At the 2017 TwoBrain Summit, one gym owner pulled me aside to ask one of the best questions I've heard all year:
"Why don't you talk about retirement planning more?"
I mentioned the section in my book (Two-Brain Business 2.0) on reaching "Perfect Day" and my view of retirement. I told him where to look for more guidance on our mentoring platform. But I knew he was right — we need to do more.
First, to answer his question: The reason we don't talk about retirement more is that, until now, no box owners were ever going to retire. Most were struggling to survive the year or month (even sometimes the week). No one was thinking about 2040. But as I looked around the room in Chicago, I realized my responsibility was now to carry the ball further downfield...because these folks are going to make it.
RECENT: The Goal Review Session
In Two-Brain 2.0, I suggested that "retirement" is possible at any age, and asked, "Why not retire NOW?" Many would say that I'm retired now — for fun I coach one class per week, I don't have to go to work unless I want to, and I make more than enough money.
But the traditional picture of retirement—sleeping in, yelling at the mailman, watching TV all day — doesn't fit me, either. I get up at 4 AM to write. I call two to four box owners every day. I talk to the TwoBrain mentoring team and our clients nonstop on Slack and Facebook. Sometimes I mow some grass. But I could stop any—or all—of these things at any point, and still be fine. I'm 41. Am I retired?
Retirement is now a sliding scale. Where our parents went from 100% work to 0% work, the new economy allows us to go from 80% to 20%. Or from 53% to 47%. Or anything we can create. Retirement used to be measured by "how long I'll live after I stop going to the factory." Now it's measured by return on time (ROT). When your ROT score is high (paid for 40 hours, but only perform 20 hours of work), you're retired.
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Here's how I work on my ROT score every day:
1. Cash Flow Assets
I build businesses that will run themselves. They don't require my constant time or attention but still pay me. I don't build businesses to sell. I invest in items, technology, and staff that best leverage my time, instead of chaining myself to the treadmill of "going bigger" (larger space, more clients, more debt, more time required for less return).
As an entrepreneur, I understand the most important metric for me to track is return on time: what activity will earn me the most for my time?
I buy buildings and keep them. I rent them for more than the mortgage payment. Some of my buildings net me over $4,000 per month. I started by purchasing a building and putting my gym in there. Rather than rent, the business paid off my mortgage. And now that the mortgage is gone, the business rents the building from me.
30 years of rent at $4,000 (triple net) is $1,440,000. If I bought the building to sell, I might net $150,000. That's a 10-times return for the buy-and-rent strategy. What do I do with the rent proceeds? Buy more buildings. And kayaks and stuff.
What's my return on time? Well, I mow the grass once per week. But I could pay a kid to do that if I didn't like it. So my ROT is great. The best book on this topic is still Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. But we'll have a podcast and several mentoring modules coming soon.
2. Fixed Assets
I don't buy buildings with the intent to sell them. But I could if I HAD to. Our business owns a cottage property. We invite coaches and clients to come visit, stay on the beach, shoot videos in the TwoBrain Workshop, drink coffee, and work out. I love the place. But I could sell it if we had to generate cash quickly.
3. Variable Assets
Just like buildings, I don't start companies with the intent to sell, either. But they're all built with salability in mind. The same processes that make it possible for me to walk away also make them valuable to someone else.
One of the largest heartbreaks I deal with every week: owners trying to sell a gym that's not worth any money. Five-year-old boxes with a valuation less than $50,000. Unreal expectations of value. When I realized that "sweat equity" was imaginary, I stopped martyring myself and started building businesses with value. Does that mean I want to sell? Hell no. But if I had to, I could do it — and I know exactly what they're worth.
4. IRAs/Mutual Funds/Bonds and 401ks
Early one morning around 2006, I was listening to a financial advisor on a radio call-in show. She said, "Investing in mutual funds is crazy if you're an entrepreneur because you're betting that other business owners are smarter and harder-working than you are."
That really sunk in. Though my business was really just starting to thrive after a year of mentorship, I knew no one was going to work harder for their business than I would for mine. Why would I let a mutual fund company use my money to invest in another business with a lower potential return than my own — and keep 3% to boot?
At the time, financial "advisors" (AKA "salesmen") were advertising peak growth of 12% on some stocks. Obviously, those results weren't typical—and in 2008 it ALL went away—but 12% growth became my personal year-over-year target for Catalyst. We've surpassed it every year.
While I do carry term life insurance and a small investment portfolio, it's only because I believe in redundancy and diversity. My investments trend toward bonds and index funds rather than "fast-growth" mutual funds. They're not the core of my strategy.
Every month, I'm approached to invest or "partner" in a new business. Most are great ideas, and I'm grateful for the opportunity. Most won't offer a high ROT for years, so I pass. But when a staff person has a great idea for a new business (or subset — read about intrapreneurship on our blog) I'm all in. My businesses are built to be platforms and umbrellas: to give a coach everything they need to succeed, and to shield them from financial risk.
In some cases, coaches have even become managing partners in their own business. That's another story.
A critical lesson here, though, is to be constantly asking, "What do YOU want NOW?" of your staff. Their needs change. They might overreach and wind up unhappy, or become unstimulated by their current role. Give them enough to challenge them, but not bury them. Give them a clear vision of their role and responsibilities, and test constantly.
I'm writing this from a picnic table at dawn. Next door, I can hear the 6 AM class warming up. I'll walk over at noon to work out with my buddies. In between, I'll assemble a bunch of standing desks for the bricks-and-mortar TwoBrain Workshop. After the group, I'll probably take a quick nap. Tonight I'll coach a bunch of nine-year-olds in lacrosse with a couple of other dads. Am I retired yet?
Chris Cooper is the author of Two-Brain Business, Two-Brain 2.0 and Help First. A former powerlifter, Cooper opened Catalyst Fitness in 2005 after a decade in the fitness industry. The gym almost bankrupted him. When he realized that being a good coach didn’t make him a good business owner, he found a mentor and began his REAL education. He now owns two gyms (and three other companies, as well as a few buildings) in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Since 2010, Cooper has published over 1000 free blog posts. His new site is twobrainbusiness.com, and his podcast is TwoBrainRadio.
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