The Three Aspects of Fit Biz Growth

Strength Faction Mentor Ross Oberlin is also a gym owner. He’s the owner-operator of RC Fitness in Oak Park, IL. Like all small business, Ross experiences trials and tribulations–triumphs and wins. It’s all part of making a living in the fitness industry. 

Since we have Coach Fury sharing some of the technical aspects of training with his Bells and Breathing series, I asked Ross to contribute a once-per-month piece on his experiences as a gym owner. The triumphant wins and the challenging trials. 

No matter if you’re a gym owner or a personal trainer at a commercial gym–you’re a fitness business owner. The difference is in what you’re selling. Biz owners are selling memberships and culture that invites people to feel understood and guided toward their goals. Independent and commercial gym trainers are selling themselves to meet the same ends. 

So, regardless of where you currently stand in your fitness career, Ross’ series is for you. 

This week, Ross is talking about a BIG mistake he’s made through the course of running his business. He didn’t assess his businesses growth needs and it almost cost him everything. 

I’ll let Ross take it from here.

In Strength Faction, one thing we discuss with our businesses is the idea of telling a story about our clients and members.


This story is how you grab people’s attention, and create a winning culture that will support and sustain your business.  It’s how people know “this gym is for me”.


In addition to the story we tell our clients and members, we also have an internal story.


We have an internal narrative, shared amongst those we work with.  This is how we understand our identity and objectives.


If you’re a personal or independent trainer, you still have this internal story.  It might be shared only with yourself, but you absolutely have one.


Certain parts of your internal story are consistent, like your identity and core values.


While the identity and core values of your personal story are consistent, the internal narrative about your objectives has to, NEEDS to be fluid and adaptable.


I failed to keep this side of our narrative adaptable, and it hurt our business.


Luckily, we realized what we were screwing up before it killed us off.


We realized we were focused on the wrong aspect of growing our business.


When you’re talking about a gym’s main source of revenue, you’re often talking about memberships.  When you’re talking about a personal trainer’s main source of revenue, you’re often talking about sessions.

BSP NOVA members getting some early morning training in.

To grow your business and these main sources of revenue, you need to accomplish 3 things:


  1. Exposure/First Contact


  1. Conversion


  1. Retention


Exposure, or First Contact is your initial interaction with someone who is in the market to buy your services.  It could be a referral, it could be through advertising or an online search, or it could be a random interaction that turns into an opportunity.  People interested in your services need to know you exist first.

To run a successful business, you’ll need a certain amount of people coming to you for your services.  The better you are at numbers 2 and 3, the less people you’ll need here.


Conversion is taking someone from that initial interaction into a sale.  That might be directly, or there might be some sort of trial period, free or not in between.  Conversion is complete when this person has paid you and is now committed to continuing to pay you for your services.  This process could take a minute to a month, depending on your business model.


Retention is doing whatever it is you do – well enough that this person decides to continue paying you, on a long term basis.  As long as you have more people joining than leaving, you’ll have a positive retention rate. As mentioned, the less people that leave your services, the less people you need to add.


When we first opened our gym, our membership was low.  It afforded us the time to add a personal touch to each member’s experience. We didn’t have any plan or process written out for doing that.  It was just part of our culture, and something that happened naturally.


This gave us great retention.


We also had a great “product”.  From day one, people clicked with our model of training.  Once we were able to explain what we did, they’d join.


This gave us great conversion.


The problem was that we didn’t have enough members to really sustain the business. The people who were training with us loved it, and would tell their friends, but it wasn’t enough to get us to the numbers we needed to hit.


As we looked over the numbers, we collectively knew: “Our issue isn’t conversion or retention.  It’s exposure.”


We responded by learning and applying all we could about ways to gain exposure to potential members.


In time, the number of people signing up for consultations with us grew.  We “knew” this was our weak spot though, so we doubled down, and continued working on improving up the process of getting people to walk in our door for the first time.


Inevitably, we missed the forest amongst the trees.


We had stopped self-assessing.


All of a sudden, the numbers stopped adding up.  We should have more members than this, no?


We had such a high number of people coming in that as soon as we had taken them through the initial consultation process, we forgot about them.  They’ll sign up for a membership, we thought.  Everyone has!


We had taken our high conversion rate for granted.  We weren’t taking care of our people.  But not because we didn’t want to.


It was because we were overwhelmed by an essential process that wasn’t getting the attention it needed.


Fortunately, we caught this mistake before it was too late.  We realized that the narrative we were telling ourselves was wrong.


Our level of exposure/first contact was doing well, and could be left on cruise control for the moment.  We worked on creating a better experience for our members, and took an extra effort towards making our new members feel like a part of the community.

Here’s Ross coaching up his people!

We focused on inclusion, communication, and competence.


We re-assessed our weak spots, adjusted our objectives, and succeeded.


We now sit in a constant cycle of addressing issues that come up, or refining our systems when things are going smoothly.  To an unsteady business, that might sound daunting.  To a business with clarity, it’s an exciting challenge that you get to tackle head on each day.


If you haven’t yet, figure out what your big 3 numbers (Exposure, Conversion, or Retention) need to be for your goals.  Establish what they are now, and then identify the biggest area that needs your attention.

Odds are you’ll already have some immediate thoughts on how you can improve your situation!

All it takes is a little clarity and telling yourself the right story.

Struggling with putting all of the pieces of the fitness industry together–program design, movement coaching, getting new clients, organizing yourself? We help personal trainers and fitness coaches make sense of the fitness industry and create stable careers for themselves. Click the link below and you’ll get our FREE trainer transformation course and you’ll be subscribed to our weekly newsletter. And we’ll be here to help you get your fitness coaching career thriving.

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In 2010, two dudes Chris and Todd, started the business that would eventually become Strength Faction.

You know how they say the rest is history? Well, it’s not.

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