Why We Don't Employ Designated "Program Designers"

I've been asked a number of times recently why we don't have employees whose role is exclusively to design programming for our athletes. The assumption is that we would increase operational efficiencies by doing so, and also free up our coaches to do what they do best - coach. I don't disagree with this mentality, but I also don't think it is an optimal approach for our business at Cressey Sports Performance.

The systems we employ need less and less tinkering over time as our business matures. When it comes to delivering individualized training materials to our athletes, we realize that at this point in time it is not necessarily the machine that is in need of servicing, but instead the experience. Part of the experience of training at CSP is knowing that there is a coach on the training floor who not only knows how to instruct the material that has been designed for you, but also knows exactly why each exercise was integrated into your programming. 

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There is a certain level of nuance that can only be appreciated by a coach who is in the room for a movement screening or postural analysis. Additionally, an off-the-training-floor programming specialist can't possibly have the instinct to integrate a necessary exercise modification because they aren't "in the trenches" observing the unexpected challenge that a high school athlete had while executing his front squat or reverse lunge during his last month of training.

The volume of variables to consider when delivering truly individualized programming in a performance training setting exceeds the capabilities of someone who sits in an office in front of exercise templates cranking out generic material. Much like radiologists have been known to read X-rays more accurately when they have seen the patient's photo, coaches prepare the best programming scenarios for their athletes when they have stood alongside them in the gym observing how they handle the material and cues that have been thrown their way in the past. 

I am at peace with foregoing a little bit of supposed operational efficiency if it increases the likelihood that our athletes are being put in the best position possible to succeed. For now, my team will continue on with their multi-tasking.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #9

In this ninth edition of Gym Owner Musings, I will share thoughts ranging from cleaning up your on-boarding processes, to improving the client experience on day one of their time with you.

Here goes…

1 - Spend a week doing a job yourself before hiring to fill the position

My Office Manager moved on from her role this past week, leaving me with a vacancy at the front desk. For the first five years we were in business, I served as the unofficial "face of CSP" greeting clients and handling all things administrative around the gym.

I thought to myself: "I've got this. I'll be back in the groove by the end of my first day back."

What I failed to realize was how dramatically a role can shift as you scale your business over a five-year period. While I helped to mold the general framework of the systems we implement on a daily basis, I don't operate them all myself consistently. Foot traffic is now higher than I remember it, the phone rings more often, and the list of variables to juggle in this position has increased considerably.

As we find ourselves on the cusp of making a final hire to fill this position, I am going to spend a few weeks cleaning up our systems. My primary objective is to prepare an on-boarding scenario where I am introducing material that I am entirely familiar with.

If you own a gym, try not to ask employees to complete tasks that you haven't experienced yourself. With this policy in place, you’ll earn credibility with your team, and have a complete understanding of the responsibilities you are handing off.

2 - Build something memorable into the initial visit

It is easy to fall into the mentality that the magic is created once clients hit the training floor with their first personalized program in-hand, while missing an opportunity to create a memorable experience on day one. If you believe the cliche that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, why are you mechanically working your athlete through an FMS checklist and then pushing her out the door with the expectation that "the fun starts next time?"

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It doesn't take much to make a new client feel like you went off-script (in a positive way) during their initial visit. Here at CSP, every time we evaluate a new professional baseball player, we have them finish by signing the "signature wall" in the gym. We'll then put the finishing touches on the experience by tagging the athlete in a tweet welcoming him to the "CSP Family."

In short, make people feel important during their initial visit.

3 - Clients won't fully appreciate a training solution until you help them to appreciate the problem.

A couple of years ago, one of our coaches brought his girlfriend (now wife) in to CSP for an assessment with Tony Gentilcore. Tony worked her through his usual screening process, stopping at one point to ask that she attempt to touch her toes. She gave it a shot, failed to do so, and mentioned that this was something she simply couldn't do.

Tony then pulled out a lacrosse ball and worked her through a few minutes of lower extremity soft tissue work, with particular emphasis on the bottom of her feet. Roughly three minutes after her initial attempt, this CSP newbie was able to touch her toes for the first time in recent memory.

She explains: "From that point forward, I was buying anything Tony had to sell. I thought he was a magician."

Tony didn't have to solve the problem on day one. He could have made a note about poor flexibility on his sheet, committed himself to addressing the issue in his first month of programming, and assume that she would "get it" when he built individualized warmups into her program that would take into consideration flexibility limitations and faulty movement patterns. Thankfully, he didn't.

If you want to create buy-in from your newest clients, you can start by solving manageable problems on day one. "We'll get to that" isn't going to cut it with people who are on the ropes as to whether or not they'll return following their initial screening.

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Build Audience & Influence With 30 Days of Deliberate Social Media Strategy

In the next 30 days, you could dramatically increase the size of your audience, gain a better appreciation of the type of information your followers crave, and increase overall leads and engagement. Before I explain how, you should know that this hypothetical project will be anything but a shortcut.

The Project

On Sunday, October 22nd, I sat in the audience listening intently as Jordan Syatt delivered the final presentation of the day at our 6th annual Cressey Sports Performance Fall Seminar. Having grown an Instagram following of just a couple of thousand on up to more than a quarter of a million in roughly a year, Jordan had earned the right to address a room of nearly 200 fitness professionals on the topic of social media strategy.

During the early stages of his presentation, Jordan mentioned that his employer and mentor, Gary Vaynerchuk, had issued him a challenge during the first handful of weeks that he was working with him: Pick the social media platform (or platforms) of your choice, and commit to three posts per day for a thirty-day period.

I opened the calendar application on my phone as he went into more detail on the challenge and considered what the next thirty days of my life looked like. If I were to start the following morning, I could publish my 90th post right around dinner time on the eve of Thanksgiving. What the hell, I thought...let's do it.

A couple of important notes before I get started:

  1. I realize my social media following is anything but huge. A number of my readers have many multiples of my following, so please don't interpret my message as an attempt to position myself as a social guru.

  2. I did not apply this project to the Cressey Sports Performance social media accounts. This was strictly a personal branding endeavor.

How I Attacked It

Moving from an average of roughly three posts per week to three posts per day required a dramatic shift in my creative strategy. I knew that I'd fall flat on my face after a day or two if I didn't systemize my approach to content creation, so I built it into my schedule. I was first introduced to the concept of deliberate practice when I read So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport, and this project ultimately became an exercise in deliberate practice of social media content curation and creation.

The first thing I did was to create a daily checklist to help me track output. What doesn't get tracked, doesn't get done. 

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Every evening, as my wife and I sat on the couch watching mindless television, I spent 10-15 minutes scrolling through my own blog archives in search of inspiration. I'd flag specific quotes or posts as a whole, and set them aside to be revisited the following morning. When I arrived to my office the next day, I would begin with a 30-minute period where I would outline my three tweets, and my three Instagram posts for the day. I then created three Instagram post drafts which could be revisited later in the day, and loaded my three prepared tweets to my Evernote application so that I could cut and paste when needed.

My primary objective with this preparation strategy was to eliminate the need to be brainstorming content ideas at a time when I needed my head clear to execute my usual CSP-related tasks.

While I could have used a structured publishing service such as Hootsuite or Buffer, I chose to stick with the resources at my fingertips, and programmed alarms in my phone to remind me that it was time to publish at 10:30am, 2:30pm, and 6:30pm.

Where Am I Going to Find 90 Ideas?

Roughly 90% of the material I shared during this process was recycled content that I'd published in recent years. It didn't take long for me to realize that this was the perfect opportunity to make old content new again. If you've been publishing a blog, creating videos, or churning out other forms of informational content consistently for a year or more, you likely already have all of the information you need to populate 90 posts in the next 30 days.

I've published my fair share of "listicle" posts in the past, so pieces such as 10 Considerations as You Search for the Perfect Gym Location easily served as 10 different Instagram posts. The material was already outlined and written, so this was just a matter of creating a corresponding visual and copying the blog text into the Instagram image description. (Content Creation Tip: If you are looking for an image editing application, I recommend either Canva or Wordswag)

My second content goldmine sat within my Twitter archives. Did you know that you can download every tweet you've ever published in a single excel file? This gave me easy access to more than 1,000 previously published posts that could either be screen-grabbed for an Instagram post, or reformatted into an attractive visual using the image editing applications mentioned above. You can find a step-by-step guide to downloading your archives here.

My third consistent source of content inspiration was my newsletter archive. I have published 72 weekly "Friday Four" newsletters to date. Every Friday I send off an email containing four pieces of content I consumed over the course of the week that will influence my future blog material and challenge me to think differently about how I manage Cressey Sports Performance. My primary objective each week is to share some business-specific information from outside of the world of fitness. Whenever I was in a little bit of a creative rut during this 30-day period, I would dig into these archives and find an article to share along with a memorable quote from the text. (If you're interested in receiving this weekly email, you can access old broadcasts and sign up here)

The Outcome

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If you're a fan of vanity metrics, you'll be interested to learn that I increased my Instagram audience by 50% during the month. I also tripled the previous daily pace of adding new Twitter followers. Additionally, I saw massive upticks in impressions, profile visits and mentions according to my Twitter analytics . In the end, I found a great deal more value in building my ability to influence as a result of this process than I did from building the actual size of my following, but that number grew nonetheless.

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I was reminded of the importance of repeatedly exposing my audience to my unique area of expertise. The noticeable increase in content output prompted dozens of unsolicited "shout-outs" praising my material, including more than one mention on Facebook, which wasn't even one of the targeted platforms. This kind of social proof can't be purchased; you've got to put in the work to earn it.

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The most important lesson I learned during this process is that as your audience grows over time, it is careless to assume that new fans have bothered to discover what lies in your archives. I wrote a number of blogs that I am especially proud of during a time that nearly no one was listening. This 30-day challenge presented an opportunity to bring that material back from the dead. If you've previously published content that you continue to stand behind today, you likely have plenty of new followers who are unaware of it's existence. Pull the "old stuff" out of storage and treat it as evergreen content.

Moving Forward

This experience was both time consuming and rewarding. It will likely be awhile before you see me churn out this volume of material on such a consistent basis, but I can now comfortably commit to a post per day on each platform without hesitation. If you're going to attack this project, I'd encourage you to start with a single platform. In hindsight, choosing to focus on both Twitter and Instagram simultaneously created more headaches than I may have needed. If three posts daily is entirely out of the question for you, target two and hold yourself accountable to it. Tell a handful of friends or colleagues that you intend to make it happen, and allow them to keep you accountable to the commitment.

Most importantly, regularly remind yourself of this: If publishing quality social media content three times a day on multiple platforms were easy, everyone would do it. It isn't.

The Value in Giving More Than You Take

A couple of months back I received a chat message from my good friend Jon Goodman. He explained that he was unable to make the trip out to our annual fall seminar here in Massachusetts, and he was hoping that I might be willing to do him a favor...

Jon requested permission to send in a small film team to record a handful of testimonials for his new product, The Online Trainer Academy, on the day of our event. The request made sense - we were expecting to have Eric Cressey, Jordan Syatt and John Romaniello in attendance, and this was a shot at getting all three in front of the camera in a single location on the same day. All three are influencers in the online fitness community, so I get it.

I could have been greedy about it and asked what was in it for me. I could have acted inconvenienced and claimed that the distraction would disrupt the seminar and take the focus away from our team of presenters. Instead, I said: "Hell yes. How can I help?"

I knew that Jon's crew would handle themselves professionally and stay out of our way as we went about hosting our event, so why not do what I can to make his life a little easier?

Things went off without a hitch. We successfully delivered our best reviewed and most attended fall seminar to date, and Jon got some great testimonial videos for his product.

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Fast forward three weeks, when another chat message from Jon arrives:

Hey dude. When my guys were at your seminar I asked them to interview attendees to give testimonials for your event and film you a little event trailer. The Dropbox folder below has a few things in it:

  1. A full event trailer (3 minutes)
  2. A 30-second 'social media friendly' event trailer
  3. 5 Testimonial videos
  4. 6 Short 'Instagram friendly' videos

Hope that this stuff helps with your promotion next year.

Jon didn't need to do any of that, but he did because he knows the value of surprising others with over-delivery. The lesson here is simple: Be generous with your time, your resources, and your attention. If you take a long-game approach to your personal relationships, the good people in this field will find ways to reciprocate.

Check out the great CSP Fall Seminar event recap video Jon’s crew prepared here.

* PS - Jon got all of his great video work done by Justin Ross at www.monkeyreelmedia.com.

The Dangers of Aligning Your Gym With a Specific Team or Program

You might have heard a few of these before if you run a business catering to youth athletes....

  • You guys HAVE TO open a gym in our new indoor training facility!
  • Let's list your business on our website as the official training provider of our program!
  • We've got 18 teams and ALL of our guys will DEFINITELY train with you if you take over the gym in our building!
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Before you go ahead and align yourself with a specific club team or program, I want you to remind you of something important...

There is no loyalty in youth club sports.

I've watched dozens upon dozens of kids declare their new program to be the best because of the amazing travel schedule they've lined up for the coming summer and "their sick new uniforms." It seems to me that roughly 50% of these athletes jump ship immediately following the summer because they are either pissed about playing time, or the lack of organization experienced over the course of a chaotic season.

It doesn’t stop there.

Maybe the "favorite coach" in the program found a better opportunity and moved elsewhere...you think athletes won’t consider taking a walk with him? Maybe the best player in your program just got poached by a competitor offering free enrollment in an attempt to beef up his roster. Maybe the connected helicopter dad who "knows a ton of scouts" insists that the club down the road is going to be at all the biggest tournaments next summer and his legion of followers is considering tagging along.

When all of these scenarios play themselves out, you're the gym owner stuck with a long-term lease and a client roster that unfortunately seems to reinvent itself every six-to-twelve months. You're also publicly attached to the program that is relentlessly bad-mouthing the competitor that "stole their guys" and "has no class."

Do you really want to put yourself in that situation when you could instead position your business to help all of the kids, from all of the programs?

Be the Switzerland of performance centers in your area. Be neutral.

Resent the Idea of Free Evaluations? Here's a Solution

Somewhere along the line, our industry got the reputation of being a place where a free trial is the rule instead of the exception. I couldn’t walk into a new dentist’s office tomorrow and demand a complimentary cleaning “because I’m considering giving them my business,” but it is considered more than acceptable to do so at the gym down the road.

If you’ve read my material in the past, you know that we rarely offer free assessments at CSP. Since our inception, the cost on day-one has been $99. That’s our prerogative, just like offering a free evaluation at your gym is yours. However, I know for certain that there are a number of you out there who resent the feeling of obligation to issue a “freebie” thanks to the competitive alternatives in your area.

What if we were to meet somewhere in the middle?

Instead of giving away that $99 initial visit (I’m using the CSP price point for this example), why not charge the fee on day one, but offer to apply the total toward the first month of training should the client choose to return beyond their first visit?

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A few years back, we had an agreement in place to offer complimentary assessments to members of a specific collegiate development program. Over time, we found that our conversion percentage following day-one was noticeably lower with this population than it was for those who paid for their initial visit. Our solution was to continue to offer $99 worth of savings, but it was contingent upon signing up for the initial month. And wouldn’t you know it...conversion rates improved.

Consider mixing in this approach at your own shop moving forward and you may find that new clients have a better appreciation for the value of your time, and an improved perception of the quality of your services.

In the end, you’ll still be able to advertise “$99 worth of savings in month-one,” right?

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My Time in a Commercial Gym Influences the Way I Run My Facility Today

Note from PDToday's guest post comes from my buddy, Mike Connelly. Mike is the owner of Rebell Strength & Conditioning, located in Chicago. He's got an extremely grounded approach to building a team, a community, and a profitable gym in general. Enjoy! 

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It wasn’t until I opened my own training facility that I gained a proper respect for the years I spent in a corporate gym setting.  While I was in the trenches of the big box world I had a hard time seeing the positives for one simple reason; I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I wasn’t aware that no matter where you go in the professional training world there will be a quota waiting for you.  I didn’t realize that training the clients was the easy part and that getting them in the door was where the real work was happening.  I had a sense of entitlement to more than I really deserved and that drove me to go out and find it for myself.  A great deal of what I implement in my daily business practices stem from the very things I complained about as a young, corporate trainer.  Now, I am very grateful that someone took the time to instill these values into me. 

Here are five rules I employed in a corporate setting that absolutely carry over to running my own business:

1. Be disciplined & consistent  

My first manager used to turn applicants away if they were even 30 seconds late for an appointment. To him, if being on time wasn’t part of who you were, you had no place in this industry.  I agree.  We have to be reliable, and our performance has to be like clockwork.  It’s one way we build trust with our clients and break down barriers in order to build productive relationships.  A consistent experience will create long-term clients, while inconsistencies and unreliability will burn through your book of business if you’re even able to build one. 

2. Work as a team and be on the same page 

Our training team averaged 13 or so trainers at any one point of the year.  The turnover was a little better than average by my guess.  Here’s why; we didn’t see each other as competition.  New trainers were welcomed into our little community very warmly.  We worked with each other on our weak points and bolstered up our strong points.  If someone was hurting for business, we worked together to help them out.  This all created synergy, and when that happens, the limits to what you can do disappear quickly and so do the negative vibes.  It also kept the powers-that-be at bay.  Nobody is going to interfere when business is good, and you are taking care of business.  This is a lot easier to do when everyone is working together toward one goal.

3. Build relationships with everyone   

One thing my team was exceedingly good at was creating a positive environment that everyone wanted to be a part of.  Our welcome didn’t stop at our clients; we were friendly with everybody.  Everyone knew who we were, and we knew everybody’s name. A big barrier in the gym setting is misconceptions.  Walking up to someone with a smile and greeting them by name on a consistent basis clears things up quick. Spend time building relationships that are centered on making people happy and the business will grow organically!  

4. Put a smile on everyone’s face, including yours

The people we work with deal with different stressors throughout their day.  They have bosses giving them deadlines, kids’ schedules to keep up with, and countless other adult things that nobody wants to think about.  Let’s do our best to not add more to that list than we have to.  Sure, we add physical stress to their day, but try to keep it light otherwise.  My goal was always to make everyone I ran into throughout the day laugh or smile.  Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you get crickets, but if you’re trying that will not go unnoticed, and it will be greatly appreciated.  

5. Do whatever it takes to better yourself & your work environment    

Nothing is perfect, including the job description you were given when you applied.  If you can get past the idea of “that’s not my job” and focus more on accomplishing a common goal, then your business, as well as the business as a whole, is going to reap the benefits.  Is the training room dirty?  Grab a mop and a bucket and go to town.  Garbage on the main floor?  Pick it up.  Someone’s client needs scheduling and their trainer is unavailable?  Grab a pen and dive into that scheduling book.  Your daily habits should revolve less around a job description and more around mission accomplishment.  People who write job descriptions are fallible, but that doesn’t lessen your responsibility for bettering yourself and your work environment.  

I understand that there are a lot of frustrations when working in this kind of environment, but if we focus less on those frustrations and more on how we can make a positive impact, then things turn out pretty nicely for everyone involved.  Look at it this way, you are getting paid to prepare yourself for bigger things!  I promise you that if you pay attention and work at it, the payoff will be big someday.   Just don’t be in a rush to get to that day. 

In the Strength Faction we are working hard to build a sound support system for trainers in this environment.  Luckily, we have a robust network of coaches with varying experiences to add to brilliant conversations about this subject.  Things are developing quickly! 

If you are in a rut or would like to work toward improving both yourself and your work environment, feel free to contact me at mike@rebellstrength.com and I’d be happy to help.  If you would like to learn more about the Strength Faction visit www.strengthfaction.com.

A Surprising Lesson Learned While Building An Online Fitness Community

Note from PD: Today's guest post comes from my good friend, Todd Bumgardner. Todd has recently given me a unique forum to share weekly fitness business insights with his crew at the Strength Faction, so I was excited to get some of his material up on my platform when he offered. Enjoy! 

A Surprising Lesson...

We were standing in the gravel lane outside my buddy Josh’s house shooting the shit. We’d just finished taking a few passes up and down the fence row in his fields, hoping to kick out a few rabbits but really just taking our guns for a walk. A guy we went to high school with stopped by because he was borrowing some camping equipment from Josh. Josh is friendly with the guy, I remembered him from school, and we played a bit when we were little kids, but we weren’t really friends. He started in, however, on the current state of affairs in his life.

“Yeah, I’m at $13.21 an hour right now, I’m hoping that if I get this new position at the plant that’ll bump be up to an even $14 an hour.”

My first thought was something like, “Holy shit, man, how do you eat?” He worked hard, 40-plus hour weeks at a diaper and hygiene products factory a little closer to town. Though his story held a twinge of convoluted and corroded gratitude, he didn’t seem to take much joy, or pride, in his work. By all accounts he’s a decent guy, and don’t think for a second that I’m dogging him for a humble job and a humble wage. I sincerely believe that no work done well is trivial. It’s also taken me a lot of hard work to make a decent living in the fitness industry. There were quite a few years of trying to figure out how to pay all of my bills and put gas in my car.

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I was raised by someone that worked a humble job for a humble wage. My mom worked in a super market deli for 20 years. Her final wage, before she had a stroke could no longer work was about $16 an hour. So, when I considered where I came from, mostly, I thought, “Holy fuck, there’s no reason that I couldn’t be doing the same thing as him.” I could be right along side him, stuffing boxes or moving them. But I’m not.

I think we’ll all agree that doing something that you deeply enjoy, and know has a profound impact on other people, is better than working some job just to get by—even if all work, no matter how humble, is in some way honorable. The experience of building something you love is deeper at all levels than just working a job. And the whole of the production actually holds more capital—no matter which way you choose to apply the word in context. And I get to do that.

My job is to getter better, to continually develop myself, so that my partners and I can take this thing we created, Strength Faction, and evolve it so that it better helps people. We created something that didn’t exist before, and it helps personal trainers and strength coaches learn, grow, and live better lives. And I stop for a second and think, “Fuck, man, that’s my job. This is bananas.” That’s where my mind went that evening in the gravel driveway.

A few years ago when I was in transition out of one job and into the wide-open ether that is fitness entrepreneurship I wrote on a post-it note that I wanted to be “The Dave Grohl of Strength and Conditioning.” I stuck it to the wall in front of my desk and stared at it every day for months as I worked. To me, that meant, and still means, to be a good dude, someone that brings passion and energy to their work, that creates things that people enjoy and also greatly improves their lives, to do my best to be approachable and fun to be around. Dave Grohl has been one of my heroes for a long time, and it’s because of how hard the guy works to put out quality art while also appreciating that he gets to do what he does—entertain millions of people all over the world while writing songs that relate to parts of life we’ve all encountered and felt the pain or joy of. It’s his palpable gratitude that’s so magnetic to me.

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As I’m writing this article, blog, whatever in the hell you want to call it, I’m listening to the Foo Fighters song “Aint It The Life.” The first verse goes like this:

“Dear Haley

 Can you save me from the borrowed cloud I’m on?

 All you’ve gotta do is try, pray you’re just getting by.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m on some borrowed cloud, like this shit can’t be real. I get to run a business with two of my best friends. I get to build a program that educates people, that helps them develop personally and professionally, and watch the people of a community congeal to take care of each other in so many ways. And I feel grateful.

I know I could be working a factory job back home in Pennsylvania. I could be doing something that isn’t nearly as meaningful to me or anyone else, and I could be bitter and resentful about it. I realize that if I sit on my ass and grow complacent that all of this will be taken away, and that I’m not the only one that will suffer because of it.

But today, I woke up with the coolest job in the world, building an online community of people all over the world that want to kick ass, be better at their jobs, and be better people.

So, apart from all of the tactical lessons, the learning about how to organize systems, get people on the same page, and develop something from the ground up, the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past two years of running Strength Faction is to be even more fucking grateful for my life and what’s in it.

That’s something we can all take away from whatever situation that we’re in. We get to be wherever we are, doing whatever we are doing right now, when things could be impossibly worse. But they’re not. And we have all this opportunity to impact other people and help improve their lives while doing the same for ourselves.

Ain’t it the life?

Gym Owner Musings – Installment #8 – Internship Edition

There are currently nearly 200 names in the Cressey Sports Performance intern alumni database. Each and every one of these individuals has taught us something valuable along the way. In this eighth edition of Gym Owner Musings I will share a tip for internship candidates, a frustration about the state of the internship industry as a whole, and a valuable reminder for the business owners currently leading programs of this nature.

Here goes…

1. Attention Candidates: You Are More Powerful Than You Realize

Seth Godin has said that “the closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.” When he speaks of “the front,” he means the client-facing portion of your business. In a gym setting, this would be the fitness professional delivering a memorable experience on the training floor. When I give an intern the opportunity to engage with our athletes, I am effectively giving him the keys to my brand.

If you are a coach considering internship opportunities, make sure to ask your interviewers what kind of autonomy you’ll have on their gym floor, and if you will have an opportunity to impact the character of the training environment. As the person sitting on the other side of the table, I can vouch that there is nothing more refreshing than finding a motivated candidate who is requesting a structure that sets high expectations while also providing the freedom to be remarkable.

The CSP Mass Fall Interns Have Been Especially Good To-Date

The CSP Mass Fall Interns Have Been Especially Good To-Date

2. The Frustrating Thing About Low Barriers to Entry…

There is almost no barrier to entry for personal trainers. This is obviously dangerous for the fitness consumer who is willing to put his or her faith in fitness professionals. Similarly, there is nothing stopping mediocre gym owners from throwing an Internships tab on their website and declaring that they provide a great resume-building experience. Many internships prioritize driving unpaid employees through the doors of gyms over the education of the coaches who will one day move on to influence the direction of our industry. Buyer beware.

The internship program offered at CSP is far better today than it was a decade ago. We’re constantly improving our onboarding processes, the overarching curriculum, and the on the floor coaching of coaches.

Despite our dedication to improving the experience, the volume of applications is on a bit of a downswing in recent years. Today I have to think about my program as a business within my business that needs to be properly branded, positioned, and marketed. I have no doubt that we’re on the cusp of seeing targeted internship program advertising on platforms like Facebook as similar businesses look to continue developing talent.

In the long run, we will all be reminded that survival and success are not the same thing, and the strongest programs will have the staying power that keeps them relevant a decade from now.

3. A Reminder for Program Coordinators

Making a bad full-time hire hurts bottom line, negatively impacts the optics surrounding your business, and can set you back months. This is exactly why we will only hire through our internship program at CSP. With 300-500 hours of coaching experience under our roof at the conclusion of an internship period, we can safely say whether or not a coach fits our culture and possesses the necessary skill set to thrive as a member of our team.

I don’t make bad long-term hires. I do, however, swing and miss on the occasional intern. It is important that I continue to do so in order to ensure that we are regularly identifying the character and personality styles that align with our goals, or introduce new aspirations. There are plenty of phenomenal coaching approaches and training philosophies out there, but they don’t all make sense for my business.

If you offer an internship program at your gym, embrace the fact that you’re going to choose poorly from time to time. What you can’t afford to do is fail to learn from each poor decision you’ve made.

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Market Toward One Audience and You'll Enjoy the Perks of Many

“How am I supposed to focus on marketing to a single demographic when my business has about five different client avatars?”

My buddy Andy was thinking out loud in the back of the room this past weekend as he and I listened to presenter Adam Bornstein wax poetic on the importance of knowing what problem your business solves, exactly whom it helps, and what makes your service offering valuable. Andy runs a gym we'll call Andy's Gym (AG) that KILLS it with the elite football scene, but he’s afraid of that reputation costing him business with other populations.

Bornstein's Walk-out song was "I'll Make Love To You" By Boyz II Men. True story.

Bornstein's Walk-out song was "I'll Make Love To You" By Boyz II Men. True story.

The fear of being typecast…

I know it. I’ve felt it.

Back in 2007, my business partners and I sat down to discuss our “growing problem” that football players and lax bros weren’t going to want to train with us because we were becoming seen as “the baseball guys.”

God forbid we veer off of the popular jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none track, right?

As you probably already realize, we quickly dropped that discussion and went all-in on our pursuit of cornering the baseball-specific strength and conditioning market. Had we not made this move, you likely wouldn’t be reading any blog material from me right now. The odds are decent that I would have burned out and left the industry entirely thanks to the frustration that comes with struggling to operate a business in a crowded field without possessing any differentiating traits.

So here’s what I asked Andy…

If you had a football client moving to the Boston area, and they asked you how they were going to survive without AG in their life, what would you tell them?

“I’d tell them to get in their car and drive to CSP.”

I facetiously pressed further…

But you’d hesitate because us baseball guys could never fully understand the unique needs of the football-playing demo, right?

“That’s bullshit. I know you guys would take good care of him.”

Exactly. And here’s the lesson that it took me a couple of years to learn: If you successfully position yourself as “the best” in one particular realm of fitness, you can count on people assuming that you’re far above average in working with most other athletic populations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered “I know you’re the baseball guys, BUT…”

  • I figured you’d be able to take care of my daughter who plays volleyball.
  • My son’s tennis coach said you’d be his best bet for fixing his cranky shoulder.
  • Someone told me that the work you do with pitchers might translate well to swimmers.

The leads keep rolling in, and it turns out that being pigeonholed isn’t so bad for business. My best advice for Andy relating to brand positioning is to embrace his “football guy” reputation. He should speak directly to that population in his marketing efforts without fear of retribution from the general fitness community.

The middle-aged recreational athlete living around the corner from Andy's gym is never going to say: “That guy who trains a dozen NFL players probably can’t handle the task of helping me get a little stronger before golf season rolls around.”

Master one trade, and people will assume you’re a jack of all the rest.

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The Best Thing Your Can Do to Improve Your Gym's Training Environment

My phone pinged with a Facebook notification at 4:47pm on Saturday afternoon:

John O'Neil tagged you in a post.

I opened up the notification to find an image of four full-time CSP staff members and a pair of fall interns circled around a table eating what appeared to be ice cream cake. The right side of the image featured a (clearly fake) picture of the cake.

"Happy Birthday, Pete! Here's the crew celebrating with a micro-creamery ice cream cake for you.”

I was being trolled.

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If I had to pick my favorite part of this post, it would be the fact that John & Co. intentionally chose not to remove the HappyBirthdayCakePic.com graphic from the top corner of the photo as they attempted to pass it off as a real cake purchased to celebrate my birthday at an event I wasn't even invited to.

Why did I love it?

Well, for starters, I have a sense of humor. You can't own and operate a gym without being open to some good old fashioned ball-busting. After all, I tolerated my Office Manager Stacie’s “Happy 51st, Pete” sign that sat at the front desk the entire day before, so why not laugh at this one? (I’m 36, for the record.)

Secondly, I loved it because it illustrated the fact that I have a team that genuinely enjoys each other’s company. 4:47pm on a Saturday happens to be close to three hours after we close up shop at the end of an exhausting six-day work week. These guys could have raced home and enjoyed their 36-hour work-free window. Instead, they chose to get a lift in as a group following client hours, and then hit the road for ice cream.

There is nothing that positively impacts a training environment more than employing a collection of individuals who love working together to facilitate it.

When your coaches share a bond, the positive vibes bleed into the client experience. Camaraderie on the training floor between staff members can be contagious, and clients begin to feel at home in this setting. If you train athletes for a living, the connection that your team shares will closely simulate the clubhouse vibe that they have acclimated to during their competitive seasons.

Begin the process of cultivating a cohesive team today by focusing as much (or more) on “fit” as you do on “competency” during the hiring process. If you’re considering adding a coach to your staff, get all of your employees involved in the decision. Your coaches want to feel that they have an ownership stake in the team that they work with, not just the programming they design.

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What's The Worst They Could Say?

"List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can."

This is a section I highlighted in Never Split The Difference - Negotiate As If Your Life Depended on It.

My most recent entertainment.

My most recent entertainment.

Have you bothered to list the most common counter arguments you've received while giving your fitness services sales pitch over the months or years you've been in business?

  • Your gym is too far from my home for me to train there consistently.

  • The cost is a big jump from the monthly rate I pay for my commercial gym membership.

  • I'm concerned that I won't be able to properly execute my program without supervision upon returning home. What if I forget how to do an exercise?

These are a few of mine. A little frustrating? Sure. But insurmountable? Definitely not.

I can anticipate the sticking points in my canned sales pitch coming into just about every conversation as long as I know a little bit about the lead. Did they list a home address in their email signature? Who referred them to our business? What kind of terminology did they use regarding injury history or training experience in their voicemail?

Unless you answered a phone call unprepared, or someone dropped in unexpectedly, the clues are probably already in place to allow for an informed pitch while getting ahead of "the worst things the other party could say."

Want an example?

"I noticed in your email signature that you guys are from Connecticut. We've got clients coming in from all over New England, so I'm certain we can take good care of you...We know the long commute can be a limiting factor in the frequency with which you'll be able to make it in to see us, so we've created a system that allows for a single weekly supervised training session here at CSP along with training material designed to be easily executed at a gym closer to your home. We'll also give you access to our regularly updated exercise video database to ensure that you have a resource to lean on should you find that you're a little hazy on proper exercise execution upon returning home...We want to make sure that you feel properly equipped to maximize what you take away from your time in the gym since you'll be paying a premium price point for your entirely individualized training materials."

Distance concerns? Not anymore.

Worth the cost? Yup.

Productive use of time, even if just once weekly? Absolutely.

A little proactivity in your approach to selling can effectively eliminate some of the biggest headaches you currently encounter on a daily basis. Sit down and write your list now so that you can start closing more leads and abbreviate some previously lengthy pitches.

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.

Sometimes the Customer is Wrong

“This place just isn’t the same as it used to be…”

When this message comes from a client, it is rarely meant to convey positivity. It always stings.

You’ve probably heard the same thing yourself if you’ve been running a gym for more than a couple of years. I have some good news - sometimes your clients are wrong, or simply don’t appreciate what is in the best long-term interest of your business.

One of our first, and most loyal clients is a guy named Sahil. He was one of the dozen or so athletes who set foot in our first facility on day-one, and has managed to complete close to 1,000 training sessions here at CSP in his lifetime. Sahil has earned the right to be critical of our business, and he has never been afraid to share his thoughts.

He dropped the “this place has changed” card on me a couple of years back after returning to train as a recent college grad. It didn’t stop there…

  • The training environment isn’t as rugged as I remember it.

  • People aren’t as strong as they used to be around here.

  • You guys are too corporate now.

Most of the things he said were probably accurate. We had changed, but it was due to necessity. Grungy powerlifting gyms don’t scale well, and they hardly illustrate a safe and professional training environment to professional athletes and parents of teenagers.

When Sahil began training with us, we were bootstrapping it as a startup trying to find our identity as a business. Our optimal training environment changed dramatically between year one and year six. At some point during that very same period, Sahil stopped representing our ideal client. That’s okay. If you were to ask him now, he’d probably tell you that he sees why we pivoted a little bit and understands the rationale.

The next time a long-time client tells you “this place has lost its magic,” fight the urge to make immediate changes in an attempt to be everything to everyone. Instead, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Have we lost sight of what makes this place great, or are we simply making the necessary adjustments to take us to the next level?

  2. Is the person who is sharing their concerns still a member of my target market, or have their life circumstances and training needs changed over time? If you've built a business that is designed to cater to high school and collegiate athletes, you probably shouldn't be losing sleep over the tough feedback that you got from a client who is no longer a member of either of these demos. 

You’re going to have to let go of some of your garage gym tendencies if you want to take this operation from an entertaining hobby to a viable long-term business. There will be times where “thank you for your feedback” will suffice, followed by staying on your course.

Remember, the client doesn’t always have to be right.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment 7

I’ve accumulated a boatload of random lessons learned in more than a decade of operating a fitness facility. Some warrant entire presentations, podcasts, and blog posts; others carry plenty of value but can fit within the confines of a 140-character Tweet.

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This seventh edition of my Gym Owner Musings series is dedicated to a few portions of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck that I highlighted as I worked my way through the book. Here are three quick insights inspired by this book that fall somewhere in between Twitter-friendly and ”blog-worthy”:

1. Certainty is the enemy of growth

"When we learn something new, we don't go from "wrong" to "right." Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong."

Believe it or not, there was a time when Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) didn’t have a single kettlebell. In fact, we operated for more than a year before one made its way into our gym. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we didn’t believe in their usefulness, we had not yet embraced the equipment as a mandatory staple within our gym. It was one of our more forward-thinking adult clients who got the wheels in motion on our embracing the kettlebell when he chose to gift one to Eric for his 27th birthday.

Imagine if we were so certain about the passing trendiness of this piece of equipment that we stubbornly refused to accept it as a necessity here at CSP? We’d have stunted our growth as fitness service providers, staying firmly locked in the “wrong” position with no intention of moving toward “slightly less wrong.”

Today, the kettlebell is not the driving force behind our training philosophy, but it is an important tool in our toolbox. Its presence in the CSP Strength Camps logo is testament to our steadfast belief in a piece of equipment that we once felt would be a passing phase in our industry. It feels good to be slightly less wrong.

IMG_0535.PNG

2. Pricing & the paradox of choice

"The more options we're given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we're aware of all the other options we're potentially forfeiting."

I’ll be delivering a presentation titled Gym Ownership In Hindsight - A Decade of Lessons Learned at our upcoming 6th annual CSP Fall Seminar. In it, I will go into detail regarding the mistake I’ve made in allowing for a convoluted pricing structure that features multiple grandfathered price points, an overwhelming buffet of cost and service offerings, and a lack of simplicity in general.

It turns out that my attempts to please everybody ultimately snowballed into a system that is complicated to train my employees on, and tip-toeing the line of creating a paradox of choice (loosely defined in the quote above) for my clients. Right now, we are toying with the idea of scaling back to a model that would feature as few as two or three price points. The idea is a little terrifying, but the growth that may come with the move could be significant.

The first, and probably most important step along the way in the process is parting ways with the crippling opinion that our business model is too complex to simplify.

3. Confusing great attention with great success

"Our culture today confuses great attention and great success, assuming them to be the same thing. But they are not."

New gym owners make the mistake of confusing the initial bump of foot traffic that comes with being “the new guy in town” with actual established business viability all the time. These are the entrepreneurs who think that if some is good, more is better, and jump on the first opportunity they get to open that second (or even third) location before they know what they really have. How can you determine the viability of a second facility scenario when you’re working off of 8-months worth of revenue figures?

The same can be said for the personal trainer who sees a spike in his Instagram following thanks to a handful of shirtless training pictures and then chooses to quit his day job to chase the dream of being a social media influencer.

Great attention does not guarantee great success, especially when it is tied to the novelty of newness.

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Tony Was a Weirdo, So Mark Started a Gym

"Without Tony Gentilcore, there would be no Mark Fisher Fitness."

Let that sink in for a second.

I had the pleasure of speaking alongside Mark Fisher at the Structure(d) Business Seminar this past weekend. After the presentations had been delivered and the featured speakers gathered in front of the room, a common question was posed to the "expert" panel: What is your best piece of advice for someone who would like to achieve opinion-leader status within our industry?

My fellow presenters cycled through all of the usual relevant answers:

  • Be patient because this takes time...
  • You need to accrue relevant and noteworthy experiences...
  • Consistency is key...
  • Say things that haven't been beaten to death already...

And then it was my turn to talk.

"There is nothing more important than authenticity."

Allow Me To Tell You A Quick Story

In 2010 we decided we were ready to take Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) out of the hobby zone, and into the "they actually have a real website" category.

We found a reputable web-design firm, outlined our needs, and told them to take some creative freedoms with the product. One of the interesting features they came back to us with was a scrolling blog feed at the top of the home page. This plug-in allowed for the most recent blog posts published by Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, and Brian St. Pierre to populate in a revolving fashion right at the top of our page. We’ve always worked to give our audience as many avenues as possible to perceive our expertise, and this feed was a great tool for doing so.

Tony doing his "thought leader" thing at the Motivation & Movement Lab

Tony doing his "thought leader" thing at the Motivation & Movement Lab

At the time, we catered primarily to youth athletes. Parents accounted for the bulk of our site traffic. We quickly discovered a problem that wasn't going to solve itself. Tony had a habit of dropping f-bombs in his material, including the occasional appearance in a blog title. As you might imagine, we (Eric and I) were firmly of the mentality that this wouldn't reflect well on the business in the eyes of high school athlete's parents.

Tony was reminded again and again: "Stop it with the foul language. It's bad for business."

For a while there, he really tried. He pulled back on the expletives. I think he even scaled back on using some of his favorite phrases such as "I feel like slamming my face into a brick wall every time I see (insert exercise description here)."

After a while, though, he realized that the censoring was hurting his ability to communicate authentically as he had in the past.

"Can you just take my blog out of circulation on the company homepage?"

I did as he asked...and business at CSP kept right on cruising in an upward trajectory. At the same time, Tony watched his readership grow at a similar pace.

Good on Tony for taking a stand. His personal brand has managed to remain an accurate reflection of who he is both on the internet, and in person since he first made the mistake of titling his blog "The G-Spot" back in 2006 (true story).

Fast-Forward to Today

I finished my story for the audience, and before anyone in the room could raise their hand with a follow-up question, Mark chimed in:

"Without Tony Gentilcore, there would be no Mark Fisher Fitness."

He took a few moments to elaborate, explaining that Tony's decision to avoid embracing a 100% by-the-book approach to professionalism in the realm of content creation allowed him to feel comfortable in bringing his own unpredictable and original brand to mid-town Manhattan. At that point in time, the general assumption was that you had to write as if you were hoping to be published on T-Nation if you wanted anyone to pay attention. Tony's commitment to pop-culture references, elaborate cat stories, and an obsession with Star Wars on his site became the impetus for Mark throwing caution to the wind and bringing MFF to the world by embracing an approach that he described as "full crazy."

It's kind of scary to think that my efforts of censorship could have deprived the fitness industry of unicorns and glitter, but it's true. The lesson in the end is simple - Authenticity creates more than website traffic. It also inspires creativity.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.

Sabotaging Your Sales Pitch - 4 Mistakes to Avoid

So I was mindlessly scrolling the web in search of newsletter content and I stumbled upon a title that caught my eye:

“5 VC’s Share the Worst Ways Founders Botch Their Pitches”

My interest was officially piqued. I love hearing how others screw up the selling process. Why not see if there’s a lesson or two to be learned from the way founders routinely bungle their approach to securing financing? (Full article here)

Roughly 4 minutes (Fast Company always shares a “read time” projection) and 4 points later, I realized that some of the most prevalent ways to blow a request for funding pitch to a VC also happen to be ways that I can quickly mess up a sale here at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP). Here’s a look at each of the common founder’s mistakes as listed in the article, and how they can save me from failure as I sell at CSP:

1. Overconfident Name Dropping

“Using names of investors who are “almost certainly in the deal” is a big red flag.”

Some founders feel a need to gloat about big name investors who may be in on a deal, much like some gym owners can’t seem to stop from discussing the high-profile athletes who train with them. Assuming that everyone will be impressed by who you train is a dangerous game. In my experience, the parents (or athletes) who place a priority on the fame or professional status of your other clientele are going to be driven by the wrong motivators. They either have an unreasonable expectation for their own potential to play their sport at the highest levels, or are more concerned with saying that they train at the same place as a big leaguer than they are about actually training at said facility.

This rule isn’t limited to gyms that accommodate professional athletes. Just about every town in the country has a “star quarterback,” or athlete who is considered to be the best in town. That athlete very well may train at your gym, but you have no idea what his or her reputation is off of the field. Be careful about leaning too hard on that relationship as a selling point with potential clients.

Leveraging your relationship with high-profile athletes can certainly be a single tool in your selling toolkit, but it can’t be a standardized component (or the entirety) of your pitch. There is a very specific time, place, or type of candidate who is best fit for this selling approach. Once you learn to instinctively implement this strategy when appropriate, it can be an effective closing tool. Until then, pump the breaks on broadcasting how famous your clients are.

2. Market-Size Misses

“A huge turnoff is when founders come to us with a totally overblown estimate that doesn’t reflect their corner of the universe.”

Much like founders are fond of overstating their potential market-size, fitness professionals have a dangerous habit of promising specific weight loss achievements and other metrics that are not entirely within their control as the service provider. In our baseball-specific niche, a similar mistake would be guaranteeing velocity gains for pitchers, or specific power improvements at the plate for the batters.

The reality is that work done in the weight room is only a small piece of the puzzle in the grand scheme of accomplishing those objectives. There isn’t a strength coach in the country who can guarantee that their potential clients will leave their gym and focus on putting the right food in their bodies, consume plenty of water, and get 8+ hours of sleep per night, so why are they making promises that are contingent upon each of these factors being closely controlled?

If you’re honest with the person you’re selling, then the pitch should sound a little bit like this: “We can put you in a position to succeed. We’ll give you the tools you need in the weight room to accomplish your training objectives. Combine this with a healthy diet and good lifestyle decisions, and you are likely to be extremely pleased with your results.”

You’ll never find a disgruntled former CSP client complaining that they didn’t add 10mph to their fastball like Pete promised.

3. Subtle Signs of Character Flaws

“If there is one validating factor–assuming we already like the business in the pitch, of course–it is the level of ethics/conduct we get from the entrepreneur at the very first meeting.”

Much like you’ll never find someone complaining about me using misleading sales tactics, you’re also never going to find someone who’s heard me speak poorly of the competition during the selling process. Eric and I take the whole “level of ethics/conduct” component of running this business seriously, and that means that we’re committed to never making enemies in our field. Speaking poorly of another gym or training philosophy isn’t going to serve any purpose other than to make us look territorial and immature.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last ten years I’ve told someone that “I’m an advocate of anything the promotes physical activity and gets people moving” when asked for my take on a fitness alternative. If I always take the high road, my brand will be one that carries an image of unrelenting positivity.

4. Tone-Deaf or Insensitive Language

“Words matter, and the language people use reflect the type of founder they are and the type of company they are going to build.”

You’ll seriously hurt the effectiveness of your selling efforts if you make a habit of disregarding the unique needs of the person in front of you. While we don’t see a ton of drop-in inquiries here at CSP, it is something that I encounter. Every time this type of lead walks through the door, I need to quickly determine if this is someone who is going to feed off of our high-energy training environment, or someone who is a little bit overwhelmed by the idea of joining a “rugged” gym.

If this person falls into the former category, I kick things off with a tour of the gym and let the training environment sell itself before discussing dollars and cents. If the person falls into the latter category and hints at the fact that they’re a little intimidated by weight training, the last thing I should start with is highlighting our “badass training environment.”

The look on a person’s face, the tone in their voice, and the questions they ask are all going to tell you what you need to know about the optimal way to pitch them. Don’t be tone-deaf to the signals they’re passing along and assume that every person walking through the door needs to be wowed by the guy chalking up for a max-effort deadlift single.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

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Skills Capture a Niche - Relationships Help You Retain It

You capture a fitness niche by gaining a reputation for understanding the unique training needs of a specific demographic. This will bring leads through the door. But once the leads arrive, what’s the key to keeping them under your roof?

People ask me all the time: “Are you concerned that your internship program is effectively creating huge competitive threats for your business?”

Yes. Yes I am.

However, there’s a big difference between staying appropriately concerned with a constantly evolving competitive landscape, and feeling threatened by skilled coaches delivering a similar training experience within the same segment of your field.

Understanding the needs of the baseball community isn’t rocket science, and it hardly qualifies as something we at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) treat as a trade secret. Anyone who has signed up for Eric Cressey’s newsletter or tracks his blog knows that our approach to assessment and programming for ballplayers is thoroughly outlined in material he’s made available to anyone with an internet connection.

At CSP, we are “appropriately concerned” about the training alternatives that our clients have to choose from. Awareness of alternatives is one thing, but feeling threatened by them is a whole other. Hindering our own services, growth, or employee satisfaction as a result of this concern would be a disservice to CSP.

I’d feel threatened if all we had to fall back on was the training knowledge that we had sprayed all over the internet. Instead, we have spent years accumulating a series of differentiators that ultimately serve as the buffet of a la carte perks that come with being a member of the CSP Family. I’m not talking about scientific knowledge or even on-the-floor coaching experience.

Let's talk differentiators...

I’m talking about the under-the-radar extras that only accumulate with time. Things like:

  • Relationships with the college coaches, regional scouts, and athlete representation agencies that actually have the best interest of their/our athletes in mind when they recruit participants for their programs. I’m talking about the kind of people who share our emphasis on integrity and values.

  • An appreciation for the intricacies of the recruiting process at all levels.

  • Complimentary service professionals who not only understand how to deliver an exceptional client experience, but also fully grasp how their offering aligns with (and compliments) participation in our program. (Manual Therapy and Pitching Instruction are perfect examples)

  • A small army of MLB-affiliated athletes who are excited to participate when we ask if they’ll contribute to our annual “Night With The Pros” event. Minor league players who leave complimentary tickets without hesitation for anyone who identifies as a member of the CSP Family. Big leaguers who are excited to leave field passes for batting practice for our clients who are excited to see fellow “CSP guys” in action at the highest level of the game.

  • Close to 200 former interns spread all over the globe who are thrilled to welcome athletes through their doors with CSP programs in-hand as they roll through town in need of a place to get a quick lift in.

If there’s one recurring theme in this series of examples, it is that our network and our relationships are as important as our ability to screen an athlete for baseball-specific faulty movement patterns. Relationships are the perks that a client has to step away from if they step away from CSP in favor of an alternative strength training provider.

If you’re a gym owner who spends all of his time worrying about measuring your key performance indicators, you’re going to lose sight of the value in relationships. I can’t effectively track the monetization of sharing our wealth of contacts and connections, but I can say with certainty that these factors are key players in our long term retention strategy.

If you want to stand out in a niche featuring endless copycat alternatives, offer something that can’t be easily recreated. Relationships aren’t manufactured by emulating some sort of blueprint pulled off of the internet. They’re earned, and they’re the most underappreciated component of my answer to the question: “What makes you guys different?”

Time to Stop Asking "What If" and Actually Open Your Own Gym?

3,650 days.

CSP is officially ten years old today. What started as an entertaining distraction as I avoided getting a “real job” coming out of my MBA program just may have actually become a career…

In reviewing more than two years of my weekly blogs, I’ve come to a conclusion: I spend far more time telling you why you shouldn’t open a gym than I do encouraging you to do so. That sucks. I consider myself an optimist in nature, so today I want to rectify this situation.

Open a gym of your own. Seriously.

If it’s important to you, do it.

Start a gym today because of the amazing people you’ll meet along the way. On a Saturday morning back in the spring of 2010, a general fitness client walked through the front door of CSP and told me she had a friend she wanted to introduce me to. Fast-forward seven years and that friend happens to be my wife and the mother of my two children.

Start a gym today because if you want to survive the process, you’ve got no choice but to address your weaknesses and challenge yourself to be competent (or better). I faked my way through all things relating to mathematics during both my undergrad and graduate experiences, doing just enough to get by. Today I’ve got a firm grasp on managing the books at CSP and consider knowing my numbers one of my strengths. I had no choice but to evolve.

Start a gym today because there’s no better motivator than having others counting on you to make a living. You want to feel some pressure? Assume the responsibility of driving a business forward with a collection of employees who expect you to make payroll every other week, to keep their health insurance coverage paid and up to date, and to get their W-2’s issued in a timely manner in advance of tax season. Pressure will either bring out the best in you, or end this small business experience real quick.

Start a gym today because the responsibilities associated with keeping your doors open will mandate that you avoid complacency like the plague. After 7+ years of double-digit growth, we hit a bit of a ceiling in 2015. Multiple kids had recently entered the equation between the Dupuis and Cressey Families, competing businesses had flooded the competitive landscape, and we hadn’t made any distinct strategic shifts in years.

We were reminded of an important lesson: Do what you always have…get what you’ve always got. This applies to your business, your personal relationships, and everything in between.

Start a gym today because of the fascinating new doors it might open for you. Ten years ago today I couldn’t have guessed that I’d eventually accumulate so much meaningful experience that people would care to read a weekly blog reflecting on my day-to-day tasks. I also never imagined I’d have a thorough understanding of the business of professional baseball or an appreciation for the lifecycle of a sneaker from conception of design all the way to the finished product on your foot. I’ve learned some cool stuff along the way.

Start a gym today because the unique training model and gym culture swimming around in your head may have the potential to actually change lives for the better. Maybe you’ll help a recent high school graduate go from aspiring college baseball walk-on to making a Major League Baseball Debut in under four years time. You really never know.

Timmy looking awfully young on the day of his MLB debut

Timmy looking awfully young on the day of his MLB debut

Start a gym today for one of the many cliché reasons I’ve had a tendency of bashing in the past: So that you can pick your own music…So that you can set your own hours…So that you can pick out the optimal equipment selection…So that you can stop working for the man…So that you can tell people “I own a gym.”

Take the plunge.

A decade ago I decided to take the entrepreneurial jump with zero days of fitness industry experience and absolute certainty that I would be successful at it. I don’t doubt for one second that you feel the same way.

Do it.

One caveat: if you decide to do so and ultimately fail, don’t blame anybody but yourself. The gym ownership game is hard, you’ve been warned. If you manage to succeed (and I sincerely hope you will), I look forward to hearing all about the insights you’ve derived from your own sweat equity.

I can’t wait to learn from you.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #6

I’ve accumulated a boatload of random lessons learned in (nearly) a decade of operating a fitness facility. Some warrant entire presentations, podcasts, and blog posts; others carry plenty of value but can fit within the confines of a 140-character Tweet.

Here are three quick insights that fall somewhere in between Twitter-friendly and ”blog-worthy”:

1. Maybe “Why” is more important than “How.”

Everyone wants to know how to create a niche in fitness, but the better question may be why did Cressey Sports Performance pursue baseball-specific strength training? This didn’t happen by mistake. Our “why” will make a whole lot more sense once you consider our story.

We didn’t identify a bunch of different demographics that were relatively untouched and start throwing darts. Baseball made sense for us.

It made sense because Eric had spent years teaching himself how to work around a shoulder injury that arguably required surgery and had accumulated a wealth of knowledge that would translate perfectly to helping overhead throwing athletes. It made sense because one of our co-founders, Tony Gentilcore, played the sport competitively at a high level through college. It made sense because our first facility was situated inside of a hitting and pitching instruction facility.

The key to capturing a specific niche is that it be complimentary to your distinctive set of circumstances. Stop looking for holes that need to be filled in our field, and start thinking about how your precise set of skills and experience could speak to the needs of a unique population. You’re better off chasing market share in a mature segment that matches your background than you are in attempting to be “the guy” in a segment that doesn’t logically align with your knowledge or offering.

2. Bundle it all up and put a velvet rope around it…

We’ve launched an intensive baseball-specific collegiate development program here at CSP Massachusetts this summer. As I type this, we are 40% of the way through the ten-week experiment. Results have been nothing but positive.

What makes this program unique is not the individualized training material, which is available to all of our clients. Instead, it’s the bundling of our services and limited capacity (20 participants). Every member of the program is receiving the most comprehensive CSP experience one could imagine: supervised strength training, weekly manual therapy sessions, nutritional guidance, meticulous pitching instruction, and periodic guest Q&A’s with accomplished baseball professionals.

Minnesota Twins Closer Brandon Kintzler Q&A on 6-27-17

Minnesota Twins Closer Brandon Kintzler Q&A on 6-27-17

We’ve effectively taken a traditionally a la carte system and mandated 100% adherence to the entirety of our service offerings at a premium price point. In doing so, we can create a controlled environment where we can assist in creating optimal training outcomes for our clients, while also tapping into the power of a team environment.

If you had presented me with the challenge of convincing just a single athlete to pay for training, and then upsell him to manual therapy sessions, nutrition consultations, pitching instruction, and every other bell and whistle we have to offer, I’d imagine I would have a 0% conversion rate. However, by packaging it together inclusively, we filled the program to capacity.

Put some thought into all of the alternative revenue streams you have in place at your business today. Is it safe to say that they’re all available because they compliment your overarching goal of making clients happier and healthier? Assuming this is the case, why not bundle them up to  allow the absolute best service offering you can provide? People are prepared to pay a premium to ensure results and enjoy some exclusivity.

3. What do CSP and Saturday Night Live have in common?

I recently learned that the early years of SNL were especially tumultuous despite strong ratings. As it turns out, putting some of the world’s most talented comedians and entertainers on to a single team and encouraging them to battle for the spotlight week in and week out can create a downright hostile and competitive work environment. Though the brand became iconic, building and maintaining momentum had its challenges.

When asked about the challenge of managing this scenario, SNL creator Lorne Michaels explained: “That's my job: To protect people's distinct voices, but also get them to work together.”

While I am in no way saying that we have created a work environment at CSP that fosters competition, the idea of protecting people’s distinct voices resonates with me. I advocate for cultivating personal brands partially because I don’t want my employees to lose sight of what makes them unique strength and conditioning coaches.

We’ve got a softball enthusiast, a couple of Metallica-loving powerlifting gurus, a breakdancing PRI specialist, and that’s only half of the team. They all know how to play nice, but just about the only thing they unanimously agree on is their recent obsession with locally brewed craft beer. There’s no shortage of variety in this crew, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you manage a large or growing team of fitness professionals, fight the urge to standardize the “type” of person you’re looking to employ. Your clients aren’t excited to engage with robots, and they all have their own unique areas of interest that are unlikely to mesh with a staff that is designed to clone the guy who opened the business in the first place.

Seek out diversity, embrace a little bit of friction, and protect those unique voices as you facilitate a workplace of shared responsibilities. If you do so, you may find yourself still running that same business 40+ years from now, just like Lorne Michaels.

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here!

Taxes, Fees & Expenses Not Included - Budgeting For Gym Ownership

Think back on the last time you bought a car...

A slick television commercial captured your attention, so you fired up the iPad and began perusing the inventory listed on AutoTrader.com. Eventually you identified one vehicle in particular that caught your eye and started kicking around the cost in your mind. The listed price seemed reasonable, so you started to get serious.

For most of us, this is how the process starts. Who doesn't enjoy imagining himself settling in behind the wheel, rolling the windows down, and cranking up some good music in a nice new ride?

Unfortunately, before you can do that, you have to get metaphorically kicked in the teeth by the dreaded (and routinely overlooked) disclaimer that is ever-so-subtly tucked into the end of the promotion: Taxes, fees and additional expenses not included.

"You said the car cost $22,700. Wait...I think I blacked out...how did we end up at $24,781?"

Sales tax? Yup, forgot about that. Registration fee? License fee? Title fee? Documentation, compliance, and emissions testing fees?

Who the hell is coming up with this stuff? Is there an oxygen consumption fee for the time I've spent in the dealership giving away a chunk of my retirement savings?

When all's said and done, you can go ahead and increase that listed price by 10% if you have any intention of making the car your own.

First-time gym ownership isn't a whole lot different... 

Much like the car purchasing process, it all starts with a visual. 

One minute you're a disgruntled personal trainer watching an episode of Anthony Renna's Strength Coach TV, dreaming about opening your own space. The next, you're casually scanning loop.net for commercial property to potentially serve as home base for your new business venture. (Time to stop working for the man and start making your own hours!)

Only $3 per square foot? I can handle that. Wait, what does "NNN" stand for? Never mind, I'll figure that part out later. Right now I need to focus on where I'm going to put that $4,200 Hammer Strength Leg Press I've got my eye on.

Fast-forward a half dozen property tours and an initial lease proposal and you begin to realize that this whole process isn’t as simple as multiplying the listed square footage by the dollar-per-square foot. Real estate taxes? Property insurance? Common area maintenance? Ugh.

Even if you can stomach these hurdles, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ve figured it all out once the lease is signed.

Did anyone tell you that your insurance provider is going to audit your business’s performance at the conclusion of the year to see how your performance aligns with the projections you provided as they drew up a coverage plan for you? Outperform that number and they’ll hit you with an adjustment fee. This stuff is starting to pile up.

Were you expecting the property manager to haul your trash away? Unlikely, my friend. Time to start getting quotes on renting a dumpster that you’ll pay to have emptied each week.

The town we operate in here at CSP Massachusetts slaps on an annual “dumpster fee” for the privilege of placing such a piece of equipment on the private property we are renting. Nice, right?

Speaking of unanticipated expenses, did you budget for your annual “personal property tax” which covers items such as the furniture and electronics you keep in your space? There goes another $400 I didn’t want to put in my own savings account.

I think you get where I’m going here...

Whether you’re purchasing a car, buying your first home, or signing that first gym lease, there’s probably a much higher cost of doing business than you ever imagined. Do your homework before you fall in love with the idea of opening your own spot. I didn’t even mention first and last month’s rent, security deposits, or the outrageous cost of flooring. You likely need more cash flow than you think.

You still sure you want to do this?

 

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.