Home Blog 4 Business Lessons I’ve Learned from Clients

4 Business Lessons I’ve Learned from Clients

Written on June 18, 2014 at 6:28 am, by Eric Cressey

Several months ago, my business partner, Pete, pulled together a guest article on how training clients often have some amazing stories to tell if you're just willing to listen. You can read it HERE. That said, after the article was published, we received quite a few inquiries from folks asking for more fitness business themed articles here at EricCressey.com. To that end, I thought I'd pull together one today - and it features the top four business lessons I've learned from clients.

Lesson #1: You don't have to be first, but definitely don't be last.

Back in my first few years of personal training, I would train the same client Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6am. He loved to talk business, and we often wound up on the topic of investing. One day, he made a comment on how he'd purchased quite a bit of stock in True Religion (a jeans company) for a few bucks in 2004 - only to see it jump to almost $25/share in less than a year.

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Now, he certainly was no "jeans connoisseur," nor would he ever imagine even spending several hundred dollars on a pair of jeans. Hence, he wasn't the first one to jump on board the designer jeans bandwagon. Nonetheless, he was bright enough to recognize a good thing early on, and act on his instinct.

Not surprisingly, he did something very comparable with his own business, which involved high-end car detailing work. He wasn't the first one to do it, but he certainly wasn't late to the game - and he did it better than anyone else in his area.

Years later, I saw parallels in what we did with strength and conditioning for baseball players. We weren't the first people to train baseball players, but we did see recognize it as a remarkably underserved population - and were able to improve on a lot of the significant flaws we saw in other programs around the country.

Lesson #2: Your customers hire and fire you every day.

We're very fortunate to have a great landlord, and he's the one who first dropped this line on me. The fact that he recognizes it is likely the reason why he has been an awesome landlord, too.

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It's not good enough to be on top of things 3-4 days a week, but then useless on the other ones. Sadly, you see this all the time in the world of athletics; athletes can tell you when their coaches are in bad moods, and that absolutely shouldn't be the case. Being successful as a coach and business owner is all about delivering a consistently high-quality product, and you can't do that if you're moody or unresponsive. In fact, one of the first things we look at in bringing on interns and staff members is whether or not they're unconditionally positive. If you can't put on a happy face and get the job done even when things aren't going well for you, then you won't go far in any profession.

Lesson #3: Clients probably appreciate you for reasons you don't expect.

As part of our work with professional baseball players, we deal with quite a few agents. In fact, in many cases, these agents are also the ones referring the players to us in the first place. Last year, I was having a conversation with one of them, and he mentioned in passing something that surprised me: "The thing I appreciate about you guys the most is your accessibility."

I was really surprised, as I'd always assumed that folks appreciated our baseball-specific expertise first and foremost. And, while this is certainly important, me returning phone calls, emails, and text messages promptly was the most important thing to him. It makes sense; if I'm delayed in getting back to him, then he's delayed in getting back to his client, which makes him look bad.

Chances are that your clients don't care that you can name all 17 muscles that attach to the scapula, or that you just bought another safety squat bar for your gym. There are likely reasons they keep coming back of which you're not aware. If you put some thought into it, you might just find ways to improve your business by catering to these factors more. As an example, we knew athletes loved the sense of family and community at our facility, so we added a lounge with a TV, couch, ping pong table, and counter for eating in our new facility in 2012.

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Lesson #4: People who neglect their health generally struggle in other facets of their lives as well.

Early in my training career, I had a client who was approximately 120 pounds overweight - and he would always show up late for training sessions. It's one thing for a "normal" client to show up a bit late for a session, but when you're dealing with a severely obese client who is a legitimate risk for a heart attack, you can't just skip the warm-up and cool-down. In other words, his 60-minute session quickly became one where we could only get in 15-20 minutes of quality work.

Why was he always late? He had just started a business. And, just like he lost absolutely no weight in spite of having a trainer twice a week, his company also went out of business. Of course, I make this observation in hindsight, and I certainly wasn't cheering against him - but I do think it taught me an important lesson.

Youth and high school athletics teach kids about time management, teamwork, leadership, punctuality, professionalism, decision-making, and a host of other key success qualities. I firmly believe that many of these qualities are constantly "reaffirmed" in adult fitness programs; if you consistently show up and execute on the objectives you've set forth, you'll get closer to your goals. With each new training session and healthy meal, you're "grooving" these qualities more and more in your brain. 

Conversely, if it's okay to be late for a training session (or skip it altogether), who is to say that it won't eventually be okay to do it for an important business meeting? And, if it's okay to waste money on personal training sessions you won't use, who is to say that you won't waste money on silly expenditures with your business? And, if you're okay consistently bombarding your body with unhealthy food choices, who is to say that you won't be consistently adding "bad apples" to your staff?

Obviously, the last paragraph takes some leaps of faith, but I think that it's very safe to say that most people who are what we might consider "good decision makers" generally do so in all aspects of their lives. The reason they do so is because - whether they recognize it or not - they follow specific reasoning processes to arrive at those decisions. In their outstanding book, Decisive, authors Chip and Dan Health cover the decision-making process in a great amount of detail; I'd highly recommend it, if you haven't read it already. 

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What I think it particularly interesting is the book's subtitle: "How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work." There aren't separate books for "life" and "work" because good decision-making shares common traits across multiple disciplines.

Closing Thoughts

I've surely learned far more lessons from my clients than I could ever squeeze into a single post, but these are four that popped to mind when I sat down to type this morning. To that end, in the comments section below, I'd love to hear about the lessons you've learned from clients and athletes in your training career.

And, if you're looking for more insights for starting up a successful fitness business, I'd encourage you to check out The Fitness Business Blueprint.

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  • Jeff Blair

    Great insights Eric.

  • Tony Romano

    Eric- great read! First, terrific advice and 100% transferable to most industries/professions beyond fitness/training including mine. Interestingly … when I describe CP to others … accessibility and positive attitudes are the first 2 things I mention! The 3rd in my mind is credibility … CP delivers the product they sell every visit!!
    Thanks,
    Tony

  • Francois Tort

    Here’s one I learned from one of my clients: “Dont get mad at your money”. We trainers have a tendency to get frustrated with our clients when they run a muck with their diet, attendance, attitude, etc. Doesn’t do any good or help anyone. All you can do is accept them along with their current bad habits and encourage them to improve. Frustration gets you nowhere. Anyway, good article.

  • Thanks, Tony!

  • Doreen Saltiel, MD

    Great article- (3) A’s to live by: affable, able, available. Very simple but goes a long way!

  • John

    Great article. I am a practicing surgeon and obviously my livelihood depends on referrals. We often talk about the three A’s which I think can relate to any business. These qualities are affability, availability, and ability in order of perceived importance. Obviously a surgeon needs to be competent but being friendly and available are critical components of a successful practice. Thanks for the great articles.

  • Mike Mathews

    Great content Eric. As a physical therapist I have had multiple patients state that it is nice that they can email/text me with questions and get a quick reponse. This has helped my practice growth immensely and would highly endorse increasing availability to improve ones business. Thanks for all the great articles as well as your quick responses to my questions Eric.


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