We were lucky because the business we had bought was already profitable, fully staffed and running quite well – so going in all we had to do was not muck that up. Easier said than done though. I had never even been a member of a gym before let alone ran one, so not only we were out of our depth in a business sense but also we knew nothing about the industry. We had a very specific, detailed and actionable business plan to follow which really helps make big things (like running a business) a lot more manageable. So we followed our plan, and just tried to be good people.
We worked hard, we were then before it opened and after it closed every day for the first while – I was really focused on trying to set a good example to the team, we did everything from vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms, to sign ups, lead generation and gardening. I’d spent my entire working life before that working for someone else and I knew that when I was in charge I would never ask or expect anyone else to do something I hadn’t or wasn’t willing to do myself – so we did it all. It was fun. Tiring but fun. Its different when its you own business your thinking about it all the time, not just the 8-10 hours your actually there each day. But we loved the idea that we were working for ourselves – and slowly we started to make money – not much – but the business was profitable. Phew!
Mail Box Money
A few months earlier we had stayed with a friend of Sally’s Dad in Austin Texas. He was a very successful man who had made his fortune in real estate. Whilst staying with him we told him we were planning to start a business when we got home. This excited him because his real passion now was mentoring and helping others become successful. A couple of things happened when we stayed with him which I really think sparked a huge change in me. Firstly, he introduced me the idea of horizontal income streams – which he had about 30 of. He also talked about mailbox money – when he first said that I asked what was mail box money, and he said it when money just shows up in your mail box. I laughed it off but about an hour later he walked into the living room and said see this is mailbox money and he showed up two envelopes that had just arrived in his mail box. He had already opened them both so held up two cheques – one for about $7,000 and one for about $3,000. He said I’ve done not a single second of work today and I just made $10 grand. I remember looking at Sally and we both said to each other “we need mail box money”.
One day he was talking and he said if you really want to make it, if you really want to be successful and make mail box money then let me know and I’ll tell you. I of course said yes – and he replied it’s a book and if you’re really interested I tell you which one later. He was a big book guy, he had a huge book case in his house and still had more books arriving by post most days we were there. The morning before we left I asked him again what the book was – and he said I’m going to tell you three books, once you’ve read them all come back to me and I’ll give you three more. I said of course. He gave me the three book titles but he made very clear which one was ‘the book’ and that we had to read that first. As we said good bye he said something that every single successful person I have ever met has also said to me since – Best of luck and if I can ever help you out with anything, please let me know – it’d be my pleasure.
We had barely pulled out of his driveway and we had the audiobook playing in our car – which was great because we were only half way though our 2-month American road trip. We finished the audio book, and ended up buying a hard copy in Baltimore too. Because we were still travelling the content wasn’t relevant to us just then but I knew that the second I landed in New Zealand my life was going to be different and everything in this book was going to be just what I needed to do.
About a year after this I was asked the question by a friend who said Matty it seems like a switch flicked in your head to become what you have – can I ask what did it? It took me a while to figure out but now I really believe that although I didn’t realize it at the time, meeting this man in Austin, and reading this book probably changed my life. The day we landed in New Zealand I started doing exactly what the book told me to do. But more than that too, I began reading, learning and becoming intently focused on becoming better. I saw a nutritionist learnt about what I needed to be eating, I got up at 6:30am each morning and went running, I listened to a podcasts, about mindset, business, wealth creation, self-development, management, marketing and anything I thought would make be better.
A quote that has really stuck with me is
“If your business is failing, it is not because of the market, or your competition, or your location, or your even your staff. Your business is not failing because of the government, or interest rates, or price structure or the climate …. If your business is failing it is because of YOU”
This stayed with me and as much as I knew I needed to work hard in the business I also knew I needed to work hard on myself.
Learning the hard way
In our plan we had set out forecasts about how we expected to perform. At the end of each quarter we review these. So we sat down in the accountant’s office for our first review to look at our actual performance vs our original forecasts. I will never forget this –there are those times in your life when despite it being entirely inappropriate you just want to cry, when that lump in your throat just wants to burst out, when your body seems to heat up so fast you feel like you’re wearing an electric blanket for clothes. This was one of those times. We were not even close to where we had said we’d be. We had worked our butts off for 3 months, and it felt like we had failed miserably. A really horrible feeling. We keep looking though the numbers and what became apparent was that it wasn’t our performance but our original forecasts that caused such a disparity. As my body began to cool down we realized that the business was actually doing well but our forecasts (although they had convinced the bank to lend us the money) were a little unrealistic. A memorable but important learning curve. (We set ourselves more realistic goals and our next review was a lot less stressful.)
Later that day we were back at the club and with my body temperature now back to normal one of our team came in for a chat. He resigned. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest for the second time in one day. I panicked – I’d never had someone quit before. Not only was he quitting but he was going to work at another gym. Immediately I started to think we had done something wrong, what did we do, was it me? It turned about he was actually moving to another gym to take up a different role, and we managed to convince him to take the same role and stay at our gym but later that night I was given some great advice… All of your staff are leaving… it is just a matter of time. We were actually over staffed anyway so him leaving was a good thing and the fact that we stayed within the organization in a different role was even better – so despite my initial reaction (which was very self-focused – what have I done, what will this mean for me etc) this was actually a great result for us and the business.
In February Sally and I took about 5 weeks off to get married and go on our honeymoon which was incredible. Literally the day we walked back into the office one of our two staff members said that they were now leaving. Again my instinctual emotions jumped up – what does this mean for me, what have I done however having already experienced this I was able to intercept them and help give it a bit more relevance, and looked for the positive affects this could have. Sally and I had thought the club could do with some ‘young blood’ but also at the same time didn’t want to move anyone on, so this really was a good opportunity to bring in someone new but also not have to push anyone out. She told us she was leaving but that it would not be for another 3-4 months – which was quite difficult, but none the less we had to hire someone else.
The Dumb Question
I had already learnt the lesson that everyone is leaving –its just a matter of time so I had been keeping my eye out for someone new. I use and repeat a daily affirmation that I attract success and this seemed to really become apparent because about 2 months earlier an amazing person literally walked into our office. One of our trainers asked if his friend could come and use the club – I said yes but just get him to pop in beforehand. He did so and it turned out he managed a club in Australia with over 3,000 members. After he left I began to wonder – so I got his number and asked he would like to move back to New Zealand – a somewhat far out question to someone I didn’t know and as far as I was aware was happily employed in another country and had been for 5 years. Another lesson that stuck with me was the dumbest question is the one that is never asked and I’m glad I asked this because he said that in fact he was looking to move back to New Zealand and he would be looking for a job, and he would like a gym to work out. The planets could not have aligned more. I couldn’t help but believe this was meant to be, we attracted success to the point it walked into our office. Bearing in mind when this happened we weren’t even looking for someone else but by the time everything worked out he arrived in New Zealand the week before our outgoing staff member departed.
A big part of our organization is sales. We sell memberships, and there was a very traditional commission based scheme around this however whilst sitting on a boat in Fiji of all places I was talking to a family friend with a lot business experience and her advise was to always incentivize the results you want. It seemed so plainly and stupidly simple I couldn’t believe I hadn’t figured this out myself. The industry had always incentivized per sale, but we didn’t want more sales – we wanted growth. So we structured his package very simply around this – the more members we had the more we turned over and the more he got paid – beautifully simple and remarkably effective.
Over the next 4 months we put on over 100 members, with the skills, knowledge and experience he brought to the table. A few months later I ran into the woman who gave me that advice and her husband was there who had equally as much business experience, he asked how the new staff member was going? I shared the result and he then gave me another but of gold when he said cheerily – When you’re a business owner – all your problems simply dissolved when you have good people. What a great way to put it, and simply very true – another valid lesson.
On not in
One of the books I had been given in Austin talked about the concept of working ‘on’ not ‘in’ your business. After we hired this new staff members we didn’t all need to be there all the time, so it gave me an opportunity to step back and have a look at the business a bit more. This is really hard to do, I just wanted to be in there every day working, feet on the ground, hands in the trenches, but I soon realized that this blinds you. The book was great and taught me a lot – I started to work from home two mornings a week and it really made a difference. All of sudden I was able to step back and look at the bigger picture and not be so consumed with the daily tasks. This book taught me the importance and need to systemize your business – if I wasn’t going to be there all the time – there needed to be systems in place so the tasks that I would otherwise do or supervise would get done with the same pedigree that we expected – again strikingly simple but incredibly true.
Our first year was full of ups and downs, trials and tribulations but we came out after 12 months and had made a profit. A fact that really had slipped by me, until I wrote it down in my journal. 18 months earlier I was cleaning windows on a yacht sailing around the world, without a clue of how to run a business, what GST really meant, how gyms operated, and I hadn’t even been a member of a gym before. Yet now we had run a profitable fitness business for 12 months. A worthy celebration. The bank was happy, our accountants were happy, our advisors and mentors were pleased. But another mentor of mine told me every time you do anything great enjoy it, but tell yourself these two words because it will keep you from becoming complacent, keep your focus on your potential and your mind on where you can go from here. What are the two words I asked... he smugly smiled and said “Nice start”
Thanks for reading - If your are interested in the books that I read that really changed things for me and 'flicked the switch' please just message me and I'll send you them - i'd love to share them.
- If you want your business to get better – you must get better. (This applies is all aspect of life too; relationships, finances, hapiness etc)
- Every single team member is leaving, it’s just a matter of time – plan for it.
- Make time to work on your business not always in it.
- Good people make your problems dissolve.
- Incentivize the results you want.
- Celebrate success but remind yourself its simply a nice start.