The Side-Hustle Gym: Tips for Crushing It Part Time

The Side-Hustle Gym: Tips for Crushing It Part Time

Chris Cooper (00:00):
How do you run a gym and still keep your day job? Or, if you want to, how do you bridge the gap between that day job and enter a career that you’re passionate about and just own your gym? I’m Chris Cooper, and this is “Run a Profitable Gym.” And today I’m gonna tell you exactly how to do that. So whether you hate your day job and you just wanna help people get fit or you want to keep your day job and you also wanna run a gym, I understand. Despite owning Two-Brain Business, which is a huge company that I absolutely love, I still own my gym, Catalyst. So here’s how you can open a gym without quitting your day job. For now, we’re gonna start there. If you do wanna quit your day job, stay tuned because I’m gonna cover that later on in this episode.

Chris Cooper (00:45):
First, if I was starting a gym from scratch but keeping my day job today, I would open my gym and charge more than the other gyms in town. Now I doubt you expected that advice, especially right out of the gate, but hear me out. You don’t need the money. You’ve got a salary somewhere else, right? That means that time is your most valuable resource, and you might be able to or willing to even give up your mornings, your evenings, your weekends to help other people. And you know, thank you for doing that. Thank you for your service. But are you willing to do that for free, and are you willing to do it forever? Many working professionals send me messages like this: “Hey, Coop, I wanna open up this gym. There’s nothing that’s affordable in my area.” Or “I wanna make CrossFit available to people who really can’t afford to pay the price anywhere else. I don’t need the money. I’ve already got another job.” But if you’re already making a good income, your free time is very precious. What would I have to pay you to miss your kid’s baseball game tonight? How about that trip to the beach this weekend? What’s that worth to you? That’s the real value of your time. If you wanna figure out what your time is worth, start by calculating your effective hourly rate. What do you earn per hour at your day job? And then price your time higher in your new gym than that figure to start. Then we’re gonna add the expenses on top. Now you can download our “Gym Owner Business Plan” by clicking the link below. You can put some numbers in and you can figure out what you actually need to make to make this worth your while—because you can’t just volunteer for nothing for forever.

Chris Cooper (02:23):
Okay? Now if you’re doing this as a sideline, you’re passionate about it, it’s an act of service, go small on space and member count. Trying to build a 300-member gym while you’re working full time as a school teacher is gonna be almost impossible. You’ll definitely have months where you’re taking part of your salary and putting it into the gym because a big gym will require a big rent payment and a high member count will require a lot of staff and staff management and staff pay. Starting smaller is a much better idea. So try starting as a personal trainer, and you can download a personal trainer business plan by clicking the link below this, too. Start with like five clients and minimal expenses. So your your time plus maybe $500 as an investment to test it out. Use a park or a church or your school or your garage.

Chris Cooper (03:13):
Anything that you can rent short term for little money. Now I know this doesn’t have the sexy cachet of opening a giant CrossFit box, but that’s a full-time job. So think of this step as the bullet before the cannonball, where you try out your side career before you buy yourself another full-time job for very little money. So your investment at this stage is really just time. Your financial investment in this trial is under 500 bucks for some basic equipment, and this should create around $15,000 in side-hustle income for you per year. One quick note here: If you run this test group out of your home or garage, make sure the people in the group know that it’s a short-term trial so they don’t come banging on your garage door after you’re ready to stop. I know a few teachers who do up to $40,000 per year out of their garage in the summer.

Chris Cooper (04:04):
They do it by charging more, not by taking more clients. They can charge more because they’re a niche expert, like hockey or figure skating or something like that. They’ve been doing it for literally decades, with no plans to quit their main career teaching job. So after you’ve run this little test, and, say, after three months you’re happy, you’re profitable and you’ve got five clients, then you can consider making the leap to full-time gym ownership. I’m gonna tell you how to do that next. But following these small steps, the bullets before the cannonballs, will set you up for a less painful and risky transition later. Now, there’s an obvious alternative to doing this test, and that’s just get a coaching job at a gym. Keep your main job and take a few classes or personal-training clients on somebody else’s platform. Coaching can be your vocation without it being your primary job.

Chris Cooper (04:54):
You can love the gym without owning it. Many gym owners tell me “I would rather have just stayed a coach, but I needed more money, and I thought owning the gym was the only way to do it.” Hell, I was that coach. But if you dream of having your own space and you wanna be a real entrepreneur or you wanna serve people full time, then you need to learn the skill of patience anyway. And that means taking the path most likely to set you up for full-time success even if it delays your gratification for a couple of months. So now I’m gonna give you the exact steps to transition from a full-time career into owning a gym and becoming a full-time gym owner, right? So maybe this is for you because you’re tired of your day job or you’re just excited by the prospect of owning your gym, but you’re caught.

Chris Cooper (05:39):
For most of us, the leap to entrepreneurship is a massive risk, and not everybody makes it. And if you have a family, then that risk is dramatically higher because you don’t want to impoverish them either, right? I’m sure your social feed is full of positive messages, like “just go for it” and “leap and build your wings on the way down.” But I wanna tell you how to actually do it instead of just giving you an empty affirmation. Imagine you’re standing on the edge of a chasm, okay. Now here’s you, and on the far side of the chasm is the successful life that you want, but the gap here between your side and the far side is pretty big, and it could be catastrophic. If you don’t make the leap successfully, you could go broke. So here’s how we bridge it. So first look down, see all the failed gyms that didn’t make it.

Chris Cooper (06:28):
These people whose gyms failed and went bankrupt, they were just as passionate as you are. They were just as hardworking, they were just as dedicated to the craft of coaching. They had all the high-level certifications, but sadly, and it is sad, they didn’t make it. They’re out of the industry because they didn’t understand that owning a successful gym means learning how to run a business. It doesn’t matter what method you like. There are thousands of failed CrossFit gyms, 9round franchises, boot camps, martial-arts studios, F45s, spin studios, yoga instructors and personal trainers down there at the bottom of the chasm, right? And that was very, very nearly me. Keeping others from hitting the bottom is still what gets me up in the morning because I was there. I’m not saying this to discourage you. I just want you to remain optimistic while also understanding the real risk of failure here.

Chris Cooper (07:22):
Alright, so let’s get back to the gap. First, I want you to measure the gap. So let’s start with your current income. Based on your current household expenses, how much of your current income do you actually need? Could you live on 70% of your current salary for six months? What about 50% of your current salary for six months? You might want to talk this over with your spouse. And so whatever number we come up with here, if it’s 50% of your current salary, that’s your first earnings target for your coaching career. That’s the absolute bare minimum that you need to make right outta the gate. So, for example, if your current job pays you a hundred thousand dollars per year, but you know that you could barely survive on $50,000, then $50,000 is your first target. The next step here is to narrow the gap.

Chris Cooper (08:08):
So start coaching people on the side at night, on weekends, before you have revenue from your own business. Time is your only point of leverage, so build toward that target number in your spare time, and that’s how you narrow the gap. Let’s face it: The fitness industry is not nine-to-five anyway. You’re gonna have to work 5 a.m. To 9 a.m. And 5 to 9 p.m. For the first few years anyway. So you might as well start now and use the first year to build a client base without taking the risk of opening your own thing. So you’re gonna build toward that first target number. Now for me that was $45,000 per year, with about 40 clients, and then when I opened my gym, I knew that I would start with at least some income. My family wouldn’t starve. The next step here is we wanna build a bridge from where you are to the dream life across the gap.

Chris Cooper (08:58):
So don’t try to make the whole leap at once. So start by following my instructions to narrow the gap. And if those work out, and you get a couple of clients, and you’re training them in your garage or you start training them outta the church basement or whatever, and it’s going well after three months and you’re making money, then you can commit to a space. But don’t make any long-term commitments. That means don’t hire anybody on a salary. Don’t sign a long-term lease, and don’t take out a five-year equipment loan. Your investment should be about $10,000 in equipment plus space. And there’s a reason I picked $10,000. Your total investment at this stage should be less than the price of a used car. That means that your client should be doing small-group or semi-private training and you should have a maximum of two part-time staff to manage.

Chris Cooper (09:45):
It’s just too much to manage more people. You should be able to make about $50,000 per year with 50 to 70 clients, and that should max out your space and not totally crush every evening and weekend for you. This was how I spent my first year in my own studio, and if I had skipped this step and jumped straight to something that could hold 200 people and required three staff to run, I probably wouldn’t have survived. I would’ve gone bankrupt. So when you’re almost to your minimum salary goal, then you can scale down your day job. You can try to go part time or you can move to asynchronous work—like you’re completing projects instead of clocking in—and then you can do your day job in between clients if possible. This won’t mean that you’re really giving a hundred percent to your real job, but like let’s face it: If you’re dreaming about entrepreneurship, you’re probably not giving a hundred percent to your day job anyway.

Chris Cooper (10:37):
So now that we’ve narrowed that gap as much as we can, and we’ve built as much of a bridge with our current job as possible. Now it’s time to leap. And of course your gym will grow faster if you’re working in it all the time. That’s a fact. Even hiring a manager will not produce the same results that you would as the owner At startup, though, you can’t always control the speed of growth. We can get you set up for success and profitability in our StartUp program. The current record is 115 clients paid in full up front on opening day—insane!—but that’s not everybody. And if you can buffer your risk for a while first, then you will be safe for long term. I’ll be honest: I did not follow my own advice here. I made the decision to open a gym and, bam, two weeks later I was there full-time.

Chris Cooper (11:25):
I was the sole earner in my family. I had a new baby and a new mortgage, but I had some advantages that others don’t, right? I had a client base that was ready to come with me. I predicted I would have 30 clients on opening day, but it was closer to 50. I had a solid acquisition plan for more clients. I already knew how to get clients by blogging, and it was proven to work—it was working for me. I had partners who would lend me the money, $16,000 and I wasted most of that on stuff that I didn’t need and don’t even use anymore. I also had the ability to work a 14-hour day. I just have that work capacity from being raised a farmer. I have a very supportive partner who was also all in on the entrepreneurial opportunity, and she also understood the risks.

Chris Cooper (12:11):
And I also had the very real threat of starvation. It was imminent; it was real. I was terrified to fail, and that helped me make some hard decisions that others avoid. Like when it was time to raise rates, my choices were do not eat this week or raise rates. That puts things in perspective. So I started writing this series and recording it for you because a good friend asked me how she could do some personal training in the evenings. She’s a really good teacher, and she wants to help some local people get fit, and her story is the same as thousands of others—and maybe yours. It’s a great person looking to help other people live healthier, happier lives. But, like many of us, she didn’t see the real cost—time away from her kids, commitment to another schedule, conversations with people about money. And so I asked “what would make this worthwhile for you instead of just buying yourself a second lower-paying job?” Eventually her choice was to just take three to five clients to try it over the summer. Don’t get me wrong: I wanna 10X the number of gyms and coaches and trainers in the world, but I want them to get into fitness and stay in fitness instead of getting in and two years later pulling the ripcord because their $5 bootcamp side hustle can’t pay them what their time is worth. So starting with your eyes wide open will help you leap over that chasm instead of crashing like so many others do. Alright, now, how to do this absolutely remotely. It is possible to own a gym and not work there. Most of the time. My office where I’m recording this is in the same parking lot as my gym. I own both buildings, in fact, but I don’t work at my gym since founding Two-Brain in 2016.

Chris Cooper (13:52):
I’ve gone months without even stepping into my gym these days. I’m there about three hours per week to train with my friends. In the noon group, I spend an additional hour every week mentoring the general manager, but I don’t get called when the roof leaks or when a trainer can’t make her class time or when a client wants to sign up. For all intents and purposes, my gym runs without me. There’s probably more than one way to do this, but I’ve seen many owners try to completely abdicate responsibility for running their gym and then watch it die from a distance. So here’s how to do it properly. First, delegate before you abdicate. Hire people to fill the roles that you currently fill as an owner. Test them in the roles for at least three months. Evaluate their progress with KPIs and then mentor them to improve.

Chris Cooper (14:39):
Here are the roles that you need to manage the gym. First, a marketer—somebody’s gotta generate new leads. Second, lead nurture—somebody has to convert those leads into appointments. Third, sales—somebody has to convert those appointments into clients. Fourth, a CSM—somebody has to keep those clients engaged and around long term. Fifth admin—somebody has to bill those clients on time. Sixth, property manager—somebody has to make sure the lightbulbs are working. Seven, programming—somebody has to find or write the workouts for your groups. Eighth, cleaner—somebody’s gotta keep the place clean. Nine, media and social media—somebody has to keep your place visible. And 10, head coach—somebody has to make sure the coaches are coaching well. If you still wear any of these hats, then you have to hire somebody else to do them for you. I would argue that while the advertising role can be done from a distance, it’s such a small part of your marketing that your marketer should be local.

Chris Cooper (15:43):
Here’s what you can expect to pay for each role at a minimum. And obviously rates change in different areas, but so should the rates for your gym. So you should be able to pay for these people. So the lead-nurture person is worth about 25 bucks an hour. They’re spending about an hour a day, but it’s asynchronous work. It’s done on demand. You have to make sure they understand that. The sales role is about 25 bucks per No Sweat Intro, and that’s set up as required. I don’t actually pay for NSIs, but most do. In my gym, the person doing the NSI gets the client, and that’s their reward. The CSM role is about 25 bucks an hour. They spend about an hour a day following your client journey and keeping clients on track. Your admin is about 25 bucks an hour.

Chris Cooper (16:26):
They’re gonna spend about three hours a week billing people and paying people. Your property manager is about $330 a month or about 10% of your rent. Your programmer is about 40 bucks an hour, with an hour a week to tailor your general group programming. And you can buy programming for 49 bucks a month. So don’t overpay for constantly varied functional fitness, right? Your cleaner should make about 20 bucks an hour for five nights a week. Your head coach should make $35 per goal review or staff evaluation. Your media should make $50 per delivered piece, which is a blog, YouTube, or podcast. Your social media should make about $25 an hour, so an hour a day, or $400 a month. Now, some of these rates are driven by local market rates—like the cleaner. Some are driven by broad market rates—like social media and programming.

Chris Cooper (17:15):
You can outsource either of those pretty easily. Your total staff expense for all of these roles put together is about 2,600 bucks a month in my gym for about 20 hours a week of total work. Now, I didn’t really include goal reviews or NSIs in that total cost because those are paid on services that generate revenue directly, so they’re only paid out when new revenue is coming in. You don’t need to have that discussion to understand the point or this podcast, and I also didn’t include coaches there because these are the tasks that are required to manage the gym. If you’re still coaching and you wanna run your business remotely, you’ll obviously have to pay somebody else to coach, too. These don’t all have to be different people. Some can wear multiple hats. For example, the head coach can do goal reviews, evaluations and NSIs and programming or whatever else.

Chris Cooper (18:03):
The next step is to consider rolling all of these roles up into one general-manager role. Now, that’s a very broad skill set that I just walked through, all those different roles, but it is possible for one person to do all of it in about 20 hours a week. The value here is that one person is responsible for overseeing all of it. The downside is that that person becomes a real linchpin. If they’re only good at some of that job or if they leave, then you’re gonna be in a real trouble. Now, if you have a person who can do all of those roles, multiply their total expenses in my example, that was 2,600 bucks a month, multiply that by 1.15—that extra 15% is for bearing the burden of responsibility. So their job becomes overseeing everything else and also fixing problems without you. A good general manager will see that lightbulbs need changing and they will get the lightbulbs changed.

Chris Cooper (18:59):
A weak general manager will see that the lightbulbs need changing and they will text you about it. Remember, if you don’t have a general manager, then you are the general manager, and it’s the same for any of the roles that I just mentioned. The next step is that you have to mentor your general manager, just as you, the owner, have a mentor. Hopefully by now your general manager needs one, too, and unless you hire them a separate mentor, which is actually what I do, then you are their mentor. One reason a GM might not take the initiative to change the lightbulb is that they don’t know what to do. But another reason is that they don’t know who to call. And another is that they don’t have access to the money to solve the problem. So as you mentor them, you’ll solve these problems for yourself too.

Chris Cooper (19:42):
“Oh, You don’t have the money. I’ll buy some a hundred-dollar gift cards for Home Depot and you can use those to buy cleaning supplies every month. Oh, you don’t know how to change the ballast. Here’s my electrician con contact. Oh, you aren’t aware that that’s your job? No problem. Let’s write the SOP so that you can own this process next time.” Running a gym remotely means you’re hands off, but that doesn’t mean you’re disconnected. Any role that’s left unfilled will fall on you, whether that’s cleaner or mentoring your managers. So if you’re working at another job somewhere else, the last thing you want to do is clean the gym all day on Saturday. Save your free hours for the stuff you like—coaching and running client barbecues instead of buying yourself the lowest-paying job in the world working for the world’s worst bos—yourself. I’m Chris Cooper.

Chris Cooper (20:29):
This is “Run a Profitable Gym,” and whether you want to keep your job, leave your job, own a gym, do that solely or run it as a sideline, I hope these tips help you. You can meet other people just like you if you go to and join our free group. We’ll welcome you in and we can talk about this and all kinds of other stuff. There’s over 7,700 gym owners in that group right now. A lot of ’em are gonna be in the same boat you are. They’re helpful, friendly, and they will give you amazing advice. My mentors are in there, too, to offer a broader experience from a proven data set. Thank you for your service and have a great week!

Thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening! Run a Profitable Gym airs twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Be sure to subscribe for tips, tactics and insight from Chris Coooper, as well as interviews with the world’s top gym owners.

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help, and we read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

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.