Episode 253

Long-Term Planning for Your Gym with Ben Pickard

In this episode, Ben Pickard joins me to talk about the value and importance of long-term planning for your gym.

[00:00:00] Hello, fitness business nerds. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the Business Unicorns podcast, and today I’m here with Ben. What’s up Ben? Hello. Thanks for having me. Oh my gosh, it’s been a minute since I think you’ve been back, so I’m excited to have you back again and dive into another fun topic.

But before we dive in, I wanna just give a quick shout out to our. Friends that perform better. Many of you who listen to this podcast, listen to it because you are continuing education nerds and you always wanna keep learning. And our friends that perform better have some amazing summits throughout the year with amazing speakers, including our very own Mark Fisher and Pete Depu.

And so if you have not checked out all of the amazing summits that have this share, go to perform better.com and go check out their summits. They’re amazing continuing education events for all of you nerds. And and let us know if you’re gonna be there. Shoot us an email or comment down below and maybe we’ll see you at one of the summits.

Moving on to today’s topic. Today, Ben and I wanna talk a little bit about the value of planning. Actually recently on a coaching call Pete got asked the question like, [00:01:00] why should I even bother doing long-term planning for my gym? Why should I even bother having a three-year or a five-year picture or vision or goal for what I wanna achieve?

Like, why spend my time on that? It just seems so frigging far away. And so we thought, you know what? Let’s talk about that today and. No one better to do it with than Ben who’s, the kind of king of planning at business unicorns. And Ben, let’s just start with your initial reaction to that question.

Why do you think, where, why do, where do you think that question’s coming from? I think that’s question’s probably coming from a place of, a lack of vision or lack of clarity of where that person wants to go. And I completely understand it, especially if you’re really caught up in the day to day or I talk to a lot of.

Gym owners who just feel really scattered and they’re not getting enough. They just feel like they’re all over the place all the time, and the last thing they wanna do is put another thing on their fucking plate or everything’s gonna explode. So I think it makes sense to question the validity of something when you’re living in overwhelm.

So I, if [00:02:00] so, dear listeners, if you have felt the same way, this isn’t to challenge your beliefs necessarily. It’s about how do we help you operate at a better level for your needs. Yeah, I think it’s a great place to acknowledge is that I think for many gym owners listening to this podcast and ones we work with every day, they’re focused so much on working in the business every day, and they have this slight feeling of ever overwhelm, sometimes constant feeling of putting out fires or trying to have to adjust the most sticky problem of the day.

And they don’t actually give themselves permission or grant themselves enough time to step out of the business and think about working on it or thinking about. Big picture. And when they think about doing that, it feels like a waste of fucking time. It feels like with all the shit I could be fixing and doing a business, stepping out to do some academic exercise of a three-year vision or a five-year plan feels like just a waste of frigging time.

And here’s the thing. I’ll say this I’ll give my reaction is for some of you, maybe that’s true right now. Some of you really are in a hot seat. Some of you really might be a month or two [00:03:00] away from closing, right? Some of you might need to make cash immediately because you’re really in a tough spot.

And if that’s the case, yeah. Yeah. Fuck the planning. Yes, I’m cursing a lot in today’s podcast. Yeah. Get rid of the, if so, fiery forget the planning if you’re really struggling. But for all of you who are not, for all of you who are not a few months away from bankruptcy we’re gonna make a pitch to you today that planning is actually one of the best things you could spend your time on.

And maybe talk a little bit Ben, before we talk about like how to do the planning, maybe talk about what is the value of having a three or five year vision or plan? Yeah, absolutely. When it comes to any sort of plan that’s further ahead than a year. So whether it’s a 2, 3, 5, 10, different books tell to do different amounts.

For me, the real value is just setting your North Star and I, it’s akin to back in the day if you ever took family road trips, but let’s say it was gonna be like a two day road trip. Like you’re gonna drive, I live in Southern Ontario, so I’m gonna drive like bc, which takes four days [00:04:00] I before Google Maps and MapQuest.

Yes. Yeah. We’re talking big fold out dangerous maps that there’s no way you should be looking at while you’re driving. ’cause they take up a whole thing. I wanna drive to Vancouver. I know where Vancouver is and I know where I am, and I mapped out my little road of where I think I want to go.

And that gives me the direction and the planning is so valuable because instead of saying ah, I think I’m just gonna head west and see what happens, which could be a whole myriad of different West Coast destinations, which you may or may not wanna attend. This is no I, as of right now, I think I want to go to Vancouver.

But you’re le also leaving space for, if it turns out Vancouver’s kind of fucked, I’ll just pop over to Seattle. And when I see so many gym owners, including myself at a certain time, it’s not like I’m above this just I’ve just gotta get another client. I just gotta solve that problem. As you said, they’re working in the business.

It’s how is your life going to be any different if you’re not putting a plan in place to make it different? And yeah, as much as it can be challenging to sit down and do that academic exercise, [00:05:00] It’s as inspirational as hell. Holy shit, now I’m excited for my trip to Vancouver.

There’s this cool restaurant I wanna see. There’s this gym. I’m going to eat some lobster. I’m going to like, these are all the awesome things I’m looking forward to, which all of a sudden makes those little steps and bumps along the way akin to the road closures or having to stop for a moose. ’cause I’m in Canada and we have those, just not that big a deal.

Shit, that’s just an obstacle on my way to Vancouver, but I’m really committed to this trip I’m in. Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s a great place to start the conversation about why it matters because I think ultimately plans provide you with that North Star. They provide you with the place that you say you want to go.

And I’ll add onto that because all this is a yes and and I think the value of planning is really not the plan. I. It’s the process you go through to develop the plan, right? It’s the strategic thinking that you are required to do, to figure out how to get from point A to point B. And for many of you listeners, you know what you wanna get most of the time is more clients [00:06:00] and more money.

And so I. Being forced to sit down and decide, okay, what’s my strategy for getting from point A to point B? How do I get more clients? How do I get more leads to the top of my funnel? How do I nurture those to the middle of my funnel? How do I close ’em at the end of my funnel? How do I take care of them over time?

How do I build my staff over time to how. To to meet that growing need and demand. Like it’s you thinking strategically about where you’re going so you can develop a strategy that guides your action every day. ’cause that’s the thing I see most gym owners lacking, the folks who are chasing their tail, putting out fires, they don’t have a strategy.

They’re making up as they go and they’re throwing shit against the wall. And I get it. You might need to be in that mode once in a while. Certainly we have been many times. But what the thing planning does is it forces you to sit down and be strategic and plan out the things you’re going to try next.

Put your scientist hat on and say, what are all the experiments I’m going to run so I can figure out what the best possible approach is? And get more and more efficient and better at this over time. [00:07:00] But without that strategic thinking, without that time spent on the planning, then you really just are going to be continuing to chase your tail, right?

So again, it’s not that you have this beautiful written plan. It’s not about the P d f you make, it’s not about the spreadsheets you make. It’s not about the slide deck that you make, right. There might be an end product to the planning. The purpose of planning is the process you go through to make the plan.

It’s the thinking and the problem solving thing you have to do in advance. It’s anticipating problems, as you said, anticipating the moose in the road, anticipating the roadblocks or the road closures, anticipating I’m gonna have to pee a few times, or I’m gonna be hungry. I need a place to sleep.

Yeah. Yeah. And when you can get in front of that, then there’s less surprises in your day. There’s less surprises in your day. Yeah. What else? Any other benefits you can think of to planning? I. I do have the benefits to planning. I mean there’s a whole, the whole bunch. The first one that comes to mind is just the value of getting into an optimistic, positive mindset to even, yeah, I guess we’re now a plus two on your point.[00:08:00]

I just accept the plan probably isn’t gonna work, and I know that when I sit down to do it, but the act of planning and being like, where can we go? What can we do? What do we get excited about? How does that affect the team? Yeah, that’s an exceptionally valuable, optimistic state that I don’t think many of us experience that often, and definitely not on an daily basis when we’re putting up fires in our gym and to be like, this is where I want to go, and I’ve fired up about it.

Like you’re literally creating a better version of your future. Yeah. It gets you excited. I love that. I love that you brought that up because I think it’s right. Every time that we finished a planning session, we both, we usually feel, I’ll speak for myself. I usually feel equal parts. Oh my gosh, this is so excited.

Can we really even do this? I can’t believe we’re going, this is what we said we’re gonna do, and oh shit, can we really do this? I can’t believe we just decided we were gonna do this. Like I get, I’m both excited and scared right at the end of planning. And that’s a Really a thrilling place to be.

[00:09:00] So I love that you brought that into the equation. I think the other thing that I’ll say is that is planning helps you start to align your vision with your team, right? So for those of you who have employees, right? Planning helps them. Get in the same mindset as you get in the same get in the same plane as you, right?

Or the same car as you, depending on your analogy, right? It teaches them where you’re all heading and helps them start to understand how they might contribute and grow themselves over time, right? And so that your vision for the business, your three to five year, 10 year vision, is also important to the people you work with.

’cause it starts to help them paint a picture of what their career could look like, what their growth. Trajectory might be, and that’s critical if you want to keep employees long term. And in some cases, your vision, I think, can also be inspiring to your clients, right? You probably don’t wanna share every piece of your business plan with your clients.

But there, there’s parts of it that if you wanna have another location, you wanna grow your location, you wanna add other [00:10:00] services, you wanna improve the space, right? Sometimes sharing those goals with your clients even helps feel, build some motivation and inspiration. Yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent fully agreed.

Yeah. Yeah. So clearly we’re big fans of planning. I think we can keep going. I think there’s lots of other benefits to, to planning as well. If anything, I’ll share one more. Okay. One more and then I promise we’re moving on. One more. This is actually, maybe I’ll use a sports analogy ’cause I, I’m gonna have to challenge myself with a sports analogy, but, it’s why teams show up at games with plans.

Any, even when I played sports as a little kid in practice, we would practice, I played football little kid football. It wasn’t very serious like Pop Warner, New Jersey football. We played we went to ship practice and we made plans and practiced those plans before we got in the game.

Right? And sometimes we’d, we made up plays and our coaches made up plays that didn’t fucking work. We made a plays that we tried and scrimmage against each other and it didn’t actually work, or we didn’t have the right people in the right [00:11:00] seats. And so planning was, that practice that we had, all that practice I went to and got my ass kicked time and time again was really practice for the real game that we were gonna play on the weekends.

I. Right. And without that, we would’ve done much worse. We almost never won. But even without it we won, we really won one or less. It’s, it was probably my fault, let’s be honest. No, I think we probably won some of the time. It’s hard to remember. I didn’t love any of it. But but the whole idea here is that planning is a way for you to have a kind of a practice or a dress rehearsal.

For the actual game of running your business and you get to on paper in spreadsheets and in forecasts, plot out what you think might work. And run that play in your head before you actually run it in your business. So I think, there’s so many benefits, but I promised that was the last one.

Now let’s talk a little bit about what makes good long-term planning. So when you sit down to think through a three year or a five year, 10 year vision, what are the kinds of best practices that you use? Ben? Yeah. When, so when it comes to anything longer than a year. I personally [00:12:00] try to get into a good physical and emotional space for it.

So I do almost have all of my planning and stuff on computers spreadsheets, Google Docs. It’s just easier for me. But when it comes to doing like a three to five year vision, I try to put myself somewhere where I don’t normally work. Ideally somewhere than some meaning to me. So even it’s even if it’s just going to the park or something, but my mind can be clear.

Like doing it in the gym right after a session probably isn’t the right call. And I use pen and paper. And I use some prompting questions like, what do I want my life to look like? How big is the business? How many team members? But I try to find this a fine balance between being specific enough that it can feel real and at least a piece of me can believe it, even though, to your point earlier, a lot of it’s not gonna work and it’s gonna be scary.

But then I also want it to be inspirational enough that it gives me space to dream. So a three, five, or 10 year is, A combination of some specifics and some dreaming. You don’t have to know my average client value is 3 59 a month, so if I wanna make a million dollars, I need [00:13:00] exactly, whatever point with many clients too specific for a long-term plan.

But I like to ballpark I think I probably need another coach or two for that. I think I could probably handle about this many clients in this space. And these are the things that I really dream about and wish about. And. I try, I got this from you, but I try to just write for a period of time.

The pen does not leave the paper for 10 to 15 minutes. Then I take a breather and revisit. It’s just get it out and let it flow. From a, you’d be able to explain this, the phenomenon better than me, but like just directly outta your brain with almost no filter. Yeah. Yeah, said. I think you painted a great picture of what it can look like, and I think the most important parts of what you shared are like, go somewhere new.

The context really can change your thoughts, right? So if you want to dream big and daydream and have big big picture thoughts, get out of the space where you’re, where you have to think small every day, where you have to be focused and task oriented. Go somewhere where you can daydream or sit [00:14:00] outside, be in a hammock, just thinking a hammock.

I know some people. Yeah I love it. I think I know some people who even start their first draft of planning as walking and they’ll just record themselves talking. And now there’s like a million or one dictation apps where you can just have it dictated to paper and then you can go back to it.

But that idea of, being somewhere, That you’re usually not, I think is really critical. So yeah, I’d love that. And then the idea of just letting it flow. Don’t judge yourself. Just write down all the things you can imagine or you wish, or you dream or you want for that period. I think that’s a great way to go.

The one thing I’ll add to what you said, which I think is. Also really important for gym owners is for you fellow gym owners out there. Your vision, my recommendation is that your vision is for your whole life. Yes. That you don’t try to do one that’s just for your gym. That’s why Ben, I think in Ben’s prompt, the first question he asked himself is, what do I want my life to look like?

Which is not just my work life, my whole life. And so for you gym owners out there, I think your prompts should include in three to five years from now, how many vacation [00:15:00] days do you wanna be taking and where do you want to go? I. And do you wanna give to charity? Do you wanna, how much time do you wanna spend with your family?

Where do you wanna be living? Do you wanna, what kind of car do you wanna drive? Do you wanna buy another motorcycle? If you’re Ben, yeah, of course the answer is yes. If you’re me, it’s like how, what size pool do you wanna put in your backyard? These are the kinds of things that I’m visioning about my life.

And I think, and if you’re a business owner, I think you’ve gotta do both. I think it’s gotta be part of a whole package. ’cause what you’re designing is your life. You’re designing your relationship to your business as well as the business strategy itself. Yeah. Yeah. Love it. Yeah. So I think where a lot of people get hung up here, Ben, is that sometimes they, they look at this plan, I think let’s just, so pie in the sky, right?

I’ve done all this daydreaming and I have maybe have a five year plan that includes, another motorcycle and, another a hundred clients and three more team members. But like, why even write this down, if I’m not gonna make it specific and actionable. And so I know we already answered this, but I just wanna reiterate that, like why we would write all that stuff [00:16:00] down.

So maybe help connect the dots for them. So we did all this day dreaming. We have this document or maybe we into a slide deck or maybe we put it in a spreadsheet and we have this series of goals or dreams for three to five years from now. So what. That the, that’s your direction. That’s where you want to go.

That’s what feeds everything else that you decide, right? Yeah. If you want, if you wanna have a hundred more semi-private training clients and that’s the thing you’re committed to, that means you’re not going to probably also start a bootcamp. This is, this is where you’re going. I wanna go to Vancouver, so I know I gotta go west.

I’m not going east ’cause I’m going, not going to New York. And that it doesn’t always perfectly flow into everything, and that five-year mission might take three to seven years to accomplish and it might look drastically different, but now you know which way to walk. Yeah. Yeah, 100%. And I think for a lot of our unicorns side members, what we really encourage ’em to do is use those long-term visions to create annual goals, which then fall into [00:17:00] quarterly projects.

So in our framework for unicorns methodology that we have all of our clients do, and. Annual goal setting meeting where they’re setting goals for a whole year upfront. And usually it’s three to five annual goals of the most important things they’re gonna accomplish in a year.

And that list of annual goals is 100% driven by your long-term vision. To Ben’s point, if you set in three, five years, you wanna a hundred more small group personal training clients, then yeah, your annual goal for this year shouldn’t be to max out classes. Or to start selling one-on-one training.

You have to stay aligned with the vision. There’s some consistency that’s required. And then obviously if you’re using, a system like, like ours, then you know, then you’re gonna have these quarterly projects that actually align with helping you achieve those annual goals. So it’s there’s like these it’s a goal setting introduction.

Uck. It’s like layers of goals. Everyone know what a traducing is? Yeah. Everyone knows. I don’t need to spell it out, it starts with the big picture of what we’re gonna do. And then, there’s layers on the [00:18:00] inside. Abstract reference with the week. But we’re with you. We’re with you.

Am I thinking about traducing? I don’t know. There it is. That’s. That’s what it is, it’s goal setting Uck. And we’ll have to relabel that in our library. Okay. So I think we’ve covered a lot of ground here. We covered like why people are maybe turn their nose up at long-term planning, why we think it’s really valuable.

I think the benefits of it, we talked about how to do it. Anything else you wanna share about planning before we wrap it up? Yeah, I just wanted to add, it’s not as big of a lift as you might think it is. Because the question I, the obstacle or challenge I hear a lot when I’m chatting with members about it is they’re just like I’m afraid I’m gonna get it wrong or I’m gonna screw it up.

Or they like, yeah, and I get where you’re coming from. It’s not, I swear, it’s not a judgment whatsoever, but like we said, like your first draft can be going for a walk for 15 minutes and talking to yourself. It can be sitting in the park for 15 minutes, but if you give yourself a handful of prompts with life, What do you want your life to look like?

Where do you wanna live? How much money do you want business to make? [00:19:00] How big is your pool? How many motorcycles do you have? Whatever the prompts are for you. You could spend two minutes writing down a few prompts that are important for your life and value structure, and then the actual act of writing.

Like it might be only 15 minutes, like you could actually get this done. In 20 minutes from start to finish. Because if you haven’t done anything, you’re, don’t worry about getting it perfect. There is no perfect for this. Yeah, we talked at the beginning, we know our plans probably aren’t going to work, but the act of planning does just start.

’cause going from zero to something is still winning. You’re not trying to get it right. Yeah. You’re trying to get it less wrong. And then maybe on our next podcast we talk about we can dive into like how you use those to then inform your one year goals, which is really where the rubber hits the road.

Yeah. Yeah. Your dog agrees in the background. Sorry. I think I, yeah, I know. I love it. He was giving you a hell yes. Hell yes. Yeah, I think that’s exactly it. I talked to a lot of our unicorn side members from time to time that are doing annual planning and they’ll say, or they’re so [00:20:00] doing long-term planning, and they’ll say, you know what?

I’m still working on it. And I’m like, what are you still working on? You were working on it for the last month. There’s nothing else to do. You’re done. You’re done. You just write, you wrote down where you want to go in three years, you’re done. This is not a thing to, to perfect. So I think I love that.

You you’re gonna wrap it up with that because I think that’s it’s really key. This is a quick little thing you write down and provides a little clarity. And as you said the gift is the. Gift of time you gave yourself to think about it. It’s, you give yourself permission to get out your business, sit in the park for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and daydream.

And that’s the value of this exercise. Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for a great conversation as always, Ben. Thank you. Can’t wait to have you back again soon. I’m sure. Our listeners can’t wait to have you back either. Dear listeners, if you found this podcast valuable, please leave us a five star review.

Everywhere you listen we, it helps us really find other. Amazing listeners like you and email us ben@businessunicorns.com, mike lip unicorns.com. Let us know who you want us to talk to next, or what do you want us to talk about? We’ll answer your question right [00:21:00] here on the podcast. Thanks for listening.

I’ll see you on the next one. Bye bye.