Back in 2012, I decided to go into business for myself. Training became my passion, and after coaching people for six years, I decided that it was time to open the doors to my very own facility.
For years, the thought of having the equipment I wanted and being able to train people the way I wanted had me fired up, so once I built up a decent following, I knew it was time to pull the trigger.
Keep in mind that I knew nothing about business, marketing strategies, sales, or anything of that nature. All I knew was that I loved to train people and help lead them to the results they wanted. And I thought that if I just did that, business would boom and everything would be all good.
Goddamn, was I wrong.
If you’re a trainer or coach, you might be considering opening up your own spot. Or maybe you already have. Either way, you’re going to want to keep reading because there are some things about building your fitness business that no one is going to tell you about.
In this article I want to share with you the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last seven years running my facility, Tutela Training Systems, here in Clark, New Jersey.
Lesson 1: Know your purpose
At this point, you may have heard some social media guru telling you to “know your purpose” before. I get that can be annoying because it’s hard to really know what your true purpose is. However, if you want to open and run your own business, you need to know why you’re doing it.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Because I wanna make bank, bro.” Well, then, that’s great. But if you don’t know what you’re doing this for outside of money, it’s going to be really hard to create a vision for your business that you can engrain in your team. Your purpose as an individual will help you clarify your purpose as a business, which will help influence every decision you make as time goes on.
To give you an example, my purpose is to educate, motivate, and inspire 1 million people worldwide to become the best version of themselves mentally and physically through in-person and online coaching, speaking, content videos, articles, and my podcast, The Iron Life Podcast.
Knowing my purpose gives me clarity on the direction I want my life (and business) to go.
Lesson 2: Learn to market and sell
As I mentioned earlier, I thought producing killer results was going to have people kicking down my door. And although that absolutely helps, and people love to refer their friends, it isn’t enough.
Before I knew how to market, I was completely dependent on other people to get new clients through my door. Some months, I had five new potential clients; some months, there were two; and some moths, there were zero. Eventually, that led me to being unable to pay the bills. I was down to six clients and had no idea how to get more people through the door.
It wasn’t until I learned how to market that we now have 20 to 25 new potential members walking through our doors every month. Here’s the formula to do that:
You have to market three ways every single month.
- Online Marketing: This is where a four- or six-week challenge comes into play. You can promote these using Facebook ads and bring new members in to train with you for a short period of time without having them make a long-term commitment right off the bat. This way they can try out your facility without any real financial obligation so they feel way more comfortable giving you a shot. It gives them enough time to see that you’re the real deal and you can give them a ton of value and a great experience over four or six weeks.
- Offline Marketing: Offline marketing is where you’re going to link up with local businesses that aren’t your competitors. Offer the owners or managers to train in the four or six-week challenge you’re running for free. In return, ask them to promote the challenge to their email lists and customers.
- Internal Marketing: People who are referred to you are always going to be more likely to train with you long-term because they already trust you. Create some type of referral competition where your members can compete for a prize. But don’t skimp out on the prize. Make it something that your members really want to compete for. People love competitions, but the prize has to be worth it. In the past, I’ve given away tablets, $250 gift cards, and things of that nature.
But now that you’ve gotten them into your facility, it can’t stop there! You have to learn how to sell. This is something that I really struggled with in the beginning, as most trainers do. That’s because we got into this business because we love training and helping people, so most of us are uncomfortable asking for money. But here’s what you have to understand:
- Without money, you won’t be able to run your business, which means you can’t help people, which means you’re doing a disservice to the people who need you.
- Without money, you can’t create employment opportunities for other coaches or trainers who also want to help people. Maybe then, they end up quitting as a trainer and doing something they hate, and now they’re unhappy. Again, you’re doing a disservice to people who need you.
- If you don’t know how to sell yourself and your service, your potential clients are going to get sold somewhere else. That trainer or gym may be less qualified than you, and the client you lost might get hurt doing something stupid. So if you can’t sell them, then you could be setting them up for disaster elsewhere.
- Money is the vehicle to freedom, as my friend and mentor Bedros Keuilian says. Without money, you can’t change lives, donate to charities, and make an impact in your community. You have to become comfortable with receiving money in exchange for your service.
- If you’re not selling your service, you probably don’t believe in it. If you can really produce real results, get people strong and healthy, and change their lives, then why would you be uncomfortable asking for money in exchange? Your service is valuable; it can impact the lives of many people, and those people are just going to spend that money on shit they don’t need anyway. Selling them on your service can potentially save their lives.
Hopefully, you’re cool with selling now, so be sure to learn how to do it.
Lesson 3: Create a culture that is second to none
Most people go to work at a job they hate every day. They’re stressed out and are looking for something positive. When they walk through your doors, they should feel completely at home.
Training with you and your team should be the best part of their day. Everything from the training to the coaching to the music to the jokes and laughter to the sweat and the comradery, the hour spent at your facility should be the best hour of their day.
Toxic conversations and people should not be permitted in your gym. Take control of that and be OK with letting a toxic person know that this isn’t the place for them to train. If you’re struggling for clients and don’t want to get rid of someone, it’s important to understand that removing them is only going to help your business grow and thrive in the long run. This especially holds true for your coaches and staff.
Outside of your gym, you should host events, parties, and connect with people. Your facility should truly be an extended family.
Writing thank you cards, sending gifts, get well soon cards, shout outs on social media, remembering your client’s children’s names, and asking how they’re doing should all be staples in your business.
All of this combined leads to an absolutely amazing culture and leads to an experience like no other.
Lesson 4: You can’t do it alone
In the beginning, I vacuumed the turf, cleaned the toilets, wrote the programs, trained the clients… I did it all.
That’s a recipe for disaster and led me down the road of failure.
If you want to succeed, you’re going to need a team around you. If you’re just starting out and your budget is tight, then you might have to do a lot of this stuff on your own at first, but start planning on outsourcing the stuff that you shouldn’t be doing, like cleaning toilets.
You can offer an internship to young coaches who’d be willing to help you in return for your knowledge and experience. You can go on Upwork and pay a small amount for an admin.
There are plenty of ways that you can delegate that are cost-effective, but it’s important to understand that you’re going to need to build a team around you — a team of like-minded people whose goals and vision are aligned with yours.
Lesson 5: Create systems for everything
As your business grows, you’re going to be on the floor less and doing the things that move the needle more, which is why you need to systematize the way you want EVERYTHING done:
- The ways new members are assessed.
- The way the gym is cleaned.
- The way sessions are run.
- How exercises are modified.
- How emails are sent and structured.
- How text messages are sent.
- Opening and closing procedures.
Everything from top to bottom needs a system.
This will take some time in the beginning but will ultimately save you years of frustration and overwhelm.
Create systems, document them, create a manual, and have your team learn them.
Lesson 6: Shift your focus from internal to external
Success is not linear. There will certainly be ups and downs. At times, you’ll feel on top of the world, and sometimes, you’ll feel like the world is falling on top of you.
You have to be a resilient motherfucker to be OK with this.
What can really help is shifting your focus. You might be feeling down because you’re worried about your bank account, your business, you, you, you. But if you shift your focus to serving and helping others, you can’t help but feel better.
That’s what you got into this business for anyway, right? To help and serve others. That’s what will help you get through the tough times. Reach out to your members and see how they’re doing. Send them a gift. Ask how you can help them. Get out of your own head and serve those who are in need of your help.
Muhammed Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
Remember that you’re doing this to serve other people, and this isn’t just about you. Serve them.
As you go, there’s going to be plenty of doubts. They may be your own or the doubts of others. People are going to criticize you and tell you that you’re crazy. They’re going to project their self-limiting beliefs on you and try to tell you what you need to do in your life and business.
You need to be aware of this and always remember why you started in the first place. It goes back to knowing your purpose and having a very clear and specific vision of where you want your business to go.
Also, remember that most people will doubt you because they couldn’t do it themselves.
If you ever think of throwing in the towel, I want you to consider that it’s said that the cemetery is the richest place in the world. It’s where so many people go and die with the riches of their dreams that never come to fruition.
I want this article to open your eyes and make you realize that your dreams are very much possible.
You’re going to take your bumps and bruises. You’re going to have your doubts, fears, and worries. But if you stay consistent and focus on what you CAN control rather than all the shit you can’t, then you will be just fine.
Stay the course, be resilient, and you will change lives for the better.
Thanks for reading.