Needless to say, it’s a lot more difficult than that whole “Field of Dreams” mantra:
“Build it and they will come.”
That makes for awesome cinema, but if you try to pull that in the business world, it’s only a matter of time until you’re in the red and out of business.
And the scary thing is here, you can be good – damn good – and still not survive.
So what do you do?
Here are a handful of things I’ve learned the hard way, through almost 10 years of work here at RTS and another 5.5 at IFAST.
I sincerely hope they’ll help you be more successful in running your fitness business.
1. Find smart mentors (and learn from them).
One reason I feel I’ve been successful in both the training and business world is because I’ve had great mentors along the way.
In the training world, there’s nothing better than coming in to work and hanging out with Bill Hartman. He’s pushed me every day since I met him to get better and improve my craft.
The business world is no different. Alwyn Cosgrove was the first person to get in my ear about opening a training facility, and more importantly, how to do it the right way.
(BTW – if you’re interested in learning from Alwyn directly, please check out his Results Fitness University online mentorship program.)
I spent several thousand dollars to attend his “Counting Reps to Counting Revenue” course, and it had a profound impact on how we ran IFAST.
From there, I crossed paths with Nick Berry and Pat Rigsby from the Fitness Consulting Group, and I’ve often leaned on them when I’ve had questions or concerns.
Quite simply, this is NOT an area you can skimp on.
Continuing education in the training world may take you to the next level, but continuing education and mentoring in the business realm keeps you in business.
2. Referrals are THE KEY to organic growth in your business.
From 2005-2008, I was an in-home (or on-location) personal trainer and strength coach.
The people I trained were of incredibly high net worth – and that’s not an exaggeration. We’re talking families that were worth upwards of nine figures, and spent thousands of dollars every month on personal training alone.
The unique thing about this demographic is they aren’t easy to market to.
Most of these people were quite savvy when it came to spending their money, so a simple e-mail blast or postcard mailing wasn’t going to get them to start training with you.
Instead, if and when it came time to grow the business, we did this really archaic, old-school thing to get new clients:
We asked for referrals.
My employer at the time, Mike, used to call this “shaking the trees.” I didn’t totally get it at the time, but now as a business owner myself, it makes perfect sense.
There is no better way to get new clients than to ask your current clients for a referral. And I do it all the time with my elite athletes, because they all talk to each other and want to know what their peers are doing.
Quite simply when the lead funnel at IFAST slows down a bit, the first thing we go back to is referrals.
3. Two Ways to Market to Potential Prospects.
As much as I enjoy reading about training and the human body, as a business owner I have to balance that now with reading about marketing and business.
A few months back, I read a really interesting article about the two ways you can choose to market to prospective clients:
The first is marketing via money. This is what the major corporations like Nike or Budweiser would do.
This is all about branding, or comedy, or just looking cool.
“Hey look at me, I’ve got the newest Jordan’s. I’m awesome.” (And no, I’m not bagging on Nike – just using it as an example).
But what do you do if you’re a small business?
Or don’t have the budget of a major corporation?
You’ll have to fall into the second camp, which is to market via time.
This can be incredibly open-ended. You could volunteer your time and services to make connections in the community.
Or you could lecture to groups in your area to promote fitness and health (as well as your business).
Or you can do what I do via this and the IFAST blog – which is market via education. Whether it’s writing, creating educational videos, speaking, etc., I use education as the platform for my marketing.
I don’t have a multi-million dollar budget to pay an ad agency to show off how cool my training is.
Instead, I’d much rather educate my readers as to why my way of doing this is different or superior.
The other cool thing about marketing via time is that it’s easier to create a connection, and it also builds reciprocity.
When I give away content for free for weeks, months, or years on end, naturally people want to do something nice for me.
But the key here is not to expect anything in return – and I don’t.
I always create content with the goal of educating people first and foremost. From there, if I have a continuing education product or service that can benefit them, that’s great.
So remember, even if you’re a start-up with little to no marketing budget, there are tons of ways you can market your business on the cheap.
But it is going to take time.
4. What the Heck is TOMA?
Another concept that I picked up from Alwyn Cosgrove back in the day is TOMA, or Top of Mind Awareness.
Let’s say you have a client who hasn’t been in in a month. What are you doing to reach out to them?
To show them that you care? Or are concerned?
Or that you want them to come in and get focused on fitness again?
This is where TOMA comes in to play. You constantly need to stay in front of your prospects, but even more importantly, your current members.
Whether it’s a weekly newsletter, a blog, or a simple phone call to catch up, TOMA can help you stay in the forefront of the thoughts of your prospects and members.
5. Surround Yourself with Great People (But Not Necessarily Clones)
The final point I want to impress upon you is that if you want to grow a successful business, you must surround yourself with great people.
When someone asks me what I look for in a potential new intern, or new employee, I tell them I’m looking for two things:
- Personality, and
Let me explain both.
If you’re in a service business, you’re in the people business. And to be successful working with people, you need a personality.
That doesn’t mean you have to be flamboyant or over the top, but you need to be able to connect with people. To create bonds.
You need to figure out what makes them tick, so that you can constantly tweak and motivate them.
If you can’t create connections with people, if you can’t develop rapport, I don’t care how good you are at the X’s and O’s of training.
You will not be all that successful as a coach or trainer.
On the other hand, you simply cannot instill curiosity in someone.
The best coaches and trainers I’ve mentored have always had a burning desire to learn.
They’re always asking questions. And even when they think they’ve found the answers, those answers leads to more questions.
A burning thirst or desire for knowledge is a must have, in my opinion.
So if you find a prospect with great people skills and curiosity, that’s someone who has the tools for me to teach them.
But here’s something else that’s important – I said you need to surround yourself with great people.
But I didn’t say you want to hire clones!
Consider what Pete Dupuis and Eric Cressey have built at Cressey Performance. Eric is the training guy, and Pete is the business guy.
Each are equally brilliant at what they do, but they are not clones. They each have their own role or skill set.
Contrast that with what Bill and I have created here at IFAST. When it was solely training, it was challenging because Bill and I are both technicians.
Even though he was a PT and I was a strength/performance coach, our skill sets are far too similar. Had we brought in a business mind early on, we may have been even more successful.
So the goal is to surround yourself with great people, all of whom have their own unique skill sets and personalities.
If you can do this, you have the potential to be a dynamic and incredibly successful business for years to come.
So there you have it – five simple tips and tricks to help build your fitness business.
This is far from an expansive list, but hopefully it will either give you some new ideas, or help reiterate some points you’ve forgotten long ago.
And if you’re serious about growing your fitness business, I can’t recommend Alwyn Cosgrove’s new Results Fitness University online mentorship program.
As I mentioned above, Alwyn was fundamental to me not only starting IFAST, but making sure I did it the right way as well.
If you won a fitness business, or want to open one in the future, definitely check it out ASAP.
All the best