I fell into a squat in the middle of the empty gym floor, and I just sat there, crying.
I was so overwhelmed.
It had been such an unexpectedly hard week. We were having challenges at the gym behind the scenes, I got tripped up by personal finance issues I hadn’t seen coming, and I just didn’t know what to do.
From the outside looking in, you would have been surprised to see this unfold.
Because for all intents and purposes, Lee and I had been successful at growing the gym. In the past few years, we more than doubled our membership from when we took it over 3 years prior, and Lee and I were full-time gym owners: making a living from our business and managing a team of incredible coaches.
But growth since 2016 had been so incremental and more so: unpredictable.
It felt like we were slaving away for peanuts. We were vulnerable to the seasonal highs and lows, and each cancellation would derail Lee. It wasn’t just people leaving that would bother him, but we didn’t have a system for replacing those people.
We certainly weren’t in a bad place. But for as hard as we were working, we weren’t in a great place either.
We were holding fistfuls of sand, retaining a good amount of it but seeing it clearly leak through our fingers.
It was when I hit this point of frustration that things suddenly started to turn.
That evening, when I was talking with Lee about everything going on at the gym, I was overcome with such a sense of desperation, and I said, “I don’t even care what the solution is. I am so fed up with the way things are, I will do anything to fix our gym. I just want a solution. I just want answers.“
Later, as I was on my laptop, I came across a bio of a friend of mine Robby, who owns successful CrossFit Reach in Acton, MA, and is now killing it as one of the world’s top affiliates for Clickbank.
I didn’t realize until reading Robby’s biography that until he mastered Facebook ads for his gym, his gym struggled for the longest time. Once he figured out how to run proper Facebook ads, he started to drive real growth at his gym.
Then it dawned on me… that’s it.
Over the past few years, Lee and I had developed, to some degree, every other part of the client experience: sales, on-boarding, long-term retention, coaching, and the daily member experience.
But the one thing we never had a real process for was: marketing.
If we could just get more people to our gym, we would be able to grow.
In the past, we tried tweaking our social media strategy and sharing more content in hopes of bringing new people to our gym, but again, the return felt like peanuts compared to the amount of time or money we put toward these endeavors. It didn’t feel reliable or consistent, either.
So, armed with this new idea, I went to sleep… But, I couldn’t sleep!
I kept tossing and turning because I was SO excited. I had an idea we hadn’t yet tried!
Nearing midnight, I got out of bed and proceeded to scribble all over my whiteboard, detailing the process for how we were going to grow our gym, and it all revolved around conquering Facebook ads, once and for all.
The method was: learn Facebook ads > get more people to our gym > grow our membership > expand our class offerings and staff with newfound revenue.
With a renewed sense of focus and determination, it actually felt like it.
The next day, I ran Lee through the plan. Taken aback by my sheer excitement, he agreed to explore the options with me.
Later that same day, I came across someone’s profile on Facebook and saw that he ran a client acquisition process that teaches you, the gym owner, how to build and run your own ads.
That last part was the bit that landed with me because I didn’t want someone else to build ads for me.
I wanted to learn myself. Marketing is a skill all entrepreneurs should have a foundation in. I wanted to learn what it took to build successful Facebook ads, so if and when we have other businesses, we could apply our marketing knowledge to those, too.
I also like the idea of not having to depend on someone else for the success of our gym, for the rest of its existence.
I booked a call with him for later that afternoon, we talked, and everything checked out. He was no BS, knew his stuff, and had the level of attention to detail that I knew would make him reliable throughout this process of working with him.
We bit the bullet and paid for the program.
That was in May.
We launched our first Facebook ad campaign at the beginning of July, and we shut it down a week later.
Even though we stumbled through our first campaign and made a lot of mistakes, we still saw an 8x return on ad spend, in just up-front cash alone, with a projected 47x return from the 6 and 12 month memberships we sold.
This ad campaign made us immune to the June slump.
… And these numbers pale in comparison to what some of the other gym owners in the group have gotten (and continue to get).
That said, I want to highlight something really important: this turned out to be not just a system for us – it became a journey.
This is what I originally wanted to get from this program:
- Client Acquisition System: A process for growing our gym sustainably and reliably. One that anyone on our staff, with the right training, could implement (read: it wasn’t solely dependent on us as the owners).
- Skills for the Entrepreneur: Online marketing is undeniably important, especially if you have an eye at all toward scaling your brick-and-mortar business. Everything is digital now. I wanted to learn how to create my own Facebook ads, not only for the gym, but for any other future business we get into.
Check and check.
But this is what we also ended up getting:
- Personal growth
- Purpose & direction
If you know me by now, you know pure profit doesn’t drive me. The prospects of genuine life fulfillment and self-actualization do. Oftentimes, those things are enhanced by wealth.
So it wasn’t just the numbers and the tangible return that convinced me this system would work for us, for months and years to come. It was also the intangible return we saw. This program:
Strengthened Our Partnership
Before we went through this program, Lee and I had our separate swim lanes. He was sales, head coach, and the face of the gym. As for me, any operations outside of the day-to-day, I scheduled, planned, and implemented, while taking care of the back-end needs (budget, payroll, building processes).
Going through the Max Out Your Gym program was an all-hands-on-deck operation.
We both needed to be involved to make this work. We went through the 12 week course together, we planned what our offer, sales process, and onboarding was going to look like, and when we launched, we both took consultations.
We were finally in the same swim lane, but much to our surprise, it wasn’t creating redundant effort. Working together actually compounded our effectiveness and the momentum we had at the gym.
Provided Us with an Opportunity to Personally Grow
In diving head first into video content and sales, I was forced to face my fears.
Being in front of the camera was challenging and frustrating, but it was a skill we knew we, as business owners, had to develop, period. We certainly got a lot of practice.
By running back-to-back consultations with leads who were a lot cooler than we were used to, I had to face my fear of rejection. I flexed those atrophied muscles of turning it on, quelling people’s fears, getting them to trust me, and rolling with the punches of no-shows or not closing.
In growing through this process, Lee and I have become much more well-rounded as gym owners. He pays more attention to the numbers, and I pay more attention to the quality of my interactions with people.
This process required so much of us personally, to make this successful, that we really had to put our big kid pants on.
I couldn’t be stifled by doubt.
Lee couldn’t be apologetic.
It simply wouldn’t have worked if we allowed ourselves to get in the way.
We put ourselves out there, and although we got knocked down several times throughout the process, we kept standing back up, trying again, and eventually getting some amazing wins with a new group of people who are committed to themselves and to the gym.
The positive results of this have been so humbling and eye-opening, we are both infused with a deeper sense of appreciation for what it is we do as gym owners: taking care of people while remembering to take care of ourselves, too.
Gave Us Purpose and Direction
Every day we had consultations, we were at the gym from first thing in the morning to close. We called it “deployment” because the optempo felt a lot like deployments we were on in the military – a lot of work, with barely enough time to eat, sleep, and work out.
It’s certainly not a sustainable pace, and more importantly, you have to balance growth with managing growth and retention. Now that our ads are off, we’re doubling down on on-boarding, retention, and improving our member experience.
We are infused with a renewed focus to grow the gym while protecting that growth, as well.
Going through this process gave us such a clear direction on where to go with our gym and how to grow it sustainably from here on out.
And wouldn’t you rather be flooded with leads from a system that actually works, instead of paying for… crickets?
The Bottom Line
With people who are new to CrossFit, you can only hope they come to the gym enough times to overcome their fears and develop that unshakable confidence in themselves and the good work they’re doing at your gym. The confidence that comes from good days, bad days, and showing up for the end goal, no matter what.
And that’s what this new marketing system has been for us.
A repeated opportunity to rise to the occasion, try again, and gain confidence in our ability to grow our gym reliably and sustainably, in a way that serves both ourselves and those around us.
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Latest posts by Chelsea (see all)
- Money or Passion: Which Came First? - October 8, 2019
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- New Marketing System: What I Thought I Was Going to Get, and What I Got Instead - July 17, 2019