7 Lessons from 7 years in business

Today marks 7 years of business for Force Fitness and Performance. We opened our doors in 2008, and over the past 7 years I have learned so many things about running a gym and sports performance program.

The following is a list of the 7 things that have shaped the business that I run today. These 7 lessons have allowed me to recently open a new 10,000 square-foot building, and assemble a great team of coaches and managers around me.

1) Relationships are everything

The relationships you create in your business are the most important thing to the long-term health of that business. If you’re working with child athletes, then the relationships you create with parents and coaches are hugely important. Creating trust and caring with those people is going to make your business strong for the long term. Even more so, the relationships you create with your athletes and clients means having a fun time, with great conversation every single day.

One lesson that we teach in the gym to create strong relationships with clients is Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams (F.O.R.D.). Popularized by John DiJulius III, learning this lesson will revolutionize how you connect with your clients.

2) Principles trump methods

When my gym first opened, my business partner and I were combing through the Perform Better catalog like children planning the biggest Christmas ever. We ordered everything we thought a great gym should have, including a couple of BOSU balls. In the seven years since, the BOSU balls have been used only a handful of times. When we opened, unstable surface training was all the rage—since then, research has shown it not as effective as originally thought.

In seven years, many new pieces of equipment have come out. There have been just as many that have disappeared from the consciousness of individuals and mainstream training.

If I had trumpeted my gym as a place to get the best training, including training with a BOSU ball, when we first opened, today I would be in big trouble, as a BOSU ball, other equipment, and training methods are just methods and tools—these can change over time. Instead, we talked about making athletes faster, stronger, and more resilient through our programming and coaching (those are our principles). The methods of training come and go, the principles should stay relatively the same.

3) Bigger is not always better

This may sound contradictory coming from a guy that opened this article talking about his new 10,000 square-foot gym, but please hear me out.

When starting out and opening a gym, bigger is definitely not better. Every piece of equipment and every square foot means that more revenue must be made in order to take steps toward long-term success. My advice to you is to open your gym with half of the equipment you think you need, and with three-quarters of the square footage you believe you need.

The second part of bigger is not always better comes when your business is growing. At a certain point, you must decide whether your gym and your dream business is one that must have 300+ clients to be profitable, or if your dream scenario is a gym that needs 50+ clients to be profitable. Neither is inherently better than the other, but each comes with certain extra stress points. One means being responsible for a team of coaches and their mental, emotional, and financial well-being, while the other might require more hands on work from you.

4) Training “Elite Athletes” is not a business model

Full of young gusto, I was certain that my business would train “elite athletes.” If I opened the gym and trained people the right way, then of course the best athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB would show up.

Unfortunately, everyone else, including you, thought the same thing. There are only so many athletes of that level going around, and not many of them live in my local town. A more sustainable business model is working with young athletes and adults that need me. I’m not working with elite athletes every day, but I do have some elite clients that I love training.

5) Grow with the right people in the right seats

Once your business begins to grow, you will come to the point that you can no longer train every client that comes in your door. Doing so would stretch your time too thin and eliminate any hope for a family life. When that happens, you will begin growing your team.

The book Good To Great shares that great companies have the “right people in the right seats.” It isn’t enough to have the right people on your team; they need to be doing the right things as well.

We have great coaches, but at times we put them in the wrong setting, such as placing them in group training when they should have been doing PT, or with adults when they should have been with athletes. They are still great coaches, but they were in the wrong seats. This is especially important when it comes to your administrative or office staff. Don’t get someone who is great with people and then make them do a job that keeps them in the office all day with no interactions with others. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes work has to get done that someone might not enjoy, but their job must feature the elements that make them tick.

6) Focus on the internal before the external

I made a very conscious and deliberate decision that I wouldn’t become an Internet trainer; that is, I chose to focus on the coaching happening inside my building first and foremost. Then as the opportunities arose, I could talk about what we are doing and teach other coaches.

To focus on writing and become a theoretical coach is to neglect the clients that you have.

7) You are a business person now

Remember, when you start a business you are no longer a trainer alone. Surround yourself with people that know business and are more successful than you. Learn to be a leader of your team and learn to understand the accounting as well as financial aspects of your business.

I have seen more businesses fail, and the toughest times in my business have come when one tries to reject the duality of being a business owner and coach.

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