When we become a coach and start our own business, we envision a business where we grow – we become wiser, more expert, have a wider client base, and add more value. The growth we experience also comes with change – the structures and systems, to the organisational hierarchy, and to the hats we wear in the business. In reality however, the majority of coaches don’t run their business this way, despite wanting to be a coach who is perceived as remarkable. In most cases, the business operates to bias the owners desires, not the needs of the business. The coach as the owner operator of his own business doesn’t want change – he wants to be his own boss, do what he loves to do, run his own ship, and make his own decisions. This framework does not lend well to organisational change, and thus, it doesn’t take long for the business to bottleneck.
But before we discuss the journey of the 1%,, it’s important to understand the key phases of the process. We’ve broken them down into 3 phases: The One-Man-Band, The Small Enterprise & The 1%.
As you can imagine, 80% of the coaching industry are One-Man-Band’s. They represent anyone and everyone who’s main product is an exchange of time for money. The next 19% represent The Small Enterprises. Even though the head coach/trainer has help, support and delegates responsibilities, he/she is probably still wearing many hats. Then you get to the 1%. These are the brands that the majority of the industry have heard about; they have systems, staff, sub-contractors, employees and a commanding facility. They hold the majority of the customer’s attention, they breed a loyal following, and enjoy the majority of the in-bound opportunities. The 1% represent the small part of the coaching industry who are brave enough to step out of the shadows, dream big, and risk it all to make an impact.
The One Man Band
For every coach, it all starts as a One-Man-Band. We’re the boss now. If you were brave enough, you may have started in the industry this way – perhaps it was a bootcamp, or maybe it was as a subcontractor at your local gym. For me, it took me two years to take the plunge – prior to that I was working for $20 per 45 minute session. I lived week to week and thoroughly enjoyed the learning experience – man I did some dumb shit.
I remember I did a whole session on the bosu ball once (ok a lot more than once). We’d squat on it, flip it around and do lunges, flip it back for pushups, and flip it back once more for rotary crunches. The next session, I’d do a whole session without getting my client to put down the bar; I think it was called ‘The Bear Complex’. My training lacked any form of periodisation, and no one seemed to care. My boss was far too concerned with his own responsibilities to worry about me. The clients seemed to leave smiling, and I thought I was doing a great job.
I learned a lot in those first two years under the protection of another brand. By the end of two years, my coaching had as semblance of structure to it – compound movement were found at the start of each sequence; and by the end of it I was even making the most of this new thing called a foam roller (yes, I’m that old). As soon as I started to get into my coaching stride, the gym went bust, and I was blindly thrust into a commercial gym running my own operation. All of a sudden I had to differentiate myself from everyone else, and, I was responsible for generating my own leads.
Naturally, I did what every trainer would do in this situation – sell myself for $50 per hour. I took whoever came my way – fat men, skinny women, young kids and old retirees – and absolutely everything in between. I became the people’s expert, and I could solve anyone’s problems. In reality I was a glorified sweat instigator – I trained people hard enough that they felt like they had a ‘workout’, but I only created transformations about 5% of the time (every one in twenty really changed their life). Looking back, my training was pretty solid, but clearly I was missing the inside scoop.
So I became an ‘expert’ at nutrition, and added that string to my bow. I wrote little guides for my clients and told them they need to be in an ‘alkaline’ state. I then realised that that was probably a bit far-fetched; paleo was a much better idea. I invested money into Metabolic Typing on recommendation of Paul Chek, and started categorising someone’s ideal foods based on a subjective diagnostic assessment.
My results for my clients improved slightly and that made me feel more valuable to them. In reality, any food strategy that was creating a deficit would work, but I thought I was onto something big. Besides getting up at the crack of dawn and getting home after dark, I was making about $1200 a week doing 20 sessions a week.
By now I was investing time and money into the ‘weekend seminar phase’ – I learned about kettlebells, TRX, boxing, and even battling ropes. I was becoming quite the lounge chair PT expert. Two years into running my own business, I was making enough money to save and buy some nice things. I’d also not had a holiday, had no clear exit plan, and had been and escaped three phases of the dreaded ‘PT Burnout’.
My exit plan came when I met a young trainer who needed work experience signed off. She was pretty good – athletic, listened to instructions and eager to learn. After her hours finished, I employed her for $25 per hour, and began a semi-private group training program where I looked after 5-10 people over the course of a 90 minute session. I organised a booking system, everyone had their own warm up to do and then they all came together for their session of the day. I ran an early morning, a mid morning, and an evening.
For the first time in my 4 year PT career, I was leveraging my time. On a Wednesday, I didn’t even turn up – my trusty side kick covered those sessions. Even though I didn’t realise it back then, I had transitioned into operating a ‘small enterprise.’ All of a sudden I was having days off and that created the itch for me to go to University.
Without boring you with the specifics, I would finish university and get a job as the strength coach for a private high school in Sydney, Australia. It gave me an insight into how poorly things can be done, and with my new found knowledge, I embarked on a quest to make an impact with junior athletes.
That led me to starting Athletes Authority – I took a lease with a friend for a small office space above a smash repair service centre and called up all my old networks to get people to train out of there. I’d resumed my path that I put on hold during university and got back into being the ‘Small Enterprise.’
The Small Enterprise
It was always a dream of mine to open a facility. I remember the day our equipment arrived. It was a huge turning point in our development – I was writing in stone my intention to make an impact.
Athletes Authority was going to be BIG.
The start up phase was fun; there was always something to do – painting, putting equipment together, organising signage, designing logos and of course, training. We worked 100 hour weeks, and lived out of the ‘storeroom’ that was actually served as our bedroom. He slept on the lounge, I slept on the floor. The bank accounts were always empty, and we could only ever shop once our payments were processed by our billing provider for that week. In every sense of the word we were living week to week. Despite this, things were looking up. I leveraged a local rugby team who liked the vibe and it developed a reputation for being a ‘rough-around-the-edges, no BS training facility. We attracted people who didn’t like the commercial gym scene and within 6 months, we’d turned the little gym into a buzzing hub of young athletes training in the evenings. We didn’t stay their long – we didn’t ever consider that it would be much more than a PT/group training studio and as such, didn’t get the right council permissions and didn’t have adequate parking. The veneer of starting up something new was wearing off and we were getting tired of trying to fit a circle into a triangular hole.
So we moved.
Our next facility was triple the size and triple the overheads. We were now in real deep. It’s like gambling without the social stigma. I was sinking more money without any guarantee of a return. We hadn’t been there long before we decided we needed more help. We employed a very keen young guy called Connor the day he finished school and we up-skilled him customer service, cleaning the gym and minding the desk on weekends so we could take a break. We paid him $500 per week for 6 shifts and he did a great job. With the expansion, our inadequacies as business owners were rearing it’s ugly head – we had no systems, we had no concept of marketing, no concept of sales, no clarity in our USP, no process for the sales conversation. Everything was a mess.
Our books reflected that too. The start of the month instilled dread – and trying to pay the rent made me sick. Naturally, we thought we needed a business coach, and through a friend, we were referred to two brothers who specialised in helping small gyms get leads, make more sales, and increase their bottom line. It sounded great to us. Initially, it was awesome to have them around – they provided us with clarity on some of the moving parts and we started to learn the basics of marketing. We also spent a lot of time working on our own self-worth breaking through some of our own limiting beliefs, and it definitely started to improve how we showed up in business. The big problem was, they were sending us bankrupt real quick. We couldn’t recoup the $500 per week cost and it got to a point where I needed to withdraw, or else, the rent wouldn’t be paid that month. I’d go on to find out I was ‘objection handled’ and convinced to continue. Shortly there after, I’d take out a credit card because the capital account was empty.
The next month, I took ownership and made a very big decision. I would step away from coaching (working in the business), so I could actually get a grasp of what the business actually needed to survive. I got rid of the business coaches, and used the money to employ a great coach who took over my clients, and I got to work doing the stuff that I now refer to as ‘working above the line’. In the face of going broke, I did what I knew I had to do, but was most scared about – I had to stop coaching if I wanted to survive. My business model was fundamentally flawed – I’d opened a gym but wanted to work as a coach. It was a combo that was never going to thrive – for as long as I was the technician, I couldn’t effectively be the creator or the manager. I would make the decision that would later put me in the 1% of coaches in this industry by doing what 99% of coaches wouldn’t do – step away from their craft.
The bottom line started to improve. The memberships started to grow. Coaches started to come to me wanting an opportunity to run a business out of Athletes Authority. I’d lose a business partner who’s heart wasn’t in it and gain another one who lived and breathed athletic performance. Over the course of the next 12 months, we’d go from being a fleeting brand to a powerhouse in Sydney. I’d go on to join the 1%.
I couldn’t have imagined that my life would be here in only 12 months time. These days, I tell coaches to dream big, because it really is possible. It’s possible because I’m not 10x smarter, 10x more experienced, 10x more attractive, or 10x more business savvy; I just decided to focus on the things that actually matter. These days, we have a capped facility, and only take on new members by referral. We have 10 coaches working for us, run strength and conditioning programs for over 200 athletes, an integrated physiotherapy team and are associated with some of the biggest brand names in the industry – The Parramatta Eels, Lululemon Athletica, Fusion Sport, GymAware and SKLZ to name a few.
My days are spent leveraging my knowledge for money (yes, not my time), and I get to do what I love. I write content almost daily and help coach coaches across the world stand out in an overcrowded industry. Only 12 months ago, I was making a wage of $500 per week and living week to week. Getting to the 1% wasn’t achieved by doing more of what I always did – it was doing everything . I was scared to do and ‘never got around to doing.’
Now, it’s my mission to help you reach the 1%. The methods Lachlan and I teach have been tried and true – they have gotten us to where we are today in the shortest time possible. The methods are most definitely contrary to what you think you should be doing – like getting more experience, having more coffees with other coaches, or investing in social media. This method has been adopted by observing what the very best businesses do, and emulating them in the coaching context. The systems we teach will help you become one of the 1%. All you have to do is create 4 hours a week to work on your business alongside the work you do as a coach in your business. Over the next 30 blog posts, we’ll take you through a step-by-step process so you can become part of the 1% who attract the right clients, reach a wider audience, and enjoy the benefits of strategic partnerships and inbound opportunities.
If you have any questions along the way, please don’t hesitate to reach out to either of us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Look forward to taking you on this journey to the 1%.