The Vocal Local: How to Create a Referral Web for Your Gym

A man looking at a wad of money, with the title "The Vocal Local: How to Create a Referral Web for Your Gym."

Mike Warkentin (00:02):
How can you dominate your local market? Well, I’ve got someone who’s done it, and we’re going to talk about it today. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” I’m your host, Mike Warkentin. I’m here with Chris Cooper. Chris runs Catalyst Fitness in Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, where he is a household name with every business owner and almost every person, everybody knows Chris there, to the point where when I meet someone from Sault Saint Marie, I actually ask them, “Do you know Chris Cooper?” And I’m surprised when they don’t know him. So, Chris, we’re going to talk about how you dominated your local market, and we’re going to help people do the same thing in their area. How are you doing today? Are you ready to talk about it?

Chris Cooper (00:34):
Well, first, I want to know the phone number of this person who doesn’t know me. No, I’m just kidding. Yeah, man, I’m so fired up about this. I love this stuff.

Mike Warkentin (00:42):
It’s the way you built your gym. And it’s so cool because I watched you blog about it for like over a decade now, just from like piece-by-piece Lego blocks up to the point now where you have this business that’s long established and is known in the community to the point where media people will just call you first for a comment and things like that. I think that’s such a cool thing that you are like a go-to source now for things like that. But other people out there, whether they’re starting out or they have a long-established gym, they maybe don’t have a clue how to do this, and it’s simpler than they think. So, one of the things is obviously, “OK, I’m going to blog and do SEO and all this other stuff.” That stuff works. And there is a route into what’s called local SEO. However, that’s not as easy as just getting to know people. And Chris, I’m going to ask you first for like a couple of things, a couple stories of things that you’ve done just to make local connections that pay off in tens of thousands of dollars over the year. What have you done?

Chris Cooper (01:31):
Yeah, I can give you some great examples. When I was first starting out as a trainer—we can get into like media publication because that was a strategy that I used—but one of the first things that I did, one of my very first clients, like one of the original three, she was a soccer player and a shot putter, and her parents had hired me as a personal trainer. They met me at the treadmill store and said, “Holly needs some one-on-one help.” And so, I started just working out with her. And when she had her first high school track meet, I showed up, and I brought a tent. I didn’t ask anybody’s permission to set up the tent. I didn’t ask permission to hang my banner on the tent. I figured if I’m doing something bad enough, they’ll kick me out.

Chris Cooper (02:12):
And, so Holly came over to the tent; she did some stretches, but of course she’s a teenage girl, so she’s not going to come alone. And you know, there’s no sides on the tents or anything like that. So, she comes over and she brings a couple of her friends, and two of her friends were Janine and Marty. And Janine is a 400-meter runner, and Marty is a 1,600-meter runner. And then their parents are calling, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, we saw Holly’s parents think you’re the greatest.” And you know, Holly also plays soccer. She’s the goalie. So now I’ve got some soccer parents. And so that worked wonders. We did that for probably five or six years until somebody finally said, “You can’t set up your tent here anymore.”

Mike Warkentin (02:48):
But still, let me just dig into that for a second. So, you just randomly set up a tent for a client, said, “Bring your friends, I’ll help you warm up,” and then all of a sudden you’ve got some additional kid clients and their parents.

Chris Cooper (03:00):
Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, one great thing about training kids is the parents—it’s not even a question of like, what’s your price or whatever. It’s just like, “Hey, I want to do whatever my kid wants to do, and I want to support them.” You know, and a lot of these kids actually did go on and get scholarships and stuff too. But the key is you don’t focus on “How can I get my name in front of 3,000 people?” It’s “How can I forge a better relationship with one person?” And paradoxically, that’s what usually leads to other connections. They see you—you know, these other parents are like, “Wow, he is really showing up for that kid; like, here he is at her soccer game. Here he is at her hockey game, and I want that for my kid.” You know, personal training was fairly new in town.

Mike Warkentin (03:45):
It’s like you said, like a billboard. You put that up, people drive by it; it might never get to your client, but a bunch of people might see it. But actually shaking a hand, putting a face to a name: “Oh, you’re Marty’s parents; nice to meet you. What do you do? Oh, you work at the mill? Oh, I’ve got a client there. Do you know Steve?” All of a sudden you’ve got a connection. At the very least, they know you run a gym, and you’re a great guy. At best, they want to train because their kids are training with you. And so, the principle that we’re looking at here, listeners, is go where your clients are, and that means after the gym, they’re going somewhere else; they’re doing something else. What are they doing? Find it out and go there. And we’re going to talk a little bit at the end of the show about some of the tactical stuff—the exact steps of what you would do when you see them there. But Chris, tell me some more stories before we go further into that. What else you got?

Chris Cooper (04:27):
Well, one of my favorites is a big one. So, when we started Ignite, we said, “OK, who is our customer here?” Like, it’s not people with brain injury, really; it’s the people who control their care or tell them like, “Here’s your treatment plan.” And so like, the people we really want to make relationships with are physical therapists, chiropractors, speech pathologists, occupational therapists. And so, what I started doing was just emailing people in our city, like physical therapists—they were the ones who took me up on it—and just said like, “Hey, it’s Chris. We don’t know each other. I’ve got this new book. I’d love to come in, bring you some copies of the book, and bring lunch and just talk about brain injury. I’d love to learn from you guys.” And a couple of the more progressive ones took us up on it, but we had established relationships with these guys years before.

Chris Cooper (05:22):
So for example, even in 2005, if somebody joined Catalyst, I would say, “Who’s your chiropractor?” Or, “Do you work with like a healthcare professional?” And I would shoot that person a fax. You know, 2005, we had a fax machine, and I would say, like, “Hey, Mike just joined the gym. He said he’s done some work with you. Here’s kind of our loose plan. If anything seems awry, shoot me a—give me a call, send me a fax back, whatever you want.” I never, ever, ever had somebody say, “You’re doing it wrong. He shouldn’t be there. You’re going to break this guy.” It was always just like, “Yeah, thanks for checking in.” Like they’re not checking your homework. Right? But we did that from the start.

Chris Cooper (06:00):
And so, when Ignite launched and I said, “I’d love to bring you a tray of sandwiches,” it was just like, “Oh, he’s so nice. We know Chris from the faxes, and oh, he’s going to bring us these sandwiches” and you know, bringing people food or bringing people a hot cup of coffee, it changes their brain chemistry, and they want to talk to you. And not going in and being like, “I wrote this book, and I’m going to tell you guys how to do brain rehab.” It’s like, “Hey, I’m bringing you sandwiches because I want to learn from you.” We did very little talking in those meetings and just one of those relationships was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to us over the next five years.

Mike Warkentin (06:39):
Now, I haven’t told you this story yet, Chris, but there is someone that just proved that this works last month: Michaela Munsterman. She runs a gym in Austin, Texas, and she literally—her marketing plan involves no advertising dollars. She made our ARM leaderboard for December. So, she’s got a huge client value. Yeah, it’s over 400. She’s in the leaderboard, Top 10. Yeah. And get this, no, she doesn’t spend any ads money on ads. What she does is she makes cinnamon rolls or homemade salsa and different things like that, and she takes them to medical professionals in her area, and she’s building her gym around that principle, and it’s working. She got on the leaderboard doing what you did a decade or more ago.

Chris Cooper (07:16):
I love it so much. Wow, Michaela. Cinnamon buns.

Mike Warkentin (07:19):
Yeah. And it’s no ad spend.

Chris Cooper (07:22):
Oh man, it’s wild. I’m lucky now—like we started off with this kind of coffee tactic. Like my philosophy or my theory was that even when we were in the industrial park, I’m not going to walk across the street to like the electrical contractor and pitch, “I’m going to train your 130 contractors,” right? Like it was, I’m going to take the owner coffee because I wanted to create kind of this like black hole of community friendship with all the businesses around me so that if somebody walked into the FedEx office next door and said, “What’s that gym over there?” They would hear, “Oh, those guys are amazing,” right? And like, if you think about how many people are going into a salon in the course of a day, it’s probably 80, and they’ve got nothing to do. They’re trying to make small talk while they get their hair cut, and they’re like, “Hey, what’s that gym across the street?”

Chris Cooper (08:11):
“Oh, that’s Catalyst. Have you met those guys? They are so nice.” Like, that’s what you want. And so it was kind of like fly paper in our neighborhood. And then when I moved to a more commercial area, I just started buying people coffee, and I would go across to like the internet provider guy, and then I’d go across—there’s like a ticket printing business across the street and there’s a Habitat for Humanity down the road. And like there’s a paint store two doors up. And I would just take them coffee and just be like, “Hey, how’s business?” And listen, like, let them teach me something about business. And before you know it, they were all my clients.

Mike Warkentin (08:46):
So on the blog this week, we actually have an exercise where you’re just going to go to a map, and you’re going to use a tool and draw a 10-kilometer circle around your business and think about what’s in there. Because again, you may not be able to dominate a city of 2 million people or something like that, or even, you know, the SEO and the internet. But in that 10-kilometer radius, you can have a huge, huge impact if you just meet people. And so, the idea that that’s in there is what if you once a week took coffee to a business inside that area and start with the ones closest across your parking lot and then work your way out. But what if you did that once a week? In 52 weeks, you had 52 business owners who had met you and had a cup of coffee with you and knew what you did. Like, Chris, what do you think would happen to a gym if it was just starting and that was their entire marketing plan?

Chris Cooper (09:28):
Well, I mean, I know what happens because that’s what we did. When Catalyst started, there was no Facebook. And just because that is a valuable or viable strategy to use right now doesn’t mean that the old strategies aren’t effective. In fact, I’d even argue that they’re more effective. You know, I had an experience literally today where I was packing down our snow machine trails. The manifold on my snow machine started leaking. I called a store, and they’re like, “We got 80 snow machines ahead of you, but if you bring it in tomorrow, we’ll get you in, Chris.” Now, I’ve never met the people on the phone, but when they fixed a lawnmower for me last fall, I took them in like 12 coffees and said, “Thank you so much. Like, you guys have really saved my butt by fixing this lawnmower, and I really appreciate it. You did great work. Here’s 12 coffees.” And when I called this time, they knew who I was. And of course, they all know that I have the gym up the street too.

Mike Warkentin (10:26):
And there’s a reciprocal arrangement there too, where when someone at your gym says, “Oh God, my sled won’t start,” you’re like, “Go to Murray’s place” or whatever that—you know?

Chris Cooper (10:34):
I’ve got a guy.

Mike Warkentin (10:34):
Yeah, right. You’ve got a guy, and they get business back. So, this is a reciprocal arrangement. And listeners, we’re not suggesting that this is your only marketing tactic. Two-Brain teaches four different funnels that operate at all times so that you’re not ever relying just on one. But this is a really strong one, and it’s especially great if you don’t have a ton of money because what does it take? Like 30 bucks in coffee, maybe an hour of your time across the parking lot, and it pays huge rewards. Now you could certainly back that up with the other funnels, like paid marketing content, social media, all the other stuff. But this referral funnel, which is what we’re going to lump this in with, has huge, huge rewards. So, I tell you: Go across the street tomorrow morning with a cup of coffee and just see what happens. You might not get rewards instantly, but you might. You’ll probably get some rewards down the line. Talk to me, Chris, about a couple of other things—going where your clients are. How about like “Lunch-and-Learns” or seminars for stressed clients at their workplaces? What have you seen with stuff like that?

Chris Cooper (11:26):
Yeah, so years ago, our original location was next to this massive Ontario corporation: Ontario Lottery Corp. And most of the people who worked there were either call center employees or accountants. And so, they would come up, and they would do our noon group, and we’d be two blocks away. And what I’d always noticed is like, these were some of the most stressed-out bureaucrats ever. And so, I just said like, “Hey, how come you guys are all stressed out all the time?” And they’re like, “Oh, our workplace is a pressure cooker. Like, I just want to get out of there.” And I’m like, “Well, you know what, if I came down, everybody brought their own lunch, and I just brought like some of these big Swiss balls, and we just did a little stretch or workout or whatever? Would that help?” And all these employees were like, “Oh, you would do that?”

Chris Cooper (12:07):
“Yeah, no problem; let’s go.” And of course, you know, I collected everybody’s name and email address while I was there, signed my waiver, put them all on the email list, and we ran private groups for that company for six or seven years until we moved locations. And it was the same at a local senior center too. It was just like, “What is your biggest problem?” “Oh, you’re locked in all winter, I can solve that. I’ll be there.” You know, and you show up the first time and then you, you basically just say, “Here’s what it costs to keep this going.” And it keeps going.

Mike Warkentin (12:40):
How many clients do you think you got out of that corporate situation over the years? Do you have any idea, ballpark?

Chris Cooper (12:44):
I don’t know.

Mike Warkentin (12:46):
More than one?

Chris Cooper (12:47):
Yeah, hundreds.

Mike Warkentin (12:48):
Hundreds, hundreds. So, there you go. Yeah.

Chris Cooper (12:49):
When we launched CrossFit at our personal training studio downtown, I mean, they were all from banks or the lottery corporations, and we had met each one of these people one-on-one. It’s not like we were handing out fliers on door hangers. We were shaking hands.

Mike Warkentin (13:06):
Doing that and connecting with people, again, it’s so easy now to get locked in behind the computer and behind the screen, and you know, you’re in a waiting room, and you’ve got your head down looking at your phone. I see everyone doing that. But what if you just introduced yourself and asked how business was the next time you are at a dentist or something like that, and tell people that you run a gym. It’s just a fascinating thing. And Chris, I love that you did this in practice, and now I’m seeing—like a decade or more later, I’m seeing your clients, the mentees, actually putting into practice, and it’s still working. Even though Facebook ads sometimes work, sometimes don’t, shaking a hand and smiling always seem to work. You have a—let’s talk about like another “go where they are” kind of thing. You have a story about a local trail run. So, your clients love to run this, and I’ve seen the pictures; it looks amazing. Tell me about how you use that event both to generate some revenue in your business and to make a huge impact, fill that event and get some clients out of it.

Chris Cooper (13:59):
Yeah, well, I mean, it’s really about being curious, right? So, if you show up to one of these events or one of these workplaces and you’re like, “I’m going to tell you—or I’m going to sell you my thing.” Like, that’s not going to work. You want to go in with this air of curiosity like, “Hey, what goes on around here, and how can I help?” So, this trail run was on the island where I was born, and the organizer, her name is Crista Wardell. And about, oh my goodness, 13 or 14 years ago, she organized it, and I said, “That looks amazing.” Like, so this trail run, it goes through all these apple orchards, there’s like stone fences from the 1800s. It is gorgeous. And when they do it in the spring, like there’s apple blossoms everywhere and maple, and you’re running on these hard packed earth trails, but it’s not groomed or anything.

Chris Cooper (14:48):
So the next year I called her, and I’m like, “Hey, it looks like you had a great event last year. I know you’re raising funds for like kids’ sports or whatever; like, what’s the number one way I can help?” And she’s like, “Bring people; we had 11 people show up.” And I was like, “No problem. You know, I can do that.” So, we just set up this like “Couch to 5K” group, and we said, “If you’ve never run a 5K before, this is the perfect, most forgiving, but also most picturesque, beautiful event ever. Nobody is watching you; nobody expects you to go fast. It’s up and down hills. The goal is just to finish.” And we had like 32 people sign up for the running group. They all signed up for the Mountain Maple. They all brought their friends, and they went from like 11 runners to 120 the next year. And they’re like, “Well, it’s all because of Catalyst.” And so, the relationship has just blossomed year after year after year. And we still do the running groups. We’re still the primary sponsor of the Mountain Maple. The only thing that’s different is that Crista is now working for Two-Brain as one of our CSMs.

Mike Warkentin (15:47):
I thought I recognized that name. Yeah. But you made revenue by running this prep group. So, you’re training people for this event, so they have more fun. So that’s frontend revenue for you, just doing what you do. Then you’re bringing people either—you know, and you’re probably sucking in some extra people who, they said, “Oh, I’ll try that event.” So now you’re bringing all these people to that event. They show up in force—likely wearing bright, bright green Catalyst shirts, I’m imagining—celebrating, looking, you know—just cheering, high fiving each other. All of a sudden, there’s this massive presence of people at this event. The other people that are there are then like, “Who are these amazing people? And where—how can I be part of it?” Right? Like you must’ve gotten clients after clients from that event as the years went on.

Chris Cooper (16:24):
Yeah. And now when you go to the event, it’s really cool because you’ll have like—and this isn’t everybody, but I mean there’s 400 runners at this event now. And you go, and there’s of course there’s the Catalyst contingent, and we’re all working out together. And of course, we’ve got the tent because that’s what I learned to do in 2005. But you’ve also got all the other gyms, and they’re all represented too. And because it’s like a cross-country trail run, you can’t really tell who’s winning ever. So, it’s just a lot of support. Most people bring their kids, and they have a three-year-old race and a five-year-old race and a seven-year-old race. And they have like a big table of cookies for the finishers and stuff like that. And it’s, it’s just like a great time. And I wouldn’t say like, we did anything to grow this. They just had an amazing, friendly, happy concept. And when I see something like that, I want to support it. And that’s what we did. We just pointed our audience at it, and everybody won.

Mike Warkentin (17:11):
I’m going to ask you for one more example before we go through a quick tactical thing. But have you had any success with just joining something like the local Chamber of Commerce or local running or cycling group or something like that? And how do you access that and then bend it into getting clients on leads without seeming like you’re worming your way in? Like how does that process work?

Chris Cooper (17:30):
Well, so, it’s always “Help First.” So, you join something like Rotary Club; it’s mostly business owners—in my town anyway, I don’t know how it is everywhere else—and they rotate speakers. And so, I didn’t even put my hand up to speak. They were just like, “Everybody in here is a business owner. They’re well-to-do. They’re all overweight; they’re diabetic. These lunches aren’t helping. Like, what can we do?” And I got up on the stage one day and said, like, “Here’s five things every single one of you guys can do because, you know, we need you; you’re community leaders and stuff.” And of course, they all joined the gym. I didn’t have to say, “Join my gym.” It’s just like, “Here’s a person; he’s in our group, we know and trust him”—hopefully some of them like me. And “We’re going to join.”

Chris Cooper (18:14):
The latest one that we’ve joined is like an angel investing group. So, my wife and I, every quarter we go to these meetings; people get up and pitch just like Shark Tank kind of, and it’s early-stage angel investing, so it’s higher risk, but everybody else in that group is attorneys, physicians, like CEOs. And of course, when you’re sitting at that table talking with these people about the stuff that they’re passionate about, and they say, “What do you do?” “Oh, I’ve got this little gym.” And you know, because we do semi-private a lot now, like if you and I are sitting at this table, and I’m like, “You know, just come with me; you know, 11 o’clock. I go Mondays and Wednesdays. Semi-private: There’s only like four of us. You know, the coach will give you a workout, but we’ll be together. We just banter.” Like that is the easiest sell I’ve ever had in 20 years of owning a gym.

Mike Warkentin (19:03):
You said something once, and I can’t remember the quote. I’m going to ask you if you remember it. It was something along the lines of “If you’re having a conversation and someone asks you about your gym, they probably want to join.” It was—do you remember that? It was something along those lines.

Chris Cooper (19:14):
Yeah. So early on as a gym owner, I thought, like, “OK, people are looking for me.” They’re not; what they’re looking for is an invitation. And so, often I’ll be at like a hockey game, right? My kids still play hockey—or a track meet or whatever. And somebody—you can tell when somebody’s being polite, and they’re like, “Oh, how’s the gym going?” Right? OK. But if they’re like, “Oh, I heard you own a gym,” they’re starting that conversation for a reason. And the reason is they want you to invite them. You know, everybody’s shy. It’s not just you; everybody’s introverted. It’s not just you, and so you have to be like the one to go first. And so, you have to be the one to bridge that gap. You have to get over yourself just enough to say, “Do you want to come with me?” And like that is it. And for me, you know, I’m a shy introvert too, but if, if I compare—if I weigh my shyness against how much I’m desperate to help this person, that desperation wins every time. And so, when somebody is at a hockey game and they’re like, “Oh, I heard you have that Catalyst gym,” like you are damn straight, I’m inviting that person, and I’m going to feel awkward about it, but I am very eager to help them. And that’s what gets me over the hump.

Mike Warkentin (20:22):
So that’s the segue into the tactical stuff, and you kind of hit it there, but let’s summarize it: So, when you’re having a conversation with a person, and this is just like you’ve gone somewhere, and you’re having a chat with someone, whether it’s in a Chamber of Commerce group or it’s the parent of kids in hockey games or whatever it is—just invite them. Like, what do you do? You just say to them, “Hey, come to my gym.” How do you do it, Chris?

Chris Cooper (20:42):
Well be curious. I mean, none of us are good at small talk. So, first you’re going to be like, “Man, it’s cold outside.” Then you’re going to say, “What do you do?” And then they’re going to say, “What do you do?” And I’m going to say, “Oh, Catalyst gym. Have you heard of that?” And you know, you can even be grinning like, “Oh yeah, I know you’ve heard bad crap about my gym. Like we kill people,” or something. And you know, we’ve been around 20 years; people have always heard of Catalyst. Yeah. Hey, and you know, in a town of 70,000 people, everybody—you’re one degree of separation away, right? So, like, “My buddy Mike Warkentin goes there.” “Oh, no kidding, Mike. Oh my God. Did he ever invite you to come along? Oh, you’ve to see this guy. He’s so good.” So, you start with curiosity, then you just banter about it normally. And then you just be like, “Hey, do you want to come? You know, Mike’s in my semi-private group Monday/Wednesday at 11. Why don’t you just come with Mike and I?”

Mike Warkentin (21:33):
So, it’s just easy. It’s just kind of being human and just like taking that first step. It’s much like dating back in the day where you’re like, “Just want to come to my gym?” But it’s not that difficult. You just throw it out there. And if they’re asking, they probably want to come anyways. So that’s an easy first step, hey?

Chris Cooper (21:47):
Yeah, I mean, you’re really doing them a favor because they are too awkward and shy to say, “Can I come?” And so, you are doing them the service of inviting them.

Mike Warkentin (21:55):
OK, that’s a tactic where you’re engaging just with one person that you’ve met somewhere. Now talk to me, Chris, about: What would you do to convert some people? Let’s say, like a Lunch-and-Learn or some sort of seminar where you’re talking to a group. How do you get them to be leads? Like how do you get their email addresses, and how do you eventually get them as clients if they don’t sign up right away?

Chris Cooper (22:14):
Well, you give them something. And I think anybody listening to this email—sorry, to this podcast—is probably already on my email list. And so, they know, like you and I try to give people things every single day, and you just—you give, you give, you give, you give and then you invite. And that’s basically it. So, if there was somebody—if I was doing a Lunch-and-Learn at like the Rotary Club or something, what I would do is I would go there with like, “OK, I’ve got five basic tips for you guys. If you just do these five things every single day, I can probably add five years to your life, and they’re going to be good years. So, here’s the five things, OK? If you’ve got a pen, you can write this down. If not, you know what, just give me your email address, and I’ll send it to you later.”

Chris Cooper (22:54):
Just like that. And so, you know, you’re holding the sheet up, and you’re like, “OK, so it says here: Number one is drink water. Here’s what I want. I want you to fill up a gallon jug every day and drink half of it.” OK, whatever. “Number two is eat protein. OK? So, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to look at your hand and eat this much protein at every meal, OK?” And you’re just going through like simple stuff like that. They might remember one thing, but what they’re going to remember at the end is your invitation to get more. And if they’re asking for more, they’re not saying, “Give me just a little bit more,” they’re saying like, “Tell me what you know.” And so that’s where it’s really easy to make an invitation. So, my strategy for 20 years has been: Get people on my email list and just continue to help them until they’re ready to join.

Mike Warkentin (23:38):
You could do it as easily as just putting up a sign-in sheet as people walk in the door and saying, “Do you want to be on my mailing list? Stay tuned; stay in touch,” whatever. And a great one, like Chris said, “I have a PDF where all this stuff is summarized. Nobody likes to take notes. I’ll email it to you afterwards.” Pass the email sheet around; away you go. And this concept does work. My wife puts out a ton of content. She’ll actually build her mailing list. People ask her, “Can I get on your mailing list?” Which is kind of unheard of where you have to like usually have to work hard for these email addresses. If you give away valuable stuff—and you have to figure out what your audience wants, but that’s by talking to them—you can give away the stuff and get email addresses.

Mike Warkentin (24:12):
The conversation from there can either happen—be done live where you actually message the person. Here is the thing: “How’s it going or what’s—” You know, start the conversation like, “Here’s my high-protein baking guide. Do you have any problems with protein intake right now?” Or whatever. Ask a question; keep it going. You can also deliver these things as part of an automated nurturing sequence. But Chris has always said, “Optimize stuff before you automate it.” Don’t just assume the robots will take care of everything. Things will be better if you do it yourself. And you can always nurture them with background stuff, but nothing will take the place of saying, “Hey, did you get that guide I sent you? What did you think of it?” Conversation started.

Chris Cooper (24:50):
Yeah. Conversations are the most important thing that you can do to grow your business. And you have to have conversations one at a time. I mean, in the group, we probably get 60 chats a day. Like people DMing me, “Can I have this guide?” “Hey, where’s that Intramural Open thing?” You know? And I think a lot of people believe it’s a bot that’s responding to them. Like it’s not, you know? And often, somebody will be like—you know, this guy this week was like, “Wow, this is really good. Like I believe it could actually be you.” And so, I quickly just sent him a voicemail, right? Like, “Hey dude, it is,” you know, and then they’re like, “Well, how do you have time to do this? Like, if you’re doing 20 DMs with strangers every single day, like how do you have time to do it?” And the reality is, I just know where my priorities lie. It’s conversations.

Mike Warkentin (25:41):
And that that’s the whole thing later on of, like, you’re not delivering the service of mentorship anymore. You have a staff of mentors who are doing that. Your role is something completely different. So that’s why you have the time is because you’ve developed your systems and processes, handed them off to talented people, they take care of the service delivery, and you work on the pointy end of the spear. So that whole thing is another story. Operations and everything: We cover that on this podcast regularly. But to leave you guys with something to do, the advice that I give you: Do what Chris did and what Michaela in Austin has is doing and take something across the street to the closest business that you don’t know. And just start a conversation. At the very least, you’re going to make a new friend who will be happy to say, “That gym owner is pretty cool.” You might get a client out of it; you might get an email address, but if nothing else go across the street. Chris, when you do that now—if you were to do that now, would you take a pamphlet or something, or would you just do the coffee thing and handshakes?

Chris Cooper (26:32):
No, coffee and curiosity, man. It’s like, literally, here’s my opening line: “Hey, I’m Chris from Catalyst. I brought you these four coffees. How’s business?” That’s it. And it’s like, most of—they haven’t heard of me or anything like that. Like it doesn’t matter. I don’t say, “Oh, I need to set up a corporate-rate-deal discount program before I do this. Like, that’s step nine. Step one is meet people, and step two is be curious, and like, that’s it. And, you know, it doesn’t pay off—they’re not like, “Let me get out my checkbook while you’re here.” It’s like you’re gifting yourself in the future. You’re planting seeds here, and then at some point, they’re going to need you. Everybody’s going to need you. Everybody in your town needs you. They might not be ready yet, but what you’re doing is you’re priming them so that when they are ready, it’s you that they come to.

Mike Warkentin (27:23):
So that’s your tomorrow job. Get up and do that. Coffee, lunch, whatever. Do something to connect with a local business owner. The long-term play that I’ll give you tactically: Find some sort of event where your clients are, whether it’s a local group, a local event that they’re training for, a workplace that you can do something at—find a way to connect with that local event. Be where your clients are, and meet the people around them. These people have probably already heard of you because your current client raves about you and can’t stop talking about the gym. We all know that happens. And when you do that, meet some people. If you do that, you’re going to get a whole bunch of connections. And then from there, you now have—without spending a ton of money—you’ve got this web of people in your gym. And then we actually have tactical affinity marketing strategies that you use with each individual person to target people in their lives. And we have some really, really cool things that our mentors teach our clients to do: how to actually make lists in goal review sessions of exactly who your client’s hanging out with. And say, “Your friend Steve, you know, you mentioned he’s really having back trouble. Can we help him out with that?” Done. Chris, thanks so much for being here today and sharing the story because I know I don’t know anyone who’s done it quite like you have in a local market. So, thanks so much for sharing that again.

Chris Cooper (28:32):
There’s no downside. I mean, worst case scenario, they’re like, “Who are you? Get out of my office.” You have four coffees now. Like your day is made.

Mike Warkentin (28:40):
Second worst case scenario, you get your sled fixed ahead of the lineup.

Chris Cooper (28:44):
Third case—this actually happened: So, I took these coffees to this guy named Wayne Prouse, and Wayne at the time was probably 75. He owned this business across the street, and in his generation, if somebody brings you food, it’s rude to not eat the food with them, right? So, he’s going to drink the coffee with me standing at his front desk. The coffee is burning and he’s—burning our mouths—trying to drink this coffee and make conversation while it cools off. That’s the only downside risk. Other than that, it’s all upside.

Mike Warkentin (29:10):
So do it tomorrow. You heard it here; go do that tomorrow. And I would love to hear about it. Send Chris a message: You could actually tell him. If you do this tomorrow and it works for you, send a message. He would be ecstatic.

Chris Cooper (29:23):
Send a coffee. Yeah, no, I’ll be ecstatic with a message. Yeah, thanks Mike.

Mike Warkentin (29:27):
Alright, this is “Run a Profitable Gym.” That was Chris Cooper. I’m Mike Warkentin. Please hit “Subscribe” on your way out wherever you are watching or listening. And if you want to continue this conversation and talk about anything related to the gym world, is your next stop. Join it; host Chris is in there all the time. You can talk to him there. Thanks guys.

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