Creating a Barbell Business in the Post CrossFit Boom Era

Hanging out at the Pan American Games was an incredible experience. It was an honor to be a part of Team USA with all the amazing athletes from the other sports. It gave me a glimpse into the future of just how cool the Olympic Games will be.

However, there was another benefit I am going to talk about in this article that will hopefully provide all of you with value.

The Boom Is Ending

My roommate was Dave Spitz, the Godfather of Cal Strength. Cal Strength exploded onto the scene along with the CrossFit Games, and they motivated and inspired a lot of us to open a barbell business. Some of us opened CrossFit boxes, while others opened Strength and Conditioning facilities. Some of us have been courageous enough to open weightlifting and/or powerlifting gyms. It was an era that I am proud to have been a part of.

However, now we have all experienced the pinnacle of the era I am calling “The Great Boom” – and now we are all witnessing a slight decline. The industry is self-regulating, and that’s fine. All that means is that the real players will survive and eventually thrive, while the pretenders will fade away. My goal is to help all of you be a part of the gyms that thrive. It simply means we are all going to have to operate like we are real businesses… because we are real businesses.

If you are struggling, don’t worry. Dave and I are both learning to adapt to the new era I have titled “The Post CrossFit Boom Era.” CrossFit introduced the world to the barbell, and along with the Cal Strength videos it caused a sort of barbell craze. Everyone wanted to pick up a barbell and feel powerful. People wanted to slam bars like Jon North. Some wanted to squat massive amounts of weight like Dan Green. Yet others wanted to embrace the barbell grind like Donny Shankle and live in a philosophical world that paralleled the barbell journey they experienced each day in the gym.

The good thing is Pandora’s Box is opened now. That can never be undone. The question is what are we going to do with it. The new has worn off, but the curiosity is still there. Now it’s time to become the cream that rises to the top, leaving the rest behind.

More than Passion

A lot of you got into this industry because you wanted to change other people’s lives. That’s wonderful. You wanted to build a gym, open your doors, and coach hundreds of people each and every day. You fell in love with the barbell, and you wanted to share that love with others. Man, I get it! Me too! Some of you wanted to teach people how to get strong, some of you wanted to teach people how to get healthy, and some of you wanted to do a bit of both.

Perfect! That’s a great start. You have to be passionate about what you are selling. However, passion is just a part of the process. There are other aspects of business you will have to master if you want to survive in the new Post CrossFit Boom Era. There’s more to business, but these are the areas I am going to focus on in this article.

Become the Best

First, you really do need to become the best at what you’re doing. A lot of you think you are, but your videos say something different. If you want to be a weightlifting gym, you need to become awesome at coaching and programming for the sport of Olympic weightlifting. If you want to help people lose weight and get fit, you need to become an expert regarding nutrition, functional movement, and general health. The same goes for powerlifting, strength and conditioning, strongman, and all the rest.

How do you become the best in your chosen field? That’s the real question. Here’s the answer:

  1. Education and certifications are a start
  2. Know the research
  3. Find a mentor

Some of you would like to believe education doesn’t matter, and you’re just kidding yourself. You need the basics of anatomy, physiology, physics, and biomechanics to make educated decisions on the specific elements of programming, technique, nutrition, and metabolism. You need this basic background to weed through all of the information out there. This background can help keep you from making mistakes and keep you from following idiots who have no business putting out information.

Of course, all the science in the world without the practical experience of spending time under the barbell or spending time making healthy decisions on your own is worthless. You need both to become a true expert.

Guys, if Greg Nuckols can find value in a higher degree, all of us can find value. I promise none of you are smarter than him, and none of you have more experience than me. The moral of the story is to spend some time with your nose in a book or two.

Certifications sure don’t make you an expert, but they show the world that you care enough to study, pay attention, and pass a basic test. My favorite certifications are:

  • NSCA C.S.C.S. for basic science in the strength and conditioning realm
  • USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching Course for the practicality of teaching the basic movements that are important in the strength and conditioning world – like the snatch, clean, squat, press, and pull
  • Mash Elite Clinic Super Series for the science, practicality, and the business experience
  • Precision Nutrition Level 1 for the basics in nutrition and best practices.
  • Mash Elite Strength University for an Online Course on all things strength and conditioning

MASH ELITE CLINIC SUPER SERIES

This five-part clinic series stands above all others as the most comprehensive event for coaches and athletes alike. Level up your knowledge of technique, programming, business, and coaching.

Once you have a degree and get your top certifications that relate to your chosen field/passion, now it’s time to check out the research.

Is research everything? Absolutely not, but it can keep your from making mistakes. The work of Greg Nuckols makes the lives of all of us much easier. Greg and his crew perform multiple meta-analyses on topics like programming for women, truth about the back squat, and the use of caffeine – combining all the research and explaining what the data really says. However, you are going to need to familiarize yourself with PubMed because it’s the home of all the research. The research will only tell you what we already know. Then it’s up to you to figure out what we don’t know.

Last, you need to find a mentor. Who’s a good mentor? Well, you need to find someone who produces results with his or her athletes and someone who runs a great business. I think of people like Martin Rooney who have produced some of the fastest athletes ever to run in the NFL Combine, all while helping to build the Parisi Speed School Empire. Dave Spitz comes to mind for strength and conditioning and Olympic weightlifting, which makes him even more valuable because he has succeeded with two areas and two revenue sources.

You need to write your mission statement clearly, defining exactly what you want your company to become. Then you need to look around for someone who has already built such a company. Most people like Dave or me are more than willing to help out new people in the industry if you are simply nice and show us you are willing to do whatever it takes for your athletes.

If you get a chance to get mentored by someone like Zach Even-Esh or Martin Rooney, you need to pay them whatever they are charging even if you need to mortgage your home. These men and women are going to teach you more about succeeding in this industry than ten PhDs ever could. They are going to show you how to get results for your athletes. More importantly for your family, they are going to teach you how to get paid.

Marketing and Advertising

Once you understand how to get results for your athletes, you need to learn how to get your athletes. If you don’t have anyone to coach, you’re not a coach. Not only are you not a coach, even worse, you are broke.

Too many of you came into the industry believing if you built a gym, then people would come beating down the doors to workout with you. Then you opened your doors, and now you can’t even get your friends to bring their children to your gym. Is it their fault? Nope it’s 100% your fault. It’s always your fault, and once you realize that you are free to be successful.

The first element of marketing is identifying a need and then identifying your audience. Is there a need for a weightlifting gym in your town? Is there a need for a better weightlifting gym in your town? What type of person needs your service? Once you identify the need and the audience, then you can begin developing your product and brand.

For example, at Mash Elite we are known to coach some of the best athletes in the area and even in the world. We are the place where someone goes to become his or her absolute best. Our gym is beautiful with all the best equipment. We have men’s and women’s locker rooms with showers, a hardwood floating floor for stretching and warm up, and our equipment is from the best suppliers.

You don’t have to be the best in the world. You just have to desire to be the best version of you. Our market is either athletes or the general public who desire the best coaches, the best equipment, and the best facilities. It’s a niche market, but it’s also a market that shares something good with their friends.

Once you’ve identified your audience and defined your product and brand, you have to choose a plan to get your product out to the identified audience. This process is called advertising. This process has never been so easy. Social media makes this process easy and cheap.

I recommend that all of you become experts on social media. Why? Because you can use social media to target the exact audience you have identified. Both Facebook and Instagram have made the process completely easy. You need to learn about the ins and outs of both Facebook and Instagram advertising. You need to learn about pixels. You can pretty much Google or search on YouTube to find out all about these areas. You can grow your market with quality information and a good understanding of each social media platform. Personally I recommend the following social media platforms:

  • Facebook, especially for developing a strong local business
  • Instagram for developing your brand with pictures and videos
  • Twitter for communicating and teaching to your target market
  • LinkedIn if you are doing anything business-to-business (for example, corporate health and wellness programs)
  • YouTube for developing your brand deeper and developing loyalty. Your audience will get to know you and your athletes or staff on a deeper level. You can develop the characters people will find at your facilities.

There are others, but these are the ones I recommend and use. There might be other platforms to use, but these are the platforms I know for a fact will help you. You have to develop your own strategy for each of them. You don’t want to share the exact post on all platforms. That simply won’t work. I have defined how to use each of them above. Here are a few suggestions for organic growth of each:

Daily $1.80
This is my favorite piece of advice from Gary Vaynerchuk. You can go on Instagram and search for a place or topic that relates to your location and/or business and find people to communicate with. Go on their pages and honestly give your two cents. Once you’ve identified people in your community who either come to your facility, are members who you would like to have, or have children who would be a good fit for your facility, you can go on their feeds, comment on their posts, and communicate with their friends. Their friends probably live in your community as well. The key is to be real with them. You can do the same on Twitter. The goal is to give your two cents (sincere comments or questions) 90 times every single day – equaling $1.80. Maybe you need to start with $0.90 or 45 times, but you need to start somewhere and be consistent.

Post content regularly that educates and entertains
Gary Vee does a great job of doing both. I recommend posting one to three times per day on your Instagram and Facebook feeds. You can post more regularly on Twitter with comments, reposts with statements, and questions. Twitter is great for coaches because you can discuss various topics and teach people. The key is getting to the point in a direct way that doesn’t offend others.

Go Live and film the whole thing
You will have communicated with your audience live, which they love. Then you have a YouTube video, an IGTV video, and multiple clips you can post on Instagram in your feed. You might even share the video or a few clips on Facebook, but I would probably share a different clip. You can educate your audience on Twitter, and then post a link to your IGTV video as proof. You can use the audio for a podcast. Do you see how one video session led to as many as ten social media posts or pieces of content?

Blogs and podcasts
Of course, I personally love blogs and podcasts to educate my followers – but the key is I love to write and I love to podcast. I suggest picking sources you love to do. You can’t podcast just because someone else podcasts. It has to be a medium you enjoy, and one you are good at.

Regardless of the platforms you choose to use to get the word out, you have to be consistent. You need a social media plan, and you have to be committed to that plan. Pixels are great for getting your followers who consume your free content to buy your paid services that best apply to them. For example, if you make a great free video about vertical leap training, you can retarget your followers that watch that video for your athletic performance classes. You can google ‘pixels’ to understand how that works.

I have come to believe that social media is where most of your money and time need to be focused, but there are a few other areas that need some attention as well. For example, newsletter marketing is still very powerful. Of course you can use lead magnets along with social media to grow your newsletter list. For example, you could write a small ebook about vertical leap training or training for a faster 40-yard dash. Then you could give that resource away for free in exchange for a simple email address. You can use Facebook and Instagram to target the exact customers that you have identified.

Last, there’s still a need for some good old-fashioned guerrilla marketing. You need to make a calendar with daily goals for getting out in your community and meeting your neighbors. My favorite tool is free seminars once per month. You need to pick topics that will interest the customers you have identified. Then get out in the community and invite people, give away fliers, and simply get to know people. For example, plan to host a free vertical leap seminar. Then get out in the community and invite every coach, every parent, and every athlete who would care about a higher vertical leap. I used to send evites from Facebook and/or evite.com to every local coach, every parent I knew, and anyone else who possibly knew of an athlete who would like to jump higher. I would follow up those evites with a phone call. Then I would visit the people and coaches I could. It was a powerful tool.

Retention

Once you have the people in your facility, you need to keep them there and keep them happy. It’s a lot cheaper to keep a member than it is to recruit a new one. How do you keep people? Here are a few ideas:

  • Get them the results they are after.
  • Listen to them. They will tell you everything you need to know to keep them if you simply talk to them.
  • Keep the place clean.
  • Be nice. This seems simple, but many people frankly aren’t good at this
  • Build a community. Plan baseball trips together or watch an MMA Fight at your gym together.
  • Know their names and use their names when talking to them.

Guys, if you simply do the little things, not only will these people stay in your facility, they will also become your number one source for new members with referrals. If you can afford to hire one person responsible for retention, I recommend doing so. This job is the number one way to grow a facility. If you open the doors with 40 members from your pre-sales and advertising, you can easily have over 100 members within a year with only adding five new members per month… if you keep your members.

I hope this article helps a few of you with some new ideas to build your business. I can’t wait to see you guys and gals at our Mash Elite Clinic Super Series. My goal over the next few years is to help this industry take its next step in this Post CrossFit Boom Era. Together we can make sure that the barbell world is a thriving one for many generations to come.

MASH ELITE CLINIC SUPER SERIES

This five-part clinic series stands above all others as the most comprehensive event for coaches and athletes alike. Level up your knowledge of technique, programming, business, and coaching.

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