What Social Media Isn’t Telling You About Owning a Gym

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Long before I owned CORE, and even now, as a current gym owner, I’ve championed the message that gym ownership is not for everyone, and more to the point that it should not be perceived as the holy grail of the fitness industry.

There’s a running theme – which is nauseatingly prevalent on social media – that owning a gym provides some sort of pinnacle, “I’ve made it!” mentality, and that once it happens it’s nothing but rainbows and kitten kisses for everyone.

Sure, the fairy tale ending can happen.

However the reality is, for many….being a gym owner is fucking brutal.

My friend and colleague, Mike Connelly, who’s a recent former gym owner, took the time to write this beautifully honest guest post today on the trials and tribulations (and general dumpsterfireness) of owning a gym.

Cue slow clap.

What Social Media Isn’t Telling You About Owning a Gym

“I’m so sorry to hear about that.  Must be tough, man.”

I’ve heard that line from a lot of people in the past two months. The reason I’m hearing that so much is because after six years I am moving on from owning my business, Rebell Strength and Conditioning, and all I can think about when it comes up is how happy I am about the situation.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you it all went as I planned and that I’m coming out of this footloose and fancy free.

That’s not the case.

But, since being out of the operation of my business for the last two months, my life has changed and only in positive ways. I’m averaging just about twelve more hours of sleep a week, I’ve lost thirty pounds, my mental health is back to being stable (as stable as it will get anyways), and, most importantly, I feel like myself again.

When you own and run a business, it’s easy to get so caught up in things that you don’t even realize what is happening to yourself.  You think about bills, timelines, clients, marketing, bills, social media posts, blogs, bills, complaints, finding new clients, keeping current clients, bills, programming, systems, bills, platforms that run your business, networking, bills, finding good employees, keeping good employees, how to manage your revenue, and finally…. bills.

It’s a lot.

It’s nauseating at times. To feel stress at a molecular level (Paul Lyngso hit that description on the head) all the time becomes your new normal.

And it sucks.

But you keep going because you’re “living the dream.”

A mentor of mine once described entrepreneurship to me like this:

“There you are, riding the bull that is business, through town. People are cheering for you and admiring your courage to go out and do it on your own. You are revered and respected at the mere mention that you own a small business. Yet, through all the accolades all you can think about is, “how the fuck do I get off this bull?!”

I know that’s not the case for all business owners.

There are some out there that are owning it through and through. These people are running a business and not just getting paid for their hobby. It took me a long time to realize and then admit it, but I never broke through to that level of ownership.

I never owned my business.

My business owned me.

I could go on vacation whenever I wanted, but I always had to add the cost of people covering my work to the price tag. I didn’t have a boss, but a long client list that could, at times, be much worse than a boss.

I had the opportunity to take as much free time as I wanted, but it always came with the sacrifice of progress. When all that became too much, the progress suffered, and once that ship sails, it’s hard to get it back to shore.

As coaches, we should teach our clients to own movement, not just survive it. Well, for a long time I was merely surviving being a business owner. And that, my friends, is not a path to success or happiness.

I’m not writing this to shit all over your dreams of being a business owner.

Nope, far from it.

Nor am I here to make excuses.

I fucked this whole thing up.

I always had good intentions, but that and a nickel will get you a jaw breaker from a vending machine at your local arcade. I wanted to share this with you because the coach in me wants you to move forward with caution. I want you to realize that before you get on that bull, you better have those ducks in line and know that the glory and freedom that often get put on owning a business rarely become a reality.

I want to share this cautionary tale, because chasing down the dream of business ownership seems to be trending in our industry, and I don’t hear too many people talking about why it might be a bad idea.

I’m not the smartest guy around, but I’m not the dumbest either. I’m intuitive and have a wicked creative side. I’m strong willed and will fight to the death at the drop of a hat.

I’m a Marine.

I once did 177 get ups in one hour with a 24Kg bell for a fundraiser and then drank whiskey and danced the night away at a wedding. I can get shit done – when I want to – and that’s the thing about being a business owner that caught up to me.

The accounting, the marketing, the interviewing, the blah, blah, blah side of business that I didn’t like finally became not as fun anymore, so I just let off the gas and coasted.

That’s how you lose $4,000 in revenue in a month, and that’s the thing about losing business, it always goes much, much quicker than it comes.

It wasn’t over a bad customer experience either. In six years I can count those on one hand.

It’s because people move, lose jobs, get in relationships, and any other reason that has nothing to do with you.

There is no amount of success that can protect you from that and for that reason, you can never let up. Never.

Well, I did.

I knew what I had to do, and I just didn’t want to anymore. It didn’t make me happy like it used to. I know, I know, you’re supposed to delegate and hire out for all those items that you suck at, and that brings me to my next shortcoming.

I suck with money.


I mean, I’m good at spending it without thinking, but I really suck at doing the right thing with it.

If you don’t want your business to own you, you better have a fucking stellar plan for every dollar that comes in the door.  It seems to me that every successful business has a numbers guy somewhere in the mix.

That’s no coincidence.

Then there’s me, just throwing money at things that won’t do me any good in six months, let alone a year.

I paid my staff too much; I charged too little for my product; I wasn’t patient with purchases, and I got into a lease that put me in a position where I was fighting uphill from day one.

I never gave myself a chance, but I never saw it because I always thought that if I treat people better than they would ever expect, then that would motivate them to produce. I thought that if I was aggressive with purchases and leases that it would pay off overall.

I’m not saying that employees shouldn’t be paid well and that aggressive moves don’t pay off. I’m just saying that you should have a plan for everything, and it better make sense to someone that knows numbers.

Have a numbers person!

In the end, that will make or break your business no matter how good your product is.

There are plenty of shitty gyms out there making a large profit because they have their numbers on lockdown. There are also a lot, and I mean a lot, of unbelievable coaches getting their asses kicked because they are not equally as good of a numbers person.

I’ve learned from the many, many mistakes that I’ve made over the years.  I know that I will continue to learn as I sort through and process all of this.

For that, I am grateful.

Any time we can learn from our mistakes it was worth it.

The only thing I’m ashamed of is that I allowed myself to think that my identity and character were defined by a title that I slapped on myself but was never really cut out to live up to.

That kills me a little bit when I think about it.

I let it stress me out and change who I am. It stressed all my relationships and probably none more than the one that I have with my family. My hope is that maybe one or two business owners out there who are feeling alone and completely fucked mentally read this, and it lets them take a breath and realize that they are not bad people or coaches because they are having a hard time with their business.

It’s easy to feel like a failure in that position, but the reality is that you had the guts to take a shot and that’s great. If you’re the type that just cannot go back to working for someone, then I hope this pushes you to get the help you need to right the ship.

But if you’re like me and can be perfectly happy and have a lot to contribute in another arena then I hope this gives you the guts to do the right thing for yourself and the people that you love.

About the Author

Mike Connelly: Former Owner of Rebell Strength and Conditioning for 6 years, current Fitness Director for Fitness Formula Clubs at their Oak Park, Il. location and co-owner/coach at Strength Faction.

Serves as a consultant to the Chicago Blackhawks organization for off-season camps for the past three years.

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Comments for This Entry

  • kaseyesser

    Good article Mike- thanks

    March 13, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Reply to this comment

  • John Paul Guidry

    Loved this. As a private physical therapy practice owner in my sixth year i am questioning how much longer i want to do it. This was a refreshing read and something i needed to hear

    March 13, 2018 at 10:03 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Gina Galiano

    Wow! No truer words ever spoken. As a five year bus owner of a CrossFit, I can completely relate and could not agree more with every single word. As much as I wouldn't trade the experience for the world, I cannot believe how much happier, healthier and wiser I too am as a result. Thank you for your honesty and sharing. It helps to know I am far from alone and as well as those who are in the midst of all this. I am actually glad I didn't find that "numbers" person sooner but I think this is priceless advice for those that are contemplating whether to move forward. Your advice will change it all for them. Thank you again!!

    March 14, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jordan

    I'm not even a business owner, and I know this article will hit home for a plethora of people. This article is gold. Thank you, Mike!

    March 14, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Erica Kristin

    This is SO good, for people who own a gym currently and for people who aspire to open one soon. So much truth and heart in this article.

    March 14, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Michael Rand

    It is like you are me. I cried reading this. As a gym owner in a town undergoing restructure and everything that used to work, no longer does. I see my financial future going up in smoke.

    April 2, 2018 at 7:09 pm | Reply to this comment

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