The Real Costs of “Trades”

By Chris 0

“It’s pretty hard to tell a volunteer what to do.”

I was still a junior in college when I first heard this sentence. I was volunteering at a Seniors’ Drop-In Center every Friday, mastering the game of Shuffleboard and optimizing production in the quilting bee. I was frustrated because classes weren’t starting on time; the seniors were there to socialize, not exercise, and I hadn’t yet figured that out.

Now that most of my time is sent helping gym owners run their businesses, I repeat these words often. I used to accept “trades” often (especially before I had money) but my generous nature meant I always wound up giving away far more than I received. For example, if a client built me three plyo boxes, I might give him 3 months of free unlimited CrossFit (or around $400 back then.) That’s WAY too much for three boxes, even with his labor built in.

Let’s go straight to the most common example I see: “If you coach X number of classes per week, I’ll give you a free membership.”

What’s a membership worth? How many classes does a volunteer have to coach to make the trade equitable? Let’s figure it out:

If a class is worth $90 in revenue (TwoBrain mentoring clients are shown how to calculate this number) then the coach is paid $40 for the hour (the 4/9 model.) But most gyms don’t pay their coaches this much because the owners aren’t careful about their margin. That’s another topic.

Let’s say your average coach is paid $20 per class. If their membership is worth $150 per month, a volunteer must coach 7 classes and pay $10 per month, or coach 8 classes and be paid $10. If they miss a few classes in July, they pay the difference. If they make up a few extra classes in August, you pay them the difference.

What about the cost of certification? That’s the qualification necessary for the job. It’s their responsibility. They’re not doing you a favor; they’re doing you a trade.

If an electrician client rewires your bathrooms, what do you owe him? Ask him for a firm quote, and trade him services of an equal value.

If a volunteer does your newsletters, determine the value of that service (again, taught in our mentoring program) and give them appropriate credit.

There does exist a perfect system to calculate what you get vs. what you owe in return. That system is called “money.”

There are extremely bad examples: one of the TwoBrain family recently bought out another gym to find members with a wide array of discounts. One lady was receiving a free membership in exchange for whiteboard markers (no fixed number, of course–just “whiteboard markers”.) Too often, I hear about coaches receiving a free membership in exchange for 1 class/week–while other coaches in the same gym receive the same trade for coaching twice as often.

When a problem is complicated, use math. Consistency is more important than any “special favors”.


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