No, They’re Not Your Friends.

Your clients are not your friends.
How much do you pay people to hang out with them?
I pay $0. They pay me $0.
Many of my friends come to my gym. They pay full price. Because that’s a separate relationship: it’s a professional relationship.
In a professional relationship, one person pays the other some money. That’s called a transaction. They don’t pay with smiles, and they don’t get a discount because we got drunk together in high school. That’s called a–well, there are different names. I like “gong show”, but my teenager would call it a “dumpster fire”.
Here are the most common–and the most painful!–mistakes entrepreneurs make when they sign up their friends:

  1. They believe in some kind of “emotional bank account”. Trust me: you might be keeping score, but your clients aren’t. If you’ve been open for at least 3 years, I’m sure you’ve been dumbfounded by a client’s emotional outburst over a rate increase or late opening time. “But…we hosted that fundraiser for her brother last year!”
  2. They give “friends and family discounts” when they’re launching their business. When you’re starting out, the only people you know are your friends and family–who else is going to join your gym? And if they care about you, they don’t need a discount. My best friends wouldn’t take a discount if I tried to force it on them.
  3. They say “we’re in the relationship business, not the fitness business!” Nobody joined your gym to strengthen your bond or to make new friends. That might come later, but make no mistake: they joined because they thought you could help them with their fitness. That’s why they pay you money. Your relationship is a business relationship.
  4. They expect a tit-for-tat. “Oh, Mary won’t mind if I leave our session to answer the phone, because we’re friends.” But Mary isn’t weighing her free sessions or discount shakes against your absence. She’s thinking, “A ringing phone is more important to him than someone who pays him money!”
  5. They think their clients will be grateful for a discount every month. But that’s not how our brains work. Our brains recall and appreciate novelty. The first month of a discount, we’re grateful and thrilled. By the fourth month, that discount is the new normal. We think that’s the value of your service.

In my new book “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” I told the story of Nick, the auto mechanic. I would sometimes visit Nick on Sunday nights. We’d sit at his dining room table and he’d listen to me talk about the gym. The full story is in the book, but one of the greatest things Nick ever did for me was raise the rates on his own membership.

He had already told me to raise my rates. And I had said, “I can’t do that to my friends!” He replied:

“If they’re your friends, they’ll want to pay more.” Then he took his checkbook out of his pocket and wrote me a check for next month’s membership. It was quite a bit higher than what anyone was already paying.

“Here’s the new rate,” he said. “If you charge anyone less than this, you’ll be screwing me.”
That’s what a friend does.

Most of your clients probably wouldn’t do it. And that’s okay: they’re not your friends.
You can have two relationships with people. You can be friends and you can sell them a professional service. You can be friendLY with everyone. But when a client complains about some little issue, or cancels their membership when you really need the money, or leads a revolt on Facebook–thank them for the reminder. Then do what’s right for your business.
You provide a professional service. You do it in a friendly way. You treat everyone the same. You don’t sell your friendship.
They’re not your enemies. They’re not your friends. They’re your clients.


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.