Avoiding $100,000 Mistakes and Huge Amounts of Stress

An empty functional fitness gym with rings, plyo boxes and other equipment.

I hate open gym.

As the owner of a coaching business, I get a sick feeling in my stomach every single time I think about it.

Yes, I offered open gym in the past. But I regretted it deeply and struggled with removing it until the problem was solved by default when we closed our physical space to move completely online. I’d never offer facility access without coaching again.

Here’s why I put open gym in place back in the day, why doing so was a huge mistake and how I could have avoided a major problem.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

I offered open gym at our facility for years because I didn’t understand what I was selling and to whom. Even years into running a gym, I didn’t have a good grasp of my ideal client.

My ignorance came from good intentions: I believe fitness is for everyone, so we worked to build a business in which anyone would feel welcome. I don’t regret that.

But excessive focus on my goal of inclusivity meant that I tried to do too much for too many people. The successful entrepreneurs reading this will know that was a mistake.

It’s impossible to please everyone. I would have been better off finding out what my very best clients wanted and shaping my service around their needs and wants. Then I should have found more people like my very best clients.

Instead, I punched a hole in my coaching business by giving away facility access.

A mentor could have warned me off this plan before I created a difficult situation for myself.


Back in the Day…


For me, open gym came about because our business started in a garage. It was always fun to get together and train. So we put an open-gym slot on Sunday morning.

You can guess what happened in short order: Instead of bringing people together, it started to pull the gym apart.

I thought open gym would help people make up missed workouts. A few did that. But others started to arrive with “special workouts” either purchased elsewhere or found on the web. Instead of serving my ideal clients, I had only created a way for people to max out deadlifts too often, train for competitions and do squat programs that made them too sore to come to group classes.

Worse, I didn’t charge more for open gym—even when I added more slots. I just included it with our unlimited membership and paid a coach to be there. So open gym devalued my group-coaching program while I essentially gave personal training away for free.

Open gym cost me lots of money both in wages and lost revenue. It also drove up my stress levels when cliques appeared, people stopped coming to classes and … you know the rest.


I Didn’t Have to Make This Mistake


I’m telling this tale because I still see coaching businesses making big mistakes like this. Open gym is just one example. Other good ones: setting prices by looking at competitors, hiring staff without creating roles and responsibilities, spending money on expensive equipment that’s never used, avoiding kicking out bad clients, focusing on advertising before retention, and so on.

You’re definitely going to make some mistakes as a gym owner. It’s inevitable, but you can avoid a huge number of them by working with a mentor.

I wish someone had tapped me on the shoulder 10 years ago and pointed me in the right direction. In fact, had I hired a mentor to help me make just one decision—raising rates in 2013—I’d be $50,000 ahead even if you subtract the cost of 10 years of mentorship. If I’d had a mentor to tell me to be rid of open gym and focus on my best clients, I might be retired right now.

So here’s your tap on the shoulder. If you’re making it up as you go right now, I want to save you time, misery and stress. Click here to find out more about mentorship.

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