On Being in Business

The following is a fairly common question/comment, so I thought I’d address it here:

I’ve been thinking about whether opening a CrossFit gym is in my best interest…I’ve run the numbers and it seems a daunting task to cover overhead and make a living.

First: The overhead required for starting a CrossFit box is likely lower than beginning any other business (I’ve never owned any other business, so I really can’t speak to that, but if you start small and buy gear and expand as you grow, as many affiliates do/have done, you can get by with very little initial capital expenditure).

Second: If you structure your program offerings properly and offer a mix of private training (I will need a whole other post on this) and group classes you will find it fairly easy to attract the numbers to not only cover your overhead, but support yourself and then some. It takes time and hard work (CrossFit’s growing popularity and knowing some key people in your town doesn’t hurt either!)

Third: I would never recommend one to open a business of any sort unless you are robust, risk tolerant, and are willing to do what most are not: sweat and take the heat…sometimes for quite awhile.

Perhaps more important than the questions of covering overhead are the following:

Do you love training other people and would you do it even if you weren’t making money?
Love of doing CrossFit yourself is not the same as loving to coach and train others. Some people make better clients than trainers. That is just a plain old fact. Do some training first, then decide if you want to make it a career and build a business.

If you do love training others and if you have the necessary personality and work ethic you will likely do great! You will make money because of your love. If you don’t love it and you see it only as a potential revenue stream then ultimately I don’t think you’ll have what it takes to make it happen. Just my opinion.

What is your risk tolerance aka how do you handle stress and unforeseen circumstances?
Not to paint an ugly picture, but as a business owner you will encounter all sorts of knuckleheads and random situations that require your attention. Not the end of the world, but definitely stress inducing at times. Being the owner of a training business is a whole other enchilada than simply being a trainer.

What type of affiliate do you plan on running and how much work are you willing to put in?
There are many folks who run affiliates out of their garage as a hobby or passion while maintaining their legitimate day jobs. They neither need their affiliate to cover all of their living expenses, nor do they ever expect it to. They love CrossFit and they love training with their friends and neighbors. This is a good option for some, possibly most, depending on one’s character and tolerance for risk.

If instead you are pursuing the more commercial model and want it to be your sole source of income you’ve got a different path to take. You will need to look at your box as a business (that is in fact what it is) and create the necessary infrastructure such that operating it brings value to your life and hopefully minimal stress.

I’m not going to gloss anything over here…being a business owner is no easy thing. I’ve said before on this blog that when Robb and I opened CrossFit NorCal in 2004 nobody (relative to today) had ever heard of CrossFit. Neither of us knew anything about running a training practice, and neither of us were from Chico! We both moved here, knowing hardly anyone and hung a shingle. The only thing we had going for us was that we were used to living at the college student level and so did not miss out on many of the amenities most people require as we began to blindly find our way.

Fast forward to today, where CrossFit is growing exponentially and there are affiliates all across the globe. Getting a training practice up and running should be light years easier. If you are good at what you do, motivated, personable, well connected and structure your program such that you attract and retain your clients you will do great. There are folks opening boxes today that are reaching membership numbers in 6-8 months that took us more than 2 years to get. It’s awesome!

More questions:
Are you willing to continually invest in your professional development as a trainer and business owner so as to fine tune your skills, make a name for yourself, and run a successful operation? Are you willing to network and utilize every connection you have to let people know you exist? Or are you just going to expect that clients will find you and come knocking on your door? They will at some point search you out, but only after you first do the work and build your reputation.

Are you married? Is your spouse on board with what it’s going to take? Something to find out before you head down this path.

And finally, you might think this to be a weird question, but it’s a very important one. Do you gain energy from being around a lot of people? If you are slightly more introverted and you tend to feel depleted after long days of extensive people interaction or if you are easily annoyed by stupidity (like me) then you need to make sure you have an extroverted, kindler, gentler counterpart (that’s Robb). I’m not talking about being shy, I’m talking about gaining and losing energy. It’s important to know where you are on this spectrum.

I hope this helps. It’s critical to think in terms of numbers. It’s equally critical to evaluate yourself with regards to everything involved with owning a business and running a box.

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16 Responses to On Being in Business

  1. Colm says:

    Thanks Nicki, loving the blog so far. Hopefully you and Robb can make it over to Ireland some time.

    We’d love to come to Ireland!!! Robb has been talking about doing a UK/Ireland cert sometime…maybe late this year, early next…

  2. Brian says:


    I’m planning on having Crossfit Central London up and running in a couple of weeks, so your blog could not have come at a better time for me.

    Keep it coming & thanks for sharing.



  3. Kevin says:


    Please stop writing consistently great content. I read your blog on Google Reader and I “star” every single one of your posts. It is making my star system redundant. If you could throw in some throwaway posts periodically, like “How to increase your hammer curl” or “Mirror installation tips” that would be great.

    Okay, that was all tongue in cheek, obviously.

    To get to the point, this is the best information out there. I read and enjoy John Burch’s biz blog, but this has FANTASTIC nuts and bolts discussions about the issues I face as a new affiliate. I read my wife your post on MBO and she said “You need to get that, like, tomorrow”. Did I do it? No. Why? I’m SUPER Cheap. But I’m seriously considering it.

    Perhaps in a future post you can address your thoughts on priority of spending $ for new affiliates. As entrepreneurs we succeed or fail based on how we allocate our scarce resources, time, money, energy. There are a thousand things I would like our gym to have: 5 more rowers, two more GHD’s, a ‘nicer’ box, MBO, pre-printed postcards to send for PR’s, referrals, etc. But which is the best use of the money in terms of growing our membership and ensuring the quality of our member’s experiences?

    Too often I focus on training results; i.e. if a marginal dollar won’t directly increase the training results for my clients, I won’t spend it. Hence, I tend to spend money on equipment and trainer development and certs for myself.

    But there is also something to be said for the member’s holistic ‘experience’. Are the bathrooms nice, smell good, is the box painted, changing room good etc? Mostly, I discount these things. Who can bother with them when I need more bumper plates to be able to train my groups more efficiently?

    But of course, in the end, they matter. I just don’t know how much, or when I should actually address them.

    Thanks for this great resource, and for sharing your knowledge and experience.

    The guy who copied Robb’s omelet order at FilFest.

    Thanks for the kudos Kevin! That is a great post topic that I will certainly address!

  4. Lu Crenshaw says:


    Great post today, with so many truths. Many things you said most do not think about, so thanks for the no non-sense. It’s not easy to do what we do. We wear all hats and then we coach on top of that. I’m working on that patience with stupidity!!! Maybe one day!!! Keep the info rolling! I love reading it.

    Thanks Lu!

  5. Brian PCF says:

    Very easy to follow/understand post about the nuts and bolts, absolutely terrific.

    You’re boiling down about 1000 hours I spent on the CF Msg Boards trying to find this same info. Thanks Nicki!

  6. Matt Beaudreau says:

    Great Blog Nicki! As someone preparing to establish an affiliate, the info you provide is invaluable. You’re only about an hour away, so you and Robb will have to come check out Crossfit Natomas when it’s up and running this summer!

    Sounds great Matt! We’d love to!

  7. Justin - CrossFit SS says:


    Great work, we all appreciate the energy!

    Another key point that might make sense to new Affiliates, or any entrepreneur, is “How will you go about getting help?”

    Most of us are headstrong and enthusiastic, but that can also be a slight handicap if you don’t make a regular habit of asking for help and seeking out good input. I was fortunate to stumble upon good help, but it is still a constant weakness of mine that I wait too long to ask for help or set in motion events that will make my life more simple.

    We are all ready to work hard to make our business grow, but that’s a little like trying to work your way to a better snatch without any coaching and feedback. You probably do more harm than good if you just try to muscle it up for a while, only to develop habits that need to be broken in order for you to really progress.

    I am starting to religiously ask people what they would do in my situation, and you’d be surprised what brilliant insight you get. I ask my banker, other affiliates, my old boss, my friends. It is so important to seek outside advice so you don’t get stuck thinking about a challenge too narrowly.

    I also have spent considerable time trying to come up with a cliff notes version of what my business is and does, so that when I speak about it with other business people then can understand and give me good feedback. No one gives good advice if they don’t know what the hell it is you are doing, or what you want to achieve.

    P.S. See you guys down in Jacksonville in May!

    Great insight Justin! I am continually amazed at all that I learn from my clients who are business owners and colleagues!

  8. Hi Nicki,

    Really like the blog – your hubby’s aint bad either :-) (Tell Robb I said Hi!)

    My whole reason for starting an affiliate was to make people feel better and it’s been real interesting to find that training people actually makes me feel better! Nothing beats morning blues better than a CrossFit class!

    I’ve been phasing out my day job as the affiliate gets busier and it’s worked really well – things seem to start slow and then BAM, you suddenly find that everyone seems to want to train with you.

    Its all good stuff.

  9. David Kneip says:


    That post was so very helpful. I am in the mist of getting an affiliate and this blog has really helped me get my confidence up. I love coaching and I love training coaches. It’s such a rewarding job. Sometimes you can’t help but have that little bit of doubt. However, reading this blog and your descriptions regarding what will make you a successful affiliate owner have given me that extra boost I needed. Maybe once we are up and running we can have you and Robb over and bless us with your knowledge in nutrition. We, my wife and I, would love to host a nutrition cert. Anyway, we will address that later. Thanks again

    David Kneip

  10. Monique says:

    Great Blog. Been quietly following. This is definitely my new fav business blog. Say Hi to Robb from me and Leo.

    Thanks Monique!

  11. PXTcody says:

    Kevin 3
    Justin 7
    DITTO to both of you!

    Kivin- I just spent about every dollar to my name getting my CF Cert and re-fitting my existing training center to accomodate the very basics of CfrossFit: more pull-up bar, bumper plates, a C-2 rower and some new flooring/platforms. So now where does that next dollar go? Just try to pay the bills and coach as well as possible and hope it all works out? Or marketing? Or… seams endless…

    Nicki- Thank you so much for your time investment here. I’m excited to have a place to go for mentorship.

  12. Erik says:

    Thank you! As owners of a new affiliate, we really appreciate the advice–think of it as someone having a brighter flashlight in a dark tunnel.

    We thought we had every contingency covered, until the industrial complex that our box is in had a city plumbing issue that caused raw sewage to back up in our box, underneath the horse stall mats! Issue resolved by the city, but we needed to powerwash, disinfect, clean and dry our box 6 hours before our AM group class. My partner (wife) and I just grinned after awhile, and said, “we are creating our own history here…” and got back to work–the class went on without fail, groggy as we were…

    Wow!!! That’s some serious history! I think that story takes the cake for “shitty” affiliate experiences! Way to rally and overcome!

  13. Oyden says:

    Nicki: Thank you very much for the information and tips.
    It´s very appreciated by us that are starting with our box in almost the same circumstances as you. Down here in Panama (Central America) we are trying to establish CrossFit as a training method that actually works in developing your health and athleticism with out short cuts or false promises. We have some interesting improvements in many members and that has been our primary way to promote it.
    We started formally in december 2008 and today we have 28 members coming everyday for their WOD.
    Thank you again for your time in us and take care.
    PS: Say hi to Robb we met him in our Palm Beach Garden Certification last may (the guys from Panama)

    Hi Oyden! Awesome work you are doing! Robb says “hey” back!

  14. Dave says:


    Like a few comments already said this post was in the right place at the right time. I have been a trainer for abut 12 years and affiliated last year. So far things are going well and business is growing but in that usual two steps forward one step back kind of way. So some days seem discouraging. I stay as positive as I can but like you said. There is a world of difference between the person who has a day job and runs an affiliate for fun and the one who puts food on the table with it. We still love what we do and have fun doing it but at the end of the day it is also what pays the bills. Most days are great but some get you guessing. Today was one of those days.

    At any rate one of my clients was pep talking me this morning about everything and your post gave me the last little kick I needed to get out of todays funk.

    So to you and everyone else in this amazing community I will raise a glass tonight and toast to makin shit up as we go and to throwin it all on the line.

    Keep it up everyone and thanks for the support.

    Crossfit Buffalo

    Thanks Dave! Keep moving forward…believe me it will all be worth it in the end!

  15. Janet Vaughn says:


    Thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge through alot of hard work that you and Robb have gained. This is so helpful for Ben and me as we continue to grow CrossFit Performance which is going to being our main source of revenue and is now a one year old business.

    It was really nice for me to spend some time with you and Robb at Catalyst Athletics. Look forward to seeing you both real soon!

    Hi Janet!
    It was great hanging with you and Ben as well! See you at the games!

  16. Thanks for this blog. Just re-discovering it as I seriously contemplate starting a garage gym that will hopefully one-day become a real box… Thanks for the insights and assistance.

    Glad you find it helpful Steven!

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