But this immense freedom to use a powerful brand any way we like makes us overconfident. It’s EASY to start a gym. It’s also HARD to keep one going.
Eventually, success in gym ownership means more than being a good coach. Coaching is a different skill set entirely. Gym owners need business coaching. But the TYPE of coaching they need will differ. Some will need systems to follow (closer to a franchise model.) Others will take ideas from other gyms and apply them (peer modeling.) And still others will see opportunities and rise to meet them.
Mentoring sometimes means guiding people to systems that will work. Other times, it might mean presenting a picture of the industry and saying, “Here’s what’s working in San Diego, and how it can be modified to fit your gym in Massachusetts.” And for many, it means “There’s a massive opportunity to add a tutoring service” or “It’s time to open another gym.”
My greatest joy as a mentor is taking an owner from one step to the next. When a client asks, “What’s next?” I get very excited. But not every owner will want a second location or another business, and in those cases a mentor can best help by presenting the best systems.
It took Elliott Jaques nearly 50 years to develop his theories around stratification of job tasks. I’ll try to sum it up in five minutes.
Disclaimer: this is not a commentary on anyone’s intelligence, potential, or raw brain power. To the contrary: the purpose here is to identify friction and cognitive dissonance. If you’re working at things you LIKE, you’ll be happy and achieve your “Perfect Day.” And that’s always the point.
Different owners find joy at different levels, according to Jaques.
Level I – analog. “I do THIS and THIS and then I do THIS.” Step-by-step. No further processing required. Not usually a great level for owners, but some staff will fit here. In our Box, we’ve been lucky enough to hire Sean to do the cleaning. Sean loves a good checklist: first, I sweep the ‘big room.’ Then I sweep the hallways. Then I mop the big room. Then I mop the hallways. Sean LOVES to clean. He’s passionate about it. He’s loyal to a certain brand of toilet bowl cleaner. He doesn’t question his wage, or dread coming to work. He’s excited to be part of our ‘Team,’ and collect a check on Friday.
Level II – binary. “I do this. IF this happens, THEN I do this.” The algebra of the task expands, but the paths are still linear. Decisions are automatic (predetermined in your staff handbook) but enforced by the Level II worker. This may be a Shift Supervisor for manager, and some business owners can be successful with this type of thinking: phone scripts, marketing “funnels” and other prewritten plans. “Just tell me what exactly to say and do.”
Worth noting: most McFit gyms consider their Personal Trainers ‘Level II’ workers. IF Mary wants to lose weight, THEN she must walk on the treadmill. IF Jimmy wants to gain muscle, THEN he must do 3 sets of 8-10 reps on the bench press. However, some gyms (Curves?) may even treat their staff as Level I workers: To lose weight, Mary AND Jimmy must do the circuit AND dance when the bell chimes AND buy these supplements AND do this low-calorie diet.
Level III – more algebraic. This is where most good gym owners sit: they see the long tail. They recognize the long-term plan that dictates the short-term programming. They’re good at business (and don’t refer to their job as “the business side” of their gym, because they know there’s no such thing.) They do some forecasting and planning. At this level , most of the Delivery portion of their business is managed or automated. This is where many owners are most happy: the gym is sustainable, they don’t have to show up all the time, and they’re making a comfortable living.
Up to this point, the system has been mostly algebraic. The transition from Level III to Level IV, however, is like the transition from ice to water: the Entrepreneur is quite different from the owner.
Level IV – the entrepreneur. A viewer of ‘the big picture.’ An understanding of HOW and WHY. Like Level 1, the Entrepreneur finds joy in working. Like Level II, the entrepreneur likes applying advice from others. Like Level III, the entrepreneur finds satisfaction from building and self-reliance. But unlike the others, the Entrepreneur enjoys building custom solutions to new problems. The entrepreneur usually enjoys a bit of risk. And the entrepreneur is an adventurer.
Example: a client is dissatisfied and wants their money back.
Level I: “Not my job. Ask my supervisor.”
Level II: “Our policy says no refunds.”
Level III: “If I give this person their money back, it sets a precedent that may hurt ALL the Trainers in the next few years. We want to grow out AND up, and we need a solid foundation and rules from which Levels II and III can draw, so they don’t have to stress about this stuff.”
Level IV: “WHY do they want their money back? What service should we really be providing to this client?”
Jaques’ levels actually go up to 12, but for our discussion, let’s end there.
Now, the most important part: providing guidance to help owners find joy. Here are some examples:
- The owner who loves coaching so much that he decides to open his own gym. He’s miserable for the next three years, because he hates bookkeeping and scheduling and lawyers and cash flow and overhead. Worst of all, he coaches less than ever, because he doesn’t have time. For him, systems to automate the business will mean more time coaching.
- The owner who’s great at delivering a high-quality experience every day. He loves coaching, but his members won’t accept anyone else. This requires a custom process involving time and trust. Mentoring is necessary to move from one system to the next.
- The owner who’s chasing a headcount instead of a “Perfect Day.” She believes she “just needs more members.” For this owner, one-on-one mentoring is a must, because their paradigm needs to change. And change is impossible without a guide.
- The owner whose gym is ticking along, providing a meaningful income and a career for others. Now they see opportunities but don’t know which to pursue, or in what order, or how to free themselves from the business, or how to retire. These folks need an “eye in the sky” to keep them moving forward, and an appropriate level of challenge. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean owning more than one business. It just means seeking opportunities and finding new ways to win.
Placing an owner in a role where they’re most happy is the job of a true mentor. I’m most satisfied when a client takes a weekend off for the first time, or sends me texts celebrating a lifestyle goal. Numbers are great (they make the world go ’round) but they’re not the endgame: joy is. My role is to deliver a lifestyle, no matter which role you fit best.