While reading this post won’t help you in your journey to get jacked I do believe these mistakes I made are things that, while focused on business, can be just as easily applied to our lives. Not only do I hope you can learn from my mistakes, but damnit was it cathartic to just write about it. It is essential that we review and learn from our mistakes and this is my attempt.
It was May12th, 2008. Nothing special about the day for most, but I was excited as it was the unveiling of months of hard work, the opening of Essential Fitness my personal training studio. My partner and I since October of the previous year had been carefully planning and preparing for this day, and it was GLORIOUS!
Ok glorious might be a bit of an oversell, in fact underwhelming is likely more descriptive. I did however; have one training client scheduled, which at the time was almost the extent of my clientele. That being said I’m sure you’ve heard the rags to riches stories of some trainers, where they started with one paying client, maxed out their credit cards to open their doors, and with years of hard work, finally built a world class facility. This is not one of those stories.
In fact it’s quite the opposite. At this point you may be asking “Why the hell am I reading about how some dude sucked at business, and then closed his facility?” Valid question. Having gone down this road I hopefully have some pretty valuable advice that might prevent you from having the same fate.
#1 Being Arrogant
I’m not a narcissist, but like many entrepreneurs, I was pretty confident I could run a better show than the other facilities I’d been training in. Having been behind the curtain of small business now, I realize it is no small feat to run a business and be successful. The same thought that drove me to open my business was a part of why it closed. I thought I knew best and didn’t seek guidance from those better or more experienced than I was.
How To Avoid: Seek out a mentor that will give you open and honest feedback. Comb through your client base and I’ll bet you have someone who is smarter and more successful than you. Then make it worth their while to spend 30 minutes with you each quarter to review your potential pitfalls. Then actually take their advice.
#2 Not Cultivating Business Skills
Armed with a degree in Exercise Science and a minor in marketing, I was convinced I knew enough to effectively manage the business along with the training. I was wrong. This very much ties into #1, as I was arrogant enough to think I knew how to manage the books and systems that were needed to help me succeed. The training piece came naturally as I’d been doing it for quite some time by then, but I sorely could have used a mentor, or should have sought out more education on business basics.
How To Avoid: Carve some time out to fill in the gaps in business knowledge that your exercise degree didn’t give you. A local community college is a super cheap way to do that, and starting with courses like accounting and finance will go a long way.
#3 Not Having Checks and Balances
When you run the show in a small business you don’t have a board to answer to, or shareholders to think about. A board and shareholders are a naturally built in system of checks and balances, where you have to explain your actions to them, and if you don’t produce they can fire your ass. This usually serves as an impetus to make sure that costs are kept at reasonable levels, and things like too much debt don’t jeopardize the company. Be sure to set your own checks and balances and then make sure you don’t decide to break them because you’re the boss.
How To Avoid: Have a checklist of things you must do each week like spend 30 minutes on marketing/advertising daily, or spend one hour on Fridays reviewing accounting for the week. Once you develop your checklist then make yourself accountable too by having to turn it into someone at the end of each week (a mentor or someone else involved with your business would be best).
#4 Not Being Prepared For Rapid Growth
The phrase Mo Money Mo Problems comes to mind here. Any start-up is in a growth stage and problems can arise quickly, as a result of that rapid growth. We started with maybe $15k in sales by the end of ’08, and ended ’11 with well over $100k. The business wasn’t rolling in it, but it was a pretty good start considering. The thing is when business starts to increase rapidly, other costs start to increase, be it staffing, maintenance, etc. Keeping an eye on these increasing costs, other factors impacted by growth, and making the appropriate adjusments, can mean the difference between keeping your studio open and watching your landlord hang the “For Rent” sign in the window of your building.
How To Avoid: Read “The E-Myth Revisited” By Michael Gerber. This is an essential book that anyone starting a small fitness business should have on their bookshelf, and can speak to how to handle growth and the difference of working on your business as opposed to in it.
#5 Short-Sighted Decision Making
When making decisions in my business much of it was focused on the short-term, and what the immediate benefit was, instead of thinking long-term. I hired my brother to help with the books and he did a great job, but I made that decision because it benefitted me not the business. It was a selfish decision because I wanted to work a bit less, but caused me to be less aware of the financial health of my business. In many businesses there is a need to hire others to handle some of the work, but this one clearly was not well thought out on my part, it was too soon.
How To Avoid: Set benchmark goals for your business in terms of sales before you decide to hire or contract work to others. Once you can meet the basic needs of your business, and get paid yourself, then look to add additional help. If you are currently running your business on $50K of sales, split $25K for operations and $25K as your take home pay, then you probably need another $5K or $10K in order to hire someone, even then that’s only if your costs associated in raising that additional capital didn’t rise equally.
I eventually closed my studio in 2012 and these are probably the 5 biggest factors that played a part in its demise. It was a lot of fun while it lasted, but unfortunately fun wasn’t enough to sustain my business. Hopefully you can glean something from my 5 big mistakes and your studio or business doesn’t go the way of mine.