How to Earn Freedom From Your Business Through Discipline

A gym owner's foot with a chain around it and the words "feeling trapped?"

Chris Cooper: (00:02)

The strength of your business can be measured with one question, how successful is it without you there? My name is Chris Cooper. I’m the founder of Two-Brain Business. And today I’m gonna talk to you about how discipline equals freedom, what discipline means in your business and how it creates success for your business to grow so that you can expand your platform, serve more people, make careers for your staff, and eventually earn your freedom. The way that you build a business that helps people and you make it your own is that you establish systems and processes and discipline. Now, I learned this lesson from Jocko Willink, and we’re going to talk more in-depth as we go here. But if you like this episode, please hit subscribe on your favorite platform. And that’ll be a signal to me to produce more stuff just like this.

Chris Cooper: (00:54)

Your business is not your marketing. Your business is your systems. The processes that your staff members use to deliver excellent service. These are the standard operating procedures that everyone follows on your team to be consistent, predictable, and excellent. I once walked into my gym at noon to this sight: chalky hand prints all over the floor. Two open-gym clients finishing their workout while the noon class waited and watched for them to be done. A potential new client leaning against the wall by the front door. A coach is half finished lunch on my front desk. Both bathrooms full with people waiting to change clothes outside, lined up. And loud, uncensored rap music that I would never play in front of my kids blaring. I started my day being the bad guy. “Hey, buddy, your workout time is over.” Cleaning up other people’s messes, smoothing over a very poor first impression and yelling at a coach to get their class started.

Chris Cooper: (01:57)
And then I spent the rest of the day angry, hating my business, but too distracted to do anything about it. Worst of all, I knew it would be exactly the same tomorrow. The problem wasn’t that my staff was lazy or that my clients were taking advantage of me. And I sure felt that way at the time. But the truth was that my entire business was all in my head. People were breaking rules that they didn’t know existed. They were following checklists that didn’t exist outside my mind. They were rising to their standards, which were very different from my standards. And they were trying to guess what I wanted them to do. Even though they weren’t mind readers. The problem was that I had no systems and without systems, I had no discipline in my business. As Jocko Willink told us at the 2020 Two-Brain Summit, discipline equals freedom.

Chris Cooper: (02:49)

When your staff knows to start classes precisely on time, they will. When your clients know to be ready because the class is starting directly on time, they will be ready. When your future clients know to book a No-Sweat Intro, instead of just showing up to watch a class or try it out, they will book a No Sweat Intro. When you have a cleaning process, you will have a clean gym. When you have a coaching process, your classes will be excellent. When you have an intake process, your clients will be onboarded more smoothly, stick around longer and get greater results. When these things happen automatically, you will have the freedom to build your business. But if it’s all in your head, you’ll have none of these things. Your internal goals, your standards, and your processes are just daydreams. So today I’m gonna tell you how discipline and rules make you and your staff more money.

Chris Cooper: (03:46)

Then I’m gonna tell you how to start getting your business out of your head and into a system. We walk through this process step-by-step in our ramp up program. Because if you dig deep enough into any problem faced by a gym owner, a lack of systems is usually at the root. Here’s how discipline makes you and your staff more money. The secret to making more revenue in your gym isn’t raising your rates, and it’s not getting more clients. It’s discipline. When I hired my first trainer at Catalyst in 2005, I was a bit worried about having the money talk with him. He had a few personal training clients of his own. He was also coaching a few sports teams on their fields of play. He would go out to the arenas and coach them for hockey. He’d go out to the football field and coach them for that.

Chris Cooper: (04:34)

I was worried that he wouldn’t wanna share the revenues for these clients with the gym and be part of this bigger movement. But I told him, “You have to charge everybody $135 per hour when you go off site. You can’t train anyone for free anymore. And I’m going to give you 44 percent of the proceeds for all of your clients, including the ones that I give you and the ones that you already have.” He said, “Deal.” No hesitation. Only later did I realize that my rules had solved some huge problems for him. First, he hated asking people for money. So he often wound up volunteering his time. And when he did get paid, it was far less than the 44 percent he’d make with my pricing. And now he no longer had to say, “Hey, I need to get paid.” He could say, “Here’s the price” or “Here’s an invoice.”

Chris Cooper: (05:27)

Finally, he wasn’t tempted to find his own side clients because it just wasn’t allowed. So he didn’t even think about it. Under my rules, my imposed discipline, he would make way more money with much less stress and frustration. And hey guys, he’s still with me 17 years later. So here’s six reasons you’re not making bank. When you fix these issues with discipline, your gym will be more successful. Reason number one, gym owners don’t pay themselves first. So I want you to have the discipline to write yourself a check, and you can hack this system by using another system like profit first. The reason two is that you don’t make enough money per client. So you have to have the discipline to set your rates appropriately and stick to them. Everybody knows the discounts don’t attract clients, but most of us have offered discounts because we don’t have the discipline to stick to our rates.

Chris Cooper: (06:23)

And usually this is a mental problem, not a demographic one. Reason three is they don’t keep clients long enough. So you need to have the discipline to maintain an excellent experience. You build excellence on a foundation of consistency. The rules must apply to everyone equally. Everybody must have a consistently excellent class or a personal training session or nutrition coaching program. For example, we used to sell open gym access between classes. One day, this client was doing a half marathon row during open gym time. With five minutes to go before class started and open gym time ended, he was still cranking away in the middle of the gym floor. The coach warned him that his workout would be finished in five minutes, whether he finished his half marathon row or not. Maybe he didn’t believe her, or maybe he thought he could row another 3,000 meters in five minutes, but he did not reach the 13.1 mile mark.

Chris Cooper: (07:26)

“Sorry,” she said, “but class is starting.” You’re done. Now, of course, that client got mad and quit the gym. But all of the other clients who were much higher value clients in our target audience who were a pleasure to coach, they were impressed. Their experience did not come second to anyone else’s experience. They didn’t have to wait around unfairly while someone else finished a poorly planned workout. The fourth reason that most gyms aren’t making money is that their expenses are too high. You have to have the discipline to rent only the space you need and buy only the equipment that you need. Have the discipline to do the math and make a plan instead of just buying the biggest toy box and then trying to fill it with people. The fifth reason that gym owners aren’t making money is they don’t have enough clients. So you have to have the discipline to make a marketing plan, to track your marketing metrics and determine what’s actually working instead of just firing random shots at your market saying, “Oh, I tried a hundred bucks on Facebook ads, and it didn’t work.”

Chris Cooper: (08:29)

That’s not a plan. And the sixth reason that people aren’t making money in gym ownership is that they wear the wrong hats. So you have to have the discipline to learn how to grow your business and how to ascend your team instead of just punching the clock and hoping for the best. Now, it isn’t easy to fix any of these problems, but everything gets easier with practice and you and I, we’re in the habit formation game, right? We coach discipline and habits and routines for a living. So maybe it’s time we took our own advice. Enforcing discipline in yourself is hard. Having a coach or a mentor makes it easier. If you want some precise instructions, get our free guide to solving each of the problems that I listed above by clicking through the links in the show notes. Enforcing discipline in your staff is really hard, but you usually only have to do it once.

Chris Cooper: (09:19)

When everybody sees that you’re going to stick by your published rules instead of running your business on your fluctuating emotions or expecting people to read your mind, they will come into line and you will have the freedom to help them. Instead of just constantly cleaning up their mess. Here is how to get your business out of your head. You give your business discipline by writing down exactly how you want everything done. And I mentioned Jocko a few minutes ago. In his book “Extreme Ownership,” Jocko says that he has a standard operating procedure for how his SEAL teams entered their vehicles, exited their vehicles, breached a doorway, penetrated a house, searched for evidence, collected evidence, dropped off evidence and presented evidence. They had an SOP for everything. This commitment to consistency created freedom. When things changed on the battlefield operators could change strategies without making guesses.

Chris Cooper: (10:18)
The best businesses in the world have SOPs for every tiny detail. Think about the best hotel you’ve ever visited. The room was spotless. There was a welcome note from the manager. Maybe there was a little chocolate on your pillow or some towel art on the bed. None of those things happened by accident. None of them happened because a staff person took the initiative or had an amazing work ethic. Your experience wasn’t unique. It was repeated thousands of times for thousands of guests. And it still made you feel special, but all of those things happen because of standard operating procedures. So where do you start? Here’s an SOP for creating SOPs. Here’s a model and an example. I want you to put a pen and a piece of blank paper in your car. And then I want you to drive to the gym as you normally would on any given day before you get out of the car, grab your pen and record where you parked and why.

Chris Cooper: (11:15)
Now I’m assuming you’re the first person in the parking lot. So you could have parked anywhere. Why did you park at the furthest spot from the door? Now I want you to walk to the entrance of your gym. And if you use the back door or the front door, write that down. Turn on the lights. Write that down. Flip on the open sign. Write that down. Turn on the stereo. Write that down. Select the correct station. Write down the one you choose and why. Continue writing everything down until your first class begins. You’ve just created your opening checklist. Now, maybe this seems like overkill. After all, your staff aren’t dumb. So why write the checklist and the SOPs as if they are? It’s because you don’t want gaps. Gaps get bridged by guesses, and no one guesses right more than half of the time. So you’re better to be too thorough than to leave any room for guessing.

Chris Cooper: (12:09)

Guessing means mistakes and mistakes mean correction, uncomfortable conversations with the people on your team. Do you really want to have to tell them they forgot to take the garbage out? Do you really want to have to tell them to park far from the door so that your clients can have the best spots? Do you really want to have a conversation about why they can’t enter through the back door or why they can’t tie up their dog outside? Or would you rather tell them to take the garbage out in advance? Here’s an extreme example. I once had a client in California with constant staff turnover. He lost all of his coaches in his first year, replaced them all. And then he lost the second crew too. He had a great location and some really good clients. He was a nice guy. And at first I couldn’t figure out why he had such high turnover.

Chris Cooper: (12:57)

One night, his staff closed the gym and went home without taking the garbage bags outside to the dumpster. When he opened the gym in the morning, it stunk of rotting banana peels. He couldn’t get the smell outta the air before his first clients arrived, even with all the doors open and a generous application of air freshener. He was driven to distraction by the smell. So he sent an email to everyone on his staff about a rant. It was a 200-word email rant about how bad the gym smelled, how careless it was to leave garbage in the warm building overnight and how banana peels were especially stinky. Now, maybe you’re laughing because you’ve received an email like that from an overstressed boss, or maybe you’re wincing like me because you sent one almost as bad and I’m totally guilty. But of course, that staff didn’t quit over one email, but then the owner wrote them, wore them down as these little breaches of common sense in his mind stacked up.

Chris Cooper: (13:56)

And he stopped calling staff meetings to address the problems. Instead he berated his coaches in front of others, or he sent them texts at 10 p.m. to complain. The problem wasn’t that his staff members were lazy or dumb or Gen Xers or whatever. It’s that they weren’t mind readers. There is no such thing as common sense. There’s just guessing. And so of course, this gym owner’s third wave of staff left and opened another gym down the street. And the gym owner started over with new staff. But this time we helped him tell them what he wanted in advance. Lo and behold, his gym became a comfortable, happy place. His clients no longer saw awkward exchanges between the owner and staff. They enjoyed the cleanliness and the on-time schedule. And they stuck around longer. The owner got some traction and his business began to grow. Nobody knows what’s in your head.

Chris Cooper: (14:49)

You have to get it out. So writing a staff playbook and SOPs takes a lot of time, but we have a great shortcut for you. We give you a full template to edit in our Ramp-up program. Finally, how to stress test your system and procedures. If your standard operating procedures are untested, you have to assume that they won’t work. And if your processes don’t make your business run without you, then they’re incomplete. Most of us have holes in our processes. There are things that staff members just can’t do, and we won’t find those holes unless we put our business under pressure. So now I’m gonna give you the exact steps to find and fix the gaps in your processes. And we call this the SOP stress test. So first write out your staff playbook. And if you’re in Two-Brain, go to the growth toolkit and you’ll find a complete template that you can just edit.

Chris Cooper: (15:42)

As you see fit, change the mission in there. Use my SOPs, copy what’s working, put in your own. It’s up to you. Second, deliver your new playbook to your staff at a meeting and have them sign off on it saying that they’ve read it and they understand. Then have your business run on these processes for three months, get some reps in. And then step four is to take four consecutive days away from the business plan. This time in advance, let your staff know that you will be away. Tell them you won’t be responding to email, but they can call you in an emergency. Now, if they call you while you’re away, record those calls because you need to remember the topics. And then when you return to the gym, write processes to solve every problem that came up while you were away. Then you’re going to provide training to avoid the same problems in the future.

Chris Cooper: (16:36)

Next, I want you to book a seven-day break from the gym, but this time you can have no communication with the team whatsoever, and you’re gonna have your staff document any questions or problems they have while you’re gone. When you return, debrief with each staff person or the one in charge. Write SOPs to cover the problems and record the answers to all their questions in your staff playbook. And then several months later, take two weeks away to the gym without contact and debrief. When you return, write SOPs to cover the problems and record the answers to all questions in your staff playbook. Why is this process so important? Because as you grow, your attention will get focused on larger opportunities instead of the day-to-day operation of your gym. So maybe you’re thinking about reaching the Tinker phase, scaling over 150 members, making more than $100K, opening a second gym or running seminars or whatever the next step is for you.

Chris Cooper: (17:36)

Or maybe you’re looking at buying another gym that’s open around the block or even opening a different business. Regardless of your reason, you need to be able to focus on higher level opportunities. The biggest problem faced when they get to this phase, where they need to scale is they keep getting pulled back into daily problems instead of working on the much larger opportunities right before them. So you need to solve your gym problems in advance. If you can’t solve them in advance, solve them when they happen, but only solve them once. Document the right answers, build SOPs and keep your hands outta the machine. Because you can’t drive the car if the hood is always up. One of the key disciplines that we teach in our ramp up program is that every day, you should start your day by doing one thing that grows your business before you do anything else. This requires discipline because you need to focus on the important work ahead of the urgent work.

Chris Cooper: (18:34)

If all you do is wake up and check your phone, you will be sucked into the world of high urgency, and you will spend the next 12 to 15 hours fighting fires and doing the urgent things. And when you return home tonight, you will find that your gym is in the exact same place it was in the morning. You haven’t grown at all. This discipline to create the time to do the things that actually build the business, it compounds. And you start by focusing on getting things off your plate. The very first thing you need to get off your plate is standard operating procedures so that people can do things to your level of excellence without your constant micromanaging. Final example. When I finally learned that this was the path to entrepreneurial success and freedom, I hired a cleaner and when Sean would come in to clean, he would start mopping.

Chris Cooper: (19:30)

And I would sit at my desk from 9 o’clock, till 10 o’clock at night. And while he mopped, I would start working on our newsletter because I knew at that time that that’s what it took to get more clients. Or I would start producing videos about personal training. And in some of our earliest Catalyst videos, you could actually hear him humming in the background. Or I would reach out to past clients, or I would start asking for referrals, or I would find speaking gigs. Whatever I could do to grow my business in that hour, because that was the only hour that I had. And I only had it three times a week while Sean showed up to mop. So for that investment, 15 bucks an hour or whatever Sean made back then, I was buying myself the time to do the stuff that would grow my business, but I had to have the discipline to use that time for that purpose when I was tired, when I wanted to go home and just go to bed. I hope this helps you. Discipline creates freedom by enforcing consistency. Consistent application at levels of excellence are what makes an excellent business. You do not rise to the level of your marketing. You fall to the level of your systems.

Mike Warkentin: (20:41)

That was Chris Cooper on Two-Brain Radio. Thanks for listening. Before you go, hit subscribe so you don’t miss a show. Now, Coop’s back to close it out.

Chris Cooper: (20:46)

We created the Gym Owners United Facebook group in 2020 to help entrepreneurs just like you. Now it has more than 5,600 members and it’s growing daily as gym owners join us for tips, tactics, and community support. If you aren’t in that group, what are you waiting for? Get in there today so we can network and grow your business. That’s Gym Owners United on Facebook or Join today.

Thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening! Run a Profitable Gym airs twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Be sure to subscribe for tips, tactics and insight from Chris Coooper, as well as interviews with the world’s top gym owners.

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help, and we read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

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.