Occam’s razor cuts a closer shave.
It’s a philosophical principle that will help you grow your business, train your clients and avoid stress. Occam’s razor says: “simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones.”
In coaching, that means “Your clients can’t follow two commands.”
In business, that means “you can’t act on every piece of client feedback you get.”
In leadership, that means “tell them exactly what you want them to do.”
Here’s how to put Occam’s razor into practice in your gym business, help your clients progress faster, guide your team to success, and stay focused yourself.
- Correct one thing at a time. Every client should receive 1:1 coaching from you every day. Whether in a big group, small group or personal training session, your job is to provide individual coaching to every client. But it’s tempting for novice coaches to coach TOO much. Vomiting information on a client will just paralyze them. Tell them one thing to fix; promise to teach them the next step tomorrow; and let them achieve mastery one step at a time. Avoid the temptation to show off your knowledge.
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then tell them. Then tell them what you told them. Instead of sharing several points at once, spend your entire session on one key point. Give an overview at the whiteboard. Then get really in depth with each client individually. Finally, recap the lesson for the group.
- Keep your staff evaluations short. More categories for evaluation isn’t better, because the most important points of measurement get buried. It’s critical that coaches show up early; look great; smile at everyone; keep everyone engaged; and end on time. You might add 2-3 more criteria to the list. But a 20-section coaching evaluation is almost worse than no evaluation at all, because it’s not a reflection of their true skill.
- Evaluate your staff by each role separately. If you haven’t broken out each responsibility in your business into a separate role, you risk throwing an amazing coach out with the bathwater. If a knowledgeable, caring coach forgets to take out the garbage at night, it might be wise to hire a cleaner or change the coach’s schedule instead of firing them.
- Give your staff a clear path forward. We use the career roadmap tool in the Incubator.
- Have a clear vision and repeat it at every opportunity. Give your staff and clients one central point of focus: “Everything we do, we do because of THIS.”
- Don’t survey your clients. The important feedback will get buried, and you’ll spend too much time trying to please the wrong people. Read more about Killing The Canaries here.
- Explain everything as simply as you can. Many gym owners use pictures or videos in their staff playbooks now.
- Follow proven paths wherever you can. Mentorship has allowed me to reach farther, in far less time, because I don’t have to figure anything out for myself, or repeat expensive, time-consuming mistakes that my mentors have already made.
Reading books about editing can make you a better leader and entrepreneur. As a coach, leader and owner, your mind must be trained to seek the simplest, straightest path. Start with these, but always ask: “How can I make this more automatic?”
Every square foot you rent should generate revenue for you.
And the amount you generate should be clear.
We’re often called by gym owners who are running out of money because they rented too much space. We’re almost never called by gym owners with the opposite problem.
The owners’ mistakes and regrets all center around using space for activities that aren’t directly tied to revenue:
- a sitting area for clients (does it actually help retention?)
- a coffee bar (too expensive to staff and stock)
- some dedicated single-function space (will people want to take yoga classes at your gym forever?)
- a whiskey/beer/whatever cool distraction is in this week.
Those are the things that make owners gym-poor.
In every case, the gym owner added things they believed would add value to the client. And that’s the problem: WE see the value of having an athlete lounge, but they don’t. Or it’s not quantifiable. So here’s my rule: if you can’t point to something in your gym and say, “That brings me X dollars each month”, get rid of it. You have too many opportunities that WILL pay you to take up space on those that won’t.
When an athlete thinks about joining or leaving your gym, they think about the coaches, not the couches.
While a clean bathroom is a necessity, a steam room isn’t.
Group training space, if you offer group training. Flexible layout is preferred. Option to run two groups at once is best.
Semiprivate or private space for 1:1 and small-group training
Private consultation or office space for meeting with clients
1 shower for every 70 clients (more if you serve a nearby corporate staff)
1 additional bathroom for every 70 clients (minimum, more is better).
Our method of training is simple and elegant: everything you need, nothing you don’t. Your space–and your business–should focus your client’s attention on your true service instead of the distractions. And don’t forget YOUR focus: every entrepreneur needs to work on things that will increase their effective hourly rate instead of buying themselves more tasks.
You can stock the bananas, or you can sign up the clients. Which will actually add value? It’s up to you to know.
“I’ll let people try my service for free, and then make it up on the back end.”
“I’ll pay my staff a salary and then pay myself when we’re profitable.”
“I’ll take some money out of the business when we reach 100 members.”
Entrepreneurs open a gym for all the right reasons: they want to help people. They want to share the gift of fitness. And they want to tear up the old myths about health and food. They’re passionate. And they’re usually generous to the point of hurting themselves.
They tell themselves that “leaders eat last” and that they’re “playing the long game”. They keep kicking their success down the road. And most never, ever catch up. I was that way too.
Here are some of the methods we teach to help owners get profitable NOW:
- Profit First. Listen to the episode with Mike Michalowicz here. Paying yourself first means you’ll pay yourself, period. My favorite “profit first” analogy is the toothpaste tube. When the tube is new, you’re pretty loose with the paste. If you spill some, it’s no big deal. If you use more than you need, no problem. But at the end of the tube, you’re squeezing every last drop out. You’re rolling it up; folding it; pressing it against the sink. That’s how money works, too. If the rent is due, you’ll hustle to pay it. But if it’s your own pay on the line, you won’t. Pay yourself first, and you’ll always have the money.
- The 4/9 model. Every staff person should generate 2.25x their pay. Instead of shouldering all the risk with a salary they might not even want, give your staff opportunity. Work always expands to fill the time you give it. The old industrial model of a 40-hour-week for a fixed check is demotivating; gets far less work accomplished; and caps your staff’s potential. It also puts your cash flow at risk. In short, it puts the owner LAST. In an owner-operator business, that can be deadly. Pay your staff 4/9 on group classes, PT and specialty programs. Show them the opportunity to make more money. Slowly move other roles onto their plate, and pay them separately for those roles.
- Collect up front, but pay your staff on delivery. Some owners sell personal training packages, and then immediately pay their trainers their share before service has been rendered. This is very demotivating, because the money will be spent long before the sessions run out. What happens when the trainer wants to take a vacation? They keep the money and the owner provides the service for free. What happens when the trainer does a bad job? The owner is forced to keep them around…at least until all of the sessions are fulfilled. What happens when the trainer leaves, or just stops showing up? It’s always the owner who gets caught. Collect from your clients in advance, but never pay ahead of delivery by your staff.
- Build an annual plan. If you’ve been tracking your metrics, you’ll know where the peaks and valleys are in your business. Bridge those valleys with specialty programs, events, or other cash spikes. Use our free tool here.
- Don’t be scared to carry a balance. Many gym owners think it’s wise to bring every credit card to zero every month; to buy things only with cash; to impoverish their business instead of carrying a loan balance. It’s not wise; it’s a starvation diet. Years ago, when my bank account hit rock-bottom, I was making maximal payments on my loans and paying off my credit card balance every month. Finally, when I couldn’t starve my family any more, I reached a point where I didn’t have enough money to cover payroll. I called the bank and asked them to refinance my little $15,000 loan.
The loan officer said, “Yeah, sure. You’ve never done this before? Everyone does this!”
I spread my loan balance out over 5 years, cut my payments in half, and breathed easier. Of course, I paid off the balance before it was due. But giving myself that little breathing room helped me sleep at night, be less distracted with my clients, and keep my staff paid on time. I needed that short-term win to get me through the bigger battles ahead. Read more about Good Debt and Bad Debt here.
- Finally, remember that your business exists to serve your family first; your clients second; and your staff third. Read “How Much Suffering Is Enough?” here. You didn’t open a business to be a fundraiser for the government or Rogue or CrossFit HQ. You did not open a business to take a vow of poverty. You opened a business to eat. People who don’t own successful gyms often don’t understand this: your martyrdom doesn’t make your clients fitter. Your starvation doesn’t keep them around longer. You’re not helping anyone by working a 15-hour day, and you’re definitely hurting your family. Keep that perspective at all times.
Someday your ship will come in, right? You’ll just keep doing the things and doing the things and showing up, and somehow things will get better.
Nothing changes until you change. You tell it to your clients, and it applies to you too.
Click here to get a free hour of mentorship from our team. No sales pitch, ever.
In late 2005, I opened my first gym. I made my first business mistake before I trained my first client.
I was painting my new gym space with one of my new partners. He asked my goals for Year One while we rolled a bright chartreuse over the wallpaper in our tiny second-floor space.
“I’m going to put these other guys out of business,” I said.
I’d been coaching for nearly a decade at that point. The last 2.5 years had been spent training people 1:1 in a tiny, windowless studio gym. I needed the money–and that’s why I opened my own gym–but I also needed acknowledgment: I was positive I was the best trainer in town, and I wanted people to know it.
In 2005–barely 14 years ago!–the sum of fitness business knowledge was: “Be the best coach and you’ll be the most successful.” I was eager to believe it, because I was the best coach.
My partner, Norm–you’ll meet him at Summit!–asked me, “Why?”
I said, “Well, I’m going to take all of their clients.” Not because I was confident in my business skills, but because I thought I would have to take their clients to survive.
I made the classic mistake of believing the market for personal training was limited. I thought, “Only a few dozen people in town can afford personal training, and they’re already doing it somewhere else!”
This is called “zero-sum thinking”: the belief that the number of potential opportunities for your business has a limit, and that every opportunity comes at the cost of someone else.
Here’s how it almost killed me:
When I opened my doors on October 25, 2005, I really did take clients from elsewhere. I had 25 sign up the first week. True, I was honoring packages they’d purchased elsewhere and making very little new money, but they came with me. I owned them! Right?
But my zero-sum thinking actually turned some of them off. I was already writing blog posts almost every day. I had fitness columns in two out of three local newspapers, and my website was live before my first barbell arrived. Even then, I knew the power of publication. But I didn’t know it was a double-edged sword.
Because I was broke; because I was scared; because I was thinking zero-sum, I wrote about how wrong other trainers were. I told readers to ask their trainer for their credentials; then to check their own results; and then to call me to get better results. I told them that if their trainer couldn’t tell them what workout they’d be doing in two weeks, the trainer was lazy. And on and on.
After two weeks of this, the newspapers both backed out on the same day. Then clients began giving me the “don’t call me, I’ll call you” brush-off. My bookings went down. And worst of all: some of my new clients went back to their old trainers!
Why? Because I’d shown them all the worst parts of me: my desperation, my willingness to blast the other guy just to get clients. Hell, the clients who left were embarrassed to do business with me. It didn’t matter that I was trying to feed my family or terrified of failure. All that mattered was how I handled myself.
I should have listened to Norm when he told me “You can’t build your business by tearing another down.”
Unfortunately, I thought building blocks were in limited supply, and I had to smash their tower to build my own.
Today, Catalyst is doing great. It survived my early mistakes (though it took years to correct them, even after finding my first mentor.) All of the other gyms in town are also doing great. More people are exercising in our city than ever. People who go to X gym wouldn’t be a great fit at Catalyst, and vise versa. It’s not an all-or-nothing, zero-sum game at all.
What’s holding you back?
“Will CrossFit help me lose weight?”
That’s the question you’re trying to answer.
Every potential client works their way through a series of questions to find you. They sound like this:
“I need to lose weight. But do I need to do it now?”
If the answer is YES, they move on to the next question.
“What’s the easiest way to do it?”
If they select “exercise” over “diet”–a big IF–they move on to the next question:
“What’s the best exercise plan?”
Now, “best” can mean many things: fastest, easiest, least boring, or something else.
If they decide to join a gym over walking/jogging/buying an exercise bike, they start with a Google search.
What are they searching for?
It’s not “gym with best community in Fort Knox.”
It’s not “the happiest gym in Sault Ste. Marie.” (to my chagrin.)
It’s not “highest-certified coaches in Annapolis.” It’s probably “best gym for weight loss” or “cheapest gym in Boston” or “gym near me.”
They probably won’t find your gym in those searches, will they?
Now let’s say they somehow find your site. They’re greeted by a long list of options: CrossFit, personal training, nutrition programming, Sweat Class, Crossfit Lite, Barbell Club…
…which one will help them lose weight? If they don’t try to figure it out themselves, they’ll probably leave.
If they DO try to figure it out themselves, they might take your offer to try a free class.
But if no one talks to them after class about their goals, they’re left to guess: “this hard thing that I just did–will it help me lose weight?”
Every time you make people guess, you filter them out. Because they don’t know what you know.
Here’s how to talk to the people you want to coach:
- Start with media. Don’t explain why you’re the best gym. Tell them how to lose weight. Tell them how to cure low back pain. Tell them how to start jogging safely.
- Let your media lead them to your website. Your website should contain the solution to their problem and an easy way to take the next step. Here’s a great example.
- Let your website lead them to a No-Sweat Intro (call your consultation whatever you want.) But you need to start with a conversation so you can frame your service. Listen to Coty’s process on our podcast here.
- Let your conversation lead to a prescription. “Here’s how we can get you to your goal.”
- Let that prescription lead to the next prescription. Never stop meeting 1:1 with your clients, measuring their progress, and asking if they’re happy with their results.
People don’t buy CrossFit or bootcamp. People buy outcomes.
Your future clients aren’t impressed by your equipment list. They don’t care about your coaches’ bios, or how many square feet you have, or even your “community”. They care about finding an answer to their problem, and that’s it. If your media portrays the answer to their problem instead of a toes-to-bar video, they can skip a lot of their questions and come talk to you about it.
Many gym owners struggle to get new clients because they’re telling the wrong story. Others aren’t telling any story at all, so the client is left to guess: “Will this help me solve MY problem?” And no one is going to tell that story for us anymore. New clients will have to work down that decision tree, making bad guesses until they finally make the right one. Unless you tell them the truth.
I get it: you can grind.
You made the decision to open your business. You took the risk. And now you’re going to do whatever it takes to succeed.
You’re willing to sacrifice your sleep, your family time and your health. You’re not going to ask for help, because this is YOUR problem.
But is it really?
Who else is paying your fare?
What are your kids giving up when you work late?
What does your spouse think about when you’re not there in the morning?
You’re not just hurting yourself here, friend.
It’s still hard for me to write, but I put my family through stress, loneliness and even poverty that could have been avoided. If I’d asked for help sooner, I could have cut months–years!–off my entrepreneurial struggle. How many exactly? It doesn’t matter: every single day is a day too many.
What are you willing to trade while you figure it out yourself?
The price of caring, professional mentorship is $5,000. What’s that over a lifetime of Tuesday night dates with your wife? What’s the cost of a missed bike ride, or the price of a nap with your baby?
How many of those do you have to trade before you say, “It’s too much”?
I waited too long. Don’t.