How to Stop Making Mistakes as a Gym Owner

Podcast-1 (3)

Chris Cooper: (00:01)

I wish entrepreneurs never screwed up, but they invariably do. And this week I’m gonna tell you exactly what to do when you make a big mistake. My name’s Chris Cooper, I’m the founder of Two-Brain Business. And if this podcast is helpful to you, please give us a five star review on whatever platform you’re listening on. This tells us exactly what to keep producing content on by letting us know what’s most helpful. And that’s what we wanna do. This week, we’re talking about how you get over some of the biggest mistakes that gym owners make. And I’m gonna reference some blog posts from some of our certified Two-Brain Business mentors who have been where you are and they’ve made crazy mistakes. And here’s how they’ve gotten over them. We’re gonna start with a list of things that Kenny Markwardt, who’s a certified Two-Brain Business mentor, has done at his gym.

Chris Cooper: (00:48)

He writes, “I’ve made people do burpees for every minute they were late to class. I’ve had multiple people get rhabdo. I’ve gotten in public arguments online. I’ve gone on wild rants on our public Facebook page. I’ve charged $80 a month for memberships. I’ve had mass exoduses of members who are upset with changes. I’ve had people tell me that I’m an a-hole. I’ve had people write negative reviews. I’ve had people write long detailed emails about why my gym sucks, and I’ve told people to F off. And yet here I am owning and operating a very successful micro gym. The point is that no matter what you’ve messed up or are currently messing up, it’s all repairable. And none of it is worth losing a ton of sleepover.” And yes, as Kenny writes, I’ve also lost an ungodly amount of sleep. So first you’re gonna prepare to fail.

Chris Cooper: (01:43)

And then you’re going to succeed. As a gym owner, you’re undoubtedly going to make mistakes, many, many mistakes. It’s unavoidable. In fact, I’d say that if you don’t think you’re making any mistakes, or if you think that you haven’t made any mistakes, you’re either completely oblivious or you’re just setting yourself up for some colossal failure in the future. So when you’ve realized that you’ve made a mistake, instead of lamenting what you’ve done or what you could have done differently, here is what to do. Number one, admit when you’re wrong and make it right according to your mission, vision, and values. You have to be careful here because it’s easy to fall on your sword and profusely apologize for things that don’t deserve that much weight. Most of the time, it’s better to just make a change quietly, make a quick apology when necessary and move on, letting your action speak for themselves.

Chris Cooper: (02:36)

The people that you want in your gym will be cool and won’t rub your noses in your mistake. Second, turn your mistake into a great story that you can tell in the future. “All of my errors on the list above are pretty funny to me now,” writes Kenny. “Am I proud of them? Not really, but as the current owner of a gym that’s consistently on Two-Brain’s leaderboards every month, I can say confidently that I find those flaws of an immature gym owner amusing, and part of the process of growing into a better entrepreneur.” The third tip from Kenny is to learn from your mistakes and use them to refine your business, your processes, and your decision making. At the time I made many of the mistakes I listed above, I thought that I wanted to run this hardcore athletes-only gym. I thought I wanted a gym where you would take off your shirt

Chris Cooper: (03:25)

when you came in the door, chalk the F up and crank Rage against the Machine as loud as humanly possible so that you could make sure you would crush your previous Fran time. It turns out that vision wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. By refining my vision, I was able to make clearer decisions in the future. The fourth tip from Kenny is to help your staff develop by explaining what happened, why you’re correcting your course and what you hope to do in the future. The best gifts that we can give our teams are clarity and an understanding of the why behind our decisions. This info will help them make their own decisions according to your vision when challenges arise. And the fifth tip from Kenny is talk to your mentor. They’ll help you talk through it and figure out exactly what to do next.

Chris Cooper: (04:12)

They’ll also probably regale you with all the screwups that they’ve had over the years. It’ll be good to get everything off your chest, to know that you aren’t alone and to know exactly how to move forward. So next time you mess up, don’t panic. It happens to all of us. In fact, I can almost guarantee I know someone who has messed up a similar situation much worse than you have, but came out better on the other side. And you’ll fare the same. If you follow the steps from Kenny above, remember that if you’re planning on owning your gym for the next 20 or 30 years, anything that you do now is just a small blip in the lifespan of your business. Most of us cringe at the stuff we did as people 10 years ago. We were younger and dumber and the same goes for our gym.

Chris Cooper: (04:57)

Errors might sting a little bit now, but I promise your success will bury your mistakes in the long run as long as you can survive them. Now, I wanna talk about friend employees. You know who, I mean, they’re your buddies and that’s why you hired them to be the GM. Or maybe they were a great coach, and now you’ve put them into a different role and they are failing. You hired them and now you have to manage them. This is from Amber Cooper, my sister, who is the COO at Two-Brain Business and has run some huge companies as COO. She’s also a masters in human resources and has seen a lot of this after working with unions for nearly a decade. So Amber writes, “I was recently talking to the chief operations officer of a growing company about the biggest challenge in their business.

Chris Cooper: (05:46)

And here’s what they said. They said, ‘we have all these original team members who aren’t doing the job that we need done anymore. And the CEO won’t address the issues because he hired all his friends.'” Does that sound familiar to you? This situation is common in gyms. Often, coaches and other staff members are hired from your inner circle of friends, acquaintances, and your clients. You know them, you like them. They’re available, you’re hired. And I’ve done this myself at the time. I saw the upside and I didn’t think through what could go wrong, but in the end, my friend didn’t like the job or the structure of the company. So I felt guilty and pulled in two directions. On one side, I wanted to support my friend. And on the other side, I needed to support the company into which I had brought someone who wasn’t a good fit anymore.

Chris Cooper: (06:35)

So though friendship and business can go together at times, entrepreneurs who bring in a friend without following a hiring process can grow to have regrets and feel handcuffed to that person. Maybe the job just needs someone with more capability now that your company is grown, or maybe you’re avoiding dealing with your friend on performance issues because you don’t wanna have that uncomfortable conversation. Or maybe you’ve realized that your friend is a great person to hang out with on the weekend, but their work ethic and commitment to your business aren’t up to the standards you’ve set for the others on your team. So what now? Well, if you’re in this situation, Amber says there are several things that you can do now to preserve the relationship and set the company and your personal relationship up for success. So first professionalize your work relationship, whether your friend is just starting out or they’ve been with you a while, it’s time to set the ground rules, tell them you want to hit the reset button.

Chris Cooper: (07:34)

You didn’t make your expectations clear from the start. And you’d like to do that. Now talk about boundaries and expectations, including your leadership style and what it’s like to work for you, your work life and your personal life and how you’d like to keep them separate. The deal breakers, for example, poor work ethic is an okay. Speaking negatively about clients is an automatic goodbye, et cetera. And finally how you will handle it if you have to provide feedback on something. Be sure to check in with them, to see if there are any areas they’re worried about in this relationship. Like ask them, do you think this relationship will continue to work for you now that you know these things about me and how I run my company? The second step after you’ve done a reset, is to create an eject button. So come to an agreement with your friend on how you can part ways if you need to, and you can ensure that they can say, “that’s it I’m done” with no hard feelings.

Chris Cooper: (08:33)

It’s really hard to stick to this one. But some short-term discomfort due to the eject button is better than allowing resentment to build and permanently destroying the relationship. Amber says the third step is to hold them to the standards of the job. Now this might seem obvious, but we can get stuck in this trap of making more allowances for our friends. This creates a bigger issue and it can ruin your relationship. You just let things go and let things go until finally, you can’t let it go anymore. And it just blows up. So it’s better to talk to your friend early and often about issues as they arise. And the bonus is that doing so will mitigate the perception of favoritism among your other team members. Strong friendships can make your workplace an awesome place to be, but setting the right tone from the start can help prevent situations where a new work dynamic creates conflict at your workplace, and also ruins the friendship.

Chris Cooper: (09:29)

Now, I wanna talk to you about another big mistake that gym owners make, which is backsliding. Hiring somebody to do a job, and then just micromanaging them or working backward and doing the job for them and paying them anyway. And these are also tips from Kenny Markwardt, certified Two-Brain Business mentor. Kenny writes, “Have you ever spent an entire Sunday cleaning your house? At the end of the day, everything is organized and labeled and the laundry is all done. And your house actually resembles a place you would invite the public into and you vow, like, I’m never letting it go backward. You might even hold a family meeting to say, this can never happen again. Here’s where all your stuff goes now. And that’s where it shall live forever, no excuses. And less than a week later, you’re embarrassed and angry because all the work was quickly undone. In case you didn’t know it,

Chris Cooper: (10:22)

that’s the reality for all of us and business ownership is no different. If you’ve gone through our Ramp Up program or you’ve dedicated yourself to working on your business for any period of time, you’ve done a substantial amount of house cleaning, and it’s a lot of work, but after you’re finished, you think to yourself, this is fantastic. I’ll never go back to frantically running a gym like a house on fire again. And sure enough, six months later, you slid backwards because old habits are hard to break. So those three month client contracts never got renewed. And your coach evaluation meetings were amazing in the first round and second round, but then you didn’t schedule a third round and your goal reviews were a huge hit. But this quarter you’ve only done three of them and people are abusing your kindhearted nature with regard to your cancellation policy.

Chris Cooper: (11:11)

And you might have even backed down and given somebody a discount. I’m here to tell you this is normal. We’re all guilty of backsliding. Maybe it’s taken you three or five or 10 years to develop your entrepreneurial habits. And then after six months, it’s easy to go back to them. We’re all guilty of this. And it’s only a failure if you don’t address it. So here’s what to do first. Tell your mentor that you’ve slid backward in your habits. Don’t be embarrassed. We know that it happens. In fact, it happens to us too. It’s easy to think everyone else is running perfect gyms and you are the only one with skeletons in the closet, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. So just be open with your mentor, send an email right now and say, Hey, Hey, I’ve slid backward a bit with my marketing or my sales or my ops.

Chris Cooper: (11:58)

I need some help getting back on track. And they’re happy to give you a plan. Second, go through your Growth Toolkit milestones, starting from the very beginning. Yeah. Like start with the fundamentals. Most of us think, oh we did the things that we were supposed to do when they were assigned by our mentor. But then we forgot to keep doing them. By going through the things that you’ve already done, you’ll find all the important things that have been neglected or were never really fully, completely done in the first place. And again, don’t be embarrassed. This is normal. When you’re going through our program, you’ll often get really excited about the next thing that we’re teaching you and maybe forget to repeat the thing that you just did. Third: build in systems to prevent you from messing up in the future. Most of us went through Ramp Up and implemented things that were supposed to be done quarterly, like goal reviews and staff evaluations and career growth sessions.

Chris Cooper: (12:54)

But if you’re like most people, those things eventually faded away. And this usually happens because an owner said the tasks were going to be done quarterly, but never scheduled themselves to follow up every quarter. So put your tasks on the calendar. Book them ahead. Even if three months seems like an eternity from now, with the task on the schedule, you’ll have built in accountability. And if your schedule changes over time, the task will still be there as a reminder. And you can reschedule it if you have to, or even delegate it, but put the important tasks on the planner and you won’t slide backward.” Follow this plan with everything, make sure that you’re repeating the stuff. Nothing that we teach is one and done. You’re always going to have periods of greatness in terms of progress. You’re also always going to have times when you’re sliding backward a bit. By taking the steps that Kenny just outlined,

Chris Cooper: (13:44)

you’ll slide backward a little less each time and a few years from now you’ll be much, much further ahead. So today, now finally, I want to talk about managing risk and the cost of failure. And this is a huge mistake that we see a lot of gym owners make. And this is from a blog post from Colm O’Reilly, a certified Two-Brain Business mentor from Ireland. And Colm is a super duper funny guy. If you’ve ever been to a Two-Brain Summit where Colm has presented or seen him on YouTube or listened to a podcast, you’ll know he makes a lot of jokes. And as Colm writes, it might be hard to believe, but most of his jokes fall flat. “in fact, if I get 30% of them to elicit a chuckle or a groan, I would consider them a success” and I’m quoting him here.

Chris Cooper: (14:35)

“But my misses don’t matter because the cost of failure is pretty low when you’re telling a bad joke. For example, comedians Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld do small shows for months to refine their jokes and routines until they’re ready to do a big tour. So what does this have to do with business? Well, there are two important points. Number one, business is a constant stream of iterations. And number two, we need to manage the cost of failure in business. We’re never going to reach a stage where everything just runs perfectly forever without us. We’ll need to adapt to changing circumstances, hello COVID, or slightly improve in an important area. The key is knowing what to focus on, determining how much work will be required, defining what success looks like and laying out the conditions for canceling the mission or rolling it back.” In other words, we have to know when to stop doing something that’s no longer working. Colm says, “it’s tempting to want to launch a new service like nutrition or a kids program.

Chris Cooper: (15:37)

And just imagine all the extra revenue that will roll in. And it’s vital that we investigate what work is going to be required to get that program running, how much time and money it will cost and how long it will take to see a return. We also need to ask a key question. Can you afford all of this right now?” Now, none of this is intended to deter you from trying new things. In fact, you need to try new things constantly. You can’t just keep doing the same old, same old. If you stagnate, it’ll be too late to try new things and you won’t have the skill of adapting and iterating. Colm simply wants to protect you from disappointment and the feeling of failure upfront by getting you to plan your actions. So Colm says that in his business, we could launch secondary revenue streams like nutrition, kids, mindset coaching, because we could afford the time and capital expenditure to nurture these programs, because his primary revenue stream supported the work.

Chris Cooper: (16:33)

He could also review all of his programs to ensure the time invested is still giving them a return and they’re prepared to refocus their energies based on those reviews. What’s just as important as starting new things is knowing and understanding the cost of failure if something doesn’t work out. Coca-Cola reportedly lost 34 million on new Coke, but they survived the disaster. And as a small business owner, you wanna avoid disasters completely and minimize the cost of failure if you possibly can. For example, launching a weightlifting program might cost you up to, you know, $10,000 in new bars and bumps and platforms. It could take a long time to recoup that money, and you might not do it if the program flops like a bad joke. A nutrition certification at $1,500 is a much lower sum cost, but some now cost up to $10,000 and you need to set up a program launch in advance to make sure that you’re going to make that money back.

Chris Cooper: (17:32)

And at Two-Brain, of course, we tell clients exactly how to do this, to give it the best chance of success. So which program would carry fewer risks and offer greater potential benefits for your business. When you’re planning any changes or expansions, you need to work with your mentor to determine what’s worth it right now, when you should wait, what failure would actually cost you and how you will recover if things don’t work out or how you’ll capitalize if they do. What that really means is you need to have a plan. You need to say, not just, I need to buy five new rowers, but how will these rowers generate a return? Because you always have other places that you can put your money. And when you’re auditing any expense, you need to have a clear path to making a return on all of your investments, equipment, staff, rental space, branding, affiliation, licensing, mentorship, of course, your software, et cetera. Before you buy anything new, just have a plan in place to make that investment back at least two and a half times over. So I’ve been talking about avoiding and correcting mistakes. It’s normal for you to make mistakes. We all do. But it’s not normal to keep repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result. Hopefully this has helped you learn to plan things out in advance to recover from mistakes, and also to have the mindset that it is possible to recover from mistakes.

Mike Warkentin: (19:00)

Don’t make a big mistake here. Subscribe for more shows just like this. Now here’s Chris one more time.

Chris Cooper: (19:06)

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.

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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.