As a business coach to gym owners all over the country, I get quite a few questions about how to run a successful gym.
This article is dedicated to addressing the one that made the greatest impact on my happiness in 10 years of gym ownership. That is “How do you build your business to run without you?” But honestly, it usually comes out sounding like the title of this article: “How do I take a f**king day off?”
Whether you are coaching classes, cleaning the floors, answering every email or more generally “keeping the gym running,” it can be hard to imagine taking a day off, let alone a four-week vacation. My story begins here when my business coach, Adrienne Dorrison, challenged me to plan just that – a four-week vacation without email, phones or connection to my business. She then followed up with a quote that stuck with me, “It is irresponsible to build a business that is dependent on you.”
For me this hit really close to home. I had just come back from a weekend away attending a music festival with some friends. One day into the trip, there was an ‘emergency’ and I had to drive three hours to cover and then three hours back, arriving just in time to go to sleep. I missed half of my “vacation” because I was a slave to my business. If you are an owner, I am certain you have a similar story. It may have been the friends’ wedding or your kid’s soccer tournament you had to pass on because you couldn’t step away.
Adrienne runs a company called “Run Like Clockwork” based on the book “Clockwork,” by her business partner, Mike Michalowicz – best-selling author of Profit First, The Pumpkin Plan and The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. I encourage you to read the book and attend a “Run Like Clockwork” seminar to learn the whole system and transform your business.
Until you do, here are three steps on how I personally “clockworked” my business:
If your goal is to not do every task in your business, then who will do them? You can certainly automate or eliminate some tasks, but we are in the service business and need great people.
When looking for them, first look internally. Buy-in to you, your gym and your mission are more important than skills. Skills can be taught, passion and caring cannot. If looking outside your walls, get clear on exactly who the ideal candidate is. Write out who that person is, their character, their strengths, their weaknesses, their communication style, etc. Then don’t settle until you find the person that fits it.
When you have committed to someone, it is now your job to make sure they have all the tools, training and mentorship that they need. If you believe there is a magic candidate out there you can hire on Monday and leave for a cruise on Tuesday while they fix everything, you are in for a miserable ride of disappointment. There is certainly a ‘right’ hire for your needs, but there is no silver bullet. I hired the exact person I was searching for, but two years later we are still growing and developing together. Just about every minute I spend working in my business is on developing my team.
Lastly, there will be a time when you will find yourself with someone on your team that is clearly not the right fit or not on board with your vision. If you haven’t yet, you either don’t have many employees or need to look closer. When you find yourself in this position, do not waste energy judging or complaining; simply address the issue vigilantly. Then, you must exhaust all the mentoring and training you can give. Lastly, if all of your efforts are exhausted, you must commit to letting this person go. Doing so allows them to grow and find the right fit for them and allows you to make space for the right person at your organization.
Imagine pulling someone off the sidewalk, handing them your manual and checklists and asking them to take over. How do they do at running your business the way you want it run?
If the answer is less than great, your job is to document what I call “how we do things.” This can be manuals, handbooks, checklists, videos, screen-share recordings, pictures, etc. Opt for simple, not fancy. If you find yourself sending the same email response, record a screen share and save it as a canned response in gmail. Like the floors mopped a certain way? Pull out your phone the next time you are doing it and record a two-minute video on how and why it’s important to you.
It’s going to be a lot, so keep all these in one place, organized and searchable. The idea is they can go find the answer themselves instead of asking you every time. We like Google Drive to keep everything in one place.
As things come up, add it to the drive. This should be growing all the time as your gym grows. Once you get the hang of it, train your team to do the same. Attack the most repetitive and most important tasks first. Once you feel a stranger could come off the street and execute, you are ready for the final step.
Now train your team, using the resources you created above, on the specific tasks and the expectations associated with doing them. Note: this is different than developing them as a member of your team. Then, allow them to complete it without any input from you. Debrief on what went well and update the process if needed. It is important to solve the issues with the process, never judge the person. If you believe they are the right person, it is not their error if details weren’t clear to them. The testing process is where the team is allowed to make mistakes and get clear on expectations.
Once you have the right people doing the right things the way you want them done, it is time for you to check your ego at the door and get out of the way. This can be the hardest step for owners. Plan a full day off with no communication first, then a week. If you have done the work up to this point, give trust abundantly during these trials. When you come back, debrief what went well and what they needed support with. Repeat as much as needed until both you and your team feel confident. At this point you are ready to schedule your first four-week vacation as owner. Take it and enjoy it, you have certainly earned it.
The result of this process? Happier customers, happier team members, happier you. For me, it means writing this from a cabin retreat in the mountains outside San Diego and later this year taking my wife on our dream trip, traveling cross-country in our RV. Drop me a DM on Instagram @chrismarhefka if you liked this article or want to learn more.