Guest post by my hubby: Robb Wolf
Welcome back! In the first piece I took you down memory lane and described how some training related inputs from our friends Mike Rutherford and Dave Werner dramatically improved our training and business. The training piece might be obvious, especially in the case of the Max Effort Black Box template Rut offered to the world. With this technology our clients made much better progress and could finally reach the strength levels necessary to do well at CrossFit diagnostic WOD’s. The athletic skill standards however inspired a change not only in our class structure, but it gave us the opportunity to really think about our business from a systems based perspective, starting right at the front door.
How do folks make first contact with a business like NorCal Strength & Conditioning? Initially our contacts could be broken down into the following categories: Phone, Email, Walk-in. Today I’d add blog, FaceBook and Twitter in that mix as potential first contact options for prospective clients. This may all seem obvious, but without some kind of system these contacts get lost (hampering the acquisition of new clients) and you are left with no idea about conversions from contact to sign-up, retention or a host of other really important concepts. Well, important if you want to keep the doors open.
When Nicki is tinkering with an idea she will “act her way through the idea…It’s part thespian warm-up, part dementia ward ramblings (love you babe!) but let’s use this wacky little technique to look at how folks flow into your business:
So, someone phones, emails or walks-into your business (or perhaps they asked a question about your facility on Facebook) this new person comes through the door…what do you have to offer this would-be customer? Any type of a screening process? A one size fits all program, or something that can meet the needs of 95% of the population? Do you have a way of documenting how said person found you or relative % conversion to a real client? Do you know the likelihood this person will still be with you in 6 months or a year?
Until we brought in Dave Werner’s skill standards we tried to shoe-horn everyone coming through the door into the one size fits all program (based largely around the sexy MetCon) and we had a ton of problems with this (mentioned in part 1). It was not safe, it was not a good experience for the clients…it was not a system. It was neither physics class nor birthday party, it was a joke. As I mentioned in the Performance, Health & Longevity piece that I did for my wife, we enacted several different programs which addressed these initial shortcomings and are now critical to our success.
Personal training-Where our orthopedically or medically challenged folks go. Also a great place for local celebrities/business people who may not want to be in a group class format.
On-Ramp-A beginner class with set structure which introduces the movements, intensity and nutritional components of the program in a small group format. We have excellent retention from this format as compared to dumping everyone into a large group. I’ve received some push back about this from folks who are concerned about “diluting the community” of their gym. Get four classes running simultaneously with upwards of 60-80 people being coached at a time…you not only have community you now also have quality coaching.
Elements, Level 1, Level 2-I talked about these previously. Tough, mixed modal group classes with specific skill/fitness standards to participate.
Strength Class. Periodized strength class where folks get seriously strong.
LIFT-“Low intensity functional training.” Mixed modal training, but no names go on the board, no specific time is given for the training. Some men will die for points, other folks simply quit the gym when they get tired of getting the dog-piss beat out of them.
So, this whole scene is an integrated system. It allows us to “sell” a program that reaches damn near anyone (personal training, or the group class options), it provides years of progression to keep folks interested and engaged, it offers alternate tracks with more or less intensity to meet folks where they are. We are able to offer better programming & safety while keeping things really fun. If you have solid business management software the whole thing runs pretty well and with a minimum of onerous, repetitious activity.
I know first hand how hard it can be to run a small business like a microgym or martial arts studio. I’ve done both. It can be as fun as it is exhausting and taxing. Folks frequently go into business because of a love for the subject matter and (hopefully) also love working with people. Often times I see folks who love the subject matter and discover how draining coaching can be…tough gig. If you consistently focus on quality of coaching and business systems it is better and “funner” for you and your clients. Systems, first and foremost, allow you to “stay in business.” That seems like a bonus! In the hierarchy of needs this success allows us to move beyond survival and start flexing our creative muscles…this is the stuff that keeps one engaged across a lifetime.
Occasionally I hear excuses about enacting better systems like I’ve described here. In one case it was a mom & pop gym with a good number of clients but the owners felt systems (business management software, scanner type check-in, structured trainer development program) would “make things lose that family feel.” Well, 4 years into this frackas these folks realized they might want to quit their day jobs and really make a go of things with the gym as the primary income source. They had 4 years of no infrastructure development and were (economically) getting their asses kicked by folks who were in business a fraction the time, but who tackled the gym as a business, not a hobby. Interestingly, the folks who were in business for 4 years were also STILL operating in a very unsophisticated level with regards to programming and trainer development. Said in a more direct way: their programming sucked, was dangerous and their trainers could not make a living.
Please, please…tell me what is good about this situation, whether we are talking about the owners, trainers or clients?
If you have chosen to be in this service arena you do not have the luxury of selling cheap plastic widgets. That means you need to prioratize the quality of your offerings. This often mean recognizing the gaps in your knowledge, how effe’d up your operation is and then getting “Zen” about it all and just moving forward. Time is a ticking. Do you want to start building a better program now or wait 4 years? What type of towel rack do YOU want to be?