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?
Alright, you had a bad November.
Or maybe it was September? October?
Maybe it’s not your fault things went badly. Maybe people really DO stop looking for gyms after Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s an “industry norm”. Or maybe that’s all bullshit.
Maybe it’s not your fault, but it’s your responsibility to stop the bad month from happening again.
I clearly recall a horrible August and thinking, “I’m never, ever going through that again.”
For me, a bad month meant missing a paycheck, presenting the bad news to my wife, and cutting back on my kid’s birthday party. A weak revenue month meant a REALLY bad month at home. But that was a good thing, even though it felt horrible at the time. It meant I couldn’t afford to repeat my mistakes.
My first inclination was to ask, “Why was membership lower in August?”
And the answer came down to attrition, back then: many of my clients took vacation time in August, so they stopped showing up to the gym. Some backed out of their memberships, but even more costly, many of my personal training clients were away in July, so their package renewals were pushed back.
I adopted a solution of many parts. The first was to plan a big “competition” in the first week of September, and charge a high entry price. Over 100 people signed up (especially for team events,) and that kept those 100 training more often in the gym, because the price for not training was painful (failure at the event, wasting the $50 entry fee.)
Second, we cut costs by cancelling our kids’ groups, all of our Friday night groups, and giving staff some time off. We adopted a seasonal class schedule to make sure we had space when our clients wanted it…and not when they didn’t.
We also froze purchasing through the summer so we’d have a better buffer to carry us through August.
Many gyms see a drop in cash flow in December. But gyms who sell a lot of 1:1 training see a bump, because PT clients don’t go broke at Christmas, and 5-packs of personal training sessions make great gifts. You can also make an easy $1000 by ramping up your retail game for Christmas. WARNING: if you do this wrong, you can LOSE money on retail. That’s why I just let Matt do it for me.
TwoBrain clients in the Growth Stage build an annual plan around these highs and lows, so there’s no after-the-fact panicking. We start by setting income goals for the owner; then we extrapolate to determine revenue goals for the business. Next, we add a Sales Plan on top, and then a Media Plan. Every month, clients get on a call with their mentor to review metrics and find opportunities, then plan out their month’s actions step by step.
Maybe you’re not doing that. But please promise me this: stop panicking and start planning. Make sure your bad month never happens again. Because the costs are far more than money: they’re your home life, your health, and your peace of mind.
Mistakes are only bad if they’re repeated. If you’ve made mistakes but aren’t going to repeat them, then great news: the worst is past.
You’re an entrepreneur now.
You’re already unemployed.
You already know what “broke” tastes like.
You already know the bottom.
It’s too late to be afraid.
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 everyman.
That means there’s more information, more help, more ideas than ever before. Every single day, an entrepreneur can choose between 1000 new podcast episodes; 2000 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:
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”, unless there’s a clear path to increased revenue, invest your time on something more valuable.
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 TwoBrain, 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 do 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 definitely impossible to spot outright lies. No one posts their burned dinner on Facebook, and no one shares their 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 written 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, where the hosts help the attendee 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. Far more valuable than amassing ideas and then taking action on none.
Now, all of 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: to identify what you REALLY need, and help you identify the best tactics to get there; the best support; and the best accountability.
For example, many new TwoBrain 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 get them more clients, the mentor builds it into their plan.
From there, the mentor’s role is to help the entrepreneur fill their time with the best courses, support and tactics for them 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 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.