Tony Was a Weirdo, So Mark Started a Gym

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

Let that sink in for a second.

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

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

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

And then it was my turn to talk.

"There is nothing more important than authenticity."

Allow Me To Tell You A Quick Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast-Forward to Today

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

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

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

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

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

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

Sabotaging Your Sales Pitch - 4 Mistakes to Avoid

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

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

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

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

1. Overconfident Name Dropping

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

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

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

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

2. Market-Size Misses

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

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

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

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

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

3. Subtle Signs of Character Flaws

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

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

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

4. Tone-Deaf or Insensitive Language

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

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

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

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

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

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.

Skills Capture a Niche - Relationships Help You Retain It

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

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

Yes. Yes I am.

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

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

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

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

Let's talk differentiators...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3,650 days.

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

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

Open a gym of your own. Seriously.

If it’s important to you, do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timmy looking awfully young on the day of his MLB debut

Timmy looking awfully young on the day of his MLB debut

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

Take the plunge.

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

Do it.

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

I can’t wait to learn from you.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You still sure you want to do this?


Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

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

Know Your Numbers, But Don't Overcomplicate Things

My business partner Eric casually strolled into my office today, shaker bottle in hand…

“How are our June numbers looking so far?”

I point to the spreadsheet open on my monitor.

“That’s what we’ve collected to date. That one right there is our number from 2016. That’s the total dollars we need to collect on a daily basis during the 15 remaining days we’re open this month if we want to do 10% revenue growth in relation to last year.”

He smiled. “Running this place is a constant race. Even if we obliterate that number, we’re right back to square one on July 1st. It’s not like we’re going to head down to the cafeteria for a celebratory meal.”

He’s 100% correct.

We’re hosting our first CSP Business Building Mentorship this week and you can be certain that there will be a recurring “know your numbers” theme.

The great thing about knowing your numbers is that you can constantly work toward eliminating inefficiencies. It also allows you to set specific measurable goals that are based on a timeline. The dangerous habit you can fall into, however, is embracing a mentality that you’ve “won” simply because you hit your number in a given month, quarter, or year.

You don’t win when it comes to running a fitness business. You compete with yourself, and establish self-determined performance metrics. Operating Cressey Sports Performance is akin to competing in a never-ending version of the Tour de France. Hitting a performance target each month is like winning a stage in the race, but it doesn’t mean we’ll ever get to climb off of the bike and collect our grand prize.

Gym owners need to treat their operating habits with the same mentality that their best athletes bring to the gym. Strive to be better today than you were yesterday, and you’ll be fortunate enough to keep playing the game. The best way to do this is to know your damn numbers, and you don’t need to overcomplicate things with complex metrics.

Understand exactly how many dollars you need to collect each month before you can even think about writing yourself a paycheck. Once you’ve got that figure in mind, hustle your ass off to hit it as early in the month as possible.

"Not Right Now" Doesn't Have to Mean "Never"

I am never the person to “discover” the next great book. In fact, the collection of works sitting on my bookshelf includes a handful that were gifted to me, and many that I purchased after hearing dozens of times that I “HAVE to read” (insert book name here).

You’re probably familiar with the collection of supposed must-reads I speak of: The Obstacle Is The Way. Essentialism. Start With Why. Good To Great. The E-Myth. The list goes on and on.

Every one of them was shoved down my throat via constant recommendations from the same circle of opinion leaders we all seem to follow. Some I loved, while others didn’t quite resonate with me. Two such books that fell into the latter category recently were The Power of Habit, and Rework. I finished both, and each time walked away thinking: “What’s the big deal?”

Neither compelled me at that moment in time.

Fast forward a year or so, and these two books made their way onto my radar once again. Rework was the selected text for a new month of CSP Book Club, and I decided to give The Power of Habit another go after loving Charles Duhig’s Smarter Faster Better. And what do you know...I thoroughly enjoyed each. Concepts and quotes jumped off the page after having barely inspired a second thought the first time around.

The lesson I learned was that certain material may not resonate with me at this very moment in time, but circumstances change. With each passing day, week and month, I accumulate new professional experiences as I manage the day-to-day at Cressey Sports Performance which ultimately shape the way I consume and process new material. What left me uninspired a year ago just may spawn a handful of great blog ideas today.

How does this apply to gym owners?

You spend your days brainstorming how to drive bodies into your gym, right? You conjure up transformation challenges, create referral contests, and post one new Facebook advertisement after another, all with the intention of generating leads.

I’m here to tell you that some of the best leads you’ll ever find are sitting on your metaphorical bookshelf right this moment. Much like I was able to revisit my old stack of texts to find some under appreciated gold, you already have access to a list of potential clients sitting right at your fingertips.

Try this ever-so-simple experiment today…

Open up your Mindbody account, your google calendar, or whatever platform it is that you use for scheduling new evaluations and toggle back exactly 52 weeks. Look at the names of the people who got their first taste of your services one calendar year ago. After you’ve come to terms with the fact that your retention figures are far less impressive than you’d previously thought, I want you to draft up an email that looks a little bit like this:

Hey ____!

I was just flipping through our 2016 calendar and noticed that you started up with us a year ago this week. It’s amazing how quickly the time has passed.

Anyway, I figured I’d shoot you an email to see how you’re doing, and ask how your training has been going? I know it’s been awhile since we last saw you, but I wanted to let you know that our doors are always open if you’d like to make a return.

Please let me know if I can help in any way. 



Next, go ahead and fire a version of this message off to the former clients who fell off the map somewhere along the way. The worst thing that can happen is that your email goes unnoticed. If that’s the case, remember that it cost you nothing to send. The best case scenario is that a handful of former clients respond with a request to get back in the mix.

You’ll probably be surprised by how many people say “I’ve been meaning to get back in with you guys for a while now.”

You never know  what is going on in your client’s lives outside of the gym. A variety of circumstances outside of your control may have led them to step away from your services, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve quit you forever. Maybe they just need the same nudge to return that I encountered with Rework and The Power of Habit.

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.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #5

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. Stop Blaming The Algorithm

“If changing your story (and your offering) is the best way to get your message to spread, then that's what you should do instead of whining about how hard it is to get your message out.”

- All Marketers Are Liars: Seth Godin

Rarely does a week pass where I don’t encounter a gym owner bitching about Facebook having changed their algorithm in a way that is making it harder and more expensive to get in front of potential customers. I’ve got some tough news for you, people...the algorithm changed for all of us, not just you.

Your potential clients don’t care at all how difficult it is for you to find your way into their feed. All they care is that once you get there, you tell them a meaningful story about your brand and how you can improve their lives. There’s a pretty good chance that your most recent ad failed to convert because of your clumsy copy and unimpressive visuals, and not because that greedy Zuckerberg guy is trying to dig his hands deeper into your pockets.

Take Mr. Godin’s advice and reassess your product and pitch before blaming the things you can’t control.

2. Embrace the Power of Broke

“I’ve given you every advantage in life except for being disadvantaged.”

- Power of Broke: Daymond John

My buddy Angel Jimenez is a former CSP intern and current successful gym owner. Not long after wrapping his time with us, Angel launched Boston Underground Strength Training. He did it on a shoestring budget, but you’d never know it if you visited his website or visited his space.

Instead of taking out a huge loan and springing for half of the Perform Better catalogue, Angel found ways to get his hands dirty and cut some of the traditional corners that new gym owners have to finance. Rather than shell out cash for a fancy pull-up rig, he had a buddy with welding skills make one. Why buy an expensive plate tree when you can get some lumber yourself and craft a slotted bumper plate holder of your very own?

Nice looking space, Angel!

Nice looking space, Angel!

If you were to walk through Boston Underground Strength Training today, you’d probably find no less than ten examples of Angel’s cost-effective illustrations of creativity. The best part? Clients could never tell the difference between a brand name sled and a homemade one. Instead, they have the pleasure of training in a space that is a truly authentic representation of the person and brand they’ve decided to do business with. When you earn your living in a service industry, authenticity can be the most effective tool in your tool box.

Learn from Angel. Embrace the power of broke.

3. Complexities Are Rarely Necessary

“It's the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Stick to what's truly essential.”

- Rework: Hansson/Fried

Back in late 2015 we started to realize that client training sessions that had previously averaged 75-90 minutes in length were creeping closer and closer to a universal 120-minute mark. It didn’t seem to matter what the client age, injury history, or training objectives were, everyone was taking longer to wrap up their programming during a typical visit to CSP.

At first glance, it was hard to put our finger on exactly why it was that my Office Manager Stacie was routinely explaining to parents that their son’s training session was running just a little longer than expected. Were kids spending too much time socializing between sets? Were we short on equipment, leading to bottlenecks in the gym? What the hell was going on?

Upon closer inspection of the training material, we began to realize that in most cases, we were taking the individualization of our warmups to an extreme.

For the first five or so years we were in business, a warm up typically involved some quality time with a foam roller, 6-8 “meat and potatoes” mobility drills, and a transition into the training space or med-ball area. At some point along the way, we became so caught up in fancy breathing exercises and coaching-intensive complex movements that a warmup for a 14 year old with a clean injury history was trending in the direction of 30+ minutes in length. No bueno.

Comprehensive individualized warmups do have a place in our repertoire as CSP, as we cater to athletes with some fairly extensive injury histories, faulty movement patterns, and flexibility limitations. However, those individuals are more the exception than the rule.

Since identifying this trend, we’ve transitioned to a standardized warm-up that compliments the needs of the majority of our clients. The content changes from one month to the next, and there is a great deal of thought that goes into the structure and format of this material.

By locking down a general warm-up that most of our athletes utilize, we are able to increase coaching efficiencies on the front end of a visit to CSP, ensuring the clients get into the warm up area, get appropriately prepared to move some weight, and get onto the fun stuff.

We removed. We simplified. We streamlined.

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.

My Gym is a Decade Older, and So Am I

Confession - I’m terrified of becoming the David Wooderson of the performance enhancement facility world.

Long before winning an Academy Award for Best Actor in the film Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey played a “20-something year old loser who still hangs out with high schoolers” (IMDB character description) named David Wooderson in the movie Dazed & Confused. His character is best known for saying:

"That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age."

I used to think Wooderson was a creepy but lovable character, but now I just find myself wondering if the high school, collegiate, and professional athletes pass me in our gym and see me as the guy who is obviously far too old for the party. I am acutely aware of the fact that while I keep getting older, our target market does not.


When we opened the doors of our gym and began targeting primarily athletes, being 25 years old was a pretty good thing. I was just old enough to be taken seriously by parents and coaches, just young enough to be respected by the high schoolers, and enough removed from my undergrad experience to understand how to communicate with college students.

In what feels like the blink of an eye, my window of relatability with youth athletes has passed. Connecting with, and influencing 15 to 22 year olds is much harder at 35 years of age than it was at 25.

Losing sleep over your ten-year plan for personal development is probably a waste of time when you should be concerned with surviving year one. However, if you are fortunate enough to maintain a profitable business for long enough to completely age-out of effectively serving your target market, these are the three best pieces of advice I have:

  1. Hire young. The only way to keep the identity of your business youthful is to find young professionals to share your training philosophy with the world. You could bring your friends on board because they’re fun to work with, but you’d better be ready to reinvent yourself as the newest general fitness pop service provider on the block.

  2. Coach your coaches instead of just your athletes. While your clients may not see you as a role model like they used to, your employees may. Take the role of developing young fitness professionals seriously and you’ll likely find it to be as rewarding as your time working with athletes.

  3. Capitalize on the harsh reality that you are now closer in age to a lot of your clients’ parents than you are to their kids. The silver lining here is that you’re better positioned to understand the psyche of the adults who spend their time waiting in your lounge. As a result, you are properly equipped to pitch your training services to them as well. As your young staff is creating a memorable training experience on the gym floor, you should be focusing on cultivating a new target market in the office. The bulk of our first dozen or so CSP Strength Campers were recruited in this very context.

Surviving ten years of business operations is a great problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless if you resist accepting the reality that you’re no longer the relatable 20-something that you were at the onset. Mature businesses need to be managed by mature business owners. Instead of faking your way through relating to teenage clients, I encourage you to age gracefully with your business. It isn’t easy.

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

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.