What To Do When You’re The Problem

How to get out of your own way text on a white background

It had been a very long day in a string of very long months. I was still stuck in the low spot: I had started working with a mentor and making changes, but was still coaching 11 hours every day. Some of those hours were in 1:1 training sessions, done in a small windowless room at the back of my gym. I was tired, overheated, and ready to quit–but I knew I couldn’t.

And I knew I still had five more hours of coaching that day, and then some floors to mop.

The client was a middle-aged woman. She was dealing with a shoulder injury. She had a high-stress job. She vented about her work for a full hour nonstop. Then I had five minutes to get a drink of water before the next client started. But she wanted to talk some more. “I just can’t get motivated to do my homework! How do I get motivated to do it?”

I said (cringe): “That’s not my problem.”

She walked out and never came back. A great client, excellent person, and she paid around $400 per month.

I still beat myself up over that mistake. But the truth is that I should never have been training that client in my exhausted state. She deserved my best, and she was getting my bare minimum. She was right to leave. And I was the problem.

I should have put her with a trainer who was fresh. I should have put her with a trainer who was happy to talk about her day. I should have gotten out of the way of a better, rested, happy coach.

Almost every single day, I read a message from an Affiliate owner who is blind to their biggest problem. They tell themselves, “All of these people are quitting because they’re moving away.” Or “That guy’s schedule changed at work. That’s why he’s not coming back.”  But really, the client left because their coach wore his hat backward to their intake interview, or loud rap music interrupted their discussion, or no one asked them about their actual goals. The client didn’t sign up because the owner looked tired or disinterested. They didn’t feel cared for. They felt like a number—a low number.

Here’s the message I’d like to tell many Affiliate owners who loudly complain about client turnover on Facebook:

They didn’t leave because they’re scared of CrossFit.
They didn’t leave because they didn’t like the drive.
They left because they didn’t like you.

That doesn’t mean you’re unlikable. It probably just means you’re tired. It’s happened to me. Here’s what to do about it:

(If you still think your greatest competition is U-Haul, no problem. Come back to this in a few months.) 

1. Break down all the roles and tasks in your business [if you wonder why most of my “how-to” posts start with this step, sign up for RampUp. We’ll guide you through it, and you’ll immediately understand the value.]

2 Assign a dollar value to each role. What would it cost to replace you in that little job?

3. Assign a time value to each role. How many hours per week does that little job require?

4. Now, think about the best personality for that role. What kind of personality does a coach need to deliver a ten out of ten EVERY TIME? What about a bill collector? How about the person who answers questions on your Facebook page (especially the person who answers the same question for the thousandth time?) What kind of personality do they need?

5. If you don’t have that personality–or you just can’t muster it today–replace yourself in that role right away. Get out of your own way. Stop hurting yourself.

When I realized that clients were leaving because of me, it rocked me. But it also forced me to change.

Maybe you think “my clients don’t notice” or “my clients know I’m just having an off day.” Maybe you’re counting on others to be more understanding, more generous, more forgiving than you are. If so, stop.

They’re not coming in to hear about your problems. They’re not coming in to cheer you up, or fix your attitude. They’re coming in to tell you about their problems, and get their attitude adjusted. You are there to serve them in this quest.

If you just can’t do it today, I understand. You’re tired. It’s not your fault. But it’s still your responsibility to give them a 10/10 experience. Get out of the way and let someone else do it.

On a larger scale, put someone better in each role in your business. Replace yourself with specialists. Let someone else be the nutrition expert while you’re being the business expert. Hire coaches who are better than you (I know, I know: that’s impossible! Try anyway.) Specialists work for generalists. Be a generalist.

Hire for attitude. Train for skill.


A final story: in the early days of CrossFit, a few specialty coaches were attracted to the brand because they thought they could make more money. I thought I could build a powerlifting gym and fund it with CrossFit classes. Others—far better coaches, who had been in the game a lot longer—thought they could make a better living as a weightlifting coach if they coached regular people “on the side”. So they paid for the brand and opened up a few class spots every day. But they brought their bad habits with them: they opened late. They wore hoodies and looked like they’d just rolled out of bed (because they had). They told people to “warm up on your own” because that’s what weightlifters do. They stood in the corner and watched, instead of coaching. Or they drank coffee and texted while their classes ran without them.

Maybe they were just too old to change. Maybe they got into group fitness for the wrong reasons. But they’re all gone now; all that experience and knowledge lost because they couldn’t say “good morning!” at 5 a.m. every day for five years. They had more than enough knowledge, but couldn’t keep a client because they couldn’t smile or hug them.

The most successful fitness coaches in the world aren’t the L4 experts. They’re Richard Simmons and Suzanne Summers: the ones who can show up and smile every day. If that’s not you, then put someone else at the front door. Put a younger, happier coach on your website. Tell their story, and your clients’ stories. Get out of their way. 


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.