Building a Successful and Sustainable Boot Camp Business
Best of Business: Last installment in our series on running the best boot camp you can offer.
Running a successful business is much like being an athlete. You’ve got to attack the task with dedication, commitment, passion, integrity and respect for the road ahead and the people who are part of it. Just as you keep clients by training them to run faster and jump higher, you’ll build a long-lasting boot camp by starting out great and just getting better.
The past two articles have shown how to organize a successful launch (setting the dates, finding your demographic, marketing and preparation). This final installment is about getting going and securing long-term operational success. I hope you stay in business as long as I have done!
Find Your Focus
New boot camps crop up every year, so if you want to stand out from the crowd and stay in business more than a couple of months, you’ve got to have focus. That means writing out a plan for how you will launch your boot camp and then putting procedures in place once it is running. How will you keep people coming back for more, workout after workout?
Don’t act like a client with a short-term fitness fix. Aim for procedures you can use consistently over time. You can’t let clients' initial success go to your head. Many people try new workouts and new trainers; having participants stick around when you’re not the “new big thing in town” is the key to long-term success. I’m proud to have started Canada’s first boot camp, but I am more proud to be leading the country’s longest-running boot camp.
Have the Best Workout in Town
Outdoor fitness is so much fun, but distinguishing your boot camp from the rest is all about the workouts. The content of your boot camp is simply the most important factor—having lots of exercises and modifications for all kinds of abilities and injury restrictions helps ensure that clients leave your class feeling they have succeeded. To stay motivated and empowered, clients must be able to keep up with and do the exercises.
Set up your program so that everybody, from most to least athletic, is challenged. Look on YouTube, and research exercises over and over again. I go to the gym once a week and try out all the new exercises I’ve researched so I can accurately assess their difficulty and determine the appropriate repetition and set count. How can you know the difficulty level of your workout if you haven’t done it yourself?
Build a Solid Reputation
How will you persuade people to pay the fee you need to turn a profit, when so many start-ups are out there giving classes for free? The answer lies in the perceived value of your program. Customers have to see a return on their investment. Convince them there is no better opportunity to get results than when training with you.
Customers’ goals may vary, but ultimately your clients exercise to look better, get fitter and feel more energized. Create a tracking system to show them they are making progress and to keep them motivated. For example, hire a photographer to take “before boot camp” swimsuit photos on the initiation day and “after” photos 8 weeks later. Chances are clients will be so happy with the results that they’ll upload the pictures on Facebook and tag your company with a rave review—letting everyone in their network see that your programs work.
Your reputation is your strongest tool in creating demand for your boot camp, so make sure you are perceived as a responsible fitness professional, committed to a healthy lifestyle. Always make a good impression on first contact, as you could be meeting your next client.
Set Up Your Systems
Creating loyal, paying clients doesn’t require the additional expenses of merchant accounts and online processing in your first year or two of business. The important thing when you start is to show clients that you are serious. Avoid cash transactions, as they do not look professional.
While many vendors do not accept checks, I do. Taking checks shows customers you trust them; I’ve had a few bounced checks, but the clients have always taken full responsibility. Also, taking checks makes it easier to keep all your income in a consistent accounting system. You can track revenue by depositing all checks at the same time and by keeping a spreadsheet log of the amount paid per client.
Establish Prices and Policies
Set a fair price for your services and stick with it—my prices haven’t changed in 10 years ($395 for an 8-week program of three sessions per week). There are no refunds and no credits; once you’re in, you’re in. This is outlined clearly in the sign-up document, drafted by my lawyer. I offer cancellation insurance for $100, which allows clients to quit and get a full refund at any time during the program, but nobody really goes that route. Speaking of lawyers, if your clients are doing outside boot camp activities (such as rolling on the dirt, carrying tires or crawling under netting), it’s important to get an outdoor-adventure waiver to protect you from sprained ankles and worse.
Celebrate Your Clients’ Successes
The Original Boot Camp’s coaching system is set up to be a progressive course, and making it to the end is an incredible achievement. We celebrate “survivors” with an awards ceremony, speeches and a social evening with everyone’s closest friends. We give out survivor T-shirts and certificates of completion. Many of our younger clients who haven’t had much employment experience put our boot camp on their resumé as an extra-curricular achievement.
Maximize Your Earning Power
Although you got into this business to help people, money ultimately keeps you motivated. It is true that you need to spend money to make money, so figuring out what kind of revenue you need to create the life you want will help you determine how much of your business revenue should go back into building your company. While a six-figure income may seem like dream come true, when the tax man puts his hand out at the end of the year, you may wish you had spent that money on office space or a new vehicle. When you run a successful boot camp business, money will come quickly but inconsistently, so you must prioritize its management.
Do It Yourself
Don’t get greedy and hire a bunch of trainers so you can work fewer hours. Stay hands-on with your fitness programming and teach as many classes as you can. Boot camps can be a “here today, gone tomorrow” kind of business, so you want to embrace every opportunity to give your clients the results they want. Nobody cares more about your business than you do—I have found that it doesn’t matter how well you are paying your instructors, how qualified they are and how awesome they may be, at the end of the day you want to take ownership of your clients’ results and have your clients consider you their boot camp instructor. This is very important to the longevity of your brand.
Pumping up your other instructors as being the best in the business only hands them the keys to start up their own boot camps once they have left your employment, in addition to giving them a head start on building their (all-important) reputation. I learned that the hard way. I hired a team of trainers one summer and ran their pictures and qualifications in the newspaper each week under my company name. Sure, it made sales in the short term, but many opportunities also came along from people offering to pay the trainers directly, “outside of Cat Smiley.”
Being able to stay in business for a decade in a small town of 10,000 means everything to me. My rates are no longer competitive with what else is offered in town (other companies charge less, but rapidly go out of business), but that is beside the point. What sells The Original Boot Camp is the value people receive for their investment of time. I am well aware they can pay less for training elsewhere, but I remain confident that enough people will come to me to fill the class.
Be the best, not the cheapest. There’s no point in being both.
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