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Business Strategies for Boot Camp Owners: Getting Started

Boot camps offer an amazing opportunity to clients and trainers.

For clients, boot camps provide a playground of back-to-basics exercises, team spirit and camaraderie as they tap into their inner soldier and push their limits, both physically and mentally.

Trainers get the chance to break free of the gym, earn substantially more income and work with multiple clients at the same time. This is a great way to upsell clients on your personal training packages—boot campers who enjoy the intensity and format of group classes often move over to one-on-one training after a couple of months.

You might dream of launching a successful boot camp so you can work outside, or simply to maximize business profit. Everyone’s goals are different. Whatever you’re after, boot camps can be huge money-spinners (when done right), but you can’t make that your driving force and motivation.

This month, IDEA Trainer Success launches a three-part series on starting a fitness boot camp. The series at a glance:

Part 1: Three fundamentals of getting into the boot camp business. Today I’ll describe how I started the first fitness boot camp in Canada and discuss how you can start planning your own boot camp.

Part 2: (March) Organizing yourself for launch. How to make your boot camp one-of-a-kind, finding the perfect location, understanding local demographics, defining your class schedule and successfully presenting your product to the public.

Part 3: (May) Cost-effective strategies. How to keep your customers coming back for more while keeping your boot camp profitable.

How I Got Into the Fitness Boot Camp Business

Just over 10 years ago, I launched the first fitness boot camp in Canada—a scary and overwhelming adventure. I still remember trying to explain it to the Canadian Armed Forces. “So let me get this straight: you want to take civilians and yell at them, dress them in camouflage and pretend that you’re in a military boot camp?” was the approximate response when I asked whether I could make “boot camp” my trade name. “Well, yes!” I replied, with a giggle. It just sounded so ridiculous. And now, boot camps are one of the most popular, effective fitness programs available, with no sign of slowing down.

Since launching The Original Boot Camp in 2001, I have earned six-figure sums every year with fewer than 12 hours of classes per week. I went from being a personal trainer on minimum wage working 12 sessions a day in a basement gym to working 12 sessions a week on a rugged wilderness beach. I’m not saying this to brag; I’m just telling you that $100,000 in sales is a realistic goal if you are hard-working, passionate, persistent and committed to your customers. All you need are 30 key clients to train three to five times per week, for 8 weeks—plus a few personal training and nutritional consulting sessions each week as additional income.

The popularity of fitness boot camps is giving personal trainers from a variety of backgrounds an opportunity to create their own variations. Where do you start? These are the top three factors to consider before opening for business:

1. Ask Yourself: What Kind of Trainer Are You?

Assess your skills to determine whether leading a boot camp is the right business move.

  • Do you come from a background of playing team sports?
  • Are you loud, extroverted and extremely confident? When you lead a group outside, you have to shout!
  • Do you have at least 200 hours of personal training experience?
  • Are you good at client management and organization (what will you do when there are five different levels in the group)?

Some personal trainers are poor group leaders. If you’re thinking about crossing the bridge, start by joining a volleyball or drop-in soccer team. Learn how to be part of a team and leading one should come easily.

2. Build a Business Plan Around Your Passions

Create a business plan that excites you and reflects your personality. Are you a tough trainer who loses patience when clients take frequent water breaks? If so, you’d better have a plan for handling their hydration needs.

Are you providing a more traditional training service but interested in going outside your comfort zone? Starting a boot camp can free you to be more assertive. It might help to take acting or public-speaking classes (check out Toastmasters in your community; www.toastmasters.org), especially if you decide to run a military-style program.

You’ll need to be able to keep your program consistent and avoid trying to be all things to all people. You cannot be intimidated by people who challenge your authority. You’ll have to command respect yet remain approachable and be able to relate to clients even when their energy is low.

3. Defining Your Brand

Boot camps are not locked into traditions, which creates enormous freedom for independent fitness instructors. Almost any fitness discipline can become a boot camp, whether it’s a sports camp, marathon training, a yoga challenge, exercise for new mothers, cross-training or high-intensity aerobics.

The key is to formulate your brand: a camp that suits your personality, training background and desired demographic while giving your clients a great sweat session and enhancing their commitment to physical fitness. You need to know who you are, and what you represent—figuring that out is not as easy as you might think.

The best thing you can do for your business is to outsource your branding to professionals. A branding specialist encouraged me to put out my first book with a photo of myself with beefed-up biceps, looking tough. The book became a bestseller that launched my career to a new level.

I worked with an acting coach to tap into my deepest Drill Sergeant character, both when the cameras were rolling for media appearances and when I was alone with my loyal boot campers in the woods. By giving myself permission to escape myself and be someone and something that I’m not, I allowed my clients to become their greatest version of themselves. My becoming a Drill Sergeant turned them into soldiers. And that’s what made my boot camp so incredibly special back in 2001. Canada hadn’t seen anything like it.

Whatever you do, sell your program for what it is, not what you’d like it to be. If you adopt military-inspired branding, follow through with a military-inspired program. By using the slogan “We Want YOU!” for example, you’ll be telling consumers your format is physically and emotionally intense. They may be disappointed if the workout uses dance music to keep motivation levels up and doesn’t offer traditional boot camp–style drills and exercises.

Play to Your Strengths

Starting a boot camp can be an exciting—and profitable—endeavour, but you have to start out with a plan that plays to your strengths, builds on your passions and creates a distinct brand. Once those building blocks are in place, it’ll be time to shift from planning mode to launch mode; I’ll show you how to do that next month.

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