It’s hard to believe it’s been one year since AHP opened. It’s been a lot of fun, and a great first year in which I exceeded my own goals.
Here’s a few lessons I learned along the way.
1. When opportunity strikes – be ready. It probably would have taken me another 3-5 years (unless I wanted to take out a large loan) before I could have opened Absolute Human Performance if I hadn’t been approached by someone who was looking to open a batting cage facility. He wanted to outfit a gym and was looking for a business to sublease the space, and approached me with the opportunity. Ultimately, I had zero start up costs which essentially is what allowed me to start AHP one year ago. Suffice to say, I was extremely lucky. With that said it was still very daunting to think about making sure I was able to cover rent every month. Luckily – I had established enough strong connections in the area thanks to coaching baseball and working at Bellerose High School running the fitness centre that I had enough clients on day one to be able to pay the bills. I’ve been asked a few times by people who want to start their own gym and my advice (tongue slightly in cheek), is to find an ex-big leaguer who is opening a baseball facility and wants someone to help offset the rent by paying to use the weight room space. In all seriousness, 95% of new businesses fail within five years, so even if a great opportunity presents itself like it did in my case, you need to be equipped to capitalize on it and sustain it long-term.
2. As a strength and conditioning coach, be humble. I’m still nowhere near the strength coach I want to be – but when AHP had opened I had five solid years of experience. I had written hundreds of programs (including many free ones to different student athletes while working at Bellerose). I had over a thousand hours experience coaching the floor with ten athletes at a time – so I knew my business model (semi-private training) would work because I was equipped to coach multiple athletes at once.
Every personal trainer or strength coach wants to immediately work with pro athletes – but you need to be humble, and work with anyone and everyone. Nobody should be “beneath you” and there is just as much pride to be taken in helping a fifty year old woman get in better shape and feel better, as there is in taking an elite lifter’s squat from 400 to 500.
In a lot of ways – the most difficult programs to write, and most difficult people to teach, are non-athletes without much training experience. Working with general population clients in the years prior to opening AHP helped make me a way better coach.
Similarily – if you want to work with elite athletes, then work with youth sports teams. Dan John once wrote, “If you want to learn something, teach it. If you want to master something, teach twenty 14 year old boys.”
3. Be patient. Be far more concerned with keeping the clients you have than trying to gain new ones. The first couple months were very slow. When I started I had four individual clients, a hockey team, and two baseball teams. It took a couple months to gain even one new client. In the fitness business – you’re going to gain clients from word of mouth – and that’s pretty much it. I made a conscious decision to do as excellent of a job with my existing clients and trust that over time word would begin to spread. If you maintain all your clients and add one a month you’ll be in a really good spot down the road.
4. Understand the importance of belonging cues.
This is something Daniel Coyle expands on at length in his book, The Culture Code. Basically human beings want to belong and there’s many different ways we as leaders can invite a feeling of belonging. If you want to build a culture where people feel pride in being a part of it you need to create a sense of belonging. Most importantly is attentive listening. You have to truly care about your athletes. Ask them questions, and truly listen. Authenticity is easily picked up and the same is true of the opposite. If you don’t actually genuinely care people will pick up on it and see right through you. I say it a lot but athletes don’t care what you know until they know you care.
Hemingway said it best: “When people talk, listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen.”
5. Imposter syndrome is normal.
“The first problem of any even kind of limited success is the unshakeable conviction that you are getting away with something and that any moment now they will discover you.” – Neil Gaiman
This is something I deal with off and on basically constantly. To combat this I continue to prioritize learning. Ironically though, the more I learn, the more overwhelmed I get by how little I know. In the strength and conditioning world – if you don’t look at programs you wrote a year ago and shake your head at yourself – you flat out haven’t learned enough. All you can do is keep learning and my goal is in a year from now to look at programs I’m writing today and shake my head yet again.
6. Bet on yourself. I’ll close with this. Have a vision, believe in yourself, and work like hell. I had a vision of my own gym way back in 2013. I wrote it down and what I wanted it to be like and it was always in my head. Even though it went on the back burner at times I was still always working towards that goal.