3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Gym

5 min read
Mar 20, 2024

Hey, it’s Ben from Business For Unicorns. @benjamin__pickard

In addition to the work I do as a Coach and COO with BFU, I’ve had my gym for almost a decade (as I write this, we just entered our 10th year).

And it’s been amazing, but not without its challenges. I started my gym after leaving another that was going under, with 3 clients, 2 branded polos, and a laptop, renting space out of a grungy powerlifting gym.

We work with people 50+, so you can imagine this wasn’t the ideal training environment.

Put simply, it was bootstrapped as hell and felt like it was held together with duct tape and elbow grease.

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But I dug my heels in, learned what I needed to know (often through trial and error), and when you fast forward to today we’ve:

  • Generated multiple 7-figures in revenue (at a very healthy margin)
  • Created careers for many coaches
  • Changed thousands of lives

And all the while creating freedom for my family - something I want for every gym owner who feels like they are tied to their gym.

So I wanted to share 3 things I wish I knew when I started my gym to help you increase your income, grow your impact, and create freedom.

1. Know My Freakin’ Numbers

This isn’t the first time you’ve heard it, and it won’t be the last.

And it’s because it’s crucial.

In my experience, you need 3 things to know your numbers:

  • First, a monthly P&L, preferably from an accountant, that you review with a fine toothcomb at the end of every month.
  • Second, a budget that you compare to the monthly P&L to in order to see where you overspent to reign back, underspent to increase, and where you nailed it.
    • And if you are already feeling overwhelmed, a budget isn’t a complicated thing only an accounting wizard can figure out. It’s essentially “here’s what we intend to spend” in a spreadsheet. Simple is better.
  • Third, a cash management system to help you put your dollars of revenue to work in the right buckets, such as payroll, operating expenses, marketing, tax allocation, and of course your pay.
    • I strongly recommend Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. That book will save you months of stress and make you almost instantly more profitable.

It took me a year or two to get my arms around my numbers, and it would have saved me a lot of stress if I had hired a bookkeeper and made a simple budget when I started.

In fact, when I did finally pull the trigger on a bookkeeper (because after all, it’s cheaper to do it myself and I was a small business so I needed to pinch pennies), she had to redo everything I did myself anyways because I didn’t do it right.

It cost me the same as it would have to hire her on day 1, yet I wasted countless hours doing something I didn’t like and wasn’t good at because I didn’t know better.


2. Change My Continuing Education Focus

Like I imagine you are since you’re reading this blog, I was and continue to be a voracious learner. I’ve put in a few hours a week of continuing ed for almost 15 years, plus conferences, seminars, workshops and more.

When I started as a trainer in 2009, I absorbed everything I could get my hands on when it came to programming, mobility, cueing, and exercise selection.

And that continued after I started my gym.

Where I missed the mark was I didn’t spend much, if any, time learning marketing, sales, systems, SOPs, HR, or any of the business side of things.

Looking back, I was far beyond a good enough trainer to help my clients reach their goals. Yes, it’s important to improve, but reading another book on nutrition wasn’t going to massively move the needle for me or results. That bucket was already pretty full.

And my “business” buckets were empty.

It was the equivalent of a beautiful, carefully maintained car with immaculate paint that got washed and waxed every weekend, but the engine didn’t work.

That car doesn’t need more wax. But it is in dire need of some engine work.

Make sure you’re focusing on the things that you need most in your business, not what you like to do or have always done. If you’re not sure where to start, consider:

  • One third of your time on fitness (this can be less if you aren’t the head coach at your gym)
  • One third of your time on marketing and sales
  • One third of your time on general business, such as rotating between books about finance, leadership, management, and systems

Had I done this breakdown on day 1 owning a gym I would have grown faster, changed more lives, and had far less headaches trying to solve problems I didn’t understand.

3. Develop My Leadership Skills

People want to follow and learn from people they look up to.

In the fitness industry, it’s often people who are in very good shape (and unfortunately others who are in good shape and don’t wear a lot of clothing on their Instagram but are full of hot air).

This applies to our clients, and more importantly our staff.

They will join your team for a paycheck and a mission, but will only stay long term if they truly buy into the vision of your company and how it will help them grow.

After all, not everyone wants to work morning and evening split shifts for very long, and I completely understand.

It takes a powerful, resonant leader to paint the picture for the growth of your company and the impact it will make - and in turn, the growth of each team member and the impact they can make.

The good news is I believe everyone is a leader, but everyone doesn’t know how to step into being that leader.

It starts with leading by example and leaning into discomfort, and continues with learning how to be a clear communicator, a firm yet empathetic boss, and blazing the trail others will be excited to follow.

Over time you’ll develop your own style, feel confident in who you are and how you show up, and be a beacon for others who feel the same but don’t know how to express it.

When I started out I spent far too much time figuring out “what do I need to do to solve X problem or reach Y goal?” when should have spent more time figuring out “how can I help my team solve X problem or reach Y goal?”

By empowering them, leading by example, and creating a “game they can win”, my team has become more independent than ever while living our mission and changing lives.

Best of all, my gym isn’t held together by duct tape or elbow grease.

Ben Pickard
Coach and COO
Business for Unicorns

Want to shift to learning more about business (and make more money)? Check out the FREE Raise Your Rates Playbook for a step-by-step guide for how to increase your rates (and how much).

Click HERE to grab it.

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