Question for you: Are you working on your business, or in your business?

It may not be immediately evident, but there’s a stark difference there. I discussed this previously in one of my most popular articles here on the Personal Trainer Development Center. It’s the difference between setting up your business to be sustainable and successful for the long term and squeezing by day to day without the promise of a better way.

I’ve found that many personal trainers struggle with the latter, fighting every day to stay afloat. Not because they’re not successful, but because they’re moderately successful and just haven’t figured out how to transition to the next level without burning out.

This probably has to do with the way we approach our business in the first place. As trainers and coaches, we all start out as “technicians”. We love digging in and doing the work of coaching all clients and running the business ourselves. We build relationships and help people hit personal records, but sooner or later we don’t have the capacity to take on any more clients and the stress eventually strains other areas of our life. We work long hours, day in and day out, until one day we crash and burn.

It is before such a point that we must transition from being a “technician” to becoming a “manager,” according to Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited. And to you, maybe being manager doesn’t sound very appealing initially, but this is really more of a change in mindset than anything else.

You don’t have to give up all your training hours if that’s what you love to do, but you will have to make a lot of adjustments up front that will expand upon your abilities, take back control of your time, impact more people, and ultimately, create a better future for you and your business. Here’s your four-step process to gradually stepping away from your business so that you can build it.

1. Build a company manual and constantly refine it

Once you’ve reached the point where you have more work than you can handle by yourself, then you likely have a successful process in place. However, the big question is, “can you teach that process to others?” The idea of others being able to replicate your process is called “scaling”. If you want to scale successfully, you need to create a manual that any future employees can read, abide by, and help you to carry out your business’ mission.

Creating a manual, however, is no small process. Right now you probably have reasons for everything you do in your head and it all makes sense to you. Transcribing all of that knowledge and laying it all out on paper in a way that people can understand, follow, and replicate is very challenging.

Things like core values, dress code, assessments, programming, harassment policy, operations, or culture all belong in your manual. The more processes and situations that you cover, the easier it becomes to train new staff when you hire them (which we will discuss shortly). Don’t expect to get it right in an afternoon. This will take time for you to write and refine. By doing all this work up front, you save time down the road and your operations run that much more efficiently.

Start your manual by listing out your core values. Core values are like the DNA of your business and are usually an extension of your personal values. You can figure these out by asking yourself questions such as:

What do I and my business stand for?

What unique qualities does my business bring to the marketplace?

If my business ceased to exist, who or what would be affected?

By really understanding and clarifying these answers, people can better align with your beliefs and cause.

Next, evaluate your beliefs on training. Ask yourself, why do you train your clients in the fashion you do? I’m sure you have your reasons. List out all these reasons and combine them into a training philosophy, or an explanation of principles that guide your training process. For example, these are the three principles that make up my training philosophy:

  1. People are more important than exercises.
  2. The experience is just as important as the results.
  3. No exercise, method, or tool is universally better than another. The application determines the outcome and the benefit.

Your company policy should closely represent your core values. The rest of your manual should include standard operating procedures, which are the step-by-step, repeatable processes by which you conduct certain daily, weekly, or monthly tasks, and employee responsibilities. Examples of these include how someone should answer the phone, what to do if someone is a drop-in client and inquires about training prices, or when someone needs to clean the bathroom and the steps they must take to do so.

Again, don't worry about getting it perfect the first time. You can count on continuing to add to your manual regularly as you enhance your operations or find better ways to teach your systems. My first manual was about 13 pages, and three years later, it’s now closer to 50.

2. Hire a rock star staff that represents your core values

Handing off some of your work to newly hired employees is one of the scariest and hardest things to do as a fitness business owner. That’s because your technician mindset makes you believe that no one else can do the job as well as you can, or else you risk losing your clients. While this line of thinking is common, it is also quite irrational. Just because your clients love you doesn’t mean they couldn’t love someone else just as much (or more), especially with your guidance.

The first step to building your team is to determine your strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Perhaps you’re a great trainer, but your organizational skills are not the best. This necessitates an administrative assistant. Maybe you really enjoy marketing and sales, but you need someone to take over a couple of your clients so you can focus on business growth. For most trainers, the latter is more likely the case. You can’t spend all your time on the training floor unless you have a business partner who focuses on the business side of things.

As you begin interviewing potential trainers, you should find out which candidates have similar core values and training philosophies to your own. One important differentiator here is, the best employees are not always the most skilled ones; the ideal employees are those that best fit the culture of the business. While you (should) have a manual that teaches skills and processes, you can’t teach someone to have a personality.

Once you’ve found the right trainer to work with you, you need to integrate them into your business. Start by going through the important parts of the manual with them and explain the core values, dress code, and code of conduct.

Your manual’s content is so crucial that it’s important that you don’t just hand off a PDF and expect them to read it. Make it an event! Supplement this process with an “on-boarding checklist” that they have to initiate every time you explain or show them a process from the manual. Focus on the procedures that they are likely to perform daily, such as answering phones or conducting training sessions, and work your way to actions that are performed less frequently.

Usually, it’ll take two to three months to have your new hire operating at a level that requires minimal assistance. During this time, plan weekly development sessions to address more intricate aspects of the job like exercise programming, nutrition coaching, and how to deal with complex client issues.

Going through all these steps and creating the appropriate documents will not only result in a well-trained employee, but a solid system--the same system that would be also carried out by other employees as your team grows.

3. Start dialing back your training hours

Ultimately, if you want to work on your business, you need to not be in it. Being in it means you train all of the time. We talked about putting your system down in a manual and someone else to help fill in the gaps, so the next step is to reduce the number of training sessions you perform each week. It’s normal to resist this at first, but to cope you need to rearrange not only your schedule but potentially how you do your work.

Start by delegating non-essential tasks to your team. The easiest way to do this is write out a list of the responsibilities for each position and segment them into monthly, weekly, and daily categories. This allows each employee to essentially have a checklist that they can run through at each interval (month, week, or day) and make sure they complete all the tasks that you have assigned to them.

When it comes to tightening your time management, there are two strategies that I have found to be very beneficial. The first involves semi-private training. If you have been training most of your clients in a one-on-one fashion, you can still design and deliver them individualized programs within groups of two to three people at a time. Introduce this idea to your clients and tell them they'd still be able to get the results they want, at a reduced rate per session, and they get to train with like-minded and supportive peers. Meanwhile, you get to work with more clients in less time and make much more money per hour.

The second strategy is blocking your time more intelligently and scheduling detailed tasks during your non-training hours. This is a huge win for productivity if you are currently working a split shift where you train clients in the mornings and the evenings, with downtime in-between. You should now strive to free up either your mornings or evenings (whichever time you are more productive) to focus on marketing, generating leads, enhancing client experience, and further developing your employees.

Obviously, all this will not happen overnight, but you should start by freeing up half of one day per week and progressively work toward training only a few hours two to three times each week.

4. Don’t just sit on your laurels, feed the “machine” of your business

Every strategy listed here is listed in a specific order because if you have properly built your manual, hired staff, and condensed your training hours, you would ideally have an extra 10-15 hours each week at your disposal. While it may be very tempting to use this new free time to relax and enjoy your freedom, you must resist this urge because you haven’t made it just yet.

A manager doesn’t just leave all the work to others. You must lead and do the most important and necessary work that furthers your business. That means you need to “feed the machine” with your newly acquired time.

Here you must focus on finding the “holes” in your business and really start refining your practices. Start by taking a good look at your KPIs (key performance indicators). This gives you a substantial amount of insight. For example, if your member retention rate is low, then you should probably spend more time creating a better client experience. Conversely, if you are blowing it out of the water in one category, find out what is working and see how you can apply that somewhere else.

Over time you will see your business come together better than you had ever imagined. Your long-term vision may even continue to evolve.

* Maybe you want to open a gym or expand your current one.

* Maybe you want include a new type of training in your business model.

* Maybe you want to coach other trainers.

Awesome. That’s what feeding the machine is all about.

At the end of the day, if your business cannot run without you in it, then what you own is a job and not actually a business.

Making the transitions to move from “technician” to “manager” can be scary, challenging, and flat-out tiring, but it can also be rewarding. Put in the work now so you can come out ahead and achieve the freedom that most only dream of.

Photo Credit: Featured Image by Pexels, Image 1 by Wikimedia Commons, Image 2 by Wikimedia Commons, Image 3 by Pexels