I’ve heard similar stories many times, and you probably have too. An individual starts working out at a CrossFit gym. They quickly become obsessed. They are glued to the CrossFit Games every year, checking and rechecking scores. After months of attending class 5-6 times per week they start to think owning a box could be a great way to make some extra income, or even replace their primary income. It doesn’t look that hard and they already spend tons of time in the gym, right?
It’s a lovely thought. It has worked hundreds of times and maybe it will work for you too. I’m just here to talk through some of what I’ve learned in my roughly 7 years in the industry.
A Little of My Story
I was never an athlete – well, not since I played little league soccer. I was into art and music. In college I began lifting weights on a regular basis with a few friends and really liked it. It was a great hobby.
As I grew closer to getting my degree – which was a business marketing/management degree – I started to think more and more of the fitness industry. I knew I wanted to run my own business, but I wondered how to include my favorite hobby in the mix. Starting up a large franchise gym would be hideously expensive and personal training was never going to pan out to the business ownership I craved. Fate introduced me to CrossFit and the rest is (more or less) history.
Prerequisites to Getting Started
At what point should you consider (possibly) borrowing money, buying equipment and taking the plunge? I’m going to focus more on the skills and coaching ability of the potential owner rather than finances, so keep that in mind. In my opinion here are the following guidelines that are an absolute must before committing to affiliation:
- Work and coach in someone else’s gym for 6-12 months even if it’s an unpaid internship.
- Have your Level One Certificate for at least 6 months.
- Know and be able to perform ALL the major movements. This doesn’t mean you need a 300lb snatch. It means you need to be able perform and teach a snatch without injuring people. And don’t exclude the elusive muscle-up and pistol squat! You don’t have to be a pro, just be able to complete them.
- Learn how to scale movements. In many cases, the owner of a box is the fittest member but has no idea how to scale things down to meet the needs of the total novice.
- Have a program ready to follow. CrossFit.com programming will meet the needs of 90% of gyms. CrossFit Weightlifting can fill in most of any strength gaps left. I don’t recommend writing your own programming from day one. Its fun, but you’ll have a lot more important things to worry about for the first 12 months.
- Learn how to coach coaches. You’ll likely hire someone soon, or do a membership trade at some point and they won’t be as good as you are. Learn to teach them properly and be prepared to invest time in them.
- Prepare yourself for all the work that isn’t coaching or training. The list will be never-ending. Filing taxes, paying taxes, crunching sales numbers, responding to emails and repairing/maintaining equipment are the things that will dominate most of your time. Far too many coaches are so absorbed in their own trip to Regionals that they forget to take care of the jobs and people that actually pay the bills.
Keeping it Going
Once you’re up and running the hardest part is basically over, but the work is by no means finished. But the good news is that if you truly like your job “you’ll never work a day in your life”. That’s mostly true. If you love being a people person, putting others first and managing money then you’re going to have a blast.
My biggest bit of advice to any future or current gym owner is to always be a student. Visit other gyms often to take note of what they’re doing right or wrong. Utilize the tools that CrossFit HQ constantly gives you. Read the CrossFit Journal articles regularly. Take new certification courses regularly – I learned far more at my Level 2 course than I did at the Level 1 course.
Finally – as with any business in the world – try to improve some part of your organization each and every day. Business ownership is an organic process and there’s always a curve to stay ahead of.
Best wishes and good luck to you all.
Ben is the owner of WOD Prep. His team of amazing coaches and trainers have built one of the top online fitness training programs on the internet.