The Goldfish (Or How I Learned to Be OK With Bottom-Feeders)

The goldfish - beautiful fish swimming in a tank

Your staff members want to do their best work. To do it, they need to work with clients who are excited to be coached, who show up with “batteries included” and who can afford to pay for the services they need.

That means you’re not trying to attract everyone to your microgym. And you might not want to keep everyone who’s at your gym right now.

Perhaps you already know that.

But it’s still easy to be distracted by “the competition.” It’s easy to slip into worry about their rock-bottom rates, their proximity to your gym and their habit of seemingly copying everything you do.

Look, it’s easy for everyone to talk about an abundance mindset and “rising tides raising all boats.” But it’s hard to resist the rage you feel when someone actually talks badly about you, leaves you a poor review or steals something you’ve built.

I dug deep into these feelings with Bonnie Skinner, my psychotherapist. And she told me about the goldfish.

The Evolution of Your Best Clients

Think about why you started your business: to help great people change their lives. You wanted to feed them, guide them and watch them grow. This is the reason people buy fish tanks. And they put beautiful fish in those tanks: gold ones, flashy red ones, shimmering silver ones and jet black ones. These are the clients you want.

But not every fish in the tank is beautiful. Some of the fish are bottom-feeders: They vacuum up the algae and the fish poop and all the other stuff you don’t want in the tank.

These fish serve an important purpose: They let the most beautiful fish swim in clear water. They let you focus on the fish you love most.

Bonnie’s Insight

Here’s how it works in practice:

“Bonnie, I get it,” I said. “But I hate the feeling of people being led astray by these bottom-feeders! People sign up for pyramid schemes because of them. They’re tricked into expensive ‘challenges’ and waste their money. They’re lured by garbage like ‘training masks’ and other myths. That keeps me up at night!”

“Chris, do you really do your best work with people who fall for obvious tricks?” she asked. “Do you want people who will be easily pulled away by slimy salespeople? Who will quit your gym to try the next new thing instead of sticking with the thing that works?”

“Honestly, no,” I said. “I do my best work with really smart people.”

“Then let the bottom-feeders do their job.”

“I feel like I’m abandoning people to their fate,” I replied.

“How did your best clients learn to question salespeople? How did they learn to not fall for the schemes or believe the lies?”

“Well, like me, they probably fell for someone’s pitch, and they learned the hard way!” I laughed.

“That’s how everyone learns,” she explained. “Some of your future best clients aren’t ready to be your best clients yet.”

Focus on Your Fish

Bonnie is one of the most empathetic people I know. And she’s right: We don’t get to control who’s in the tank. We can only feed and care for our fish.

Playing a 30-year game means giving yourself permission to be patient. I know that I’ll need 30 years in business to fulfill my mission in Sault Ste. Marie: Positively affect the lives of 7,000 people, 150 at a time, with each staying for at least 14 months.

And that means I’m willing to wait for people to make their mistakes. I wish I could shield everyone from pain—but gym members aren’t one-and-done. Old members come back. Potential members who fall for the latest scam are actually better new members later—because smart recognizes smart.

Feed your fish and let the ocean do its thing.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.