New Posts at the Front Desk blog

Hey everyone!

I just want to let you know that I’m posting weekly content over at the Front Desk blog.

If you’ve missed my recent posts here are links:

The client experience: growing a successful service business

Discounting services to win clients?  Does it work?

Financial Metrics: how is your business performing?

4 strategies to avoid service business burnout

 

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Follow me to Front Desk!

I’ve received some very kind emails from some of my readers of late.  Messages thanking me for the content on this blog and asking me to please, please post more often!  I’m glad my writing has been helpful in guiding many of you in your journey owning and growing a microgym or other fitness or service based business.

What I’ve been up to

Many of you know that Robb and I had our daughter Zoe in May of this year.  Nearly 5 months have gone by and it’s hard to imagine we ever had a life without her.  My hands have been full as a new mom, but I’m loving every minute of it.

You may also know I’ve been working with Skilled Athlete, a software company, building mobile tools on the MINDBODY API platform.  Well, I’m excited to say the Skilled Athlete team has some other exciting stuff up its sleeve with Front Desk, details of which I’ll be sharing in the next couple of months.

As for your requests for more blog content, I’ll be continuing to write about all things service business over at the Front Desk blog.  The first one is up….come check it out!

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Digital waivers! No more paper!

For the past month NorCal Strength and Conditioning has digitally managed waivers with DocuSign eSignatures by Skilled Athlete!

After 8.5 years in business, we have generated a lot of paper.  Clients used to fill out a paper waiver, which my staff would decipher, manually add to MINDBODY, and then put in the file cabinet.  Now we are saving our staff time as well as:

Minimizing data entry errors.  Admit it, most of your clients have really poor penmanship.

Eliminating the need to physically store waivers.  Filing and storing these stacks of waivers is tedious.

Simplifying retrieval.  It’s way easier to pull an electronically stored waiver than opening the file cabinet.

Streamlining and improving the client experience.  Think Apple Store.

How it used to work at NorCal

Along with ten other people, John Q. Client comes through the door for his first On Ramp. John is handed a clipboard to fill out contact info, emergency contact info, and to sign liability waiver.

Mr. Client then passes the clipboard to the guy to his right.  Tick.  Tock.  Ten minutes later, class finally begins.  After the class ends, a staff member manually enters the client information on the waiver accurately into MINDBODY (which is no small feat given the chicken scrawl they are trying to decipher), and the waiver is filed away in a drawer.

How we’re doing it now

Scenario 1:  John Q. Client comes through the door for his fitness consult.  The trainer hands him an iPhone/iPad and client enters his profile and emergency contact info, snaps a self-portrait, and electronically signs the waiver. Note: If the client already has a profile in MBO, then we don’t need to collect the client profile data.  The trainer simply pulls up the client in the app, selects the waiver document and has the client sign.

Skilled Athlete automatically creates a new client in MINDBODY, and after successfully signing the document the client and their information is added to MBO and the waiver is automatically pushed and uploaded to the client’s document folder in MBO, located next to the “account details” tab, provided you have enabled this feature in your MBO general setup and options.

Here are some screenshots of the process:

New Client Contact Screen
Emergency Contact info screen
Prior to reviewing document, client agrees to do business electronically
Client reviews document and is prompted to sign

Scenario 2:  John Q. Client client signs up online for the On Ramp program and has already created a profile in MBO.  He has already entered emergency contact information since we require it when he creates a profile.  Now we just need to capture the signature on the waiver.

Prior to On Ramp beginning we simply email the waiver to the client for a signature.  Mr. Client signs from the comfort of his own home or office and shows up the first day ready to train.  And if for some reason he hasn’t signed, a trainer can easily pull him up in the app and collect his digital signature in person.  We’ve saved time that we can use for training clients and reduced the likelihood for errors.

 

And this is just the beginning.  Currently Skilled Athlete is supporting signature-based documents. Skilled Athlete is planning to support digital documents and signatures for PAR-Q, or health history intake forms, as well as MBO contracts.  And then I can reach my goal of going completely paperless!  Oh, and be sure to check out Skilled Athlete if you’re a MINDBODY client and want to implement digital waivers in your business!


Posted in Business, Clients, CrossFit Affiliates, fitness business, MindBody Online, Skilled Athlete, Trainers, Uncategorized
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Don’t have a Membership FAQ? Write one!

I have had several folks on recent consultations ask me what to do about client cancellations, etc.  My answer?  Put some policies in place and write a Membership FAQ to give to newly onboarded clients (and existing clients).  Without a dedicated policy in writing you will find yourself answering the same questions over and over and dealing with similar situations in a variety of ways, causing unneccessary headaches on your part and consuming your time that is already limited.

Simplify your life and save yourself time by creating a system or Membership FAQ, for how you handle member cancellations and membership holds.  Be sure to answer all pertinent questions regarding how your memberships work, including questions about putting a membership on hold, cancelling a membership and the process to do so.

Things to include:

  1. A list of each of the different membership options
  2. Your membership cancellation/hold  policy details. Do you require advance notice for cancelling a membership or putting a membership on hold? For example 30 days notice is fairly standard, you could also do 60 days or something else, your call.
  3. Any associated fees with cancelling or holding? Do you have a cancellation fee and a hold fee?  Be sure to list these. (Again these are fairly standard if they aren’t in a month-to-month agreement. Something nominal to hold, like $25 and something a little more steep to cancel, at least $100-$200)
  4. How to go about cancelling or holding? Do you require this notification in writing?  If so be sure to state that.  Something to the effect of “please send all cancellation or membership modification requests to info@yourgym.com.” I highly recommend requiring these in writing.  Verbal mentions of a membership hold are likely to get forgotten resulting in stress on your part when you finally remember or even more stress on your part when you don’t remember and the person gets charged. Also, frequently a person will say “I need to hold my membership until Sept 1”.  So Sept 1 comes around and they get billed.  Then if they call/email to complain you just have to produce the email they wrote saying they’d be back on Sept 1 and you have an easy way to show them that this is what they communicated to you.

Aslo include any and all “what ifs” that you get asked, such as:

  1. What if I’m going on vacation and will miss 3 weeks of class?
  2. What if I want to increase my membership from 2x per week to 3x per week?

And so forth…

Appointments need cancellation policies too!

If you do any amount of Private training you will also want to have a cancellation policy in place for appointments.  A 24 hour cancellation policy is fairly standard.  State something to the effect that cancellations need to be received 24 hours prior to your appt or you will be charged for the appt.  Have a signature line for the client to sign at the time of purchase of a PT package.

Now, you as the owner or trainer can decide on a case-by-case basis if you want to flex on it.  For example there’s a death in the family and the person doesn’t give adequate notice…I personally wouldn’t charge the person for the appt.  But having a policy in place helps protect you from the 10% of folks who are flakey and will abuse you if you don’t have one.

Having some simple policies in place can save you time and energy.

Hope you’re all off to a great start in 2012!

 

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Increase word of mouth traffic! Push MBO checkins to Facebook!

Hey everyone!  I hope the holiday season is treating you all well and that you’re doing some reflecting and making plans for a prosperous 2012.  I want to take a few minutes to let you all know about a second product that Skilled Athlete is offering FREE to MINDBODY users: Facebook Check-ins!

When you sign up for this app, clients that have been in your facility in the past two weeks will be sent an email invitation to connect with your business on Facebook.

If they accept (it’s opt-in) each time they are checked into a class in MBO we will automatically check them in to your business’ Facebook page.

The number of check-ins on Facebook is a form of social validation letting people know that there is a lot of activity at your facility.  A business that has had thousands of check-ins appears more popular, established and viable than a business with only a few check-ins.

Second, each of these check-ins shows up in your clients’ activity feed on Facebook and can be seen by their friends – kind of like an ad impression but even better because they are in your client’s feed.

Since our clients (like most people on Facebook) have about 100 friends each these were potentially seen over 43,000 times on Facebook.

Over 15% of our clients at NorCal have opted to use the app on FB, and each month we get hundreds Facebook check-ins.  Our clients who have signed up like that they have an easy way to let their friends know they are going to work out, and we are happy because it is driving traffic to our Facebook page, increasing the social exposure of our brand to our clients’ friends, many of whom are our best prospects.

A friend of mine looked into running an advertisement for his gym and Facebook would have charged him a $2 CPM (cost per thousand impressions) to target the same set of people.  To get these same 43,000 impressions via a Facebook add would have cost us $86…instead we got those same impressions free with this app!

To top it all off it’s EASY!  You sign up once and Skilled Athlete will automatically invite all clients who have been in your facility in the last 2 weeks.  Anyone who comes in after that initial invite (old clients or new) will also be automatically sent an invite.  There is no further action required on your part.  Also, if they so desire, your clients can opt out at any time by simply uninstalling the app from their personal FB profile.

A couple of things:

Just like the FB schedule app, your business needs to have a FB page (not a personal profile) to utilize this.  You can read more about the importance of having a page for your business here.

If you already have the Skilled Athlete Facebook Schedule app installed just send an email to support@skilledathlete.com , and we can turn on the FB check-in feature for you.  If you don’t yet have the FB schedule app installed you can do that here.

And stay tuned…in late January Skilled Athlete will be releasing an iPhone app that will allow you and your trainers to check clients into classes directly from your phone.

Tracking attendance is important and this app is going to be a super helpful if your gym or studio doesn’t utilize key tags or self-sign in.  But, if like NorCal Strength & Conditioning, you DO use key tags the app is still going to be helpful since your trainers can check to make sure their roster is accurate at the start of each class and don’t have to double check that all clients signed in at the end of class or the end of the day.

The app will also allow you to take client photos with your iPhone and push to their MBO profile (read this article if you aren’t yet in the habit of storing client photos in their profiles), email and phone clients directly from the app and much more!

Again, wishing you all a very happy and safe holiday!

 

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A couple notes on the Skilled Athlete FB Schedule App

I just want to touch on a few things and hopefully help you all get your schedules up on your Facebook pages seamlessly!

If you missed my post about the awesomely free app that Skilled Athlete just launched that will post your MBO schedule to your FB page you can catch that here.

First things first!

We’ve had some of you try to install the app without first logging into MBO to get your API credentials.  We need those in order to pull your class schedule from MBO and post to Facebook.  Directions for how to find your API credentials can be found here…and btw you must use the “owner” login to get these.

Here also is a screen shot of those directions :)

Once you get your SourceName, API Password, and Studio ID from your MBO account write them down….you will then be ready to click “install now” on the Skilled Athlete site.  After entering your credentials and selecting your Business Page on FB you will find a link to the Skilled Athlete App on FB where you will click “add to my page”.  Then you are done!

A few folks have had difficulty for the following reasons:

1) didn’t get proper MBO API credentials before attempting install

2) didn’t have a FB page.  Read this and convert it to a page and you’ll be good.

3) tried installing the Skilled Athlete App on FB without first going through the install process from SkilledAthlete.com (and entering in MBO API credentials).

If you have any other trouble please don’t hesitate to contact support@skilledathlete.com.

Cheers!

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What’s it like to be the owner of a CrossFit gym? Interview with an Affiliate Part 5

Here is the 5th interview in my series of interviews with CrossFit Affiliate owners.  If you missed the first four you can find them here:  Interview 1, Interview 2, Interview3, Interview 4.  I have also been contacted privately by some additional affiliates wanting to share their experiences as well.  I will by synthesizing those together for a future post.

Enjoy Interview 5!

How long have you been “open for business?”

Just shy of 3 years now.

How many hours do you typically work per week in/on your business?

Define “work.”  This is a really tough question to answer because I am not sure where I would draw the lines between “work” and “play.”  I have nothing that would resemble a “balanced” life.  I would say that I am probably tinkering with something related to the gym, training (myself), coaching, communicating with employees, designing programs, etc…between 12 and 14 hours a day.  Even an ideal Sunday (when the gym is closed) typically starts with a workout with my girlfriend and several of my close friends – who also happen to coach at the gym. Then it’s off to a coffee shop where we’re kicking around ideas or playing with new programming concepts.  But this is fun for me.  I kind of discarded the theory of balance when I decided to open a gym.  I am a typical Type-A personality, so balance was never my style.  This allows me to be “unbalanced” and still doing what I love.

Did you leave another job to open your gym?  Are you making more or less money now?

I did.  I now make a fraction (well below 50%) of my previous income.

Is owning and running a gym different than you imagined? How so?

Yes.  When I conceptualized owning a gym, and even when I was just getting started, I emphasized and put my time into all of the amazing reasons I started a gym – interacting with members, developing a culture, coaching folks to become the best versions of themselves, etc….  As time has gone on, I have also had to realize that in addition to owning an AMAZING place for folks to become happier and healthier, I also have to run a business.  When I set out on this journey, I cannot say I dreamed about submitting payroll, how I was going to figure out how to pay health benefits for employees, tax liabilities, etc….  The actual running of the business was lost in the dreamy ether of the fun of working with individuals that I genuinely enjoy being around.

Knowing what you know now, would you choose to do it again? Why or why not?

Absolutely!  This is my calling.  The trials that come from learning in any career or endeavor worth doing are just part of the territory.  I love what I do and the coaches, staff and members that have made this dream a reality.  I walk into my little slice of the happiest place on earth every day.

What about your business frustrates you the most?

My lack of preparation in creating business systems to make life easier on my coaches and staff.  I am not a systems-driven personality.  I operate from principles and intuition.  Unfortunately, as you expand a business you have to have ways to effectively communicate and empower others to exercise the decisions that you would want made.  That means codifying these ideas and creating consistent systems and protocols.  This is really hard for me.  Luckily I have a couple of amazing friends/family/coaches that help to compensate for this weakness.

What about your business brings you the most joy?

The people.  Easiest question on here by far.  The coaches, staff and members that I get to interact with on a daily basis are inspiring.  Their improvements and happiness drive me to become even better. That feeds into the second best thing about the business, which is the constant opportunity to learn and grow.  The fitness industry is an amazing, constantly changing organism.  There are so many phenomenally smart coaches and ideas out there as to how to best help athletes and individuals that want to improve their health and fitness.  I can easily get lost in books and seminars discussing ideas, commonalities and differences in training approaches.  This intellectual stimulus keeps me from stagnating and getting bored.

Reflecting back to when you opened would you consider yourself well-prepared for owning a business? What were your strengths and weaknesses?

No.  I knew enough about coaching, and I knew a lot about hard work, but I didn’t have a clue as to how to run a business.  My willingness to work hard, to develop relationships with great people (members and coaches) and to help people achieve results were the strengths that pulled us through, but my weaknesses were myriad and extreme.  I had really never delegated anything in my life, I avoided financial analysis like the plague, and I was (and still am not) not tech savvy at all when it came to maintaining an online presence.

Did you have experience coaching prior to opening?

Yes.  I had two years of CrossFit-specific coaching, and a lot of years coaching other sports and martial arts.  I have always enjoyed teaching others and sharing knowledge, and martial arts gave me an opportunity to start doing so at a young age.

Do you feel you are sufficiently financially rewarded for the amount of time you’ve invested in your business?

Yes.  If you look at it from a dollars per hour perspective, I am probably violating even third-world country standards of labor laws.  But I didn’t make this career change with an eye toward maximizing my monetary health.  The intangible rewards far outweigh the financial rewards.  And luckily, the business is now at a place where I can be a bit more generous to myself financially.

Do you see yourself doing this (owning/operating a microgym) 10 years from now?

Yes.

As a current CrossFit affiliate, what are the benefits of affiliation as you see them? In your estimation and in your particular circumstance are they worth the price?

The primary benefit of affiliation is the community of individuals and their shared enthusiasm for fitness.  It’s rare to have so many folks rally around good nutrition and pushing themselves to their physical limits.  It means that folks from across the country or overseas can come to my town and know they have a place that will understand and accept their passion for fitness.  Affiliation creates a common word and concept that indicates we understand that passion and pursuit of an individual’s own personal fitness excellence.  The methods we use to get there may differ from other gyms around the world, but we still “get it” and stand prepared to help folks achieve their best results.

It’s too soon to know the exact impact yet, but the airing of the CrossFit Games on ESPN2 and some great commercials by Reebok and CrossFit encouraging folks to find their local affiliate – coupled with a map tool that now shows how far each affiliate is from your location – could be a huge benefit.  This could provide not only exposure for the sport and CrossFit.com, but also a push to link prospective members with qualified coaches in their area.  I am excited about the prospects of what this could do for affiliate gyms.

How close is the nearest affiliate to your place of business.  How has this affected your business?  

There are three within 2 miles of us.  I don’t believe it has impacted our business greatly.  We all have slightly different cultures and methodologies.  I think our clients select the gym that works best for their needs and personality, and I think that translates into a happy community here and at the other gyms.  That said, I would be remiss if I did not say that it disappoints me when other gyms/coaches undervalue their services.  I think this is a real problem.  Nobody wins when the costs of membership drop, it just means you have to work so much harder servicing more clients in order to be profitable.  If you look around at what personal trainers and boot camps charge, it is often much more than CrossFit affiliates and they provide a fraction of the coaching.  So, my two-part plea to all affiliate owners is: (1) raise your rates to properly value your services; and (2) commit yourself to becoming the best coach you can be (seminars, certifications, reading, etc…) and be the best deal in town even with the most expensive membership dues.

What if any trends do you see among new affiliates?

Two things come to mind.  First, it seems like folks are coming in with a lot more money to invest in their gym at the outset.  In general, this means they are able to provide a much more professional-looking environment.  That is a great thing . . . as long as it is also backed up with professional coaching and business management.  If not, it just tends to result in a larger loss of personally invested capital.  Second, I see way too many people opening gyms without adequate coaching experience.  I would strongly encourage any prospective gym owner to spend at least a year (and preferably more) coaching and learning from others.  You should never take on the risks associated with owning a business if you haven’t put in the time to know exactly what coaching 6-8 hours per day is like.  In my mind, this is the most common mistake I see affiliate owners make – learning on the fly.  There are good coaches and gyms out there.  Reach out to them, be clear about your intentions (to open your own space), and see if you can reach an agreement to work for and learn from them for a period of time before exploring the option of opening your own.  Oh yeah, and you might also be prepared to do that for free . . . because that’s probably what you will be doing in the initial stages of owning your own gym anyway. :)

Would you consider yourself an introvert (you gain energy from having time alone) or extrovert (you gain energy from being around others)?

Ok, maybe this is the easiest question on here.  I am an extrovert.

What advice or words of wisdom would you give to someone considering opening a microgym or similar fitness studio?

We all have passions and dreams.  You should chase yours . . . BUT ONLY (1) after you have put in the time to hone your skills and gain and intimate understanding of the profession; (2) if you are willing to sacrifice your time and financial security; and (3) if you are committed to moving heaven and earth to succeed.  If you get squeamish about the thought of losing it all, don’t do it.  I made the jump from making a lot of money to owning a gym only after two years of dedicating myself to learning how to coach and manage other coaches; I was fully prepared to lose everything I had in pursuit of my dream, and equally committed to ensuring my success.  I can only hope that others will go in with a similar approach.  It’s not a decision that should be taken lightly.

What is the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?

That I cannot do everything.  Learning to delegate and clearly and effectively communicate projects and tasks to others has been tough.  We grew faster than we expected, and I am definitely behind the curve on learning some lessons that will be essential to ensuring continued smooth growth.  My focus is on learning to better leverage the amazing talent I have around me, and I have been blessed that these are good friends who have been more patient than I might have deserved at times.


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Free Schedule App for your Facebook Page courtesy of Skilled Athlete!

Are you a class based microgym, fitness studio, yoga studio, pilates, or even martial arts facility?  Do you use Mindbody Online?  Are you using a bonified PAGE for your business’ Facebook presence?

If you answered yes to all three questions you are in for a special treat!  (If you answered yes to the first two, but not the third then read this post I wrote last week and get your gym’s FB profile converted to a Page and you’ll be good to go).

I am a founding team member in a company called Skilled Athlete, which includes several former Expedia developers.  Over the past few months we have been working on a suite of social media and CRM (customer relationship management) tools for gyms, most of which can plug right into your existing MindBody account.  We have several very cool tools in the works and we will be releasing them as they get developed.  Some of them will be free, like this one, and some won’t.  (Skilled Athlete will only be charging for tools that will have a direct positive influence on your bottom line!).

This first one is a Class Schedule App for your Facebook page.  Now your clients can find your class schedule simply by navigating to your Facebook page and clicking the “class schedule” link below your business’ page photo.

Then voila! Your class schedule appears!

Clients can click on the class times to show the instructor for the class as well as “reserve” a spot in that class if your gym has that feature enabled in MBO.

If you’d like to check out the Schedule App in action you can see it live on our NorCal Facebook page here.

When you’re ready to deploy your own Mindbody schedule on your FB page just head over to Skilled Athlete.  The set up process is pretty simple and again it’s free!

Oh, and one more thing.  If you aren’t yet using a business management solution like Mindbody Online, then you might want to head there first!

 

 

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Get a PAGE! Not a Profile or a Group for your Business.

I frequently get Facebook friend requests from CrossFit affiliates.  In fact just this last week alone I received 6!  These are friend requests mind you, not requests to LIKE their business page. I’ve noticed that many folks in the microgym business are operating with profile pages instead of the intended Fan pages for businesses.

You may or may not know this, but FB profile pages where you collect “friends” are strictly for individuals to use.  In fact entities and organizations, like businesses, caught using individual profiles can have their profiles deleted per Facebook Terms of Use.

From Facebook:

Since profiles are for meant individual people, they aren’t suited to meet your business needs. Pages offer more robust features for organizations, businesses, brands, and public figures, which you can learn more abouthere.

Further, maintaining a profile for anything other than an individual person is a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. If you don’t convert your profile to a Page, you risk permanently losing access to the profile and all of your content.

Aside from FB rules there are several advantages for a business to have a PAGE and not a profile.  I’ll touch on some of the main points here:

  • First and foremost a profile page is limited to a maximum of 5000 friends. Why would you want your businesses exposure to be limited to the first 5000 people you come across? If you’re in business you want unlimited exposure. Period.
  • Only friends of the profile can view the profile.  Whereas even folks who aren’t yet Fans can view your Page. Again, you have more reach here.
  • FB pages are indexed by search engines.  Fb profiles are not.
  • With a page you can put Like buttons on your business web site and direct site visitors to your FB page and get more Likes.
  • A page can have multiple Admins.  You can have your trainers or managers be Admins and all of you can be posting content (photos, videos, wall posts) to your page, keeping it fresh and dynamic.
  • Your Fans that are actually customers can “check in” to your location page when they visit your business.  If you notice on the left hand side of a Fan page there is listed the number of Likes as well as the number of folks who were “here”.  The more people who “check in” to your business the more socially visible and credible your business becomes.  Also, when a person checks in to your business it posts that they are at your place of business on their wall.  Their friends can now see they are your customer, can click the link and go to your page, and are more likely to be interested in your services themselves.  Word of mouth marketing, Facebook style.
  • Metrics.  You get a weekly summary email from Facebook showing the weekly activity of your page.
  • More metrics.  There’s a nifty Insights button on your page that will show you all sorts of great information about the people frequenting your page, from user demographics to which wall posts had the most interactions.  Lot’s of fun stuff to geek out on here.
Alas, you already have so many “friends” and don’t want to switch?  Facebook has made it possible for people who “accidently” created profile pages when they actually intended to create pages for their businesses to switch and automatically convert their friends to fans. Read this article for how to information.
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MBO Users! Are you storing client photos?

I’m sure many of you are doing this already, but I thought I’d mention it to those who might just have it on their “to do” list and haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

Uploading your client’s photo or headshot into their profile might seem superfluous if you’re just getting going with your studio or microgym.  If you have fewer than 50 clients you obviously know everyone’s name and can easily locate them in MBO when you need to.

However, there will come a day when you aren’t the only one selling memberships in the retail screen and signing folks into class who forgot their keytags.  You will at some point have a few or several trainers.  And you will at some point have 30 people with the first name “John” or “Katie” in your system.  This is when it becomes important to have the profile pic stored.

We were lazy with this when we first started using MBO in 2007…but have since become quite fastidious about it.  With several trainers and several folks with duplicate names it’s important to make sure we’re signing the right “Katie” into a class and selling the right “Katie” a private training package.  Sell it to the “wrong” Katie and Katie1 essentially buys Katie2 a $600 PT package.  It can be messy to clean up after these types of mistakes. Not to mention it looks quite unprofessional.

So this is just my friendly reminder to start taking client photos and uploading them to their profiles if you aren’t already doing so!  Cheers!

Posted in Business, Clients, CrossFit Affiliates, fitness business, MindBody Online
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