Friday, July 13, 2012

Rubber Hitting the Road: When "Talking" About Opening Your Own Facility is Not Enough...

I have been in the fitness industry for close to 13 years. I have worked my way up the ranks since 1998 as a "fitness instructor" at my local YMCA--where my basic responsibility was supervising the fitness floor. Between providing the occasional "spot" and cleaning the dry sweat beads off the treadmills, I never pondered what my future would turn out to be as a business owner. Back then, I was new to the business and really looking froward to learning as much as I can from those around me and exploring what the gym setting was like.

When I graduated college, I got my first full-time job as a personal trainer. I worked for 2 years as a trainer where I learned how to acquire clients in a gym setting. I learned different systems of program design, nutrition, and client retention. Although at times, I was exhausted by the monthly quotas and sales pressure I learned alot about management. A few years later, I became a manager and fitness director. I had fun mentoring my staff and developing programs, managing a budget, and attending weekly meetings. Soon enough, I became exhausted of discussing the same things at these managerial meetings. Every week consisted of spit-balling about "numbers", "what member so-so didn't like about the music played", or "what type of protein shake should be offered at the shake bar". With the amount of time spent in these discussions, I really don't feel like we ever got anything accomplished. We just went in circles....

I got sick of talking about numbers and wondering what we can do to make "Mrs. Jones's 8 year old boy feel safer in the gym", or what how "long we should limit the employees tanning times to". That stuff was empty rhetoric to me. I wanted to talk "shop". I was a trainer at heart and it was time for me to remove myself from this self-created comfort level.

Why am I telling you my story? After 13 years of working for someone else and making other people money, I decided to venture on my own path and start my own business. Why is this story important for you? Because you take a guy like me who has been training for years and has managed other fitness professionals; has designed member retention programs; has hired and fired; and has managed budgets consisted of thousands of dollars...and I was SCARED to take the risk! I had all this applicable knowledge, but I was afraid!! 

It wasn't until about 2010 where I started really thinking about opening a small facility to train clients using my effective programming protocols. With some hesitation, I began planning. I moved forward with this risk. I designed a budget for myself and searched for used equipment. I searched for a low rent facility that was close to home and conjured up marketing plans. With many obstacles, delays, let-downs, and late nights, I finally opened up my own small facility. I made it sound easy, but it wasn't.  I have finally opened the perfect TOOLBOX for anyone wishing to become a more efficient human machine. I took a risk and invested money into something that I simply knew I will probably take a loss on for the first few months.
The Toolbox: IZZO STRENGTH & Performance
Lately,  there has been a popularization of "mastermind" workshops, meetings, seminars---whatever you want to call them--in the fitness industry. And these mastermind meetings aim at attracting young, novice trainers that have a desire to start their own business. The price tag to many of these meetings run in the $500-$1000 range. Most mastermind meetings are held in large metropolitan cities like Las Vegas or Los Angeles--so you tack on airfare and lodging and you've added an additional $700 to that price tag.

Opening up any business is a risk. However, when we are so hungry to wake up every morning as your own boss, it makes you want to run up to that starting line and run that race. But some of us, get to that starting line and we pause....
 We get scared. We get nervous. We get needy.  Once we get to the starting line, we realize that our drive, our dream, and our planning is full of unexplainable risks. You realize that you don't have a map to success. So, your emotions run wild and you feel let down. You want this so bad, but you just are not sure how to go about it. You need direction and you need to know what the light at the end of this tunnel (risk) means? 

Fitness business mastermind meetings aim at giving you direction. They outline some potential risks, some hard lessons learned, and inject energy into your dream. They get attendees fired up. They create a enthusiastic vibe. They provide basic tools and networking opportunities. It's a fun weekend filled with excitement and potential---but then you return home. And once you are home, you are expected to take what you learn and put it to use. But what happens with most attendees? They get back onto that starting line and they pause. Some take a few steps, some jog...but rarely do some actually sprint. Suddenly, you realize that the mastermind meetings are great for creating an emotional high, but then the reality of risk sets in again, and although you have some direction, your caught up with the possibility of failing or losing your investment. 

As Les Brown once said:
"Some people complain about their jobs every day. But they never do anything about it. They moan and groan, but they stay because subconsciously, they think simply complaining about it is doing something about it..."

These meetings are somewhat useful. A little overly-priced, but somewhat useful for emotional stimuli. Most of the information can be found on the Internet for free. But if you want to be around other people that are scared to take a risk but need an emotional shove--they are great for that. But I want you to understand, from someone that HAS NEVER gone to a mastermind meeting--that the unforeseeable risks will still exist regardless if you pay $1700 to attend a mastermind meeting out west. I'm going to tell you to take your $1700 and put it towards your dream...rather than talk about your dream! Here are some quick tips I learned when setting up my facility (mind you I did this alone):

1.) Prepare yourself for let downs and prepare yourself to be at the mercy [and time] of those that are willing to help you.

2.) Invest your money wisely. Don't purchase high-end equipment in the beginning. Buy used if you can and only acquire things that you know you will need to help your clients achieve their goals.

3.) Don't over-pay on rent. Interview your landlord. See what type of person they are and if they are fond of you chasing your dream in a struggling economy. Most property owners over-charge on rent. That is BS. Negotiate till you are blue in the face.

4.) Use craiglist. Bookmark craigslist and search everyday for property, rental space, equipment, and marketing opportunities.

5.) Expect to fail. It will drive you to succeed.

6.) Don't think big in the beginning...think launch first. Your first business doesn't have to be a great store-front. Your programming and results will speak for themselves.

7.) If you have a bad feeling about something, chances are your feelings are correct.

8.) Keep records of every expenditure you make. Don't lose receipts and learn how to use Microsoft Excel.

9.) If you can fix or build something yourself, do it. Grow some callouses and a pair and do it up yourself! It will actually teach you something about yourself.

10.) Look on the internet for business start up tips. Before you spend $1700 on airfare, hotel, and admission---think about where you can be really putting that money. I am all for learning. But honestly, there is alot of HYPE in HELP.


  1. FANTASTIC post John - you hit the nail on the head in so many regards, that I don't even know where to begin. I often chuckle at the number of people who walk through CP's doors, thinking that opening up a facility is a cake walk. Uh, not even close.

    Much of my main points are what you noted below.

    1. START SMALL!!!!!!

    2. And, maybe most important of all: if you can, hire a business guy. Makes all the difference in the world!!!

  2. Some great points John. There are too many internet gurus out there all touting their own "system" and mastermind groups.

    A few years ago I signed up for a one day mastermind group with 3 "so called" fitness marketing experts. I had a 4 page questionnaire to fill out before I went describing every aspect of my business. The group was meeting in Kentucky and I am in Western Canada so a fair jaunt for me to go, plus the $1000.00 cost.

    Well, it turned out to be a huge waste of time and money. None of them had even read my questionnaire - they had no idea what my business was about. One guy yawned through the day hardly speaking 3 words.

    And, I am no neophyte in this industry. I have run my own studio for 10 years, grossing close to $300,000.00 a year. These 3 guys were a joke. I was even supposed to get follow up emails and one coaching call. I never even bothered to book that after the waste of a whole day.

    Last year I attended one of Thomas Plummer's workshops (2 days). It was awesome. I learned so much. As well I booked 2 - 1 hour phone calls with Thom. I learned so much in just one hour with him. I have made some changes to my business that he suggested and I have increased revenues and made my life a whole lot simpler with some implementation of one simple system.

    In my books, be careful who calls themselves experts when it comes to marketing/business in this industry. Choose carefully and don't get pulled into the hype of these mastermind groups. For often than not, it is the leads of these groups raking in the dough and providing very little in return.

    Narina Prokosch

  3. Thanks for your comments everyone!

  4. Great post! Point #9 is the best. Unless you're the one doing the books, no one else is going to understand how hard it is to earn EVERY dollar.

  5. Good stuff John!!! -Bret Contreras

  6. Hey John, great advice.

    I started out on my own about two years ago and I remember contacting you a few times. I am now part of a company who coaches people in the fitness business and I have been more focused on growing (and I'm growing at the same time) since I joined them.

    You're right. There are a lot of risks involved but the pay off is much greater when you constantly do what's necessary (kinda like fat loss) and I could not imagine myself doing anything else.

    Anna D.

  7. Having just opened my own facility many of your points hit home.

    You really can save a lot of money by not only doing as much of the buildout on your own as possible, buying off Craigslist etc... but get Thom Plummer's books, or go to his talks and implement what he advocates.

  8. Totally agree. No one has a a clue how hard it is until they've done it on their own for more than a couple months. Being a solo-venturist you carry the title of Fitness Professional, Phone Administrator, Email Administrator, Blog Writer, Newsletter Publisher, Book Keeper, Scheduler, sometimes Accountant, Equipment Maintenance, Janitor/Cleaner, Forms Logger (health evals), Studio Shopper, Forms Preparer, Marketer, Website
    Developer, Website Maintenance Personnel, Studio Manager, Music Coordinator (iPod playlists, people's preferences), Event Attender (youth athlete games, client events), this list could go on and on.

    I chuckle when newbie trainers come to the studio wishing to be a trainer and open their own studio soon. One of the last newbie's asked when he could leave his 40 hour a week desk job to just be a trainer 25 hours a week and have freedom. I laughed... I told him I'd been working 80+ hours a week since I first getting into this stuff when I was 14... 18 years ago. It never ends LOL

    Good stuff John

    Proud of you bro

  9. Great article John. My lease is up in one year, and I am looking at expanding. You've seen the before and after pics of my current place. It's a big job and you need to be driven by the passion to make things happen!

  10. Hi John- I have been in business for over 20 years. THE most important thing is and will always be systems. Take the time to document anything and everything that you do so you will have a foundation to build upon. The techician in us all as trainers is not going to make for the best business owner. We must learn to step out of our businesses (and heads for that matter) and really view our business for what it is- a seperate entity that produces a certain commodity for a certain market of people. Sounds really unsexy, but it is the reality of becoming a business owner.

    Great post

  11. after 22yrs, Ive learned a thing or 2 about the biz!! consistency, dedication and motivation everyday are several BIG ones...... bring your best everyday and you cant help but be successful.


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