Overcoming the "Best Coach on Staff" Problem

It’s the same story at just about every gym…

The team is stacked with great coaches, yet every new client wants to know if and when they’ll be working with the owner.

How in the world are you supposed to scale your business if every person who walks through the door does so expecting to own a chunk of a single coach’s day? You can take comfort in knowing that I wrestle with this issue every single day of my professional work life.

We created this problem for ourselves at Cressey Sports Performance, choosing to put Eric’s name on the wall upon opening in 2007 (something I’ve written on in the past). As with every strategic decision we make, there are pros, and there are cons. Since one of the pros in this case is the fact that my business partner is a world-class generator of leads, I routinely find myself managing expectations for incoming clients surrounding his involvement in the assessment and training process.

How should I manage expectations of parents and athletes who all think they should be working with me, the owner?
— any gym owner with employees

Today I want to explain how we attack almost eliminating this problem in both our Massachusetts and Florida facilities, specifically by sharing the three objectives we focus on to clearly convey an important message: The CSP product is the sum of many parts, and those parts happen to be a collection of exceptional coaches.

Here goes…

1. We Position multiple team members as the faces of our social media strategy

Gone are the days of glorifying a single personality in our informational content. Sure, Eric still publishes educational material, but he’s just one of the many faces you’ll see when tracking our output on a platform like Instagram.

Say hello to Kyle — Contender for the title of best beard on the CSP staff (also an arm-care enthusiast)

Say hello to Kyle — Contender for the title of best beard on the CSP staff (also an arm-care enthusiast)

Concepts, visuals, and captions for Infographics are generated by full-time staff members. Ideas and lessons shared during staff in-service by coaches not named Eric are showcased in blogs, on youtube, and throughout the campaigns that draw attention to our internship program. Additionally, areas of expertise are showcased in the form of insights from our Pitching Coordinators, manual therapy tips and tidbits from our on-site LMT and PT, and more.

Speaking of areas of expertise...

2. We need to “have a guy” (not named Eric) for everything

Until opening our second facility in Florida in late-2014, Eric handled nearly 100% of the assessment scenarios involving unique injury histories and complex programming scenarios. There were shoes to fill when he left, as kids in Massachusetts didn’t suddenly stop tearing ACL’s and UCL’s.

We realized that we were in need of areas of expertise across our team, so we went to work on positioning coaches as experts in extremely specific realms. We needed an ACL rehab specialist. We needed an elbow and shoulder guy. We needed someone who understood how to handle a braced athlete bouncing back from a spondy.

Gone were the days of me saying: “Sure, Eric can take care of that.” I needed a new approach, and the most effective one turned out to be having the ability to tell a parent: “I’ve got just the guy for your son who recently had a Tommy John. In fact, I’ve got a coach on our team who has been in the operating room to observe the procedure itself, giving him a complete understanding of what is going on in your son’s elbow, and what he will be fighting through during the recovery process.”

When you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that having multiple team members with specific areas of expertise makes far more sense than positioning your gym owner as the jack of all trades and master of none. Sure, Eric knows more than enough to be dangerous on 99% of the scenarios that walk through our doors, but wouldn’t you rather work with the coach who has been religiously studying research journals, engaging with medical professionals, and attending related seminars on the exact topic of your son or daughter’s injury for months on end?

3. We did more than just Declare coaches as specialists

Claiming to be a lower-extremity specialist for the sake of positioning isn’t the same as actually being one. This is where the months of preparation in advance of Eric leaving for Florida came in. Identifying the appropriate staff members to take the reins on specific assessment and programming scenarios based on their background was the easy part. Actually accumulating the appropriate experience was another story.


Instead of bringing an intern in the room to assist with assessments, Eric took full-time staff members to be his second set of eyes and hands. When a guy with a recent labrum repair showed up in the assessment calendar, he grabbed our soon-to-be “shoulder guy” and dove into the screening process alongside him, taking a teaching hospital approach to employee development for months on end.

When not working directly with athletes, Eric was arranging for team members to meet and engage with orthopedic surgeons outside of our gym, helping them to network with appropriate practitioners in the area, and assigning ample reading materials for consumption. The process was slow moving and arduous, but continues to be a necessity for our operation. After all, I can’t “sell” these employees as credible experts if I don’t truly believe them to be just that, so the education process is one that never actually ends.

Every gym has a perceived “best coach”

Something tells me that this challenge is one that you face on a daily basis if you own a gym and employ other coaches. It’s great that you’ve established the credibility that results in being an in-demand coach, but your business will never scale if you allow this mentality to thrive inside of your operation.

Glorifying a single staff member only serves to stifle your ability to increase client capacity, so you’re better off spreading around the rave reviews in favor of a far healthier bottom line.


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"People Aren't Ready for Semi-Private Training in My Market" is Bullshit

I can’t remember the last time a week passed without someone telling me that semi-private training models are a foreign concept in their market. It’s always the same thing: Personal training is the only commonly accepted practice where I operate. My clients would lose their mind if I took it away from them. 

So what is it about this training format that they’re so in love with?

I’d be willing to bet that if you were to ask them, they’d reel off a list of perks that looks a little like this:

  • I love that you individualize my program.

  • I love that you supervise every movement so that I don’t risk injury while exercising.

  • I love that you keep me on track and get me in and out of the gym in a reasonable period of time.


You know what they don’t say?

  • I love that you’re the only person I get to talk to between sets.

  • I love that none of the other quality coaches in the gym know that I exist.

  • I love that I never have to engage with other people with similar goals.

You see, properly structured (and delivered) semi-private training takes everything that is great about personal training, tosses out the flaws, and mixes in some additional perks.

Personalized programming? Check.

Eyes on me while I lift? Yup.

Efficient use of my time in the gym? Yeah…that too.

Your clients are unlikely to resent losing your focus in between sets if you mix in a few fascinating people working hard alongside them and looking to make small talk during downtime.

Your clients aren’t going to walk out the door feeling any less “worked out” after executing the EXACT SAME training material, using the EXACT SAME equipment, under the supervision of the EXACT SAME person.

The biggest problem you’ll have when you effectively make the change is having long-time personal training clients come to the realization that they were previously paying 2x (or more) for the same amount of supervision during lifts. Little did they know that for years they’d been paying for roughly 8-minutes worth of lift-offs, spots, and coaching cues in a given 60-minute window. The rest was just fluffy interaction meant to pass the time during recovery.

The mistake you’re making

The best way to mess up communicating the benefits of shifting your training model is to emphasize what is being taken away from a client (start-to-finish face time), instead of celebrating the benefits that are being introduced – more for less:

  • Affordability in training packages

  • Motivation that comes with having training partners

  • Improved social component to the gym experience

  • Potential exposure to new coaches (depending on your model)

  • Engaged coaching from employees who thrive on variety in exercise supervision

Sometimes two is better than one. And, no, these aren’t my boys.

Sometimes two is better than one. And, no, these aren’t my boys.

Converting personal training clients to a semi-private format is like convincing your only child that he’s going to love having a little brother.

You don’t say to him: Bad news, buddy. I’m going to stop making sure we feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m also pretty much done with making sure you get down the slide safely at the park. I’m all about your little brother moving forward. Best of luck, friend.

Any sane parent paints a pleasant picture in this circumstance. You’re always going to have a friend to play with. You’re going to make each other laugh. You’re going to teach him how to ride a bike, and swim, and be a big boy. You’re going to LOVE it.

So, when it comes to shifting your personal training clients into a new format, why is it that you feel compelled to do so by cushioning some sort of expected blow? These clients’ attitudes relating to semi-private training aren’t the problem. Your positioning of the service is.

Tell a better story.


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Your Most Important Raving Fans May Not Actually Train in Your Gym

Raving fans are everything to a growing business. 

No traditional Facebook ad is going to outperform the authenticity of an actual person telling your potential client how amazing you are. You probably already know this.

What many of my fellow fitness professionals fail to appreciate, however, is that there is more than a single layer to a well-crafted raving fan community.

Take the typical Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) client for example. On any given day, we might see as many as 40+ high school baseball players. In the most basic sense, an optimal service outcome for this type of athlete is one that includes strength gains and body composition improvements, right?

Thing is, when we do deliver on this objective for the athletes from this demographic, there are multiple ways the outcome can be positively interpreted, and they aren’t limited to just the kid who has experienced our services.

For example…

The parents at home celebrate improved habits that often include a new appreciation for a healthy diet, dedication to a process that doesn’t allow for shortcuts, and deliberate efforts to reduce the risk of injury while playing the game of baseball. Show me a baseball parent who claims she wouldn’t appreciate her kid embracing all of these habits, and I’ll show you a liar.

The coaches on field celebrate the athlete that demonstrates a newfound appreciation for warm-ups and arm care protocols, effectively setting an example for a collection of teammates who are likely on the fast track to arm injuries. These same coaches will be the last to complain that a player has become faster, throws harder, and rarely loses time to injuries. 

Parents, coaches, and even significant others qualify as low-hanging fruit on the positive word-of-mouth tree for us fitness professionals playing the never-ending game of collecting raving fans.

Pretty sure this guy serves both roles…

Pretty sure this guy serves both roles…

So, the question becomes, what are we doing to make these parties feel valued, and how are we going about making it easier for them to talk about us?

What? And How?

Sometimes we need to fight the inclination to turn every interaction with a non-client as an opportunity to pitch services, when our contact might be better used as an opportunity to say “thank you” for setting a great example for the athlete and positively reinforcing the hard work that is taking place in the gym. Maybe a quick email to a parent saying “thanks for keeping the fridge stocked with healthy options for Johnny” will be all it takes for you to show that you’re concerned with more than collecting dollars.

There’s an old saying that goes: They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Having been in this business for close to twelve years now, I’ve come to learn that, assuming we deliver results to the athlete, and make an effort to communicate to a coach or parent how much we care, we’ll never again need to waste the energy telling people how much we know. The raving fans that don’t even train with us will take the initiative to do that for us.

Continue to work hard to create raving fans in your weight room, but whatever you do, don’t stop there.


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Forget the MBA — Fine-Tune These 3 Skills to be a "Biz Guru" at Your Gym

Outside of filling some additional white space on my resume, the MBA I earned in 2007 doesn’t carry a whole lot of value at this moment in time.

It’s not that I regret going back to school. I don’t.

It’s just that the business world has changed dramatically since that moment in time.

People might make the argument that the term “social media” was coined right around 1999, but I can tell you that there wasn’t a single course of this nature available at my college during the four years that I was an undergrad (‘99-’03), and I have little to no memory of it being a factor as I was in graduate school.

In fact, the inaugural Tweet was published by Jack Dorsey less than 60 days before my first day of graduate classes, Facebook had yet to introduce the concept of the newsfeed or business pages, and the Instagram that we rely heavily on to build business today was still 4+ years away from being a thing.

Imagine running your gym today and generating leads without the assistance of social media...

You can’t, right? I can count on one hand the number of facilities that I am aware of who are able to do so.

So...tell me again how my archaic MBA makes me more qualified to run a gym than anyone out there reading my blog?


things about biz school that people undervalue

The B2B Marketing concentration I pursued over a decade ago may not be a great reflection of how gyms and businesses in general function today, but the staples of a business school core curriculum will never go out of style. Managing profit and loss statements will never be a passing fad. Who you know continues to be more important than what you know today as it was in ‘07. And grasping the concept of time value of money is and always will be a timeless skill.

In hindsight, I took some real gold away from my business studies. The thing is, thanks to the abundance of entirely free and accessible information now floating around on the internet, the most important lessons I learned in those classrooms can now be picked up with a drink in-hand at the local coffee shop so long as they have a decent wifi connection.

As I take inventory of lessons learned as a sleep-deprived (and poor) graduate student, there are three fundamental components of the process and curriculum that set me up for success as a gym owner. And there’s good news: All three can be replicated without financing a $50,000+ education.

Here’s a look at the three most important skills I walked away from graduate school with:

1. Biz School Mandates Proficiency in Basic Accounting

The core curriculum of both my undergraduate and graduate business programs mandated that I understand the difference between revenues, expenses, assets, liabilities, income statements, balance sheets, and statement of cash flows. I’ve got an appreciation for the difference between managerial and financial accounting.

All of this stuff is imperative if you want to run a healthy business. This being said, I’m so tired of gym owners telling me I have an upper hand in running a profitable operation because I learned accounting in school.

Guess what...that information that cost me a small fortune and dozens upon dozens of hours of my life to accumulate is now available in the form of a ten minute tutorial on youtube.


In fact, two of the first three videos featured in the results of a Google search of the term “accounting basics” offer an opportunity to learn these concepts in seven and ten minutes respectively. Crazy thing is, I watched one, and it got the job done.

You can stop telling yourself that an MBA would make you better at managing your books. Even MIT (yeah, the freaking Massachusetts Institute of Technology) offers a free online accounting course these days.

2. Biz School Students Are Masters of Networking

If there is one thing that they did well at the Babson College F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, it was facilitating networking opportunities. The alumni network is engaged and accessible, networking events are plentiful around the country and even globe, and program coordinators made a great effort to get students together both on and off-campus throughout the duration of the program to ensure that connections were made beyond the classroom.


If you’ve been in fitness for any period of time, you know that there’s a continuing education event option every weekend of the calendar year. As much as the concepts being shared by presenters bring value to your career development, I would contend that the conversations that happen before, between, and after presentations are the ones that are going to blow up your earning potential.

You don’t need to attend business school to fine-tune this skill. You just need to force yourself outside of your comfort zone, and appreciate how impactful the power of reciprocity can be in building your business. These events are where you go to run into the specialists who run complimentary businesses in your area. The sooner you drop the “I’m just too introverted” attitude and start making small talk, the sooner you’ll be funding your retirement account with gym profits.

Build your network, or die a slow death on your gym-shaped island.

3. Biz School Students Either Sink or Swim in Tons of Work

I actually completed a traditional two-year MBA curriculum during a 51-week window thanks to the One-Year MBA Program at Babson. From Memorial Day Weekend, until Labor Day Weekend, we attended classes six days per week for as many as 8 hours/day. On top of the class schedule, we finished each day with a homework load that actually accounted for more reading hours than any individual could ever complete if he wanted to sleep that night.

This meant that classmate collaboration was imperative from a studying and information consumption standpoint, and long nights were the norm.

By the time the summer ended, I was numb to the workload. I’d conditioned my mind and body to expect to be “on” for as many as 100 hours/week, making the two “normal” semesters to follow feel like an absolute breeze. With just four classes on my schedule, I was able to participate in a 30-hour/week for-credit internship, and coach high school soccer during the afternoons in addition to school.

When school ended that following May, and people asked me what the hardest part had been, my answer was always the same: the summer portion of the program. The good news, I thought, was that I’d never need to log those kind of hours again in the future.

And then I opened a gym with two buddies…

One of the biggest mistakes I see new gym owners make is going into the process with the expectation that one can maintain the client volume and workload one had while coaching at the local commercial gym, and “just get the administrative stuff done during off hours.”

The first six to twelve months of running a business will kick your ass. I’m talking “first three months of a one-year MBA program kick your ass.”

We worked seven days a week for months on end, and also knew we had to eat, sleep and breath gym ownership during the hours we weren’t at the facility.

You don’t HAVE to get an MBA to learn to embrace the workload that comes with surviving the early stages of gym ownership, but I’m sure glad I did. The prior experience allowed me to maintain my sanity during the summer of ‘07 when CSP became a thing.

I’m not looking to talk you out of chasing this dream. Instead, I want to talk you into embracing the suck that is early-stage entrepreneurship. MBA or not, you’re gonna have to endure it.

One Spot Left…

Interested in something along the lines of a 1-Day Gym Owner’s MBA? I’ve got an idea for you.

29 of the 30 available seats at our upcoming Business Mentorship are spoken for, and I’d love for you to be the magic number 30.

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Sunday, April 7th digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

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

Initiative Fatigue is Killing Your Earning Potential

in·i·ti·a·tive fa·tigue

common gym owner mistake: when a leader jumps from one improvement fad to another, draining his company’s resources and his employees’ patience.

Don’t act like you haven’t made this mistake yourself. I have. Dozens of times. Maybe more than 100.

Every spring it’s the same thing…we hit our quiet period of the year, and immediately begin vomiting ideas all over our team.

  • We should start a transformation program.

  • We really need to ramp up our personal training services.

  • Let’s start a youth athlete program!

  • Should we add a smoothie bar to the space?

  • Let’s host another seminar to drive some cash flow.

  • We need to attract a different demographic — let’s launch a volleyball-specific program.

  • We need to beef up our YouTube page.

  • We need to be more active on Twitter.

  • Why did we abandon Facebook?

  • Is Snapchat still a thing? Do we need to get back over there?

  • Let’s set up a Groupon offer!

  • Maybe I should return that ClassPass call. (PS - don’t do that)


I could go on. And on. And on. For days.

Here’s the thing we all need to remember: If we have more than two to three “important strategic initiatives” in place at any given moment in time, we don’t really have any at all.

The more shit we toss on the to-do list of our employees, the more frustrated they become. Take that frustration, and multiply it several times every time we fail to actually follow through on said initiatives.

As I said before, I am guilty of this, many times over.

This spring is different. I’m fighting this urge to add more, as I’ve come to realize that the magical next revenue-generating move is simply being better at keeping our existing clients happy, and not allowing any of them to subtly fall off the radar and disappear for a few weeks (or months) at a time.

There appears to be a direct correlation between being exceptional at generating leads, and being a complete train-wreck at maintaining an optimal retention strategy. New business tends to drown out the fact that existing business is quietly walking out the back door. It is for this very reason that the spring of 2019 at CSP Massachusetts features a single “important strategic initiative.”

This time around, we’re focused on one thing, and one thing only — making sure that we nurture existing client relationships. This means that in-season clients will hear from us every other week at a minimum as their playing schedule precludes them from setting foot in our space, and the ones who do show up are treated like rock stars.

Gone are the days of seeing regulars intentionally disappear for 10-12 weeks, leaving us with the responsibility of effectively having to win back their business annually. Say hello to a time where clients feel like they can’t get away from us because we care too damn much.

We’re playing the long game here, and no amount of trendy new initiatives will out-earn an exceptional retention strategy in the coming six, twelve, or even twenty four months.

Go ahead and tell me that your gym’s retention efforts couldn’t improve a little bit.

I don’t believe you.

Want More of This Stuff?

We’re a little over two weeks out from our next Business Mentorship, set to take place in our facility down in Florida, and I’d imagine we’ve got the room to plug two or three more gym owners into the action. (forgive me if I’m wrong, EC)

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Sunday, April 7th digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

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

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #13

In this thirteenth edition of Gym Owner Musings, I’ve got some thoughts on improving client retention, being more memorable in your networking efforts, and how to make the most of an initial client assessment.

Here. We. Go.

1. You’ll never get a second chance to make a second impression

Your first inclination was to say that I messed up a common saying, right?

Well I didn’t. I’m all about second impressions. I believe the second visit to my gym is far more important than the first. You see, convincing a client to sign on for month one following an initial assessment is among the easiest of tasks we encounter. The biggest challenge we face, as it turns out, is convincing a client to sign on for month two.

The move from month one to month two is a difficult one, as four weeks often isn’t a sufficient window of time for an athlete to see what he considers to be significant results. While our coaches know that progress is being made, and a foundation for success is being laid, this big picture vision isn’t always common with young athletes. As a result, it is imperative that we show additional value in the form of exceptional customer service.

When you employ a personalized programming approach like we do at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP), a fair amount of one-on-one instruction is involved with new clients. While this hands-on approach to coaching is optimal from a program execution standpoint, it hinders our ability to make staff-wide connections with a single athlete in week one. As a result, we need to be deliberate about ensuring that all employees engage with a new client during his first training session following an initial assessment, regardless of whether or not they’ve been assigned to the athlete.

Here’s an important reminder I share with my team on a regular basis: You start selling month two on day one of month one. Waiting until the last week of a paid month to focus on driving value is a fast track to crummy retention figures.

2. Great networking is about creativity

Let me start by saying just about any networking effort is time well spent. However, some networking approaches are better than others.

Until this week, few things made me happier than receiving an unexpected book in the mail from a friend with a nice note saying something along the lines of: “Thought you might enjoy this one.”

This week I arrived back to work following a family vacation to find a small box on my desk. It featured the return address of a fellow gym owner who I connect with periodically, and was just about the size of a typical book. I popped that baby open thinking I had an idea of what was coming, and soon realized a new standard for networking creativity had been set…

In this box, I found a Nintendo Game Boy, including a copy of the classic game Tetris. Significant chunks of my childhood came rushing back all at once as I handled this beautiful grey device. The hand-written note included read as follows:

“Pete - Hopefully you can dominate your boys in this and enjoy some free time away from the gym.”


For the rest of the work day after opening, every colleague who stepped into my office immediately asked about the Game Boy, and multiple clients even found their way into my office after hearing about the archaic device sitting on my desk. Time after time, I found myself explaining why I have it, only further extending the reach of a well-placed networking effort.

If you’re going to work to foster and develop a strong network of relationships in this field, the most impactful way to do so is to catch people off-guard with generosity and thoughtful creativity.

Well played, Justin Kavanaugh. Well played.

3. Day one should be about more than working through an assessment checklist

We love individualized program design at CSP. In fact, we’ve built nearly our entire business around this approach. As a result, we have to execute a fairly thorough initial screening process upon starting new clients to ensure that the material we prepare is appropriate for the athlete based on injury history, training objectives, sport of choice, etc.

This being said, we also know that it is easy to fall into the habit of over-complicating day one with endless movement screenings, measurements, and complex tests. When this approach makes up for the entirety of the client experience, you’re more likely to send someone home feeling like the subject of a science experiment than you are to make him feel like an athlete.

This is why we (CSP) dedicate at least 50% of the initial assessment process to executing a thorough warm-up in line with that which every client completes prior to a session, and a taste of the strength training experience.

If you have the time and resources to do so, get the health history, movement screenings and postural analysis out of the way, and move on to the fun stuff that brought your client through the door in the first place. In doing so, you’ll allow the athlete to understand a little bit of what can be expected during the sessions to follow, and also likely gather some additional insights into the direction you should go with the programming once you see just how coachable the athlete is upon stepping up to a loaded bar.

One last thing…

My business partner Eric and I are looking forward to hosting our CSP Business Building Mentorship at our Florida facility on Sunday, April 7th. We’ll spend a day digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

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

Labeling: Your New Secret Sales Tool

“I’m definitely going to sign up. I just need to get in shape first so that I don’t waste your time or embarrass myself.”

If you run a gym known for catering primarily to athletes, you’ve undoubtedly heard this one before. Nine times out of ten, your performance-based reputation probably brings value to closing sales conversations, but there’s the occasional sneaky general fitness population lead that uses it as a counter to your established sales strategy.

So what do you do? How could this deflection tactic be countered? Is it even worth trying?

The solution to your problem, as it turns out, is to eliminate the likelihood of encountering it at all. You can do so by employing a negotiation tool known as labeling.


What the hell is labeling?

I first encountered the concept of labeling while reading Never Split the Difference, a book written by a former FBI hostage negotiator named Chris Voss. In it, he explains:

“Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels. Think of labeling as a shortcut to intimacy, a time-saving emotional hack.”

When applied properly in this fitness instruction scenario, this shortcut is actually a proactive move to get ahead of the “I just need to get in shape first” retort. If you’re being honest with yourself, you probably realize that every time you’ve heard someone drop this line, it followed a series of admissions of uncertainty relating to the exercise process.

  • I’m not an athlete, you know…

  • I haven’t been in a gym forever…

  • I’m nowhere near as fit as the people I see on your website…

  • Are you guys even interested in working with someone as un-athletic as me?

The most important thing you can do during the selling process is to listen closely and pick up on these signals being tossed your way. Once you’ve identified an emotion to highlight, it’s officially time to label it aloud:

“It sounds like you might be worried about being unprepared to fit in in our training environment.”

Put it out there and allow a moment or two of silence to follow. Let the label have an impact.

Ways this can play out

There are two directions the conversation can go from this moment forward:

Potential Outcome #1 - Your counterpart in this sales process will protest your assumption, effectively eliminating his ability to use the “I’ve just got in shape first” counter when you look to close. I’d imagine you won’t be mad about this outcome, considering it was your objective to avoid it in the first place.

Potential Outcome #2 - Your label will be validated by the person you’re engaging with. Let’s say he agrees with your “it sounds like” approach, explaining that he’s intimidated because of his own perceived beginner weightlifting status. Aren’t you in a much better position to quell his fears after illustrating his potential objection before he has an opportunity to employ it himself?

This is how non-athletes often envision our gym before setting foot in it…

This is how non-athletes often envision our gym before setting foot in it…

When I drop a label of this nature into the dialogue and the hesitance is confirmed, I’m ready to drive forward:

“I totally get it, and would be lying if I said that you’re the first person to feel that way. As it turns out, our individualized approach to program design all but eliminates any likelihood that your training experience is impacted by the people around you in the gym. Everyone is excited to get better, and is working at their own unique pace. We start up beginners every week of the year, so I’m sure you’d feel completely at home in this family environment.”

You know how many people have responded to that statement with a declaration of the need to get in shape before getting started?

The total is right around zero.

The reason this approach has been so productive for me is that I’ve been effective in applying rational words to existing fears, disrupting their impact on the conversation. The biggest challenge in employing this tactic is getting over the fear of bringing your counterpart’s hesitation to the forefront of the discussion. I can assure you of this - the uncertainty is going to manifest itself one way or another during your pitch, so why not put it in play on your terms?

Try it yourself and let me know how it goes.


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

3 Reasons to Introduce a Super Expensive Training Option in Your Gym

Asking for people’s money is tough, especially when you first get started in this field.

But I have an idea…

Humor me for a moment by entertaining the notion of adding something new to your sales pitch. I want to take your anxiety surrounding selling a premium-priced service model, and take it up a notch. Start by imagining your most expensive training option. If you operate a semi-private model, it might be something in the range of $499/month for unlimited training.

Whatever the cost may be, I want you to double the price and slap the term “Elite Package” on the title of that training option.

You know what, forget double...make it three times the price.

Now your premium-priced unlimited semi-private training option has a fancy big brother, and it is called the “Elite Semi-Private Training Package.” The cost for “the best you’ve got to offer” just moved from $499/month on up to $1,499/month.

Terrifying, right?

So how are you going to justify the significant cost increase for this option?

For starters, you’re going to throw everything you have into the mix, including the kitchen sink. This means that “elite” clients get things like consistent check-ins from your nutrition coach, a weekly manual therapy treatment, a smoothie every time they wrap up a training session, and the comfort in knowing that they will be able to train at any time they’d like so long as it falls within your advertised hours of operation. These clients don’t work around your available training schedule, you work around theirs.

In addition to these perks, elite clients get handed a cool tee shirt every time you roll out a new model, all of the bottles of water they can handle, and a distinct sense that they are VIP’s at any moment they set foot in the gym.

Go ahead and tell me that this would break your system, and that you’re not staffed appropriately to drop everything and take care of a client who wants to train four times a week on his terms. To this, I would ask you -- how difficult is it to find an extra coach for four to six hours per week when you’re sitting on an additional $12,000 in annual revenue?

“Breaking” your system and stepping outside of your pricing comfort zone might be a good idea for your business, and here are three compelling reasons why:


1. There’s a market of people who crave expensive.

Almost a decade ago a professional baseball player named Cory Gearrin strolled into my office and closed the door behind him.

“Can I give you some unsolicited feedback?”

Absolutely, Cory. Hit me.

“Your subsidized pricing strategy for MLB-affiliated players is actually deterring a number of great athletes from considering your services.”

He went on to explain that he’d spent upwards of $6,000/month for off-season training at a widely recognized “elite performance training gym” the year before, and the experience was similar, if not less impressive than the one we were offering for $199/month to professional baseball players. While he was appreciative of the effort we were making to deliver an affordable off-season option for our guys, he also knew that some of his teammates in a big league locker room thought that we couldn’t be taken seriously because their careers were too valuable to put in the hands of the bargain-basement priced training option.

I was reminded that day that my pricing strategy tells a story. I owe it to myself to deliver a cost structure that aligns with the quality of the product I’m delivering, regardless of how eager I am to quickly capture market share.

You know what a proposed Elite Semi-Private Training option would do? It would tell the story that the Rolls Royce of semi-private training exists, and it happens to be in my gym.

2. Everything else suddenly looks affordable.

That $499/month unlimited training option you’ve been pedaling for years occasionally comes with a little sticker shock, right?

Not anymore.

The proposed Elite Semi-Private Training service you’d offer may look terrifyingly expensive to your average consumer, but it also suddenly makes $499/month seem more doable. When given multiple choices for payment and service options, customers are inclined to make a selection that falls within the middle. Some refer to this as the Center-Stage Effect, and you can learn about how it impacts pricing strategy here.

By bringing a new premium-priced service option into the mix, you’d effectively move your most profitable training option closer to “the middle” of the pricing list. Why not create a dynamic that drives more people toward your highest-margin offering?

3. You’ll have no choice but to become a customer service Jedi Master.

Your default answer to every request this hypothetical new client presents…

Your default answer to every request this hypothetical new client presents…

If you do go ahead and take the leap to offering a super-premium option on your service list, you’re instantly going to be forced to step up your customer service game. You’ll feel compelled to erase existing lazy habits and begin over-delivering on services that you’ve probably been running on auto-pilot since your business is probably systemized well at this point.

This isn’t a bad thing, as establishing these new habits may not be as difficult as previously expected, and you just may find yourself standardizing them across all platforms. Few things will prompt you to be better than the need to accommodate a demanding client.

shake up your approach business development

My business partner Eric and I are looking forward to hosting our CSP Business Building Mentorship at our Florida facility on Sunday, April 7th. We’ll spend a day digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

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

Mastering the Basics MUST Precede Embracing a Specific Methodology

A note from Pete - This guest post from my colleague John O’Neil (CSP Massachusetts Director of Performance) is the result of a casual conversation that recently took place in my office as we were discussing the habits of intern applicants. I mentioned my frustration in up and coming fitness professionals becoming attached to singular training methodologies as they worked to find a voice within the industry.

The need to be known as “The (insert 3-letter acronym here) Guy” has become increasingly common, and I’m not sure it is sustainable. Customers quickly outgrow methodologies and effortlessly move on to the next big thing, leaving “niched” fitness pros in their wake.

John agreed, and asked to elaborate in a written format. Heres his informed opinion:


While it is important to have a niche as a business, young coaches can often misconstrue this message.  

If you’re a self-employed coach or gym owner, you need a sect of people to market towards, but you don’t need to limit your education to a small segment of the industry.  Our industry continues to be more polarizing and continues to move away from the goals that people come in for in the first place. I aim to make this article a valuable lesson for young coaches.

I haven’t been in the industry forever, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some great minds – Eric Cressey, Mike Ranfone, Todd Bumgardner, Charlie Weingroff, Connor Ryan – to name a few that you may have heard of, in addition to countless others that you probably haven’t. Many of you will associate these five names with specific commercial models – within the five, there’s a guy associated with the FMS, FRC, and PRI. While I learned aspects of these models during my time with these mentors, I consistently saw each of them be great at what they do independent of the acronym they’re associated with. Each of them has an incredible amount of training knowledge that can’t be taught at a weekend course, and in my opinion, their ability to integrate niche concepts into an all-around system is what makes them great.    


In my current role as Director of Performance at CSP, I’ve had the opportunity to guide the education for over 30 interns in the past two years, and that’s not including the countless other young coaches that have reached out to me for advice because of the brand name that CSP provides. 

I’ve seen a disturbing trend in the mindset of young coaches. Instead of being attached to an end goal or outcome, coaches want to identify with a certain emblem. When asking interns what they want to learn the most about in their upcoming semester, I commonly get answers like this:

“I want to learn PRI techniques”

“I want to learn FRC techniques”

“I want to learn the arm care methods you use here”

Rarely do I hear some version of  “I want to learn as much as I can so I can help people reach their goals,” which is what our job should entail. If you were a basketball coach and ran an internship program, your interns would be there to learn about how to build winning basketball teams, not show up on day one asking to learn the intricacies of a post-entry pass.

The messages I receive on social media are often centered around niche topics as well, as if everyone in the industry has already mastered the basics. Being really, really good at coaching people to get stronger, run faster, jump higher, or lose weight, whatever their goal may be, will carry you much, much further as a coach than merely being a niche expert.

This trend has only gotten worse over the last 2-3 years. I think it’s time for us to start focusing our educational efforts on being results-centric, unless we want to continue to polarize our industry and brainwash young coaches into thinking that coaching is centered around things that look like magic tricks. In the gen-pop world, if we’re actually in this to help people, we should probably be talking about lifestyle changes and general health goals instead of tricking people into thinking a marginal skill is why they need us. If we want sport coaches to take us seriously, we should probably center our efforts of what we promote around things that happen on the field.


Many internship programs teach interns exactly what is done at the business they’re in without ever being taught why the business chooses to do it this way. Coaches learn to execute a script, but aren’t necessarily provided with the tools to create a different script that may be appropriate for their next setting.  I’m sure our business, CSP, has been guilty of this in the past – interns leave CSP and try and run the exact same programming systems, only to find out that they don’t quite fit because the setting and population is different.

A coaches’ biggest weapon is the ability to make decisions. In other coaching arenas, this is obvious. There is no one version of the “West Coast Offense,” nor do people think this is the only offense that can win football games. If you don’t understand the overarching principles behind why you do what you do, or, what a potential counterargument for choosing this method might be, you’re not setting yourself up to be adaptable to your environment.

My goal with our internship program is to continue to push critical thinking and develop the ability to see the whole forest. Learn what you need to know about each of the trees, but don’t lose sight of the end goal or why people should come to see you in the first place.

If you’re a young coach, learn as much as you can about strength, power, speed, energy systems development, physiology, anatomy… the list goes on and on. You are doing your clients a disservice if you take a rehab-oriented course at the expense of mastering the basics.

Learn from a variety of models, but integrate them into a system that produces results that your clients will continue to pay you for. Have a niche, but don’t be a niche.

About the Author:

John O'Neil has served as the Director of Performance at Cressey Sports Performance since the summer of 2017. He returned to CSP after being a part of the first intern group at CSP-Florida during the fall of 2014. Over the past few years, John has coached people of all ages in New York City and New Jersey, as well as working as a high school baseball coach. He has previous internship experience with both Ranfone Training Systems and the Baltimore Orioles. John graduated from Dickinson College with a Bachelor's of Science in Mathematics in 2014, and holds a number of certifications in the Strength & Conditioning field.

Win A Coaching Job With These Simple Interviewing Tips

Serious question: Why do you keep sabotaging yourself when sitting down for a job interview?

You’ve already got your foot in the door, so much of the hard part is over.

Why not put some thought into how you’re going to leave a positive impression following an approaching face-to-face conversation? Entirely reactionary interviewing is lazy, and you can avoid it by coming into a discussion with at least the loose framework of how you’d like the conversation to go.

At some point in the dialogue, you will likely be given an opportunity to guide the direction. So what are you going to do with it?

It’s Interviewing Season

I’m in the home stretch of a week of 15+ summer internship interviews as I type this. My colleague John O’Neil and I have reviewed all of the applications, extended all of the interview offers, and executed roughly 5+ hours of face-to-face candidate conversations since Monday.

With several hundred of these interviews under my belt dating back to 2007, it’s difficult to find scenarios that completely catch me off guard. There are, however, a number of common trends that creep up with each new candidate pool, and I’d like to share some interesting takeaways that will hopefully help you the next time you show up for a job interview.

Some of these are “things to stop doing immediately,” and others are simply friendly reminders on how to step up your game.

Here goes…

1. looking the part is easy. It’s Also unmemorable.

The great thing about working in fitness is the option to wear comfortable exercise attire just about all of the time. The crummy thing about working in fitness is that the sweatpants and hoodie culture can easily bleed its way into moments that should probably be treated with a hint more professionalism, regardless of the uniform you’ll ultimately be sporting if you get the job.

If you show up for a Skype or Facetime interview wearing a tee shirt and backwards hat, you may not be hurting your chances to earn a strength and conditioning internship, but you’re certainly not helping them. Throw on a collared golf shirt and take it up a notch or two just for appearances. Hell, you don’t even need to be wearing pants to execute this part of the interview process properly.

Remember this: I’ve never taken points away from a candidate for being over dressed, but I have definitely made mental note of particularly lazy attire selections.

Look the Part.jpg

2. Speaking of Skype interviews, get your technology straight.

It’s frustrating when an applicant is late to, or completely unavailable for an interview because he failed to test-run the technology being used in advance. “Sorry, I have never used Skype before” isn’t a reasonable excuse for messing up someone else’s schedule when you’ve had several days notice to get your ducks in a row.

If you’re preparing for an interview that requires use of a technology such as Skype, Facetime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or any other trendy platform, an important step in the process should be confirming that your visuals are clear, the microphone works, and you have a quality internet connection prior to starting that call.

3. Nerves don’t need to sink you.

I’ve seen more than a few candidates torpedo their chances for scoring a position with us because they couldn’t get their nerves in check during the process. If this sounds like anxiety you are familiar with, take comfort in knowing that a hint of nervousness during the initial stages of an interview can easily be interpreted as a compliment to the employer.

Nerves tell me that you are serious about the opportunity, and concerned about potentially missing the mark during the interview process. I’d much rather consider a candidate showing a little humility during an interview than one who shows up with a chip on their shoulder and an approach that tells me they see this conversation as a formality on their road to the strength and conditioning coach hall of fame.

4. Lazy candidates ask lazy questions.

Any proper interviewer should give their candidate an opportunity to ask questions about the role, and questions that follow (or lack thereof) tell a lot about the applicant.

There is no way for me to effectively outline everything that can be expected while interning at CSP during a 10-15 minute conversation, so telling me you don’t have any questions at the back end of the discussion isn’t a good look. We’re always in need of coaches who ask thoughtful questions and challenge us to think differently on a day-to-day basis, and this is the first opportunity you’ll have to demonstrate a capacity to do so.

Bonus Tip -- One surefire way to make a bad impression is to only ask questions about when you’re going to be able to get your own training in, and if we’ll be writing programs for you. Sure, I want you to experience the training we offer, take part in staff lifts, and in look the part to a certain extent, but that piece of the puzzle cannot be prioritized over embracing the curriculum and prioritizing learning over self-serving fitness objectives.

Back to the candidate pool…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m back to the interviewing grind. Time to go find our industry’s next great coach. Wish me luck.


If you enjoyed this, or any of my other “hot takes” on fitness business ownership, I think you’d enjoy our upcoming Business Building Mentorship. Eric Cressey and I are hosting this event once again on April 7th at our facility in Jupiter, FL.  

Please shoot me an email if you’d like to discuss further. We’d love to have you.

Email: pdgymsolutions@gmail.com

Protecting Your Gym’s Secret Sauce - Worth the Hassle?

“We’re hoping to have our gym compete on merits without “giving away our secret sauce”. More specifically, we want to emphasize our competencies without publicizing our process. Any tips on how to do so?”

This is an email I recently received in my consulting account, and it isn’t the first time a question of this nature has been sent my way. Since I’ve found myself explaining my position on the subject on more than a few occasions, I thought it may be helpful to share with a wider audience.

If I were to prepare a canned response to this type of a question for safe keeping in my Gmail account, it would look something like this…

Dear Fellow Gym Owner…

Appreciate you reaching out. We need to stick together, as this game of business is tough.

My initial inclination is to tell you that any gym owner who makes a habit of fiercely protecting his "secret sauce" will never successfully position himself as a thought leader in his community. Taking the "we're the best, just trust us" approach to promoting your business is considerably less effective than simply being the best.

You’re probably overvaluing your intellectual property.

You’re probably overvaluing your intellectual property.

The actual mechanics of instructing fitness are rarely a strong enough differentiator in our field, even if you do truly believe yourself to be superior to the competition on this front. Potential clients want to feel like they're doing business with relatable people, not gurus who have superstar athletes and a methodology that they keep in their "pay-to-play" vault.

If you look closely at the way that we manage our social media and marketing strategies at Cressey Sports Performance, you'll see that we go out of our way to discuss our approach to assessment, program design, and coaching instruction. We're an open book, and it results in lead generation, fully booked seminars, and an influx of internship applications.

I recently stumbled upon a quote in the book Good to Great from an executive at Merck (the pharmaceutical company). In it, he explained why his business decided to distribute a cure to an illness called River Blindness to extremely poor individuals in the Amazonian area entirely free of charge despite it being the only product available:

We try to remember that the medicine is for the patient....It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.

This resonated with me, as I've been asked in the past why I put so much time and energy into preparing business content without an obvious game plan for immediate revenue generation.The way I see it, if I can easily help up and coming gym owners avoid common mistakes, then I should take a stab at doing so without fixating on profits. With this system in place (blogs, podcasts, etc.), the revenue tends to follow in the form of paid consulting inquiries, and I believe everyone wins.

Time to shift your approach?

If you’ve made a habit of keeping the special recipe to your training philosophy on lock down in the past, and you find yourself fighting a never-ending battle against an increasingly competitive landscape, it may be time to make a change. Share your wisdom with the world, and the leads you’re afraid of missing out on just may find their way to you.


If you enjoyed this, or any of my other “hot takes” on fitness business ownership, I think you’d enjoy our upcoming Business Building Mentorship. Eric Cressey and I are hosting this event once again on April 7th at our facility in Jupiter, FL.  

Please shoot me an email if you’d like to discuss further. We’d love to have you.

Email: pdgymsolutions@gmail.com

Facts Are Forgotten, But Stories Stick

What if I told you you’ve missed countless opportunities to connect with your audience?

I’ve been missing these opportunities as well. In fact, most of us are making the same marketing and social media mistakes.

Allow me to elaborate.

So we’ve got this talented college baseball player who has trained with us at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) since he was a high school underclassman. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him Johnny Baseball.

Johnny currently plays for a nationally ranked “power five conference” team. If you follow us on social, you’ve probably seen him training in our space, effectively conveying the following message:

Did you know that XYZ University standout starting pitcher, Johnny Basbeall, trains at CSP? Yeah, he’s a regular. He throws medballs. He receives sport-specific arm-care and programming. He throws with our Pitching Coordinators. All of these habits help put him in a position to potentially thrive in the XYZ Athletic Conference this spring and hopefully receive a phone call on day one of the approaching MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Not the worst message you’ve ever seen or heard, right? It resonates with many of our current and potential clients, and has effectively served as our marketing strategy to date. Why fix something that isn’t obviously broken?

But what if we took a new approach?

What if we told Johnny’s CSP story from the beginning, touching on the highs and lows along the way?

Tell me a story

Before you do anything, remember that you’ll find yourself on the fast track to nowhere if you declare yourself a storyteller and begin rolling out a tale that fails to follow a defined path. The best stories loosely follow a recipe, and your marketing and social media efforts can as well.

Let's retell this story using the components of the Story Spine method. Here’s how concept is laid out: 

  • Once upon a time…

  • And every day…

  • Until one day…

  • And because of that…

  • And because of that…

  • And because of that…

  • Until finally…

  • And since that day…

We’ve all seen a Pixar movie (or ten) in our lifetime, so this story trajectory should make complete sense. Whether Woodie (Toy Story), Lightning McQueen (Cars), or Sully (Monsters Inc.) comes to mind, they all play roles in movies that adhere to this format. 

So let’s plug in Johnny’s true CSP story to the Story Spine structure.


The Thrower, a Hypothetical Pixar Movie

Once upon a time, Johnny Baseball was a youth baseball player in Massachusetts with dreams of playing varsity baseball at his local high school.

And every day of his off-season, he went through the motions “preparing” for the season. Sometimes he lifted some weights, and others he did some casual throwing because he heard some teammates were doing it.

Until one day, spring tryouts rolled around and Johnny was blindsided. He’d been cut from the baseball program as a junior, a time when he’d expected to make important impressions on college coaches.

And because of that, Johnny was faced with the difficult decision of whether or not he wanted to play the game at all in the future.

And because of that, he found it especially difficult to watch his buddies show up to practice every afternoon as he sat home wondering what his identity would be moving forward.

And because of that, CSP reached out to Johnny, letting him know that training in the gym could be his unexpected spring sport, filling the hole that was traditionally plugged by practices and game play, and allowing him to reinvent his potential as a thrower.

Until finally, he decided to continue to pursue the sport, showing up to train seriously at CSP six times per week throughout the entire spring and into the summer, adding durability to his frame, and a few important ticks on his fastball velocity.

And since that day, Johnny has gone on to play varsity baseball at a reputable New England prep school, secure a scholarship to pitch at XYZ University, accept an invitation to play in the famed Cape Cod Collegiate Baseball League, and put himself in a position to pursue playing the sport professionally. 

Which angle is more compelling?

So which of these two marketing approaches is more likely to make you feel compelled to reach out to CSP? Which of the two would be easier for you to identify with if you were a high school athlete seeking a competitive advantage as you hoped to make a team?

Yeah…the story.

I think it’s time we, as gym owners, start using this tool. If we look closely enough, there are probably many stories like Johnny’s waiting to be told.


If you enjoyed this, or any of my other “hot takes” on fitness business ownership, I think you’d enjoy our upcoming Business Building Mentorship. Eric Cressey and I are hosting this event once again on April 7th at our facility in Jupiter, FL.  

Please shoot me an email if you’d like to discuss further. We’d love to have you.

Email: pdgymsolutions@gmail.com

I Failed to Open My Dream Gym - Here's Why

Note from Pete: This week I have a guest post for you from my buddy Casey Lee, a Strength Coach living in Northern-Vermont. He’s a member of the rare club of “almost gym owners” who can say that they danced with the idea of opening their own space before putting their professional life and credit score entirely on the line in a risky manner. Listen closely, aspirational facility owners!

Like most Personal Trainers, I was invincible. I had an above average skill set in assessment. My program design systems were locked in. Client conversations were the highlight of my day, each and every day.

The decision to open up my own gym seemed like a no-brainer at the time. I had books by Thomas Plummer and Pat Rigsby, a network of business owners cheering me on, and a killer mindset that was sure to lead to a thriving business.

That’s how it works, right? Have the soft-skills, own the hard-skills, and have a kick-ass network. Right?

Not so fast.

Two years later, with no gym to speak of, I am at peace with the with the biggest professional mistake I have made to date. I tried to open a gym and failed. Luckily for me, this failure will not define my career. If anything, it’s helped springboard me forward, and has given me the tools necessary to help others avoid these mistakes.

Allow me to introduce you to some of my biggest mistakes along the way. Here are three things I did that kept my gym from ever seeing a day of operation:  


1. Failure to delineate between start-up costs & operating costs

Are you hoping to open a business at any point in your life? Go grab a piece of paper and create two columns. On one side, write down everything you need to open your business. Now, on the other side, write down everything you need to keep your business running.

This exercise may feel simple, but the distinct difference between these two columns needs to be appreciated if your gym has any shot at surviving. You’re going to need two different pools of money — one to open the business, and another to keep the lights on.

That cash you have in your savings account might cover your start-up costs, but is it going to give you the liquid funds to keep you moving as you grind to establish a book of business?

2. Failure to understand ALL of your options

Opening a business, especially a gym, is like reading a “choose your own ending” book.

Depending on the route you take, you will end up with a different ending.

It is critical that you understand all your options so you can get moving towards the ending you desire. If you don’t have savings, are you aware of available financing options? Do you know the ins and outs of SBA loans? Maybe you’re building a small operation and a line of credit will cover it — do you understand the risks of defaulting on that payment? Are you a new-to-the industry 24 year old coach engaging in discussions with a venture capital firm? Yikes.

Like I said, you choose your aspirational ending, but understand that there are dozens of different paths you can take to finance the initial investment. Take your time and research each one, evaluate the short and long term risks, and make an educated decision for yourself. Speed to market is less important than reducing your risk.


3. Failure to appreciate the order of operations

Just like in 5th grade math class, there is an order of operations when it comes to opening your gym. What is important to identify is that the first few tasks on this list will not cost you a single dollar to execute.

My recommended order of operations — some of these pieces can be done simultaneously, and this is how I would attack the process if I were taking another shot at this today:

  1. Write your business plan ($0)

  2. Explore potential locations ($0)

  3. Talk to the town zoning administration ($0 until your inspection)

  4. Quote your equipment ($0 until you order)

  5. Re-visit start-up expense projections

  6. Re-visit operational cost projections

  7. Explore funding options as needed (avoid options that involve an application fee)

  8. Edit business plan to account for different scenarios based on findings from points 2-7.

Planning a gym is just that — planning. There should be minimal cash going out during the planning process. If you’re spending cash on various funding, architectural plans, equipment layouts, or on your business plan, then you need to throw the metaphorical challenge flag and assess WHO is helping you.

I wish you luck.

I appreciate you taking the time to gut this one out with me. It’s been two years since my gym experience, and I was able to get out before it was too late. I learned a lot about myself and about the industry, all of which have helped me take steps forward with my career. Hopefully my story helps aspiring gym owners to take a closer look at their business plans and make sure they have the best road map to their dream job.


About the Author

Casey Lee is a Strength and Conditioning Coach based in northern-Vermont. He currently works as the Program Director and Head Coach for The Parisi Speed School, located in Williston Vermont. Graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh (Plattsburgh, NY) with an honors degree in Business Administration in 2011, Casey handles all business operations and staff development for this facility. To learn more about Casey, check out www.CoachCaseyLee.com.

3 Reasons Team-Training Might be a Threat to Your Business

Imagine you’ve recently opened a gym…

You’re in year one, cash flow isn’t quite where you’d like it to be, and you’re looking for a quick fix.

Suddenly the opportunity you’ve been waiting for comes crashing into your lap. The local club soccer team is looking for a place for their “hundreds” of athletes to attend for sport-specific training this coming winter and they want to “send the entire program your way.”

The quotations in the last sentence are there because the headcount and proposed attendance are probably both entirely inaccurate. Sure, every club has a series of age groups and rosters they intend to fill, but few of them operate at the capacity they advertise to people like you and me. Even fewer of them are effective in convincing even half of their athletes to specifically pick your business for training. It is rare to find a serious teenage athlete that has not yet established relationships with fitness service providers close to home these days, so it’s difficult to convince them to drop everything and try a new place “because my summer coach said so.”

Nevertheless, you plow forward with dreams of big paychecks and a full gym.

Fast-forward a season or two and the cracks are beginning to show on your master plan of taking an entire program of young athletes and turning them into lifetime customers. Retention numbers are beginning to fall, headaches are piling up, and you’re beginning to realize that the service you are offering is no longer representative of the one you envisioned on the day that you received that first inquiry from the soccer club president.

If this sounds like a direction you could be headed, I want you to consider the following noteworthy reasons why team-training of this nature may be more trouble than it is worth for you and your fitness business:


1. Like it or not, you’re going to compromise on pricing strategy

There isn’t a coach or club owner in this country that will approach you with his “hundreds” of athletes expecting to pay full price. He’s going to request volume discounts and special exceptions, as he believes himself to be holding all of the cards.

When he does, you’ll feel compelled to do him a solid, offering a 25% discount to each and every one of his athletes. Those kids will happily pay $150 for a month of training that typically costs $200, and you’ll feel just fine about it because the cash infusion they’re making into your operation is going to cover that new power rack you’ve got your eye on. Life is good.

This continues through the winter, kids get stronger under your supervision, foot traffic is steady in the gym, and you’ll be just about ready for a breather the moment all of these guys get back outside for practice and game play.

And then the spring and summer seasons will come and go…

Business will grow steadily during the time that these soccer players are in-season and you’ll be feeling good about having them back in for a productive off-season ahead. You’ll find a way to plug them back into your now far busier calendar.

So my program is still $150, right? I can’t afford to do this at $200 per month. That’s not what I was sold in the first place.

You’ll explain that this was a discounted rate that was offered initially contingent upon an entire program worth of youth soccer players training in your space. But here we are a year later, and only 8 of the “hundreds” are back for more.

The parent standing in front of you holding the Amex doesn’t care. He wants his discount, and he wants it in perpetuity.

So what are you going to do? Trust me when I tell you this…you should do anything and everything you can to transition that athlete to regular rates in the immediate future. Explain the justification for your standard pricing structure, including constant reinvestment in the business in the form of quality coaches, top-notch equipment, and ongoing staff continuing education objectives.


There’s nothing wrong with honoring the prior price point for a month or two, but it needs to be made clear that the move to standard rates will be effective on a designated date, and it is unfortunately non-negotiable.

Or, you could just never offer a discount to that entire program in the first place and let your product and results speak for themselves in justifying the pricing strategy that already exists. Your call.

2. You’re also going to compromise on training philosophy

If you’re anything like us at Cressey Sports Performance, you take pride in the training model you’ve put in place. Attention to detail is paramount, and individualization is arguably your biggest and most compelling differentiator.

This model is going to take a hit the moment you begin watering down your procedures in order to accommodate multiple athletes for on boarding in a tight window of time. Those meticulously crafted personalized programs are going to begin showing up hand-written on a marker board in the middle of the gym, designed to work for the fifteen athletes who show up at 3:30pm, because they all play the same sport and “all look pretty much like the same kid.”

They’ll probably all get a great training effect, as it doesn’t take much to drive positive progress in the untrained teenage athlete, but will you feel fulfilled after compromising on the exercise selection format that you had in mind as you designed your initial business plan?

To be clear – I see absolutely nothing wrong with good old-fashioned group programming and group training. There is a time and a place for everything, and many of the best gyms in the world crush it in this model. My point here is that this adjustment is a significant deviation from the business and training model you’ve built your reputation around, and you need to ask yourself if you’re comfortable delivering a service that isn’t in line with the expectations of the athletes and parents who may already be aware of your brand..

Speaking of your reputation…

3. Athletes slip through the cracks

The smaller your client-to-coach ratio is, the more control you have over the product that results from your instruction. If you’ve got eyes on every rep of a training session spent supervising a small handful of athletes, it is unlikely that improper execution takes place, or dissatisfied clients go unnoticed.

As those groups grow larger, and entire teams roll through your space, the likelihood of quiet athletes remaining disengaged in the back of them room increases. While you know they’re getting the instruction they need to avoid injury, you may not be delivering an experience that makes them passionate about the training. The athletes who truly thrive in this setting are the ones who are advocates for themselves, while the quiet kid is the one who goes home feeling uninspired.

That very same quiet kid is likely to fall on the wrong side of your retention issues when the next off-season rolls around, but that wont stop him from discussing his experience in your space.

I went for months and didn’t get any stronger...and the gym was too crowded and I felt like coaches didn’t pay attention to me...and I hurt my hamstring on the first day of tryouts after training with them all winter so they obviously didn’t prepare me for the spring.

The thing you need to remember is that every single athlete who walks through your door has the potential to either be a valued brand advocate, or a destructive word-of-mouth force that crushes your lead-generation objectives. It doesn’t matter if they worked with you for a single day, or multiple months…they all leave your space with the ability to discuss the experience.

So, you need to be honest with yourself – are you putting your business in a position to maximize the odds of delivering a positive training experience that will be discussed in a positive light further on down the road? If churning a whole team worth of athletes through your space is going to result in a less-than-inspiring training experience for a handful of kids, is it worth the potential damage that could be inflicted on your brand reputation?  

Before you dive in…

I may not have sold you on the idea that biting on that offer from the local club team is a bad move. That’s fine, as I have no business telling you definitively how to run your business. This being said, if you’re going to move forward, I implore you to identify the gym or gyms in your part of the country that have mastered the art of this large group team training concept and get into their space to see it in action. They’ve likely spent years fine-tuning their approach, and built a model that was designed to accommodate this format from the start…not because they needed a quick infusion of cash.


If you enjoyed this, or any of my other “hot takes” on fitness business ownership, I think you’d enjoy our upcoming Business Building Mentorship. Eric Cressey and I are hosting this event once again on April 7th at our facility in Jupiter, FL.  

Please shoot me an email if you’d like to discuss further. We’d love to have you.

Email: pdgymsolutions@gmail.com

Misconceptions About Niche Development

I’d imagine there’s a 99% chance you’ve found my blog because you’re aware of the gym I co-founded. There’s also a 99% chance you are aware that we’ve established a reputation for catering to the needs of the baseball-playing community. We’ve captured a niche, and it’s been good for business.

So, let me ask you this…

Do you think we earn our living exclusively by training baseball players? Do you think we close the metaphorical door in the face of general fitness population inquiries that come our way? Do you think that we had some sort of geographic advantage in chasing a sport-specific athletic community while operating in a region that rules out outdoor sports entirely for a third of the year?


I’ve recently run into some pushback on the topic of niche development. A couple of weeks ago I published a Tweet stating that it is the generalists who can pay their bills, but the niche owners are the ones who are in a position to plan for retirement. My mindset while posting this thought was that you can crush it in your local market, but unless you are running a gym in Manhattan, the number of bodies in your immediate vicinity is eventually going to present a ceiling to your earning potential.

If you want to take that ceiling up several notches, your options are to add locations, or to become known for something that draws eyes to your content, inspires people to get on a plane to come see you, and delivers opportunities to spread your message in front of engaged audiences around the country.

Nonetheless, a fellow gym owner in the midwest took issue with my statement:

Easily said in Jupiter, FL and Mass. There’s not a niche market for prone trap raises in middle America...most athletes/ballplayers just want to get generally more athletic.

This person went on to describe my post as a “one-size-fits-all statement.” My business partner Eric was quick to chime in. He explained that he is aware of successful baseball-focused facilities in Houston, Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, and Washington DC.

You read that right, there is an established baseball-specific training space in the state of Wisconsin. Who woulda thought?

Having a niche does not mean…

As you probably inferred earlier in this post, the baseball niche we cater to here at Cressey Sports Performance is not our sole means of revenue generation. Our client roster features people from a variety of athletic backgrounds, along with parents, grandparents, and even employees from businesses down the hall. There is no mandate that we only make our services available to a single targeted sub-set of the sports world.


I’ve said in the past that if you successfully position yourself as “the best” at serving a specific athletic population, you’ll likely be perceived to be considerably above average in taking care of just about everyone else.

If you were the parent of a high school hockey player in need of some off-season training, and your options were a nearby gym that is widely considered to be the best basketball-specific training facility in America, or that place down the road that is “pretty good at everything,” which direction would you go? I can’t spend your money for you, but I will tell you that my kid would be training at the basketball gym.

Having a niche does mean…

When I encourage other gym owners to pursue niche development, I am speaking of becoming singularly focused in your continuing education endeavors, in your content creation, and in your strategic business development. As a gym owner, your baseline fitness knowledge is likely at a level that will suffice in taking care of the average person who walks through the door, so your down time would be well spent on deliberate practice toward achieving expert status in a particular realm.

Claiming your region limits you from being able to attract a specific set of athletes is probably a cop out. Sure, it's a bad idea to open a gym catering to mountain climbers in Nebraska or Florida, but as long as there are athletes playing the sport you choose in your region for some portion of the year, there is opportunity.

We successfully attracted elite baseball players from all over the country to a facility that is buried in snow during the peak of the baseball off-season for nearly a decade prior to opening a second location in Florida. The most committed athletes know that expertise is worth traveling for, and I can say with 100% confidence that we would have found a niche market for prone trap raises in the midwest had we decided to set up shop there back in 2007 instead of Hudson, MA.


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Learn From Other Gym Owners by Asking Better Questions

In 2019 I will finally open that gym I’ve been envisioning…

Does this sound like a resolution you’ve established in the last couple of days? Are you prepared to take the jump you’ve been wavering on for a while now? Are you actually ready?

If you are, the best way to ensure success is to learn from those who have fought the good fight, and are able and willing to discuss their experiences. We’ve all had mentors along the way, and those of us who have extracted true value from their accessibility are the ones who know the difference between thoughtful and lazy questions.

There are good questions, and there are bad ones

Every time my business partner Eric offers an Instagram Q&A, he encounters some form of the following question:

Any tips for a trainer preparing to open a gym?

Sometimes he answers on his own, and others he offers me the chance to do so. More often than not, we both punt on the opportunity, and it is because the question is lazy and lacks direction. There are literally thousands of pieces of advice we could share, but how in the world are we in a position to understand where you’re at in the planning process, or what might bring value to your particular situation when presented with such a vague question.

The next time you find yourself standing in front of a gym owner who has accomplished some level of success, and you have the opportunity to engage with them, ask yourself where you’re at in the gym planning or ownership process before presenting a question. Focus on a single objective instead of trying to go from being a guy with an idea and no clients to ten-year veteran with just a single question.


For Example

Instead of:

I’m about to open up my own spot, any potential mistakes I should avoid?


I’m working to secure my first space, any tips on facility size or lease negotiation you might be able to share?

Instead of:

What did you and Eric do to get Cressey Sports Performance to where it is today?


What can I focus on in the first six months to establish relationships in the community and build a viable client base?

Lazy questions get lazy answers, and you owe it to yourself and the person you are soliciting insights from to deliver an inquiry with some specifics or substance if you expect them to offering some truly useful advice.


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Could Your Gym Survive 100% Employee Turnover in the Coming Year?

Today I have a guest post from my friend and fellow gym owner, Chris Merritt. His business was thrown for a loop in the past twelve months and kept on kicking with barely a hiccup. He’s here to tell you how.

2018 has been an interesting year for our business.  Historically, we’ve had incredibly low turnover of employees, with our two main coaches having been here for the last 4 and 5 years respectively, but 2018 brought major change with three coaches leaving and two coming on board. 

Not that interesting, you say?  Well, what if I told you we only had three employees total? 

Now I know what you’re thinking, with that equating to 100% turnover and all, but it was a series of unrelated events. 

One coach, whom had been here five years, gave us over 6 months’ notice that he wanted to move to North Carolina to be closer to family—and did so in late May.  With that kind of notice we were able to bring a new-hire up to speed and ease the transition between the two. 


Another, whom only worked here for just over a year, decided she wanted to go into law enforcement and provided about three weeks’ notice that she’d been accepted to the police academy and moved on in July.  That timing left us with zero opportunity to hire before her departure, but we did have a solid candidate in an intern whom would likely be ready by late August.

And the third coach, whom had been trying to get a position as a paramedic for the 4 years that he worked here, finally found out that he landed his dream job in September and would start in October.  And while we knew that he might get the position, he didn’t get confirmation until six to eight weeks before what would be his last day.

So, there you have it—100% of the employees that we started 2018 with were gone between the months of May and September, and new ones started in the final days of May and August. 

To say our systems were put to the test by all of this would be a massive understatement…

My question to you, fellow gym owners, is would your business survive a similar situation?  Do you have the systems in place to keep the ship rolling in times of major turnover?

At the end of the day, that’s your business—a system, or series of systems—and the right people performing them. 

Ours systems, and our team that performs them daily, allowed us to have another record-breaking year of business growth—our 7th in 7 years.

So, what makes a good system?  We’ve found that they should answer the following questions:

  1. What do we do?

  2. What do we say?

  3. If this, then… ?

A good system also leaves nothing implied.  As I learned in geometry: don’t assume, or you’ll make an ass out of u-m-e.  And yet, a good system is also malleable and, when implemented with the right team, leaves room for audibles.

Luckily, we had systems in place for the areas of our business that were impacted by 2018 and all its turnover glory.  I’ll leave you with a few tactics that helped us in developing them so that you can begin the process of documenting yours or improving what you already have.

1. Write down exactly what you do

I first did this is 2013 after reading The E-Myth Revisited.  I was a one-man-band about to hire my first employee.  I literally shut my eyes and pictured opening the gym in the morning and documented every single thing I did—arrive 15 minutes early, unlock the door, hit the lights, check the space to make sure everything is presentable, turn on the music to this station at that volume, pull the clients’ programs and lay them out by hour, greet every single client by name and with appropriate physical contact (fist bump, high five, hand on the shoulder, etc.) as they arrive…the list goes on and on.

This was our original opening system—laid out as a checklist, laminated, and hung on the wall beside the desk our coaches threw their stuff down behind.

 2. Get feedback from others who do the thing. 

Our coaching systems have turned into a full-on coaching manual.  Initially, my business partner, Todd Bumgardner, and myself sat down and compiled an outline of what would need to be included:

Merritt Blog.png

As you can see from the picture, we initialed who was responsible for each section and when it was due.  Once finished, we shared the initial draft with our coaches and asked them to provide feedback:

  • Did we miss anything altogether?

  • Do we need to expand on anything?

  • Any other thoughts/comments/concerns?

3) Continually update your documentation. 

This is something that we’re in the process of implementing as I type this.  Our employees will have access to all of our manuals—management, coaching, program design, sales and consultations—each in a three-ring binder readily available in the gym at all times, as well as access anywhere, anytime, through Dropbox.  The three-ring binder approach allows us to easily pull pages and replace with the most up to date information and Dropbox allows us to immediately share that with anyone impacted by the change.  Don’t let changes pile up, which can result in dated systems.

I see you sitting their shaking your head and saying you already know this. 

Yeah, but have you done it?

Will you be ready if 2019 drops a 100% turnover of employees on your business in just four short months?

If you don’t have your systems fully documented and right people performing them, what do you have?

If you’re craving more detail…

Want a glimpse at our personal development, program design, coaching, expansion systems, and so much more? The Spring 2019 Strength Faction is open for Early Bird enrollment. Learn more and get signed up here.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #12

I’ve seen an uptick in Twitter engagement in the past couple of weeks, so I thought I’d take the time to elaborate on three specific tweets that triggered productive discussion:

1. The evolution of a gym owner…

Tweet - Attention gym owners: Stop concerning yourself with being seen as “the best coach on staff” and start focusing on building employees who are better than you. Your operation will never scale if you waste energy self-identifying as an exceptional technician. 

How many gym owners do you know who wouldn’t be thrilled to see their gym overcrowded and in need of more space?

The funny thing about most of said gym owners is that they are uneasy with the administrative realities that come with growth of this nature. More clients in the gym means more coaching opportunity, but scaling business in this way is unsustainable if the owner isn’t continuing to design and implement long-term strategic marketing and promotional objectives that will help to maintain momentum.


You can’t just hire a “marketing guru” and expect her to understand your vision or unique voice during the early stages of your business, so stepping away from the training floor and trusting your employees is and important step in the process if you want to make more money. This starts by empowering your coaches, positioning them as thought-leaders in the eyes of your training community, and then fighting the urge to micro-manage.

Build up talented employees, and revenue will follow. On the flip side, if you concern yourself with being perceived as the superior talent on the team, you can expect yourself and everyone around you to stagnate.

2. Client experience is about more than just the training floor.

Tweet - Maybe it isn't your systems, your coaches, or even your programming. Maybe the problem is that you don't have a smiling face at the front desk. Nothing kills your chances of delivering a positive experience quite like an unpleasant interaction before even stepping into the gym.

When I was in grad school I had an internship at the local sports network, NESN. With close ties to the Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox, recognizable athletes and television personalities would come and go on a daily basis. During that time, one of my jobs was to manage the reception desk in the lobby during the traditional lunch hour so that the staff member manning the desk for the rest of the day could get a meal in.

For the entire six months I was there, there was not a single moment where a full-time employee was serving in this roll. Instead, it was a revolving door of people with administrative experience from the local temp agency. While they were all most definitely competent on paper as far as the job goes, none of them were put in a position to be truly good at the job. This was because none of them had a chance to learn names and settle in to the culture.

As a result, there was a distance and coldness in every interaction of the day. Rarely did a guest of the network walk past the front desk feeling as if their visit was off to a warm and welcoming start, and that really ate at me.

Seth Godin says: “Every interaction ought to reflect the whole. Every time we see any of you, we ought to be able to make a smart guess about all of you.”

This applies to television networks, fitness facilities, and any other client-facing service operation. You’ve got to have a smiling face at the front door.

Our Office Manager Julie doesn’t need to be reminded of this rule.

Our Office Manager Julie doesn’t need to be reminded of this rule.

3. Are you so good they can’t ignore you?

Tweet - Social media hack: Instead of seeking the recipe to the FB algorithm, or the perfect combo of IG hashtags, maybe try understanding your subject matter so intimately that your audience is automatically drawn to your words. Nothing improves engagement better than true expertise.

There are many fitness professionals who claim to hate social media, and some genuinely do. However, some make this claim because they feel uncomfortable on camera, or because of a deep-rooted feeling of imposter syndrome that sets in just before to hitting the publish button.

There’s good news for the latter group…

Very few of us who are consuming information on these social media platforms are concerned with the delivery of the information if the material is strong. With this in mind, we should all be focused on applying a deliberate practice approach to our professional development. You can’t get better on camera unless you get your reps in, and your audience is going to patiently work their way through those reps with you if you keep churning out thoughtful content.

A bonus lesson buried in this post…

While it wasn’t my intention, this blog post was as much about extending the reach of your content as it was about explaining my thought process behind a handful of tweets. In retrospect, this was an illustration of how a single thought, on a single platform, could evolve into useful content on another, and maybe even eventually inspire a blog post to follow.

You’re probably already sitting on a goldmine of material if you’ve been reasonably consistent on any individual social media platform.

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

3 Avoidable Leadership Mistakes

Manager. Leader. Mentor. Executive.

None of these words found their way onto the page as I outlined my objectives for gym ownership back in 2007. If I’m being honest, the list probably looked a little more like this:

  • Wear sweatpants to work.

  • Avoid cubicles at all costs.

  • Side-step silly office cliches such as “paradigm shift,” or “push the envelope.”

My goal was to successfully delay any possibility of returning to corporate America, and opening a gym seemed to be the biggest deviation I could take from the direction that my fellow MBA classmates seemed to be headed in. Here we are 11+ years later, and I’m realizing it would have been a good idea to put some real thought into the four words I opened this piece with as I pondered long-term objectives for my business more than a decade ago.

This is workplace hell to me…

This is workplace hell to me…

Managing people is hard, and few of us are born with leadership skills. I’ve learned a great deal on this front since my business partner Eric became a part-time resident of both Massachusetts and Florida in 2014 when we opened our second location. At the time, I was thrust into the role of being “the guy” at our flagship facility for more than half of each year.

Of the platitude of lessons learned, there are three in particular that seem to continually circle back as I manage our northeast team. I rarely learn from my successes, so these three takeaways are grounded in mistakes I’ve made, and will be positioned as such:

Mistake #1

Assuming that being a workaholic will inspire employees

Working long hours is a right of passage for entrepreneurs, but it isn’t expected to be so for employees. We (gym owners) rarely make our first full-time hire until we’ve got a minimum of a year of operations under our belts, and many habits are established during that first twelve months. As we quietly keep our heads down and plug away at building something special, we lose sight of the fact that it isn’t normal for everyone to answer emails at 11:30pm and lose hours of sleep mentally strategizing lead-generation strategies.

Your business is your baby, not that of your employees. The sooner you come to terms with this, the sooner you’ll realize that your coaches aren’t lazy. Instead, they’re probably employees who are less motivated to grind off-hours by their hourly wage than you are by your hefty equity stake. Upside matters in employee drive, and you’re likely not delivering a whole lot of it.

If you own a gym, late-night email is a business owner problem, not an employee expectation.

If you own a gym, late-night email is a business owner problem, not an employee expectation.

Your coaches can and should be immensely productive during working hours, as that’s what they’ve signed on to do. That is, however, where you need to draw the line in your expectations. Stop expecting people without an ownership stake to act like owners, and you’ll soon realize you’ve got some quality contributors on the payroll.

When my first child was born I managed to convince myself that leaving work earlier than I had in the past to make a daycare pick up prior to 6pm would be a sign of selfishness. All of my employees are going to resent me, I thought to myself.

Instead, they went out of their way to compliment me on committing to work-life balance, and for demonstrating a standard that family comes first, regardless of business growth objectives.

Mistake #2

Confusing a lack of structure with valued autonomy

I was micromanaged in my last role prior to entering grad school. My manager genuinely cared if I was sitting in front of my computer at 9:01am instead of 9:00am, as if my contributions to the marketing department of a publicly traded company were so time-sensitive that the users of our products would be impacted 40 points of contact down the line. This is not to say that I don’t value punctuality. I do, but my experience in this environment led me to vow never to supervise in this manner if given the opportunity to manage a team.

As our staff has grown at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP), I’ve stayed true to this commitment. Lunch breaks aren’t measured in length, bathroom breaks aren’t monitored, and employees are expected to understand reasonable boundaries and function within them.

Raise your hand if you crave structure in the workplace…

Raise your hand if you crave structure in the workplace…

This system consistently works. The problem, however, is that I have a tendency of taking this hands-off approach to an extreme if my own to-do list is long enough. This became evident to me as I “managed” a staff meeting in 2016. The topic of conversation that day has since left my memory, but the comment my then employee Chris (now independent contracting manual therapist at CSP) made during our meeting will never leave me:

“Would you and Eric just tell us what to do instead of trying to give us ownership of every single decision? At some point you should just be the boss and we’ll be fine with it.”


He wasn’t wrong in either his message or his approach. Chris was by far our longest tenured employee at the time, and had earned the right to be so direct. I’ve since built more structure into my own decision-making and leadership styles. Sometimes I need to fall back into the “because I said so” mentality, and employees are at peace with it.

Lesson learned.

Mistake #3

Providing hand-picked colleagues without asking for help

While mistake number two implied that the boss always knows best, the third one will show you that this approach isn’t universally applicable. When it comes to populating your training floor with competent coaches, your existing employees would love to have some say in the people that they’ll have to spend upwards of 40-hours per week with.

With this in mind, taking a solo approach to making hires can result in mismatched personalities and communication styles in the gym. Can you afford to employ a team with so little chemistry that clients feel inclined to pick sides?

If you have the time, freedom, and flexibility to get team members involved in the employee selection process, do it. This is why I never finalize my intern candidate pool without at least one other staff member reviewing applications, and will not execute interviews on my own. This is also why Eric and I will only interview former interns for paid roles once they’ve been nominated by current staff members as potential fits.

When all is said and done, Eric and I will spend far less time working alongside our next coach than our existing ones will, so we owe it to them to provide an ownership stake in the process.

If you skimmed this one…

I’ve got your three takeaways boiled down to some easily processed bullet points:

  1. No one wants to have a complex about not working as many hours as the boss.

  2. Employees crave structure.

  3. We all want to have some say in the people we’re forced to spend well over 1,000 hours of our year with.

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Make Your Complimentary Services Work for You

My landlord once walked into my office and offered to cut a door into the wall behind the pitching cage, allowing for throwing clients to access that portion of the gym easily without impacting the flow of foot traffic in the training space.

His idea made sense, and was certainly appreciated…but I politely declined.

A space often referred to as “the birdcage” here at CSP

A space often referred to as “the birdcage” here at CSP

While pitching clients are asked to enter our office space, say hello to our Office Manager, and proceed into and across the gym to begin their lessons, I would hardly qualify our set-up as a burden. If I were to further streamline this process by modifying their point of entry, I would be foregoing a huge opportunity to expose potential clients to our services.

Thanks to our existing layout and set-up, we have the chance to hit an athlete with a pleasant “hello” and a smile the moment they walk through the door. Next, we expose him to a quality training environment as he makes his way through the space.

If you’re a youth baseball player routinely walking through a gym full of other ballplayers, you’re eventually bound to ask yourself if you’re missing out on a competitive advantage by only worrying about pitching instruction. As the law of repeated exposures kicks in, most pitching clients eventually stop at the front desk on the way out the door to inquire about strength training.

How likely would they be to do so if they had a private entryway to slip in and out of?

If you own a gym that offers complimentary services such as manual therapy, nutritional guidance, on-site physical therapy, or even a juice bar, you’d be crazy not to physically position the services in a manner that requires at least a little interaction with your primary service offering.

Andrew Millett runs a great PT operation out of CSP Mass

Andrew Millett runs a great PT operation out of CSP Mass

Allow the independent contractor PT to practice in the heart of the training space. Position the massage therapy room in the back corner of the facility and require clients to observe the training action on their way there. At the very least, give people a reason to ask about the action they observe each and every time they arrive to pay for a complimentary service.

You could take the easy way out and cut that door into the wall, or you could take advantage of the free leads that are consistently walking through your door.

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