How to Grow Your Business by Bringing Local People Together

Picture of Chris Cooper.

Andrew (00:02):

Is your business a lonely tree growing in the middle of a barren field, or is it a central part of your local ecosystem? To thrive, your gym must be a hub of connections to other businesses. If you create those connections, you’ll help your clients more and your business will grow faster without paid advertising. This is Two-Brain Radio and Chris Cooper is here to tell you how to build up your local ecosystem.

Chris (00:21):

Hi guys, Chris Cooper here. Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by Forever Fierce. Reach out to them to sell more apparel or retail items. Matt Albrizio and his team will save you time with templates. They’ll provide ideas and tell you what’s selling best. And they’ll supply marketing material and preorder sheets. If you want to get serious about apparel and retail, visit If you care about your clients, then you have to care about their family. And if you care about their family, then you have to care about their environment. My friend, physiotherapist Andre Riopelle told me that in 2015, and this is the approach that I took to build Catalyst over the last five years. Be remarkable for our clients, help their friends and family and serve our larger community. Today, I’m going to talk about all of those things, how to do them step by step and how to build your ecosystem locally.

Chris (01:13):

This is the ethos at the core of all the strategies and tactics that we publish every day. Affinity marketing. My book “Help First,” our weekly podcast on sales, our massive marketing curriculum, all of them are based on connection. Your audience is the sum of your connections. The people that you touch form your ecosystem. I had a great talk with the incoming CEO of CrossFit, Inc. Eric Roza last week, he said a few things that made me optimistic about the future of CrossFit, but the specific word that gave me the most hope was ecosystem. To paraphrase Eric, we need to keep the whole ecosystem healthy. Now you might’ve noticed that CrossFit is back on Facebook and they’ve been sharing a lot of Two-Brain Business content because for the first time I think somebody at HQ realizes that affiliates aren’t just a revenue stream, but a critical link in the chain to improve the world’s health.

Chris (02:06):

If affiliates are thriving, we save more people. Period. So today I’m going to continue my mission to help gym owners of every creed thrive. Whether you’re a CrossFit affiliate, a boot camp gym, a franchise, a HIIT camp in the park, a yoga studio, a personal trainer, a martial arts school. The health of your business depends on the health of your ecosystem because you are the fruit of your environment. So you need to be the connector. You need to be the person who brings people together. You need to be the hub, the source, the link. I recommend reading “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg. This is one book that I reread three times every single year, because you grow a business by bringing people together. Our mantra at Two-Brain is first with the head then with the heart. Then with the hands. That means, think with clarity, act with passion and invite others to join you on the journey.

Chris (02:55):

So today I’m going to tell you exactly how I invite other people in my ecosystem to join me and how we go farther by going together. Several years ago, I got this phone call from a client. I hurt my back. I can’t get out of bed. My worst nightmare had come true. More than bankruptcy, more than my own declining fitness at that point, I was terrified of injuring a client and it looked like it had happened. So 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 him. I scrambled to think of other ways to get off the hook here. No, it was definitely the deadlifts he said, and I could tell he was angry. Knowing then that I couldn’t avoid the blame, I shifted my mindset to let’s fix this as fast as possible.

Chris (03:41):

Let’s get them out of pain. So I told the client, let me call my chiropractor. He’s packed, but I’ll see if I can get you in today. And I did because I had a trusted ally to call. The chiropractor got my client in ahead of his 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 that imminent injury back by several months. So the chiro had my back. This wasn’t just luck. At that point, I had already spent years nurturing that relationship strengthening like my own deadlift. Within two weeks, my client was back and he trusted me more than ever because my chiropractor reinforced the value of my service. You need to 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 and chiropractors know you, like you and trust you, they won’t criticize you or your intense fitness practice.

Chris (04:41):

When local doctors know that you respect the scope of your practice, they’ll trust you with their clients. When the mayor knows that you’re trying to help the city, they’ll help you with your occupancy permit or at least mine did. When the local media knows that you have stories worth sharing, they’ll share the stories on their platform. You’re dealing with humans here, all of us. And we’re all trying to do the right thing because we want you to succeed building your ecosystem of connections locally takes time. But here’s how to start. The first thing is ask your new clients, who’s your doctor or who’s your physiotherapist. You are the coach of team Bill if Bill’s your client. So you need to know who else is on that team. Contact those professionals and let them know that Bill has joined your gym, highlight Bill’s goals and a loose overview of your plan.

Chris (05:29):

You don’t have to get into the specifics. Then importantly, update them after Bill’s first goal review session three months later. Second invite local area experts into your gym to teach their expertise. I’ve done this with financial experts at tax time, with physiotherapists and with dieticians and even guitar instructors. It really comes down to who can help my clients right now, and then being the connector, the hub, the person that presents that help to them. Third: highlight other local experts on your media. This is really easy on a podcast, but YouTube is also amazing for this. My secret to building a huge community is to find the experts within your community and then give them my platform. Fourth, 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 now she’s lost a hundred pounds.

Chris (06:23):

It is not hard to find remarkable stories in your gym, but no media is interested in giving you advertising for free. So use your connections, leverage their platform to make your clients famous. Fifth, share your trust. Part of my job as business mentor is to be a filter for information, to help my clients block out the noise and take action. But as my mentor Marcy Swenson once told me, part of your job is also to give people the answer instead of just more choices to make. So if you like a brand of supplements, tell your people that. If you ride a certain bicycle, tell your people how to get one. Don’t expect a referral for your commission, just strengthen your net. And it’s part of your job to tell people the answer. That’s why they’re hiring you. That’s what a coach does. It’s not, here’s the programming.

Chris (07:11):

It’s, here’s the answer. Sixth. If your client is struggling at work, you can bet her coworkers are struggling too. How can you help those people? Offer to do so. Seventh, ask your clients, how can I help your wife or even better, know the client’s wife well enough to tell them exactly how you can help without having to ask. Number eight, invest in lunch. Take coffee to your neighbors and sandwiches to your friends. Food strengthens connections, and everybody talks over food. Now, here are specific examples of how this has worked for me, because I never want to provide ideas without experience. First, I had a local chiropractic connection because I sent client updates to them. So I would talk to a client. Who’s your chiropractor, fill in a form. Hey Mike, I’ve got this new client. I know that they come and see you. They’ve authorized release of information.

Chris (08:05):

And here’s my plan with them. Just vague. Whenever a new client said, Oh, I see Mike for my back. I would send Mike a fax. You can Google fax machine if you don’t know what that is. He’d sometimes reply with a call. Obviously now we use email. I was just trying to make sure he knew that we weren’t taking business away from him. But over the years, that connection saved me clients because, you know, God forbid somebody got injured. I could send them to see Mike. And he wouldn’t disparage what we were doing. That also got me other clients, hockey teams, you know. Those early faxes, that early investment in that relationship really took no time, but they made me tens of thousands of dollars in referrals over the years. And it made me a great friendship forever. Multiply that by every other chiropractor that my clients mentioned at intake and now you start to understand how these individual connections start to form a web for me in Sault St. Marie. Second, I invited a local physiotherapist into my gym to talk about staying mobile in 2018. When I launched the ignite gym program, I took sandwiches into his staff and I shared the program with them. And I said, how can I improve this. That relationship created a referral link worth well over a hundred thousand dollars to date. Yeah, those were a hundred thousand dollar sandwiches. Imagine trying to get that ROI. If the sandwiches cost me 50 bucks with this platter and coffee, and I got an ROI of a hundred thousand dollars on that, go ahead and try to beat that with Facebook ads. Third, when I found a dietician running a great nutrition program at a gym in Florida, I put her on Two-Brain Radio to talk about it.

Chris (09:41):

And then she founded HSN, which is an amazing program. And that’s been a great relationship for both parties since. Fourth. When I sent a client’s story to a local TV station, they interviewed her and then they interviewed four or more people from the gym for a local series called Sault St. Marie gets fit. Two years later, they sent two reporters in for this mini series that they would air every week about their updates. You know, Oh, the anchors are getting fit. When COVID hit, the same news station asked for an in-depth interview about in-home exercise. And then they refered a national radio host to me for the next day. That’s a funny story. The radio host called me up. And the first thing he said was by the way, this interview is in French, is that OK? I said, that’s fine with me, but I don’t speak French.

Chris (10:25):

So you’re going to have to translate. But now we have an open invitation with local media. If you have a great story, call us right away. I don’t abuse it, but it’s there to use. Fifth. I tell gym owners to use Driven Nutrition, Affiliate Guard, Insight Tax, Forever Fierce, Gym Lead Machine, InBody and other services because I use them. I don’t get a referral fee. Add Level Method to that mix. I just like their business and they help gym owners, which makes my ecosystem stronger. Sixth. We have several local businesses who pay for their staff to come to Catalyst, but Lindsey VanSchoyck does it even better than I do at Final Call. And she mentors gyms at Two-Brain on how to do it too. So Two-Brain clients that go into our curriculum Growth ToolKit, they go to the nutrition business highway on that Growth ToolKit.

Chris (11:09):

They go to milestone seven and they get the exact emails, programs, videos, everything they need to build a corporate nutrition program. Seventh. We have many families at Catalyst. When one member starts to kind of lose motivation, their family can bring them back. All of our tenured clients usually have at least one other family member at the gym. Eighth, our local mayor just sent me a letter, pledging his help whenever I needed it because I bought 50 bikes for local kids. And I’ll talk more about that in a moment. I’m going to keep that letter for later. There’s going to come a time guaranteed when I could use the mayor’s backing to rezone a building that I buy or, you know, change the designation or something like that. Ninth, some gyms who have done especially well in COVID have shared their tactics with members who also own businesses.

Chris (11:57):

So these are their members who are maybe hairdressers or they own some other service business. And I’ve had dozens of messages from local entrepreneurs asking for help in Sault St. Marie too. Like, how are you keeping your gym open? How is this possible? What are you telling all these other entrepreneurs to do? And this is a great way for you to build your local network too. Your local connections form a web that can be your trampoline, or they can be your safety net too. If you need them. All of these people are on their own little island and they’ll stay there unless you connect them because nobody else will do it. And it was that realization, honestly, that gave me a huge leg up. Nobody else will contact these local businesses. Nobody else in town is texting the chiropractor and saying, I have this new client.

Chris (12:39):

They mentioned your name, here’s our plan. And so when another client comes in to see the chiropractor and the chiro says, you got to lose some weight, who do they trust? Do they trust, you know, these people with really great marketing or do they trust the one person who actually made a connection with them? That’s why we get referrals from chiropractors and physios, where a lot of other fitness coaches are kind of looked at with suspicion. Now your connections can lift you up or drag you down. You’re the average of the five people you’re around the most and everybody knows it, right? Everybody’s looking at you. Everybody’s looking at the people who surround you and they judge you by your crew, by your gang. If you’re the fifth man in a mariachi band, everybody who sees you will assume that you can play guitar, because if you couldn’t, why else would you be there?

Chris (13:26):

If you post a picture of yourself on Facebook with four people in lab coats, people will assume that you know something about science. The microgym community is connected through crisis, but also through new opportunity. While the COVID pandemic closed many of the big box gyms, some permanently, many microgyms survived, some are already stronger. So now I’m going to talk about our connections within our community of fitness professionals. Chris Cooper here, have you got a website designer, a marketer, a landing page software, a calendar, a CRM, and a form builder, communication platform and connecting software? You can get rid of all of it by switching to Gym Lead Machine. I use this platform along with 60% of the Two-Brain mentorship team. The average gym owner saves over 300 bucks a month with Gym Lead Machine and they’ll waive the thousand dollars set-up fee for Two-Brain Radio listeners. Switching is easy and you can go live in a week, visit gymlead to watch a demo and book a sales call. When many of the big box gyms closed, most microgyms survived. Some are already growing. You know, the average microgym looked at a loss of about 26% of revenue at the worst, which was April, while big box gyms, a lot of them went down to 0% and some of them maintained only 10 to 15% revenue, according to IHRSA. Of course some micro gyms failed, but they had the same opportunity as everybody else. So why didn’t they make the pivot to coaching online? Why aren’t all microgyms thriving right now in this blue ocean where people want gym memberships, but they can’t go to Life Time or Gold’s or Bally’s? It’s not because they don’t have access to information.

Chris (15:10):

We publish that stuff for free every single day. It’s connection. The micro gyms who failed tried to fight COVID alone. Yeah. Maybe they were in a Facebook group taking advice, or maybe they were in 12 Facebook groups taking advice. But at the end of the day, they were like an island. The biggest problem with the affiliate model in CrossFit, in yoga, in all of these microgym chains is that they’re not a unified body of 15,000 gym owners. They’re 15,000 islands each with its own tribe and customs, each with its own rituals and traditions. And there’s no science. The microgyms without any affiliation have even less than CrossFit affiliates because they have nobody to really talk to in their network. Now, my mission is to make a million entrepreneurs wealthy. We’re starting with gym owners because that’s obvious. They’re hardworking and generous and they’re trying to solve huge cultural problems.

Chris (16:09):

So here’s how we can unite microgym owners and coaches worldwide, regardless of your creed, your method, your stripe, your religion, your preference. First, data. We need a broad, inclusive dataset. We need to know what the best gyms in the world are doing, and then teach it back to the rest. We also need to know why some gyms fail so we can get those mistakes out of the collective bloodstream. One of the saddest things I’ve ever seen is standing in the CrossFit affiliate area at the CrossFit Games and looking at the wall where they’d painted the name of every single CrossFit affiliate and seeing my name close to the top. Because I was not one of the first affiliates. You know, there were more than a thousand before I got there. But according to that wall, there were less than a hundred left remaining.

Chris (16:58):

So over time, you know, all the collective education, the hard lessons learned by all of those gyms, they’re gone because there’s no collective dataset. Nobody’s saying what happened? What did they do wrong? Why are they gone now? So we’re doing that. Over the last four years, I’ve spent over $500,000 building dashboards and data extraction tools. Now we have the largest data set in the industry growing literally by the minute. The second thing that we need to do to unite microgyms and coaches is have more conversations. We need positive collaboration, not competition. You’ve seen the worst case scenario, gym owners, calling each other names in Facebook groups attacking each other’s ideas, accusing potential collaborators of stealing clients. So here’s what we’re doing about that. We have the most progressive Facebook group in the world, but we need more than that. We need to bring gym owners together.

Chris (17:55):

So when our summit in September was taken away by COVID, we came up with something that I honestly think is better. 30 regional meetups worldwide. You can join a dozen or so other gym owners in your local community, learn from each other, meet your neighbors, work together on the lessons from our summit speakers and grow as a group, strengthen your connections, build a local web of health and fitness. The third thing that we need to unite gym owners and trainers worldwide is representation. You know, I’m no fan of the board of directors scenario, because imagine if your clients had a vote on how you ran your business, you know, I’ve had businesses with boards of directors, nothing gets done, but it makes a lot of sense to identify your top performers in the field and teach their strategies to everyone else. Now, some franchises do this.

Chris (18:43):

So they’ll say like, here’s our top 10 franchisees. What are they doing for marketing? OK, let’s learn those lessons. Maybe we have to pay them for the lessons and then turn around and teach it to every franchisee. And that way the whole chain grows. Not many franchises fo this. You need to have this aspirational model though. You need to know who the top performers actually are. Not just who are the loudest performers. The CrossFit Games actually did this really well, right? It created aspirational models of fitness. We can pick apart their routines, their habits, their training, and their diet, and build new models for success from them. We could copy them until we figured it out on our own. We need to identify the top microgyms in the world through real tests, like data and proof. We need to interrogate their owners and then share what they know. What we’re doing about that.

Chris (19:34):

This is literally how our program works. Every month we take the data from all Two-Brain gyms. We say, here are the top five gyms at this, generating leads. Here are the top 10 gyms at retention. And then we interview them. We say, what are you doing differently than everybody else? And when they’re doing something that’s novel, we introduce that into our curriculum and teach it to everybody else. If they’re just doubling down on a proven system that works, which is what happens most of the time, then our mentors hold everybody else accountable for doubling down in the same way. The fourth thing that we need to bring gym owners and coaches together is transparent leadership. Like me, you probably saw a dozen offers to sign a petition or join our go-fund me when COVID launched from different groups that maybe you’d never heard of before.

Chris (20:20):

And you know, if like me, you dug deeper into what they were offering or the petition that you were signing, you probably uncovered a hidden motive in a lot of these cases. For example, at least one of the free Facebook groups was a cover for a licensing body. Basically by signing their petition, you wrote down your name as being in favor of having them sell you a license in the future. The letter that they were sending to your governor said, we want licensure. We want to be the body that guarantees safety and all these people have agreed to pay us to license them. But if you didn’t dig deeper, you wouldn’t have uncovered that. And it would have seemed like just another volunteer sign our petition get gyms open. So where’s this transparent leadership going to come from? The ACSM and the NSCA. aren’t going to step into the role of transparent leadership because their boards are scientists who rely on grants to survive.

Chris (21:15):

That’s just the reality. What are we doing about this? Honestly, we’re not sure yet, but we’re going to keep publishing what we know to help as many gyms as we possibly can. What won’t unite gyms and coaches worldwide? Affiliation in one particular method, the method doesn’t really matter. Just don’t let it become your religion. Don’t block people out who don’t do CrossFit. Don’t do yoga, do CrossFit, do yoga. You know, you need to be method inclusive if the entire industry is going to move forward and change the world. Another thing that won’t unite us is criticism of other gyms’ methods. I mean, I used to get really worked up about joggers and it’s kind of embarrassing to admit it now. I hated jogging. And I thought that shoe salesman were crooks, but almost every client at Catalyst tried to lose weight by just going for a jog first.

Chris (22:04):

Eventually people will choose what they like, and that will determine success. The second thing that your clients need to do after they buy a pair of workout shoes is figure out where to use them. And that’s how it leads to you. So instead of criticizing the joggers, what I should’ve done is gone into every shoe store in town and forged an alliance. I made that mistake. Luckily, when Reebok came on board, they set up a conversation for me. So I could go in and say, Hey, those posters of the CrossFit Games that are in your window, that’s me. I’m Chris. So your job here is to be the connector. Don’t just talk to your clients, talk to other local gyms. Don’t wait for them to show up with coffee, have the courage and care enough to go first. Unite your local tribe, because nobody else is going to do it. For the final part of this podcast episode, I want to talk about building connections to help your community grow. I had this conversation a couple of years ago, somebody was coming into Two-Brain and I was still taking all of the free calls instead of just some of them, and we were looking at her numbers. We were trying to figure out how she had, I think it was 300 clients and she wasn’t paying herself anything. So we just quickly looked at her financials. And after a brief glance, I looked at her and I said, you gave away $12,000 last year. How does that feel? And you know, I’m looking at her face. And first she looks like she’s shocked. Then she looks confused. She said, but I didn’t give anything to charity last year, I couldn’t, I wasn’t even paying myself. I said, no, you didn’t give it to charity. What I did next was broke down all the discounts she was giving away at the gym.

Chris (23:44):

None of them huge, but altogether, they made a world of difference. The $20 discount that she was giving to a fireman wouldn’t change the fireman’s life. But in total, the $12,000 that she gave away in discounts and savings and grandfathered rates the previous year, that 12 thousand dollars could have changed her life. This sounds like an odd story to share in a post or a podcast that’s all about giving to your community because that’s what I’m going to tell you about, how to make a meaningful difference in your community by leveraging your connections. But I want you to hear this story first because the stories I’m about to share won’t be possible for you unless you build a solid business foundation. First, here are the steps to lifting up others in your economy and giving something back. Number one, get wealthy. Number two, share the wealth.

Chris (24:34):

Now wealthy means freedom of finances and time. You can read more about that on our blog if you Google Two- Brain Business, what is wealth? But for today, though, it just means that you have more than enough. You have enough to give something back. Your cup overflows. That you get yourself on solid ground before you start giving it all away. That you put on your own face mask first. That you eat the sandwich. That you build a foundation from which you can give forever instead of undermining your own foundation and eventually going under. Now, every gym owner I know is in a huge rush to support charities. They want to become a benefactor. They just want to contribute. They want to give something back, but here’s what usually happens. Number one, the gym hosts a fundraiser. Number two, the fundraiser makes money. Hooray. Number three, the gym does not make money. Number four, there are no more fundraisers because the gym is gone. So the hero in the story I just told you let’s call her Madeline, wasn’t paying herself when she called me for the first time, but she was still concerned about how much her clients were paying. She wanted to give them discounts and give them help because she thought that her rates were high. She was concerned. Of course she was. She cared about her clients. But I remember that moment of epiphany when she said, so I basically gave that fireman $240 out of my pocket last year, even when I wasn’t paying myself anything. And he makes more money than I do. Yes, she got it. Forget the complicated, emotional reasons to give discounts. You can read lots of blog posts from us about why we don’t give discounts in our gyms. But today my point is, if you can’t afford to pay money out of your pocket, neither can your business.

Chris (26:18):

Madeline could not afford to open up her wallet, take out $240 every single year and hand it to the fireman for the privilege of coaching him. You need to make your business successful. You need to build a big platform for giving and then give. So here’s where to give. Your clients don’t need 20 bucks as badly as others in your community do. Think about your mission. What will it take to make your local community healthier and start there. Now here’s how to give, and I can’t tell you how to spend your money, but the best advice I ever got about philanthropy was this. Instead of giving a million dollars to a big charity, find a place where $10,000 will significantly and permanently change a life. And then do that a hundred times if you can. So that’s been my strategy ever since I heard that to find leverage. By the way, that was Greg Glassman that told me that. The great news is that you don’t have to wait until you have $10,000.

Chris (27:16):

You just have to wait until you have some leverage. So for example, my local mission is to empower entrepreneurs and to keep kids fit and healthy. So last month, my wife Robin and I bought 50 bikes for local kids in foster care. Then we donated $10,000 to Steve’s club, which buys gym memberships for inner city kids and teaches them about leadership. We also sponsor local hockey teams with time and with money. And we do fun stuff like sending lasagnas to 50 families who are suffering from COVID. Now not sharing these to brag, just to provide you with a few good examples of what’s possible when you build a solid platform of connection that gives you leverage. You can help more people. Over the years, I ran many fundraisers at Catalyst. In the early days, I’d count up the money at the end of the day and I’d stick it in an envelope.

Chris (28:03):

And sure, you know, I was proud of the community, but I also knew that I was struggling and that my gym community would lose a lot more than squat racks if I went under. And so I became even more determined to build a profitable business because I saw what that business could do more than just creating wealth for me and my family. It could create long-term, meaningful opportunity for my entire community. Every time a gym closes, a community loses. They lose a meeting ground. They lose a model for equality and inclusiveness. They lose a clear path to better health. They lose an example of good citizenship. They lose tax dollars, overlapping revenues and ice cream purchases. At least that’s where, you know, 1% of my budget goes. They lose an inspirational example of entrepreneurship for its kids. They lose a leader or two, or maybe a dozen. Gym owners are among the most generous people that I know, sometimes to a fault. Build your own platform by building your connections. Build a web so that you don’t have to worry about talking to strangers on Facebook. Build your platform, and then give more back than you ever dreamed, because you’ll have more to give back.

Andrew (29:23):

That was Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper on Two-Brain Radio. If you have a topic you think Chris should discuss, email


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