Episode 258

Turning Plans into Action with Ben Pickard

In this episode, Ben Pickard joins me to talk about turning plans into action.

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend. On today’s episode, I got Ben back on the podcast, and we’re actually having a follow-up conversation to our last episode. On our last episode together, we talked a little bit about the importance of long-term planning. In today’s episode, we’re gonna talk about how you turn those plans into action and accountability for you and your team.

So if you’re ready to actionize your plans and kick some ass, this is a great episode for you. So keep on listening.

Welcome to The Business for Unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice, expert insights, and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym. Get ready to unlock your potential and become a real unicorn in the fitness industry.

Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness [00:01:00] business nerds. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the Business Unicorns podcast, and he’s back again, my friends. It’s Ben. Welcome back to the podcast star. Hello. Thanks for having me. What a pleasure. I’m so excited to dive into today’s topic, which is really a continuation from our last episode together.

But before we do that, let’s just give a quick little shout out to our friends over at Perform Better Friends. You, as you’ve heard on this podcast multiple times, we’re a huge fan of Perform Better both their equipment. And they’re continuing education and they have these three day summits that are fantastic.

And what is coming up in Providence, Rhode Island? It’s August 25th through the 27th. You can go to perform better.com to learn more, but if you are listening to this podcast, it’s probably be because you love learning. You love growing as a business owner and I think the perform better Summits are one of those places where you absolutely will leave with a million takeaways and new connections and we love going.

And so if you haven’t been, go check it out and go, I know Ben, you’ve been to a bunch before. You want anything you wanna add about perform Better Summits? Yeah, they’re [00:02:00] fantastic. Like the pinnacle of continuing education that I’ve been to. You get so many takeaways from so many people, and I’ve got great memories of taking road trips down to Chicago to go to perform better because I was in university at the time and couldn’t afford a plane ticket, and I still left being like, this was awesome, and it was the worst.

The circumstances that I had to go through to make it were terrible and it was still a 10 outta 10. Still worth it. Still worth it. Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. Great speakers organized conference. Yeah, so I, we can’t recommend it enough, so go check it out friends. Perform better.com. Check out the Providence Rhode Island Summit, August 25th through 27th.

Let’s dive into today’s topic. Listeners, last time Ben was on this podcast, you can go check it out. We will link to it down below in the show notes. We talked a little bit about the value of planning. We wanted to continue pulling that thread on this conversation and talk a little bit about, okay, once you’ve got some plans, then what the fuck do you do?

So this podcast is all about turning plans into action, turning your plans into real strategy and into real accountability. So let me just talk, let’s just talk big picture. Ben, if [00:03:00] you wanna do a little 32nd recap about. Why is the planning part so important before you get to the action? Yeah. Like we talked about, it gives you a North star for you and your team to know what direction are you going, and broadly speaking, what needs to happen for you to get there.

Yeah, 100%. It just tells everyone this is the direction to point the ship. Right. And if you. If we’re not all agreeing which direction the ship is pointing, we’re not gonna get to where we want to go. So the planning just requires you and your team a moment requires you to pause for a moment and get clear on which direction we’re heading together.

So when you think, Ben, about operationalizing your plan, so what are the first few things that come to mind about how do you turn a plan? Into action? Yeah, great question. Dear listeners, we use something called Frameworks for Unicorns, which is how we break down those plans into action. So I am biased towards using that because it’s worked so well.

So when we have, let’s say, a one year goal that says we wanna have this many clients, which will look like this many sessions, this many trainers, this many dollars, roughly speaking, the next step [00:04:00] is to figure out what needs to happen to get us there. ’cause it’s easy to say. We’re gonna add net 50 new clients this year, and it’s gonna be amazing and we’re all gonna get oodles of dollars in Lamborghinis or whatever you’re into, but you have to, it’s always Lamborghini, isn’t it?

I don’t know why. Yeah, yeah. I’m gonna avoid that tangent. Yeah. But then you have to look at, okay, roughly based on, for something like that, if that was one of the goals, be like what do we need to do marketing wise to make that happen? ’cause if you’re getting four leads a week right now, and that’s getting you half of that number of clients for last year.

You are probably gonna need at least double that many leads in order to double that many clients. So we wanna look at, okay, what other lead gen strategies could we be putting in place? Do we need to investigate paid marketing? Do we need to improve the website? There’s, we can all brainstorm roughly the same list of marketing tactics.

And then it’s taking those top candidates and putting them into what we call quarterly projects. Which are, if they last the whole quarter to 13 weeks and that at the end of the quarter, the goal is that you’ve made [00:05:00] progress in that area. So if you had a quarterly project of get one more rod in the water for marketing and you were gonna go with B two B partnerships, you’d wanna set someone to be in charge of that project.

They’re the captain. There’s probably gonna be some people supporting that. They might be the mates, ’cause we’re going with nautical analogies today. And then you can put out what are the weekly steps that need to happen to get there. If we wanna have. Two business partnerships by the end of the quarter, you’re probably gonna need to do a list of where are the ones in the area.

You probably wanna narrow down that list to the ones that you’re actually excited about. You’re gonna need to reach out to some of those people. You’re probably gonna need an offer, like something to give them, so they’re willing to give you something back, and then there’s probably gonna need to be some continual follow up with them.

So obviously this is intentionally very broad. It’s going to be more specific than that, but that’d be the example of something that turns into a quarterly project that’s got weekly action steps. Yep. Versus sometimes with your long-term plans. Other things that need to happen are what we would call a to-do or a weekly priority action.

And a to-do is just like a quick, [00:06:00] Hey, we need to get that thing done. Like for instance, let’s say you had an A-frame sign outside of your studio and somebody stole it. Someone needs to order a new A-frame sign, and that’s a pretty straightforward one. That doesn’t take a lot of involvement. It doesn’t really need a captive inmates, but it’s still gonna be a meaningful improvement to the business that’s aligned with where you wanna point the ship.

Yeah, I love that. I think that you made it sound so easy, right? To walk from the year long big picture goal to very specific weekly action steps. So let’s go back and do that again and maybe just break down each leap you took. And so the first picture, the first thing was you gotta have some big picture goals and use the example of an annual goal, something by the end of this year, we want to blank.

And this was examples like maybe net 50 new clients. So that’s the planning part that. Forces you to focus on the big picture. And the next thing Ben did was it broke that down into what we call quarterly projects. Okay. For the next three months, what are the actions we are going to take that move us in the direction of [00:07:00] those goals?

And this is the strategic part, and this is the part I think actually a lot of people get hung up. I’m not sure if you would agree on this, but which is the. Don’t have a strategy. So they wind up throwing all the spaghetti against the wall and just trying to figure out what sticks. Whereas you really, at this point, when you’re going from annual goal to quarterly project, you wanna have like your scientist hat on and you’re gonna say, what is the hypothesis I can test in this next quarter?

And you can do a big brainstorm of all the possible marketing things you can do to get more clients through the door, more leads generated. But you need to strategically think, okay, which 1:00 AM I gonna try this quarter? The next three months, which 1:00 AM I gonna put all the what? Which, which 1:00 AM I gonna double down on and do?

And then once you have that quarterly project, that strategy defined, I think the example you used, remind me which one was in your example, like getting B two B partnerships to get more referrals. B two B partnerships. Great. So getting more driving referrals by other local business partnerships. Get really specific on what that strategy looks like, and then you assign some accountability.

So we use the analogy by captain and first mate, someone in charge of making sure that the project moves [00:08:00] forward and some people supporting and helping out the first mates. I, I love that. Super important. And then breaking that plan into like weekly priority actions. Things are gonna happen every single week to get that done.

Right. And you know that Ben made it sound very easy ’cause he’s really good at this. But for many of you, you’ll need to go slow and really think through how do I turn that big picture goal of getting 50 new people in by the end of this year into a strategy that I can test for the next three months into weekly action steps that are owned by specific people so we can hold them accountable.

And that process is where the rubber meets the road. Yeah. What else? Anything you would add to that I didn’t cover? It is challenging to do this and I, yeah, I’ve gotten better at it through practice. So as I mentioned, when we run quarterly planning with our members, you’re gonna suck at this for a little bit and that’s okay because the alternative is to keep doing what you’re doing and hope you get a couple more clients this week.

And that number is, At least a couple more clients than you lose. And if you can have the patience to accept that you’re putting on your white belt [00:09:00] and you’re learning a new skill, even if you stumble for the first couple quarters, the the grasp will be greener on the other side. ’cause then you’re starting to think exactly like you said, you’re testing your hypothesis, not just shit, we need to go get more clients.

Okay, trainers, everyone asked for two referrals this week. Yeah, you can only do that so many times. Yeah, 100%. Let’s just keep pulling the string of this process. So let’s just say that people have a big picture, annual goal. They’ve defined like a quarterly project, a strategy. They’re gonna try, they’ve assigned a captain May 1st, mate.

They got clear weekly action steps and certainly I, I know what comes next. But for the purposes for our listeners, like how do you make sure that we continue on that path? What happens when things start to go wrong? What happens when people don’t do what they say they’re gonna do? Walk. Walk through what happens next?

Yeah. Once you’ve got your projects in place, The next step is to make sure you have a cadence to touch base on those projects so that they don’t just get put on a vision board that lives in the equivalent of the back of your closet and you’re like, oh, shit, I didn’t reach my goals. So we use what’s called a weekly [00:10:00] mission control meeting, which has a very structured agenda where you’re looking at your dashboard and your projects, and sometimes you might be looking at your members as well and any highlights and lowlights in the business.

And this is meeting happens at the same time. On the same day, it lasts the exact same duration and it is non-negotiable with the exceptions of hospital or on vacation with no wifi. And part of that meeting, you spend only a few minutes just being like, project one. Is this on track or off track? Project two, is this on track or off track?

And if anything is off track, you discuss it to see how you can support that person and maybe that person’s you. What support could you get from your team? Maybe it’s, yep, I’m working on these B two B partnerships, but I just don’t have enough time to get everything done because I’m doing too many coaching hours on the floor.

Because you now have this vision and you pointed the ship in the right direction, and you have these projects that are now shared with the team and everyone knows what’s in it for them, your clients and the business like it’s all about win. It’s really easy to be like, Hey Michael, I’m just really struggling to get [00:11:00] this done for the next couple months.

Do you think you could take my Friday morning shift so I can really focus on driving some more clients so we can all reach your goals together? That’s a lot different than being coming across as I’m the burnt out donor and I need some support. Can you do some more sessions? I’m just gotta put them on your schedule.

Now. We have a common vision and a common purpose that everyone’s rallying behind and gets excited. There’s, there’s a passion for the direction that you’re going and it makes it far easier to ask for support because everyone on the team knows the areas that need support the most, and it’s a mu, again, much different ask to say, can you take on some sessions that maybe you don’t really wanna take on?

What’s for a greater good to get something done rather than whatever narrative you have. If I’m just like, can you please do this? They’re like, why? Yeah. I don’t really wanna do that. Yeah, and I think that it’s really a great reminder that part of having clear goals and clear projects and clear accountability is so that everyone is on the same page about what’s most important to spend time on.

That we’re really clear whenever [00:12:00] we have time, and for on our business, it mainly means time off the floor to work on the business, on growing the business, that this is how we should spend our time. It’s these projects that are most important. And when you’re touching base every week as Ben described here, then there’s, you never go more than a week.

Without realizing the project is going or it’s not going well, and some of you go way too long without looking at your projects or touching base on your projects or your goals, and you get to the end of a month or a quarter or a year and like, oh, we didn’t do any of these things. Of course not. There was no moment in which you were holding yourselves accountable to making progress.

And when you have something like a weekly mission control meeting that Ben described, the process, the meeting itself holds everyone accountable to having a conversation about how it’s going. Nothing gets swept under the rug. And so I think that’s, I think you described it really beautifully in that it really helps keep everyone on the same page about where we’re heading and troubleshoot.

And if we’re not heading the right direction, things are off track, we get to talk [00:13:00] about it and work on it together. Yeah. Yeah, that’s huge. We just did this a few minutes ago with our weekly mission control meeting for business unicorns and there was a project that I am the captain, or I think I’m the captain of that one.

Yeah, that, that like I’m not on track and I need Ben after this, after we’re done the recording today, help me figure out how to get back on track. And so, but we don’t just talk about this, we use it ourselves every single week, both in our gyms and in running business for unicorns. Yeah, I just did my annual planning on Friday for my business.

’cause our fiscal years are weird. Yeah. Yeah. Amazing. So let’s just talk about some other challenges and pitfalls when it comes to turning our plans into action. We mentioned already the importance of strategy. We mentioned the already the importance of having real accountability of who’s gonna do what and when.

We mentioned the importance of having a cadence to touch base on a regular basis with those plans and projects to make sure things are happening, that it should be happening. But one of the things that we both experienced, I know from time to time is we’ll be a month in or sometimes a month and a half or more into a quarter, [00:14:00] and what we thought we were going to do, we’ve learned isn’t working.

We’ve learned, Hey, this strategy of B two B partnerships, we learned, you know what? This is just not actually working out. We don’t have, can’t figure this out in this quarter. Walk me through, Ben. What are some suggestions you have for when people are in the midst of executing on a strategy and they just get this sense of this is not fucking working.

The first thing that comes to mind is celebrate that because you learned a new thing. Yeah. Maybe the captain wasn’t the right captain for it, or there was, you know, you misjudged the amount of capacity you have. But to Michael’s point of testing a hypothesis, like you tested the hypothesis and it just didn’t work and that’s totally okay.

So I wanna point out that I’m not just being facetious here. That is an actual win. Hey, that thing’s not a thing that worked great for us right now. Great shelf it. Yeah. Can I just asterisk and underline the right now part. Right. Because one of the things that can happen here is you try to think for a month or two, didn’t get much traction.

You also didn’t give it 110%. [00:15:00] Right? And you come to the conclusion that this, this doesn’t work for us. And I’ve, we’ve heard this a lot with unicorn society members, right? Oh, digital ads don’t work for me. Partnerships don’t work for me. They didn’t work for you yet. So I just wanna underline that you said that, right?

That Yeah, just take, don’t get mad, get curious and get curious about what lesson are we learning so far, but then keep on going, oh, that’s perfect. And then I think it’s really just re-strategizing. So I think of it as a few different options. One of the option is that you just bid off more than you can chew this quarter, and that project is, The least valuable.

So it gets axed in sacrificially to make sure you have time and energy to get the other ones done. And that’s totally okay. Sometimes you gotta kill one of the darlings. Yep. The next option is to replace it with something else. Usually that’s based on what you’ve learned. So let’s say you were doing paid ads for whatever reason and it wasn’t working out really well.

The marketing is still important. ’cause the strategy was just to get to the goal so you can swap that [00:16:00] strategy out for something else that needs to get to the goal. And they’re still going to align. That’s just one of an endless number of things that can help you grow clients. So now that you’ve learned that information, you can decide, okay, we had a list of our top five strategies and this one didn’t work.

So can we swap it in with something else that has a greater chance of working based on the information that we’ve learned? And interestingly, even though we’re going slow to, I can go fast when we’re doing quarterly planning, I accept that we’re just gonna be fucking wrong a lot of the time, and that’s totally okay.

Yeah, it’s. Yeah, it’s part of the process. We axed a project last quarter that didn’t make it, and it’s now a quarterly project this quarter because we bit off more than we can chew. All good. Yeah, that’s huge. And that’s the thing that scientists actually say, right? They’re chasing the failures ’cause they’ve gotta get through a lot of failures to get to a, like a new discovery or a new insight.

And so I think it’s probably a little less the case. I don’t think we should be failing as frequently as maybe some science, but, but I think that spirit is right there. Is that, I love that you started with celebrate the fact that you [00:17:00] have a learn, you can have a learning moment. Celebrate the fact that you tried something new.

It has not worked out, and get curious about it. And I think you laid out some really great options. You can either pause and just stop doing it because you don’t have the capacity for it, and you bit off more than you can chew, pivot and add a try. Different strategy in the moment. I. And actually just tackle in a different direction and you can also just rethink your approach to that goal overall and maybe usually really switch things up.

Yeah. And yeah, those are fantastic. Alright, we may have time for maybe one more tip here. So what else do you think about, Ben, when you think about going from plans to action? What other kind of insights or pitfalls do you see on a regular basis? Yeah, great question. The pitfall, which will lead to the insight is.

You as the owner, do not need the captain every project, nor should you captain every project. So the insight here is to leverage your team. And I’ve learned this the hard way ’cause we’ve had team members who captain [00:18:00] projects and it went okay. And then we’ve had team members, captain projects, and they blew it out of the fucking water.

And it was like, oh, it’s something they were passionate about, it’s that they were excited about, they wanted to lead with it. And create their vision of it, because I just finished the book Who Not How, and by putting somebody in charge of a project as the captain, you’re deciding they’re the who. So even though they might do it a little bit differently than you were going to do it or I was going to do it, oftentimes it’s actually better.

That’s why they’re the captain, that if we’re gonna continue this nautical analogy and. I’ve hired a captain to get my shipping container from probably China to whatever the closest port to me is. I’m not gonna also say you have to go on exactly this route. I don’t know the first fucking thing about shipping, but I have a good captain who knows what to do when the waters get treacherous.

They know what to do when there’s a delay at the port, that they’re still there to get it done on time, and there’s still a lot of accountability. But I’m not gonna be [00:19:00] like, oh, and by the way, you should have this many pieces of bread and this many liters of diesel on your ship. Get outta their way a little bit.

Yeah. So you’re still holding them very accountable to making sure things are done. You’re giving them lots of support to make sure they don’t feel like they’re alone and you’ve just thrown them in a silo to get them out of the way. But leverage your team and their unique strengths. ’cause there’s probably a really good reason that they’re on the team and even if they haven’t done anything yet in like a leadership role.

This is the perfect opportunity for them to cut their teeth because worst case scenario, as we talked about, you can ask a project, we ask a project almost every quarter. There’s always one that doesn’t go as well. This is how they can grow and evolve into those roles if you want them to be able to take on more responsibility down the road.

Yeah, that’s such a crucial one. I’m so glad you brought it up, that so many folks that we talked to that are the founder and still running their gyms and still on the floor a lot, they just, they have trouble letting go. They have trouble letting other people take the reins once in a while and so often they wind up being the bottleneck of their own gym’s growth.[00:20:00]

And we both have been there and we don’t live in a glass house. We both have been the bottleneck of the growth of our gyms more on many occasions and it won’t be the last time. And, but I think that’s, it’s one of the ways to get out of that is to make sure as you are growing a team, you’re giving them opportunities to stretch themselves.

I think you said it really well, Ben, right? This is a chance for ’em to cut their teeth and learn how to manage a project, learn how to help grow the business and contribute in a way that’s meaningful to them. But they will they be great about it. Will they be great at it the first time? It’s, if it’s their first time developing local business partnerships, I don’t know.

Probably not, right? But you’re not gonna be great at it your first time either. So let them try right? Give them some good coaching, some good parameters. Give them some mentorship, but I think you’re always going to be doing everything in your business unless you teach other people to do it for you and with you.

And so I think it’s a great, it’s a great tip. And you also just expand your capacity tremendously by letting other people take the reins of certain projects in the business. Yeah. Yeah. I feel really weird about it. I’m still, the emotions I’m still [00:21:00] wrestling with, like my gym is doing better than ever operationally now that I am not the captain of it.

I’m still lots of support, lots of mentorship. I know the industry better than my gm, but like, yep, my team is giving the highest satisfaction ratings they have. Our clients are doing great for a very long time. To the point of being wrong, I thought we had a retention problem. Turns out we don’t. We’re actually beating our standards and I’m like, oh.

Like many times I’ll just be like, all right, my GM standard’s leisha, and I’m like, all right, Leisha, I guess I’ll just get back outta your way here. So I stop fucking shit up and she’ll be like very politely. Thank you.

Me and Michael have talked about, I’m far happier. I think our clients are probably getting served better. Like I mentioned, our team is happier. There’s all sorts of wins, which freed up capacity for me to look at other things that will improve their lives rather than dealing with whatever fire happened in that hour that day.

It’s not what we should be doing as owners. Yeah. 100%. Cool. How would you rate, recap today’s conversation for our listeners? Ben, how do you, how would you recap [00:22:00] our suggestions for going from plan to action? Alright. Recap, bullet point list here. Get your direction, one year goal from those goals, strategize or brainstorm.

What are the ways that you can get there? Of those things, figure out what are the most important and which quarter do they need to live in based on time of year, that type of stuff. Obviously some stuff’s better in the summer than the winter, but you know your business best. Of course. From there, engage your team into captaining some of those projects and then to make sure they stay on track.

Institute a recurring weekly meeting that is absolutely non-negotiable for everybody, and that’s the safe space to be on track, off track, and everyone to help each other out.

Make sure, to Michael’s point, you’re testing that hypothesis and accept the fact that you’re gonna do something that you’re not really that good at, and you’re gonna go a little bit slower at first, but long term you’re gonna go drastically faster. Yeah, well said my friend. I think that’s exactly the experience that we both had is that when you first learn to do [00:23:00] this kind of planning, it feels very slow.

And then over time you’ll realize, oh, we’re getting really good at this. Our team is getting good at it, and it helps us go much faster and accomplish more than often we thought we could. So yeah, it’s an investment learning to do this kind of strategic work in your business, but it pays off for everyone.

I’ve seen do it with almost no exception. Yeah. Great summary. Great summary. Thanks for the great conversation. And listeners, if you found this podcast valuable, let us know. Leave us a five star review everywhere you listen. It really does help us find more listeners just like you. And we do read every review.

Thanks for those of you who left one recently, and if you want us to talk to specific guests or cover certain topics you wanna ask us. Questions. Email us Michael Lopez unicorns.com, bennett business unicorns.com, or you can dmm us on any platform where you can find us, and we’re happy to answer your questions there.

Thanks again for the great conversation, Ben. See you on the next one. Thank you soon.