10 Assumptions You Should Stop Making About Your Clients

We all do it…

Every day of the week we make assumptions about our clients’ needs, their attitudes in the gym, and their training goals. If you aspire to make and keep your valued clients happy moving forward, you can start by kicking these ten habits:

1. Stop assuming clients read the welcome packet.

Sure, you pulled together a beautiful collection of answers to frequently asked questions, plugged in some pretty pictures of the space, inserted gloriously detailed staff bios, and outlined how your payment structure works…but nobody read it. If you want to ensure that people get these messages, you’ve got to tell them again and again. And then tell them one more time.

They probably didn’t even read the first page.

They probably didn’t even read the first page.

2. Stop assuming clients will tell you when they’re annoyed.

Every client handles their own annoyance differently, and I can assure you that vocal complainers are the exception and not the rule. Your problem, which you may not even realize exists, is that nearly every paying client in the gym has something in mind that they’d like to see you improve within your operation, but only a small handful will tell you what that is without being asked. Always ask for feedback.

3. Stop assuming clients care that you had a bad day.

There are a number of coaches out there who treat their clients like therapists between sets. It’s fine (expected, even) if clients bring their stress to you as a coach during down time between sets, as it is a sign that they trust you and value your opinion. It is not fine, however, for you to take that liberty with the time they’ve paid a premium for. The service you provide is typically expected to be the best part of their day.

4. On a similar note…stop assuming every client wants to make small talk.

Just because we want our coaches to possess extroverted tendencies doesn’t mean we demand that they impose their gregarious nature on every person who walks through the door. Some people want to be coached when warranted, and then left alone with their thoughts in between sets. It is perfectly okay to give them their space.

5. Stop assuming elite athletes want to be fenced off from gen-pop clients.

Gym owners in the performance space often conclude (without asking) that their “elite” athletes want to be allotted designated training times and privacy from the boring normal people who don’t exercise for a living. Those owners are typically wrong. It only takes a conversation or two to realize that 99 out of 100 professional athletes are regular people when they step off the playing field. They crave normal social interaction like you or I. Let them engage with the locals.

Don’t build it purely on assumptions…

Don’t build it purely on assumptions…

6. Stop assuming clients perpetually crave facility upgrades.

We’ve upgraded our gym on more than one occasion over the years, and each time I have been surprised to receive push-back from and handful of our most loyal clients. “You guys are going to get too corporate…the bigger you get, the less attention we’ll receive…I don’t want to give up the garage gym feel we already have here.” Make sure you’re investing in improved training space because clients are asking for it, and not because you’re guessing they would if given the chance.

7. Stop assuming gender-matching is imperative in coaching assignments.

We don’t have a whole lot of female coaches or interns who come through our space. With just 8% of our intern applicant pool being female in the past 36 months, shifting this trend is a big challenge. When we do line up a great female coach to contribute, I avoid making the mistake of assuming that they MUST be in the room for every female athlete assessment, and MUST be assigned to one-on-one coaching duties with new female clients during week one. Unless the coach or client specifically requests the pairing, the next coach in line, regardless of gender, is typically the right pick in a setting where every coach on the team will be working with every athlete in some capacity during a their time with us. There’s no need to force the interaction.

8. Stop assuming your longest-tenured, most experienced clients want hand-holding.

Being so experienced with our programming that you don’t need a coach assigned to is a badge of honor that many of our “regulars” proudly wear here at CSP. Sure, our unofficial rule is that every paying client has a staff member assigned to work one-on-one with them during the first week of a new program, but some rules are made to be broken. Make your most loyal clients feel trusted to be self-starters and take comfort in knowing that they’ll approach you if they’re stumped. So long as there’s eyes on them as they begin their new material, everyone will be just fine.

These two may not show up together without being asked.

These two may not show up together without being asked.

9. Stop assuming clients will look for ways to bring friends without being asked.

It seems like common sense that people would want to improve their training experience by sharing it with friends, but they rarely take the initiative to make it happen on their own. I’ll bet you often find yourself thinking: “Why don’t any of this kid’s teammates train with us? He loves it here.” Don’t stop there. Walk up to that athlete in the gym and ask him yourself: “You know, Johnny, you’re obviously killing it in the weight room with all of this progress you’ve made in recent months. When are we going to get some of your buddies in to join?” Most of the time you’ll learn that high school kids aren’t all that proactive until you put the idea in their heads.

10. Stop assuming your clients will take offense when you need to raise prices.

There are very few products or services in our lives that do not increase in price over time. This is why you should stop convincing yourself that a reasonable price increase every couple of years will be interpreted as some sort of attack on one’s character. Look your client in the eye, tell them that your cost of delivering an exceptional service has increased over the years, and then exhale as they look you in the eye and say: “I get it. Thank you for giving me a heads up.”

Less Guessing, More Asking

The primary takeaway from this list is that we could all benefit from killing our habit of guessing what is going on in the minds of our clients. Increase your questions asked, decrease your assumptions made, and start enjoying a more satisfied and engaged client base.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #18

I’ve recently come to realize that Twitter is my favorite testing ground for new material. When an idea begins to take shape in my head, I take a few moments to articulate it concisely enough to fit within the confines of a single Tweet, and then see how it plays on that social platform. Occasionally I say something that drives higher engagement than normal, and choose to take the thought a few steps further by elaborating here in the blog.

I’ve once again hit that point, meaning it’s time to unload a couple of quick-hitter discussion topics that have been kicking around in my head, my notes app, and on my Twitter feed.

Here’s your October edition of Tweet-fueled Gym Owner Musings:

1. Your gym’s training outcomes might be hindered by your overzealous chase for revenue.

Keeping your gym profitable a logical goal, and this often requires that we compromise on the type of client we service. For example, you might want to be known as the best football combine-prep service provider in your area, but you also need to make payroll next week, so you’re not going to turn away the father of the JV quarterback on principal. Any revenue is good revenue, right?

Not so fast.

The problem I’m seeing again and again in struggling gyms is a willingness to step far outside of one’s scope of practice and make promises that the training model is not prepared to deliver on. More specifically, I am tired of seeing gym owners with personal training certifications delivering their own interpretation of physical therapy in scenarios where they know, deep down, they are overstepping their professional boundaries. Whether you’re in the red or not, there is never a time where it is okay to put your revenue-generation objectives ahead of the best interest of the client in front of you.

This also applies to the gym owners who agree to deliver “individualized strength training” to 8 and 9 year old children while knowing full well that it is unproductive and irresponsible. Showing up with cash in-hand can’t be the only pre-requisite for working with you..

If you continue to accept business that isn’t properly served by your existing model, you’ll continue to generate undesirable results at best. At worst, you’ll hurt somebody. Do the right thing and point these leads in the direction of a properly-equipped service provider.

You had a full knee replacement two weeks ago? Sure, my personal training can get you back to 100% in a couple of weeks! BRING MONEY.

You had a full knee replacement two weeks ago? Sure, my personal training can get you back to 100% in a couple of weeks! BRING MONEY.

2. There’s a disconnect between what you think you’re selling and what clients think they’re buying.

If you follow ten gyms on Instagram, I’d guess that five of them routinely advertise the training programs they deliver, the skills of their staff, and the equipment in their gym. These businesses are deaf to the fact that most of their clients don’t see themselves as buying supervised exercise or the tools used to execute it.

Instead, they’re paying for the opportunity to immerse themselves in a positive training environment. They’re paying to feel like a part of something bigger than themselves. They’re paying for your staff to serve as role models for their impressionable children.

So why aren’t we all highlighting these characteristics in our marketing and social media efforts?

The next time you sit down to design copy or visuals for your next Facebook ad, fight the urge to assume what your target audience is looking for and instead walk into the weight room and simply ask your clients what they value most in your professional relationship. I’d imagine there will be some answers that catch you by surprise.

Hopefully you’ll find a way to pivot your approach and take their feedback to heart.

3. Great systems are useless without decent culture.

Nearly every conversation I have with newly encountered consulting clients (gym owners) starts roughly the same way:

I want to replicate your gym’s success…what kind of scheduling software are you guys using? Can I get a copy of your programming template? What kind of power rack do you think I should buy? How should I go about automating my billing? Should I be running weekly payroll? Bi-weekly? Is monthly an option?

All of these questions matter for sure, but do you actually believe them to be the key to my gym’s success? Every single one of them could be sufficiently crowd-sourced with a crafty Facebook post on your personal page.

So what is “the right” question to ask?

Okay, so I also have mentors in my life who run wildly successful gyms. Here’s my favorite question to hit them with:

It seems to me that everyone on your team genuinely likes one-another. What strategies do you employ to ensure such a cohesive team dynamic in your space?

I ask this because I believe culture to outweigh systems by a significant margin. Systems can be fixed, designed, or deployed in as little as a week of research and hard work, but culture takes time to develop and nurture. Chances are that the gym you see as “successful” is similar to yours structurally, but different in the culture that they’ve crafted.

Ask about that topic the next time you grab a cup of coffee with another gym owner and you’re sure to find answers that don’t populate page one of a Google search..


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Is Authenticity Overrated?

You haven’t even read the blog and you feel compelled to argue, right?

Authenticity is something I have come to mandate as a staple within my operation at Cressey Sports Performance. Not even a week ago I published a series of social media posts celebrating the value of authentic personalities populating your training team. The initial Tweet read:

If your employees aren’t having fun, how do you expect your clients to enjoy the training experience? Make sure your coaches know you want/need them to be every bit as ridiculous in the gym as they are when they grab drinks together after work. Authenticity drives retention.

People didn’t disagree. In fact, when I moved the content over to Instagram, the material generated engagement that exceeded 94% of the 500+ posts I have published to date. People are fired up about authenticity.

I’m active on Twitter & Instagram if you’re interested….

I’m active on Twitter & Instagram if you’re interested….

So why all the talk about overrating this concept?

My buddy Zach recently attended a digital marketing conference featuring a keynote by Seth Godin. He and I share similar taste in books, podcasts, and the local sandwich shop in our home town, so I knew his takeaways would bring immediate value. He returned with pages of notes, including a quote that he felt compelled to share on social media.

When asked about the constant balancing act of integrating authenticity and creativity into one’s content creation strategy, Seth caught a few people, Zack included, by surprise with his response:

“Authenticity is dramatically overrated. We don’t want authenticity. We want consistency. If Nike opened a hotel we’d know what it would be like. If Hyatt opened a shoe line we’d have no idea what it would be like because Hyatt is mediocre.”

I felt like a complete hypocrite after initially reading this quote. I’d recently gone on record preaching authenticity to fellow gym owners, yet was nodding my head in approval of Godin’s message. What gives?

Upon further reflection, I came to realize one very important thing…

When Seth Godin delivers a keynote to roughly a thousand professionals at a digital marketing summit, he does so under the impression that everyone in the room is involved in an operation that is looking to scale well beyond a single location in a service-based field. His intention was likely not to make a blanket statement that applies to 100% of business owners who may be processing his message.

Screen-grabbed this right off of Zack’s FB page  without  permission, because I’m a thief like that…

Screen-grabbed this right off of Zack’s FB page without permission, because I’m a thief like that…

So, I continue to believe that authenticity on the training floor of your gym is everything as you seek success in your operation. We don’t need to argue about that.

This being said, I’m sure more than a few of you would jump at the opportunity to add a second or third gym location to your revenue-generating arsenal, making this message immensely important to your long-term planning.

You see, there is a point of diminishing returns on authenticity in relation to consistency as you begin to operate multiple fitness locations. Somewhere along the line you’ll realize that clients know better than to think you will be able to repeatedly duplicate the sense of humor of your Director of Coaching at your flagship location, and instead just want to know that you’ve systemized the business in a way that allows their experience to look and feel like that which they’ve come to expect walking in.

After all, no one ever talks about the predictably quirky personalities they encounter when approaching the register at a Chipotle, but they for damn sure will tell you that they expect their burrito to taste the same from one franchise location to the next. In the case of these larger operations that we look up to for business development wisdom, consistency trumps authenticity 9 times out of 10.

I’m not telling you to abandon your current approach, but I am telling you that fiercely gripping on to it until the end of time may very well be unsustainable in conjunction with your growth objectives.

So, yes…sometimes authenticity is overrated. Don’t @ me.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Appreciating the Distinction Between Quitting and Moving On

I used to employ a guy we’ll call James. He never missed a shift, took professionalism and punctuality brutally seriously, and respected his colleagues. He was a Marine, literally.

Over time, James’ life circumstances changed. He started a family, developed new career aspirations, and began stretching himself a little thin in an effort to be everything to everyone. His commute to the gym was over an hour in each direction, and he was expected to open the gym prior to 5:30am multiple times per week. He then mixed in a newborn that was barely sleeping, and he had himself a recipe for disaster.

While he never intentionally allowed his fatigue to be visible to clients or co-workers, his frustrations slowly became palpable. He appeared to need a big change in his routine and professional life.

I made sure he knew I was there to help personally or professionally, to be a sounding board, or to invest in further developing the adult fitness program he was running for me. He never truly accepted or declined my offers. Instead, he repeatedly told me: “I’ve got this, you don’t have to worry about me.”

These guys tend to make for disciplined employees

These guys tend to make for disciplined employees

Eventually it became clear that James was ready to move on to the next step in his career, but for some reason or another, he couldn’t bring himself to admit it to me.

I called him into my office.

James, I love you, man, but I can’t help but find myself wondering if transitioning to an employment scenario that is closer to home and provides a better wage would be the right thing for you. What’s keeping you from making that move?

I’m not a quitter…don’t have it in me to walk away from something I’ve committed to, he explained.

There are a lot of words I could find to describe James, but quitter is most definitely not one of them. In just a few short years, he had expanded his coaching skill set, improved his relationship-building skills and rapport with clients, and proven himself to be a far better than average strength coach. He’d contributed productively to my business for months and years on end.

Did he think I had an expectation that he’d one day retire from my operation after decades of service?

I countered:

James…you have my blessing to walk away from this role with nothing but check marks in the success column. Transitioning to a new opportunity elsewhere isn’t quitting, it’s moving on.

I watched his body language change for the better right in front of me. He accepted my blessing, explaining that he’d work as little or as much as I need him in the weeks to come, but would like to formally conclude his employment with us. James stepped away from our business on great terms, and began to pursue the next big thing in his career. Nobody quit anything.

Walking away doesn’t always equate to quitting.

Walking away doesn’t always equate to quitting.

Gym owners continuously make this mistake

I see this problem again and again amongst gym owners. Underperforming programs are fed more resources, underperforming training philosophies are left untouched, and underperforming operations as a whole are allowed to languish in a perpetual cycle of break-even mediocrity.

For some reason, gym owners feel an obligation to see objectives through, while the writing is on that wall that things aren’t working.

I can’t scream this loud enough: It is okay to cut your losses and allocate existing resources toward an endeavor with more potential.

This may mean shutting down your uninspired transformation program.

This may mean pulling the plug on the internship program that was full of good intention from the start, but continues to deliver a neglected curriculum because you’re simply too busy building your business to be great at both.

This could be the moment that you abandon your endless efforts to grow a youth performance program and embrace the fact that you’re a kick-ass personal trainer for adult clients, regardless of your itch to work with athletes.

Whatever the program or project, I’d imagine you know deep down that it isn’t happening. Assuming you’ve learned some valuable lessons from your unsuccessful objectives, you can and should walk away without self identifying as a quitter.

Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.

That’s entrepreneurship in just six words.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

3 Reasons to Build a Robust Internship Program at Your Gym

Every. Single. One.

That’s the answer to the question: “How many of your coaches are a product of the Cressey Sports Performance internship program?”

While they didn’t all complete internships here in our Massachusetts facility, every coach we employ is a proud alum of our system in either this space, or in our Florida location. I want to help you to understand where and how we draw the most value from these programs so that you can make strides toward doing so yourself in your own gym.

Spoiler alert: The value we extract has nothing to do with keeping payroll costs down. This is about delivering a mutually beneficial product and experience for the intern and the business.

These are the three biggest ways both parties win:

1. We don’t miss on hires.

According to RecruiterBox, making a hire in the service industry will cost you as little as $1,000, and can potentially run its way on up to as much as $5,000. With this in mind, small gyms on tight budgets aren’t in a position to swing and miss consistently on coaching selections. Between the cost of acquisition, and the optics of consistent turnover, we need to do everything we can to vet out our candidates prior to making a big decision of this nature.

Which is where the internship program comes into play…

With the benefit of experiencing anywhere from 300-500 hours of work alongside a CSP intern, we can safely make a call as to whether or not someone is a cultural fit within our operation before extending an offer. I emphasize cultural because 99.9% of the coaches who complete our program walk away with high scores on the competency front, while only a small segment of this population possesses the personality-types we are in need of to round out our team at any given moment in time.


I’m at peace with making the occasional bad intern hire, but cannot accept us missing the mark on evaluating employability by the conclusion of a multi-month program. In the end, our cost of acquisition lies in the cost of delivering a quality internship program to not one, but as many as 20+ interns over the course of a year in which we may only make a single hire. When you look at it that way, taking man-hours into consideration from a training and instruction standpoint, we invest considerably more than $5,000 per hire to ensure that we have a 100% success rate in securing team members who stay with us for a minimum of two years.

2. Curriculum design requires continuous discussion.

As mentioned above, delivering a quality internship experience eats up a great deal of time and resources often not seen by clients or observers outside of our business. One aspect of this resource allocation is taking the time to get the team together and discuss the evolution of our training model to ensure that the message that is being conveyed to interns is in line with where each coach’s head is at from the perspective of programming philosophy.

With a team of 6 full-time strength coaches continuously learning both inside of our gym and outside of it (reading & seminars), it is careless to assume that an internship curriculum from a year ago today is perfect for that which we need in this moment in time. Goals change, philosophies change, and skills change over time. Our approach to coaching up the interns should reflect that.

These discussions can feel tedious over time, but are a necessity to ensure that we don’t end up with six dramatic variations of one model floating around the training floor on a day-to-day basis.

Inside look at a CSP staff programming meeting.

Inside look at a CSP staff programming meeting.

3. New blood on the training floor keeps things fresh.

I’m fond of saying that you can’t install a gym culture that is consistent from one facility or business to the next, and this is because great culture is a moving target. If you want to deliver an authentic training experience to clients, you need to allow for unique personalities to impact the environment in the gym. Here at CSP, the unique personalities I speak of include those that come from our internship program.

Every time we bring a fresh batch of 6 interns to the gym for a new “season,” we plug 6 dramatically different backgrounds, personalities, and areas of interest to the many conversations that take place on the training floor. While I understand why new clients might be turned off by the title “intern,” I can say with certainty that our long-term clients have an appreciation for the skill set and passion required to secure a spot in our internship program. They appreciate the seasonal infusion of new blood in the space, and look forward to seeing the vibe in the gym twist and turn over time, ensuring that the experience in the weight room almost never feels stale.

Instead of fearing change in your staff because clients might be turned off, I’d encourage you to consider how the adjustment might positively impact the overall service experience.

This will take time.

It took our internship program 12+ years to get to where it is today, and it was roughly a half-decade before we realized how important it was to systemize things like the on-boarding and continuing education process. We learned by doing, and you should as well. Just make sure to temper your expectations as it relates to program growth.

Start with the objective of brining in a single intern, and make sure that your intention is to deliver more value to that coach than your business could ever extract from her. If your intent is to create the industry’s next great coach, the field as a whole will improve, and you’ll be the one who gets the first and best shot at hiring that individual following her learning experience with you.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Turn More Free Consultations Into Paying Clients With This Quick Tip

We don’t offer complimentary initial assessments at my gym. 

I’ve published my rationale for not doing so in the past here. This doesn’t, however, mean that I think less of the businesses who choose to deliver something for free on day one. I realize that there are occasional market forces that dictate the decision (competition), employers who force it upon their personal training team (commercial gyms), and various other factors that come into play.

With this in mind, I want to discuss a strategy you should employ if you find yourself routinely delivering complimentary initial visits to clients who likely do not step into the session with the mindset that they are definitely investing in your services beyond day one.

If I were new to a personal training team there is one thing I would do every single time I introduced a client to my services while working at a gym that guarantees one free consultation as a part of their new membership package...

PT Cover.jpg

I’d be deliberate about using what I’d call “aspirational language.”

By aspirational language, I mean that if I know I want to work with someone moving forward, I discuss the future as if it is definitively going to happen. Instead of going through the motions and hoping that my mind-blowing technique instruction seals the deal, I’d consistently say things like:

“I was also intimidated by squats and deadlifts back when I first discovered the weight room. I can’t wait to introduce you to a handful of variations that took me from fearful to excited for lower day during just my first month of consistent training.”

“You really picked this movement up quickly, we’re going to make amazing progress if you continue to be this coachable.”

“I’m excited to introduce you to a variety of training concepts that you’ll be able to take on the road with you during all that work travel you’ve mentioned. Your progress in the coming weeks or months doesn’t need to be limited to only the time you are able to squeeze into your schedule working with me.”

One of the most challenging sales we make at Cressey Sports Performance is transitioning a client from month one to month two, as we do not ask that our clients sign long-term agreements. As a result, we need to keep people engaged with the process while knowing full well that four weeks often isn’t enough to see significant improvements in the weight-room when we’re really just laying the foundation for future success. 

Whether he realizes it or not, our Director of Performance, John O’Neil, is a wizard at escalating athlete commitment beyond month one because of the subtle language he uses. I’ll occasionally overhear him saying to an athlete who has just wrapped up a basic set of deadlifts: 

“Wait till you see what I’ve got lined up for you next month to build off of this material.”

With that single sentence, he’s got them locked in. What’s he cooking up? Can I see the program now? How do I sign up for month two?

If you’re searching for an inspiring executive to learn from, look no further than Kat Cole.

If you’re searching for an inspiring executive to learn from, look no further than Kat Cole.

I recently heard Kat Cole, CEO of Focus Brands, say that throughout her career, beginning as early as her teenage years, she made an effort to “make the job bigger than it really is.” She explained that we handle ourselves differently when we genuinely believe the work we do to be impactful. 

In this vein, instead of sheepishly asking a client if they intend to stick with us, John carries himself with an air of confidence that says he’s all but certain that we’re moving forward. He believes his suggested course of action to be impactful and appropriate for the athlete, so he confidently discusses it without an existing formal commitment beyond month one in place.

You can apply this methodology in your consultations, too.

In the end, all I’m really asking you to do is practice optimistic tendencies in the language you use with new clients. If you approach every free trial with the mindset that you’re not likely to close, your body language and tone is going to shut that door in your face for you.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #17

Every month or so the “content ideas” page in my iPhone notes app begins to fill up with topics that aren’t quite beefy enough to justify an entire blog, but also a little too bulky to cram into a Tweet or Instagram post. I’ve once again hit that point, meaning it’s time to unload a couple of quick-hitter discussion topics that have been kicking around in my head (and notes app).

Here’s your September edition of Gym Owner Musings:

1. The best up-sell may be an unanticipated down-sell

It’s a common occurrence…the father of a young athlete (under the age of 15) contacts me with the mentality that he’ll “be pitched,” when in reality he is just planning on telling me exactly what he believes his son to need from a strength training perspective.

You know the one…

“Johnny really thrives when pushed consistently, so what I’m going to need you to do is design a six-day per week lifting program that really shocks his system. Let’s limit that seventh day to some moderate sprinting and a little bit of mobility work so that we don’t burn him out.”

But wait…I thought Johnny was 12 years old?

This is typically the moment where I explain that the proposed programming scenario is exactly the direction we’ll go if the initial assessment findings warrant it, while reserving the right to suggest less volume if appropriate. Once the assessment concludes, that dad will then need to be educated on exactly why we suggest less than half of the training frequency discussed on the phone.

This feedback is important for two reasons:

First, people aren’t accustomed to being told: “I’d like you to spend less money with us because it is in the best interest of your son.” A properly placed down-sell of this nature can be a refreshing demonstration of integrity that paves the road to a long-term professional relationship.

Second, you dramatically reduce the risk of an athlete souring on the training process if he never gets burned out or overwhelmed by the schedule associated with it in the first place. Deliver what he needs now instead of what his dad wants, and he’ll eventually develop into an athlete who actually does require additional training volume.

2. Opportunity Lives in other gyms’ Yelp reviews

You may not have realized this, but Yelp isn’t the happiest online forum on earth. Mind-blowing insight, right?

I rarely walk away from perusing a Yelp review with a 100% positive view of an operation. Sometimes this is a function of perpetually cranky people venting because it is what they do best, and others it is a scenario where informed consumers deliver critical, yet valuable feedback about a given operation. If you’re entering a new market, or asking yourself how to improve your performance and reputation in an existing market, I’d encourage you to start by reading every unsolicited review you can find on the local competition.


Somewhere in there you’re going to find a handful of glaring opportunities to outperform gyms in your area. Complaints about poor phone call response times? Guarantee call-backs in 12 hours or less. Mentions of inflexible refund policies? Advertise a no-questions-asked money-back guarantee during a trial month.

Your potential customers are publishing their service demands, so why not make an effort to publicly honor their requests?

3. Don’t fear the big box gym in your market

Bruce Lee is quoted as having said: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times..”

Well I do not fear the gym that is trying to recreate my entire business model. I do, however, fear the gym that is hell-bent on delivering one of the handful of services I offer at a world-class level.

This is exactly why you shouldn’t fear opening a personal training studio in a market that features an established big box gym that happens to offer a little bit of personal training. If you do, you’ll have focus, speed, and commitment to throw at delivering exceptional on-on-one service. The commercial gym, on the other hand, will have a 20-something Director of Personal Training who is more stressed about staff turnover than he is about fine-tuning a model he didn’t even have a say in designing.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

What If You Stopped Worrying About Employees Maintaining Personal Brands?

Ten years ago I attended a fitness business seminar hosted by Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove. There was a moment during the Q&A portion of that event that I distinctly remember to this day.

Alwyn was hammering home the importance of being deliberate about employee training protocols when an attendee raised his hand to ask a question:

What if I invest all kinds of time and money in developing an employee and then he decides to leave?

Alwyn didn’t miss a beat in delivering a definitive counter: What if you don’t, and that guy stays?

40+ gym owners immediately began nodding their heads in approval. With a single question, Mr. Cosgrove had united the room in agreement on the importance of training employees. 

Mr. Cosgrove — A mentor who probably doesn’t realize I consider him a mentor…

Mr. Cosgrove — A mentor who probably doesn’t realize I consider him a mentor…

I find myself coming back to that conversation more and more in recent years. 

Alwyn’s response is the first thing I think of each time a fitness professional tells me that the gym owner he works for has a policy stopping employees from maintaining a personal blog, publishing a newsletter, or launching a podcast unless it is done under the company masthead. Intelligent coaches all over the industry are terrified to pursue any type of personal brand development thanks to tight rules enforced by protective and threatened gym owners.

I disagree with this approach. In fact, I’m comfortable saying that I hate this approach.

I know there are gym owners out there thinking to themselves: But Pete...what if I allow my employees to develop their own personal brands and then they take off and bring my business with them?

To this, I ask you: 

What if you squash your employees’ interest in self-improvement, and they never leave?

What if your employees conclude that you’re more interested in fiercely protecting your turf from your own dedicated people than you are in developing great coaches?

What if you stifled their growth so effectively that the resulting dip in service quality devalued public perception of your brand?

What if that dip in perceived brand quality resulted in a dramatic decrease in great coaches and potential interns seeking employment in your operation?


What if your best client caught wind of you trying to suppress the career advancement options for her favorite coach on the team while knowing full well that you offer jobs more than you offer careers? Is that a good look for you?

What if there is a gym like mine, just down the road, that is perfectly comfortable with employing your best coach and taking the risk of letting him spread his creative wings with a little bit of personal branding strategy so long as he kicks ass on the training floor during the hours he’s agreed to be all-in in my operation?

What if, fellow gym owner...what if?


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Tackling the Cranky Local Football Coach Conundrum

Just about every high school in our country has a weight room in it these days, and that feels like a problem to you, the gym owner…

Maybe it’s a problem because the football coach has his guys in the gym at 6:00am banging out ugly squats and aggressive training material that may not be in the best interest of your long-time client who is too afraid to speak up.

It might be a problem because that same coach is telling the kids that you don’t understand football like he does and that training in your gym is a waste of time and money.

Whatever your circumstances look like, it feels like a problem. So, what are you going to do about it?

You could play the political bad-mouthing game and tell an athlete that his coach is in over his head because he doesn’t have an exercise science degree and a CSCS like yourself, or you could take the high road and kill everyone with kindness. I’d imagine you know this already, but I’m taking the high road if I find myself in this situation.

Here are a few solutions you can take to this perceived problem and hopefully begin playing nice with the local high school coaches:


1. Compliment Instead of Competing

The first thing you can do in advance of a pending season would be to reach out to the coach and introduce yourself. Explain that you’ve had the pleasure of working with his players, compliment him on the work ethic that he’s obviously instilled in his guys, and ask how you could design their training material to compliment the existing game plan for team-lifts, extracurricular conditioning, etc.

Tell him that you want to ensure that the material you prepare for his players during their time not spent at the high school gym is designed to build off of the progress which you expect them to be making in his weight room, and consider even going so far as to ask his advice.

At worst, he’ll blow off your email while knowing that you’ve proven yourself to have some semblance of professionalism. At best, he’ll acknowledge that you know the ins and outs of the weight room better than he does, and ask you to consult on his strategy for morning lifts.

2. Offer to Help

Imagine the tables were turned and you received an email from the local football coach saying the following:

“Dear World Class Strength Coach,

As we approach the start of the high school summer break I would imagine you find yourself ramping up for an influx of my football players looking to prepare for the season. I’d also imagine those guys can overwhelm the space pretty quickly. With this in mind, I thought I’d offer to drop by and be an extra set of hands if you guys are ever in need of some coaching help.

Please don’t hesitate to let me know how I can be of assistance, and thanks for taking care of my crew.


Coach So & So”

Answer a quick question for me, and be honest…would you read that email and think to yourself: “Here we go again with this a-hole….”


You’d be pleasantly surprised, and might even take him up on his offer.

Take that template and make it your own in a way that will effectively communicate the message that you’re here to help. Remember this: Many states have rules in place that keep athletic faculty from interacting with their athletes on school grounds while not in season, so it is in your best interest to be positioned as the best alternative in the minds of these coaches if such rules exist.

3. Show Face

Show up to everything you can, and make sure to bring the right attitude. Fund-raising car wash? Bring your car by and leave a big tip. Informational meeting for players and parents? Make an appearance to get a feel for the questions and concerns of the parents, and make note of how the coaches respond. Game day? You’d better be on the sideline wearing team colors and finding a way to deliver a congratulatory handshake to Coach So & So on his way to the bus.

Be a team player, even if you aren’t actually on the team.


4. Donate Equipment

While it is common to find weight rooms on premises at local high school these days, it is similarly common to find woefully under-equipped spaces. If you find yourself replacing an old squat rack because you’re upgrading to the collegiate set-up, buying a new olympic bar because the knurling is wearing down on yours, or installing some pretty new hash-marked turf in place of the old stuff, consider donating it to the school.

You’ll improve the work environment for the coach you currently feel like you’re competing with, while also improving the likelihood that your clients get safe and effective training in off-site from your own gym.

In Summary

If you’ve made it this far, you know that my solution for the grumpy local football coach problem is to kill him with kindness. There are more than enough entitled parents and athletes breathing down the necks of those coaches, so there’s no need for you to be another rock thrown on top of that heavy pile.

If none of these suggestions are welcomed in some way shape or form, I’d suggest that you bide your time, and wait for the inevitable firing that is sure to come!


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Two Important Types of Training You Didn't Expect to Deliver at Your Gym

I knew it all when I was 25.

I opened a gym that was going to take over the world. There was literally zero chance I could fail, or make a mistake for that matter. How could I not crush it? I had an MBA, after all.

Oh how fantastically naive I was.

Twelve years have passed. Twelve quick years that featured both successful and failed objectives around the gym, employees coming and going for a variety of reasons, and a series of metaphorical kicks in the teeth that led to 186 blog posts just like this one.

This week I want to share two more lessons learned along the way. While these both fall far outside of the “kick-in-the-teeth” category, they have resurfaced on my radar on more than one occasion this week, leaving them fresh in my mind. Both will serve as valuable takeaways for those of you who’ve yet to encounter these inevitable certainties of gym ownership in the performance training space.

Let’s discuss the training you didn’t realize you’d be delivering…

1. We train parents, and it has nothing to do with the weight room.

I used to joke that my time spent running a gym catering to young athletes has been a crash course in “how not to parent your kids.” I’ve since come to learn that it wasn’t a joke. The kids we train may not arrive with the work ethic we desire, but that is usually more of a lagging indicator of the tone set by parents than it is of an athlete’s actual potential in the gym.

Turns out we can begin dramatically improving the potential of a kid even before handing him an individualized training program. We do this by outlining some strongly suggested rules for engaging with our business. At some point during each athlete’s first day with us, these two things are made clear to the athlete, in front of a parent:

  • If you’re old enough to carry around your own cell phone, you’re old enough to schedule your own training sessions.

  • If you have concerns about the direction of your program, or any pain you may feel during the training process, YOU tell us immediately, not your dad via telephone during the ride home from the gym.


Long story short, we’re trying to build proactive athletes who take ownership of the training process and learn to engage effectively with adults. They can either embrace these guidelines and flourish, or they can stay the course, and likely struggle to find a place to play at the next level when the coach at the local university is turned off by the feeling that he’s recruiting a helicopter dad more than an athlete that can contribute to his program.

If we train a kid to minimize his dad’s role right in front of him on the first day, we (usually) find that the dad voluntarily takes a step back in handling each of the logistics along the way.

On a similar note…

2. We owe it to our young athletes to keep them accountable to more than just training.

I’d imagine you opened your gym with the intention of “making an impact,” right?

Well I can say with certainty that I’ve made a lasting impact on a high school athlete named Ben. This impact had nothing to do with his squat technique or cleaning up his lunge pattern.

I helped Ben by telling him that I would no longer tolerate scheduling emails that did not take proper grammar or punctuation into consideration. I explained that I want to see an acceptable greeting in the opening of his messages, and a removal of all acronyms that only make sense to teenagers who spend their days firing off 400 texts.


Instead of:

“i’m coming at 3 today to lift. TTYS”

I now receive:

“Good morning, Pete. I’d like to train today after school. I expect to arrive around 3:00pm. Please let me know if this will not work on your end.

Talk soon, Ben.”

I initially felt like a curmudgeon while delivering this message. I then realized I’d just fast-tracked a life skill that will likely help Ben get into college, land future jobs, and function as a productive adult. Someday he will score a spot on a college roster in a great program, and I’ll be able to take comfort in knowing that he did so by carrying himself as a mature adult during the recruiting process. I’ll also be the guy celebrating his commitment to said academic/athletic program on our company’s social media platforms because I’m a greedy opportunist.

Kidding, sort of..


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Don't Make a Hire Without Making This Clear

There is one type of employee you definitively do not want to have as a small gym owner, and that’s the “that isn’t in my job description” guy. That person can certainly thrive in a defined role within a mature organization, but not in your lean startup that rides a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows every day of the year.  

Hiring strong technicians is a great idea, so long as they are willing to acknowledge that we’re trying to 2x our business every day, week and month of the year. With this in mind, roles are going to change over time, objectives are going to evolve, and expectations of every member of the team need to be treated as malleable if we are going to keep this thing reactive and flexible. 

I’d imagine you’re not managing a 15+ person team of personal trainers out of a massive big box gym, so closely sticking to the defined job description is rarely an option. If your back is up against the wall, and you’re worried about making payroll or rent in a given month, there isn’t room for coaches who aren’t prepared to embrace an all-hands-on-deck mentality every day that they come to work.

If your uniform looks like this, “that’s not part of my job description” is more acceptable…

If your uniform looks like this, “that’s not part of my job description” is more acceptable…

This means that if you’ve got a coach on salary, or pay him a defined hourly wage, he needs to know that he’ll likely be asked to go off-script during quiet parts of the day. The contract he signed probably doesn’t say: “will walk door-to-door handing out flyers promoting a charity event,” but that doesn’t mean you should feel guilty asking him to do so during operating hours.

This mindset applies to the gym that is struggling to just barely keep its head above water every bit as much as it applies to the one that can just barely keep up with explosive growth. Everyone needs to be prepared to bend when necessary for the greater good.

Ben Horowitz hammers this concept home repeatedly in his great business book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. In it, he explains that even the founding CEO’s in fast-growing tech companies are faced with a lack of job security, especially when they do their jobs well enough to drive rapid growth. It is often assumed that the skills necessary for launching a viable operation are significantly different from those necessary to scale it. As a result, great founders often find themselves being replaced by a board of directors that wants experienced veterans charting the course for their hefty financial investments.

Arguably my favorite book of 2019 thus far.

Arguably my favorite book of 2019 thus far.

With this in mind, founding CEO’s either have to do the hard work to convince decision-makers that they’re prepared to effectively pivot in their role if necessary, or get out of the way for a more seasoned executive to do so. Our coaches in the private sector of the fitness instruction space are faced with similar realities. They can either embrace the fact that gym growth (or survival) will likely require that they embrace the need for more than assessing, programming for, and coaching clients, or they can get out of the way for someone who will.

The next time you sit down with a potential hire and find yourself running through a structured list of bullet-pointed daily tasks, remind that person that you may have to tear it all up and start from scratch if and when you hit the new client lottery and need to get creative. Your gym that is designed to accommodate 40 clients today will hopefully be taking in 80 a day in the coming year. Does the candidate sitting in front of you understand the realities of that kind of change?

If you don’t convey this message, you’ll likely find yourself both disappointed in that employee’s willingness to step up, and feeling like the bad guy asking more of him.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

How We Built an Online Community…That’s Actually A Community

Today's guest post comes to you courtesy of my good friend, Todd Bumgardner. He is the co-founder of an impressive online community called The Strength Faction, which I’ve had the pleasure of working with on many occasions during the past three years. What he and his colleagues have created is special, which is why I’m excited to share this post. Enjoy!

If you Google “community” you’ll find two definitions listed:

First, “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”

Second, “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

When building an online community, the first definition doesn’t do all that much for you—save for having a particular characteristic in common. But that second definition, that’s the one. For those looking for true human connection in an effort at producing positive, life-improving outcomes, it’s bathed in a golden glow and beckons like a muse calling to a greater cause.

It’s what we’ve built in Strength Faction.

Community has become the Frank’s Red Hot of fitness industry buzzwords—people are putting that shit on everything. But a sincere, enduring, online community isn’t just some forum where people that bought the same product hang out and is framed in by clever word choice. It’s, well, definition number two from above. We’ve been running ours for four years. I’m going to share with you a little about how we’ve built it.


We Didn’t Treat it like an “Online” Community

Online is just a means of access—and we have to remember that. I think the main mistake that we avoided when we started what would become Strength Faction in September 2015 is that we didn’t start out all online business-y. Maybe it was just lack of skill, and it was likely to our short-term monetary detriment, but the foundation of our community was built with real human connection.

We began with folks that we already knew, liked, and trusted. Typically, you hear that conversely stated—that your marketing should invite people to know, like, and trust you. That’s true. But when building a true community, you have to start with people that you have a sincere and strong connection with. Those folks have experience with you and know that you’ll be offering something of value. More importantly, in the context of community, you share the same values—and you’ve had opportunities to demonstrate that to each other in world outside the internet. These were people that we were friends with, that we had previously taught in our workshops, that we sat across the table from and listened to.

After a short trial that gave us the opportunity to teach ourselves the initial logistics of how the program would work, we started inviting these folks into the Faction. How did we do it? I actually talked to them. Through personal emails that led to phone calls, or phone calls the led to descriptive emails, I actually had real conversations with the people that we were asking to join us in this experiment in online, community learning. The whole thing started with real connection. I don’t thing that can be overstated or overvalued.

When we gave these folks a clear picture of what Strength Faction would be, we asked if they knew anyone like them that they thought would love to be a part of it. And wouldn’t you know it, they sure did.

I continued on with that process—reaching out to folks that I know, like, and trust and asking them to introduce me to folks that they share the same sentiments for. It worked. We finished our trial with two people out of twenty that were willing to pay for Strength Faction (and they both had met, and had positive experiences with us, in person). After my personal operation to connect with everyone I knew, we started the very first full round of Strength Faction (the program runs in seventeen-week cycles) with forty-seven members.

We Made it Safe…And Fun

On the first day of each new Strength Faction semester (the term semester affectionately coined by the Faction Family members) we do an introduction post. Folks introduce themselves in the standard way, but then there’s also a question that does a bit guard lowering. We ask something silly—often in the form of a would you rather question. 

Our Vets lead the charge, introducing themselves in seriously and silly ways, and welcoming the new members by saying that they are here to help, while also encouraging the new ladies and gents to participate and reminding them that they made a good choice. New members immediately feel welcome, and they start to introduce themselves. Inevitably, members old and new find common threads running through their lives and instant connections are made.


The coaches and mentors—there are five of us in total—follow suit in a similar-silly-yet-serious fashion. I often quote Dr. Evil’s soliloquy about “summers and Rangoon, luge lessons, and making meat helmets in the spring” and pass it off as my childhood. It’s not that far from the truth.

Guards are immediately lowered, and the tone is set. We’re here to help, we know what we’re doing, but goddamn it we aren’t dealing with grenades. Let’s not take ourselves too seriously.

This same tone resonates through the interactions in our Open Forum where anyone can post truly anything they want—as long as they aren’t being an asshole (that gets you a talking to from me). It’s mostly questions and offers to help. As well as during our bi-weekly QnAs, where we meet up on ZOOM and chat face-to-face…well, through a computer screen…bullshitting and working through each other’s day-to-day problems of life as a coach. And shit gets weird sometimes…in the most fun yet productive way possible.

Dan John’s Intentional Community in Action

It’s impossible to be a quality-minded fitness industry coach and escape the positive influence of Dan John. He’s the godfather of the industry. As with many others, he’s profoundly impacted how we think about, and carryout, our coaching—in our gym (BSP NOVA) and in Strength Faction. His idea of intentional community had to be manifest if we were to be successful in creating an actual community-based coaching program. I think we nailed it.

If you’ve never heard Dan talk about intentional community, he describes it in terms of vertical and horizontal axis. Descending down the vertical axis is the mythology, story, education, and leadership of the community. The horizontal axis represents the peer connections. We made a webbing, connecting each person in as many ways possible on each axis.

Vertically, we have our coaching structure, the education that we offer, and the stories of how we’ve gotten to where we are in our lives and careers. There are the coaches—Chris, Mike, and me—and then the mentors, three coaches that have successfully completed multiple semesters of our program before we asked them to help guide newcomers. All of the coaches and the mentors “sing in the same key”, so to speak. While we all have unique experiences, we all use the shared experience of the curriculum to guide the Strength Faction members. We’re connected to each other, we’re connected to the story of the program and what it teaches.

The curriculum and story are important, but it’s the true, human connection that makes it work. This isn’t some figurehead-type-shit-rife with nice ideas a no action. Our mentors actually interact and guide their mentees. Mike, Chris, and I actually coach—whether that’s during one-on-one phone calls, our ZOOM QnAs, or in our Facebook Open Forum. We didn’t just set up the program and then step back and let it run, we’re still in there, connecting, coaching, helping. That creates a strong vertical pillar.

Horizontally, we create tons of opportunities for our folks to genuinely connect…and help each other. There’s this crazy thing about people—we don’t want to just take, we also inherently feel a need to give. And when you give folks the opportunity to give to each other, and connect them via a common goal and language, they end up forging strong bonds.

I mentioned the introductions, the ZOOM QnAs, the Open Forum. Our members don’t just sit back and listen to the coaches and mentors in these spaces, they actively converse with each other, coaching each other based on their personal experience and what they’ve learned from us. We do our best just to sit back and facilitate.

Members are connected to each other, they’re connected to their mentors and coaches, and they’re connected via a shared story from the history and education of the program. It’s all genuine. It binds them all together into a true, intentional community.

Pete jumps in on the occasional Faction Q&A.

Pete jumps in on the occasional Faction Q&A.

Fellowship, Common Attitudes, Common Goals

I’ll leave you with a few thoughts—mostly words of warning so that you can avoid floundering.

First, we didn’t create a community because a business guru told us it was the best way to run a business. In fact, quite a few folks tried to talk us out of doing things the way we did because it would be too labor intensive and not profitable enough. They were right that it’s been a lot of work, but they were wrong about sustainability and profitability. Very wrong. It’s been worth all of the effort—for all involved.

We created a community because we sincerely knew that it would be the best way to positively affect change in a lot of lives. And we’ve held that idea dearly to our chests as we’ve continued to evolve Strength Faction and improve it. That genuine feeling is palpable. It’s like glue. If your goal is to build an online community, the foundation is the genuine motivation to connect people because you know it’s the best thing to do. Start there, or you’re lost.

Be about the community, not just the freedom and reach that the internet provides. If you put the latter in front of the former, you’ll stall quickly. It’s easy to get excited about growth and scalability, but if you don’t have something genuine and of value to offer the folks you want to serve, you can forget about growth and scalability.

Build the community you want to build. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, we had quite a few folks telling us quite a few things about how we should build and manage this community. While we were sincerely appreciative of their input, we didn’t listen. We smiled, nodded our heads, and did whatever the fuck we were going to do anyway. Because we knew it was right. Because we were being guided by our own values. And there’s nothing that’s going to foundationally support, and bind a community together, more than genuine value and values.


Enrollment for the Fall ’19 Strength Faction is currently open. Click the link below to learn more or to enroll: 

Fall ’19 Strength Faction Enrollment



Todd Bumgardner, MS, LMT is a strength coach and business owner located in Northern Virginia where he operates Beyond Strength Performance NOVA with his partner Chris Merritt and is the Director of Staff Development and Internship Coordinator. He’s also the co-founder of Strength Faction, a personal and professional development company for personal trainers that he’s owned and operated with Chris Merritt and Mike Connelly since 2015. Apart from these two great gigs, Todd does the strength programming for the new recruits of a full-time, Federal tactical law enforcement group. When he’s not working, Todd’s fishing, hunting, playing one of his guitars, or gallivanting through the mountains somewhere.

The Thin Line Between Loyalty and Defection

It took all of ten seconds of poor customer service to eliminate a shade over $1,500/year in effortless annual revenue…

It was a normal Sunday morning. The Dupuis Family was kicking off a big day of activities and before we could start, I needed to address my empty gas tank situation. I pulled up to the pump, punched in my credit card information, and popped the nozzle into my car to begin pumping my usual bi-weekly tank of gas. My wife was in the front seat of the car, her door open, sitting roughly six feet away from the pump. 

I’m going to go grab a cup of coffee, I said. Can you keep an eye on this?

Sure, Pete. No problem.


As I stepped through the door of the mini-mart, I heard an abrasive shout from behind the register.


Yes. Yes it is.

You and I both know that you’re not supposed to walk away from the car while gas is pumping (still sort of shouting).

My apologies. My wife is sitting right there in the front seat, eyes on the pump, taking care of that for me.

That’s not how this works. Get back out there now or I’ll turn off the pump.

Roughly ten customers throughout the shop had their eyes fixed in my direction, looking at me in a way that made me feel like a criminal of sorts. I wanted to argue my case further, but was so caught off-guard by the aggressive approach being taken by the cashier that all I could think to do was walk out of the store.

I returned to my car, stepped over the pump line, and approached my wife to tell her what had just happened. The gas was still pumping. As I stood there ranting, with my back to the pump, I heard the click.

The cashier had turned off the pump before the tank was half full because I didn’t have eyes on it...as I stood two steps away. He was on a nice big power trip, and his victory would have long-term implications.

Just like that, Cumberland Farms had lost my business until the end of time. No more gas. No more cups of coffee or quick snacks. No more anything. A minimum wage employee had unknowingly made the decision to cut ties with a patron who had spent more than $5,000 on fuel alone in the last five years since moving to town, and he surely would not lose a minute of sleep over it in the future.

For the record, I now understand and acknowledge that I was breaking a rule. But clients unknowingly break rules all the time, and there are two directions businesses can go with delivering that message...

Rating my Cumberland Farms customer service experience.

Rating my Cumberland Farms customer service experience.

The thing that makes gas stations and gyms similar

Gas stations are a dime a dozen. They sell a commodity, and spend their days competing on price and location. If we don’t like the way we’re treated at one station, we get back in our car and take our business a quarter of a mile down the road.

Like it or not, the average fitness consumer looks at gyms nearly the exact same way. Sure, we employ coaches with related college degrees, constantly spend continuing education dollars on improving ourselves, and ultimately spend far more time preparing ourselves to deliver exceptional customer service experiences than the local Cumberland Farms...but that’s a story that the soccer mom living around the corner is rarely told. Instead, she believes our gym to be no different than the $0 down, $10/month Planet Fitness offer sitting right around the corner.

As a result, we are every bit as susceptible to client defection during the early stages of the customer life cycle as the gas station with the unpleasant cashier. 

We can’t afford to have bad days, minutes, or moments. Office Managers can’t choose not to smile. Coaches can’t get away with resting bitch face while walking to the restroom. And independent contractors, who are perceived to be an extension of our businesses, had better not make a habit of “taking plays off” when a parent in the parking approaches him looking for the right lobby to access the gym.

Every interaction may not be an opportunity to earn additional business, but it sure as shit is an opportunity to lose it. 

The service we deliver is anything but a commodity, but that doesn’t matter if we’ve failed to shift that perception in the eyes of our potential consumers. We convey that message slowly and systematically over a series of training sessions in month one. The bad news for us is that those sessions will be the last we have the opportunity to deliver if we employ people who take it upon themselves to tell a client: “You and I both know that’s not how this works.”

Sorry, Cumberland Farms. I’ll see you never.

Want to go even further down the customer service rabbit hole?

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Monday, September 23rd digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

*** Take note that this registration includes complimentary attendance to the CSP Fall Seminar which is set to take place during the two days before our mentorship event. This one will be a good bang for your buck continuing education opportunity.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #16

Every month or so the “content ideas” page in my iPhone notes app begins to fill up with topics that aren’t quite beefy enough to justify an entire blog, but also a little too bulky to cram into a Tweet or Instagram post. I’ve once again hit that point, meaning it’s time to unload a couple of quick-hitter discussion topics that have been kicking around in my head (and notes app).

Here’s your August edition of Gym Owner Musings:

1. Pricing strategy is about more than just numbers.

There are multiple ways to sell the same thing, at essentially the same price. Allow me to illustrate this point with a pair of selling scenarios.

Pitch #1 - “We’re excited to have you this summer. I’d imagine you would benefit from a combination of our service offerings in the next twelve weeks. Your unlimited supervised training will cost $400/month. Additionally, the weekly pitching lessons will be $60/session, the weekly manual therapy appointments will be $60/session, and a pair of $50 nutrition consultations is suggested over the course of the time you are here.”

Athlete response - “Sounds like those costs will pile up quickly. Let’s just sign me up for the initial month of strength training and I’ll mix in some of the other stuff where I see fit.”

Pitch #2 - “You should definitely consider securing a spot in our comprehensive summer program. The cost will be $2,750 and it will cover everything, including daily supervised training, weekly manual therapy and throwing lessons, and a pair of nutrition consultations. We’ll handle all of the logistics and all you have to do is show up and put in the hard work. We’re only going to be enrolling 20 athletes in this year’s program due to the high level of planning involved to make sure you have an exceptional experience.”

Athlete response - “How do I put down a deposit?”

The lesson here is that selling is as much about positioning as it is about the numbers involved. In fact, the second scenario I’ve outlined is the exact same service offering, except for the fact that it is actually $10 more expensive than that which I suggested in pitch number one. In my experience, the latter approach closes a considerable amount more business than the former.


2. Your voice may not jive with your brand…

My buddy Zack runs an consulting firm catering to insurance providers around the country. I’ve casually followed (and admired) his brand from afar for a while now, and recently spotted a pivot of sorts in the messaging. More specifically, I noticed that he and his business partner had shifted their whimsical and humorous branding strategy to something a little more deliberately buttoned up, for lack of a better term.

I know Zack well enough to realize that a change of that magnitude doesn’t happen by mistake, or as a result of impulse, so I asked him what’s up…

“You ever see Rolex build humor into one of their advertisements?”

With that one simple question, it all became crystal clear to me. He’d realized that he aspired to deliver a service that is so elite that it serves as a signaling tool, but his messaging wasn’t telling the same story. Humor is great, but it doesn’t serve the overarching purpose attached to his growing brand. As a result, the jokes had to go.

This lesson is of the utmost importance to the gym owner who delivers a premium priced personal training service, or even the business guru offering a top-dollar mentorship service. As much as you like to humanize your business and brand with humor in your social media strategy, you should know that it may be contradicting the branding strategy you’ve put in place.

Positively impact the resumes that leave your operation…

Positively impact the resumes that leave your operation…

3. Improve your gym’s reputation with one simple habit.

We’ve put a new policy in place for outgoing interns here at CSP. If you want to be eligible to receive a letter of recommendation from us as you transition out of the program, you need to submit a resume for review during your last week with us.

We then review the material, make specific suggested modifications that will allow the coach to stand out in future applicant pools, and all but guarantee that the people who come out of our program reflect well upon us moving forward. Everybody wins.

So, assuming you have out-going interns or employees who are moving on (hopefully on the best of terms), it would be in everyone’s best interest for you to assist them in effectively navigating the job search process that lies ahead. If you don’t, you just may find that your business is inaccurately depicted time and time again without you even realizing it.


My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Monday, September 23rd digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

*** Take note that this registration includes complimentary attendance to the CSP Fall Seminar which is set to take place during the two days before our mentorship event. This one will be a good bang for your buck continuing education opportunity.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

10 Habits That Are Just as Important as Tracking KPI

If you ask me a generic question regarding business advice for the average gym owner, I’m going to tell you to track key performance metrics first every single time. With the increasing accessibility of “business-y” blogs such as mine, the importance of chasing specific performance indicators seems to be trending closer and closer to the common sense category amongst the gym owner community.

This is great.

The problem I’m beginning to see with increasing frequency, however, is the habit of getting lost in KPI spreadsheets while some of the most important basics are being neglected or left unattended entirely. With this in mind, I want to put ten simple reminders on your plate that can all be easily implemented the moment you return to work next week:

1. Never, ever stop reading.

Without question, the strongest business owners (and minds) in my network are the ones who can always tell you exactly what they’re reading, and what their definitive “go-to” books are. Some are prolific consumers of content (think 100+ books annually), while others shoot for a book or two a month. There is no right or wrong number of books consumed in this case. All I can tell you is that I am more thoughtful and intentional about the way I run my business when I am constantly consuming new ideas in this format.

Take this great advice from AngelList Co-Founder, Naval Ravikant, if you don’t particularly enjoy reading: “Read what you love until you love to read, and you’ll eventually get bored with the basic stuff.”


2. Use your gym.

Seriously, there aren’t enough gym owners who prioritize their own training the way they’d like to see their clients embrace it. I’m not a big “you have to look fit to sell fitness” guy, but I do believe that you need to experience your services and believe in them because they work for you. Otherwise, your sales pitch runs the risk of coming across as lacking authenticity.

Make your own health a priority.

3. Ask everyone for feedback.

By everyone, I mean clients, employees, colleagues, spouses, and even your landlord. We don’t collect enough insights from the people around us, especially when times are good. It is so easy to fall into the trap of enjoying strong revenue while in the midst of your inevitably busy season, as the clients who you’ll need during the down months are quietly walking out the door because you didn’t realize they were annoyed about something trivial.

When business is good, keep searching for the bad.

4. Thank your peers.

Your gym doesn’t exist without the coach standing alongside you on the training floor. Stop what you’re doing right this very second and send a text to a colleague who you know does a particularly good job at being a team player.

A simple “I see you working hard” goes a long way.

5. Develop hobbies outside of work.

I play co-ed recreational indoor soccer every Wednesday night. I knew one person the day I joined the team. Here I am multiple years later, continuing to show up every week to an event that allows for both casual exercise, and conversations with people who could give a shit about the fact that I own or operate a gym. In fact, I’d imagine 90% of them have no idea what I do for a living.

You likely need to stop living your business, and that starts with making friends outside of work.

6. Smile More.

When did it become a badge of honor to self-identify as the king or queen of resting bitch face? Seriously, smile more…like all the time. Smile when you pass clients and neighboring business owners in the parking lot. Smile when you pick up the phone to give the sales pitch. Smile when you remind a client that he’s overdue for this month’s training payment.

Smile 50% more and every aspect of your life and business will improve. I promise.


7. Think huge in terms of business goals.

As I mentioned earlier, we have a tendency of getting caught up in the KPI-tracking spreadsheets. Thing is, these sheets are typically meant to keep us on track for incremental increases in short-term business growth. But when was the last time you answered the question: “What’s an absurdly ambitious goal I can set this month?”

On July 1st I decided I wanted to hit 10,000 Instagram followers by the end of the month because it would enable me to utilize the “swipe up” feature in stories, allowing for far more effective distribution of links to blogs like this one you’re reading. I had 8,200 at the time and it had taken me three years of continuous posting to get there. The goal was audatious, and it was exactly what I needed.

I began asking questions of people with larger, more engaged audiences. I began consuming information from specialists like the content creators at Buffer and The Social Media Monthly. I began sharing material from others that I knew would bring everyone value, and they in turn reciprocated.

I finished the month with a shade over 9,600 followers. No, I didn’t hit my goal. I did, however, increase my audience size by 1,400 members after having averaged 260 or so in each of the 31 months preceding July of 2019.

Big goal. Big strategic shifts. Big results.

8. Reinvest in your business.

Someone recently asked me how important I believe facility upgrades to be since he saw them as an unnecessary investment when business was good. I told him to ask the first client he encountered in the gym if he was aware of any broken equipment. That client listed 5 areas of concern without hesitation, including 3 that the gym owner was entirely unaware of.

Fix the little stuff as soon as you spot it. People notice.

9. Network often outside of your industry.

Going to the Perform Better Summit annually and connecting with old friends is great, but old friends typically bring old ideas. If you want to learn new stuff and think differently, you need to talk to new and different people.

10. Question the value of your own services.

I’ve got a question for you, and I want you to be 100% honest with yourself when you answer it: Would you pay your current rates to train in your gym if you lived just down the road and needed a place to exercise?

Seriously, would you?

If you even felt the slightest moment of hesitation while answering this one, there are problems to fix, and services to improve.

I’ve got 100 more of these habits to share with you…

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Monday, September 23rd digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

*** Take note that this registration includes complimentary attendance to the CSP Fall Seminar which is set to take place during the two days before our mentorship event. This one will be a good bang for your buck continuing education opportunity.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

Will the Approaching Recession Bury Your Fitness Business?

So how do you see a looming recession impacting the fitness industry, I asked.

I was sitting across the table from a longtime friend who is currently a vice president at a private equity firm that holds the third most franchises of one of the largest commercial gym businesses on the planet. His operation has a proverbial “seat at the table” in an operation that, like it or not, has the power to make a measurable impact on the fitness industry as a whole. 

Between his inner knowledge of the workings of the typical commercial gym, and his reasonably complete understanding of the Cressey Sports Performance model (he’s been a client since day one), my guy knows his shit as it relates to fitness business.

His response punched me right in the gut.

I’d be terrified to exist in the $45 per session model, that’s for sure.

My business exists in the space he is referring to, and I’m not out of touch with the fact that strategic adjustments are going to need to be made if a gym like mine wants to continue to thrive if and when we see the economy take a dip.

He wasn’t bashing my operation, though. Instead, he was helping me understand the reality that as times get tight for the typical fitness consumer, and concessions need to be made as it relates to this type of ancillary spending, it is the guys in the middle of the pricing table who are going to be skipped over entirely during the cost-cutting process.

This may begin to look more appealing to your current clients.

This may begin to look more appealing to your current clients.

There are effectively three types of spending categories in the broadest sense of gym memberships: 

  1. There are the premium amenities and price point guys, such as the Equinox and Lifetime Athletics of the world (think $200+/month commercial gym membership). 

  2. There are the $20 to $80 per session service providers who live in the group fitness and semi-private space (think CSP or your local $199/month bootcamp operation). 

  3. And, lastly, there are the $10/month Planet Fitnesses of the world that own the rock-bottom pricing strategy approach.

Here’s how I imagine things will play out when the time comes for fitness consumers to evaluate their spending habits...

The Equinox members will either be too wealthy to feel the sting of a monthly premium gym membership and continue to let that monthly EFT train roll on, or find themselves too attached to their gym amenities to even entertain the idea of spending with your bare bones operation when they do decide to downsize their fitness spend. As a result, they stay put, or drop all the way to the bottom of the pricing pool so that at the very least, they have some form of gym access.

The clients currently in your gym will be more aware than ever of the $1 dollar down and just $10/month option down the road. That competing gym can quickly drop a “no contracts” offer the moment they see blood in the water for private sector operations such as ours, making you especially vulnerable to a defection.

Lastly, as much as cost-cutting will be a necessity for their members, the Planet Fitness clients are likely to conclude that the $10/month draw on their bank account is too little to justify putting the time and energy into cancelling. As a result, most choose to let it ride.

So, who is the big loser here? Yup. It’s us.

How do we insulate ourselves from this market correction?

If you are of the belief that our sitting president will do everything in his power to maintain our economy’s current performance on up until the pending election in November of 2020 (I am), this means that you’ve got 15+ months to make leaving your business a difficult decision when we finally hit a cliff.

With this in mind, here are three things you need to focus on during the coming year:

1. Differentiate yourself.

I want you to separate your business from the pack on more than just customer service, cleanliness, and basic programming strategy. 

I’m talking about having an area of expertise in a space that is effectively recession-proof. In our case, that meant thriving in ‘07 and ‘08 because we catered to youth athletes. More specifically, we came to learn that when times get tight, parents cut off their own spending before they eliminate valued services relating to their children.

I get it...my son Collin will continue to play youth soccer with his friends while my wife and I stop enjoying meals out and paying the babysitter if and when that decision ever needs to be made.

This isn’t limited purely to operating in a performance niche. For example, you could focus on being the best at helping people bounce back from a specific common injury. You think people are going to stop tearing ACL’s simply because the market is in the can? I think not. Position yourself as “the guy” to bring you back from a knee reconstruction, and you’ll be standing on the other end of an economic downturn.


2. Make your business stickier.

By sticky, I mean that you should look to deliver more than just an exceptional training session in your gym. When my clients come to CSP, many of them arrive with the intention of training, getting a massage, buying their supplements, and banging out a pitching lesson. Deciding to cut out one of these services might make sense for a client, but eliminating them all simultaneously is somewhat unlikely.

There are probably plenty of ways for you to make your operation a little more sticky as well. Maybe you explore keeping a freezer in your space to allow for an on-site food delivery service to cater to your clients. Maybe you bring in an established physical therapist to function as an independent contractor. You could add a smoothie bar...offer childcare...whatever. Just make your business more difficult to walk away from than it currently is.

3. Identify operational inefficiencies.

You’re probably not running an operation that is as efficient as you think. Are you a little overstaffed? Are you cranking the air conditioning 24/7 at 66 degrees when 70 would suffice? Are you paying for a mastermind that you haven’t bothered to log-in to or attend for the last six months? 

You’re spending carelessly somewhere, and cleaning those habits up now, while cashflow is fine and the team isn’t stressed about the performance of the operation, will be far less exhausting than doing it all at once in a reactionary format when things get a little grim.

not trying to be Johnny Raincloud…

I just want to see as many gyms as possible with their doors continuing to be open on the day that our country comes out of its next recession. Today is the day to begin taking a proactive approach to preparing for a correction that is an absolute certainty according to history.

Did this one resonate with you?

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Monday, September 23rd digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

*** Take note that this registration includes complimentary attendance to the CSP Fall Seminar which is set to take place during the two days before our mentorship event. This one will be a good bang for your buck continuing education opportunity.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

My Biggest Leadership Blindspot, and the Moment it was Exposed

Imagine you employed a team of six strength coaches, and rather unexpectedly, three of them left to start a competing business…

This is the game we played at Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts (CSP) during the second half of 2017. As you might imagine, it was a time of turmoil in a business that was just passing its ten-year anniversary of operations. There were challenging transitions in our business that followed, and so many valuable lessons learned that my business partner Eric and I could probably write a book about the experience.

Today, it appears we’ve righted the ship, having positioned ourselves to make an honest run at CSP’s best year ever just 16 months removed from the third and final employee defection. It is important to note that we absolutely, positively, did not do this ourselves. Eric and I have leaned heavily on spouses, incredibly motivated and talented employees, and each other along the way.

As the dust continues to settle on a tumultuous period in our entrepreneurial journey, there is one lesson that stands above the rest in my own personal adjustment. I’m sharing it with you now because I’m certain that any gym owner who reads my material is either dealing with challenging times, or vulnerable to them in the not so distant future.

The lesson I learned was not an instantaneous one, but instead a necessary adjustment that took place over time. It was during recent a transatlantic flight that I stumbled upon a quote that made this experience all seem so simple and obvious in hindsight. And as they say, this hindsight stuff is always 20/20. 

The quote read as follows:

“No one yet has managed to figure out how to manage people effectively into battle; they must be led.”

Quote pulled from this bad boy. Great read.

Quote pulled from this bad boy. Great read.

Competing with former colleagues is a business battle of sorts, and I was fully aware of this reality in 2017 as we worked to rebuild our team while taking care of existing clients. I was not aware, however, that my efforts to manage the situation would be unproductive if I continued to misconstrue micromanagement for leadership. I’d somehow convinced myself that the things we needed were limited to tighter systems and as much structure as I could possibly throw at my organization.

I wasn’t wrong that these needs existed. 

I was, however, wrong to assume that my time was best spent being the person to deliver change on this front. As it turns out, an intelligent and detail-oriented employee was perfectly capable of dealing with the complexities of management, while only I was truly in a position to handle the biggest responsibility of leading us through a period of change.

Employees wanted clarity on the direction we would be moving with the structure of our staff. They also wanted to know that there were strategic objectives in place for retaining existing business and repositioning ourselves to generate new leads. At the time, I was capable of creating a strategy to address these factors, but too bogged down in the mechanics of managing to find time to share the message of where Eric and I saw us to be headed.

I needed a manager to assume control of all things relating to staff coaching assignments, continuing education calendars for the team, and so much more. The man for that job was (and continues to be) John O’Neil. 

While John was the first coaching hire we made following this staff shake up, it was nearly eight months before we realized that I needed a Chief of Staff, of sorts.

Today, John serves in a Director roll, and has assumed what I would call a leader-manager identity at CSP. He deftly handles the surprisingly complex logistics of delivering a quality semi-private training experience in an operation that averaged 102 athlete training sessions daily during the month of June (a 25-session/day increase from where we were at when the wheels came off in 2017). He also serves as the unofficial voice of the team, helping me to stay better in-tune with the collective attitude of our staff at any given moment in time.


I, in turn, am now able to spend more time behind closed doors discussing strategy with each of my employees. I am also given the opportunity to address circumstances of employee dissatisfaction in something closer to an immediate style, as opposed to in a retroactive format as was my habit in years past. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, this newfound freedom from the technical process of managing helped to free up time to drive more business through the doors. 

In short, I got my head out of my ass, stopped confusing a busy spreadsheet and calendar-management life with productivity, and got back to allowing my employees to see me as someone willing to lead.

Want to know the best part, outside of the revenue growth? John is better than me at every single task he inherited. Feels good to put that out there.

Does this sound like you?

Identifying and addressing our blindspots is hard as hell. Thing is, you’re probably already loosely aware of those blindspots, and just not willing to acknowledge them. Do yourself a favor, and empower an ambitious employee to assume some control of your operation. Shell out a few additional dollars in conjunction with a promotion in title, and use your newfound time to generate business that will far outperform the resulting increases in payroll commitment. 

The minute you stop trying to manage your team into battle, and instead start leading, you can expect to start winning.


My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Monday, September 23rd digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

*** Take note that this registration includes complimentary attendance to the CSP Fall Seminar which is set to take place during the two days before our mentorship event. This one will be a good bang for your buck continuing education opportunity.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

2 Counterintuitive Sales Tips for Your Gym

I spent six months repeatedly crashing and burning during the sales process when we started Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) in 2007.

Day in and day out, leads would roll in to our voicemail and email accounts, and my business partners Eric and Tony would sit alongside me in a tiny little office listening as I delivered cringeworthy fitness instruction sales pitches despite having never actually instructed fitness myself. This period of trial and error was a necessary evil, as the guys knew I’d be a far more effective salesman in the long-term if given the opportunity to develop my own approach, as opposed to simply memorizing and regurgitating a canned pitch.

Here we are, almost twelve full years later, and I’ve got more than 4,500 pitches under my belt. During that time, I’ve come to learn that the effectiveness of my pitch is often more driven by what I’m not willing to commit to during the process, than it is by what I’m willing to promise.

With this in mind, I’d like to share two of my favorite counterintuitive selling lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Lesson #1 - Sometimes clients need to hear what you can’t do

I’d venture a guess that roughly 80% of the parents of young athletes I speak to will ask me what kind of training outcomes can be expected. How many pounds will my son gain if he works out with you? How much faster can I expect him to become? My boy is a pitcher…how much of a velocity increase can he expect?

If my answer to any of these questions is anything other than “that depends on your son’s commitment to the process,” I am doing my business a disservice. As gym owners, we need to fight the urge to assume optimal training outcomes for each of the potential clients we pitch. This doesn’t mean that we need to tell parents that their kids likely have a shitty work ethic. Instead, it means that a little transparency and education in your response can go a long way toward closing a sale.

“You know, Mr. Johnson, your son’s potential in the weight room and on the field is really a function of his ability to put a number of good habits together. What he does here in the gym will be an important piece of a big puzzle. We’re going to give him all of the tools he needs to be successful in this space and make sure he has an understanding of how to execute the material properly. Assuming he compliments this training with quality nutrition habits and plenty of good sleep, increases in athleticism will be an inevitable outcome of the process.”

Translation: We can’t be accountable for the lifestyle habits your son maintains outside of our space, but we can guarantee that we’ll knock our role in the overall process right out of the park.

To date, I have yet to have a parent take issue with this response. In fact, more often than not, they find the honesty and logic refreshing. When every gym in town is promising the world to you during the sales process, it must be a nice change of pace to find the rare one that is willing to be brutally honest about the challenges ahead.

Your post-it should probably read: “Be honest and up-sell less.”

Your post-it should probably read: “Be honest and up-sell less.”

Lesson #2 - Up-sell in the gym, not on the phone

It is appalling to me how eager the average performance gym owner is to process payment on a 4+ day/week training package for a pre-pubescent thirteen year old with zero training experience. Is there a single thirteen year old on planet earth that needs to lift weights four days per week and mix in some recovery days and movement training?

If your answer to this question was anything other than “hell no,” then you’re thinking with your wallet and not your head. I make a habit of telling every one of those parents that I refrain from making training frequency recommendations without the benefit of actually assessing an athlete in-person, and that I can’t imagine a scenario where we’d advise for a kid that age to train more than two or three times in a given week.

“But I talked to a guy at XYZ Gym down the road and he insisted that my kid wont make the progress he desires with anything less than four days a week on a twelve month contract. What gives?”

If I make a habit of selling young athletes more training than they need, I’ll eventually be exposed as someone who is more interested in monetizing an immediate opportunity than I am in taking an athlete’s best interests into account. That 13 year old can make great progress in one or two sessions/week, and will soon grow up to buy justified three and four day/week packages from me when the time is right.

Try it Yourself

You’ve probably been programmed to “always be closing” over the years. At the same time, you likely have not been programmed to say no to potential clients who are dying to give you money for services they don’t need. Take a transparent approach to your sales process in moments such as these, and you’ll soon earn the reputation of being a guy who delivers desirable results while maintaining integrity.

People like to recommend that guy’s business to friends.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #15

Every month or so the “content ideas” page in my iPhone notes app begins to fill up with topics that aren’t quite beefy enough to justify an entire blog, but also a little too bulky to cram into a Tweet or Instagram post. I’ve once again hit that point, meaning it’s time to unload a couple of quick-hitter discussion topics that have been kicking around in my head (and notes app).

Here’s your July edition of Gym Owner Musings:

1. Standardize Your Seller

Everyone on your team should understand how to deliver the sales pitch, but it doesn’t mean that everyone should do so. Whenever possible, I encourage gym owners to standardize the staff member who delivers an explanation of the service model and pricing structure. Assuming you have a most popular training model (CSP is 95% semi-private training, for example), it is safe to assume that you are vulnerable to consistent service misconceptions.

In our semi-private training format, this means that parents and athletes need to be informed in advance of their first post-evaluation training session that they should not expect to have the same coach assigned to them every time they walk through the door, that the client-to-coach ratio will sit at a maximum of 5:1, and that sessions should run roughly 90-minutes in length. If I were to allow six different staff members to deliver six different versions of this message, I might end up with clients that expect sessions to run:

  1. “Never less than an hour”

  2. “Definitely under two hours”

  3. “As long as it takes to get it done properly”

  4. “Roughly 75-90 minutes”

  5. “Depends on which coach you’re working with”

  6. “Depends on who writes your programs”

While none of these answers are definitively wrong, they collectively will fill a busy training space with a wide variety of service expectations. In short, only one or two people on the team should qualify as your “go-to” seller. The rest can tag in during unique circumstances where absolutely appropriate.

In case you’re wondering, this is what a compelling sales pitch looks like.

In case you’re wondering, this is what a compelling sales pitch looks like.

2. Getting “Buy-In” is a Matter of Transparency

I had a question pop up in a recent Instagram Fitness Business Q&A that read as follows: How do you get potential trainers and clients to buy in to your methodology?

I temporarily wavered on the answer to this one, thinking that if I dug deep into our systems, I’d somehow find language in place that says: “Here’s how we get buy-in!” Turns out this hypothetical document or system doesn’t exist. It doesn’t need to, because in everything we do, we go further than just “the how.”

From the moment you walk through our doors, be it as a client or an intern, you’re bombarded with “the why” behind our actions. Interns learn why our warm-ups are designed to work from the ground up, and why we list our packages from most to least expensive in our pricing sheet. Clients learn why we’ve built specific corrective exercise into their warm-ups that don’t show up on any other programs in the gym, and why we might be advocating for a three-day full body format as opposed to a four-day upper/lower split. In short, we’re teaching as much as we are instructing.

Buy-in is a byproduct of procedural transparency to all. This is exactly why we don’t protect our gym’s “secret sauce.

3. Behavior Unchecked Becomes Behavior Sanctioned

Another of the 40+ questions I answered this past week on Instagram was what one thing I would change about my business habits if I could go back in time. I explained that I’ve made the mistake of letting bad attitudes exist for extended periods among staff members in years past. Every time a perpetually grumpy employee moves on, I am surprised to learn that clients were seeing and feeling it every bit as much as (if not more than) I was.

I’m guilty of avoiding the responsibility of being the bad guy because I like a given person, and it is never the right thing for the business, our clients, or even the employee in question.

If you have a disgruntled coach on staff, and you’ve genuinely made an effort to improve their work circumstances to no avail, you don’t have time to waiver. Clients quietly leave without complaining following bad service interactions. Fellow employees emulate that which they interpret to be socially acceptable based on your failure to act as a manager, and your business catches on fire all around you while you hope someone “just comes out of a funk.”

The best time to terminate an unpleasant service employee is weeks or months ago. The second best time is today.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.

Stop Bashing and Start Observing

You have to carry a big basket to bring something home.

This is a quote from a fascinating story told in the book titled Range, by David Epstein. In it, he explains the story of an education event attendee complaining that he wasn’t taking anything of value away from the experience. Epstein went on to state that a mind kept wide open will inevitably take something away from every experience.

Does this disgruntled event attendee remind you of a number of fitness professionals you know who love to bitch about the quirky service alternatives in their market?

Crossfit is just a dangerous model featuring reckless programming and minimal supervision.

OrangeTheory is a fluffed up service that counts on distracting you with trendy technology.

The Title Boxing Club down the road is just a passing trend where no one actually gets better at boxing.

Imagine color translates to open-minded exposure to local competition…this basket is nice and big.

Imagine color translates to open-minded exposure to local competition…this basket is nice and big.

You name it, I’ve heard the bullshit whining. And guess what…I catch 100% of these people by surprise when I’m not complicit with their agenda. In fact, I like to remind people that Crossfit has generated enough awareness to justify mainstream television coverage, a partnership with Reebok, and a level of demand that allows for multiple locations to pop up in some of the smallest towns you can imagine.

I also like to point out the fact that OrangeTheory did 137% growth in revenue between 2015 and 2018, and is currently operating 800+ locations. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand in front of numbers anywhere near this level in my own business.

So maybe, just maybe, there is something to learn from these titans of brand development in our booming fitness space. Instead of complaining about the local competitor, you think it might be a good idea to open your mind to the fact that they’re open (and thriving) for a reason?

Spend a little money to experience their services. Infiltrate their operation and expose yourself to their best practices that could likely be easily replicated in your own shop. Accept the fact that your shit stinks just as bad as you’ve convinced yourself theirs does.

In short — carry a bigger damn basket.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to say hello on Instagram or Twitter, and subscribe to my newsletter here.