Help First: The Idea That Changes Every Gym Owner’s Approach to Marketing

Help First: The Idea That Changes Every Gym Owner's Approach to Marketing

Chris Cooper (00:00):
When you’re growing the number of clients at your gym, it’s really important to get good at the basics and to keep coming back to them over time. In 2017, I wrote this book, “Help First,” to outline my marketing strategy in growing my gym, Catalyst. And every year I reread this to remind myself to keep doing this stuff that actually works to grow my gym. Just like you, I’m tempted to try the new TikTok thing or Threads or whatever it is. I love doing that stuff, but the reality is that if I ever need new clients, I go back to this because there are so many tactics in there that work and have worked over time that sometimes I forget them myself. So today I’m gonna talk about what’s in “Help First.” I’m gonna share some of those tactics with you, and I’m gonna help you grow your gym.

Chris Cooper (00:44):
I’m Chris Cooper, and this is “Run a Profitable Gym.” And today we’re talking about some of my favorite lessons from my book “Help First.” So first off in the book is the question that all gym owners need to start with, and that is “who is my client?” Okay? And I’ve got this page folded because I read it so often myself. The thing that was hard for me to understand as a gym owner was that I am not my own best client. If you think about it, you know, when I was starting out as a gym owner and for the first five years before I found a mentor, I was somebody who was overworked. I had no time. I was working 6 a.m. Till 9 at night. I was underpaid. I was making $40 to $45 grand a year. I couldn’t afford my service. And so what that did was it put me in this mindset of scarcity, and I projected my wallet onto all of my clients.

Chris Cooper (01:34):
“Wow, My service is so expensive. Wow, they’re not gonna want to come twice a week. Wow, they’re not gonna listen to me. I’ve gotta try and make this as cheap as I can.” And then when I opened a CrossFit gym, I extrapolated my budget onto the CrossFitters. “Hey, I couldn’t afford $135 a month for unlimited. How cheap can I make this for them?” And so what you have to realize is that you are not your own best client. And in the book I actually walk you through the steps to figuring out who those best clients are, what they have in common, and how to tailor your service to them. That’s the really big thing. Then I go into the obstacles that actually stop us from selling. And the number one is our mindset. We feel like selling has to be this like slimy, reprehensible practice that’s done by people who wanna trick us.

Chris Cooper (02:23):
But selling is really coaching when you think about it. Convincing somebody to start your service is the first act of coaching that you will ever get to perform with them. And if that act of coaching doesn’t go well, if you don’t coach them into starting, you can’t coach them on the next thing, the air squat or the plank or whatever your next move is. It’s really critical to be a good coach the first time you meet somebody. And that means encouraging them to sign up for your product. And so in this section of the book, when I’m talking about obstacles to helping, one of the biggest obstacles is within our own head. And I talked to you about how to go past this and overcome it. So that’s one of the big obstacles that’s stopping people. Another one is our misunderstanding of value.

Chris Cooper (03:11):
See, we think that the value is in the fine details of what we sell. It’s in the programming, it’s in like the intensity, it’s in the community. But really the value to our clients is stopping them from having another heart attack making them strong enough to pick up their 6-year-old granddaughter so she can hang the star on the Christmas tree. It’s really not feeling like crap when they take off their shirt at the pool or feeling like maybe “my wife is kind of fooling around on me with that ripped dude at the office.” You know, it’s that reduction of fear and the feeling of confidence that we’re giving people, and that’s our actual value. When you think about the value that you provide to people in that sense, it’s a lot easier to say, “Hey, I’m willing to overcome my own fears about rejection, my own shortcomings, my own scarcity mindset to do this amazing thing for this amazing person.”

Chris Cooper (04:04):
And that’s really another big obstacle. And then a third one is just you don’t know what to charge. And that’s really where a mentor can help. I’ve got a couple of very specific strategies in here. And so the book is not all about philosophy. It’s not just beating the dead horse—you know you need to sell by this point. It’s really tactical. And so one of the tactics that I’ve got folded here is help the kids. So if you really wanna retain a client, the best thing that you can do is something for their kids. You know, if you’ve got a client who’s kind of like me in your gym, I don’t need a 20 percent discount. I don’t need a birthday card. They’re nice—whatever. They’re an acknowledgement. But the reality is if you remember my kid’s birthday, I am your fan for life.

Chris Cooper (04:48):
Like, that’s a step that very few people go to. And another way to think about this is how can you help my kids get fitter and healthier and gain confidence and find friends that will support all of those things with them? Well, you can run a kids program, but even if you don’t run a kids program, you can do something nice for my kids, and like once a quarter, have a family day or a kids day where you run an obstacle course. So while running a kids program is amazing, it’s just so great for your clients and their kids and their family. You don’t have to run it to help their kids. The key of help first, honestly, the meta lesson, is look for places where you can help beyond just delivering your service. And that’s how you grow. You extend your help to more people and you extend your help deeper within the people that you have.

Chris Cooper (05:37):
So that was one strategy. Another one, you know, that’s also related, is helping local teams. And so I’ve got the exact script here that you would use if, let’s say, the example in the book, I’ll read it to you, is Jill’s daughter plays on a local soccer team. You will say this: “Jill, I just wanted to thank you for bringing all of your friends in here. It’s so awesome. Now, I know your daughter’s team is just starting soccer practices for the season. Do you think they’d like to come in for a free mobility drill after practice? So if their practice is at 5 p.m. And they’re done at 6:30, I’ll wait here. They can all come up. I’m gonna teach ’em some mobility and some stretching—the stuff the coaches don’t really wanna get into. Or I can give them a seminar and I can come to them and I can talk to them and their parents about nutrition.”

Chris Cooper (06:25):
And again, this tactic and this actual script is in this book because I’ve used it and it works. In fact, I can think of an exact example here. So this wasn’t a soccer team, although I did work with a lot of soccer players. This was actually hockey. And I approached this hockey coach who’d been around for about 40 years and said, “I know you’re working with the teams. I’m not gonna come in and talk to you about strength and conditioning. You know what you’re doing, right? What I can do is I’ll come in and talk to the parents about nutrition.” And he said, “Okay, great, yeah, do that.” So while he had the kids on the ice, he set us up in a back stinky locker room where they had like all this equipment stored, and I did Q and A for parents about nutrition. What should the kids eat before the game?

Chris Cooper (07:09):
What should they eat after the game? One parent asked me about the Zone Diet, you know, whatever. We did an amazing Q and A. I handed out business cards back then, and we got some clients out of it. In that case, the kids were pretty young, but I got a bunch of the parents. And as the kids grew, you know, eventually you get those parents, too. So again, the line is right in here. In my town, a lot of coaches are nervous about sharing their team. They don’t want an outside expert coming in and making them look dumb or outdated or ignorant, but if you approach it from an angle that they don’t really care about, like nutrition or mobility, they’re all for it. It looks like they’re adding extra value to their team, And they’re getting it for free, right? So that’s great.

Chris Cooper (07:51):
And then there’s a whole bunch here, too. So another one is we published a free guide on our website called “How to Feed a Hockey Animal.” And it’s because I did that seminar for the parents. I made up this little one-pager and then I just put it on my site for people to get for free. And we actually give this to people in Two-Brain now—a template, an example to use. And then what happened in December 2014, I was delivering a short seminar at this local electricity company. And after a short monologue on high-intensity interval training, a staff member put up their hand and asked, “Hey, I saw that you had this handout that you give to all the kids, where you talk about hockey. How do I get that?” So I just said, “Oh, well, here you go.”

Chris Cooper (08:30):
And I told ’em how to get it on the site, and all the parents downloaded it. It became my first lead magnet. So there’s another great example here. But there’s other strategies in here, too. Like a great one is thanking the everyday heroes. So when I first understood that I need to get my target demographic dialed in better, I realized really quickly that I had a lot of nurses in my gym, and I started talking to them and saying like, “Hey, you know, I love having you in this gym. I love that half of your shift comes over here after work, and we do this class, but like, why is that?” And they said, “Well, hey, nurses tend to hang out with each other after shift because we’re all in these same shifts. We get each other’s problems.” And I realized teachers are the same way and police officers are the same way.

Chris Cooper (09:21):
So instead of just offering a blanket discount to nurses, what we would do is host nurses week. And we would say to our nurses in the gym during that week, “Why don’t we invite your friends to come in, and we’re gonna run a special 10 a.m. Class just for nurses and their friends when the shift ends during that week. They can try it, and then we’ll book a No Sweat Intro for them at the end of the class. Now, the first couple times I did this, I screwed it up. I didn’t run the No Sweat Intro. I just thought it was a free trial and they would throw their credit card at me if they liked it. After I did it a few times, though, I learned book everybody into a No Sweat Intro at the end of the week. And of course I put those lessons in the book, too, so you don’t have to go through the trial and error.

Chris Cooper (10:02):
The scripts are right there. Here’s exactly what to say, here’s how to promote it. Okay? And then there’s other bubbles in here, too. Another great one was co-branding. And you know we’ve got a few bridal shops in our city, and what we would do … . So first we had this bridal party come in, and they wanted to make a six-week group to get them ready for the wedding, get them more fit. They were going on this destination wedding, and they wanted to look good at the pool. And so we trained them up for six weeks. They loved it. It was a great bonding experience. And then I realized, “Wow, these, these ladies are all going together to the bridal shop to get their dresses. They’re all going together to the hairdresser to get their hair done. They’re all going to get their nails done.”

Chris Cooper (10:46):
I’m pretty sure they were all getting artificial tans. Those are all connection points who see more and more of these bridal parties than I ever would, so why don’t I talk to them? And so we made connections with the bridal shop and the manicurist and the hairdresser and said like, “Hey, here’s a great opportunity for us to recommend one another.” So eventually what would happen is we would get a referral from the bridal shop. They would come in and talk to us about a training plan for their bridal party. And we would say, “Who’s your hairdresser?” And then we’d refer them to the next person in the loop. And it kind of created this loop. The only downside was that hairdressers, manicurists and bridal shops who weren’t in that loop started to get a little bit jealous about it. So you have to be very careful, but having a one-on-one relationship with any of those people is always good, okay?

Chris Cooper (11:35):
Just having these conversations to start is great. And we call that co-branding. And there’s a bunch of examples of that in this book, “Help First,” of how you can do it. You can even put up banners. You can work with car shops. When we had our gym in the industrial park, we had this great deal for our members. So there was an oil-change place like three driveways up the road. I’m picturing it on the left-hand side. And the deal with the members was if you want your oil changed during your lunch break, all you gotta do is call the oil-change shop, make an appointment, and then just show up at the gym. Drop your keys on the front desk. The oil-change shop will come down, grab your keys, take your car, change your oil, bring your car back, and just drop your keys back on the desk. And then you can leave a check with your keys or they’ll call you later and get your credit-card number. Very simple, right? It really benefited the oil-change place more than it benefited us, but it really helped our members because now they didn’t have to make the choice between coming to the gym or getting their oil changed at lunch. And if you can do that with cafés, if you can do that with other convenient services, you’re laughing. You could do that with car detailing, too, right? Like, there’s a lot of services out there that didn’t really exist. Then I talk about blog posts. And what’s really crazy is when I wrote this in 2017, I had been publishing a blog for close to 20 years already. Now, of course, you can use AI bots to do a lot of this work for you, but even back then I was saying like, “Here’s exactly how to write a blog post.”

Chris Cooper (13:09):
So you could copy this page of the book into ChatGPT 4.0, use it as a prompt and it would spit out blog post after blog post for you, right? It’s like I’ve programmed the robots for you here. I’ve even got how to do media, how to focus on your exact target audience, how to talk to groups, how to talk to teams, how to expand your audience. So once you know who your niche is, like how to grow that niche … . Back then there really wasn’t an opportunity to grow online. But now of course there is. How to establish authority locally. So how to partner. One of our greatest initiatives ever that’s been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to us was we used to just take lunch to local physical therapists. We would take lunch to heir team. So they might have a massage therapist, a chiropractor, a physical therapist, and we would just talk about different training.

Chris Cooper (14:03):
And we’d say, “What do you recommend your clients for this?” And they would say, “How come you guys are doing CrossFit?” or whatever. And sometimes we would leave them with a little how-to-do-a-squat brochure with a link to a video that their clients could just take and share. And all of these ideas came out of these lunch meetings. And the referrals that we have had just from one of these alone has been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, including some where we bill insurance. Okay? And then finally what I talk about in this book is how to build a marketing strategy. And it’s really like—there’s so many ideas in here, so many tactics that you could just copy verbatim and read … .You know, it’s hard. Like it’s hard to do ’em all. There’s so many.

Chris Cooper (14:44):
The overwhelming lesson, though, is that you must take on a mindset of help first, and then you must build a plan to fit in these things that you can do without feeling like a slime ball. For example, the first time that I ever took coffee to my new neighbors, I was so nervous. I don’t know what I was scared of. Like, “They’re gonna kick me out. They’re gonna laugh at me.” No. What happened was I walked in with good coffee and said, “Hey, I’m Chris. I just opened up the gym. How’s business?” And most of the time the owner would come outta the back and they’d wanna stand there and drink the coffee with me. So, you know, I had to start limiting myself to one or two of these a week because I was just drinking so much coffee that I was outta control.

Chris Cooper (15:27):
And learning how to drink coffee really hot, too. But even if you’re just talking to their staff, like you’re not selling them anything, you’re just taking them a coffee, you’re making a new friend, you’re saying “good morning. Hey, welcome.” Everybody’s always happy to see the person with free coffee. You don’t have to close them or convince them of anything. You just have to leave ’em with these warm feelings. And then next time somebody walks into the autobody shop or the hairdresser and they say “hey, what do you know about that gym across the road?” what do you think they’re gonna say? “They’re Awesome.” And you’re gonna create kind of this like black-hole funnel within your community. This actually works. You know, a lot of people are really spending a lot of their time thinking about the best marketing strategy on Facebook.

Chris Cooper (16:11):
“What’s The best ad copy?” The best ad copy is looking somebody in the eye, shaking their hand and saying “good morning.” And if you can do that every single day or even two or three times a week, eventually you’re going to build an unstoppable funnel of clients who know, you like you and trust you. I’m Chris Cooper. Look, if my gym ever needs more clients, I go back to the basics. I read my own notes to myself that I was doing in 2017 to really grow my gym, Catalyst. And I go back to those and I practice them over and over. It’s real easy to overthink marketing, but really you can do it if you stick to the basics. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” Stick to the basics, make friends. People are going to like you. I Promise.

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