A New Way to Look at Entrepreneurship
Every time I talk to business mentors, I hear the same old song. “Your’re doing this wrong,” “you need to monetize this,” “you’re under charging for this service,” “you need to spend more time on Instagram,” “it’s all about marketing,” etc. I always laugh at this advice because never once have they asked me what success means to me. Ironically, in spite of all the things I’m doing “wrong,” my business has continued to grow almost faster than I can control. In about two and a half years we have quintupled in total clients, added educational courses to help diversify our service offerings, increased our visibility, built a headquarters with all of our coaches now in person together, and increased just about every objective business metric there is to measure. I don’t say this to brag as I honestly dread being the head of a business. I struggle with: the idea of making decisions that could impact my employee’s lives, deciding how to value knowledge, associating myself with a very predatory marketplace in ‘fitness,’ thinking about my desire to help people as a ‘job,’ the sleepless nights, the fact that I haven’t paid myself in order to invest back into the business, the loss of my own training time, the difficulty of creating things that I think are worthy to carry the brand’s reputation with their quality, and all of the other drama that comes with owning a business. Some days I actually believe it is NOT worth the creative freedom and the ability to try to manifest my vision into a material reality. But this article is not about me explaining my business growth. It’s more of a plea to other entrepreneurs, other people who call themselves coaches, and anyone in the fitness world who is aiming to build something.
I always tell people that getting lean is easy. I know that may seem not to be relevant here, but be patient with my erratic non-linear illogical argument structure. What is difficult, for most people, is maintaining leanness while still enjoying meals out, still diverting time to intellectual growth, diverting time to the building of relationships, cultivating other passions, living a life that isn’t extremely routine and regimented, searching for happiness in the broad context of the word, and trying out different training methods for long periods of time without any aids from synthetic substances. But, we have a simplified view of what fitness is, so the general public often finds themselves lured by ‘experts’ who believe in their superiority and who tell them they can provide that dream for everyone. The reality is that it is an EXTREMELY difficult thing to do, and often times is not something most people are willing to sacrifice for. This is why people so often leave the ‘fitness community’, they think it’s cult-y and unrealistic for people who want to have regular lives. The fact that we’ve turned our masses to poor leaders who try to teach us how to use and change our bodies without any real knowledge behind their methods is a violent rage-filled rant for another day, but I have to get back to my original topic.
The same thing happens with business ‘success.’ People measure success of a business using simple and incomplete metrics. Similarly to getting lean, it’s easy to make money. But it is difficult to make money while: telling people the truth, providing real value, attempting to permanently change the world for the better, remembering human capital is more valuable than monetary capital, staying healthy in mind/body/spirit, training aggressively, cultivating passions outside of work, and continuing to innovate. That is what ‘success’ for my business means to me. The ‘worth’ of my vision and my team’s work will not be broken down into a series of calculations based on an arbitrary scorecard. I won’t go too deeply into this, but money is kind of fabricated, and we all just agree to play the “money game” collectively pretending it means something. In reality, if the world was a little bit more rational, the collective masses would be a little bit less willing to deal with ‘societies’ that no longer serve individual needs, and we’d probably be using it to wipe our asses. Because it doesn’t really represent anything anymore (at one time, the paper represented gold which is still just a shiny medal we agree is ‘worth’ something), that is about money’s real functional worth. Now, I own a business, so I’m not saying money isn’t something you should track. I’m not going off the grid and taking payment from my clients in cows, chickens, and gasoline, but I am consciously aware of the fact that there is more to my ‘legacy’ than how many zeros I can accumulate in my bank account by the time I’m dead. Similarly I won’t measure the appreciation I have of my body’s capacity by how low I can drive the reading on a digital scale or a body-fat measurement system.
I am still in the process of my own personal and corporate development and I can’t lie and say I have concrete guidelines as to how to do this, but I do have some principles that have guided my business growth. These are not guarantees to ‘success’, but instead ideologies for me to follow that make me happy. They have allowed me to define success in a much more personally meaningful way than other people who have at one point in my life acted as ‘mentors.’ This was important to me because I’ve seen what greed can do to people, I’ve been close to rich people who are extremely empty and unhappy, I’ve wanted to punch ‘business coaches’ in their faces listening to them say that they didn’t care if people got better so long as they paid their money, and these experiences caused the desire for me to define my business ethics for myself. I never wanted to make money so that I could be selfish and lazy and not engaged in the world the way most people see money as a way to stop grinding and seek comfort. So, without further ado, these are some guiding principles I use to build my business…
- Hire people who are better than you. Hiring low-level talent will stop your growth. Surround yourself with great people. Encourage them to challenge you, learn from them, grow with them, believe in them, push them, and let them help co-develop your brand.
- Never let money be more important to you than people. It will be inevitable that you have to make some decisions that could be perceived of as caring about money more than a single person’s individual feelings, but let that be the exception and not the rule.
- Be vicious and absolutely relentless in your pursuit of knowledge. Marketing will get people in the door, but being beyond competent will keep them with you and build loyalty. I believe in what I do because I have invested more time than almost anyone I’ve ever met in learning about the human body and the human psyche. I never fear that people will leave me and instead encourage them to do so to see how much more value my team can provide them. Competence is king.
- Understand the real basics of business and money. I’ve met ‘business coaches’ who are really marketing gurus with no understanding of the debt markets, cash flow, financing options, risk analysis, long term client retention, management principles, etc. Running a business is not just marketing to get a bunch of dollars to convince a bunch of other people that you figured out how to do it because you have some money now. Long-term business development principles are much more important to understand than short term popularity contest principles.
- Spend time staying healthy. First, define health. Health, for me, requires a lot of time with people I love, with my animals, reading, outside of the gym, being away from my business, learning, physical exploration, and listening to my intuition. This business is my legacy. I intend to do it until the day I die. I don’t want desperation to fuel me. So, I ensure that I work as hard as I possibly can while also carving out time for my own sanity to ensure longevity. This is tough and was a luxury that I earned after almost three years of 80+ hour weeks, but it’s something I’d recommend my younger self to do more often.
- Have a vision. Some people will come up with esoteric lies they call their vision, but I believe they are really masking their greedy desires in words they probably don’t understand. Stand behind something you truly believe. Try to change the world for the better. Try to be someone else’s hero and role model for principles you stand for. Don’t let people look up to you because you’ve amassed money in the material world. Instead let them respect the journey you have gone through, the things you stand for, the way you treat people, and other immeasurable qualities of your ‘self.’
- Stay humble. At the end of the day, I have more than my fair share of ‘flaws.’ Everyone that comes to my seminars and hears me speak knows how much I make fun of myself. At one point in my life that was because I hated who I was and wanted to preempt other people’s criticism because it softened the blow if I said it first. Now, it is because I love myself because of those quirks. I love laughing at the irony that is the human experience. People put my information and knowledge and thoughts on a pedestal. I try to rip myself off the superiority construct they’ve created and tell them I’m not special, which then makes them think I’m more special. It’s a funny and frustrating dynamic, but I’ve come to understand that very rarely do people put the work in to become outwardly successful while still maintaining humility. Egos are easy to build and hard to breakdown. I just remind myself that tomorrow the society we live in could break down leaving us to find our own food and survive in a no power environment. I would instantly become a useless member of civilization who can’t hunt because I’m too emotionally weak to kill animals. There is only the illusion of superiority. So remember that you are not ‘better,’ you’re just different.
- Take calculated risks. I think all people who ‘succeed’ in life take risks. I am generally risk averse and need to evaluate things ad nauseam until I finally exhaust myself into jumping off the cliff. I think most people though take risks too soon whereas I may wait too long. Find the happy medium of evaluation and belief and take the risks that have the potential to hit big, but also don’t have the ability to blow up the enterprise.
- Don’t nickel and dime. Accounting is important, but spending a lot of time thinking about small finances will prevent you from thinking about making big changes to the financial metrics of the business that will matter in the long run. Sometimes your clients will do distasteful things to nickel and dime you and sometimes you’ll have to put that in it’s place based on your moral beliefs, but most of the time it’s probably just best to take the high road and ignore the little things.
- Operate with integrity. So many gurus, successes, experts, ‘champions’ and people in general are full of $h!t. Don’t be one of those people. At the end of the day the ‘fake it till you make it’ model seems to completely disintegrate. The identity people create is so far from the internal self they denied and the realization that seems to inevitably take place is so horrible that it seems a better strategy to stay true to who you are from the beginning. Trying to fake something you are not will almost guarantee you won’t be elite at the task. Being one thing on a social media platform, and an entirely different person in your real life is not a genuine life. Tell the truth, speak your mind, treat people the way you want to be treated, and constantly reflect to ask yourself if you could have done things better. I’ve made so many mistakes, I’ve hurt people, and I’ve done things that are way different than I’d do them now. But at each stage I’ve learned and integrated the lessons into my current understanding of who I am. Make decisions, statements, and choices based on this best understanding of who you think you are in that moment. I call this integrity.
So, these principles are a starting point in creating an education model for a more ethical entrepreneur in the world of fitness. In this industry we are paid to make people better. We are in the trenches fighting the war against the deterioration of people’s physical bodies in a non-demanding world. And because the mind and body are so intertwined, we impact people’s thinking, quality of life, wellbeing, and happiness while we are changing their bodies. If you knew that you could be rich beyond your wildest dreams as a fitness entrepreneur BUT you had to know with certainty that you had absolutely NO positive impact on people’s well being and the lies you sold them made them unhappier than when they first came to you, would you take that deal? In my eyes, if you said yes to that, you are unfit to be a leader to humanity. Science has all but proven that the quality of your life and happiness is solely dependent on the relationships in your life and so not only would I judge you, but it is highly possible that your life will end in separation, loneliness, and be devoid of any real fulfillment. I believe we can do better, and I will relentlessly pursue my desire to find my internal peace and happiness while also succeeding in the capitalist world following those principles above. If you want to use that as a guide, do so. If not, I always encourage self-reliance and finding your own path, so maybe one day you can teach me how it’s done!