Five Things I Got Wrong and Five Things I Got Right In My First Ten Years Of Business

How do I celebrate the ten year anniversary of Revolution Fitness & Therapy (RevFit?)

With gratitude and humility.

These ten years have been the most challenging, the most rewarding, the most painful, the most stressful and the most gratifying years of my life. They have changed what I thought I could do, what I thought I could never do and what, somewhat miraculously, has been able to grow year after year.

As you read through the list below, I will give the disclaimer that what you see with this business is not accomplished by me. It is accomplished by the clients, by my staff, and by my family who ultimately are both the benefactors of RevFit’s success and the ones who sometimes get caught in the crosshairs of a slightly insane business owner.

I owe EVERYTHING to the three parties mentioned above.

But this list is mine alone. A small glimpse at some major mistakes and major successes that at any point could have gone either direction for me. When I failed, it was my failure to own and be responsible for. When I succeeded, it was because others gave me the ability to succeed.

If you are in the fitness industry, I hope some of this is helpful for you. I am well aware that RevFit has survived LONG after most trainers can remain in the industry. That is a gift I wake up every day grateful for.

Without further ado…

Five Things I Got Wrong

  1. I Didn’t Get My Finances In Order Early Enough. It’s easy to think “I can add, I can subtract, therefore I can handle my business finances. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Certainly in my case. The first three years of my business were the most financially treacherous. I had to borrow thousands and thousands of dollars from my family to keep the ship afloat. When you don’t have the money to hire an accountant, you have to find ways to “trim the fat” of your expenses. I struggled with this greatly and my parents had to help me. At the end of that financial experiment (circa 2012), my mother (on the heels of my father’s passing) said in no uncertain terms “I cannot help you any more. If you cannot get this business to work you will either have to find a second job or shut your doors.” That was my shit-or-get-off-the-pot moment. I had enough money at that time to hire an accountant who could oversee my taxes, profit and loss statements, etc. It also helped to have an external perspective to help me understand how to balance income versus expenses. My tax professional is the office of Deb Anzelc (Anzelc & Associates.) To Deb, I say: Thank you for being my client, my friend and the person to help me with this. Your office and your staff have been exceptional to me and I am so thankful to have you in my corner.
  2. I Spent Too Much Time And Money On The Wrong Type Of Marketing. After spending 16 years working for other businesses and in management roles for 13 of those 16, I thought I had my marketing plan down pat. I did not. Virtually nothing I did from the traditional viewpoint of marketing helped my business. I put out flyers, I had terrible looking mason jars where people could put their business cards in for free sessions, I put flyers on windshields, I paid for print advertising, I tried damn near everything that worked so well for other businesses and they were almost worthless for me. Hundreds, then thousands of dollars were spent early on just trying to get someone in my door. The return on investment never came back around for these efforts. I DID, however, find some marketing avenues that worked for me but you will have to read the successes down below for that part. Unfortunately for many in the fitness industry, we are misled by savvy marketers who try to convince us their method is the best way. This did not work for me and my bank account suffered for it.
  3. I Had A Sense Of Entitlement. You know those participation ribbons that people get just for “showing up?” Yes, I hate that concept too. But for some reason, I felt like it didn’t apply to me. There was a stubborn part of me who felt that since I was the new business on the block that everyone should come train with me. Nope. It doesn’t really work that way. Personal training is “personal” for a reason. Clients want to build a relationship with someone they are going to pay their hard earned money to in efforts to help them reach their goals. Just having a shiny new business card in hand and being nice isn’t going to make the crowds flock to your door. It didn’t work that way in 2009 and it definitely doesn’t work that way now. Referrals have always been what keep us alive and thriving but the clients still had to get the results. Ultimately, our clients are our walking advertisements. If they succeed, we succeed. But I was entitled to nothing. I still had to work my ass off for every single person who came through my door (and I still do.)
  4. People Got Hurt. This is a painful one to admit but it’s the truth. When you are pushing the physical limits of a body, as strength training is designed to (in appropriate doses), you run the risk of injury. By and large, for how much our clients push, the injury rate here is fantastically low. I am proud of that. But after 10 years of business, there are two clients of note who were injured to a degree that it may always affect their ability to exercise. This is something that still rattles me to this day. Both injuries occurred during my watch. One of which I believe I could have been more pro-active with to prevent, the other I am not sure I could have changed the outcome of. Many conversations have occurred with each of these individuals and I still (to this day) rake myself over the coals about how each turned out. If there is any silver lining to these incidents it is that it taught me how to ask more questions about pain, recovery, level of intensity and rehabilitation. I believe these scenarios have directly affected our ability to keep the injury rates low here. But when you’re in the business of improving the lives of others, it’s a difficult pill to swallow when you know that two people will likely never be able to have exercise in their lives the way it was prior to injury.
  5. There Was One Who Got Away. It can be a slippery slope of running a small business. You want growth, more profit, more clients, more results, more happy people spreading the word to all of their family and friends about their experience here. It’s all great when that happens, right? Until…it’s not. One downside to growth is that a client who may have once had more direct contact with you now sees less of you because other clients are vying for attention. A smarter business person than I would have had a solution for this. But as our business grew, I had a client who felt lost in the shuffle. This was my fault. My attention was elsewhere and with others on the floor. Had I been more on top of this, I could have kept up dialogue with this client to make sure they were getting the time they needed with me. We operate a semi-private atmosphere here which means that usually others are training at the same time (albeit on different training programs.) Most of our clients are acclimated to this approach but I lost a good client because I didn’t have the right systems in place to make sure all of our clients were equally cared for. Once I realized where I slipped, I brought my staff together to troubleshoot this so that the likelihood of a re-occurrence was minimized.

5 Things I Got Right

  1. Networking. Around my first year of business, I was fortunate to be accepted into a business networking group in the area. This was a pivotal time for me. I had access to many of the professional movers and shakers (realtors, bankers, accountants, attorneys, etc.) who congregated for the sole purpose of referring business to one another. Upon acceptance into the group, I did everything I could to refer business to as many of the members as possible. Once the group realized that I wasn’t involved simply for my own sake, the members of the group either signed up to train with me or sent other business my way. I am proud and honored to say that even though I stepped away from that group around 2013, I still train two people who I met in that group back then (Thank You, Mike and Brandon.) Learning how to develop a deep network of business professionals has been immensely helpful to me over the years. I now have a pool of talent I can refer out to when my clients need it.
  2. I Built A Community. I owe this to the advice of Steven Ledbetter (Coach Stevo) and the team of Habitry. I started a virtual community on Facebook. The first was more open forum so I could push content (blogs, podcasts, etc.) and the second developed for current clientele so I could dive further into nutrition, pain points of dieting, etc. This became a place where the advice I wanted to put out into the world had a forum and it gave current clients a base of support for one another when they struggle with the process. But within these four walls, the right demographic of clients started to form. A group that even if I imagined it, it wouldn’t have had the power and impact that they do today. Recently, a client told me: “I don’t think you realize the positive impact you have on people.” While I greatly appreciate the sentiment and I hope I get more right than wrong, the real impact of RevFit is the camaraderie and support of our clients. They never cease to amaze me. If I did anything right, I gave them the environment where they could thrive, be themselves, be supported and succeed.
  3. Pictures, Pictures, Pictures. Who knew that the single best piece of marketing I could align myself with would be 100% free? I started posting pictures of my clients several years ago on Facebook and later Instagram. Facebook is still my platform of choice but being able to show off the weight loss, the personal records, the smiles, the celebrations and the progress of my clients has been monumental for this business. Every time a client allows me to tag them in a post, their network sees them do great things. That snowball builds over time and pretty soon, people start asking questions: Where do you train? What is it like? Are you happy there? Honestly, it lets me project happiness and positivity into a platform that is often wrought with complaining, negativity and otherwise unproductive ranting. Sometimes I just look back through the hundreds and hundreds of pictures we’ve amassed and say “Wow. Look at all the things our clients have done!”
  4. I Had The Right People At The Right Time. I have been very fortunate that I have only employed a small handful of people over the time we’ve been in business. Some of them were let go, some left of their own accord. Regardless, I believe I had the right staff at the right time. When you run a business like this, there are so many personality dynamics to mesh with. Every client has their own set of obstacles, goals, and dreams. Having the right staff in place, since I cannot work with every individual exclusively has been immensely helpful for me. It’s helped me understand how to be a better boss and a more effective coach. Currently, I have my team of Mike and Luke who have been with me for over a year now. They’re fine young men, they do everything I ask of them and I hope, that in return, they’ve had a good experience being a part of what we do. I want to thank each and every person who has worked for me over the last 10 years because, when they were here, they were crucial to our success at that time. For that, I am sincerely grateful.
  5. We’re A Team, We’re A Family. Where RevFit is currently, with the stable of clients that we have, is far beyond my wildest dreams. Several years ago, I wanted to give new clients a personalized RevFit shirt when they joined. Part of it, obviously, was to advertise the business. But the other part was to make our clients feel like they were part of a team. Much like sport jerseys, I put the last name of each client on the back of their shirts. It was my affectionate way of saying “You’re one of us. You’re part of a team. And a team succeeds together.” This practice has continued to this day. I even stretched out into the guests I bring on my podcast. They all get RevFit shirts as well. The RevFit family officially is an international presence and that is a very awesome thing to see. There’s another element to this as well. When you own a business, every person who is a patron not only helps you keep your doors open, they help you support your family. I have a beautiful wife, I have two beautiful sons. My clients help me feed my family and keep a roof over their heads. For that, I am so very grateful. If you are someone who helps me support my family, YOU are family. So, it’s not uncommon for me to introduce a client to my boys and say “Say Hi to Uncle John, Say Hi to Aunt Laura!” Yes, my boys have a lot of aunts and uncles right now, most of whom are not blood relations.

 

I wish I could say I have solved every problem in this business. I wish I could say we are a well-oiled machine that never breaks down. Neither statement is true. What I can say, is that by and large, we keep improving and I can’t imagine it any other way. If you would have asked me ten years ago where this business would be, I wouldn’t have had an answer. In looking forward to the next ten years, I’m still unclear on that too. All I know is, we’ve been given a gift to help every person who has walked through these doors. Many times we succeed, many times we stumble. But we keep trying. We will continue to do so.

On behalf of myself, Mike and Luke, thank you to everyone who has made this journey possible. You could be training at any of the many other fitness options available to you and you picked us. It is my hope that we are making you proud of that choice.

You give us the ability to emphatically proclaim that: We Make Great People Greater.

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2 thoughts on “Five Things I Got Wrong and Five Things I Got Right In My First Ten Years Of Business

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