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.