Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Catchup the first: employment aka: what I learned the hard way so you don't have to.

When I last left you gentle reader, I was running my own gym based out of a Jiu-Jitsu school where I was also training and teaching. My goal with this post is not to paint anyone in a poor light, I am still friendly with most of the folks with which I entered the business. However I would be remiss if I didn't give you a rough picture of why I gave up on something (for now) that has been (and still is) a dream of mine for over a decade.
I thought I was completely up front and honest about my expectations.. however it shortly became clear that there was not a shared vision for the growth and future of the gym. My hand was forced by the birth of our second child. After his birth there was just no way for me to manage my interest in the business as closely as I was comfortable, and because the business partners and I had different ideas of how the business should be, I was uncomfortable with being more hands-off.
This discomfort combined with a pretty terrible commute left me with little choice but to leave the business. I still have all of the gym equipment in storage, and hopefully I will be able to reboot the gym on my own terms. It's a sad thing to mothball a dream. I am currently working in the data center for a major telecommunications company (coincidentally the same one my step-father worked for when I was a kid). It's boring, but it pays well. I realize that it could be well said that innumerable headstones across the western world could be embossed with "It's boring, but it pays well." I don't really have a plan. For a long time I was in near mourning over having to give up the gym. That's a major reason for the blog blackout. I just couldn't bring myself to admit that the gym was dead. Now I've accepted it, but I haven't progressed enough to start planning for a second attempt. I did however learn a ton. I am never one to keep my failings to myself, especially if they are to be learned from.. so here goes:

Things I learned.

1) Don't enter into something serious (business, marriage, attempt to summit Everest, whatever) without clearly established roles and responsibilities. No matter how agreeable your partners and peers may be, there will be disagreements. Unless there is established control (it's an ugly word I know but appropriate) things will go to hell quickly. What would be a minor disagreement, when placed a the pressure cooker will turn into anger and animosity. Anger and animosity will cause thing to go to hell.

2) Marketing. If you want people to come buy, rent, borrow, or do your thing.. you need people to know about your thing. If no one knows your name, or what you do.. they won't come.

3) Expertise means jack. I am a good coach. I have been told I am a great coach (have seen great coaches and I'm not there).. doesn't matter. The fact that I've exceeded the goals of nearly every training client I've had, and injured exactly none of them..All of my expertise, doesn't me a damn thing when I'm sitting here in this cubicle. The business failed and it failed not because I don't know how to coach. The business failed because I failed the business.

4) Ca$H rules. If you're going to open a service based business, dog walking, gym, massage, doesn't matter you need cash. 6-12 months of total expenses in your pocket AFTER you pay the start-up costs for your business. Yes you do. Expenses balloon. Things break, you find out that the seasons changing cause changing requirements. Open your business in September? well guess what, might be exceedingly cold in there come November. Did you read number 2? well that shit ain't free. Things run out, disaster strikes. You need a lot more dough than you think.

5) Start small.. No, smaller than that.. smaller. Yup about there. The bigger you start, if things go wrong (and they will to varying degrees) the more quickly those problems grow. Expanding is easy, contracting is nearly impossible. We started gigantic.

6) Know yourself/trust your instincts. I don't play well with most folks. I am cantankerous and I like to have things planned well in advance. My partners were along a spectrum of divergence from that. I was constantly uncomfortable. I repressed these alarms because I wanted so badly for this to work. I had sacrificed so much that it HAD to work.. it didn't. If I had listened to my instincts, things would would have been different for sure and more than likely better.

7) More is not better, better is better. We had 3 people working part time, and 1 person working full time, and almost nothing was accomplished after the first 2 months. A lot of things were done, but there was so much difference of opinion, so many different visions and priorities that projects would be started and abandoned almost daily. 4 wheels spinning in different directions. If we'd have created a single vision agreed on projects before they were started then things have gotten done. Maybe we'd have gone in the crapper sooner, who knows, but I doubt it.

8) Location is important, sort of. Certain businesses can overcome a crappy location. Gyms and Jiu-jitsu schools in particular, but you have to understand and mitigate the problems of your chosen location. It needs to be visible, approachable, and professional. All the marketing in the world won't matter if people can't find you, find you and are afraid, or find you to be not worth paying. Look around and see how you can deal with these issues. Admittedly this is something my partners did an excellent job of by the end, but it took too long for me to reap any benefit.

9) 90% of the people who tell you personally will patronize your business.. won't. Most of that 10% will show up for big events to "support a friend" but won't become regular customers. It's not personal, people are slaves to habit.

10) Know when to fold em. No one cares about your business but you. The free market is a cruel mistress and will grind you to a powder no matter much how good you are (or aren't). It doesn't matter how much you sacrifice to get there. Doesn't matter how badly you want your business to work. It doesn't matter how great your friends and customers tell you your service is. If your idea isn't working, you have to change. This includes shuttering the business and trying something else, somewhere else, or some other time.

Hopefully those lessons were not in vain.
Upcoming catchup posts:
Personal (diet, family, chickens)
Training (Weights, conditioning, diet, jiu-jitsu, and Judo)


The business itself is still in business as a martial arts school. Myself and the black-belt instructor are no longer involved. The gym and personal training services are no longer a part of the business.

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