Creating Collaborators Instead of Competitors

Creating Collaborators Instead of Competitors

Chris Cooper (00:01):
Hey, I’m Chris Cooper, and you gotta hear this story. One day a few years ago, I was sitting in my office at my gym and I hear this woman moaning. Now this sounded pretty sexual to me, and so I opened up my door, like, “What the hell’s going on?” I ran outside. Here’s what I saw.

This is an episode of Two-Brain Radio. I’m the founder of Two-Brain Business, and I’ve been a gym owner now for almost 20 years. If this episode is helpful to you, go to You can join our free public group. We have conversations just with gym owners every single day. There are about 6,000 of us in there. We’ve rooted out about 1,500 people who are just too critical or too condemning or just not polite. And now we can talk about these situations in a very real way. So Join that group. We can talk about this conversation there.

So I’m sitting in my office, I hear this woman moaning, and I knew that one of my coaches had this personal-training client, but otherwise the gym should have been empty. And I thought, “They don’t know I’m here. Something’s going on.” And the sounds that were coming from out on the gym floor were pretty sensual. So I kind of like froze up for a second to make sure that I wasn’t hearing things. And then she moaned again, like this long, low, sensual moan. So, boom, I blast outta my office and I expect the worst, but I’m hardly believing it, right? And across the gym—yeah, she was that loud—a trainer was rubbing the neck and shoulders of his female client. She had a tank top on and, you know, everything was above board.

Chris Cooper (01:43):
But he’s like massaging her now. He wasn’t a registered massage therapist, and she was wearing a tank top, but there was still a lot of finger and shoulder skin-on-skin contact, right? And that, to me, even with the sound was way across a line. I hope you haven’t been through this scenario where you’ve got a trainer massaging a client or doing things that cross the line of what’s appropriate. But I bet you’ve seen other instances, or participated in them, where your service crossed the line between coaching and therapy. It might not have been in a physical sense, but maybe emotional therapy or like psychological therapy. Here’s why we do it, why we should stop, and what we should be doing instead. Here’s the scenario. You’re a fitness or a movement coach, and a client has a physical limitation that prevents him from doing your method or your prescribed movement, but you’re a problem solver.

Chris Cooper (02:44):
So you do a little triaging, right? So maybe the client has shortened hip flexors because they sit down at their job all day, and you just read an article about sitting being the new smoking. So you think, “Let’s mobilize their hip flexors.” But the real problem might not be tight hip flexors. The real problem here is that you are not a therapist. You don’t have the tools to decide “here is what the problem actually is.” Personal trainers and fitness coaches don’t have a professional college, at least not in North America. We don’t have a clearly defined scope of practice, and that’s good, except that without this clear scope of practice, we go way beyond what we’re actually qualified, trained, educated, certified, licensed and insured to do. And that leads to mistrust from other health-care pros, and rightly so. And hey, sometimes we do know more than a client’s doctor or even their dietitian, right?

Chris Cooper (03:42):
And sometimes we don’t wanna send a client to a chiropractor because the chiropractor will tell that person to stop coming to our gym. So it’s just client preservation to try and do the therapy ourselves. And I think this is the primary fear: that not all of our clients will get bad advice but that they will stop coming to our gym. So here’s the solution. The solution is not to go get some kind of advanced fitness training about tightened hip flexors ourselves. The solution is not to pretend to be a therapist. The solution is to work with the other health-care professionals in town. I know this problem inside and out, right? In my case, the problem is twofold. Number 1, I have a big ego and I love to solve problems. So I just think I can solve every problem. Second, when this was happening in my gym, I was really scared that I would just lose every client that I referred to somebody else.

Chris Cooper (04:39):
Like the chiropractor is gonna get them fit? Yeah, right. In fact, when I started referring people out, the opposite happened. Number one, in fact, me trying to fix problems that were beyond my scope actually created the opposite problem. First, I lost the trust of health professionals because I tried to do their job, and I was unqualified and didn’t have their tools. And second, when a client finally had to leave and get chiropractic care or see their doctor, it was because they had a real injury. So they never came back. Me trying to fix it myself either didn’t fix it or made the problem worse. And so they just gradually declined. And then it was too late when they finally did see a real health pro. So the health pros saw these clients leaving my care with legit injuries instead of just these short-term little tweaks.

Chris Cooper (05:34):
And of course, that didn’t create trust, either. So I’m gonna tell you where we fit in this whole spectrum of sickness, wellness and fitness. And this will help you understand our scope of practice because nobody out there is saying “you can do up to this point and then you should refer out.” And really nobody is telling you why you should refer out, why you shouldn’t be afraid and why you should make these connections. I’m gonna do that today. So let’s start with “what is our scope of practice?” If you own a CrossFit gym or you’re a CrossFitter, you’re probably familiar with the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum. It was created by Greg Glassman, or at least mapped by Glassman. But it applies to all fitness methods, right? So you’re going to get people coming through your door who are sick, who have biomarkers that would point them toward chronic disease, shortened lifespan, worse health span, et cetera.

Chris Cooper (06:33):
Something is causing these people to die quicker than they normally would or causing pain. In the middle of the spectrum is wellness. So, you know, based on these metrics like blood pressure, body fat, bone density, triglycerides, good and bad cholesterol, flexibility, muscle mass, they’re doing okay. They’re treading water. And then at the other end of the spectrum, you have people who are fit. Where do we fall as practitioners? Obviously we don’t deal with the sick—that’s therapy. What happens when people move back and forth on the spectrum? Our role as coaches is to move people along that fitness continuum from sickness through wellness to fitness. But clients don’t know that continuum, right? They think that everybody’s just normal and average and sickness happens to them by accident. And you know, obesity is just inherited, right?

Chris Cooper (07:27):
They don’t get it. So their goals come first. If they say they wanna lose weight, then they probably don’t care about those other health metrics yet because those health metrics are not in a chronic or urgent state. So good coaches know to focus on the client’s goals: they wanna lose weight. But they also keep the long-term progression in mind, even if they don’t talk about it. They wanna know the client’s triglycerides. They wanna know the client’s muscle mass, even if the client doesn’t care yet. So great coaches talk about weight loss to their clients at first and then slowly introduce the big picture over time. And that’s how Greg Glassman did it, by the way. So here’s where we fit on that continuum, though. Our scope of practice is limited on the left side; there’s very little that we can do for people who are already sick. But we’re wide open on the right side for people who are at least, well, not in therapy and looking to get more fit.

Chris Cooper (08:20):
We can do a ton there. So, for example, we can’t cure COVID with exercise. Those are diseases, and we are not pathologists. If someone is already pathologically sick, the person needs a health-care professional. Glassman referred to doctors as lifeguards and trainers as swim coaches, and I think that’s an apt description. Now let’s talk about musculoskeletal respiratory and metabolic illness, like injury, right? We can’t cure a broken bone, right? We can’t knit a torn muscle or heal a contusion or set a cast. We can’t cure Type 1 diabetes. Now we can provide comfort and care. We can sometimes even help people with other things in their lives or help them train around acute injuries. But we can’t cure the stuff that’s at the extreme left side of that spectrum, right? The real sickness stuff we can’t do anything for. That’s for doctors, and that’s for time.

Chris Cooper (09:15):
And if you’re a faithful person, that’s for your god to help with. But take a small step to the right. It’s people with soft-tissue injuries, concussions, chronic metabolic problems created by disease. These are short-term problems, right? We can’t heal a sprain. We can’t reverse a chronic-overuse knee injury or repair an acute injury like a labral tear. We can’t rehabilitate because, by definition, rehabilitation begins with illness. A therapist’s job is to guide a client from illness to wellness to get them from sick to average. But few therapists can take a client further. They can’t take them from average to normal. They can’t take them from average to wellness or average to fitness or even average to above average. That’s our job. That’s where we take over. So your role on a client’s health-care team is to take a client from average or okay, or you know, barely okay—wellness—to fitness. Can we take a client from sickness to wellness? Yeah, sometimes. Unfortunately, some of the systems that exist for this purpose are failures. Comorbidities, which compound illness and make people more susceptible, are becoming more common despite all the government spending and the nutrition pyramids and the health advice. Most people of the public, in the public, get too little exercise. They just don’t do the stuff that will make them well. And, of course, our national food guides are not solving that problem. So sometimes coaches are tempted to reach beyond the wellness crowd and try and help the sick crowd. And we try to pull people up from sickness. And we do it because we feel like we have to, and sometimes for the reasons that I said earlier, right? Ego, overconfidence and fear. But as a general rule, our job is to take people from wellness to fitness.

Chris Cooper (11:14):
If somebody is more sick than well, if they show the markers of illness including disease and injury, then you’re best to treat them in partnership with a health-care professional. You don’t have to share responsibility, but you should definitely tell the health-care provider what you’re doing. So clients who fall on a far left of the sickness-wellness-fitness continuum require care provided by themselves, their coach and their lifeguard. So now I’m gonna tell you how you can use this knowledge to grow your business. Let’s say that a client says, “I hurt my back. I can’t get outta bed.” If you’re their coach, then your worst nightmare has come true. It’s probably worse than bankruptcy or your own declining fitness or your own declining finances. You’ve injured a client. And when this happened to me, I remember clearly that I had the phone pressed to my ear, and my brain started spinning up excuses or reasons this wasn’t my fault. Like, “Oh, did you just sleep wrong?” Right? And I was like scrambling to think of reasons that I wasn’t accountable here, and they would say, “No. It was definitely the deadlifts.” So then knowing that I couldn’t avoid blame, I shifted my mindset to “let’s fix this as fast as possible so that I can keep you as a client.” So I told the client, “Let me call my own chiropractor. I know he’s packed, but I’ll see if I can get you in today.” And Mike did. I had a trusted ally to call, right? The chiropractor got my client in ahead of the line. He helped my client, and he told the client that it wasn’t the deadlifting after all, that my training had probably helped them push the imminent injury backward by months. The chiro had my back, if you’ll pardon the pun. This wasn’t just luck.

Chris Cooper (13:03):
At that point, I’d already spent years nurturing that relationship with the chiropractor, strengthening it like I was strengthening my own back. And within two weeks my client had returned, and they trusted me more than ever. This is the power of relationships. Think of your local connections as a web. If you’ve taken care to strengthen every link in that web, it will feed you. When local physiotherapists know, like and trust you, they won’t criticize you or your intense fitness regime. When local doctors know that you respect their scope of practice, they will trust you with their clients. When they know that you’re not gonna criticize doctors in general on social media as know-nothing quacks, they’ll be more likely to refer clients to you. When the mayor knows that you’re trying to help the city become more healthy, city hall will help you with your occupancy permit—at least mine did.

Chris Cooper (13:57):
When members of the media know that you have stories worth sharing, they will share the stories on their platforms. You are dealing with humans here, all of us, and we’re all trying to do the right thing. We want each other to be successful. But building your system, your ecosystem of connections, takes time. So here’s how to start. First, when you have a new client, ask them, “Hey, who’s your doctor? Or who’s your physiotherapist?” Right? You’re the coach of Team Bill if Bill is the client. So you need to know who else is on the team. Contact those professionals and let them know that Bill has joined your gym. Highlight Bill’s goals and provide a loose overview of your plan. Then, really importantly, update the people on Bill’s team after his first Goal Review Session three months later. This seems like “okay, I’m gonna invest this extra 10 minutes for Bill with his doctor. I’m gonna send information to his physio.” But what you’re actually doing here is building trusting local connections. And when somebody asks their doctor, “Okay, how do I lose weight? Who’s gonna help me?” The doctor is gonna say, “Well, you know, the personal trainer that I know who keeps me informed about their clients and acts responsibly and acts professionally is Chris.” Of course they’re gonna send their clients to you. Okay? So Step 1 is ask. Step 2 is invite. You can invite local area health-care experts into your gym to teach your clients in their areas of expertise. I have done this with physiotherapists and chiropractors and dietitians, but I’ve also done it with financial experts and even one time with a guitar instructor. Third highlight. You can highlight other local experts on your media. This is really, really easy if you have a podcast. YouTube’s also amazing. Social media’s powerful.

Chris Cooper (15:52):
My secret to building a huge community is to find the experts within the community and put them on the platform. They probably don’t know how to do this for themselves. So you doing it for them is huge. Fourth, tell the media about your clients, not about yourself. So email the TV station and say, “Hey, I think you’re gonna love this story. Mary is a foster parent and she works full time and she just lost a hundred pounds.” Right? Like, it’s hard to not find remarkable stories in your gym. Share those stories. Don’t look for the promotional angle. That will come in the margins. But for now, all you wanna do is help your client get recognized for her achievement. Fifth, share your trust. Part of my job as a business mentor is to be a filter for information. But as my mentor Marcy Swenson once told me, part of your job is also to give people the answer instead of just giving them knowledge or giving them choices.

Chris Cooper (16:48):
So if you like a brand of supplements, tell your people. If you ride a certain bike and buy it from a certain bike shop, tell your people what that is. Don’t expect a referral fee or a commission. Just strengthen your net. Step 6 is help. If your clients are struggling at work, you can bet their coworkers are struggling, too. How can you help them relieve their stress? How can you help them have more energy later in the day? How can you help them with their tight back caused by sitting all day? Just make the offer. Seventh, inquire. Ask your clients, “How can I help your husband? How can I help your wife?” Or, even better, know the client’s partner well enough to explain exactly how you can help. “Hey, every year Bill goes out to the golf course, he strains his back, and then he can’t golf for the next two weeks. He does this every year. Why don’t we get him in here in March, do some flexibility and some strengthening so he can enjoy golf season the second the snow melts?” And Step 8 is to invest. Invest in buying people lunch, invest in coffee, invest in your neighbors, and invest in conversations with your friends. Food strengthens connections. One of the first ways that we got amazing referrals for the Ignite Program was we put together this two-page brochure, and we went around to physiotherapists, and we were handing this brochure out, and nobody wanted to read it. It was just like a flyer. So it probably went in the trash. And then one physio that we knew, I called him and I said, “Andre, have you have you read that flyer?” And he is like, “No, we don’t have time. I’m not handing it around. Like, you know, how am I gonna get my people to read it? We just, we don’t care.”

Chris Cooper (18:26):
And I said, “Well, what if I brought you lunch?” And we talked about it and he’s like, “We’ll do anything for a sandwich.” So we got this big tray of sandwiches, and we took it to Andre’s physiotherapist business. And he had a chiropractor there. He had an athletic therapist, too. And we brought them all sandwiches, right? So this tray of sandwiches might have cost me about 70 bucks, and we got hundreds of thousands of dollars in referrals from them after that because we’d had real conversations and explained what we were doing. It wasn’t a sales pitch, it was just strengthening our web. So here are some specific examples of how this has worked for me. So Number 1, I had a local chiropractic connection because I sent client updates to ’em. So whenever a new client came in and said, “Yeah, I go work with Mike for my back,” I would just send Mike a fax.

Chris Cooper (19:17):
If you don’t know what a fax is, you can Google “fax machine.” This was 2006. And then sometimes he would call me up and say, “Hey, I got your fax.” But really I was just trying to make sure that he knew we weren’t trying to take business away from him. Over the years, that connection saved me clients and it got me other clients. Those early faxes were worth tens of thousands of dollars in referrals over the years and a fantastic friendship forever. Like multiply that by every other chiropractor that my clients use because we did it with all of them. And you’ll see where my net of referrals comes from these days. You don’t need a fax machine; you can just use email. Second, I invited a local physiotherapist into my gym to talk about staying mobile in 2018. And then when I launched the Ignite Gym Program, I took sandwiches into his staff and I said “how would you improve this?”

Chris Cooper (20:08):
And that relationship created a referral link worth well over a hundred thousand dollars over the next four years. And yeah, those were like a hundred-thousand-dollars sandwiches. Third, when I sent a client’s story to a local TV station, they interviewed her and four others from the gym for this local series that they made up called Sault Ste. Marie Gets Fit. And two years later, they sent two reporters in to do a miniseries on just the gym. And then when COVID hit, they asked for an in-depth interview about in-home exercises. And then they referred a national radio host to me the next day. Now we have this open invitation: “If you have a great story, call us right away.” Like they are waiting for me to feed them stories. I don’t abuse it, but it’s there when I have a client and I wanna make them famous.

Chris Cooper (20:54):
So fourth, I tell gym owners all the time to use things like Aguard for their insurance, Incite Tax for their taxes, Forever Fierce for their apparel., Gym Lead Machine/Kilo for their website and CRM, InBody for their scales and other services. I tell you to use them because I use them. I don’t get a referral fee or an advertising fee. I just like their business, and they help gym owners, which makes my ecosystem stronger. Fifth, we have several local businesses who actually pay for their staff to come to Catalyst, and we teach Two-Brain gyms how to do it, too. And we do this through nutrition coaching. We do this through outreach for fitness programs. We’ve got all this in the Growth Toolkit. Six: We have a lot of families at Catalyst. And when one family member starts to lose motivation, the other people in her family usually bring her back. Ten-year clients usually have at least one other family member at my gym. And so we actively work hard to strengthen that web, too—the family web. Seventh, our local mayor just sent me this letter pledging to help me whenever I needed it because I bought bikes for 50 local kids, and I can talk more about that another time. I didn’t buy the bikes to get the mayor’s attention or his help. I bought the bikes so the kids would have bikes. But the reality is that when we put this stuff out there, it strengthens our net because people are paying attention. So I’m gonna be keeping that letter in my pocket for later. And, of course, some gyms who did well during COVID have shared what they’re doing with members of their gym who own businesses. So I get dozens of messages from entrepreneurs who aren’t in the fitness industry asking for help every year.

Chris Cooper (22:37):
The point is that your local connections form a web that can be your trampoline or your safety net when you really need it. All of these people are on their own little islands, and they’ll stay there unless you become the connector. The Number 1 reason that you need to connect people to you and to your brand and your gym is because nobody else will do it. What you need to get referrals from local physiotherapists is a phone call and a handshake, not a discount, not a private deal that you won’t refer people anywhere else. What you need to get promises and the support of your mayor is not the biggest gym in town with the biggest tax base or the biggest donation. It’s just these public offers to help other people. That’s what’s building your connection. And with other people, it’s really about conversations and treating other humans like humans, but making it an active process instead of just waiting for it to happen to you. You know, I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe in Bob Burg’s “law of left field.” And the law of left field says that you just keep helping people, helping people, helping people. And then one day, something really great happens to you and you say, “Where’d that come from? That just came right outta left field.” And the reality is that if you hit enough balls into left field, eventually somebody’s gonna start throwing them back.

Chris Cooper (23:58):
I’m Chris Cooper. I hope this helps you. If you join, we provide lots of other examples of where you can strengthen your local community web, and you can do it without creating competition but collaborators.

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