Before creating The Original Boot Camp, I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to launch what would become Canada’s first fitness boot camp. Since I had no other business models to learn from, our operations procedure was based on trial, error and many sleepless, stressful nights of research. I’m happy to say my company has turned six-figure annual sales and found hundreds of contented customers since its 2001 debut, in addition to creating an incredibly rewarding career for yours truly. But man, I wished someone had told me back then what I’m about to tell you now.
In the first part of this three-part series, we covered the nuts and bolts of deciding whether running a boot camp is right for you, as well as the early stages of planning a boot camp launch. In this issue we address how to get organized so you can go for it! We will cover important information, like how to make your business unique; how to scout the perfect location; how to define your target market; how to set a class schedule; and how to brand yourself. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so take the time to get it right the first time.
Organizing Yourself for a Successful Launch
Many trainers believe outdoor boot camps are an easy way to avoid pricey studio rentals and profit-sucking overhead. While that is true up to a point, don’t sneak into a deserted part of town and ask your clients to meet you there. All it takes is one business competitor to tattle to the authorities—and it would be pretty embarrassing to get shut down by a parks official while leading your clients. Besides, just taking your clients to the park isn’t how you engender sustainable enthusiasm for your program. Between dog poop and muddy grass, cold bathrooms and working out in the dark (eventually the light bulbs will burn out for at least a few classes), a park setting has many potential downsides. In short, all the motivation and innovative coaching in the world won’t get people out of bed to come train with you unless you provide them with a comfortable environment.
So play your business cards above-board, even if it costs you more money. Before you do anything, call the parks and recreation department (PRD) at your local municipality and ask for the protocols on running a group fitness program on park district land. You’ll need to show a valid business license (which means your certifications must be up-to-date), and you will have to add the PRD as an additional insured party on your liability waiver, for at least $2 million (www.ideafit.com/fitness-insurance). Parks officials will need to give you the correct terminology so your insurance broker can add coverage. Once that’s done, you will fax proof of coverage to your PRD department contact with your business license. Some departments charge a seasonal permit (from $80 or more), while some charge an hourly rental (up to $50 an hour).
The Original Boot Camp is booked on a private beach in Whistler, British Columbia—personally, I believe the investment in total privacy is worth every penny. We get to shout as loudly as we want without having to be considerate of the yoga class releasing their chakras nearby. Plus, the beach is groomed regularly, there is pristine parking, and the location is just 5 minutes from town! As a result, my customers feel “hard-core” but comfortable, and they come back year after year. My repeat rate is 86%, and all over the Internet we have raving testimonials and stunning photos of our wilderness workouts, something you can have too if you put effort into maximizing the marketing value of everything good that comes from training with you, and if you ask your customers to share their experiences in writing or video testimonial. Win-win!
During winter, look into renting a school auditorium. Choosing adventurous locations is fun for one or two classes, but remember that ultimately your clients are there to get fit. By providing convenient parking, heated washrooms, natural objects that can be turned into fitness equipment, and above all, comfort, you make it easy for participants to show up. As much as your clients tell you they want “tough-as-nails,” long-term retention comes from taking ordinary people and making them feel extraordinary by elevating their perception of what they can achieve–and you do that through your coaching tactics, not through your training environment. Factor comfort into your operations budget.
Setting Your Schedule
Build your schedule around what your clients want, not what you want. Be available and approachable—keep your clients together on your Facebook fan page and start a conversation. My entire business plan was pretty much built on customer feedback. No matter how busy you are, do not allow your clients to feel that you don’t have time for them. Make yourself open for communication outside of class time—it’s very unlikely that they’ll abuse your time, and they’ll be grateful to know that they are more than “just a job” for you.
The best time to run your classes depends on three main factors: your target market, where you live and where your clients will commute to (or from) to attend your session. Most people like to have at least an hour between finishing a sweaty boot camp session and being in their corporate outfits for work. Therefore, 6:00 am or earlier seems to be the most common time for the first class.
Do not follow your competitors; you don’t want to copy their mistakes—even if they seem successful. Clients may leave their session and come to yours if you have a better schedule for their needs. Also, before deciding how long your class will be, check the booking regulations for your park district. Sometimes classes over 60 minutes are required to obtain event permits, which includes renting a portable toilet (not cost-effective).
Define Your Target Market
Figure out your demographic. Certain kinds of trainers might not be compatible with certain kinds of customers, and it’s very important to have a firm understanding of your customers’ lifestyles and generation traits. We can no longer put our customers into categories based on income, gender, family position or education. These days, business success depends on making each customer feel valued as an individual. Figure out your target market by learning about their traits—for example if you’re not very savvy about social media, you may be better off with the Baby Boomer population.
Let’s look at Generation Y as an example (born 1980 to 2000). This crew is all about instant communication through technologies like phone applications and social media sites. They are peer-oriented, love to express themselves and feel accepted, and live with their parents for longer periods than previous generations. Therefore, if you are running your boot camp with the goal of bringing in young adults, it may be in your best interest to attend networking events through your local Chamber of Commerce, for example, so you can reach the parents. As a group, members of Generation Y are said to be much closer to their parents than their parents’ generation, so you want to consider who has the purchasing power when it comes to your boot camp. Additionally, if this is your target market, you will need a strong Internet marketing campaign and an innovative approach to your operations to gain loyalty from this generation.
In addition to figuring out your target generation, you should be knowledgeable and sensitive to your customers’ schedules and priorities. For example, if you’re catering to moms without being one yourself, you need to round up the mothers you know and ask them what times work best. This is also important when it comes to customer care and follow-up calls. While it might be fine to call some people at 3:00 pm (when kids get out of school), you will lose valued customers through a badly timed call if you demonstrate lack of understanding of their life demands.
There are many coaches out there, and nobody’s perfect. You simply can’t be all things to all people—and you shouldn’t try to be either. Be the best version of yourself while constantly striving for personal improvement. If you want to call yourself a boot camp leader, you need to be perceptive, intuitive and tough, yet compassionate. Don’t lock yourself into the same brand forever—move with the times and the evolution of your personality. I got my greatest amount of media coverage as a fitness leader by daring to be different. Have courage to be you. Rock your tattoos if that’s who you are. Be tough if that’s who you are. But rebrand yourself and refresh your marketing material every couple of years.
Get the word out about your upcoming venture by first gaining respect from your community as a fitness expert. There are many cost-effective marketing strategies that will help you get a head start on your boot camp registration, and next month I’ll share the simple tactics I used to build a solid client base of return business. In the meantime, consider offering free talks at your local school and creating postcards geared to your target market and passing these out to stores in the community. You could also start a fitness blog and offer your local newspaper free reproduction in exchange for a brief author bio that mentions your website.
Running a successful boot camp business means jumping through many hoops to get your company off the ground. You have to stay strong and commit to the goal and not let the haters become demotivators as you become successful. Focus on one step at a time.