A longtime fitness coach posted this in our private group recently:
“I think I just had a Perfect Day! I went in to coach at 8, went out for lunch with my wife, and then came back to the gym to work out. Afterward, I just sat in the lobby and talked to clients. I stayed there until dinner time! It was fantastic.”
Sounds like wealth to me.
For years, I’ve been writing about the value of building a gym that runs itself. It’s important and necessary. But my goal is not to have you quit coaching. My goal is to empower coaches to stay in this for the long term.
Your mission—and mine—is to change the health of your local community. That mission is important. It must continue after we’re gone. And the financial challenges of ownership must not distract us from the mission.
How many times have you coached a class while you were distracted because someone owed you money?
How many times have you tried to focus on a client while you were worried about paying the rent?
The best reason to build a successful gym is to create a platform on which great coaches can save lives. And if you’re not bogged down trying to fix your gym management software, you can be one of those coaches—if that’s your perfect day.
Many of us started gyms so that we could have careers as coaches. In my case, there simply wasn’t any other way to make enough money. But that’s no longer true: Coaches can make a great living in the fitness business now. In this series, I’ll explain how to make a living as a personal trainer or coach.
Fitness Coaching: The Long Game
One of the options for a coach, of course, is gym ownership. That’s the option I chose. But it’s not the only option—and for many, it’s not actually the best option. In this series, I’m going to tell you, step by step, how to make a living as a coach in the fitness industry.
In Part 2, we’ll talk about how to make a great living as a personal trainer without opening a gym.
In Part 3, I’ll tell you how to open a profitable, scalable gym from scratch.
Part 4 will be my interview with Jonathan Goodman (founder of ThePTDC.com)— we talk about how to start an online training business.
And in the finale, I’ll tell you how to “turn pro”—the mindset, habits and practices you’ll need to succeed over the long term.
Map Your Path
The simplest way to make a living as a fitness coach is to work at a Two-Brain gym. They have the whole process mapped out for you, with unlimited upside and no risk. If you just want to coach, that’s your best bet.
Download our Intrapreneurialism 101 guide here.
But if you really want to own a gym, that’s a different topic.
So many trainers, coaches and gym owners are failing for no reason. So many are broke and leaving the industry (and their dreams) because being a great coach isn’t the same as being a great business owner. If you’re trying to buy yourself a job by opening a gym, you probably won’t have either for long. When you’re ready to talk about building your business, book a call here.
Other Articles in This Series
How to Make a Living as a Personal Trainer
How to Open a Profitable, Scalable Gym
How to Start and Online Training Business, With Jonathan Goodman
A mentor helps you build a plan and stick to it.
Entrepreneurship is cool now. Guys like Gary Vaynerchuk and Elon Musk make the dream accessible to the common person.
That means there’s more information, more help, more ideas than ever before. Every single day, an entrepreneur can choose between 1,000 new podcast episodes 2,000 blog posts or hundreds of new videos on YouTube. Access to information is no longer the problem. Everyone has enough good ideas.
The new problem is overwhelm. We fail to take action because we’re paralyzed by too many opportunities.
We don’t see how each idea or tactic or habit fits into a larger plan, so we take a shotgun approach to improving our business.
And we don’t have filters for the sources of our information, so we trust that everything on the internet is true even when we know it’s not. We want to believe.
A mentor’s role is to help you sort ideas—your own or the great ones you found elsewhere—and build them into your plan. Then a mentor’s role is to help you stick to your plan or shift it to match your strengths.
If you’re trying to build a plan without a mentor, this might help: a hierarchy of business knowledge and actions:
Examining the Hierarchy
Let’s start at the bottom: the lowest value use of your time and attention.
We all love motivational memes about business, but unless they clearly say “Do this one thing right now,” they’re useless. And even if they do say, “Take this specific action,” invest your time in something more valuable if there isn’t a clear path to increased revenue.
Don’t read rants. They’re just texturbation.
The next layer (ideas, tips, tactics and episodes) has value but also carries a huge potential for overwhelm. At Two-Brain, we publish every day. Every single blog post, podcast episode and video carries an actionable idea. Every idea has been tested and proven to work. But no one can implement them all. A mentor’s job is to help you identify where you’re strong and keep you focused on those tactics. A mentor who simply throws ideas at you isn’t helping (and is probably slowing you down).
The next layer of value for your time and attention is peer support. Online groups, masterminds, chambers of commerce and business mixers all have value. The best groups are curated for quality people and moderated for quality discussion. But it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between opinion and advice, and it’s definitely impossible to spot outright lies.
No one posts burned dinner on Facebook, and no one shares business failings, either. We actually tell our Incubator clients to take a short Facebook fast and only invite them to our private Facebook group in Growth phase, where peer support is more important. Any entrepreneurs group, online or in person, is only as good as its filters.
More valuable than peer support is actual education. Presumably, lectures and books and seminars are created by people who have actually been successful and are willing to share their tactics. This layer is more valuable because of the higher-level filters: editors, publishers and “stages,” like TED Talks. Presumably, someone who knows something is filtering out the bad ideas and noise.
But many good business books would make a great blog post (there’s not much past the first chapter), and the filters are lower than ever. My advice is to read (or watch) until the expert becomes repetitive and then move on. Even in a one-way educational monologue, you still have the choice to close the book or leave the auditorium.
The next layer is a two-way education: a dialogue. These are courses, seminars and workshops in which the hosts help the attendees apply the content to their specific challenges.
I no longer run two-day seminars where I get up and lecture because they don’t help. Instead, we run action-based Summits, where a speaker introduces a topic and then attendees apply it to their businesses on the spot. One of the best tactics I learned last year was to leave a seminar as soon as you learn one good thing and spend the rest of the weekend in your hotel room working on that thing. That’s far more valuable than amassing ideas and then taking action on none.
Filter and Focus
Now, all these things, put together, form a plan. To make an effective plan, you need some distance from your current situation. You need an objective eye. That’s where a mentor comes in. A mentor is there to identify what you really need and help you identify the best tactics, to provide the best support, and to supply the right amount of accountability.
For example, many new Two-Brain clients say, “I need more clients.” Then they’ll cite an Instagram tactic they saw in a Facebook group. But then they’ll say, “I don’t have time to do it.”
So the mentor guides them through the work that will get them more time first. That’s part of the Incubator.
Then the mentor says, “Let’s determine how we’re going to spend your time.” That’s part of building an annual plan, which comes at the start of Growth Phase. If the Instagram tactic will actually generate more clients, the mentor builds it into the plan.
From there, the mentor’s role is to help the entrepreneur fill time with the best courses, support and tactics for him or her at that moment.
Do you see?
You can try to do All The Things. Or you can invest your time and budget wisely—doing the right things at the right time to the exclusion of all the noise and overwhelm.
You can spend 2019 the same way you spent 2018: making guesses, trying to do everything and feeling overwhelmed. Or you can get a mentor. This is what I realized in 2008, when I found my first mentor. And it’s why I have a mentor today. As you become more successful, the choices just get bigger.
Click here to talk with one of our team members for free. We don’t invite everyone into our mentorship practice, but there’s only one way to find out if you’re a perfect fit.
Think about the gym industry as a spectrum of coaching.
On the left side, we have gyms selling access. No coaching, just a monthly membership.
On the right side, we have coaches selling only coaching: no access without appointment, everything done one-on-one. In some cases, there’s no equipment at all; clients have to join a gym to do their homework.
In the middle, we have group fitness classes.
That’s where things get murky.
Big globo-gyms offer group fitness classes for free with membership or for a tiny rate. These classes are usually minimalist in terms of equipment—like spin bikes or yoga mats or “pump” classes with PVC weights or Zumba. Coaches are mostly following preset choreography (playlists and moves).
Slightly to the right are the group-class-coaching gyms, like Orangetheory or Barry’s Bootcamp. Coaches still follow preset choreography, but the equipment is more varied and the atmosphere is more exclusive. They can be more intense because the clients accept that intensity coming in.
This is where most owner-operator HIIT gyms sit. Unfortunately, it’s also the same chair that Orangetheory and F45 and the others want to occupy. When the music stops, I think it will be the single-gym owner who’s lost his or her seat.
Allison Schrager, author of “An Economist Walks Into a Brothel” (Courtesy of Allison Schrager)
This is “the middle” of the industry: Gym owners charging more for group fitness classes and slowly being pushed out because they can’t move to the right (toward individualization).
On Two-Brain Radio, I talked with Allison Schrager, an economist and author of “An Economist Walks Into a Brothel.” Allison has a personal trainer she’s never met. She details her experience, then we zoom out to talk about the meta view of the entire industry and the very real threat to the microgyms in “the middle.”
Click here to listen to the interview and share it with a friend.
In the next article in this series, I’ll tell you how Two-Brain gyms are shifting toward the right edge of the spectrum to separate themselves from downward price pressure, low quality control and high competition.
Other Articles in This Series
State of the Fitness Industry: 2019
State of the Fitness Industry: Your Brand
State of the Fitness Industry: New Tools
State of the Fitness Industry: Rebirth
I recently bought a treadmill.
I took the advice of other people like me online. I don’t know them, but they do the same sports I do, so their recommendations were worth a $3,000 purchase.
On Tuesday, I received a shipping notification from the treadmill company.
On Wednesday, I got a little email showing me how to unbox the treadmill, how to set it up and how to start out.
On Thursday, I got one more email: some tips to start (and stick with) a walking program—because most treadmill buyers are first-time exercisers.
I used to sell treadmills for a living. I know that most treadmills turn into clothes racks within a month and garage-sale items within a year. I know that the industry was front-loaded: People bought one treadmill in their life, and the transaction ended there.
But home fitness equipment companies have new opportunities. They can sell ongoing subscriptions to training plans or online classes or games like Zwift, Aaptiv, Mirror, Tonal, Hydrow … and they can call it “coaching.”
But we can turn it around on them.
First: The Tools You Need
When I found online scheduling software in 2005, it was a huge epiphany: We could throw out our messy day planners and let clients choose their own appointments. No more no-shows or last-minute cancellations. And then, in 2006, we found MindBody, which tied payments to bookings! Hallelujah: no more awkward “you owe money” talks with clients!
But since then, software tools in the fitness industry have morphed into slow “scoreboards” with appointment tracking and payments tacked on as an afterthought. (There are a few good ones bucking the trend—read our detailed report here.) But what do gym owners really need to run a business?
I think it’s:
- A client relationship management (CRM) platform to track clients and leads (we like UpLaunch).
- An appointment scheduler that integrates with payment processing.
- Something to track client results and show their progress.
By the end of next year, you’ll need:
- A way to deliver programming to clients who aren’t in the gym and have them track their progress.
- A better camera and microphone.
- A nutrition program for everyone you coach.
- A fluency in tools available to you outside your gym.
In our report on coaching software, we found that Trainerize has a lot of this covered. It’s not perfect, but it’s probably the best option for personal trainers, and maybe the best choice for gym owners, too. At least for now: Several others were close.
But the tools don’t make the coach. Tools should extend and scale your care, not replace it. In the end, your success will be determined by the personal care you extend, not the emails you automate.
And new tools give you the opportunity to extend that care into new markets. Below, I’ll tell you how to see these tools as opportunities instead of competition.
Second: The Tools You Don’t Need
Many gyms sign up for things they don’t need and then fail to use them.
Then, when they do an expense audit, they add up what they’ve spent and regret the purchases.
Here’s what you shouldn’t spend your money on in 2020:
- Marketing agencies that will “do it for you.” Every marketing agency is incentivized to increase ad spend. They’re a lot like mutual fund salespeople: As the market gets worse, they tell you to spend more. It has a ratchet effect that costs you more and more for fewer results. And without skin in the game, marketing agencies really never have to get creative with their own money. Learn to do it yourself, teach a staff person, and continually track and improve your funnel instead.
- Coaching courses that teach something beyond the scope of fitness. Partner with local health-care professionals instead. Read “Scope of Practice” here.
- Equipment or education you can’t tie directly to more revenue. Too many box owners are over-educated and poor. Plan to upgrade your coaching education in 2021 and your business education in 2020.
Third: The New Opportunities
Online spin classes, Zwift, remote trainers—they aren’t your competition. They’re a breeding ground for your next clients.
Every time a spin bike company sells a monthly “coaching” subscription, it’s doing you a favour. The company is teaching its clients the value of coaching.
You don’t have to do that part anymore. All you have to do is reach those people and tell them that you’re the next step.
Now, I’ve screwed this up. When I brought CrossFit to our city, I thought I was competing with P90X. Remember that? A bunch of DVDs that people followed for eight weeks.
A couple of firefighters told me “I don’t need to do CrossFit. I can do P90X at home!” so I thought I was in a life-or-death battle with the program.
What I should have said was, “That’s great! I hear good things. When you get bored, give me a call.” And then I should have called them eight weeks later—because everyone got bored with P90X. They would have been ready for CrossFit. I could have said, “You’ve taken Step 1! Here’s Step 2.”
People sign up for at-home coaching programs for many reasons. One is that they’re scared to exercise in front of other people. They think, “I’ll get started at home and then join a gym.” But if you tell them that’s dumb (like I did), they’ll just stay in their basement. If you pit yourself against the treadmill company, you’re also pitting yourself against its user.
Here’s another story: I used to publicly denounce laparoscopic surgery. I thought our government was crazy to subsidize “the easy way out.” I thought people were wasting their time having their stomachs cinched off with rubber bands. I thought they should exercise instead.
One day, as I was working up a good rant about it to a couple of clients, one of them touched me on the arm to interrupt.
“Chris,” she said kindly, “I’ve had the surgery.”
I was shocked: “You, Cathy? I don’t believe it!”
Cathy was one of our most hardcore CrossFitters at the time. She followed every blog, watched every video. She’d usually be the one to fill me in on the CrossFit Games gossip.
But she’d had stomach-reduction surgery. And she changed my viewpoint with what she said next:
“I needed to feel good about myself before I could join a gym.”
Laparoscopic surgery wasn’t my enemy. It was my on-ramp!
Peloton isn’t your enemy. It’s your on-ramp!
Bowflex isn’t your enemy. Strava and Zwift aren’t your enemies. Orangetheory isn’t your enemy. They’re all on-ramps to your service!
Instead of “us, not them,” we should be saying, “Would you like a bit more?”
Leveraging the New Tools
Think about online coaching the way you’d think about a library.
“Here is all of the information you’ll ever need organized in one place.”
But nobody learns how to do open-heart surgery at the library. No one quits smoking after reading a book about it. And no one reads the same book every day. Eventually, people need a teacher. And then they need a coach.
If I wanted to attract local cyclists to my gym (and I do, because I am one of them!), I would start by posting my own rides on Strava.
In my Strava profile, I’d post a link to a local group ride. I’d create the ride if none existed.
At the group ride, I’d mention how much my climbing speed had improved since adding front squats.
Then I’d say, “Hey, all of you guys keep asking me about front squats. Tell you what: Let’s just start the ride from my gym next week, and I’ll show you what I mean.”
And then I’d book 1:1 appointments with each person who showed up.
People seek out groups of others like them. The key to marketing is “finding the others.” The key to sales is showing “the others” how you can help them.
I searched for “Peloton” on Facebook and found dozens of open groups and forums. Here were a few categories:
What if I told you that the next 20 clients for your gym were waiting in those groups? Would you dive in and grab those gold coins?
How to Take Action in 2020
Forget about ads: Start 20 new conversations next year. (Actually, run your ads, too—and retarget the new audiences you create through these conversations. Your ad spend will go down and your conversions will increase.)
Write love letters to the people in these groups.
Talk to them on video. Record a podcast—whatever. Show them you care and how you can help them.
If I had an Orangetheory franchise next door, I’d be happy. Orangetheory is great at taking average people who are scared of intense exercise and introducing them to our world.
Over time, the thing these people once considered “extreme” becomes normalized in their brains. And then it’s easier to introduce something that’s just a little … bit … harder. Instead of taking them from a zero to a 9 on the “things I’m willing to do to lose weight” scale, we can allow Orangetheory to take them from zero to six and then accept the baton.
Microgym owners who open next to globo gyms are also very smart: People can try to exercise on their own and then add coaching when the results slow down.
Turning these potential competitors into new opportunities doesn’t require a pivot in your business model. It doesn’t require a rebrand. It requires a new perspective. That’s really what a mentor is for.
Other Articles in This Series
State of the Fitness Industry: 2019
State of the Fitness Industry: Your Brand
State of the Fitness Industry: The Disappearing Middle
State of the Fitness Industry: Rebirth
Your cause is more important than your culture.
The members of the tightest teams in the world don’t always like each other. But they work together and succeed because their mission is more important than anything else.
Church ladies squabble. SEAL teams argue. Both groups get the job done and consider their work to be a critical piece of their lives. Neither would quit.
They believe in their cause.
A Cause That Unites and Inspires
In “Playing The Infinite Game,” I listed Simon Sinek’s five keys to success. They are:
A just cause.
A worthy adversary.
An open playbook.
A vulnerable team.
In this series, I’ve been writing about culture. I told you how to measure and improve your culture, how to design your culture through your own actions, and how to clear the path for the right people to show up. (See below for links to all articles.)
But without a cause, your culture doesn’t produce anything. You just sit there holding hands, uninspired. Eventually, people will leave a great culture in pursuit of noble purpose.
But if you have a noble purpose—or a just cause—people will follow even if they’re unhappy. Their belief in the purpose will override temporary unhappiness.
In “Happiness by Design,” Dr. Paul Dolan tells a story of his friend who “hates her job but loves the work.” She thinks she’s underpaid, often argues with her coworkers and dislikes her boss. But she’d never quit because she believes in the mission (she works at a not-for-profit).
What Is Your Mission?
You must feel compelled to serve your mission, whether you’re going through good times or fighting for your life. If you started a gym, I know you’ve got this one covered. You didn’t do it to get rich; you did it to help people become healthy. Your “just cause” is so inspiring that helping you achieve it is my “just cause.” No exaggeration.
When you lead with a just cause, your culture will follow. Then you apply the rest: getting the wrong people off the bus, teaching people how to treat you (and one another), improving retention among your staff and clients.
This is precisely why we start The Incubator by getting really clear on your mission.
When people know your cause, they’ll find it easier to talk about you. Forget your “elevator pitch”: When people are inspired by what you’re trying to do, they’ll talk about it. They don’t need to memorize “constantly varied functional movement something something something” because they can say “Chris is trying to save our city.”
Why are you in this?
Does your staff know?
Do your clients know?
And tell me, too. I love hearing about people’s great dreams.
Other Articles in This Series
How to Measure (and Improve) Your Culture
Culture by Design
Culture Starts at the Top
Staff Culture and Who Luck
In this series, I’ve been talking about building your business flywheel and your personal flywheel. I told you how to get each one turning, how to build momentum and then how to keep it going forever.
Now it’s time to talk about the things that stop your flywheel.
Flats, Potholes, Roadblocks, Detours
First, of course, it’s hard to push a poorly shaped wheel.
Here’s your business flywheel, as a refresher:There are six handles on the flywheel. Push any one and the wheel turns faster—unless one is missing: Then you have a flat spot. It’s not a wheel at all. It requires ridiculous work to make one simple turn, and you can’t speed up because you’re flat.
For years, marketing was the flat spot on the wheel for many gym owners. You’d upgrade your team through weekend certifications. You’d keep clients longer because you gave them amazing experiences. You’d sign up 100 percent of the people who came through the door. But … almost no one was coming through the door.
So you’d push really hard through the “get more leads” part of the wheel. You’d put out enormous effort. You’d run a short-term challenge or something and make just enough money to keep the wheel barely moving. Phew! Then you’d hit the next flat spot: Your staff would get burned out and leave.
It’s pretty hard to push a hexagon down the road. But that’s what most gym owners are doing every day. We fix that problem in the Incubator.
Severe Tire Damage?
Now the wheel is turning smoothly, and you’re working hard to speed it up. You’re getting leads and signing them up. You’re teaching your vision to your staff and the local community, and it’s sinking in. They get it. You’re streamlining operations and giving every client the same excellent value. Faster and faster the wheel turns …
… and then—bam!—you stop dead. Or you hit a bump and lose most of your momentum.
Those bumps could be:
– Low rates.
– Toxic clients.
– The wrong coaches.
– Your inability to make hard decisions.
– Your unwillingness to have hard conversations.
– Your cash flow runs out.
– Your fear.
Of course, your personal flywheel can also hit bumps: your home life, your fitness, your health—these can all derail you.
Can You Do the Hard Things?
Your job as a leader is to knock the bumps off your flywheel and clear the road ahead. Your success as a leader is 100 percent dependent on your willingness to do these hard things. In fact, it’s the only thing that matters.
It doesn’t matter how much you know, or read or watch. It doesn’t matter how much you pay your mentor. All that matters is your ability to do these hard things.
Can you work hard? Of course you can: As a fitness entrepreneur, you’re used to hard work. You can grind. You can do it for 16 hours a day. But these aren’t the truly hard things: These are the “easy hard” things.
The “hard hard” things are firing a coach, raising rates or telling a client “this isn’t going to work anymore.”
The “hard hard” things don’t usually get easier because they’re big. And they’re rare. You don’t get a lot of practice doing them.
The “hard hard” things are the things that move the flywheel. Not “grinding.” Not reading 1,000 books every year.
Help With Hard-Hard Decisions
After working with thousands of fitness entrepreneurs, I know my value as a mentor really comes down to this: Can I help you do the hard-hard things?
We publish information and education every single day. I get three to five emails back every day (and I love them—thank you!). If you follow the instructions in these emails, you will push your flywheel. You will get results.
But those results pale in comparison to the results you’ll get with a mentor. Because experience shows you where to push. And empathy puts another hand on the wheel.
Mentors remove obstacles. Let’s travel this road together.
Other Articles in This Series
How to Build an Unstoppable Business
Building Your Personal Flywheel
The Flywheel Turns on Trust