Monday, November 14, 2016

Is it better to have an indoor boot camp or an outdoor bootcamp?

This is a continuation of building your own boot camp business, fundamentals part three, continued from my last post.

In this post, I answer the question: Which is it better to have, an indoor boot camp or an outdoor boot camp?

Indoor vs. Outdoor

Here’s the deal with this subject…

There are indoor Boot Camp owners who slam the outdoor models because they are ‘amateur’ and because they have to carry their equipment back and forth from their car or because they are getting wet or because they are getting harassed by park rangers.
Now, these might sound like pretty logical reasons not to do outdoor Boot Camps, but the reality is that if it weren’t for the outdoor option, I would never have survived getting my business off the ground when I was new and broke.

Not only that, but it really depends on what area of the country you live in and what your available resources and connections are.

In terms of geography, if you live in a temperate climate, like I do in the Pacific Northwest, then it is never really cold (and never really hot), and it just basically drizzles rain all the time. It might not sound like a blast, but we in this area are acclimated to it and we think it is normal to be outside in it all the time. So when it rains, nobody freaks out. In fact, it isn’t uncommon to see runners and cyclists out in crazy rain storms all the time.

In addition to the acclimation factor, it doesn’t often rain as hard as it does in other parts of the country, so it isn’t as bad as a deterrent. We even took it to another level psychologically with our clients; it was actually a badge of honor to be able to participate in these ‘hard-core’ activities with other dedicated exercisers. Even when the trainer didn’t want to train in the rain, the clients did! How’s that for group-think and positive peer pressure?

When I mention available resources and connections, I mean to say that if you are broke and can’t find a suitable location yet, the parks or schools might be a potential fit to get things off the ground. In this case, you have two options. Option one is to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Option two is to have connections in the powerful places locally to get what you want to happen.
Let’s take the ‘ask for forgiveness rather than permission’ option first. Step one is to find a location that is near your clients (and hopefully near you too). It may be a park or a school with a nice grassy open field and a covered area as a bonus. You go and check it out and see that it is not being used and pretty much a ghost town at a certain time, like 6pm. You scout it out and even work out there one day on your own and no one seems to be around, or if there are people, no one makes a fuss. Typically, a public place is just that—public. You then take a small handful of clients and you meet them and just workout with your friends and everything is cool.

They just happen to pay you because you happen to be good at helping them work out. So where is the hard part? Isn’t it still a free country? What is ‘wrong’ about this? The facts are that we live in a world where this should be OK to do. The reality is that in some big cities they have cracked down on this because it is ‘business’, and we run with our tail between our legs as if we are doing something wrong. Who says it is wrong? Isn’t America all about freedom? (Forgive me if you live in another country and you are reading this.) I know, I know, there is always the technicality that the parks department wants their cut for their own personal gain like a mafia on a power trip. Yes, the city has the right to ask you for a business license, which is really easy to get.

Here’s how we did this… We just did it. In the cases that the park had a high alert type of department or ranger, we would smile and they would warn us and we would say that we were sorry. We then asked them what we had to do to work it out with them so that we could just work out with our friends. After all, it is small time when you start and there is no reason to call in the ethics committee for something so harmless. It always was obvious to everyone around, especially my clients that they were all paying taxes so that they could have a guy sitting in his truck driving around ‘policing’ us in the park. So we all pay for someone to keep us from using the park for exercise. Can anyone else see the weird hypocritical situation we face?

I will get off my soapbox now. On the one occasion we had this happen, after years and dozens of parks and schools, we simply apologized and then started to negotiate with the powers that be in order to have a good contract with them so that we were official. In fact, once such incident allowed me to create a contract that enabled me to use all the parks in the county for a very low price. Problem solved.

One word of caution here! There are many of you out there who feel you need to do things by the book. I respect and appreciate that and would never want to tell you to do something ‘wrong’. I am simply questioning the whole premise of wrong in this situation, and it could come back to bite you.
Let me explain. Let’s suppose you are paranoid about using a park to run your Boot Camp. So you go out and make a bunch of calls and make a big stink about how you want to be all official with the parks and you beg them to allow you to use it for your ‘business’. This is where you might be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Since the parks often DON’T have a policy condemning the activity, they may technically not even know how to respond. The person you call doesn’t know how to handle something outside of the box. Since they don’t have a rule saying you CAN do it, and they don’t have a rule saying you CAN’T do it, they have to pass the question to someone higher up. The person they hand it to doesn’t want to be bothered with it AND probably is afraid of anything different, afraid of any change, and really afraid of any and all liability. So you have become a thorn in their side. What’s the easiest thing for them to do at this point? The easiest thing is to create a rule saying you CAN’T do what you were going to do.

So what started out as simply a few people exercising in a park has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare of a doctrine with rules and stipulations and potentially a total shut down of your idea, simply because the boat got rocked.

Now, this isn’t the end of the world, and often the parks will simply want their cut. One time I went straight to them, and we began negotiation, and by the end their offer was to do the business ‘for me’ and then hire me as an employee to train the people at minimum wage. How’s that for dream crushing? They see the world from a different point of view and they are NOT entrepreneurs nor freedom seekers, so don’t be surprised if they don’t see the world in the same way.
Now let’s look at the second option: Know the right people in high places. This does not have to be intimidating. It simply means networking your way into knowing people who want to help you out. You often can start with your clients and friends and figure out who knows someone in the school district who can help you out with your little mission to make peoples’ lives better and get them into shape.

After asking around, you realize that one of your clients knows someone on the board, or in maintenance, or in charge of this or that place, or whatever. How do you approach them? Just like any friend should. Hey, this is Jesse, and we would love to invite you to come work out for free in our program so that you can get in awesome shape with your friend so and so.

If any of this is not to your liking because you are a by-the-book person, then you will have to just go straight into the system and pay for it, and you will likely reduce the number of places you can work out significantly, and you’ll just have to deal with it. It’s not the end of the world, but always remember that, even if you are dead-set on not getting ‘creative’ with locations and want everything to be really ‘business’ straightforward right from the beginning, it still pays to have friends in high places. These friends have helped us lower fees, negotiate better deals, and get free access to all kinds of things. Is it fair? I don’t know. I just know it is the world we live in.

The benefit of indoor locations is obvious. You are protected from the weather, the location is more secure in terms of not having to rotate parks, etc., you can store equipment there, and you may appear more professional.

Indoor locations will be covered more later. For now, you just need to realize that you are going to either sublease a space already being run as another business, or you are going to go to the top and get a stand-alone location, which is the most expensive and riskiest option. Costs range wildly. If you have the budget to do that, it is almost like opening up a gym, where you want to have classes all day to maximize profits. If you only have a few hundred dollars per month, you can sublease and only use the location at peak times for fitness and stay agile in your business.

Finally, there is an alternative model that I was wildly successful at. It involved combining both indoor and outdoor locations simultaneously. We would have an indoor location subleased for the morning hours that provided an anchor for our business location in that city, and then diversified with outdoor locations in the afternoon/evenings, when it was light and which provided the outdoor variable that many people preferred. This way, we kept costs low and provided the opportunity for far more clients to be added to the roster. In the end, although it was more work, we were far more profitable by offering both indoor and outdoor locations, and it also made us unique in the competitive marketplace.

Ultimately, you need to start somewhere, so start with what compels you the most and what you can see happening for you the fastest. It is better to start with something, rather than nothing. Beware of ‘analysis paralysis’ on this step. Imperfect action completely overpowers endless planning. You can always course correct on this after you have a client base of raving fans.

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