What 6 years of SDSC has taught me
Every year LinkedIn reminds me that it is my work ‘anniversary’, probably the only use I have for that site is to mark this little milestone each year.
When I stop for 5 minutes and think about it, I have probably gotten to 6 years in spite of myself. There are a lot of things I would have done differently or better, but that can be said of anything. I tend to talk myself down at every opportunity and it is something that I am trying to do less of these days – I guess 6 years in business is an achievement.
I will write a little bit about what I have learned from running a gym in that time. Hopefully it will be of some use to folks that are just entering this insane industry and for others it may give a glimpse into the madness that goes on in my head.
Family first (but it doesn’t always happen)
At times in my pursuit to help people I have failed to prioritise correctly. I get paid to help people and in striving to be the best I can possibly be, many times in the past 6 years I have put clients and members ahead of family, partners and friends and in a lot of cases this was the wrong thing to do.
Every time a member leaves at the drop of a hat or suddenly and after I have invested a lot of time in trying to help them – with no contact, I feel burnt and even this spills into my personal life. I have missed birthdays, weddings due to work and I am sure this is not necessarily a good thing. At the end of the day though I am like everyone else fumbling through life and as I get older I realise putting unrealistic expectations on myself and trying to excel at everything will leave me feeling burnt out and not really excelling at anything.
I think for aspiring coaches it is important to make sure you are making time for friends and family and most importantly yourself.
This brings me back to 2012 when I had Matt Wichlinski over for a seminar. I had been looking forward to this for months, then during that week my Grandad’s health deteriorated dramatically and and he passed away while Matt was here. His funeral was the day of the seminar. I felt I had to do my best to be in both places at once – I probably ended up in neither emotionally. This is the type of messed up scenario that can occur then you are self employed and you try and keep to your word but probably end up offending everyone in the process.
Progress is never linear
I always try teach members not to think in black and white or absolutes when it comes to their own health and I should be thinking along the same lines when it comes to running a business. There are plenty of more things that could be done, but it comes down to working on what is important and trying not to get hung up on the small details and realise that some days or weeks will see you go backwards but the aim is to make forward steps long term.
There is no such thing as a ‘lifer’
Initially your gym will be built around a small core group and you will be particularly grateful for this group and have visions of these people staying with you forever. They wont. But that is life. Every member will move on for one reason or another, and more will come in and you will develop strong relations with the new group and so on. In as much the same way as my gym or myself are not indispensable, each member isn’t either and in order to run a healthy gym long term, you need to realise this. One person is not bigger than the vision.
Almost all of you are not entrepreneurs
It seems as though all gym owners want to be entrepreneurs. Tim Ferris is lying to you. You are not an entrepreneur. To be good at your craft takes time. A lot of time. Time in the trenches is not a prerequisite but it is a pretty solid requirement. I remember hearing Joe Defranco chide the idea of a 4-hour work week, saying instead that if you want to be the best at what you do, it will be nearer 100 hours.
I have alway strived to do things the ‘right’ way or at least the honest way. I have come from a background of no genetic talents other than trying to find the most difficult way to do something (which has always seen me chose the most difficult sports) and my way takes time. Much like fitness results, I believe it is rare that business results happen over night either – and if they do, the majority of the time they are not sustainable.
The next big thing…
Many times friends, family and acquaintances have suggested numerous ideas and ways to take the gym to the next level. Sales people have gotten in touch to try and sell me the latest bit of fad equipment and most of the time I have had people pulling their hair out with my lack of motivation / drive / desire to try out these methods and ideas. They just don’t sit right with me.
I have outlasted those vibroplate classes and studios, trampoline classes, those stupid shoes that help you lose weight and tone your glutes (seriously, they were a thing), those magnetic wristbands that ward off injuries and lately I don’t hear folks talking much about TRX. Just remember this when you come to me extolling the virtues of some sort of animal impression class and recommending I take it on board. When you hear me say ‘I must look in to that’, it means ‘not a fucking chance’. In fact, don’t come at me with this bullshit at all, thanks.
Learn to let go
I like to be introspective and delve deep into my subconscious and try to make order of things but, as I have been advised to again recently, it is best to learn and ultimately to let go. When you are self employed, you have to relinquish a lot of control and succumb to the powers that be. You can increase the odds in your favour by turning up every day, but there will be days / weeks where you will only have enough energy to go through the motions – and that is ok too. I am still terrible at this though…
You can’t rebrand a poor service and expect it to work
No amount of rebranding will bring success (unless you possibly affiliate and put Crossfit in your gym title). You can change the name of your gym but if you are not bringing a good service to the table forget it.
I actually don’t particularly like the name of my gym – not a lot of thought went into setting it up (never had a business plan or loan) and I hate the url but a combination of being around for a while, word of mouth and the fact ‘strength and conditioning’ has become a flippant gym term, the choice of name now looks like a cynical attempt to get to the top of google – I got lucky I guess.
If you run a Strength & Conditioning gym, Strength is spelt Strength. Not Strenght
When bringing in help, outline expectations from the start
If you are bringing people on board to help out, make sure to underline your expectations of what you want them to do from the start. I am terrible at this and it has caused problems over the years. I won’t go into the nitty gritty but even put something in paper and be as transparent as possible from the start.
I have been ambiguous in the past about outlining what I want done for fear of coming across bossy but ultimately I am the one that has financially and emotionally put everything into this gym. It is mine and should be run the way I want it run. Same for anyone else that has take the leap and set up their own facility.
Respect the industry, YOUR industry
Just be professional. No dick picks to members. I have heard of this happen in a few gyms. It absolutely blows my mind that this shit goes on but seemingly it does.
Protect your energy
Your energy is important. I am writing some of this post on a Sunday morning at 2am, so I have to really take this on board but if you burn yourself out, everything will suffer. Running a gym and coaching is a profession where you need to give a lot of yourself to others. If you are run down or exhausted you can’t do this and will undoubtedly become resentful towards the people you are trying to help.
Also, if you are burnt out, your members will sense it, no matter how good of an actor you are. When I look back at slumps in the gym, it has been at times I have been exhausted, injured or had problems going on in my own life – everything ties into each other and doesn’t occur in a vacuum. This really needs to be understood for longevity.
Charge what you are worth (for the love of Christ) and if you’re not worth much, get better
Some other big advice is don’t under charge and please don’t fucking do shit for free. It lowers everyones expectations for the industry and drains any perception of professionalism also. If you feel embarrassed about charging a proper price for an important service, you need to ask why you feel this way and work on upskilling and delivering a better service to your clients – one that demands respect and being paid.
Parking seems to be a make or break deal for a lot of people. This is mind boggling to me. Many times I have paid for parking to train somewhere.
People are far less likely to travel to train. I have had emails from people saying that they were unable to continue training in the gym as they had to travel 30 minutes to and from the gym.Whereas I have had other members travel from a different county to train. Over the years myself, I have had at least an hour commute each way to get to training. Maybe that was down to their being less gyms around back then…
People will open up on your door step. It is no massive deal. To my younger self this was a huge insult and one that at one stage reduced me to confronting someone in the middle of the street over it (incidents like this are why I am beyond being allowed to work in the real world). Nowadays I will just get on with my own business and make sure to stay ahead of the pack in my immediate area until they move on.
When members leave it hurts
The extremely seldom time I have been relieved but more often than not I am disappointed. Primarily down to the fact I feel as though my service was not valuable enough – I will be told all sorts of things like money is tight etc but ultimately it is down to perception and that person not seeing or thinking their is enough value to what we provide here. They can tell me otherwise but I know what is going on. Again, I will generally look at myself first and how I could have done better but as time passes I also realise that not everyone is at the right place to want to be helped or put the effort in (at that time).
I haven’t quite got the balance yet. For a time I became known as the ranting guy – I was even accused of being The Gym Whisperer a couple of times (I’m hardly organised enough to reply to my own emails never mind scour Instagram looking at other peoples stuff) but I got to a point where I realised in order to appeal to as many people as possible I had to be more pc and inclusive in my approach. Then after a while I felt myself surrounded by mundanity on a lot of levels, so I was urged to rant again and when I did it would be met with great acclaim but then I would feel as though I should reign things back in again.
I know there is an approach to nail your colours to the mast and build a group of fervent fans but I am not sure this approach is for me either. I’m not actually sure what the best approach is – just try not to be a dick and be honest. I am sure some will accuse me of being a dick at times BUT I have always been honest…
It is my observation and it is quite solid but if people enquire about the gym through the medium of text speak, they will normally waste your time or not pay you. This is an astonishingly accurate claim, just w8 and c.
If you are going to do certifications, just do what you are interested in, not what you think will generate the most money. Truthfully, almost all of the certs that I have done have not been game changers in the slightest on their own. It has been a culmination of knowledge and experience gained over 15 years in the industry and counting.
Choose equipment carefully
I still haven’t found much use for the Reverse Hyper.
This will disappear at a frightening rate and people will revert to cave-person toilet hygiene when in a gym. A cleaner is probably a solid investment but one I haven’t gotten around to yet. Maybe for the ten year review I will have some answers for this.
Most of the time, the job satisfaction I get from all of this is huge. Through much soul searching and analysis I am of a nurturing disposition and I do like to help people, currently this is through the medium of health and fitness, as I have gained a lot of self confidence in the same manner over the course of my life but maybe down the road it will be through something less physical and more mental, certainly something that requires less demands on my own body.
Always have a book on hand
Clients will cancel, and they will do it last minute. So I make sure to have a book with me so I can study / unwind but invariably things will fall through and it is always a good idea to have a laptop or something on hand to be able to do some work and not miss an hour of your day.
The following book is one that I have read a few times and definitely helps ‘re-centre’ me when I lose my way a little and forget the main reason I am doing what I do, or just need a gentle reminder to focus on the important.
Know when to turn the other cheek
Not all fights are worth pursuing, even though you may feel you are right and are being aggrieved. As paranoid as it may sound (and without being self-fulfilling), I have seen things happen and play out that I knew were going to happen and in order not to lose face or seem paranoid (!) I have had to keep quite and let it play out. I am still not good at doing this but as I age I am getting better and better at managing things as they unfold (albeit not trying to control everything!)
Don’t do it. Seriously, you’re a coach, not a baby sitter. Take pride in what you are doing – practice, get better.
Business network seminars were all the rage for a time. Much like Tim Ferris, Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin, there are a network of guys preying on the uncertainty and inexperience of just about every gym owner starting out in the game. Its a fucked up cycle, much as some gym owners are preying on their clients insecurities, these guys are praying on gym owners insecurities.
One of the best bits of advice I ever got was from Zach Even-Esh was ‘Just Care’. It really is that fucking simple. Care, and you will be motivated to do a good job and help clients from a non-judgemental point of view and that is all they want. You are not an ‘Entrepreneur’, you’re a fucking coach. Emphasis on coach, not fucking as I have underlined the importance of no dick picks and not mixing business and pleasure and if you do, you better marry the person.
A gym for everyone
All demographics are welcome in the gym and I love that I have built an environment where that is truly the case. It is something that takes time but it is hugely important to police the community in the gym as the danger of group classes is that one personality can upset a whole room.
When starting out, it can be extremely tough to turn anybody away but long term this would be by far the best decision for the growth of the gym.
Those little reminders
Just when I think I am going to pack it all in I get a message like the following and it encourages me to stay the course.
Your website doesn’t need to be a portfolio of topless photos
I was quietly proud when someone asked me where I worked and then said ‘Oh you own that gym?’ – what I do is about my members not me. And there are a tonne of better looking, more ripped personal trainers than me in this town alone (no, seriously) so it is a good thing it isn’t a looks competition. At the end of the day it is about your members and what you can do for them, revert back to this and you can’t go far wrong.
Know your strengths
I am not a morning person. That was essentially the sole plan behind this business – own it so that I wouldn’t have to get up at 5am to work for someone else.
This is by no means and extensive list – there are a lot more subtle lessons I am sure I have learnt over the past 6 years. And some not so subtle lessons. But like everything in life without messing up or any regrets, you won’t get the chance to learn from them and improve. And that is something that I try to do constantly, I feel it is a waste of time and opportunity to just stay in the same spot.
There have been times when I have gotten things wrong and I am sorry for that but looking back I can truthfully say I have gotten things right more often than not.
I am constantly battling my own high expectations and frustrations when I feel that I am not where I want to be with the gym but I know looking back and seeing the progress made from myself and members that things are going on the right track.
Being self employed brings about a type of mania that is hard to describe unless you are in the game and it comes with plenty of challenges but also plenty of opportunities to grow and ultimately a lot of your fate is in your own hands and this is a good trade off for the daily uncertainty.
I would love to see this industry prosper on a foundation of professionalism and integrity but it has a long way to go yet, but we can start with our own house. Which brings me to the famous quote – ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’