How To Do The Hard Stuff

If you own a gym, you’re going to have to make hard choices. I’ve missed sleep, meals, training and sanity over the last 11 years, but no longer. Here’s how I deal with the “hard stuff”:

  1. Isolate the real problem. Try to remove emotion from the picture.
    For example:
    “I have a coach. She’s a close friend, and she’s been helping me out for five years. Lately she seems bored in class, and the members are starting to notice. She’s such a great person, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. What do I do?”
    Cut out the irrelevant parts of the problem. Your friendship, her history, her feelings…these are all important, but NOT to her performance as a coach. Be a great friend and a great boss, but don’t confuse the two. If she’s an employee, she has to live up to her contract (which you have…right?)
  2. Realize it’s a cycle. I don’t believe in metaphysics, Karma or Santa, but I’ve noticed a cyclical pattern to almost all parts of my business. If revenue is the highest its ever been, it will soon go down; if it’s at a low point, it will soon rise. I never let myself get too high OR too low, because my situation will always change. So I make decisions that will keep those cycles trending upward over the long-term, instead of worrying about the micro-shifts.
  3. Ask yourself, “What’s best for my BEST clients?” In the words of Sherman Merricks, “I don’t need their $85 clients.” Don’t try to attract everyone, and if you face a tough decision that might alienate some of your fringe clients but improve things for your best clients, the choice is easy.
    Your duty as a gym owner is to your clients. If they’re negatively affected by a bad coach, it’s more than a good idea to remove the coach: it’s your JOB.
  4. Ask yourself, “Will this problem get better–or worse–if I wait to take action?” If a situation is slowly getting worse, take action immediately. Stop the bleeding.
  5. Get mad. Seriously. Years ago, I had a few “trouble” clients who weren’t paying on time. They resisted being put on auto-debit, and I faced a tough decision: either insist they hand over a credit card number, or stop allowing them to come. I didn’t want to turn down the tiny $35/mo Open Gym-only membership they were paying me (this seems ridiculous to me now, but huge then.)
    My great friend Mike, who owns a lumber yard, told me: “They’re taking money from your KIDS, man! That money they owe you is your KIDS’ money!” Then he slammed the table and we went outside to deadlift. He was right. And it was the push I needed. I ended all their memberships the next day.
  6.  Envision the worst-case scenario. This is another lesson from Stoic philosophy. It’s a great exercise: ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen here?” Don’t do it rhetorically: literally imagine the worst-case happening. Could you survive?
    When gyms are struggling with the decision to raise rates, we do some math: how many members could we afford to lose if everyone else moved to the new rate? We quantify the downside. “You can lose 18 members and still make the same money.” Then I have the owner go through her client list, name by name, and try to find 18 members who would definitely quit. If they can’t find 18, they’re told “You’re crazy NOT to do this.”
    (Bonus: no one has ever lost more than 5.)
  7. Go straight to the point.
    If you want to break up with your boyfriend, start the conversation with, “I want to break up.” Don’t leave wiggle room (“I think we should break up”) or start slow (“I’ve been really worried about our relationship…”)
    You owe it to the other person to address the problem directly. If a member is a bad fit for your gym, tell them. Don’t ignore them until they leave on their own. Passive-aggressive behavior says more about you than them; leaders avoid it.
    Direct action, you’ll find, is also easiest. It requires practice; you might flub it the first time. See #8.
  8. View it all as practice. In Ignite, we teach the Growth Mindset: the view that everything we do is simply practice for next time. If you’re firing a coach, and you handle it badly, it’s okay: you’re going to be doing this for 30 more years. You’ll have to fire another. And next time, you’ll KNOW.

When you practice the Growth Mindset, and screw up a LOT, you’ll eventually get to my current spot. You’ll be happy when you get here. I’m waiting.


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.