Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Owning A Gym: Things You Should Know

Within 20-miles of my gym, there are 4 Colleges with exercise science programs.  Every semester we go to 3-4 of these schools and talk to students about the S&C profession.  Add in every 4-months we bring in a batch of new interns, and this all equals to us working and talking with a ton of ambitious college kids looking to get into the field of S&C.

One of the first questions I always ask when talking with the young professionals is what is your dream job?

A common response is to own my own gym.

When I hear this I can't help but think - NO…NO You Don't!

Last week marked our 2-year anniversary in our current facility and closing in on 3-years total in business.

It's been a hell of a ride, and owning your own facility definitely has it's perks, but let this be clear - IT'S NOT FOR EVERYONE.  Being even more honest - It's not of most.

I think people want to own their own gym because it sounds cool and or because they love to train.

These are both poor reasons and probably a reason most of the gyms fail within the first 2-3 years. People make emotional and irrational decisions to open a gym rather than educated and dedicated ones. Let this be clear, if you want to own a gym, your own personal fitness will DECREASE! Your training will suffer, so please PLEASE don't try to open a gym because it will allow you to have your own personal space to train.

Owning a gym, to put it simply, is a pain in the ass!  There are so many hidden or small things that go into a business that you'll never be prepared for.  All of these things add up, and if you're in it for the wrong reasons, it will eat you up.

If you're not in it for the love of coaching, a passion for the intricacies of S&C, and because you truly/deeply care about the athletes - then you're in it for the wrong reasons.  If you think you're going to get rich or because you get your own personal training space or because you get to be your own boss - you're in for a rude awakening.

After sitting down and thinking back on these past years, here are some things that came to mind - in no specific order.


If you're en employee or work in the public sector (HS/College/Pro), if something breaks, no big deal, they'll order another one.  Well when you own your own gym and something breaks, guess who pays for it - that's right, YOU do.

Sometimes at the end of the month it comes down to paying yourself or buying a piece of equipment.  Which do you choose?

While you've probably gone most of your life enjoying the benefits of having a HS or college gym to train in - Did you know a quality bar and set of bumper plates can be a thousand dollars!  Yup, a bar and 230lbs of weight, which is enough for just 1-ATHLETE can cost about 3/4 of my monthly rent.

Let's look at some other "small" expenses
  • You want 1000sq/ft of rubber matting? There goes roughly 2-4k
  • You want 3 quality squat racks?  Chalk up another 3-5k
  • Dumbbells from 0-100lbs?  Dig deep for 2-3k
  • Liability Insurance?  An annual rate of 1-2k a year
  • Credit Cards? Most credit card outlets take a 1-3% cut.  If you take in 50k in credit card charges a year, that's $500-1500 LOST just by accepting credit cards.
  • Typical steel plates cost about $1/lb
  • How about a nice sign outside the gym? - Don't worry it's only about 1-3k and as I suggest to many - IT'S WORTHLESS!
This doesn't even include what rent, utilities, and internet costs.  So when you bitch about a gym not having some sort of equipment - just know the owner has sacrificed beyond belief to just keep the lights on and them taking $500 out of their own pocket wasn't worth your much needed piece of equipment. 

Oh and on that note - don't expect to make money the 1st month, or 1st 3-months, or even 1st year.  Everyone thinks you'll open your doors and people will come poring in… sorry it doesn't happen like that.  You'll have to hustle for every client, every dime, and use every waking hour to improve some aspect of your business in order to survive.  Which leads to #2

2. How Much Do You Value Your Social Life?

When your the sole proprioter, you are the business and every waking second is spent working or thinking about your business.  Here is a small list of things I had to give up or at least heavily reduce when I opened my gym
  • Going out on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights - I either have work early the next morning or I'm just too tired to go out.  I know people who could NEVER sacrifice a Saturday night for doing 2-hours worth of programs instead of downing beers downtown. 
  • Football on Sundays … Nope work from 1-6pm.  And this isn't just NFL, but any sporting event.  I'm usually working during these hours while most others are at home enjoying the game
  • Buddies going golfing or hanging out on a random afternoon or night - My busy hours are from 2-9pm - so while others are getting off work and getting to do things, I'm in the midst of my busy time.
  • Saturday Morning Farmer's Market - One of the things I miss most is getting to go to the farmer's market on Saturday mornings.  It's just one of the many small things I miss out on due to owning this business. 

3. You'll Meet A Ton Of Great People

Over the past 3-years I've been fortunate to meet a ton of great people, athletes, and families who have bought into what we do.  I've met people with amazing stories, personalities, and have had a ton of fun getting to know people of various ages and backgrounds.  

That's the beauty of this job.  I love my athletes and it's a joy seeing them get better each and everyday and seeing them grow and develop.  They drive me nuts from time to time, but at the end of the day it's the people that make this job great!

4. Advice

People love to give you advice, especially when you're a young business owner.
"You should try this, you should buy that, have you thought about doing this, you would could do a lot of things if you did this" 

While these are all well intentioned, it seems everybody has a better feel for what your business needs than you do.  And this is without spending more than 10-minutes in your facility!  

Don't get me wrong, sometimes there is a decent idea in there, but 99% of the suggestions you've already thought of, planned logistics, looked at your books/financials, and decided it wasn't a good business move.  Learn to take these in stride and be respectful and thankful for their advice.  

5. You'll Be Sleep Deprived & No Body Cares

For the past 3-years, my alarm is set at 4:45am every weekday morning, and I usually don't get home until 8:30-9pm every night - and guess what - NO BODY CARES!

One thing I tell my interns at the start of every internship is once you walk through our doors, you drop all your other baggage and don't let it carry over to the gym floor.

No one cares if you're only getting 5-hours of sleep.  No one cares you work 7-days a week.  No one cares if you're having relationship problems, illness in your family, social stresses, or anything else - when it's time to coach - you need to be on.

We're in the service industry - we provide a service to our athletes and everybody wants special service.  Parents or athletes don't care you've already coached 8-sessions today or that you train 100+ other athletes - the only thing that matters is them.

They want special attention for their kid, extra work on nutrition, focused attention to develop mental toughness, help them with getting their school grades up, talk to them about weight management, address behavioral problems, etc.

Don't get me wrong, I am humbled that many ask these things from me and think highly enough of me to ask help in these things, but no one cares you get hundreds of other requests as well, they just need it to get done.  As a S&C coach you're not just a coach, but also a nutritionist, psychologist, counselor, therapist, tutor, mentor, etc.  I use all these terms loosely, but it's true.

I remember early on in this business, I missed a morning training session to host a camp.  I had an assistant run my morning sessions, and I got a call from a parent asking why I wasn't there.  Here I was out trying to expand and extend my business and I miss one morning and I get called asking where I'm at and why I'm not there.  If you're the business, expect people to want YOU.

6. You're Not Just The Owner

It's awesome to say I own a business and hopefully down the road that will bring some added perks and freedoms.  But as a young business owner - that's only a TINY fraction of my job.

Here's a list of other jobs that fall on my shoulders
  • Someone decides to hold in a huge dump all day just to unload it in your toilet - Guess who gets to unclog and clean the toilet - That's right, the owner!
  • Secretary - Answer and return anywhere from 5-10 emails/calls a day (This can take HOURS)
  • Keep spreadsheets of incomes vs expenses
  • Track receipts - I mean every receipt of everything you buy
  • Log miles on your car -  Every mile you drive for business needs to be tracked - yes every mile! 
  • Daily vacuuming, cleaning, maintenance - Approx. 30-60minutes a day
  • Living in the Midwest means winter, which means shoveling and salting at 4:30am before morning sessions.
  • Individual programming for hundreds of athletes - Each night I have around 2-10 programs to make.  Each program probably takes around 15-minutes - you do the math. 
  • Marketing, Advertising, Managing Social Media, Newsletter 
Also when you are the owner in a service business - you ARE the business.  No matter the issue, problem, or assignment - it's your job to address it.

When you own your own business, you don't have PTO, or built in vacation, or sick days, or weekends.   You don't get a 401K or IRA's or health insurance or any other built-in programs that you normally get as an employee.  It's been almost 3-years owing this business and I haven't missed more than 3-days in a row of work.  I haven't taken a sick day or personal day.  If I've missed a day at the gym, it's been to travel to a conference, speak at a conference, or attend a family function.  It truly is a 7day/week job that never quits.  Get used to being tired, sleep deprived, and worn down - or don't get into this.

7. Be Yourself and Stick To Your Principles

As a young coach, I wanted to be like some of the big names/coaches in the industry.  I tried hard to emulate them, program like them, talk like them, etc.  But I've now reached a point where I'm comfortable with myself and who I am.  

I still pull things from coaches but at the end of the day - I'm still me and my coaching should emulate that.  I like to have fun, I goof around, I allow my athletes freedom, and I know my strengths and I stick to them.  

Is my programming perfect?  No
Is my coaching perfect?  No
But what I've created over the past 3-years is special and when I take a step back and look at what BBA means to many athletes or the environment we've created - it truly is a special place.

8. People Will Want A Piece of You

A month doesn't go by where I'm not being asked to donate to something, be willing to help with this, or sponsor that, or if I have a job available.  In a given year, I donate between 3-6k to fundraisers, tournaments, charities, etc.  

This is great and I'm all for giving back to the community in whatever manner possible, but as a small  business, every cent matters.  I'm not a big corporation where giving away a thousand dollars is pocket change.  Like I said earlier, this very well may be a months income.  I will continue to donate items to charities and fundraisers because they are usually for great causes and it's important to me to give back.

I will say this though, the one thing I've stop doing is donating to sponsor a tournament or club or game or event.  Such as, "Donate $300 and we'll put your business on our t-shirts or in our program or on a banner".

Here's the brutal truth, rarely are any of these actually good business moves.  I've never been to an event, looked at the t-shirt or a banner and thought, "I really need to check out that business".  Again, I will donate memberships or consultations, but I've stopped giving actual money in return for a sign or name in a program.  These are mostly financial losses.  Which brings me to my next point...

9. Learn To Say No

Early on, I said yes to every opportunity I could get.

Extra sessions on Sunday?  Yes!
Extra 5am Session?  Yes!
Sponsor This Event? Yes!
Do 1-on-1 training during my only hour off during a 14-hour day? Yes!
Work this camp for dirt cheap, but it allows you to get in front of new athletes? Yes!
Do the S&C for a college team for a resume builder? Yes!

Now, I've learned to say no.  Keeping my sanity and getting freedom is much more important than doing these little things to help the business.

After 2-years of working 7-days a week, I finally said no to Sundays.  After almost 3-years of 5am Monday-Friday, I've said no to Thursdays.  I've turned down 1-on-1 sessions, reduced sessions, and turned away opportunities that limit my time and freedom to relax, read, research, or spend time with my family.

10. I Get To Be My Own Boss

While I've stated all the hidden costs of being your own boss and on the outside it's a lot less glamorous than it sounds; at the same time it has it's perks.  

I turn 28 in a week, and for over 3-years I've been able to program for every single athlete I've come in contact with.  THAT IS HUGE!

If I want to try this or that… I can do it.  If I want to buy this or that… I can do it.  If I want to change this or that… I can do it.  If I don't want to do this or that… I don't have to.

If I want to experiment with a new program or exercise - I have the green light.  If I want to drop that day's training and have a competition/game day - I'm going to do it.  If I want to conduct a research project on my athletes - I don't have any hoops to jump through except for my own.  

I have friends in the college setting who are full-time coaches and they don't get to do any programming and training structure - they just implement what the Head S&C programs.  Not only exercise prescription but also warm-up, speed and agility work, recovery, rehab and return to training, youth, HS, college teams, professional, adults, males, females, every sport imaginable are all under this umbrella.  

NO and I mean NO HS or College or Professional S&C coach has this kind of experience.  Most public sector S&C coaches typically have 1-5 sports or specific genders or specific ages - while I get a little bit of everything.  I can tell you this has made me a 100x better coach than if I was strictly say a College FB S&C coach.  

I get to dress is sweats and a sweatshirt EVERY SINGLE DAY!  If I had to dress up or wear slacks to work everyday, I would go insane!

I get rewarded for doing a great job!  If I do a great job with an athlete or client, they'll usually tell someone and I get rewarded - financially.  In the public sector S&C coaches are often underpaid or have set salaries that can be very hard to increase, no matter how well of a job you may be doing.  I, on the other hand, have unlimited potential for growth and my salary is only dictated by the quality of my program.  I'd venture to say I earn more than 80% of S&C coaches through BBA, online training, team contracts, and our products - but this comes with the fact that I also work more than 100% of public sector S&C coaches.  I'm lucky not to have these restrictions while most public settings and/or if you're an employee DO have these restrictions. 

I get bring this little boy to work everyday, which is a must!  Everyday is bring your pet to work day = awesome!

Go Get 'Em!

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