Last week I wrote about something that has really been bugging me: watching trainers pack up shop and quit because of burning themselves out. Read Part 1 here.
It seemed to touch a nerve as I got a bunch of emails from trainers who felt burned out and on the verge of quitting. Others shared with me their stories of quitting and then starting again with what they’d learned.
Creating a reliable fitness business seems simple enough, yet when it’s not working it is really hard to identify why it’s not working. This can lead you down a dark path to despair and eventually stopping all together.
In last week’s article I shared some of the common pitfalls I see trainers make that leads them down that path. Things like not being clear about Why they’re doing what they’re doing, going all-in too fast, not giving it enough time, not continuing to learn new skills (particularly about business) and saying yes to too many things at once.
What I’ve found in conversations with trainers over the years is that most trainers believe they have to work themselves to the bone in order to build a thriving fitness business.
Instead, I’ve discovered that getting clear about Why, learning some business skills and creating a great community (both in your business and among peers) is so important if you want to avoid burning out.
This can seem daunting but really what it’s about is taking small actions over time that compound into big rewards later. It makes me really sad to see people quit before they start seeing returns on all of their hard work.
In this article I want to take you through some of these specific lessons I’ve learned that I hope will help you avoid stumbling into these pitfalls.
Here’s the first one:
1. Learn from your failures
Firstly, quitting is a form of failure. And that’s OK.
Failure is a part of life, it’s utterly unavoidable. For example: You could spend your life doing nothing so that you never fail, but guess what, by doing nothing you just failed at life.
And while quitting is a form of failing, failing though does not mean you need to quit.
Just because your boat got a small hole in it doesn’t mean you throw out your boat. You learn that rowing your boat over rocks is maybe not such a good idea, patch the hole and continue on your merrily, merrily way.
My first bootcamp business failed. I ended up stopping all sessions. But then I teamed up with a local PT studio and started again. I learned from the failure and tried again.
One of the fastest ways to learn, is to fail a lot. So don’t see failing as a bad thing, yes it can be heartbreaking, but it’s also completely natural and very useful.
2. Pick your sh!t sandwiches
The grass always looks greener on the other side. Running your own business seems sexy when you’re working a job and working a job seems safe and secure when running your own business but the fact of the matter is that all sides have shit sandwiches (thanks to Liz Gilbert for the term).
By shit sandwiches I mean that all paths have struggles that you’re going to have to navigate. Sure you could work a steady job, get a regular paycheck, but you’ll have to eat whatever shit sandwiches your boss hands you. Now if you like their sandwiches, go for it!
On the other hand, when you’re running your own business shit sandwiches are going to come from all sorts of places you can’t even imagine. Websites going down, bad weather, no one showing up to your session, clients not paying on time, having to do bookkeeping, marketing not working, a negative email from someone, equipment breaking, someone wanting a refund, council permits, etc. All of these are shit sandwiches that come with running a group fitness business.
The question you have to ask yourself is, do I want to eat these ones, the ones that I get to choose, or do I want to have someone else make that choice for me?
3. Do it on the side for now
Enthusiasm is great isn’t it?
However, enthusiasm works best with a little bit of common sense attached.
Don’t quit your day job to start any business unless you’ve got a good 12 months of living expenses saved up. Start your business on the side for now, then as it grows you can put more and more time into it.
When I was getting started I worked for five different fitness companies to make up the equivalent of a small full time wage. Yes it involved lots of driving around and no I didn’t like all of my clients but damn did those shit sandwiches taste good because I was doing something I really loved. Eventually I was able to work at just one place and at that point I had another project going on the side which was this website, Bootcamp Ideas.
If you’ve already jumped in to run your business full time and it’s not making ends meet, grab yourself a part time job. There is no shame in working for someone else while you grow your own thing. What you shouldn’t do though is wait until all the bills are piling up and your a burnt out wreck which forces you to close your business and find a job you don’t really like. Take action now.
4. Take a break and restart
Sometimes it’s just a bad time. For no fault of your own, the business doesn’t work out or you are at your wits end from working too many hours.
At this point you need a break. That could look like:
- Taking a sabbatical and coming back to the business in a month or two refreshed and re-energized. Good idea if you have a partner who can support you during this time.
- Selling the business if it’s doing OK and starting something new in a few months.
- Just stopping, telling your clients you’re winding down and that you may be back later.
Something to note though is that these all require a bit of forethought and planning so think about it now instead of waiting until you have no other choice.
5. Find yourself a community
No one, and I mean absolutely no one, survives in business by going it alone.
Having a community of peers and mentors you can ask questions to and get feedback from is critical to running a successful business.
It’s not just for trainers in the fitness industry either. This is a common trait of entrepreneurs and business owners from around the world: The ability to reach out when you’re struggling instead of suffering in silence.
If your friends are all people with 9-5 jobs, they are not going to be the people to talk to about business problems. The people to talk to are the people going through the same stuff as you as business owners. I guess what I’m saying is that you need to talk to other people who like the same shit sandwiches as you.
There have been countless times when a trainer with an amazing business and a great crew of followers has messaged me out of the blue to tell me they’re quitting or selling because they can’t do it anymore. If only they had reached out to me or another trainer 3 months before. To have someone reassure them that what they’re going through is normal and that there are other options they have other than quitting.
What to do now
OK, so the gist of all of this is that running a successful business is about taking small actions over time that compound into big rewards later.
By taking regular action you’ll not only grow, you’ll also help keep up your own enthusiasm and momentum. Add in to that a community of peers who you can ask questions to as you hit roadblocks along the way and you’ve got a winning solution.
Every year I run a LIVE course with a group of 30-50 trainers called 31 Days to a Better Fitness Business.
Over – you guessed it – 31 days we do one daily task to help transform you and your business from stuck and growthless to completely kick butt. The tasks are carefully chosen to compound in their effect, you’ll be amazed at how simple some of them are but how well they work. You will need to get out of your comfort zone for some of them but you won’t do anything that goes against your principles around fitness and marketing.
Trainers who do the course also now get access to Bootcamp School, a growing library of courses I’ve made that dive into some aspects of business in much more detail on topics like productivity, marketing and website creation.
This year I’m doing something a bit different. I believe in the process of this course so much that this year I’m letting everyone join in for the first 5 days for free. You’ll get the daily emails, access to the community and access to me for questions. Even if you only implement the first 5 days you’ll notice a change in your business.
Enrollment opens next week so keep an eye on your email inbox.
In the mean time there is something I want you to do to get started and it has to do with the shit sandwiches I was talking about.
Share with us in the comments below, what’s one shit sandwich that you like eating and why do you eat it?
So your post might look something like (feel free to copy and edit this for you comment):
My favourite shit sandwich being a trainer is [insert thing here] because it means I get to/allows me to/has the upside of [insert benefit here].
Can’t wait to read them!
Kyle Wood created Bootcamp Ideas in 2010 when he was hunting around on the internet for workout ideas. He ran a successful bootcamp in Victoria, Australia and spends his spare time managing this site, adventuring (or lazying) with his wife and find new ways to make bootcamps even better.