I’ve completed the book! It’s done! Huzzah!
Now as a loyal subscriber, here’s a warning: this book is a compilation of BFU emails written over a two year period. This means if you luuuurve this here weekly email, you may have already read all these words.
But if you want to re-read them?
Or perhaps you missed some here and there (you naughty monkey)?
Or maybe you’re relatively new to this email list?
If you enjoy my musings, and any of the above categories apply, you can now get your copy of…
I’m really excited about this and think you’ll really dig it.
To whet your appetite, below is the introduction.
It gives you some insight into just what this book is all about.
(And if you’re already pumped to read it? Click the button below to pick up your copy today.)
The first thing to know is that this book is about you.
It’s about your hopes, your fears, and your dreams.
If you’re reading this book, my bet is you’re a current or aspiring gym owner looking to help more people, grow your income, and leverage your expertise as a fitness professional to create a business you love.
This means you have chosen a professional path that is 1) worthwhile and 2) difficult.
I know this because I have chosen the same path as you.
Although this book is about you, I’d like to share a bit about my background. This will help you understand a bit more about your friendly author and the background that informs my philosophies on running a training gym.
In 2011, after years of working as a one-on-one independent personal trainer in NYC, I decided to focus my efforts and see if I could make it into a “real business.”
You see, I had spent years developing my craft as a fitness professional. But now I wanted to build something more substantial; something that could impact more people and build a more sustainable and creatively satisfying lifestyle.
The previous summer I had started cycling business books into my usual professional reading. I launched a six-week makeover program that developed a cult following in the Broadway community. Shortly after seeing some traction, I decided to burn the boats. My best friend from high school, Michael Keeler, came onboard as my business partner. We made a few hires and we got a lease.
Mark Fisher Fitness was no longer just a one man band. Mark Fisher Fitness, the brick and mortar training gym, was born.
In spite of being in one of the most competitive markets in the country, we were full of hope and excitement about our potential.
For those not familiar with MFF, it’s fair to say we’re a pretty unusual place. Our tagline is “Ridiculous Humans, Serious Fitness.” And for over 10 years, we have lived this mantra. We’ve sought to marry best-in-class training, nutrition, and behavior change coaching and cover it in a chocolate sauce of madness.
On the one hand, it was an organic choice to leverage my natural eccentricities. I loved to teach fitness concepts using humor, potty language, and fantastical and subversive imagery and metaphors. But beyond knowing myself, I knew my people –– the ones who didn’t feel spoken to by most of the fitness industry –– and I bet they would be drawn to our soaring freakflag.
Instead of calling our members “clients,” we call them Ninjas. Instead of referring to our home as a “gym,” we named it The Enchanted Ninja Clubhouse of Glory and Dreams. The space itself is colorful and glittery; our design aesthetic can best be described as “5-year-old on LSD.” Our spiritual mascot is the humble and majestic unicorn. And from our birth, our mission has been to create a place where the other kids who ate lunch alone in middle school would feel welcomed, even if gym class wasn’t our favorite subject.
Since our birth, we’ve had a damn good run. 50% of all small businesses fail in the first five years, and only 33% make it to year ten. At the time of this writing, we’re in our eleventh year and going strong.
We’ve had lots of amazing results in that time. We’ve worked with over 6,000 Ninjas. We’ve had over 100 MFFers (team members). And we’ve done over $30 million in revenue. We ranked as the 312th fastest growing business in America in 2015’s Inc 500. We’ve also been named one of Men’s Health’s Top Gyms in America. We’ve been covered by local and national press both inside the fitness industry and in mainstream publications like The New York Times, Forbes, the Wall St Journal, Details, and many, many more.
As more and more fitness professionals caught wind of the looney unicorn gym, we started fielding consulting requests. Keeler and I soon started a second company called Business for Unicorns to share what we were learning. Over the past few years, we’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours doing one-on-one coaching and delivering talks and workshops to thousands of gym owners.
Over the past few years I’ve gotten to travel the world giving keynotes, lectures, and workshops at Perform Better, IDEA World, IDEA Club & Studio, IDEA Personal Trainer Institute, FILEX, SCW MANIA, Anytime Fitness Australia, The Summit by BFS, Lift the Bar, The Fitness Business Summit, The International Fitness Business Alliance, The Strong Pro Summit, Vigor Ground Summit, Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, Strength Matters, Kansas City Fitness Summit, Nor-Cal Summit, Fitness Revolution, VASA Fitness, UK Leisure Industry Week, and many more.
Outside of fitness, I’ve been a speaker, mentor, and/or consultant for businesses and events outside the fitness industry, including SONY Music, Security Scorecard, Two12, Red Door by Elizabeth Arden, Novus Surgical, LiquiTech, TEDxBroadway, and more.
Recently, I even launched a third company as an investor to open up multiple locations of Alloy Personal Training, an emerging franchise brand.
I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging. Believe me when I say the above feathers in my cap are NOT the reasons why I think you should listen to me.
You should listen to me because I have been in the trenches, just like you, operating a training gym.
I’ve opened — and closed — a second location of Mark Fisher Fitness in New York City. (The full story is in this book.)
I’ve struggled with suddenly being tight on cash and not understanding how it was possible to be profitable but low on cash flow.
Just like you, I’ve been wracked with anxiety that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when:
Negotiating leases with landlords…
Fighting off stress-induced canker sores the first time I had to let an employee go…
Blundering my way through endlessly changing digital marketing strategies…
Figuring out how to onboard new team members without leaving them in tears…
Getting whacked with a massive and unexpected multiple five-figure bill…
Being completely screwed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by an inept team of contractors…
Or any other number of situations that left me feeling like crawling back into my bed.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve had more painful conversations than I can count. I’ve heard many things that were tough to hear. And I’ve shared many things that were tough to say.
Just like you, I’ve struggled with conflict between myself and my team when I was too insecure to set boundaries.
When I was too afraid to do what I knew was in the business’s best interest.
When I let friendship get in the way of making the right call.
When I was called out by my team for something that was totally unfair and based on misperceptions and ugly assumptions.
When I was called out by my team for something that was completely on me and reflective of an embarrassing leadership failing.
When I messed something up and could tell some trust in my competence had been lost.
I’ve had to navigate the never-ending tension between wanting to support my team’s personal aspirations with the requirement to protect MFF and the team as a whole.
Just like you, I’ve gotten highly personal criticisms from long time clients I considered friends; sometimes fair, sometimes not so much.
I’ve experienced the pain of clients feeling let down or frustrated by a change of service, a price increase, or a team member dropping a major ball in our client experience.
I’ve received cutting and confusing feedback delivered anonymously with no way for me to ask clarifying questions.
I’ve struggled to keep the peace on more than one occasion when a volatile and contentious issue was tearing our community apart with clients on both sides demanding MFF take their preferred action.
And of course, though it barely needs to be said, I’ve also faced the financial and emotional headwinds of a worldwide pandemic; having to let go of our entire team, launching an online business overnight, and scratching and clawing our way back one client at a time.
A pandemic that, at the time of this writing, is not yet done and is still materially impacting NYC as a market for in-person fitness services.
I realize the above sounds heavy. Sorry if it caused any PTSD!
I want to be very clear. I LOVE my job. I love it. I LOVE what I get to do, I love our clients, and I love my team.
I’m not sharing the above to imply that I don’t love what I do.
I’m sharing it to say I know the unique joys and challenges of the work that we do.
I’m not some full time consultant. I can understand why someone would go that way. It’s a hell of a lot less work! And maybe that will be my path one day. After all, we should all stay open to what possibilities the future may have in store.
Today I am a gym owner.
So I know your training business is your life’s work. It’s how you hope to improve society, positively impact the world, and create a livelihood to support your family.
Because of the success — and batshit shenanigans — of Mark Fisher Fitness, it could be easy to discount us as wild outliers with little to teach.
But you and I are not so different. Not in the ways that matter most.
And what I most want you to know, whether you’ve had your gym for 25 years or are scheming and dreaming about opening up your very own spot…
You are not alone.
I’m right alongside you. Marching onward, growing, learning, loving and doing the damn work.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this book. I put my whole heart into it. I know it can help you achieve your goals more quickly, all while hopefully sidestepping some of my errors.
Jumping high five with my entire f*cking soul,
Thanks for reading my words. I appreciate the hell out of you. 🙂