put your stuff away
I don’t have to spell it out for you. You know what’s on that list.
The problem was that no one really followed the list. So for awhile, members using Open Gym would show up while class was on, and discreetly their warmups in the corner. Sometimes they’d walk through class to get a foam roller. Eventually, their warmups involved a barbell. And then they began to involve the AirDynes…and then a coach snapped on them, and everyone felt awkward and bad, and I had to placate people who were in the wrong.
They weren’t bad people, and it wasn’t their fault. It was my fault for not showing them where the lines are.
When the rules are gray, there aren’t any rules.
If you give people five extra minutes of personal coaching after class for free, you’ll never sell personal training as a service.
If one coach starts class late, your clients won’t show up on time.
If “Open gym” runs during class time, your students will have a lesser experience.
If you aren’t saying “no”–and saying it clearly every time–you’re really saying “yes.”
Consistency is greater than everything else. Even when it’s painful.
The irony is that upholding your rules consistently and clearly is only painful once. In the long run, it’s far LESS painful.
I once had a client decide to row a half-marathon during Open Gym. Great guy, he’d been around for over two years, and he was choosing a tough option.
But five minutes before class was set to start, he still had nearly 5k to row. There was no way he was going to finish.
The coach told him to make sure he finished rowing before class started. Period. He said, “I’m over 15k in! I can’t stop.”
The coach said, “You will stop. That’s the rule.”
He stopped. He got off the rower, picked up his bag, and left the gym. He never came back. In the moment, it sucked.
But we’ve never had the problem since. That was six years ago. One hard conversation saved us from dozens of hard conversations, awkwardness and apologies down the road.
When the rules are complicated, they won’t be followed.
Imagine you’re a new client, and you you’re not really sure what the rules are. You see others showing up early and warming up while another class is running, so you do it too. Then a coach barks at you. You’re in a new place with strangers, and you were just embarrassed in front of them. Why would you ever come back?
Clear rules and consistent delivery teach your clients how to fit in. They save you from frustration and burnout, and save your clients from confusion and awkwardness.
If your rules aren’t being followed now, it’s probably because you haven’t enforced them before. Or because they’re just not clear. Or because people don’t know them.
Good pet owners, good parents, and good parents do it the same way every time.