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It's Time to Get Past the Fear in your Business

You just had your second Red Bull and it isnít working. The music in your car is loud; the windows are down letting cold air blow into your face and it is midnight but youíre still an hour from home. The only plan is to keep your car between the lines and hang on another hour. Not many cars out this late and you are hitting it hard trying to get home before you fall asleep at the wheel.

Suddenly, a deer takes one massive leap out of the brush along the road and lands dead in the middle of your lane. He stares at you, frozen in mid stride, head turned, staring at a car screaming down on him at 70 miles an hour. Several seconds later you swerve, but not in time and the deer is road kill and your front fender is a crushed piece of cheap plastic barely attached to the car by a few screws.

Why didnít the deer see the car and run? Why didnít he react to something that was trying to kill him?

In our world the small business owner is too often the deer. Competition increases, divorce happens, leases go bad and the owner, instead of fighting back, chooses to stand in the middle of the road and stare at the light until he is crushed and loses it all. This scenario might be the most frustrating business situation in small business: the owner becomes so afraid of doing the wrong thing that he does nothing and simply exists as an inert mass in the middle of the road staring at the light until the business is taken away from him.

I used to believe that you that if someone is trying to break your head with a bat that you would at least swing back and go down fighting, but over the years I realized that this doesnít happen. I remember watching one of the earliest full contact marital arts fights pitting a guy with about three fights with one guy who was in the ring for the first time. The new guy was an experienced martial artist, big and tough looking. The fight started, the more experienced guy threw a quick, vicious kick at the new guyís head and the new guy panicked, turned away and refused to fight. It was over in less than 30 seconds and the challenger never threw a punch.

This was real life failure, not someone in the movies making a heroic fight against overwhelming odds and beating three drunks with a pool cue. People get challenged beyond their capacity to deal with the situation and they shut down, not only in a martial arts bout, but in business and in life too. Too much is simply too much and the game is over.

I see this happening now in the fitness world. The competition has increased dramatically during the last several years with a negative connotation that good clubs are eating bad clubs that are charging less. This isnít the actual case and in reality it is the fast eating the slow to change that is affecting the market. We have the new functional technology, an increased difficulty in finding good staff and training them, and the disappearance of the old retro marketing ideas that worked for decades yet now are worthless concepts leaving current owners struggling with newer electronic technology to drive leads. Change is happening and the fast adapters are eating the slow movers.

For many owners, it is simply too much to change and too much to understand the new rules of the fitness business and many find it easier to stare into the headlights waiting for the car to end the pain. Most owners only have so many reinventions in their soul and then they quit the business and perhaps nothing in this business is more painful than watching an owner who has been in the industry for 30 years trying to cope with the current rate of change. "Youíre crazy, this idea worked for the guy who started Ballyís and he made a million bucks doing this. That new stuff is bullshit,Ē which doesnít explain why the old guy is losing his business if that idea is still so viable.

Another way to look at this is that it is somewhat like watching a person who smokes or who has a drinking problem blow up their life while intellectually understanding that what they are doing is killing them yet they refuse to change. I use to use the line, "change is more painful than deathĒ and now later in my teaching I am only now truly understanding how powerful this sentence really is.

The frozen person believes that staring at the light is the right thing to do. By not making a decision you avoid doing anything wrong or harmful for the business. But not making a decision is making a decision: you just made a decision to avoid making a decision and many decisions in todayís blinding speed market must be made quickly with the thought that if youíre wrong you at least moved it forward and can later adjust.

Here is a self-test to help you understand if you might be one of the deer people:

∑ Is your business slipping, as indicated by the numbers declining, and yet you find yourself waiting for them to get better rather than taking action? The light is coming deer person.

∑ Do you have personal issues, such as carrying too much weight or a bad relationship, that you simply avoid rather than dealing with in your life? Fat deer make better meals.

∑ Are you one of those people others look up to in the business, have been in the magazines, might have been a past president of a major trade organization, but now you find yourself struggling because what you know no longer works and it is embarrassing to ask someone for help because you lose guru status? Maybe the other deer would respect a smart deer who still seeks new ideas and doesnít have to know everything.

∑ If you havenít been to a training conference in the last three years, arenít certified as a trainer or havenít done any one-day workshops on newer training concepts, you are the deer and the lights are a big SUV.

∑ If you donít know who Gray Cook, Alwyn Cosgrove, Mike Boyle, Jason Brown or Todd Durkin are and you own a fitness facility, you are the deer and the car is moving faster toward your furry ass.

∑ If you are doing the same workout you did 20 years ago, just go ahead and jump on the barbecue.

∑ If you canít use your own software, canít Facebook, canít shoot and post a 30-second video, check your back for tire prints.

Many owners will fail this year and most deserve what they get because of failure to take action. Is it fair? The rule of business will always be the fast eat the slow, not the big eat the small. We are in the world of change yet if you refuse to take action your business will be taken away from you. If things arenít working, take the first punch and at least go down fighting back. Losing isnít everything; failure to fight will cost you your soul.

Jillian Taylor 3 years ago
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Hi Everyone!! Welcome to Thom's new website!! He is going to be sharing all his fabulous thoughts on life in the fast lane!!! Make sure you leave your thoughts after you read a blog! Thom loves feedback!! Hope to see you at an upcoming workshop: Denver, Louisville, Baltimore ... We are all over the place!! :) - Jillian
Frank Kole 3 years ago
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Fast eat the slow, not the big eat the small. I thnk we are watching that happen right now with the different gyms that have moved in town in the last 4 years. 2 gyms opened has a low priced old school no help gym and the other gyms one is a training studio and a Crossfit gym which the trainer worked for us before opening. Is it that we need to change or just stay strong with what we beleave in on how fitness should be severed to our customers. We all get in the gym business to help people and some where along the way we lose that. For example There is a gym no less than 2 blocks from us now. They opened 16 months ago as a trainer studio. 3000 sq feet. So mnay people put pressure on him to open it up as a fulltime gym. So he did at 16 to 19 to 29 per month (yes low priced choices) with no bathrooms or lockers. 15 peices of fixed equpiment and some free wieghts. All carpet no black matts at all. Couple of rules you can not dead lift or yell loud while lifting. Well a couple of months went by and the space next to them opened up and they took it to open a yoga stuido and to have a class room for the gym. But they keep the room locked all day and nite and you can only use it when class is on. Well they took this room only a couple of months of being open and about 8 months ago anonther room next to come up and they took it now this place is 8000 sq feet and the second room he took he can not use becuase of the amount of money he takes in on his 16, 19 to 29 month memberships he can not get a loan for equipment or to fix it up. He has been paying rent on this space now for 8 months or so. This guy changed what he wanted to do so many times in the time he is there he is changing himself right out of a gym and a dream. He tried to get to big and we are watching him eat himself up. He started out being the fast guy in town with his hip training studio 16 months ago and felt the pressure made by his members to change into the cheap gym in town with no help. He has No staff its just him and his girl working the gym all day and nite. Its kind of sad to watch knowing has much has we do all becuase of you Thom helping to see what we need to see to grow as the gym people we are. I love what i do and Love that we have a man like you to help. Thanks Thom! Frank
Thomas Plummer 3 years ago
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Hi Frank,Thanks for the nice words. There seems to be a lot of these confused club owners now. The industry is in a transition phase where most owners can't decide to be $10 a month guys or training clubs or something else entirely bizarre. I hate to see anyone fail but if you don't have a plan to make money built upon a solid brand you won't last long these days. It sounds like you are going to outlast another one in your market. You get better each year and they get gone. Thom
Kym Wimbis 3 years ago
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Hi Thom and Frank... I think that it's interesting that you each describe owners/managers reactions at opposite ends of the spectrum (being frozen like a deer in the headlights and trying to implement/combine multiple business models). I would suggest that both stem from a a lack of understanding of their respective value propositions.When you don't know prexisely what you are selling (or more accurately what the customer is buying) it is difficult to know what to do to improve the business. As a result owners/managers will do nothing (because they are unsure what to do) or, in the alternative, they will try anything and everything (because they are unsure what to do). The latter at least appears to be as Thom described "going down fighting" but it is more often than not "sound and fury signifying nothing" (to quote Shakespere).I am often critical of many in our industry for not being more strategic and these are prime examples. When you don't understand your value proposition all you have is hope... and we all know hope is not a strategy.Being strategic in this sense is not complicated, it simply means understand what your customer wants and moving your business in that direction until you "own" that market position. For example, if you are a low-pricer you must continue to drive prices down until you outprice the rest of the market (of course you have to figure out how to do it profitably), if you are a training club you have to deliver results effectively and efficiently, if you are a full service club you have to be bigger and better... all are legitimate market positions . However, choosing one means not choosing others i.e. you can't be the biggest and the cheapest, you can't be deliver the best results and be the cheapest or the biggest, you can't be the cheapest and be full service...Doing nothing and doing everything are both poor strategies... think about it, when your plane is going down the pilot who stares blankly at the controls is just as likley to crash as the one who frantically flips every switch and pulls every lever hoping for the best.
Thomas Plummer 3 years ago
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Hi Kym,I think there is another layer here. Just because you know what you are doesn't mean you know how to get the job done. Clearly defined business direction/value proposition without the basic skills of small business, such as sales, lead generation and training skill, is sort of like lining up a fat guy at the Boston Marathon. He thinks he is a marathoner but doesn't have even the most fundamental skills to finish the race. Many club owners are a lot like that and the economy and fierce competition has proven that many once vaunted owners were nothing more than lucky and many failed when tough competition arrived. I believe the deer in the headlight is both an unclear direction for many but also a complete lack of mastery of the most basic business skills you need to run a successful business.Keep writing, I enjoy your comments.Thom
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