3 Lessons Learned in a Year of Gym Ownership

This week I have a guest post for you from Peter Meakin. Peter is a former consulting client of mine and the founder of Perform Gym, located in Liverpool, England. He's officially got a year of business operations under his belt, and some lessons to share. Enjoy!

Perform Gym - Liverpool

Perform Gym - Liverpool

Having officially passed the one-year mark as an independent gym owner, I can honestly say I’m happy it’s behind me. Not because it went badly, but because the transition from personal training to gym ownership hit me like a tonne of bricks. 

Over this past year, I have spent a lot of hours researching the best ways to run my new business. I've reviewed the systems used at many established facilities and read any fitness-related business literature I could find (which is how I found Pete).  

Everyone says the same thing: Start small; keep overhead down; it’s going to cost more than you think; it’s going to be tougher than you think. 

I struggled to relate to these successful facilities and trainers. They were saying how tough running their business was, but all I could see was their success. 

And lets be honest, does anybody discuss how tough business is until they’re successful enough to say that they’re past that point now? 

Here are 3 lessons I learned in year-one and want to share from the viewpoint of someone who isn’t out of the woods yet: 

1. It's best to limit your offering. 

When you are conceiving your ideas, you think that you can do it all. A year ago I was a one-to-one personal trainer. I thought I’d carry on with one-to-one training whilst growing a semi-private model, a bootcamp, build upon my strength & conditioning background, add holistic fitness options, and sell supplements. The list goes on and on... 

In trying to serve everyone, I was serving no one. My time disappeared quickly. I found myself saturated, and wasn’t making much profit because of the increased overhead. 

This is where creating a singular focus or niche comes into play (I never really understood how to do this with the general population, until recently). 

Pick a primary offering (I chose semi-private personal training) and a target market. At Perform, I target semi-affluent 30-50 year old general population clients looking to get healthier, leaner and improve their lifestyle.  

It is a good idea to have a secondary option for those who fall slightly outside the scope of this offering. My secondary service offering is a bootcamp program which is available at a cheaper rate. 

For me, creating this niche and simplified offering streamlined my business model immediately. My client base now reflects the singular service that I want to offer. The clients who don't enjoy these methods eventually filtered out of our program. Like-minded clients gravitate toward the small group environment, and training has become more enjoyable and motivational for both my clients and myself. The improved training environment organically promotes further business growth. 

2. Clients don’t like change. 

I had an established client base before opening my own facility thanks to my time spent personal training. My clients were committed, enjoyed my training, and we shared good rapport. I thought that opening an awesome new facility with all of the bells and whistles would make everyone happy. My existing clients would benefit, and old clients would return. 

Truth be told, your clients may enjoy what they are doing now, but are not guaranteed to embrace change just because you say it's better. Many of them may be comfortable with your existing facility and don’t want to move, or simply enjoy your current training model. After all, that is what they chose to pay for in the first place. 

Clients want you to understand their point of view and demonstrate patience as they see and experience the new service format on their terms. I sought advice from Pete as I planned a transition to a semi-private training model: 

‘Clients don’t like change. Make the transition from your current offerings slowly, beginning with one or two weekly sessions and building as demand dictates.’ 

It took 6 months to convert my entire client base (other than those who require one-to-one supervision) to my semi-private model. My current clients are now happier than ever with their training system and wouldn’t want to change back. 

3. Step back and think. 

When you're a "one man band," you’re coaching every training session, delivering every consultation, answering every call, cleaning, marketing and handling all of the administrative tasks. Until you are established, I don’t really see a way around it. 

It wasn’t until I took a step back to look at the bigger picture that I identified the obvious flaws in my business and created solutions. 

It’s easy to get bogged down, grinding away in the day-to-day operations of a small business. It’s harder to come up for air, set aside some time for important tasks like brainstorming, marketing, admin, and long-term planning. 

I've come to learn that the more time I spend working on the business rather than working in it, the more money my business earns. 

On to year-two...

While I have no shortage of year-one lessons learned, these three have had the biggest impact on how I operate. They've reshaped the way I approach developing my business, and my enjoyment of the process. Hopefully they can move you from perpetually busy, to efficient and profitable gym owner status. 

About the Author

Combining a high level of academic and vocational study with extensive experience of maximizing performance at the elite levels of professional sport (ranging from professional club level up to Olympic and international athletes), Peter Meakin is recognized as one of the most skilled Trainers in the Liverpool area. His website can be found at www.performgym.co.uk

Want a White-Collar To-Do List? Start With Some Blue-Collar Work.

“Smart work will never replace hard work; it only supplements it.”

I can’t argue with Gary Vaynerchuck on this one. Whether you’re in the tech industry, or in fitness, great ideas are nothing without execution, and execution means hard work.

My buddy AJ has been a client at CSP since his days as a high school athlete. He’s since completed college and launched a business named Lumberlend Bat Co.. Lumberlend was in the black in well under a year despite making hefty initial investments in expensive equipment and materials associated with crafting customized “bat mugs.” He’s also managed to join me for roughly 125 training sessions since taking the jump into entrepreneurship last spring, while simultaneously working 15-hours days for months on end.

Pretty cool baby announcement, if you ask me.

Pretty cool baby announcement, if you ask me.

When AJ shows up to train, he’s typically got paint all over his clothes, calloused hands, and a big smile on his face.

He doesn’t, however, want to vent about the exhausting nature of his job. He could tell me that he’s been up since 4:00am, but instead opts to ask me what book I’m currently reading, who I’ve been learning from, and what my newest strategic objectives are for developing my own personal brand and consulting business.

He’s thirsty for knowledge.

What kind of gym owner will you be?

I admire AJ’s work ethic and drive because it reminds me of the energy that went into launching Cressey Sports Performance. When the dust settles on the first twelve months of business operations at a new gym, there are typically two types of owners:

  1. Those who are considering how they’ll reinvest their profits
  2. Those who are losing sleep over outstanding debt

If you were to audit how each of these business owners spent the previous 365 days, there would be obvious habits associated with each category. The entrepreneurs who are sitting on a little cushion of profits have calloused hands because of the energy that went into cutting rubber flooring for hours on end the night before their gym’s grand opening. Meanwhile, the debt-ridden gym owners are also sporting some banged up palms, because they prioritized their heavy deadlifting session while outsourcing the installation of their turf and equipment.

My hands and back hurt just looking at this...

My hands and back hurt just looking at this...

Unless you’re swimming in unlimited funds, there is no task that is beneath you. Eric Cressey was right there loading the dumpster during the CSP Florida initial demolition process, because he knows the value of blue-collar work during the early stages of a performance enhancement facility rollout. You may be excited to throw yourself into brand management and strategic business development, but working on the business takes a distant back seat to working in the business and earning a little sweat equity as your operation is in its infancy.

Go ahead and open that gym you’ve been dreaming of. But remember this: Your white-collar to-do list will not survive year-one if you don’t embrace some blue-collar tendencies. It’s time to get your hands dirty.

Accumulating "Biz Skills"

For the past four months I have been providing weekly business content for the Strength Faction (SF) in a video format. The segment is titled "Fit-Biz Thursday," and I've been slowly coming to terms with how bad I am on camera with each passing week.

With this being the 16th and final week of the SF Spring Season, I decided to contribute my weekly insights in the form of a blog on their website. In this piece, I have shared three initiatives that this community can implement immediately to continue their ongoing business development as fitness professionals.

While the message is clearly designed to speak to this unique community, there are takeaways that can apply to anyone who typically finds value in my posts.

One last thing: I have signed on to be "the business guy" once again for the summer season of SF and strongly encourage anyone who is on the fence about joining to take the plunge and sign up. The enrollment period ends this Saturday.

On to the blog post...check it out HERE.

Selling Fitness Services - How I Do It

Most of us have already come to the same conclusion – individualized programming meets the needs of our clients more effectively than generic group material ever will. So, I have to ask, why are you comfortable explaining the benefits of individualized training materials using a pre-packaged sales script?

Fitness professionals often ask that I share the Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) standardized sales language. While I pride myself on being transparent with the systems we’ve created in our business, I can’t share something that doesn’t exist. When it comes to selling, I individualize the explanation of our services in the same way that my strength coaches individualize a month of client training materials.

There are a variety of ways that a client can benefit from working with us. Some achieve fat-loss objectives. Others bulk up because they know it will help them throw a baseball harder. There are even a few who are here for the social component of our service model rather than any type of physical performance outcomes. We all have different goals and expectations. With this in mind, there is no singular “most effective” way for me to explain why we’re worth the investment.

An Example…

Let’s envision a scenario where I’m discussing the possibility of working with a youth baseball player. Imagine he’s seventeen years old and has a clean injury history. Believe it or not, there are three different pitches that may need to be delivered to convert this athlete from being a lead, to paying customer status.

Speaking to the athlete: “You’d be a perfect fit here at CSP. The majority of our clients are young baseball players like yourself, and I’d imagine you’ll recognize some friends when you arrive. Assuming you meticulously follow the training material we prepare for you, maintain a reasonably healthy diet outside of the gym, and get plenty of quality sleep, you’re likely to see a bump in velocity and a little more pop at the plate.”

Speaking to the father: “At CSP we specialize in helping ballplayers increase athleticism and improve the likelihood that they reach their true athletic potential. Our system allows for entirely individualized training material that will address your son’s faulty movement patterns, flexibility limitations, and other unique training needs. If he takes his off-the-field training as seriously as he does his games, he’s likely to show well at his next tryout or showcase."

Speaking to the mother: “While I can appreciate the fact that your son is dying to throw harder, our primary focus is, and will always be, injury prevention first, and increasing athleticism second. The youth baseball landscape is unfortunately creeping closer and closer to being a year-round endeavor, so it is imperative that we educate your son on proper arm-care protocols and the importance of attention to detail in executing some of the less exciting parts of his program. Assuming he follows the training rules we lay out, you can take comfort in knowing he’s done all he can to reduce the risk of a throwing-related injury. The good news for your son is that increases in velocity and power at the plate will be a nice bi-product of proper execution."

There’s More Than One Way to Sell

There isn’t a single lie or misleading sales tactic outlined in the three different pitches I’ve presented. All sell the exact same service, just from dramatically different angles. Teenagers want to identify the shortest path to being a hard thrower. Dads want their kid to meet his potential and show well in relation to his peers. And moms want to stop losing sleep over the idea that their son is constantly on the cusp of a Tommy-John procedure.

If you truly want to emulate the way we “sell” here at CSP, you need to read your audience, and then craft a narrative that appeals to the way their brain works.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

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

A Lesson From My Dad That Changed The Way I Compete

When I was 11 years old I played little league baseball. Much like the majority of our clients here at Cressey Sports Performance, I was 98% certain that I’d one day be collecting MLB paychecks and enjoying winters off from work.

There is one game that I will never forget. This is surprising, because I was there for exactly one third of an inning.

If you were in attendance, you’d remember watching me lead off the top of the first inning with a strikeout, and then promptly slamming my helmet on the ground. The brim of said helmet snapped off, flying directly past the dugout door.

My dad saw the whole thing.

It took Pete Sr. all of 30-seconds to walk down from the bleachers, across the field, and into the dugout to remove me from the premises. The next hour or so looked like this:

  1. Silent ride to the bank.

  2. I remove $40 from my First Communion savings.

  3. Silent ride to local sporting goods store.

  4. I buy a matching batting helmet with my own money.

  5. Silent ride back to the field.

  6. Painfully awkward apology to my coach and teammates.

To this day, I have never discussed this incident with my dad. I’m not intentionally avoiding it. In fact, I owe him a thank you. This experience fundamentally changed the course of my personal development.

Somehow this story popped into my head recently as I was listening to a relatively new gym owner bitching and moaning about the competition. The more I stewed over it, the angrier I became.

Here’s the point:

Your fitness business competition isn’t kicking your ass on recruiting new clients because they “lie, cheat, and steal.” They’re doing it because you won't take ownership of your shortcomings on the lead generation front. Be better.

The “garbage” gym down the road isn’t loading up on quality internship applicants at your expense because they “mislead candidates about the quality of the learning experience.” They’re winning because they’re more effective at positioning their program in an appealing way than you are. Be better.

I didn’t break a helmet because an umpire made a bad call or a coach failed to put me in a position to succeed. I did so because I was a selfish child who’d overestimated his talent and failed to put in the work. I needed to be better.

Thank you, Dad, for not letting me off the hook. I intend to pay it forward with your grandchildren.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

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

It Took Me 10 Years to Become An Overnight Success

“I can’t believe how many opportunities just fall into your lap.”

A buddy of mine said this last week when I told him I’d just returned from Pennsylvania, where I was participating in the recording of a television show. I’d been invited to provide on-camera fitness business consulting on a show titled Small Business Revolution (SBR). The show is hosted by established marketing expert Amanda Brinkman, and Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec.

According to its website, SBR is “a movement created to shine a spotlight on the vital impact that small businesses have on our economy, our communities and our daily lives.” Each season, a new community in small-town America is selected to have a series of its businesses revitalized with the intention of improving the local economy. (Inc. has listed Season 2 of this show as one of the “nine top TV shows entrepreneurs should watch in 2017”.)

So, where do I factor in? Why is it shortsighted to say that my inclusion is a reflection of luck? And, most importantly, what lessons can you take away from my decade-long climb toward an opportunity such as this?

Why Me?

There’s this cool little boxing gym situated in the heart of Bristol Borough, PA named Keystone Boxing & MMA. The owner, Jose, has single-handedly created a business and a community of fitness enthusiasts over the past several months that he is (and absolutely should be) very proud of. As Keystone is working to find its identity, Jose is learning that running a one-man shop is both exhausting and stressful.

Amanda and I took a couple of hours to tour his space, talk to him about his vision for the business, and identify opportunities to focus his efforts on his most profitable and sustainable path. You’ll have to tune in when the series hits Hulu in the end of September to see the insights and guidance we’ve shared, but I can tell you that Jose has a bright future. He’s created something from nothing, and his growth to date has been entirely organic.

As we stood on the sidewalk waiting for the camera crew to waive us in for our “entirely casual and natural arrival at Keystone Boxing & MMA,” I asked Amanda why I was selected as the industry-specific consultant featured on this episode. She told me that there were two simple reasons:

  1. Keystone isn’t a big-time franchise, so they weren’t looking for a consultant who could teach a massive commercial gym owner how to drive leads and improve metrics like churn rate. Instead, they wanted an experienced entrepreneur who’d been in the trenches and came out of the experience with an appreciation for the highs and lows of small business ownership.

  2. They had read every blog I had posted to date, and concluded that my material was logical, and clearly articulated. She told me: “People who write well typically speak well, so we knew you wouldn’t be a complete liability on camera.” (I’ll take it)

My skill set may not be broadly marketable, but it speaks to an extremely specific population. By staying in my lane and taking pride in the material I publish, I’d put myself in a position to have this professional opportunity “just fall into my lap.”

Luck, or the product of 10 years of work?

Do you ever find yourself saying “I can’t believe how much so-and-so-fit-pro is popping up on my radar lately” as you scroll through your Facebook feed consuming the occasional fitness blog or video? You may have even questioned their credibility because they went from what you perceived to be relative obscurity to thought-leader status in the blink of an eye.

There are more than a few of these characters who’ve fast-tracked their way onto the scene without establishing a cache of experience that justifies the notoriety, but I’d argue that the vast majority have been grinding away behind the scenes for a lot longer than you’d ever imagine. I personally spent more than 2,500 days running Cressey Sports Performance before publishing my first blog or offering business consulting to other gym owners. Just because I wasn’t live-tweeting my experience up until that point doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

So, during my tenth year of functioning as a fitness business owner, I was fortunate enough to be asked to share my insights with another fitness business owner while in the presence of Robert Herjavec. Lucky me.

If I told you that the career you are kicking off today, and will ultimately pour yourself into for the next decade, will eventually result in you appearing on television, would you call that dumb luck? Something tells me you wouldn’t.

Becoming a “Featured Specialist”

If you’ve decided that your objective is to publish content, establish yourself as an authority on something, and maybe even make the rounds in the fitness world presenting your ideas, I’d encourage you to attack the process with these three objectives in mind:

First, I want you to focus on accumulating experiences instead of textbooks and certifications. I’ve never had another gym owner approach me to ask what I learned at Perform Better this past summer. Instead, they want to know about actual problems I have encountered at CSP, and how I went about addressing them. As they said in my recent favorite, Rework: “Stop imagining what’s going to work. Find out for real.”

The second thing I want you to do is to prepare all of your content as if you’re speaking to a specific individual or segment of the market. Don’t stray from this singular audience. The more you try to please everyone with your material, the closer you’ll be to the reputation of being a mile wide and an inch deep. There’s nothing wrong with having a small audience if that audience happens to be extremely engaged and passionate about your work.

Lastly, when it comes to detail, I want you to sweat the small stuff. I understand the attitude that being a perfectionist only slows you down on bringing great ideas to the market, but typos and grammatical errors in my blog could have cost me the opportunity to interview with the producers of SBR as they were hunting for industry experts. They consumed this material before deciding that they would hop on a call with me.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. You owe it to yourself to produce content that your high school english teacher would be proud to have influenced. You never know who’s plowing through your blog archives to make sure that you’re concerned with attention to detail and have made an effort not to lean on constant f-bombs to hammer points home.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

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

3 Strategies We Employed to Double Group Training Foot Traffic in 3 Months

Today's guest post comes from CSP Strength Camp Coordinator, Frank Duffy. I think it is pretty cool that he's managed to 2X our group training business in under 12 weeks without spending a single dollar on traditional advertising, so I've asked that he share his secrets. Enjoy!

We all want to develop successful training businesses. As much as we love wearing gym clothes and training people every day, none of us got into this industry with the intention of living paycheck-to-paycheck. However, dreaming about future plans while tolerating flaws in the infrastructure of your service is a surefire way to fail to reach your true potential.

I took on the role of Strength Camp Coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) this past January. I was fortunate enough to inherit a nice core group of dedicated members as I arrived. Outside of gaining trust from the existing clients, my goal at that time was to figure out how to expand to size of our program while also improving the quality of the client experience.

I’ll admit that I did not start off on the right foot with the current campers we had. On my first official day on the job, my car broke down on my way to work and I was forced to miss my first session as the “guy in charge.” How’s that for a bad first impression? Moving forward, I did everything within my power to create the best possible product for our paying customers to makeup for this less-than-optimal situation.

Less than three months later, our program has more than doubled without spending a single dime on advertising. I’ve learned a lot in just a quarter of a year, and would like to share three practical steps you can implement today to improve retention while simultaneously expanding your program. Make sure to double down on these three categories before worrying about optimizing your latest Facebook advertisement and you’re sure to see revenue growth in the near future:

1. Over Deliver on Day One

The first day of anything is daunting. Can you recall your first day of kindergarten? I’m sure the moments leading up to it and having to say bye to mommy and daddy weren’t exactly a walk in the park. I know they weren’t for me. I recently took up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with a few of the other coaches at CSP. As the new guy and not really knowing what to expect, being nervous was a generous way to describe my mindset. While these two memories took place during very different stages in my life, both scenarios featured a quick transition from anxiety to enjoyment.

Keeping these past experiences in mind, I do everything possible to develop a comfort zone for any new client that joins our Strength Camps. On day one, I focus on gathering as much information as I can about our new camper, while emphasizing the fact that we’re here to help them, not hurt them. I couldn’t tell you how many times the phrases, “pace yourself”, “how are you feeling,” and “less is more” have come out of my mouth during the past three months. CSP Strength Camps do not feature an environment that demands a hardcore training mentality. We want to have fun, while keeping the client in the driver’s seat.

I’m fortunate to have a handful of great interns that rotate their Strength Camp shifts throughout each week. All of them have a firm understanding of our core values and help to make our campers feel welcomed and successful through genuine positive feedback. Whether you have a collection of quality interns contributing to the training experience or not, you should always have a good attitude that rubs off on those around you.

2. Follow-Up, Follow-Up, Follow-Up

After a camper completes her first session, I always write an email the next day to ask her how she’s feeling. Outside of the typical soreness responses I receive back, most clients are quick to point out how much they appreciate the outreach. If you haven’t already, build this two minute task into your client on-boarding system. All it takes is a couple of sentences to demonstrate that you care and value the individual who has decided to bring you their business.

I also reach out to campers that miss three consecutive training sessions without informing me in advance. By implementing this type of follow-up email, you’re developing a form of accountability that keeps your inconsistent clients in check. It’s also another way to show the clients that come and go that they’re not just another face in the crowd. In February, we had 9 campers attend at least 80% of the scheduled training sessions...that number jumped to 25 in March following the implementation of structured outreach emails.

Consistency leads to results, we all know that. It also helps keep your training floor fun and exciting on a daily basis, which is what all of us strive for as coaches.

Always have a plan for reaching out to your clients. It’ll go a long way in helping solidify the rapport necessary to maintain a healthy client-coach relationship.

3. Acknowledge Achievements & Identify Long-Term Goals

A quick story: I started up a new client in January who told me that she’d never be able to deadlift without hurting her back. Instead of hitting her with a knee-jerk “you’re probably doing it wrong,” I told her that I understand completely, and we'll find a way to work around it while improving the way she feels. Less than a month later we were gradually learning proper deadlift execution in a pain-free manner. Today, she’s deadlifting and kettlebell swinging heavy with zero hesitation.

Great, but how does this apply to your training business?

In our monthly newsletter, we acknowledge a CSP Strength Camper of the Month. Guess who earned that nomination for January? You guessed right, our deadlifting camper from the story above.

The smallest things, as silly as they might seem to coaches that lift heavy weight daily, have the biggest impact on our client’s morale. By simply acknowledging the fact that a client lifted a certain weight, or showed up for a week straight, you can help cultivate the intrinsic motivation we want to see within our clients.

Keep in mind, motivated clients typically have specific goals they want to accomplish. If you discuss what they’re trying to achieve, you can outline a plan of attack with a reasonable timeline to help them understand the course of action. Whether it’s losing weight, crushing pull-ups, or anything else that comes to mind, establishing a realistic date to smash this goal helps create buy-in.

If you’re a coach with the dreams of running a successful business, you need to genuinely care way before stressing about things like social media strategy or tee shirt designs. Understanding exercises and knowing how to coach them will always enhance your product. At the end of the day, however, it means nothing if you’re unable to connect and create an enjoyable experience for the people you expect to pay your bills.

It’s Not About Cheap Labor - 3 Great Reasons to Create an Internship Program

Stop taking notes right now if you’re just launching a gym and have not yet filled your own training calendar. You have no business building an internship program if there is zero meaningful learning opportunity for your candidates outside of helping you assemble equipment.

Sorry for the tough love.

This information is best suited for the gym owner who has identified his optimal training model thanks to actual implementation. I’m talking about the entrepreneur who’s had to shift his approach multiple times, pivot in a direction that the market is demanding, and learned the hard way that Mike Tyson was right when he said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Now that I’ve established the optimal audience for this post, let’s dig into the three most underappreciated reasons why creating an internship program is a great idea for your business.

1. Never Make a Bad Hire Again

Our internship program has evolved into the perfect prospective employee engine. With 300-500 hours of on-the-floor coaching experience under their belts, our intern alums have already shown their true colors. The best interns have proven themselves to be competent in coaching scenarios, familiar and comfortable with our training and programming philosophies, and a fit with our business culture.

I can come to terms with making the occasional poor intern selection, but choosing who I decide to give payroll dollars to is a decision I can’t afford to screw up. Hasty hiring procedures lead to employees quitting, or being terminated, and that’s a toxic situation from which many small businesses never fully recover.

Additionally, when you hire former interns, there is little-to-no on-boarding process, meaning that time isn’t spent training a new team member. If you’re looking to be as efficient as possible with your payroll dollars, hiring a coach who’s ready to contribute on this level on day one is a no-brainer.

2. Give Your Training Environment a Much-Needed Facelift

The best gyms are structured, predictable, and systematized in their day-to-day operations. This is great when it comes to delivering a consistent service experience for your clients, but can also end up being a negative if your staff settles into complacency and things become a little stale.

With three classes of interns rolling through our doors each year, we receive a much needed seasonal infusion of new blood on the gym floor. While we strive to standardize the training knowledge across all staff members (interns included), I have no interest in employing a bunch of coaches with the same personalities. By putting six new faces on the gym floor, and allowing their unique personalities to be infused into the personality of our team, we are able to keep things fresh for our clients.

I currently have interns from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Ireland bringing their own fascinating backgrounds and experience to the table every day here at CSP. As far as I’m concerned, the more eclectic the group, the better.

3. Fast-Track the Reach and Power of Your Professional Network

There is a small army of former interns currently making contributions to our industry outside of CSP. I can confidently say that the fingerprints of our business are now all over the fitness and professional sports worlds. CSP intern alums are currently collecting paychecks from NBA franchises, Pac-12 and ACC programs, and multiple MLB organizations. We have an inside track to a very unique collection of professionals.

We maintain a private Facebook group titled CSP Intern Community that currently has 166 members in an effort to leverage the power of this network of strength coaches who all share the common bond of having made their way through our program. This week alone, members have exchanged physical therapist suggestions in remote parts of the country, posted a Division-1 strength coaching opportunity, and shared seminar registration discounts that are exclusive to this community. Thanks to the trust that we’ve established after hundreds of hours spent together inside of CSP, we know that there is no need to vett out recommendations made in this forum.

It Isn’t Supposed to be Quick or Easy

My buddy Luka Hocevar is fond of saying “what’s difficult is scarce, and what’s scarce is valuable.

Building your internship program to a point where the three reasons outlined above become relevant will not be easy, but that’s exactly why they’re so valuable. If you put in the years it takes to cultivate a program of this nature, your business will benefit tenfold.

Remember this: When it comes to ultimately extracting the value from a program of this nature, it all starts with giving more than you take from your interns. Deliver far more learning than they expect or demand, and you’ll all but guarantee that they’ll return the favor in the long run.

You Don’t Need Flashy on Day One – You Need Cash Flow

This image illustrates the importance of keeping things simple. What you’re looking at is six years worth of daily planners used for scheduling assessments and training sessions here at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP).

You read that correctly – we used (and in some scenarios continue to use) a old-fashioned pencil and paper to book training sessions here at CSP for the first six years we were in business. You can judge us if you’d like, but it won’t change the fact that we got by just fine without sinking thousands of dollars into an account with an enterprise scheduling software provider at a time when cash-flow was of the utmost importance.

Ask Yourself:

Are you budgeting $6,900 for a Keiser Functional Trainer when you could just buy the floor model of a generic brand for a third of the price from a local equipment distributor? Guess what – the Paramount model I picked up on day one is still perfectly functional here at CSP Massachusetts today.

Did you just spend $1,000+ on a York Oak Platform when you could have just dropped an extra panel or two of rubber flooring down to dampen the noise and vibration? We’re still “gonna get platforms someday” almost ten years after opening our doors.

Are you dropping $125/month on MindBody’s Pro package when you could have brought a pencil and a $12 planner?

You’re running a startup. Start acting like it if you want to be blogging about your experiences doing so a decade from now.

While You’re Arguing With Competitors on the Internet, Everyone Else is Getting Better

A competitor once took an entirely unprovoked shot at my business on a hugely popular social networking platform. I was pissed.

I initially responded emotionally, stomping around my house ranting and acting as if more than a couple dozen people would see (or even understand) the less-than-subtle attempt at mocking us. What can I say…I’ve got a short fuse.

Here’s what I didn’t do…

  • I didn’t engage with the post
  • I didn't create a reactionary post of my own
  • I didn't call anyone out publicly or privately

When the initial rush of animosity wore off, the rational side of me realized that this was a good indicator of where CSP is positioned within our field. I want our business to be such a player within our niche that “the competition” ends up spending valuable time concerning themselves with getting a rise out of us. Meanwhile, I can continue to focus on delivering endless amounts of value to our current and potential clients; we didn’t capture so much market share by losing sleep over what other people were doing or saying.

Owen knows better than to argue on the internet.

Owen knows better than to argue on the internet.

I’m not telling you to ignore the slight entirely. When someone takes a public shot at your operation, they are highlighting a potential misconception about your business. While you may not agree with the message, we live in a world where perception is reality, and it is important that we adjust to ensure that current and potential clients don’t perceive us to be flawed moving forward.

Instead of engaging in endless internet arguments, try this: Constantly pursue personal and professional development opportunities that will allow you to remain at the leading edge of your niche. Make product or service improvements as often as you can. You’ll eventually drown out the competition with optimal results.

Don’t ask me to disclose the competitor in question. If you’ve made it this far, you should know that I have no interest playing that game.

Your Broad List of Service Offerings is Killing Your Credibility

My wife has family in Connecticut, so we head south for routine visits. Not far from my mother-in-law’s home, there is a breakfast place that we enjoy. Every time we attend this establishment, I can’t help but notice the hair salon across the street that features the most outrageously paired service offering I’ve ever come across.

“WE RENT BOUNCE HOUSES”

You read that right. For some reason or another, the local hair salon owner came to the conclusion that renting bounce houses was an appropriate alternative revenue stream. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this establishment was no longer open for business when we made our most recent trip.

While this example of mismatched service offerings is obviously a little extreme, I don’t see it as all that different from fitness facilities that bit off more than they could chew with a massive space, and now offer kickball tournaments and birthday party rentals during down time to make ends meet.

Much like my wife will never pay to have her hair styled at the place that rents bounce houses, elite athletes are unlikely to take your training business seriously if they visit your website and see combine-prep listed alongside off-hours laser tag or dodge ball leagues on your services page.

When it comes to adding additional or complimentary service offerings, remember this: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Save Money on Your Next Gym Lease With This Simple Tip

Very few gym owners are fortunate enough to own the space out of which their business operates. One of the certainties in life (along with death and taxes) that we brick and mortar fitness entrepreneurs need to come to terms with is paying rent. The long-term viability of our business is closely tied to keeping overhead as low as possible, and this begins with negotiating a favorable lease.

We’re currently in the late stages of negotiation for another five years in our current space in Massachusetts. This is the fourth time we've negotiated a lease with our current landlords dating back to 2008, and I am thrilled to say that the relationship is amicable, transparent, and always productive. This being said, I realize that landlord/tenant relationships aren't always as pleasant as ours.

There are complexities of lease negotiation that I may never master, but I do have a quick tip that is likely to help you in part now, then even more so when the time comes to renew your lease three, five, or even ten years down the road.

Be wary of early savings in exchange for late increases

Let’s imagine you’re in the process of securing 5,000 square feet of space for your new gym. To keep things as simple as possible, we’ll say that all of the operating expenses associated with the property will be built into your dollar per square-foot cost (AKA this is not a triple-net lease). Now let’s assume that you’ve done your homework, and come to the conclusion that $10 per square-foot is a fair market value for the area you are considering.

Next, the property owner presents a proposal for a five-year lease:

  • Year 1 – $07.00/sq-ft
  • Year 2 – $09.00/sq-ft
  • Year 3 – $10.00/sq-ft
  • Year 5 – $12.00/sq-ft
  • Year 5 – $12.00/sq-ft

She’ll then say “I want to do everything I can to ensure that you succeed in the early stages of your business, so I made sure to keep your costs as low as possible in years one and two while still maintaining an agreement with an average annual cost of $10 per square-foot.”

Sounds enticing, right? You get a chance to build that client roster, create some great cash flow, and allow your business to find its groove in year one while paying a monthly rental fee of $2,917 as opposed to the $4,167 you’d be shelling out every month if you were attached to the aforementioned $10 per square-foot cost. That $1,250 in monthly savings would be huge for you to reinvest in the growth of your business, right?

The obvious catch is that by the time you find yourself in year four of this agreement you’ll be paying $5,000 per month in rent, but assuming you’ve capitalized on the savings in years one and two, this will be no problem at all. After all, you’re going to spend $250K on rent over the lifetime of the lease regardless of whether you agree to the terms proposed above, or a scenario that features a flat $10 per square-foot annually, so why not get creative with the structure of the agreement to ensure success in year one?

What we tend to forget

Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of signing that first or second lease, that we lose sight of where we are left when we return to the negotiating table. Assuming that business is strong enough to justify signing another lease at that point in time, you’ve established a starting point of $12 per square-foot. Your landlord isn’t about to voluntarily move backwards.

Instead, she’s going to say: “I’m going to do everything I can to keep you at or as close to where we have you right now because keeping your costs from increasing is of the utmost importance to me!”

She’s counting on you losing sight of the fact that the $12 per square-foot you’re paying today is inflated thanks to the savings you experienced in years one and two of your last agreement. The playing field is far different coming out of a $12 per square-foot year five than it would be if you’ve been cutting checks to the tune of $10 per square-foot up until now.

With this in mind, I would encourage you to target an agreement that will maintain a manageable variability in cost per square-foot between the start and end of your lease term to ensure that your end point is a reasonably accurate reflection of the state of the market. The discount that feels like a huge favor today is likely to be a detriment to your negotiating position a few short years down the road.

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

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

Supplementing Your Continuing Education Book Habit

I'm buried under a pile of summer internship applications this week. I've reviewed more than 100 apps and scheduled 15 interviews to take place between Monday and Friday. With this in mind, I know better than to think that I'll find time to write a blog of my own. Thankfully my friend and former CSP intern, Kim Lloyd, has prepared a great guest post for me to share. Enjoy! 

Full confession here - I’m the oldest person on staff at the gym where I work. Every time another pop star from the 80’s dies, I have to explain why clients are suddenly coming in to the gym teary-eyed and requesting that we listen to the Wham station on Pandora radio.

While my knees sound 40 years old, I don’t often notice the age difference.

But I have noticed my extra decade of perspective (ahem) creeping in during our staff meetings. For the first few months I worked at the gym our standard homework was to read one book a month, discuss what we got out of the book, and apply those nuggets to our business model and clients.

Great idea, right?

Sort of.

As a relatively new coach who transitioned into this industry in my late 30’s, continuing education is a priority for me. Books, blogs, the Personal Trainer Development Center, and workshops are my lifelines to knowledge that will help me get the best results from my clients. I know I’m never going to stop learning in the profession, and I need all the help and good ideas I can get.

But in our relentless pursuit of bettering our businesses, and ourselves, we developed a bad case of professional whiplash.  We would get fired up, spend a few days trying to apply the strategies we’d carefully studied - only to abandon them once we dived into the next book with its shiny new ideas.

Sure, we learned a lot, but the constant consumption of books and business strategies came at a cost. If you’re overwhelming yourself and your staff with theory, without ensuring they understand clients’ communication or learning styles, are you creating better coaches?

There’s a great scene in the movie “Good Will Hunting” where Will confronts a snotty Harvard history major in his pursuit of a girl (note: my co-workers have never heard of Good Will Hunting). The guy spouts off some rhetoric about history, when Will rightly points out that all he’s doing is repeating what he read in a book. He’s not bringing his own experience in to influence his opinion.

But Will does it with a great Boston accent, and then gets the girl’s number and rubs it in Harvard-dude’s face.

Reading self-help books is great, especially if you’re the analytical sort, but think critically about the return on investment. I’ve read a lot of those books myself, always with the secret hope that this would be the one that would make me more confident, reduce my anxieties, and calm my inner critic. But all the time I spent reading books was time I didn’t spend learning to trust myself, and developing my confidence in building genuine relationships with my clients and co-workers. Most of what we do, day-in and day-out, is try to connect with other human beings, determine what’s important to them, and do our best to help them out. Being effective requires empathy and compassion, and it can be easy to undervalue those critical skills in the face of a brand-new business plan.

My co-workers and I have begun to wean ourselves away from our security-blanket of outside advice, and talk more about developing skills from within. Purposeful introspection, examining what stretches your comfort zone, and practicing good communication skills provide a foundation for the occasional self-help type of book.

While by no means an exhaustive list, I have also found these to be helpful supplements to continuing education books:

1. Personality tests

I’m a fan of the Meyers Briggs Personality Test (MBTI) as a way to help understand yourself and your co-workers. The test has four different categories that offer insight to how you get energy and inspiration, how you process information, why you want to punch your co-worker in the face when she procrastinates on everything, and why she wants to punch you when you’re breathing down her neck three months before a project is due.

The MBTI is just one option. I know a number of businesses that have opted for the DISC personality test, which is a little quicker and less intense. Either way, presenting your staff with an opportunity to understand themselves is a step towards enhancing the soft skills they need to better engage with clients and co-workers.

2. Understanding and practicing communication skills

There are lots of directions you can go with building your skills in this area, but I would start with developing a basic understanding of direct versus indirect communication styles. If you have a client who is an indirect communicator, and you approach her in an abrupt or challenging way, she’s going to think you’re rude, never come back to your gym again, and let her friends on Facebook know that you’re a total jerk.

Meanwhile, you’re probably not actually rude - you just communicate in a very direct way. And you have no idea what you did to piss her off. You don’t necessarily have to change the fundamentals of how you say everything, but you could probably do a better job of tuning in to how different clients prefer to receive their information and coaching.

3. Get a little non-traditional

Of all of the staff meetings we’ve had in the past few months, one of the best ideas was not fitness-related at all – we brought an improv instructor to run us through some exercises. We were all thinking it would be a bunch of awkward amateur stand-up, but mostly what he did was put us in various situations, and push us to handle the scenarios in unscripted, spontaneous ways.  Something like improv (or wilderness leadership training, or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity) can push us to take the over-thinking out of interactions with clients.

4. Practice being more sensitive to non-verbal cues

We spend a lot of time watching a client for technique, level of fatigue, and risk of injury, but may not be paying attention to whether she seems nervous, intimidated, or frustrated.  Understanding how best to address that space is arguably more important than teaching her a solid hip hinge.

Because if you can’t do the first, you’ll never have the opportunity to do the second. 

About the Author

Kim Lloyd is a former Cressey Sports Performance Intern, and current strength coach at Spurling Fitness in Kennebunk, ME. She has a Masters in Sports Leadership from Northeastern University and is a proud graduate of Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania where she played lacrosse. 

Kim maintains a fitness blog on her own site, www.kimlloydfitness.com.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #4

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

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

1. A Story

It appears that my own brand of creativity tends to strike in conjunction with Dupuis Family excursions to the grocery store. This time around, I wasn’t able to make the trip. A 24-hour bug ran through our home like a freight train this past weekend, and when it came time to buy food for the week, I was the one on the couch at home curled up in a ball. My wife was left with the unenviable responsibility of knocking items off of a grocery list with a toddler and a 5-month-old in-tow.

In order to make this happen, she had our big guy situated in the standard shopping cart seat, and the little man comfortably resting in his car seat inside the main basket of the cart. Space was tight, meaning that the rarely used bottom shelf was being put to use as she transported groceries from store to car.

Just steps into the parking lot, a gallon of milk went rogue, bouncing off the bottom shelf and onto the pavement. A passerby kindly stopped to pick it up and assist my wife, who clearly had her hands full. It took just a moment to realize that the container had broken, and milk was leaking on to the pavement.

“I’ll be right back! I’m getting you a new one.”

My wife was floored. “Wait. What? You don’t have to do that.” That didn’t stop her. She was gone before Katie could convince her otherwise. A few minutes later this woman managed to track her down in the parking lot and deliver a fresh gallon of milk with a smile on her face. “I had young kids too, once.”

Katie told me about how this experience made her day, and here I am telling the story to you. We could all stand to be a little more kind at unexpected moments, as the ripple effect of a nice gesture can be immense. Apply this mentality in both your personal life and your business and you’re likely to feel a whole lot better about the world around you. As Mother Theresa once said: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

2. A Tip

Look for opportunities to involve your employees in setting their own goals

Liisa Joronen, CEO of SOL Cleaning Services once said: “People are ambitious and unrealistic. They set targets for themselves that are higher than what [we] would set for them. And because they set them, they hit them.”

In mid-January we on boarded a new CSP Strength Camp Coordinator named Frank Duffy here in Massachusetts. During our first weekly “State of the Strength Camps” strategy meeting, I told him that my big vision is for him to 3x our participant headcount between now and January 1st of 2018.

“I’m going to do that by July 1st,” he declared. “In fact, throw me a little bonus incentive and I’ll make it happen by June 1st.”

Frank’s goal initially sounded ambitious and unrealistic in my head, but may not be so far out of reach after all. After just a shade over two weeks of his hard work and networking, Frank is already 20% of the way to his target. Whether he makes it there in the proposed tight window or not, the lesson I’ve learned is that I need to stop assuming my employees’ potential, and start asking them to outline it for me.

3. A Clarification

During that same aforementioned State of the Strength Camps meeting with Frank, we came across the discussion of free trial sessions. He was quick to point out that he was aware of my policy on not offering free consultations at CSP, and that it wasn’t his intention to utilize that selling tool in building his program. I stopped him there.

When it comes to our Strength Camps, I am open to the occasional free initial visit.

There’s a dramatic difference between our semi-private training model (featuring individualized program design), and our morning group-training service. The nature of our morning supervision format allows for us to offer the occasional free trial session without compromising our ability to maximize the profitability of a given hour. More specifically, CSP Strength Campers don’t eat up the same resources on day one as our semi-private clients do during the afternoon and evening hours.

An initial assessment during our afternoon hours typically locks down a full-time coach and an intern for upwards of 90-minutes. This reduces our promised 5:1 client-to-coach capacity dramatically. In order to justify the limitations this places on our athlete capacity during a given training slot, we charge a $99 initial assessment fee.

I should also note that we occasionally allow a potential Strength Camper to pay a one-time $20 day-pass fee to give our program a try before committing. If they choose to sign on for a full month, I apply this initial payment toward the initial trial month fee.

Free sessions and day-pass trials are just two of the many tools I can use to convert leads to a group-training program. I am not married to any single approach given that every sales pitch is unique. Until we are operating close to full capacity as we often are in our semi-private model, I can be okay with the occasional freebie if it allows me a better chance to enjoy the lifetime value of a client.

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

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

Forget the Athletes...I Want to Coach Everyday Joe's

For the first time in over a year, my wife and I have snuck out of town (and the country) for a little bit of R&R. With this in mind, I've arranged for my friend and colleague, Frank Duffy, to prepare a guest post for this week. To date, Frank is one of only a handful of CSP intern alums who have ever said to me that their preference would be to coach our general fitness population clients over the athlete crowd, so I've asked him to explain why in this piece. Enjoy!

Baseball has been a part of my life since I was old enough to wear a glove. While I didn’t play at any level further than college, I consider myself extremely lucky to be an employee of Cressey Sports Performance, where I get to coach ballplayers at all levels on a daily basis. It’s not every day that you can walk into a gym where you have a high school varsity pitcher setting up in the squat rack to the right of a former Cy Young Award winner. I’m in at atmosphere that makes me feel like I’m back in a clubhouse, but it’s not my favorite part of the job.

It’s important to keep in mind that the athletes we train are usually not between our four walls while they’re in-season. Athletes will come and go based on the time of year. I find it easier to build relationships with general population clients that don’t temporarily leave our community because their sport of choice is in-season.

When I’m not on the floor during the afternoon shifts at CSP, I serve as CSP’s Strength Camp Coordinator. I train folks from all walks of life beginning as early as 5:30 three mornings per week. Our client roster features teachers, hair stylists, accountants, and even a handful of firefighters. You name it, there’s probably an individual from our program with that occupation.

You’re probably asking yourself, “what exactly makes this so great?”

Behind each individual that I work with in the Strength Camp program comes a unique story. Different personalities with various interests align under one roof as a cohesive unit to accomplish one thing: leave the gym better than they did prior to arriving. Some of our clients have made training a main staple in their life, while others have never picked up a dumbbell before stepping through our doors. My job is to create a common ground between these two individuals by developing confidence and camaraderie shared amongst all involved.

One of my mentors and good friend, Todd Bumgardner, has hammered home the importance of three simple words from humanistic psychologist, Carl Rodgers:

“Unconditional positive regard”

These three words have changed the way I train my clients, regardless of their background. With a general population client, our job is primarily to cultivate motivation in order to create consistency. A genuine, encouraging, fun and safe training environment has always been a sure-fire way to develop motivation amongst the majority of your clients. With athletes, your approach is quite different.

As Pete has said in the past, your clients don't need to play sports professionally to qualify as inspirational. The athletes that step onto your training floor are intrinsically motivated. They don’t need you to get them fired up for training. Why? For starters, professional athletes depend on strength and durability to earn a living. Additionally, your collegiate and high school athletes who take their goals seriously will walk into the gym with their programs and give 110% effort every single day. Sorry, but you telling them how great they’re doing rarely has much of an effect on their work ethic.

Athletes are driven by results. The main focus with your athletic population is to help develop certain attributes that will give them the slight edge on the field. Outside of the summer vacation and the occasional wedding, what real deadlines do you come across with your general population? I can't think of any. This gives us more time to focus on building rapport with our clients, and gaining their trust by showing them they can execute certain exercises pain-free. Rapport equals retention, which is imperative if you want to keep your lights on.

It’s much easier to connect with your soccer moms and desk jockeys that need your guidance, versus the athletes you train that have a desired end goal. When dealing with athletes, if they see results on the field, they’ll keep coming back to you for their off-seasons. A general population client is much easier to lose to a local competitor. Accountants aren’t concerned with gaining 5 miles per hour on their fastball. Instead, they want to train in an environment they feel welcome in. If you over-deliver to your 9-to-5ers by attentively coaching their training, reaching out to them on off days, and devising a plan to help them reach their goals, you’re greatly helping your chances to keep that individual around.

I absolutely love training our athletes here at CSP. It’s incredible to see some of the feats these guys are able to accomplish just by slapping some iron plates on a bar. However, you need to remember that the majority of minor leaguers live well below the poverty line. With this in mind, they are rarely an ideal target market for your gym if you plan on covering payroll and other business expenses. The presence of professional athletes can definitely help you attract younger athletes, but at the end of the day, your recurring general population clientele is what’s going to keep you happy and in business.

About the author:

Frank Duffy is the Strength Camp Coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance - MA. He’s a New Yorker who proudly (and dangerously) publicizes his allegiance to the NY Giants on a daily basis while coaching a steady stream of Patriots fans. Frank publishes fitness content on his personal website, www.frankduffyfitness.com.

Believe It Or Not, CSP Isn't A One-Man Show

As far as public perception goes, Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) has been a Strong-Link Business since the day we decided to put one individual’s name on the wall back in July of 2007.

Unfamiliar with the concept of Weak-Link versus Strong-Link Networks or Businesses? I was too, until I stumbled upon it while listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast, Revisionist History. It was the episode entitled My Little Hundred Million that introduced me to the idea that the games of soccer and basketball can be categorized as weak-link and strong-link, respectively.

More specifically, a strong-link game or network is one where the team as a whole can thrive thanks to the presence of a single super-star. The example Gladwell used was that of LeBron James leading a marginally talented team all the way to an NBA title to demonstrate how influential a single athlete can be in a strong-link game. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have a game like soccer, where scoring opportunities come few and far between, meaning that the mistakes of the below-average players are considerably more likely to impact the outcome of a contest than those of your fourth or fifth man on a basketball court.

Categorizing CSP as strong-link is inaccurate

Earlier this week my Facebook application was kind enough to remind me that “on this day” in 2014, I made the following declaration:

"Over 2,800 athletes have trained at CP. That means 2,800+ assessments, some multiple of that number in individualized programs, and just a shade under 100,000 supervised training sessions have been executed since 2007. Now, keep this number in mind when I tell you that roughly 96% of the emails and phone calls we receive start with either "Hi Eric" or I'd like to speak with Eric." Lesson to be learned...don't put one individual's name on your performance enhancement center when it takes about ten of you to keep it moving smoothy. Ooops."

While the number of athletes and sessions completed has crept up considerably since this original posting, the takeaway remains relevant and important. Strong-Link fitness facilities cannot thrive upon introduction of a second location. Similarly, the Cleveland Cavaliers couldn’t shift LeBron James over to their JV squad and expect that the varsity team would continue to thrive simply because the systems and philosophy didn’t change.

Scott Meyer put it best in this article when he said: “A small core of strong-link leaders can help a company get off the ground and lead it through growth, but a sustainable company has a skilled team. If someone leaves or is added to the team, the team maintains its standards and continues to develop its expertise.”

This is exactly why CSP Massachusetts kept chugging along profitably in Eric’s absence upon opening the doors in Jupiter, Florida back in the fall of 2014. Additionally, the walls didn’t come crumbling down when our Co-Founder Tony Gentilcore moved on to pursue his own personal endeavors. In the past 2+ years we’ve added new personalities to our employee roster, but continued to focus on the same standards for coaching development and the accumulation of useful skills and knowledge that were in place long before our superstar staff members transitioned away from being a full-time presence here in Massachusetts.

If your objective is to take your single fitness location to two or more, a considerably above average team will be far more successful than an average one with a single superstar.

Application to YOUR fitness business

All is not lost if you’ve made the decision to incorporate your own name into the title of your business. However, you’re operating an entirely unscalable model if you’ve done so and failed to concern yourself with developing your team. The next time you make a hire, focus exclusively on identifying a coach who fills a gap in your company skill set instead of recruiting the individual with the biggest web presence. Rock-star coaches are rarely the ones who are looking to be the hired gun that improves a team as a whole; they’re searching for the best-equipped space to coach their clients, and record their next tutorial video to drive traffic to a personal blog or website.  

Attract quality candidates by emphasizing a focus on continuing education. At CSP we offer a continuing-ed stipend as part of the employee comp package, weekly staff in-services, and opportunities to be featured on the presenter roster of our annual fall and spring seminars.

We’ve empowered our team, and you can benefit from it...

I’m excited to announce that we’ve created a product titled CSP Innovations, the first ever collaboration between our entire coaching staff. This collection of 11 webinars not only showcases an in-depth understanding of complex and immediately applicable fitness concepts, but it also clearly illustrates that the operation of CSP is anything but a strong-link game. Eric Cressey is as smart as ever (as you’ll see in his presentation, Scapular Control: Implications for Health and High Performance), but he’s backed by a team of thought-leaders that I’m truly proud to have helped to assemble.

If you enjoy my take on running a gym and building a unique team such as ours, you’ll appreciate my presentation, Empowering Your Fitness Team. In it, I take you deep into the mentality and strategy behind our system which allows employees build personal brands and thrive as team members simultaneously.

Check out www.CSPinnovations.com today to learn more. Early bird rate now through Sunday saves you $50!

Getting Your Foot In The Door With Local Youth Programs

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If you operate a fitness business that primarily caters to the performance-enhancement crowd, attracting youth athletes will be the difference between survival and bankruptcy. Thankfully, there are a whole lot of kids who fit this mold. The daily challenge we face is getting in front of these athletes in the fastest and most cost-effective manner possible.

One of the best ways to fast-track your way onto the radar of an abundance of pre-qualified leads is to align yourself closely with an elite travel team or organization. Their athletes are specifically focused on showcasing their skills with the intention of playing their respective sport at the collegiate level. Every one of these organizations is looking for competitive advantages or selling points that will draw elite talent to their program; your training and conditioning services could be the exact differentiator they are seeking.

Here are three quick and practical ways you can get your foot in the door with a team or organization of this nature:

1. Host an open-house for players and parents

My business partner Eric is fond of saying that fitness professionals need to give their audience as many opportunities possible to perceive their expertise. What better place to showcase your knowledge and service offerings than on your own turf?

Ask the athletes you currently work with which team they’ll be playing for this summer and politely request an email introduction to the coach or program coordinator. We have had success in opening our doors to players and parents for 60-90 minutes of exposure to our arm-care protocols, discussions relating to game-day warm-ups, nutritional habits, and an informative Q&A relating to our service offerings.

If you really want to up the ante, ask one of your higher-profile athletes to hang around to serve as the demonstrator of proper exercise technique. This better showcases your service, and also allows interaction for the parents and young athletes who aspire to play at an elite level one day.

Make this service free of charge, and remember: they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

2. Make yourself available off-site to assist at practice or tryouts

Use the same email address you’ve acquired using tip #1 to reach out and offer to send a coach or two out to an upcoming tryout to warm-up the athletes. This ensures that no one goes down with an avoidable injury at a time when they need to perform at a high-level to make a team. You think the guy who organized a 100+ athlete tryout wouldn’t like to email parents in advance informing them that he’s bringing in professionals to deliver additional supervision that will benefit their kids? That’s right… he’ll be all over your offer if he knows what’s best for his program.

Once you’re standing there on-field, in front of dozens of impressionable athletes, their coaches, and the parents lingering behind the chain-linked fence, it’s time to bring your A-game. Deliver the most thorough and well thought-out warm-up these kids have ever been exposed to.

After the kids are appropriately prepared to test their 60-times, verticals, or whatever metric it is that they’ll be evaluated on, you conclude by reminding them how you can be contacted with future inquiries before heading into the stands to mingle with parents. If you can’t sell yourself in this environment, you have no business expecting an entire program to embrace your services.

3. Consider a blanket discounted rate for the team or program

If you have a pricing structure that allows you to do so, offer the program director a discounted pricing format that is only available to his organization. As mentioned above, coaches are looking for any angle they can find to attract players. That advantage can simply be a relationship with a local strength and conditioning facility that exclusively offers free initial assessments to players from their program.

We’re affiliated with one program that is eligible for comped initial evaluations, another whose athletes receive our standard training services at our discounted family rates, and a rugby team that we allow to train during off-hours in a group format at a modified price-point.

The point is that your service offering and the pricing structure attached to it does not need to be set in stone. Take some liberties with it to attract a new audience and make a club or organization feel as if they’ve achieved some level of exclusivity with your business.

Don’t necessarily limit yourself to team sports

While each of the scenarios outlined above are specifically geared toward enticing teams of athletes to engage with your business, there is great opportunity with any organization that assembles individuals who could benefit from structured strength training. Consider approaching the owner of a local dance studio, golf academy, or even something as unique as a mountain biking club.

Every physical activity that has the potential of consistent and predictable overuse injuries can serve as a target for your business. Your first initiative should be to identify these teams, populations, and clubs. After doing your research, begin crafting your pitch for presenting yourself as a service that compliments their desire to stay healthy and competitive.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to positioning yourself as an informed expert with a unique skillset. Show organizations what separates you from the rest, and reap the benefits while funneling tomorrow’s future through your doors.

What Kind Of Substitute Teacher is Your Fitness “Classroom” Prepared to Employ?

This image should spark a feeling of elation if you went to public school in the 80’s or 90’s.

Nothing screamed substitute teacher quite like seeing the television on wheels squared up at the front of your school classroom. Sure, a National Geographic documentary probably wouldn’t be your first choice if you were sitting at home on your couch, but you had to admit that it beat another day of algebra, right?

Now let’s take a trip to the other end of the emotional spectrum. I’m talking about the moment when you caught word in the hallway that Mrs. Smith was out sick and there would be a substitute in Algebra that day, followed by the dreaded warning: “but he’s actually taking us through chapter 6 in the textbook.”

As I remember things, there were two types of substitute teachers back in the day:

  1. Those who hit “play” and turned off the lights.
  2. And those who took us on a deep dive into the prescribed curriculum without missing a beat.

The former was a minor dream come true, while the latter was the swift kick in the nuts that no one like myself looked forward to. When we were younger, we always hoped to see that TV roll in to the classroom. In hindsight, it was in my best interest to work with the properly prepared substitute teachers. Similarly, it is in your business' best long-term interest to prepare your team to think like substitute teacher number two outlined above.

How does this apply to gym ownership?

I want you to imagine that you’ve been running a reasonably successful gym for 2+ years, managing a growing team and client roster, and generally following a desirable growth path. You’re in the middle of coaching a personal training client who happens to be an executive at a business just down the road that employs a couple hundred people, when he hits you with this:

“We’ve decided to take our corporate wellness initiatives up a notch in 2017 and will be outfitting a state-of-the-art gym in-house where we’ll subsidize top-notch fitness instruction for our team. All we need is the perfect coaches to come in and deliver this service, and I was thinking you and your team would be the right fit.”

He’d then go on to tell you that he’s not concerned with monetizing the relationship, so the space would come rent-free so long as you provide ample training time options for his employees at a fair market cost. All he is concerned with is improving the quality of life for his team, and the working environment he provides.

You’ve got to figure out a way to make this work…right? I mean, come on – free rent AND a list of leads sitting in their cubicles just upstairs?!?

This is a situation similar to that which my buddy Matt is experiencing as he operates his fitness business out in the Midwest. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

The reality of growth opportunities of this nature…

When an opportunity like this presents itself, it almost always comes with the caveat that you, the business owner, are being specifically targeted to deliver a service elsewhere. After all, this executive approached you about the gig, and not your employee or intern. He’s not excited about you outsourcing these coaching responsibilities. Instead, he wants you, and that means that something’s got to give at location number one.

It becomes time to ask yourself: Are my systems tight enough that I can step away from my current setup and know that the rest of the team will execute “the curriculum” without missing a beat?

By systems, I’m not talking about your assessment strategy and training philosophy. Assuming you’ve hammered those concepts home with your team during a typical hiring, onboarding, and training process, they will be the least of your worries when expansion discussions arise. What I am talking about is the nitty-gritty of running your business; the components of your day-to-day operation that are so ingrained in your entrepreneurial DNA that you execute them on auto-pilot.

Have you taken the time to document things like:

  • Your script for answering the phone?
  • How new clients are greeted at the door?
  • Proper articulation of your training model in layman’s terms?
  • A clear breakdown of your unnecessarily complex pricing structure?
  • What temperature the gym gets set at overnight and during operating hours?
  • Who gets called first if the person scheduled to open at 5:00am is out sick?
  • Contact information for the building repair guy, or your landlord?
  • Where the tools are kept in case a piece of equipment malfunctions?
  • The email address for your buying rep at the local fitness equipment wholesaler?
  • Who do you call if the credit card processor starts acting up?
  • What comes out of petty cash, as opposed to expenses that should hit the company credit card?
  • Employee management structure in your absence?

I could bang out 100+ similar bullet points by the end of this week if I wanted to, and I’d imagine that your internal to-do list is similarly extensive. If this is the case, you’ve got a long way to go before your gym is actually prepared to jump on the next expansion opportunity.

Unfortunately, these reminders aren’t only applicable to those who are fortunate enough to be blessed with growth opportunities. Imagine, God forbid, you suddenly learn that you’re seriously ill and need to step away from your business? Or, maybe you’re like me, and your wife unexpectedly delivers a child two full months early, causing you to miss extended periods of time managing the business.

Whatever your circumstance, it is important to remember that life is unpredictable. One thing you can count on is that rent is going to be due on the first of the month, and your employees are going to continue to expect that their paychecks will be delivered every other week. It’s time for you to systemize even the most basic of tasks related to being the boss to ensure that all of your commitments are met in your absence.

After all, rolling a television into the staff lounge and firing up the VCR isn’t going to cut it if you’re concerned with profits.

Understanding Influencer Marketing & The Value It Can Bring to Your Gym

How do I secure a relationship with a footwear and apparel company for my gym the way Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) has with New Balance?
— Roughly half of the gym owners I connect with

If I decided to add a “Frequently Asked Questions” page to my website, you could expect to see this one close to the top of the list.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you…

The bad news is that there are only a dozen or so manufacturers such as New Balance that you likely have in mind as a fit for your gym. Additionally, there are a thousand other gyms just like yours who are probably looking for the same type of relationship.

The good news is that the CSP-New Balance relationship is the perfect illustration of the power of influencer marketing, a concept that you can apply immediately to build awareness for your business. As a matter of fact, there are probably influencers in your gym right this minute; you just need to identify them and appreciate the fact that the quality of their connections is far more important than the volume.

What, exactly, is influencer marketing?

According to Wikipedia, “Influencer marketing is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on specific key individuals (or types of individuals) rather than the target market as a whole.”

There are a number of extremely successful influencers out there who have identified the growing popularity of specific social networking platforms early in the game and quickly accumulated a follower base that would allow them to command dollars in exchange for brand exposure. While you may have your own opinions about her, Kim Kardashian is the perfect example of profitability resulting from influencing the masses.

Fortunately, you don’t need to set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars for Kanye’s wife to wear your gym’s tee shirt in an Instagram post to get the right kind of brand awareness. Instead, you need to understand your target audience, and identify the people or brands they identify with and trust.

What is CSP to New Balance?

I don’t imagine there was a meeting at New Balance in 2012 where executives sat around the conference table discussing which gym they’d like to arbitrarily throw a bunch of free gear toward. As much as people consider Eric Cressey to be a nice guy, that in itself isn’t enough to justify partnering with him, or his business. Instead, CSP happened to hit the New Balance radar at a moment when they were launching a baseball-specific product line.

At the time, we had more than 100 MLB-affiliated athletes hailing from all 30 MLB organizations who qualified as members of the “CSP Family.” These clients would serve two purposes for New Balance Baseball: First, they are athletes who need baseball cleats and apparel (AKA the “target market”); Second, they are the influencers toward whom amateur ballplayers from the youth and amateur ranks aspire.

In a way, CSP influences many of the high-profile influencers (pro baseball players) that New Balance wants to get in front of. We’re a shortcut to the affiliated athletes who offer the targeted exposure to the right kind of consumer (impressionable young baseball fans). By working with us, there was no need to chase individual athletes in and out of clubhouses, or back to their hometowns during the off-season. New Balance identified CSP as a business that had already rounded up the people they wanted to see using their products, and basically said: “let’s be friends.”

How is this a mutually beneficial relationship?

Just because you want a bunch of free Under Armor or Nike gear for your employees doesn’t mean that your business brings value to said sponsor. Our colleagues from New Balance asked to build a “Powered By New Balance” tagline into our logo because we are partners in the pursuit of a mission to improve athlete performance in the baseball community.

Examples of CSP helping New Balance:

  • We routinely gather high school, college, and professional athletes for in-depth focus groups discussing tastes in footwear, emerging trends with the baseball community, performance and durability concerns relating to products, and more.

  • We serve as the voice of the fitness professionals in sharing feedback on product development and the needs of the training community.

  • We eagerly align ourselves publicly with a product line that we know, like, and believe in, staying true to our business’s unique voice and story.

  • Eric is a brand ambassador of sorts, serving as both an advisor and an educator at the New Balance Area Code Baseball Games.

Examples of New Balance helping CSP:

  • Provide ample apparel and footwear for our staff and internship program, allowing for a consistent and professional look that is standardized from one CSP facility to the next.

  • Allow for co-branding opportunities that increase the credibility of our business. (We know we’re small-potatoes in the grand scheme of New Balance’s existence).

  • Creating what I think may be the only minimalist shoe (or shoe in general) that is specifically branded in alignment with a specific fitness facility (set to hit shopnewbalance.com during Q1 of 2017):

What we have here is a relationship that compliments the needs of both parties. Everybody wins.

Questions to ask yourself…

You’re going to need to be able to answer “yes” to one or more of these questions before approaching the New Balances of the world with a favor request:

  • Does my business provide a product or service that does not exist elsewhere?

  • Do we allow for exposure to a unique and desirable audience?

  • Does your brand possess a social media presence with a large enough reach to influence a specific target market beyond the confines of your existing training space?

  • Are you prepared to set aside the time and resources to help a potential partner in their pursuit of feedback from you and/or your clients as they continuously seek product improvement?

If you can’t confidently say yes to a few of these questions, you’ll remain a gym owner who has  to pay for footwear and exercise apparel.

We seek influencers the same way New Balance does

400+ tee shirts.

That’s the rough number of CSP tee’s we handed out to clients on the day of their initial assessment during our first year of operations. Every person who walked through the door had the potential to be an impactful influencer. The way we saw it, those shirts were going to find their way into HS gyms and locker rooms, onto the sidelines of baseball practices, and in the line of sight of hundreds of other potential customers. We made sure to slap our web address on the back of each shirt and built the cost of the apparel right into the $99 initial assessment fee.

It worked. The captains of local high school teams were roaming Massachusetts in our shirts and showcasing our brand to the underclassmen that looked up to them. Teammates began tagging along to observe training sessions and see what we were all about. Our business grew.

Thankfully we didn’t need an early partnership with a big name brand to build visibility for CSP. All it took was a memorable product and a handful of influential athletes who were willing to align themselves with our business.

One last funny story

Less than a year ago I found myself standing in line at a restaurant behind one of the aforementioned first-edition CSP tees from 2007. I tapped the nice young lady on the shoulder and politely asked her how she came across the shirt. She explained that she’d been given the shirt by her older brother, who had inherited it from his college roommate...while at a school in Hawaii.

Think about that for a second…I handed a shirt to a 16 year old almost a decade ago that had changed hands three times and made it’s way to the southern Pacific Ocean before coming full-circle to my line of sight. I can’t even imagine how many eyes have seen our logo and web address in this context over the years, but I know it is a big number.

Don’t be afraid to put your brand out there in a similar fashion and see where it roams.

16 Tweets Worth Revisiting From 2016

One of the lessons I’ve learned in 2016 is that Twitter is a fantastic place to float ideas to gauge interest in fitness business concepts. Occasionally a 140-character tweet sparks far more engagement and discussion than I initially expected. Here are 16 tweets I published in 2016 that resonated enough with my audience to justify their retweets and likes:

1. Owners of healthy gyms will spend more time today worrying about how their summer is projecting than they will on lead-gen for this week.

I put this one up on February 2nd following a discussion with a consulting client who’d wasted hundreds of dollars promoting a New Year’s Resolution promotion that he’d dreamed up and launched on January 4th. Barely anyone signed up, and it wasn’t because of a lack of service quality. There is far too much competition in the fitness industry for you to get away with last-minute pitches. As the old saying goes: If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, don’t even bother showing up.

2. I may be missing out on a good intern, but I can't bring myself to select a candidate that uses "LOL" & "TTYL" in our email correspondence.

The painfully low barrier to entry in the fitness industry is to blame for an incessant lack of professionalism, but that doesn’t make it okay. Treat every job or internship inquiry as if you were a high school student corresponding with an admissions officer at Princeton University and you’ll instantaneously set yourself apart from roughly 75% of the other applicants.

3. Nobody appreciates a leap year as much as a business owner who realizes it means 1 extra day of cash collections to improve your February #s.

The calendar giveth (as outlined above), and the calendar taketh away in a month like December of 2016, where I have to run a third bi-weekly payroll...ugh.

4. Welcome to the fitness industry. There's going to be opinionated competition. Learn to act on logic and not emotion and you'll be just fine.

I can’t emphasize this enough: If you have settled on a training philosophy of your own, you officially have haters. Don’t waste your energy on arguing with internet trolls. Instead, focus on being better than yourself and advancing your cause.

5. Your goal should be to make running a gym look so easy that everyone can do it. Your responsibility, then, will be to talk most out of it.

At least three out of every four incoming interns at CSP will raise their hand on day-one when I ask: “How many of you would like to own your own gym someday?” If you’ve read my material in the past, you’re aware of the fact that gym ownership isn’t for everyone. We’ve begun integrating business-specific in-services into the internship curriculum to ensure that our coaches have an appreciation for the fact that there’s a lot more to filling your gym with clients than simply opening the doors and turning up the music.

6. A baseball dad just described CSP as a "mass marketing machine." Apparently our 1-man marketing department with a $0 ad budget is effective.

This might have been the biggest compliment I received in 2016. The key to spreading brand awareness on-the-cheap is identifying trends in social media and then inserting yourself into the conversation. We’ve accumulated more than 50,000 followers between our company Twitter and Instagram accounts by focusing on delivering information-packed (and relevant) content. Find your voice, be consistent, and stay in your lane if you want to establish “mass marketing machine” status without spending additional dollars.

7. Assuming the competition sucks is lazy. If they weren't good at something, they wouldn’t be in business. Identify that thing, then be better.

Underestimating your competition is a dangerous game. As Bruce Lee said: “Never take your eyes off your opponent...even when you bow.”

8. Occasionally a HS athlete calls to inquire about our services, asks thoughtful questions, and gives me a little hope for HS kids everywhere.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the athlete who inspired me to post this tweet has since been accepted to play baseball at Harvard University. The over-parenting I am exposed to on a daily basis is overwhelming. My two sons will be educated early and often on the importance of being an advocate for oneself.

9. You have roughly a 0% chance of getting clients to love your brand if your employees don't love it as well.

If you serve in the military you have “brothers and sisters,” while in the working world you have “colleagues and co-workers.” My goal as an employer is to see my staff love each other and the brand they represent as much as our nation’s military personnel love their peers and the country they’ve decided to serve.

10. Just had a mom say that her 18yo kid "sits 85/86 and pumps the strike zone with command for days." Gotta love a mom's passion for the game.

The best way to connect with your target market is to learn to speak their language, on their level. If a mother of a teenager can do it, I sure as hell better be able to figure it out.

11. Convincing my 1st son that he'll love having a brother is the equivalent to converting personal training clients to a semi-private model.

We’re all naturally resistant to change, and this analogy is one I’ve learned by doing in 2016. Turns out there isn’t a whole lot of difference between convincing your personal training clients that they’ll enjoy sharing your attention, and helping a two-year-old come to terms with the idea of no longer being the center of attention in his home. In the long run, clients realize semi-private training environments are fantastic, and little boys realize that having a brother to raise hell with is far more fun than playing alone.

12. Aspiring (and new) gym owners need to stop outlining their ever-so-important internship program and actually earn the right to have one.

If you are on the cusp of opening a gym and your business plan features the word “intern” even just once, that is far too many times. The primary objective of an internship is to provide a comprehensive learning environment in which the participant will be exposed to a variety of coaching, assessment, and programming scenarios. This type of environment simply doesn’t exist in a start-up.

13. The kids with the best work ethic in our gym are rarely the ones whose parents schedule all of their training sessions and speak for them.

This tweet reinforces the message in point #8. If you’re old enough to train in this setting, you’re old enough to speak with my Office Manager Stacie regarding your next visit or the fact that you’ll be due for a new program soon. We get far more out of the high school athlete who demonstrates independent tendencies than the one whose dad is leaning against the wall watching his every move in the gym.

14. Just convinced an athlete that the black lab walking around our gym is a therapy dog assigned to help people bounce back from missed lifts.

Our athletes are impressionable...almost to a fault.

15. Learning that prospective clients who hammer home "money is not an issue" are all but guaranteed to be more trouble than they're worth.

Albert Einstein used to say that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of achieving a different result. If this is true, I am definitively insane, because I keep falling into the same trap of getting excited when someone says this to me. These clients almost universally qualify as high-maintenance from the moment they walk through the door.  

16. Your personal brand is more than a logo. It's what people say about you once you've left the room. Sometimes character outweighs creativity.

No elaboration needed here, people...just a message that bears repeating.

You can find me at @pete_dupuis on Twitter (and Instagram) if you'd like to keep an eye on more of the random business-related things I have to say as we head in to the new year.

Happy New Year to all, and best wishes for a prosperous 2017.