Making Local Connections: Your Ecosystem

A crowd assembling to form a human paper doll chain

“I hurt my back. I can’t get out of bed!”

My worst nightmare had come true—something worse than bankruptcy and my own declining fitness: I’d injured a client.

With the phone still pressed to my ear, my brain started spinning up reasons why this wasn’t my fault.

“Did you sleep wrong?” I asked. I scrambled to think of other ways to get off the hook.

“No. It was definitely the deadlifts.”

Knowing that I couldn’t avoid blame, I shifted my mindset to “let’s fix this as fast as possible.” I told the client, “Let me call my chiropractor—he’s packed, but I’ll see if he can get you in today.” And I did.

I had a trusted ally to call. The chiropractor got the client in ahead of the line, he helped the client, and he told the client that it wasn’t the deadlifting after all—that my training had probably helped the client push the imminent injury backward.

The chiro had my back.

This wasn’t just luck.

At that point, I’d already spent years nurturing that relationship with the chiropractor, strengthening it like my own back. Within two weeks, my client had returned and trusted me more than ever.

The Power of Relationships

Think of your local connections as a web.

If you’ve taken care to strengthen every link in that web, it will feed you.

When local physiotherapists know, like and trust you, they won’t criticize you or your intense fitness practice.

When local doctors know you respect the scope of your practice, they’ll trust you with their clients.

When the mayor knows you’re trying to help the city, city hall will help you with your occupancy permit (at least mine did).

When members of the media know you have stories worth sharing, they’ll share the stories on their platforms.

You’re dealing with humans here. All of us. And we’re all trying to do the right thing. We want you to succeed.

Building your ecosystem of connections takes time. Here’s how to start:

1. Ask

Ask new clients, “Who’s your doctor?” or “Who’s your physiotherapist?” You’re the coach of “Team Bill,” so you need to know who else is on the team. Contact those professionals and let them know Bill has joined your gym. Highlight Bill’s goals and provide a loose overview of your plan. Then, importantly, update the people on Bill’s team after his first Goal Review Session three months later.

2. Invite

Invite local area experts into your gym to teach in their areas of expertise. I’ve done this with financial experts at tax time, with physiotherapists and dietitians, and even with guitar instructors.

3. Highlight

Highlight other local experts on your media. This is really easy on a podcast, but YouTube is also amazing. My secret to building a huge community is to find the experts within and put them on my platform.

4. Tell

Tell the media about your clients, not about yourself. Email the TV station and say, “I think you’ll love this. Mary is a foster parent and she’s now lost 100 lb.” It’s not hard to find remarkable stories in your gym.

5. Share

Share your trust. Part of my job as business mentor is to be a filter for information. But, as my mentor Marcy Swenson once told me, “Part of your job is also to give people the answer instead of just choices.” If you like a brand of supplements, tell your people. If you ride a certain bike, tell your people how to get one. Don’t expect a referral fee or commission. Just strengthen your net.

6. Help

If your clients are struggling at work, you can bet their coworkers are struggling, too. How can you help them? Offer to do so.

7. Inquire

Ask your clients, “How can I help your partner?” Or, even better, know the client’s partner well enough to explain exactly how you can help.

8. Invest

Invest in lunch. Take coffee to your neighbors and sandwiches to your friends. Food strengthens connections.

Will This Work?

Here are specific examples of how this has worked for me:

1. I had a local chiropractic connection because I sent client updates to him. Whenever a new client said, “I see Mike for my back,” I sent Mike a fax (you can google “fax machine”). He’d sometimes reply with a call. I was just trying to make sure he knew we weren’t taking business away from him. But over the years that connection saved me clients and got me others. Those early faxes were worth tens of thousands of dollars in referrals over the years and one fantastic friendship forever. Multiply that by every other chiropractor used by my clients.

2. I invited a local physiotherapist into my gym to talk about “staying mobile” in 2018. When I launched the IgniteGym program, I took sandwiches in to his staff and asked how I could improve my program. That relationship created a referral link worth well over $100,000 to date. (Yes, those were $100,000 sandwiches.)

3. When I sent a client’s story to a local TV station, they interviewed her—and four others from the gym—for a local series called “Sault Ste. Marie Gets Fit.” Two years later, they sent two reporters in for a miniseries. When covid hit, they asked for an in-depth interview about in-home exercise and then referred a national radio host to me the next day. Now we have an open invitation: “If you have a great story, call us right away.” I don’t abuse it, but it’s there to use.

4. I tell gym owners to use AGuard, Incite Tax and Accounting, Forever Fierce, Kilo, InBody and other services because I use them. I don’t get a referral fee; I just like their business—and they help gym owners, which makes my ecosystem stronger.

5. We have several local businesses who pay for their staff to come to Catalyst, and we teach Two-Brain gyms how to do it, too. And we do this through nutrition coaching. We do this through outreach for fitness programs. (Two-Brain clients: We’ve got all this in the Growth Toolkit for you.)

6. We have many families at Catalyst. When one family member starts to lose motivation, the rest bring the other back. Ten-year clients usually have at least one other family member at my gym.

7. Our local mayor just sent me a letter pledging his help whenever I needed it after I bought bikes for 50 local kids (more on that later in this series). That’s one to keep in my pocket for later.

8. Some gyms that have done especially well during the Covid Crisis have shared their tactics with members who own businesses. I’ve had dozens of messages from local entrepreneurs asking for help.

Weave Your Web

Your local connections form a web that can be your trampoline—or your safety net. All these people are on their own little islands. And they’ll stay there unless you connect them—because no one else will do it.

Other Media in This Series

Bringing People Together: Your Ecosystem
Victory by Association: Your Ecosystem
Build Then Give: Supporting Others in Your Ecosystem


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.