My second gym was a CrossFit gym. I built it in an industrial park, because #hardcore. It looked nothing light my bright, open personal training gym, which had tiled showers and sparkling windows. In fact, I remember by CrossFit landlord staring at my chalkboard wall and asking:
“Don’t you want it to look NICE?!”
I said, “Hell no!” and laughed. Of course, the joke was on me: over the next few years, I had a hard time getting people to drive across town to do puke-inducing workouts in a dusty garage. (You know, now that I say it out loud…)
Meanwhile, downtown in my airy second-floor personal training space, my clients were begging for CrossFit! And I,
stubbornly stupidly, told them to “drive up to the Industrial Park if you want CrossFit.”
Most new affiliate owners are smarter than that. We work with dozens of future gym owners to help them avoid the crazy expensive mistakes we all made; open profitable; and kickstart their dream career. If you’re about to open, here’s a podcast I think you’ll LOVE (and I know will make you money).
Entrepreneurs go through four phases in their journey: Founder Phase, Farmer Phase, Tinker Phase, and Thief. If you’re not sure which phase you’re in, take the test here.
Then, whether you’re considering your first lease; an expansion; purchasing a building; adding a second location; or moving house, follow these guidelines:
Founder Phase priorities:
- Convenience is more important than exposure. Choose a location that close to your ideal clients’ homes or workplaces. If it’s closer to their work, you’ll need showers. If it’s closer to their home, you might not.
Don’t be swayed by proximity to a highway. “But 30,000 cars drive by every day!!!” Exposure might get you the first half-dozen clients, but won’t be measurably more valuable in the long run.
If you have two buildings in mind, and they’re priced the same with the same space and lease terms, and one is on a major highway? Sure. Go for it. But don’t choose your location based on drive-by exposure at the expense of convenience. Ask yourself: What’s actually better for my clients AFTER they join?
People quit gyms to join closer gyms. But no one quits a gym because of signage.
- High-value clients are more important than volume. When you’re starting out, aim to make a good income on 30 clients or fewer. That probably means you’re not going to run big groups, but do more 1:1 and very small group training. Here’s a podcast episode to help you get your mind around it, and here’s a blog post that will help too.
When you’re starting, you’re going to be doing a lot of coaching yourself. You’re mostly going to be coaching 1-3 people at a time. You can do that coaching for over $100+ per hour, or for under $12 per hour by trying to sell group memberships on day one.
- Short-term leases are more important than buildouts. You ARE going to grow–unless you “go for broke” and try to get too big, too soon. This is probably the #1 affiliate killer: great intentions, great bets, but too big, too soon.
It’s better to borrow the money for one shower in your first location than to sign a 5-year deal and get the shower for free. Because you’re GOING to be successful. Bet on yourself, and don’t tie yourself down yet.
- Build a plan that makes you profitable right away. I paid myself four days after opening, because I had to. Even if you’re single, independently wealthy, and “don’t need the money”, you need to plan for profit or you’ll never get there. Here’s a helpful video, and you can book a free call with our team here.
Farmer Phase Priorities:
Your business becomes a destination business. NOW people will go out of their way (a little) to get to you, because they trust you. Trust has wheels. So you can look a bit broader, and add up to ten minutes’ travel time for your seed clients. Don’t worry about the fringe clients who will leave soon anyway.
You need split space to diversify revenue streams. In Farmer Phase, you’ll need to make a career for others. That means adding personal training and/or group training and/or nutrition. You’ll need an interior wall somewhere. You need to be able to run two things at once.
You need an office. You can’t build a business between interruptions, or while you’re thinking about empty bars being dropped. You need a door that closes. You need to give prospective new members some privacy, and have intimate conversations with your current clients.
You don’t need 10,000 square feet to do this. You need well-trained coaches, flexible programming and equipment that moves. You don’t need ten GHDs and 30 rowers or the space required to store them. If you have dust anywhere, you’re throwing away money on space you don’t need. You also don’t need to pay rent for “social space” for your clients. They’ll be friends whether you have couches or not.
Tinker Phase Priorities:
You need to own a building. If you’re the sole tenant in your building, you can start there…but a building with another anchor tenant is better. The first building I purchased housed only my gym. Given a gym owner’s penchant for paying themselves last, it might not be wise to be your own landlord. Having other tenants means the mortgage gets covered even when the gym has a bad month. But even if you’re the sole tenant, it’s still better to pay a mortgage than to pay rent.
Your staff needs a private “offstage” space. If you’re not going to be in the gym, you need to contain the mess. You also need to give staff a place to take off their stage face and relax, because they’re going to be around all day.
You probably need to find a second space. When you do, remember that your second location starts over at the Founder Phase, and follow those directions.
Every gym is different. But every landlord is the same: they want to rent all of their space on a 20-year contract that increases in value every year. You’re not in business to make them rich; you’re in business to succeed. Take small bites, start on the right foot, and grow to be the best, instead of trying to dig yourself out of a huge, echoing grave.
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?
By Rob Connors, Signum CrossFit
It was the summer of 2017. My wife and I were searching for the perfect 3,000-5,000 sf commercial space to open our first CrossFit affiliate.
We soon learned that, due to our lack of operational history, very few landlords or agents would consider us. And it seemed the one that did merely just wanted to put us out of business with some very restrictive leasing terms.
The only thing we could find was a 1,000 sf space on Craigslist. And looking back, at the time it was the best thing that ever could have happened to us!
At the time we were also going through the Incubator with Coop. I told him of the developments and he stated to me, “Well, you are going to have to run a Personal Training model.”
I thought to myself, “What are you talking about?!?! We want to open a CrossFit gym!”
My wife’s reaction was the same.
We have now been open a little over 1 year and have a profitable CrossFit affiliate (Signum CrossFit) that only provides personal training and nutrition coaching. That’s Right! An affiliate that does not do group classes!
But this is not about me.
I want to give you actionable steps to grow a thriving Personal Training business within your own affiliate!
Step 1 – Find a Personal Trainer (or ask your existing team)
You can sell all the personal training services in the world, but you need a coach(es) to deliver an amazing experience.
As an affiliate owner you wear too many other hats. So you can’t be the only one doing personal training sessions.
The best place to start looking is always within your existing gym. Is there a coach that is passionate about helping others? Does he or she tend to stay after class to help a member that is struggling with pull-ups?
Do you have a seasoned member that is looking to create a career for themselves inside the walls of your affiliate?
Personal training is an excellent way to supplement your coach’s income! And for CrossFit junkies like us, they will have to live, breathe, eat, blog and record videos about what they do! (More on that below.)
“But I only have part time coaches and they have full time jobs and family obligations.”
That’s fine! We had maybe 10 members and no other coaches, other than my wife and myself, when we started looking for our first full time coach!
If you are serious about building a thriving personal training business then start to look outside the walls of your CrossFit gym.
The first place I would start is with your SEED clients. Ask them if they may know of anyone that is thinking about pursuing a career in fitness.
The candidate will most likely make more under your affiliate than at a globo-gym. They will have more control over their schedule and will have more oversight on how they develop their services than the $20/month gym down the road.
Remember, that globo-gym is only selling access. You are selling an experience!
Only after you have talked to your coaches, members and have exhausted your SEED clients for potential candidates should you start to look outside for more coaches.
Start with local colleges. Do they have a sports strength & conditioning program? Could you talk to some of their undergrads? Talk to an athletic directors as well as the assistants at local high schools.
Are there personal trainers at globo gyms that you could reach out to? Hint here, reach out to the less seasoned ones.
Only after you have exhausted all of the above do you start to advertise publicly.
Post on social networks that you are looking for a Personal Trainer.
We found the perfect candidate with this simple post.
And now we are looking to find another with this one.
Don’t know what to say in your job description? Use this one as an example but tweak for your gym.
Only after you have exhausted all of the above opportunities should you then think about posting to job boards.
However, in my experience, paid platforms are getting further away from your affinity loop. So you are going to get some interesting applicants.
I remember having an applicant that is a semi-pro bodybuilder apply. Let’s just say it would not have been a cultural fit.
Does a personal trainer need to have a laundry list of credentials (ACE, NASM, ISSA, ACSM, NSCA,etc, etc) after their name?
In my honest opinion…No!
When a personal training prospect comes in our doors they are looking for us to solve their problems. Those problems can be anything: “feeling better in their skin,” “maintaining strength,” ‘stop losing functionality,” “avoid their family history of chronic disease,” “look amazing in their wedding dress,” etc.
They are not coming in the door to hear your resume. They may ask about it, but the reality is they want their problem solved.
For more on how to hire check this podcast. If you are in the Growth Stage of TwoBrain mentorship. I followed the hiring modules word for word!
Step 2 – Stop Projecting!
You have a great coach on board. They want to make coaching their career. What’s next? Well now it’s time to sell some personal training.
“Ok so $80/hour and this person wants to come 3x per week. That is….Holy Crap! That is close to $1,000/month! No one is going to pay that! I would never pay that!”
YOU will never pay that, but the right clients will, granted you deliver an amazing experience (more on that below).
I was in this same spot that you were. I was projecting when we first opened. But then when I signed my first two personal training clients in month one and covered my rent, well, I knew I there was something to this.
The personal training model has been around a lot longer than CrossFit’s group model. So it works!
And stop projecting! This was the biggest barrier for myself and probably you. I had zero sales experience and had to get comfortable with presenting a membership package that can be 10x the normal CrossFit Group rate.
But just like hitting a P.R. in an oly lift, you have to get the reps in!
Step 3 – Talk about it, Talk about it, Talk about it!
Ok so you have a great trainer and/or coach ready to run with it, what’s next?
First thing, ask this one question before you present pricing options to any prospect…”Do you prefer 1-on-1 personal training or group?”
That question will get you PT clients. I promise.
Second thing. Publish content! Publish content! Publish content!
The 2019 Open is a great opportunity. After it ends, figure out where your members had the most difficulty. Maybe it was bar muscle ups or double unders.
Then publish content, tips & tutorials about how to improve them. Trust me, clients will ask and then offer 1-1, 2-1 and maybe 3-1 PT options for them.
Publish content on your socials about your PT clients.
This example is Good!
This one is Better
This is Best!
Get the theme? Celebrate their wins. When your PT clients PR, shout it out from the roof tops! And you can never overpublish. If you follow my gym, the #MissFits have become legendary! To the point one of them was featured by CFHQ (HERE).
Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to brag. Just share your PT client’s experience with the world!
Step 4 – Create an AMAZING Experience!
As you grow your Personal Training business you are going to gather client that are paying you several hundred dollars a month.
Give them a service that seems to the outside world to cost several thousand dollars a month.
No, you don’t need to give away free stuff. But here are some of the ideas we use or have tried. They won’t work for everyone but maybe they will work for you.
- Send them a personal welcome email after they sign up with a customized thumbnail (LIKE THIS).
- Maybe give PT clients a preferred parking spot. I get how this can alienate some in your gym but it may work for others.
- Walk every client to the door of their car and wish them off well. Dont just churn them out the door.
- Tell them everyday how the particular workout will get them to their specific goal, no matter what it is. I have a PT client that trains horses, everyday our trainers tell her how the WOD is going to make her better at training horses
- If you notice your PT clients tend to have similar likes or dislikes replicate the former and avoid the latter in your gym. For example, our clients LOVE dogs. We now have dog bowls and allow them to bring them in the gym. The majority are also plant lovers. We now are trying to grow ivy up the wall and have some cool fiddle leaf figs in our space. We even threw a succulent workshop. As we got to know our clients we noticed many of them were not drinkers. So our socials rarely have an alcohol component.
- Get a sense for the music they like by asking them or checking their socials. Everytime they come in play that music for them. We have back to back PT sessions that go from banjo music to 90’s rap to 90’s grunge music all in a 90 minute window.
- One PT client suggested keeping his protein at the gym. Guess what we did? We have a shake ready to go for him when he is done.
- We have lockers at the gym. Maybe put their name on their locker.
- Get clever here. Go to a high scale restaurant. Check out high touch service businesses and brands. See what they do and get ideas!
Businesses compete on one of 3 things: price, time to market or quality. You can only win one.
Personal training has to compete on quality. The $20/month globo-gym wins at price. Online training wins when it comes to time to market.
You have to compete on quality and service!
Step 5 – Affinity Marketing
Now you need to replicate your current clientele. Find more just like them. Two Brain has plenty of strategies when it comes to Affinity marketing. We use them all but here are a couple that have worked well for us.
- Partner Nutrition Challenges – Have clients bring their spouses in for 6W partner nutrition challenge. We did this and one of our clients signed up fo 3x/week PT.
- Valentine’s Day – Have PT clients bring their spouse/partner in for a workout.
- Goal Reviews – Once a year you should be taking personal training clients out to coffee or lunch. Actively listen to them. You will learn so much more about them in that hour. You will learn more about their struggles. Then try to find a way your service solves these problems. We have a client that wants to retire and run a Yoga class on the side. Guess what we are looking into offering? One client that golfs a lot was complaining about his regular 4-some not being able to do 36 holes a day on their annual trip to Myrtle Beach. So we offered a “Myrtle Beach & Muscles” clinic. Get creative!
- Ask your clients where they like to shop and why. Then reach out via email to those local businesses stating. “My clients love your services because <insert reason>. I would love to talk to you about what you do.” Brainstorm events and activities you can do and co-sponsor together. We are reaching out to a high-end spa. I hope to bring a nutrition & wellness workshop to them.
- Raise money for a charity your clients are passionate about. Put it out on social media, create a FB Event page. Make it public and invite non-members to come. It doesn’t have to be workout related. But you do have to get emails! Make sure your clients are there so they can sell your business for you.
Step 6 – Only after all this should you look at paid for advertising.
If you are starting here with Facebook ads….STOP. Go back to step 1 and exhaust everything!
Out of our current clients here is the current break down of the channels they were “acquired.”
- 17% Facebook Ads
- 22% Search Engine/Paid for ads
- 61% Referrals & Organic
Referrals & organic is the best. Financially, it’s the lowest cost per acquisition and the longest length of engagement.
But it’s the hardest and requires the most patience.
Personal training is just that….personal. People need to know like & trust you before they are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on your service. Get out and meet people face to face.