In the previous article in this series, I told you How to Build an Unstoppable Business. I used Jim Collins’ “flywheel” concept to illustrate.
I told you how to identify the six handles you can use to roll your business forward. We teach you how to remove obstacles, push on the six handles and get your flywheel turning in the Incubator.
In the Founder Phase, you’re really going to be pushing your flywheel yourself. But if you’ve made a smooth wheel and haven’t placed any speed bumps in your own path (like underpricing), you can still get the wheel turning pretty well.
In the Farmer Phase, you can get other people to help you turn the flywheel. You turn specific handles over to them one at a time. Gradually, your job becomes leadership: getting everyone to push together in the same direction.
And, finally, your job is to have someone else take over the leadership role so that you can work on your own flywheel.
The Six F’s
One gym is enough to make a living. But entrepreneurs often want more in their lives: They want another business or a bigger stage. They want a wealth platform. I call this the Tinker Phase, and Tinkers build personal flywheels.
The handles on your personal flywheel are:
Fitness—This is your physical and emotional capacity to meet your challenges. Are you ready? Can you manage your stress, your physical output demands—and your response to both? Can you last long enough to finish the race?
Finances—Do you have the capital necessary to invest in your big goals, and are you prepared for the increased financial risk at this stage?
Freedom—Do you have enough wealth to create choice? Are you free to spend your time and money in constructive ways? Do you have enough positive constraints to keep you focused?
Family—This is the sum of all of your relationships. Are you surrounded by the right people? Do your relationships make you happy or angry or sad? Who surrounds you, and where are they taking you? Where are you taking them?
Faith—This handle represents the belief that order exists among chaos, that we are not helplessly falling, that we have control over our destiny, that happiness is attainable.
Future—Do you have a goal? Do you have a clear vision of what you’d like to achieve next? Do you have a plan to get there? Are you focused?
Where’s the flywheel rolling to? Happiness.
One of my most controversial articles this year was called “Fat People on Mars.” In that post, I wrote that the ultimate goal of all of this—business, fitness and money—was to achieve happiness. But happiness isn’t a static state: You don’t simply cross the border into heaven, find a seat and sit down for eternity.
Happiness is an active process. To be happy, you have to keep the flywheel moving. That means a balance of challenge and triumph, of focus and creativity, of finances and time. People are happiest when they’re moving.
Other Articles in This Series
How to Build an Unstoppable Business
Removing Speed Bumps
The Flywheel Turns on Trust
The “flip” mentality is everywhere.
If you watch television, you’ll see homes being bought, repaired and “flipped” as a business model.
If you’re on Instagram, you’ll see software entrepreneurs talking about their “exits”—the sale of their company to a larger one.
Even in the fitness industry, I often see posts from gym owners who are trying to sell their business so they can “work on other projects.”
But here’s the truth: If the gym is successful, it doesn’t need the owner’s attention or oversight. Profitable gyms don’t require an “exit” to create wealth for the owner.
What If Holding Generated Profit?
I learned the “buy and hold” strategy from Robert Kiyosaki in his book “Rich Dad Poor Dad.” The idea is so powerful—and so counter-culture—that I keep 20 copies of the book in my office at all times and hand them out to visitors. Here’s the idea, in a nutshell:
Buy a building.
Rent it out.
Simple, right? But look at the math:
If you buy a house for $200,000, spend $40,000 on renovations to clean it up and sell it at the top of the market for $275,000, you can earn $35,000.
For a ton of effort and risk. What if you don’t sell? What if the renovation costs are higher than expected? What if you actually lose on the deal? It would take at least three successful flips to cover the downside of one bad flip.
Conversely, Kiyosaki’s method goes like this:
Buy a house for $200,000.
Break the mortgage down into the smallest monthly payments possible.
Rent it out.
Keep collecting rent forever, even when the mortgage is long gone.
After reading Kiyosaki’s book, I immediately began planning to buy my first commercial building. Now my buildings pay me over $100,000 per year in rental income—and they’ll continue to do it forever. I don’t have to keep buying and flipping buildings.
That’s passive income. That’s a cash-flow asset. And it’s scalable. I’m not trading any time for that money: Someone else cuts the grass and clears the snow away.
When I understood the math for real estate, I asked myself: “Could someone do this for his or her business?”
And that began the quest to turn my first business into a cash-flow asset: Something that would operate with excellence and pay me even when I wasn’t there.
I couldn’t find a model to follow anywhere.
Every owner of a service business—both locally and online—appeared to have either bought himself or herself a job for life or to be building toward a sale—or both. I had to build the model, and it took me 10 years.
Then we had to prove the model could work in other gyms. That took us more years. It was hard, painful work. I lost staff and clients and even a few friends. But creating a sustainable business that would feed my family when I wasn’t there was worth it.
Now we teach other gym owners how to do it, sometimes in less than three years.
When your gym runs itself, we call you a Tinker. Then you have a choice: You can spend your time doing what makes you most happy. Is that working in your gym? Awesome. Is it starting your T-shirt company, opening a second gym or buying real estate? Also awesome.
All those things are great. But you should be able to go to zero time in your gym—and still get paid anyway.
Your Success Plan
The best time to think about your “exit” is before you open your business. If you plan to sell it, you’ll want to build a succession plan. But you don’t have to sell it: You can build a success plan instead.
And success means self-sustainability. It means continuity for your members, cash flow for life for you and careers for your coaches. And as I wrote yesterday, the real value of keeping your gym alive goes far beyond a one-time payout: Hundreds of thousands of dollars to you, lives saved, an ongoing legacy in your community.
How do you make those happen? Through mentorship.
The purpose of our mentorship program is to make you wealthy, your coaches happy and your community healthy.
Which stage of entrepreneurship are you in? Take our 20-question quiz to find out and get the exact steps you need to take your business to the next level.
You’re under a lot of pressure.
Sometimes that’s good. Maybe, like me, you’re at your best when your back’s to the wall.
But you’re also a fitness professional. So you know what happens to an organism under stress. Hans Selye said it first:
“An organism under stress is in decline. Remove the stress, and the organism super-compensates. But maintain the stress and the organism continues to decline until it dies.”
Relieve Stress—Your Way
Every entrepreneur needs a release valve.
Some drink. Some cheat on a spouse. Some have other bad habits.
And some exercise.
Maybe, as a gym owner, exercise is your release valve. But more and more gym owners admit that working out in their gyms adds to their stress instead of relieves it.
I want to tell you: It’s OK to work out somewhere else.
You can go to another gym. Your members won’t quit.
You can go ride a bike. Your members won’t quit your gym to ride bikes.
You can work out in your garage. Your members won’t immediately quit your gym to build garage gyms of their own.
Last May, I walked into my gym for the noon group. I love the people in my noon group but had been forcing myself to attend for a few months.
On my way into the gym, I saw a coach’s lunch garbage spread all over the front desk. I was pissed; and then the class started two minutes late, with 10 people waiting around while one person tied their shoes.
When the workout started, I felt unmotivated. I was distracted by the work sitting in my office next door. I didn’t like the workout, and I was bored by the warmup. I started to ask myself why I was even there. That night, I dug out my bike. And I haven’t worked out in my gym since.
But membership keeps growing. None of my members said, “Screw it! I’m gonna go ride bikes with Chris!”
Self-Improvement Produces Business Improvements
If you’ve been a gym owner for a while, your gym might not be your release valve anymore. And that’s OK: It exists to be their release valve. You need a different one. As our resident psychotherapist says:
“Therapists need therapy more than anyone else because they’re carrying everyone’s shit around!”
Did my members ask where I was? Absolutely.
Did I plan to return after a short break? Definitely. But I haven’t yet.
Do I hate CrossFit? No way. I love it. I just love cycling more right now. It’s a tremendous gift to be able to choose between two things that I love.
To be a better coach, better boss and better human, you need to release the pressure. Some of that pressure comes from self-doubt; some comes from lack of clarity; some comes from guilt.
Go exercise somewhere else. You have permission. Come back happier.
Do all the right things for all the right people.
Need more advice on common problems? Click here to book a free call with a certified Two-Brain Business mentor.
It doesn’t matter who reads the most books.
That’s not the contest.
The contest is “who can build a sustainable gym that pays you really well?”
I’ll never tell anyone to read fewer books. I was raised by teachers. I have hundreds of books in my Audible account and hundreds more scattered between my office and my home. When I find a book I love, I buy 20 copies and hand them out to Workshop visitors.
I read a for nearly three hours every single day.
And it’s not enough.
I still can’t read everything. So here’s what I’ve learned:
When it comes to reading business books, I encourage everyone to read more intensively, not extensively.
Here are my rules for reading business books:
1. Don’t Plan to Read the Whole Book
Paraphrasing Nassim Taleb, “Most books would make a great blog post.”
Most business books follow a new format: one central idea, some supporting evidence, and stories of the idea being put into practice. I won’t explain why here (but I write about it more on the Two-Brain Media blog).
That means it’s really easy to understand the author’s point. But it also means you don’t need to read most of the book.
Read the intro and then the first few chapters. If you understand the idea, you can skip to the middle of the book—or even the end.
If the first few chapters make you excited to read the rest, keep going. Every chapter should sell you on the next one.
2. Don’t Pass the Halfway Point Without Action
When you hit the halfway mark in a book, pause and reflect.
Ask yourself: “What action have I taken since starting this book?”
If the answer is “none,” put it down. This information isn’t moving you forward.
If you can clearly point to an action you’ve taken or a habit you’ve created since starting the book, keep going.
And put it in your pile to read again in six months.
3. Avoid the Novelty Bias
When you finish a book, ask yourself:
“Does this book complement something I already knew or does this book replace something I used to believe?”
In other words: Is this new, supportive information or did it change my mind?
We’re all wired to believe that the last thing we read is the best thing ever. That’s a logical fallacy, and it keeps us constantly consuming more and more (but acting less and less).
I love buying books but force myself to go back through my library every three months and ask, “Should I listen to any of these again?”
If I’ve done a good job filtering in #2, the answer is often obvious.
4. Make It Stick
Summarize what you’ve read as soon as you’ve finished.
Pretend you’re teaching the book to someone else. How can you concisely sum up the book?
When you teach something, you get to learn it twice. And focusing on the key insights will make them stick in your brain longer.
This is why I started writing my first blog to help other gym owners in 2009: I was really just taking notes for myself in the most effective way. Dontbuyads.com translated the top lessons from business books into directives for gym owners.
If you had to tell me about the book in 1 minute and pass along its key lessons, what would you say?
These lessons aren’t just for books. Use them in seminars, webinars, podcasts, courses and even mentor meetings.
We used to have a “Books” page on this site, but I took it down. I wrote “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” to help entrepreneurs filter through the noise, beat overwhelm and take action. You don’t have to read all of it.
Just take the test to determine where you currently sit on the entrepreneur’s journey.
Then read the intro and that section.
Which stage of entrepreneurship are you in? Take our 20-question quiz to find out and get the exact steps you need to take your business to the next level.
When you were a kid, you had heroes.
They came from books. Or sports. Or movies. Or your family.
These heroes were models for you. You were brave because Sir Lancelot was brave. You were smart because Nancy Drew was smart. You practiced because Michael Jordan practiced. You would slip into the body and mind of your heroes and become them. Mine included Sherlock Holmes, Wayne Gretzky and, later, Lance Armstrong.
But as you grew up, you lost your heroes. The lens of experience taught you that no one is perfect. The news highlighted flaws in your heroes. Your adult mind is more skeptical. And you stopped sharing your admiration for people out of fear that one of your friends would say:
“You like HER!?? You’re crazy: she cheated on her first two husbands!” Then they’d look at you funny.
You know the old adage: “Never meet your heroes.”? It’s true. You should never meet your heroes, because you’ll find a flaw in them, and that tiny flaw will undermine all the great things about them. Maybe that great scientist drinks too much, or that incredible athlete cheated on his taxes. Whatever the reason, we lose our heroes as we grow up. And that’s a huge problem, because when we lose our heroes we lose our models for success.
One of the biggest reasons people fail to lose weight, or fail to exercise properly, or even fail at business is that they don’t have models for success. They don’t have heroes.
The greatest value of the CrossFit Games isn’t to crown the Fittest on Earth. It’s to create heroes. It’s to tell a sticky story and provide models for success.
Before 2007, it was widely held that powerlifters should never do “cardio”, because it would sap their strength. I can remember Eddie White, who won world championships in one federation or another, talking about jogging 5k every day. And other powerlifters would say, “Imagine how much stronger you could be if you didn’t jog!”
But then the CrossFit Games happened, and some athletes deadlifted 600lbs and ran a sub-6:00 mile on the same day. And then the movie “300” came out, full of ripped dudes with beards who did CrossFit instead of bodybuilding. Suddenly, we had new models for what was possible. Suddenly, people became interested in CrossFit, because we had sticky stories about its success. Because we had heroes.
People at your box wear board shorts and knee socks because of these models. They train shirtless because of these models. They do snatches, eat Zone and bring their dogs to the box because their heroes do. Hell, no one even called their gym a “box” until their CrossFit heroes did!
Heroes are important. Your clients need them to succeed at fitness, and you need them to succeed at business.
Heroes are made by stories. And without CrossFit Media around, no one is telling the stories that make the heroes that form the models for your clients.
So we–you and me–WE have to do it. Here’s how.
- In the Founder Phase, be the hero. Tell your story, especially if you had to overcome some big obstacles. If you’ve lost weight in the past, talk about it a lot. If you weren’t an athlete in high school, tell that story. If you’re a Storybrand fan (like I am), you’ve heard that “the client is the hero, and you’re the guide”. But before you have clients, you still have to tell a story. So tell yours to get the first clients.
- In the Farmer Phase, make your clients the hero. Tell their stories. Highlight their obstacles and celebrate their success. Social media posts aren’t enough. Share your YouTube videos, podcast episodes or blog posts through Social Media, but sharing a picture on Instagram doesn’t count as ‘making your clients famous’.
- Also in Farmer Phase, make your coaches the heroes. Tell their story. Highlight their knowledge.
If you need help telling stories, follow the Hero’s Journey map from this podcast episode. Not sure which phase of entrepreneurship you’re in? You can take the test here.
4. Finally, be a hero to others.
If you have any kind of public platform–if you’re an athlete, or if you open a business–everything you do is open to scrutiny by your audience. Don’t take that lightly. Even the tiny bit of fame you get from achieving something small comes with the burden to live up to your reputation.
I was at a barbecue with some “inner circle” folks from CrossFit HQ last year. There were some Games athletes at the house, and they were comparing their Instagram audiences. Each had over 20,000 followers. But the head of CrossFit Media pulled out his phone and said, “You guys are only CrossFit-famous. That’s the same as “not-famous”. You want to see ‘famous’?” And he showed them Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account, which had around 22 MILLION followers.
The Media guy was right: on a grand scale, “crossfit-famous” is about the same as “not famous”. But he missed the point: “CrossFit-Famous” means “famous in a way that our tribe cares about.” CrossFit Games success might not matter to everyone, but it matters to THEM: the people we care about. OUR tribe. OUR audience.
In your little gym, maybe even in your little town: you are the model for success. You are a hero. Live up to it.
(if you don’t have a business hero, get a mentor.)
Yesterday, I wrote that “Your Clients Are Not Your Friends.” It’s a lesson that many of us have had to learn slowly, painfully, and repeatedly.
Many veteran gym owners weighed in with their own stories. But some also shared the other side of the coin:
“You still have to be friendly to everyone.”
Your gym attracts people by promising to solve their fitness problem. It keeps people through operational excellence (your systems) and strong relationships (the 1:1 coaching relationship, and the relationship with your other members.) Some call the latter their “community”.
All of those relationships flow from your example.
If you greet everyone with a smile, they’ll turn around and greet the next person with a smile.
If you hover behind a desk with your hood pulled up, and point people at the whiteboard to warm up on their own; or show up late, looking tired; or punish people who are two minutes late for class–well, they’ll just go and have a better experience somewhere else. Giving a client the best hour of their day means pulling them out of their funk, breaking through their boredom and cheering them up.
No one quits a gym because their coach doesn’t know enough. But plenty of people switch gyms because their coach is tired, or cranky, or not engaged. Hell, I don’t want to spend time around negative people either.
If you’re tired in the mornings, do the right thing for your clients: bring a bubbly part timer who will shout “GOOD MORNING!!” from the rooftops at 6am. If your days are long, replace yourself in the evenings. Find a part-time coach who’s not tired; not stressed; not distracted. (Read: The Case for Part-Time Coaches here).
Many Microgyms don’t survive. When they fail, it’s never because the owner lacked education. It’s almost never because the owner didn’t care enough. But it’s often because the owner didn’t smile, hug, or high-five. Trust me: I’m a natural introvert. Friendliness is the skill you need to develop most.
What kills gyms in their first year? A lack of clients. That’s why we build marketing mentorship into our Incubator now.
What kills gyms in their seventh year? The owner. The owner is burned out. The owner is exhausted. The owner is stressed. The owner is unhappy, and it shows. They can’t force the smile anymore. And there’s no “backstage” area in their gym; nowhere to hide their mood. If they’re still overworked and underpaid after five years of gym ownership, the owner is going to have a tougher time making a comeback. Usually, they’ve had hundreds of people walk through their doors by that point–more than enough–but haven’t kept those people. So they look for some marketing magic tricks, pump more strangers through, fail to bond with them, and just get more tired and stressed.
The difference is in your smile.
If you can’t smile at people, replace yourself. Put someone else in front of them. Work on attracting more people into their sticky web of joy. Or take a nap. Put your best face forward!