Chris Cooper (00:01):
Your future best clients might not be ready to be your clients yet. My name is Chris Cooper. I’m the founder of Two-Brain Business. And if this episode is helpful to you, please hit subscribe. We track numbers to tell us what topics are helping you the most. And when we see the numbers go up, we know to produce more content on that topic for free, just like we’ve been doing for a decade. Now, today, I’m gonna talk about a conversation that I had with Bonnie Skinner, a registered psychotherapist and the founder of Level Up coaching, about why we don’t want every client, why every client is not a great fit for your business, or why the client might just not be a good fit yet. Then I’m gonna talk about something from Kenny Markwardt called “bigger isn’t better and it might be worse for your gym.” And then finally, I’m gonna give you an answer to what to do with the clients who come to talk to you but aren’t a great fit for your service yet.
Chris Cooper (00:54):
So to start with, your staff members want to do their best work. Your coaches want to work with clients that will allow them to have a meaningful impact on their health and fitness. They need to work with people who are excited to be coached, who show up with their batteries included and who can afford to pay for the services that they actually need. And that means you’re not trying to attract everyone to your gym. You might not even wanna keep everyone who’s at your gym right now. And perhaps you already know that, but it’s still easy to be distracted by the competition, right? It’s easy to slip into worry about that other dude’s rock-bottom rates or how close they are to your gym or their habit of just copying everything that you do. And I understand that it’s really easy for me to stand here and talk about having an abundance mindset and the rising tide raising all boats, but it’s hard to resist the rage you feel when somebody actually talks badly about you or leaves you a bad review or steals something that you’ve carefully built.
Chris Cooper (01:58):
So here’s what Bonnie taught me. And she calls this lesson “the goldfish.” Think about why you started your business. To help great people change their lives, right? You wanted to feed them and guide them and watch them grow. And this is the same reason that people buy fish tanks. They put these beautiful fish in these tanks that they buy. Gold ones and flashy red ones, those shimmering silver ones, and those jet-black ones. And those are the clients that you want, but not every fish in the tank is beautiful. Some of the fish are bottom feeders. Their job is to like vacuum up the algae and the fish poop and all the other stuff that you don’t want in the tank. Those fish serve an important purpose. They let the most beautiful fish flourish and swim and clear water because they let you focus on the fish that you love most.
Chris Cooper (02:50):
So here’s how it works in practice. I was sitting with Bonnie and she explained the concept to me. And I said, “Bonnie, I get it. But I hate the feeling of people being led astray by these bottom feeders, right? Like they sign up for these pyramid schemes and sell supplements because of them. They’re tricked into these expensive challenges and they waste their money. And they’re lured by garbage like training masks and these other myths. And that keeps me up at night.” And she said, “Chris, do you really do your best work with people who fall for obvious tricks? Do you want people who will be easily pulled away by slimy sales people, who will quit your gym to try the next new thing instead of sticking with the thing that works?” And I said, “Honestly, no. I do my best work with really smart people.”
Chris Cooper (03:38):
And she said, “Then let the bottom feeders do their job.” I said, “Bonnie, I feel like I’m just like abandoning people.” And she said, “Chris, how did your best clients learn to question salespeople? How did they learn to not fall for the schemes of MLM or believe the lies of the supplement companies?” And I laughed and I said, “Well, just like me. They probably fell for somebody’s pitch. And they learned the hard way.” “And that’s how everyone learned,” she said. “Some of your future best clients aren’t ready to be your best clients yet.” Now 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 in gym ownership means giving yourself permission to be patient. I know that I’m gonna need 30 years to fulfill my mission in Sault Ste. Marie, which is to positively extend the lives of 7,000 people, 150 at a time, with each person staying for at least 14 months. And that means that 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. So feed your fish and just let the ocean do its thing. Kenny Markwardt added his thoughts in a blog post that I’ll link below called “Bigger Isn’t better—And It Might Be Way Worse.” So this is from Kenny. As a gym owner, you might daydream about an enormous shiny facility, a place with room for multiple classes of 20 or more at a time and AstroTurf and lockers and a big ball pit.
Chris Cooper (05:25):
Well, I’m here to tell you that some of it might be more of a nightmare than a dream. Running a giant place like this is a Herculean task. It comes with a monumental amount of overhead and risk. And the reality is that you’re gonna have a big empty space a lot of the time. Worse, the payoff is probably not going to be as big as you think it will be. Huge spaces are very expensive to rent or buy and then fill and maintain. And so this is my addition here, the bigger your space, the more time you’re going to spend managing space, equipment, people, and the less time you’re gonna spend coaching. So back to Kenny, Kenny says that on the flip side, by maximizing a smaller facility, you’ll have less overhead and you’ll have more risk tolerance. You’ll have a big, exciting, energy-filled place that people are attracted to.
Chris Cooper (06:20):
Most importantly, you can fit more members than you think in a smaller space, and you can generate more revenue than you think, too. For example, Kenny’s gym is housed in less than 4,000 square feet. That space supports around 250 members, three full-time coaches, group classes, kids programs, personal training and nutrition. And though it’s one tempting to wanna go bigger. Here are the reasons why Kenny so strongly believes in staying in a smaller facility. First is versatility in a smaller space. You can easily manage the inevitable ebb and flow of business ownership. As you go from startup to thriving enterprise, you’ll grow in the good times and you’ll easily manage the bad times along the way. Kenny says that his space is large enough to allow them to generate a great income and support a staff of professional coaches. But it’s small enough that he would survive a mass exodus or another pandemic.
Chris Cooper (07:13):
So when COVID hit, Kenny says that he realized he could still be remarkably profitable by retaining just a third of his clients and making a few adjustments. Luckily he didn’t have to, but it was a huge relief to run the numbers and know that he was gonna be okay. The next thing that Kenny loves about a smaller space is the energy. Have you ever been to an empty restaurant or a nightclub? It’s terrible. You feel like something is wrong and you wonder where everybody else is. With a big space. There will be many times when only a few people are training, just like an empty restaurant. Your gym will feel hollow. Worse, you’re paying rent for space that you’re just not using much. People are attracted to the energy of other people. Full classes create a fun, buzzing environment that people wanna be in. And a gym that’s always full will generate great revenue per square foot.
Chris Cooper (08:05):
Kenny’s third reason is profit and overhead. This one might seem obvious, but he says he is not so sure it is. Most people recognize that their rent or their mortgage payments will be larger in a bigger space, but the other costs aren’t always obvious. A bigger space will be more expensive to heat and cool, to keep clean, to build out with more equipment and fill with gear. And all that stuff adds up fast. Finally, Kenny’s fourth point is reality. Let’s be honest. Most of us want the big, shiny facility to stoke our own egos. We wanna own one of those big juggernaut places everyone knows about. We seem to think that if we build such a place, people from far and wide will come check out how awesome we are. Fortunately for microgym owners. That’s just not the case. People come to you for coaching community and accountability.
Chris Cooper (08:55):
If they’re coming to you for a shiny, expansive space, you’re gonna lose to the globo gym down the street because they get new equipment every year. And that place is easy to keep clean because two-thirds of their members never actually work out. So Kenny says, I know you can make a six-figure income in a 4,000-square-foot facility or smaller. So it seems shortsighted to go any bigger. And it’s definitely a bad idea to get a big space without a precise plan to maximize every square inch and generate a profit that will justify that space. A mentor will help you determine exactly how much space you need. So if you’re thinking for your first or your next place, don’t think big. Think about maximizing a small space and being versatile. So now I wanna talk about what do you do with the clients who don’t fit your gym.
Chris Cooper (09:45):
I started this podcast by saying that your future best clients might not be ready to be your best clients yet. And sometimes when they come in, they’ll have an objection. Like, “Ah, you know, I can’t afford the time. I can’t afford the money. I need to check with my wife.” And really they should start a fitness program somewhere else and then come back to you because they’re not ready to be the kind of clients that you want to coach yet. Someday they might be. And then they’ll come back. You’ll keep nurturing them. You’ll keep giving them free resources. You’ll keep them in your public Facebook group. You’ll keep them on your email list until they are ready to be your client. This is a 30-year journey. Even if it takes them three years to come back, you’ll be ready and waiting for them.
Chris Cooper (10:26):
So here’s how you say to somebody who’s not a great fit “you’re not ready” or “maybe this isn’t best for us.” It’s hard to say goodbye to a bad client. And it’s even hard to say “we’re not a good fit” to a prospective client. I’m a people pleaser. And so I’ve struggled with saying “no thanks” to people my whole life, but I eventually realized that I have to get good at it. So now I refer imperfect fits somewhere else. And here’s how to do it. I was once forced to fire a client who was in love with one of our coaches. And I don’t just mean like she was his biggest fan. I mean, she was in love with him. She was absolutely obsessed with him, and this made him uncomfortable. And of course his wife was uncomfortable, too. So the client just had to go, but I actually liked the client and I wanted the best for her.
Chris Cooper (11:14):
Even though I knew that I had to remove her from my gym fast, I dreaded that conversation. So I decided to find her a new home. I called around to other local gyms. I introduced myself and I asked about their programs. And finally I found one that I thought could really help her. So I said, “Hey, I’ve got this client. She’s amazing, but she’s not a great fit here. She has a credit for about $270 left at my gym. I’d like to transfer that to you and get her started right away.” And of course they were suspicious, right? Like what kind of monster was I dumping on their doorstep? So I told them, “Hey, if you don’t like her, you can just refund the balance. Okay?” And they agreed. And the client wasn’t exactly thrilled that I was referring her out, but it was better than being dumped by my gym completely.
Chris Cooper (12:02):
So she tried the other gym. She liked it. She lost 70 pounds there over the next two years. And she became their biggest fan. So the last service that I could actually provide for that client was to give her a way to continue her path to fitness. But the experience opened my eyes to the value of a referral partner. I was no longer afraid to say “you’re not a great fit for our program” because I didn’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings anymore. That meant that I could work only with clients who were a perfect match for my coaches and my gym. So here’s how to find a referral partner in your town. First, make a list of all the coaching businesses, not the big 24/7, all-hours-access, $9-a-month, partners. People who are actually coaches like you. Then pick the five gyms that can take care of your poor fits. The best five.
Chris Cooper (12:56):
There might be fewer. You’re not looking for technical expertise because nobody measures up to you, right? You’re looking for somebody who can demonstrate care. In other words, you’re viewing the person through the eyes of a potential client. Also, you’re not looking for somebody who is obviously second best. You don’t want the client to feel like they’re being sent to, you know, the poorer cousin down the road, or you don’t want them to regret the move or else they’re always gonna want to come back and you won’t be solving the problem. So now that you’ve made a list of three to five gyms, visit their websites and call two or three of them. Ask if you can drop by with coffee, and drop by with coffee and tell them that you wanna refer the clients who aren’t a good fit to your gym. Ask them if they would welcome those clients.
Chris Cooper (13:40):
And that’s it. Do not try to set up a cross-referral system with fees or affiliate deals or any other kind of deal. This should be a win for the client and the other gym, period. Your win here is not monetary. It’s really hard to remove clients who aren’t a good fit because none of us likes hurting a client’s feelings. And none of us likes losing revenue. So we keep them around. We read their private texts that come in at 1 a.m. with dread and we keep a suspicious eye on them when they’re around. In theory, firing a client is really easy, but in practice firing a client is really hard. So I used to try and keep every client or take every person who wanted to join my gym. And even when I didn’t need the money anymore, I just didn’t wanna hurt their feelings.
Chris Cooper (14:29):
But then I learned the value of a referral partner and my life got 300% easier. And then one day my referral partner sent somebody to my gym. And that was a bonus. The real win is working with my seed clients only and surrounding myself with the people who I can serve because they’re ready to be served at my level. I’ve got a video, if you click through the link in this podcast in the show notes, that will tell you how to identify your seed clients and your weed clients. But hopefully this podcast tells you exactly what to do about it. You don’t have to get everybody. Removing people who aren’t a great fit creates a space for somebody who is. And I promise you, after 20 years of gym ownership, taking out a client who’s maybe a C will always create a space for a client who’s an A to commit to you. It works time and time again. When your client’s at your gym see that they’re surrounded by only the best people, they’ll want to bring the best people in their life into your practice, too. My name’s Chris Cooper, I’ve got 20 years of experience in the fitness industry. I hope this helps.
Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio. Please hit subscribe right now before this final message from Chris.
Chris Cooper (15:51):
We created the Gym Owners United Facebook group in 2020 to help entrepreneurs just like you. Now, it has more than 5,900 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 gymownersunited.com. Join today.