On the show today, I have Michael Keeler, Owner and Coach at Business for Unicorns, “a safe space for entrepreneurs and small business owners to challenge the limits of their mindset and skill set with courses designed to create next-level growth in their business.” Michael is also the Co-Founder of Mark Fisher Fitness, which has earned a reputation as being “the Broadway community’s fitness home of choice”.
This episode is for those coaches, trainers, and gym owners who are interested in building a business, serving more clients, or creating better services. Michael and I talk all things community and culture as well as marketing and sales for those in the fitness industry. The primary goal of any gym owner or coach is to have a steady supply of returning clients, and it all comes down to cultivating an irresistible environment. This starts with people.
“What also matters,” says Michael, “just as much as getting results, is getting clients who want to come back; who want to show up; who like being there; who enjoy the people around them; who feel like it’s a safe space or a brave space where they can challenge themselves and look stupid and have that be okay; and try something new without fear of judgement. All of that is culture. That’s community.”
Listen in as Michael explains how great culture closes the gap between one’s potential and acting on that potential, why great community and culture comes from thinking about your relationship with your clients as a dance, how to apply feedback to improve your marketing efforts as well as the culture itself, how businesses in the fitness industry can thrive online, and why becoming a better conversationalist leads to better sales.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- [02:55] An introduction to Michael, Business for Unicorns, and Mark Fisher Fitness
- [05:12] Building community and culture in a gym
- [08:22] How Mark Fisher Fitness set the stage for a healthy community and culture from the start
- [16:52] Feedback as a growth tool for the business
- [21:10] Adapting Mark Fisher Fitness to the online world
- [27:00] Creating an intimate connection with your clients that will keep them coming back
- [29:50] Sales and marketing tips for coaches
James Cerbie: There we go, and we are live with the one and only Michael Keeler. Michael, how are you?
Michael Keeler: I’m really fantastic. Thank you so much for having me. We spoke a few weeks ago, a few months ago. Who knows what time is these days? But I’m just so excited that we get to chat again. And we had such a fun time last time.
James Cerbie: Yes. This will be fantastic, I’m really excited for this. I know that a lot of the people listening to this show are coaches, they’re gym owners, 2020 has been a whirlwind of a year, to say the least. 2021 is also going to be a little bit odd here for at least the first six months, probably. So, I’m really excited to get you on, have a conversation because I’ve loved everything that you and Mark have done with Marc Fisher Fitness over the years, very much leading from the front in terms of this community culture, marketing, and sales conversation for building a fitness business that is doing good things and making a community better and at the same time and I guess, supporting you financially. So, I’m excited to have you on to unpack a lot of that.
Michael Keeler: Great, I’m excited to talk about all of it. It’s been a roller coaster of a year and 2021 is going to be, I think, a continuation of that roller coaster, as you said. So, whatever I have to offer today is helpful to someone listening.
James Cerbie: Yes, for sure. So, let’s do this for the people listening who don’t know who you are. Can you give them the quick rundown?
Who is Michael Keeler?
Michael Keeler: So, I’m Michael Keeler, the co-founder, and co-owner of Mark Fisher Fitness, which is a boutique fitness studio in New York City. We’re known for being the weird kids on the block, where an aisle of misfit toys. Our mantra is that we’re ridiculous humans who are serious about fitness. Our mascot is a unicorn. We call our gym the Enchanted Ninja Clubhouse of Glory and Dreams. We call our clients ninjas. We’re the fun, quirky kids on the Block. Most of our clients are theater lovers or people who are in marching band in high school. The geeks and theater nerds that don’t feel comfortable in traditional gym environments are kind of our bread and butter. And frankly, that’s me and Mark also.
And so that’s Mark Fisher Fitness. And three years ago, we started a separate company called Business for Unicorn’s, where we help share all of our lessons learned and all the things that we think are best practices in the fitness space through teaching courses and one on one consulting and coaching groups. And so, you can learn more about MarkFisherfitness.com and business for Unicorns at businessforunicorn’s.com. But those are the two companies that I found with my business partner, Mark Fisher that we still run today.
James Cerbie: Beautiful. So, I think a great place to start this conversation is going to be on building that community and culture because I think that gets lost a lot of times in the noise and conversation that coaches have. Because as coaches and business owners, we can enjoy getting into the nuts and bolts of the programming and the science and things of that nature, which is important. You need to be good enough at that skill to deliver outcomes for your clients. But unless you’re on the far end of the bell curves where you’re either working with people who are in pain or you’re working with people who have very elite performance goals, the bell curve in the middle is very large, and delivering those outcomes is usually not going to be the limiting factor for most people because this may ruffle some feathers. It’s frankly just not that hard. It’s not rocket science. There’s a lot of things you can do that are going to work and deliver outcomes and results for your people. So, the place where you should be spending more time and attention likely is on building the community and culture and your gym. And so, I would love to hear your thoughts on one, maybe some best practices there, recommendations for people who are just starting off or who are trying to improve this. Where are some places for them to start making this a priority and doing a good job with it?
How to Build a Community and Culture at Your Gym
Michael Keeler: You said so much that I agree with James is that, yes, it’s important to be good fitness coaches. It’s important to know your craft, to know how the human body works, how it gets results and makes change, and stays healthy and stays out of pain. And it’s important to know how to do that. That’s the results we’re selling. And for most people who are serving in the general population, which is should be most gyms, in fact, in my opinion, should be more gyms, really focusing on the general population, that really what also matters just as much as getting results is getting clients who want to come back, who want to show up, who like being there, who enjoy the people around them, who feel like it’s a safe space or a brave space where they can challenge themselves and look stupid and have that be okay and try something new without fear of judgment.
And all of that is culture, that’s community, that they’re in a place where they feel like they can come, let their freak flag fly, be their true selves. And say that, hey, I actually want to look good in a bikini. That actually matters to me, and I want to feel comfortable saying that out loud to these people, and I want you to help me figure out how to get there. I’ve never done a sit-up or a push up or a Burpee in my adult life, so help me get started. And that’s most of America. And getting the average person to just lose those 10 pounds and wanting to lose it is technically not that hard. I’m not a trainer and I’m pretty sure I could help people do it. I’ve no letters behind my name associated with coaching, but I know enough. And in fact, the truth is, I think most Americans, I’ll speak about our country, know enough about what to do. That’s not the challenge. They have all the right information. Everyone knows, eat less junk food, more fruits, and veggies, lean meats, it’s not rocket science, as you said. I should probably move more and lay on my couch less. And that’s pretty much how it works. The thing they stink at is not the knowledge gap, but the behavior gap of actually showing up and doing the things they know they should be doing. And the best way to support people to change their behavior gap or close the behavior gap is to be in a place in a context and in an environment in a community that actually supports that work. I don’t know if I answered any of your question yet. I just want to provide some context for what I think culture and community do for our businesses.
James Cerbie: Yeah, absolutely. I’m 100 percent in agreement with you, I think that a lot of coaches get lost in the weeds on things that just yet to distinguish. Am I doing this for my own intellectual curiosity or am I doing this because it’s actually going to change my practice and help more people? But I think you’re totally spot on in that if knowledge and information was the reason, we have problems, we wouldn’t have problems any longer.
Michael Keeler: The Internet would have solved that.
James Cerbie: Any human right now can go on to Google and type in training program and you’re going to have thousands of results.
Michael Keeler: And most of them will be pretty darn good.
James Cerbie: And most of them will probably get the job done for a general population person who’s like, OK, what am I goals. I just want to look good. I want to feel good; I want to move well and I want to be strong. That’s not that hard of an outcome. So, if we can dig and dive deeper a little bit in this community and culture bit, what were some of the things that early on, at Mark Fisher Fitness, you all did that you think really helped set the stage and the tone for making that a priority in your business?
How Community and Culture are Baked into Mark Fisher Fitness
Michael Keeler: I’ll say this, that I think an analogy that I think can be useful in thinking about building a culture and a community in a training studio is thinking about your relationship with your clients, kind of like a dance. It’s kind of has to flow in both directions. I’m a former dancer and performer, so I like this analogy, it works for me. It may not work for all of you. Imagine you were slow dancing with someone. You have to both kind of lead and follow at times. And I think most people when they’re creating culture or a brand or business, they focus only on the leading and they don’t do enough listening, they don’t do enough following. We joke at MFF that all of the best ideas we ever had about our brand, our culture, our community didn’t come from us. They came from our clients, which we call ninjas. Even the idea of calling them didn’t come from us. The idea of the unicorn didn’t come from us. These were all things that we heard our clients saying and repeating, ideas that may be one of our trainers, or in the very early years Mark was saying when he was teaching in class, he would just say some weird shit and then the ninjas would just love that and repeat it back. And then they’d be posting about it on social media. And so, so much of building a community is about listening. It’s not a dictatorship, it’s a community.
And so, I think practically what that means, I’ll get practical for a second, is having good systems for gathering, collecting, and responding to feedback. And that can happen in small ways and big ways from a feedback box that can be anonymous on the front desk to regular surveys to your clients. So, asking them to leave you reviews, to make sure your coaches are checking with them at the beginning and end of every session if you’re doing small group or private training, to using the million and one apps that are out there that gather data and information about how satisfied your clients are. All of that is part of the dance, it’s part of this back and forth. And in some cases, we have to lead and nudge our community in directions they don’t want to go. And in some cases, they nudge and kick us in directions we don’t want to go. And I think that’s part of what makes a community is that the sense that everyone has a voice, everyone’s opinion matters, even if you’re not the founder and CEO.
In fact, most times I try to make my opinion count the least. I’m just one of many stakeholders in this nearly 10-year operation. And I think that kind of attitude and those tactics of really taking feedback seriously and the mantra we use is we really try to treat feedback like a gift. That every time we get feedback, both positive and critical, we try to see that as an opportunity, we try to see it as a gift. And that’s not just mental jujitsu. That’s really a posture. It’s an attitude that we try to approach all those conversations with. It also happens to result in great customer service. It also happens to result in more friendly, open-hearted, candid conversations. But when you can treat that feedback, that dance of here are things that are working well, here are things that are not working well, how to respond to them. When you treat that dance with that kind of respect and treat it like a gift, you’re absolutely on your way to creating a stellar community.
James Cerbie: I think that the two big things there that I would want to highlight are, one, listening is a pretty cool thing, you should probably try to do it more. But two, ask, this is where I think a lot of people go awry, is that there’s this notion and I think this is just driven from media more than anything, that if you’re a small business owner, an entrepreneur, then you’re blazing your own path and you’re coming up with all the stuff on your own and that could not be farther from the truth. All the best things that we’ve come up with over the past year at Rebel have not been from my brain. It has come because I have Zoom interviews with as many clients who will take them with me and I just ask questions and I want to listen and I want to record the call and I go back and read the transcript because I want to hear in their own language what they’re telling me. Because they’re going to give me the answers, they’re going to tell me what we should focus on and where we should move next. And I think that’s having systems in place to gather those either testimonials or feedback, whatever it is, it’s beyond crucial and necessary.
Why You Should Interview Your Clients
Michael Keeler: That’s it, James, I think you just listed a few other tactics that listeners you can write down, is that it doesn’t have to be survey box and feedback. It can be a little, well, pre COVID. It can be a little coffee date; it could be lunch dates. Invite ten of your best clients to lunch, buy them dinner. Invite him to your house for a barbecue and just ask them questions. What do you like? What do you not like? If you want to know what service to sell next, ask your clients. They’ll tell you what they’ll buy. They’ll tell you where they find value. They’ll tell you what their problems are that you can be able to solve. And it’s that conversation which is useful.
And I’ll say this, that I still find and I see it less and less. And I don’t know if that’s just part of the community of fitness entrepreneurs I surround myself with. I see it less and less, but I still see it. A lot of the attitudes of fitness business owners that’s still pretty pernicious is one of like, well, it’s my place. It’s my way. If people don’t like it, they should get out. Or I hear all the time when it comes to… We’ll talk about marketing more in a second, I’m sure. But saying, I only seem to attract lazy clients who don’t want it. They don’t show up, they don’t call me back, they show up and they don’t have a good attitude in their workout. And it’s like, that’s the opposite of the attitude we’re talking about here. Not to say that you don’t get the clients who are annoying once in a while. We all do, that’s customer service. But if all your clients annoy you and you find yourself on a regular basis having to kick people out, either both staff or clients, because they’re just not following your rules and doing it your way, then you are on your path to creating the opposite of a community. You’re creating a dictatorship or some version of it that no one’s going to want to be in but you. It’s a bubble that where no one else is invited in. I still see that a lot. Some of it comes from this hypermasculine broey attitude, which maybe has its place but this is not one of them. Trying to build a local training studio or a gym is not the place for that kind of my way or the highway attitude.
James Cerbie: I won’t name it, but there was a gym here in Salt Lake that I visited and went to a few times and they fell into this bucket really cleanly. I can remember the first time I went. It’s a super nice facility like they put an unbelievable time, effort, energy, and money into making this thing really nice. And it truly was. And my friend actually owned the building and he was leasing them the space to do it. And he was like, hey, do you want to go check this place out? Let me know what you think. And I can remember leaving. The guy that’s running this, he’s a really good person, his heart is totally in the right place. They will be out of business in the next three months. So, I would probably start looking for another tenant because I was like, there’s just no way this business works because it was very much like this incredibly hard-line, my way or the highway. It was very niched, too niched. And it’s just like, no normal human is really… You’re going to find fifteen people here that probably are going to enjoy what you’re trying to establish and set up. You need to broaden your scope a little bit because your business is going to depend on the general population of people who are just trying to look good, move well.
Michael Keeler: MFF is always trying to be like the Cheers of fitness. I’m dating myself with a TV reference that none of the children will know. But Cheers is the place where everyone knows your name and everyone’s glad you came. That’s the theme song. That’s the environment where people can change their lives. That environment where they feel seen and appreciated and valued. That’s the kind of environment where people can make change, the behavior change that we’re trying to get them to make. And I’ll also say that you know, I won’t name names, but there’s a lot of people kind of quote, thought leaders in the fitness industry. People who have been around for a long time who’ve written books, do a lot of conference speaking, who have perpetrated this attitude and propelled this attitude forward. A lot of them who I’ve seen and I like some of these people, but I see them get up and say, you are the king of your castle. I was like, what? When did I become a king? I started a gym and that kind of king of the castle and I read the highway thing. I think it’s dated. I think if people try to run things with that mentality, which I’m seeing less and less of, I think it’s doomed to fail. I don’t think anyone’s interested or has the patience for that kind of thing anymore.
James Cerbie: Yeah, someone asked me the other day if I was going to draw out what I want the customer experience to be when somebody comes to Rebel as an example, whether they buy a program or sign up for coaching or whatever it is. And my answer to that is I want anybody who interacts with us in any way to feel like, even though we’re all remote, everything’s online. I want you to feel like you’re walking into a room full of your best friends, if that’s the experience I can give you, then I’ve done a good job. If not, then I need to somehow figure out a way to improve upon that. But what I think this leads nicely into when we talk about gathering feedback, testimonials, whatever else falls underneath that umbrella. What’s interesting is that you create this nice flywheel effect that the more feedback, testimonials, the more you listen, the better you get at marketing and sales. And the better you get at marketing sales, the more people who come in the door and give you more feedback and input and then you get better at marketing and sales. That’s what we’re trying to create because they feed into each other nicely.
Michael Keeler: Yeah, 100 percent. This is not just feedback for feedback’s sake. This is not just creating a great positive culture so we can all sing Kumbaya after our workout. Maybe if you like singing, that’s part of your journey. But at the end of the day, it’s a growth tool for the business that when you get a better understanding of the people you serve and helping them make the change they want and they get comfortable telling you when things are working or not working for you, then you attract more of those people who want to be in that same environment. And it is absolutely a flywheel effect. You get better at marketing to them; you create better landing pages that are email marketing. You create better social media content. You know what language they use to describe their challenges. You know what solutions you’ve offered that resonate with them. You put up images that show people like them working out, having fun, getting results. You put up testimonials of people that look and sound like them, that kind of like find my tribe mentality is the best of marketing. And you can only really do it when you know your client and your client’s avatar well.
James Cerbie: Without question, I think that, for example, I can’t write any piece of copy or marketing unless I’ve probably done at least five to ten interviews with people and printed transcripts and read through it several times and circled, underlined, highlighted because I’m not trying to create something out of thin air. I’m just trying to tell the story that they’re already telling me, like, what’s the story here? What are their problems? What are their fears? What are the obstacles in their way? I like to think of it as like if you’re standing at a canyon, it’s like on the other end of the canyon is their win, it’s their success, what does that look like for them? And then where they’re currently standing is where the problems, fears, and frustrations are. So, you got to figure out what are the problems, fears, and frustrations, what’s the wind and how do I build a bridge to get them over this gap? And the only way to do that is by listening.
Michael Keeler: I think that’s absolutely right. I think the thing that people forget about listening or doing these kinds of Ingres that you’re talking about, is that this is a learnable skill. I hear pushback from some entrepreneurs that, like, I’m not good at that. That’s not how I want to run my business. That’s not my natural tendency. It may not be, but that’s the only way forward in this business, is getting good at your listening skills, getting good at… I teach a course called Coaching Conversations, which is about having these kinds of conversations. And really, if you want to ask great questions, it’s a practice to actually learn how to ask really great empowering, open-ended questions. To do great listening, acknowledging, and validating which, you know, often repeating back or mirroring back what people said, validating people’s feelings, or normalizing their feelings so they don’t feel like crazy people for having shared them.
All of these things are skills that you can practice and learn and get better at. And they make all the difference in the world at building rapport and trust with your clients. You want to take someone who’s a stranger, who’s a lead, who just opted into your lead magnet and build to know like and trusts quick enough that they buy your trial and then become a member in the next two weeks. You better be good at connecting with people, having good conversations. You better be good at listening and asking great questions and having curiosity and avoiding judgment. Those are skills you can learn and it takes practice.
James Cerbie: I think a really cheap, phenomenal resource in this realm if people want something that’s going to give them a very quick win in this is the brain audit by Shawn D’Souza, I believe is his last name. It’s a Kindle book, you can buy it on Amazon. It’s like three dollars, maybe ten. It’ll be the best three to ten dollars you’ve spent so far in 2021 because he just lays out the whole thing for you and there’s no guesswork involved. You can literally steal the questions that he tells you to use and just start there. So, I highly recommend that as a resource if someone’s like where do I start with this, that’s the cheapest, easiest way to just get something that’s going to work right off the bat for you. But I think something that I would love to try to unpack here is when we’re talking about this community and culture, this marketing and sales, 2020 was obviously a very interesting year in the fitness business world. And I know that you all at Marc Fisher had to make some adjustments and transitions because you had two very successful brick and mortar facilities. And then New York has had some more stringent rules in terms of what can be open. So, you guys have had to pivot a little bit in terms of how can we make this work online remotely as well as still potentially trying to manage a brick and mortar. And so, I would love to hear what are some things that you all have done successfully, some tactics or strategies that you’ve used, and lessons learned and trying to get this online going while staying really true to who you are at your core.
Lessons Learned from Taking Mark Fisher Fitness Online
Michael Keeler: Well, I’ll say this, for people listening, you’re welcome to disagree with me, but I think that online is here to stay and most brick-and-mortar facilities will need to have some version of online, if not to get through the rest of 2021, to serve clients moving forward who now are used to having that flexibility. And that’s the direction we’re trying to head in at MFF. But as you said in March of 2020, when New York City was basically shut down, we had to pivot very quickly. At the time, we had two locations and about a thousand active members every single month. And we had to very quickly figure out what the hell are we going to do with all these people and how do we serve them? And we very quickly created an online program called Homebody and Homebody is basically online zoom classes. And we’ve gone from basically closing down in March, closing one of our facilities for good because our relationship with our landlord was not one that we could sustain it through being closed, to moving almost everything online, and at this point we’re I think just getting past the 650 active monthly people doing online classes with us.
So, in talking to some people who are like, oh, no, none of our clients will go online, no one’s going to go online, you can’t make any money online. I was like, what are you talking about? We have almost 650 people every month doing so many classes online. We have a full team of trainers all teaching remotely from their living room with nothing more than a laptop and there’s business to be had there. It’s probably saturated at the moment, but it’s not going away. So, get over the idea that this is something you don’t have to pay attention to because the competition was here already, it was here with Peloton and the mirror thing and Apple is now in the game of something, I think it’s under ten dollars a month for unlimited streaming everything in the world. The competition is here. And if you don’t think that’s competition for your brick-and-mortar business, you’re just burying your head in the sand. It is competition and you can get in the game. I don’t know if everyone will survive this bubble, but I think you got to at least be playing the game to have a chance. And so, I’ll get to strategies in a second, which is this. The first strategy I’ll have is I think we have an advantage. Being a smaller brick and mortar company that has an online option is a huge advantage because we get to maintain a sense of connection and community and personalization, because our classes, at least for homebody right now are somewhere around twenty, twenty-five people. As opposed to going on too many of the platforms out there that exist, daily burns, et cetera, which I’m sure are lovely services, I haven’t used any of them. But I know you’re online with thousands of people. There’s no individualization or personalization.
So, on ours, every single homebody class at Mark Fisher Fitness starts like the first ten minutes of class we use as a name game to get to know each other. Everyone gets unmuted, gets to say something and share something funny and play a fun game. And that sense of community has been the number one reason many clients have told us they’ve come back again and again through a year of a pandemic, is that they felt connected to people. They felt like they’re actually going to a physical place. And to your point, walking into this virtual room with people that are their friends, that they know, that they know they’re going to laugh with and sweat with. And so, I think making sure that whatever your brand or your personality is, if it’s about community and connection, you bring that onto Zoom or wherever your platform is. So, I think that’s one tactical thing, is make sure there is a personal connection. I think even to elaborate on that, we’ve also done a ton of just kind of free and engaging online hangouts and events and activities. We have some trainers who will get on and do a quick-cooking demo every week. I have one trainer that gets on, his name is Harold. He does Harold kind of quote, happy hour where you drink a beer and do some foam rolling in your living room. These are not highbrow activities. This is meant to be fun and engaging, keep a sense of connection, keep a sense of personal attention on your online platform.
And we have a real advantage. Lovingly, daily burn can’t do that. They’re too big. The scales too big. Not everyone’s going to know each other’s names. I don’t think all the trainers probably even know each other’s names. We have an advantage. And I think people when they go online these days, they want that kind of experience. They want the experience of face to face, but with the convenience to be able to stay home when they need to. And let’s be real that that kind of convenience, the need for that convenience, isn’t going to disappear with COVID. It’s going to keep happening because people have kids and want to stay home for them. They’re working at home more; many businesses are at home more. So, you have millions of people in the U.S who are going to be working at home permanently moving forward. And many of them are going to want the convenience of having remote. So those are the first two things I say is, don’t believe the idea that you can avoid paying attention to this as a brick-and-mortar owner. And two, you can bring a lot of your community, your personality in your high touch experience to a virtual environment with a lot of success. And frankly, the overhead is much cheaper. You have more profitability in the space when you do it well.
James Cerbie: Yeah, that’s amazing. I love that. I think that the online hangouts, what was it, Hoppes, with…
Michael Keeler: It was Harald’s happy hour.
James Cerbie: I love it. That’s so good. That’s fantastic. I’ve been encouraging my sister to go sign up with you all because I think that it would be perfect for her because I think the issue with a lot of… And like the big companies, it’s like they’re going to get theirs. They’ll get their people who want to spend nine dollars a month and just be a number on a spreadsheet and that’s fantastic. But there is a power to being able to be someplace where you can say each other’s names and have an actual connection and community and have a conversation like you’re not just a number on a spreadsheet. It’s kind of like when you’re in school. I was fortunate to always be in smaller schools, like even the college I went to was small. The biggest class I was ever in was twenty-five people. I was on a first-name basis with my professor. If we saw each other walk across campus like he knew my first name, he knew I played baseball, he knew some things about me or her. And that was such a great learning experience as opposed to being at a huge university, maybe sitting in a lecture hall, with 500 people. And it’s like, which one’s probably going to be a better experience for the end-user.
Michael Keeler: We know from a lot of workplace culture research that employees stay longer when there’s someone in the workplace who cares about them personally. I would bet I don’t have the research on this, but I would bet maybe someday I’ll do the research on this. I think people in gyms are more likely to stay longer when there’s someone at the gym they think cares about them personally. And you can’t get that from those big international companies. They are good at lots of other things, I’m sure, but they’re not good at intimate, personal connection and community in the same way that we can be as brick-and-mortar owners. And, you know, like I said, we’re up to almost 650 people in Homebody and it still feels intimate and personal. So even at that scale, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to having the kind of impersonal experience you would expect with a larger product.
James Cerbie: It’s amazing you guys have been able to transition as quickly as you did. 650 members online, that’s a really big deal for people who aren’t familiar with online space in particular. Were a lot of those members sign-ups and people that carried over from brick-and-mortar facilities?
Michael Keeler: A lot of them are just our members who couldn’t come in person. I mean, as of, I think late summer 2020, we were able to open up just one part of our brick and mortar in New York. And so, we have some people coming in person, a very small team, three or four trainers there servicing, I think, under a hundred clients, which is, like I said, small from where we were before. So really, most of our clients, the only option they’ve had has been online. So, most of those people are people who were already our clients and trusted us enough to go online before they knew they were going to like it. And since then, we’ve absolutely expanded beyond the people who were clients in March of last year to people who are past clients who moved away, to people who are friends of friends, people who are colleagues. We’ve also started doing our remote classes for companies as kind of a corporate wellness offering. And so, there are some companies now who hire us to host their own classes, either one-offs or multiple classes per week, which has been another great revenue stream.
James Cerbie: Yeah, that’s huge. That’s fantastic. I think it’s something I would like to maybe dive into a little bit more here because I can tell you from experience historically, coaches, people in this fitness strength conditioning realm on average are terrible with marketing and sales. So, for people listening to this who are like, hey, I’m a good coach, I’m great at delivering results and outcomes, but marketing and sales, this feels like this big black hole of voodoo magic almost. And a lot of people feel so turned off by it, too, they feel like this used car salesman. They’re like, I hate marketing and selling because I just feel oily and slimy, but it doesn’t have to be that way at all. So, it’s an unfairly broad question. What are just a few maybe like tips, advice or resources, or things for these coaches to help approach this marketing and sales bit and not feel like just a total scumbag?
How to do Marketing and Sales as a Coach without Feeling Like a Scumbag
Michael Keeler: It’s a great question and one that I talk about all the time with my clients at Business for Unicorns. And in fact, even at Marc Fisher Fitness, we didn’t start selling and marketing for a few years. We got by for a few years on being the new kids on the Block, the quirky kids, the unicorn cult in New York City. And we got a reputation for our personalities, so we didn’t have to market for a little while. But at some point, that top turns off, the organic, low hanging fruit that you’ll get from people who are in your community that is just going to go to whatever new gym opens up, that will stop at some point. Even in a city of millions like New York, that faucet turns off. For us, it took about three years and you have to start selling. Our team even had some real challenges selling when we first started. One of the first things we did was as a team we all read the book, To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. And so, I think that’s a great resource to start with. If you feel icky about selling, read the book. I mean, he makes some great points in there that you’re selling every day in so many ways.
When you are trying to convince your friends to go to the Cheesecake Factory instead of Olive Garden, you’re selling. When you’re trying to get your parents to buy you that thing you want for Christmas instead of the other thing, they usually buy you. You’re selling. It’s about influencing people. And ideally, when you influence people to make good in the world or make something positive happen, people feel great about that. We tell stories about that; those people are heroes when they use their influence to actually inspire others to make positive change. But when you use your influence to deceive people or sell them snake oil, those are the things we feel icky about, people who sell the used car that they know the transmission is going to fall out the minute you drive it off the lot. That’s some shady shit. No one wants to be that person. One version of selling is, I’ll use Barack Obama was a great salesperson.
James Cerbie: One of the best of all time.
Michael Keeler: He is a great salesperson. He sold this idea, this vision of the country that many millions of people bought, some millions of people didn’t. And I’m not making a comment on whether or not his vision was right for America, though I happen to think it was, I’m making a comment about the fact that his job was to sell people on the idea of how their actions and their agency can help make the change they want. And in many ways, that’s our job in fitness. If you have the ability to solve people’s problems, people’s problems of pain, people’s problems of obesity, people’s problems of low energy, people’s problems of low self-confidence, people’s problems of, I can’t find jeans that fit me. If you have the ability to solve those problems for you and you’re not, I think that’s the shame. That’s the thing you should feel icky about, is not making yourself available to as many people as humanly possible. And that process of making yourself available to as many people as humanly possible to solve those problems, that’s marketing. That’s selling. And if everyone could do it so easily, they wouldn’t need your help, to begin with. We wouldn’t have fitness coaches or nutrition coaches or life coaches if everyone could just go on the Internet, Google it and do it. They need our help.
The process of marketing and selling, I think first it starts with demystifying it for people. Most people just don’t understand the basics of how it works. And I’ll go maybe a step deeper for a second, we can go back to that technical stuff, is they struggle with self-worth and their confidence to charge enough money for their services or talk about money at all. I see that’s a barrier for a lot of people to have a real, understandably, a messed-up relationship with money. It’s one of the oldest relationships with anything will have in the world, is our relationship with money. And some people probably just start by getting that right. And that might take some extra work with a coach or a therapist, their mom, I don’t know. But you’ve got to have a pretty decent relationship with money to be good at marketing and selling. And then have a decent relationship with your value and the value you add to your world.
And the best salespeople are the people who are confident about their ability to solve a problem and see how to be confident about that. And then once you have that foundation laid of the right mindset around coaching. Do you believe it can be a good thing? Do you believe you have confidence and self-worth? Do you believe you’re worth the money? Then you can learn the logistics and the tactics of what the heck is a sales funnel? What’s the difference between all the different kinds of marketing I could do out there? Which one do I pick? And that demystifying, that is in fact mostly a knowledge gap for most people. They just don’t learn the basics. So, I’m happy to talk about any one of those things more but where do you want to go next?
James Cerbie: I love all of that because there are two things that I would like to just pull out and highlight for listeners. Thing number one is if you really believe in the outcome that you can give people, then the selling piece is the easiest thing that you do, because you know how awesome, how amazing, how good this thing is going to be for the person sitting across the table from you. If you don’t feel that way about your product, then maybe reconsider the product. But I think we talked about a similar topic on your podcast where I just know how good our products and services are for the people that sign up and use them. For me, I’m just so excited for the other person.
And the other big thing to pull out there is in terms of the pricing and what to charge. And I heard this phrase the other day and I really liked it, which is what is it going to cost them to not hire you? This is from a business coach who it’s an expensive package to work with him. He’s like, yeah, I charge eight thousand dollars a year to work with me, but I help my people make fifteen thousand dollars a month. So, it’s costing them more money to not hire me than it is to hire me. And so, I think those are two big things to essentially focus on when you’re thinking about this topic of selling and being uncomfortable selling.
Why Selling is Like Dating and How to do it Well
Michael Keeler: It’s a great point, James. Ultimately, people are coming to a gym or coming to a personal trainer and nutrition coach or whatever your specialty is because they have a problem, they haven’t been able to solve on their own. And if you have all the skills and ability to help them, you have an obligation to. That’s why you got into this business. And just the process of selling and marketing is a process of connecting with this person. The analogy I use the most when talking about marketing and selling, and it’s maybe not the best one because I haven’t done this thing in many, many years. But it’s the analogy of dating. I haven’t dated a long time. I’ve been married for a while, been with my husband for many years.
James Cerbie: Yeah. Thank God dating is the worst.
Michael Keeler: It was terrible. And I think the same reason people hate dating is the reason they hate marketing and sales. It requires a lot of vulnerability. It requires getting clear about who you are and what you want and how you present yourself. It requires the patience of having to meet a lot of people who are no’s, who are not a good fit that you don’t want to hang out with again, don’t share your values, or don’t have the same vision of the future for each other. And that’s the same as dealing with sales. So, you have to go through a lot of leads and a lot of prospects to get a lot of nos. You know, the old adage in sales is you’re just chasing the nose because you need ten nos for every yes. And that’s exhausting, like dating. And similarly, you need to know what you’re looking for and have a process. I think that’s what a lot of apps have done for people these days, that have been maybe mildly helpful, I’m not sure. But at the very least, they’ve given dating a process that it never had before, and I think that’s a lot of what I think businesses that do marketing sales well, the reason they do it well in part is because they have a process. They actually have a bunch of ways where they help people from the top of the funnel. When I talk about the sales funnel, there’s an analogy that everyone talks about but doesn’t often describe in detail and I think everyone needs to learn about.
But it’s the most basic terms, top of the funnel is the idea that you need to get more people in the world to get to know you exist. Once they know you exist, you have to get them to know, like, and trust you. And that happens in all kinds of different ways, from in-person events to paid marketing to quote organic marketing, to all kinds of ways, referrals, and friends. And it happens a million different ways. They get to know, like, and trust you. Then at some point, you start to ask them for commitments like you do on a date. And that starts with like, can I have your phone number? Can I have your email address? And then, hey, do you want to come to try out this thing that we offer. It goes through a trial and then that trial often leads to some sort of long-term commitment. But that’s all we’re talking about. We’re talking about a sales funnel. And there’s really just a few, you know, three or four phases of that that you need to have well organized. How to get people to know you exist to begin with, how to get them to know, like, and trust you, how you get them to try you out, and how do you convert them to a long-term commitment. Those are the four basic steps of a funnel. And if you’re not sure how your company does any one of those four things, start there.
James Cerbie: Especially at the top of the funnel, because… Well, I won’t say that it depends where you’re at.
Michael Keeler: Well, it’s true. If you don’t have any water flowing at the top of the funnel, there’s not going to be coming out the bottom.
James Cerbie: Yeah, exactly. But that’s the thing that people just… Take someplace and start, that’s the biggest recommendation I can make. Don’t suffer from paralysis by analysis. Just pick something and do it. Something I heard the other day I really like is you only really need to be world-class and one thing in order to have more leads and flow than you could ever know what to do with, you don’t need to be great at everything. Just pick one thing and be really good at that one thing. But another way I’ve heard it phrase for the funnel that I like is attract, teach, monetize, where you’re trying to figure out ways to attract people into your world. And then you’re going to teach, you’re going to have a relationship-building phase where you’re giving out content, you’re having conversations, you’re dating. If we’re getting coffee then maybe we get dinner and then maybe we do something like… You’re slowly ramping them up. And then at some point in time, you can ask them, be like, hey, if you’re this type of person with this type of problem, I’d love to help you with this thing. If that sounds good to you. Great. Let’s do this. Let’s go get married.
Michael Keeler: Yeah, totally. I love those three phrases. I think the only place where I would make sure people check themselves is that not all teachers are good teachers. So, the teacher analogy, I wouldn’t people to think that that’s some teaching can be very one-sided. And as we talked about earlier, even at the very beginning of forging a relationship with potential clients, it’s about a dialogue. It’s about a back and forth. So, there’s teaching, but there has to be just as much listening and asking and curiosity. And people make this mistake in sales conversations. I think in a sales conversation, the client should be talking eighty percent of the time. You, as the person doing the sales, should be talking less than twenty percent.
I find that people are often switching because they think that part of selling someone is convincing them, telling them enough about themselves and their services and their place and the equipment and the tools and the programs. To your point in the very beginning of this podcast, that that’s how I’m going to convince someone to work with me. So, I just talk long enough, hard enough, passionately enough about what I do, they’ll want to work with me. I don’t think that works most of the time. In fact, what your time is better spent doing is, find out what do they want, what are their needs, what are their goals, and then help map their goals onto how you can help them. But that has to come after a lot of listening and probing.
James Cerbie: Yeah, I very much agree. I think teachers maybe not the most appropriate word for that.
Michael Keeler: The good kind of teaching.
James Cerbie: Yeah, it’s teach, slash conversation. You’re not the person, that dictator at the front of the room talking at people, it’s talking with people.
Michael Keeler: Yeah. It’s hard to balance because I get the point of the teach, which is that you are the expert. You have something that they want, they need or they want or you want them to buy that will help them solve their problem faster, easier with less stress. And so, you do need to share your expertise and make sure they understand that you have real experience doing what they’re going to pay you to do. And that’s not the whole equation.
James Cerbie: I can say from my experience for the past six months, I don’t think I’ve actually sold anyone anything. Like I don’t think you’re ever going to convince someone to do something they don’t want to do. Everything we’ve sold, it’s been the process like, hey, where do I sign up? We’ve gotten to a point where they know they know like and trust me enough. They believe in what we’re doing. Yeah, just tell me where to sign up like I’m ready to do this. I’m not trying to drag them over the meat grinder and be like a but bye-bye -bye. It’s like they ask the question and it becomes easier. But Michael, I know that you have to run. So, thank you so much for doing this. I feel like we could talk about this for hours, but for people listening to this, who are enjoying this, who maybe want help in this business, this potentially terrifying world of business marketing sales for people, where can they go to find you and get help?
Where you Can Find Michael Keeler
Michael Keeler: They should go to businessforunicorns.com. And we have a podcast. James is actually going to be appearing on an episode coming up soon so you can listen to us chat more about the fitness business. You can listen to the podcast, for starters. And on businessforunicornsdot.com, you’ll see that we really offer kind of two main things, we offer an online forum that’s actually going to be launching in a few months from here so you can join the waiting list to be the first to know. But basically, it’s an online platform and we offer all kinds of courses on how to be a great fitness business entrepreneur from things like time management to building a great team, to amazing customer service, to having the coaching conversations we talked about a little bit earlier. So that platform is called Unicorn University, it will be launching in a few months. So that’ll be something you can check out. And we also have some peer coaching groups. So, we have two groups for fitness entrepreneurs that are different places in their career to join other people who are at a similar place and get coaching from Mark and I on a regular basis. We don’t call it a mastermind because I kind of hate that idea. All due respect to people who have masterminds, I’m not the master of any minds, including my own. But I do like the idea of peer support and fellowship and mentorship. So that’s really what we’re offering in those groups. So, check it out and follow us on Instagram as well. We post the podcast content there in video format and we can chat through that as well. My email is Michael@businessforunicorns.com. I’m always happy to answer some questions by email. So, let’s be friends.
James Cerbie: Michael, thank you so much. This is fantastic.
Michael Keeler: Thanks, James.
James Cerbie: All right, folks. And that is a wrap, thank you for tuning in for another episode of Rebel Performance Radio. You can find all the show notes, relevant links, resources mentioned, all that jazz at our website, rebel-performance.com, or just google rebel performance, we will be the first result. And lastly, I do have one small ask for you. If you enjoyed the episode today, please take 30 seconds to subscribe and leave us a review. Otherwise, thanks a ton for tuning in. Have an amazing week and we will talk soon. Peace.
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