Kyle and I did not start this as business people.
We both loved training, valued what a big part it played in our own lives and wanted to help as many people as we could.
In fact we both left other careers long ago (Kyle as a burgeoning attorney and myself as a disgruntled advertising executive) because we wanted to stop selling people shit they didn’t need and start getting them to invest in the things that they did.
And while this Arnold-Schwarznegger-meets-Mother-Theresa story is nice and heartwarming, it left us in a not-so-great spot.
Because it turns out if you want to operate a business – even when your intentions are pure – you actually have to know how to run a business. And now that more than five years have passed since we’ve opened our doors, to say that we’ve learned a hard lesson or two would be an understatement.
Truly, this list could be filled with dozens of revelations, but here are three really important business lessons we’ve learned over the past half decade. Some might seem obvious, some might seem irrelevant, some might help you in your own small business. But hopefully all of them give you some insight into why we do certain things the way we do them.
Pro-Tip #1: Never Give Away Your Core Product For Free.
This is a hard lesson we’ve learned multiple times over the years. At first blush, it seems like a good idea. Provide an irresistible offer (in this case, free training sessions), get people hooked and then they’ll be willing to fork over some dough for long term memberships. Boom!
But this eat-it-upfront-for-back-end-return strategy almost always backfires. Because what you are essentially doing is devaluing your most valuable product. Nobody wants to pay for something that they have gotten for free. Plus if they don’t have any skin in the game up front, they will never value the product as much as you want. This can lead to a lot of resentment and not a lot of long standing members.
That doesn’t mean giving away things for free is always a bad idea. People love free shit. So a free t-shirt or body comp analysis or strategy session can be a valuable tool to get people in the door so you can show them the value of the actual product – in our case, the training.
It actually kind of amazes me when people expect training for free. A lawyer may offer you a free phone call to discuss your case but he isn’t going to litigate your claim for free. An accountant may volunteer to review your back taxes for any further deductions that were missed but he isn’t going to do your first two years of returns for free just in the hopes that you stick around for a third and pony up some dough.
Clients need to value the product. We need to value ourselves. The only way to make that happen is to actually charge for the service we provide. And – shameless plug – it will turn out to be the best money you’ve ever spent.
Pro-Tip #2: There Is No Value In Being Your Industry’s Best Kept Secret.
When speaking to potential new clients very often they will ask me how long we’ve been in business. And when I tell them we’re going on six years the response is almost always the same.
“Really?!? I live two blocks away and had no idea you guys were down there!”
I’ve recently touched upon the benefits of being the underdog in this very blog. And we used to pride ourselves on being this underground strength dungeon that nobody knows about. And while, if I’m being honest, we still prefer it that way sometimes, it is very, very hard to help people if they don’t know who, what or where you are.
There is no better feeling than someone starting because of word-of-mouth. It’s very meaningful to us that a client would value the experience enough to recommend it to others. But, for most small businesses, if that’s your only strategy for client acquisition you are going to really slow the process.
Marketing and cost-per-acquisition are really important and deep topics way outside the scope of these ramblings, but take the time to figure it out. Your ability to help people and run a successful business depends on it.
Pro-Tip #3: Do What You Do. Do It Better Than Anyone Else.
While the previous two tips took us years to learn, this one came to us pretty naturally and early on in the process. We are great at delivering systematic, meaningful fitness to people who want to get stronger, move better, increase their work capacity and improve their body composition. We do it in a highly coached, energetic environment and we deliver it in groups of up to 4 people at a time. We keep track of everyone’s progress to ensure we are moving the needle forward on their goals.
We don’t do one-on-one personal training. We don’t do groups of 30 people. We don’t do bullshit “Abs and Booty” classes. We don’t use circus tricks or unproven exercises. We don’t run the same program for 6 months at a time. In a nutshell, we don’t waste your time.
There is huge appeal in following the trends in an effort to gain market share. This is a fool’s pursuit. Do the thing you do. Get to the point where you do it better than anyone else. Let everyone know about it. If you get that right, you are truly untouchable.