Using the Barter System: Starting A CrossFit Gym Part 8

After being a coach at CrossFit South Brooklyn in NYC for 6 years I moved halfway across the country to open my own affiliate, CrossFit Lumos, in Austin, TX. This series will chronicle my experience opening the gym and what I am learning along the way. This article is the final piece of the adventure, before I’m a real live gym owner. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7.

When you’re starting out, keeping expenses to a minimum is crucial. Editor’s note: I did a bad job at this. 😐 Even if your gym isn’t huge, if your margins are right then you are doing fine. Many gym owners and coaches get wrapped up in membership numbers, but if your rent is too high and you’re paying out lots of other streams for monthly upkeep, expenses, etc. you will quickly have a problem on your hands.

Combined with that potential problem area, a major hurdle in the beginning is just getting enough bodies in the door to call yourself an actual CrossFit gym. Coaching classes of one person gets old quickly, and classes where nobody shows up feels even worse. In the beginning, just getting enough people to have classes with a fun vibe and different people who can interact, push each other, and build your community wider is key.

Enter the barter system. I think I initially learned about bartering from a possibly racist textbook in 2nd grade- stuff about the pilgrims trading goods with Native Americans before settling in for Thanksgiving dinner and the Packers playing the Lions. I surely did a lot of bartering of baseball cards, and later Magic cards (don’t ask, please don’t ask) with friends. Basically- find someone with an item or service of equal value to what you have to offer, and swap. For a gym owner it isn’t a huge cost or imposition to add an extra body to a class. In fact, like I mentioned above, it can be crucial in the beginning to fill your classes out.

Don’t do it like this. This is messed up.

There are two crucial things to keep in mind about bartering.  First, the person should be someone you want in your gym- someone whose energy, social network, and personality are all fits for the vibe you are creating. Ideally they are bringing more value than just the service they are performing- in the same way that your gym is giving them more than just a workout. Second, are they already a member or planning to sign up for a membership anyway? If you convert all of your paying members to “staff” you will quickly have a very smoothly-running gym…with no income. Try and identify people who are on the fence about signing up, or who want to sign up but are worried it will be a financial stretch. Or find a member who comes a few times a week but wants to come more, and offer to make up the difference in memberships for a little help.

Here’s some examples of barter relationships we’ve nurtured in our early months:

Social Media Manager

My posts on social media largely consist of vintage pro wrestling memes and pictures of funny stuff I see while walking around. I don’t know how hashtags work and SEO, apps like Buffer and Hootsuite, etc. all seem like dark magic to me. So pretty quickly I got someone to handle posting to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter on a regular schedule. This can be a tough relationship to navigate- it involves a lot of trust and well defined posting parameters, or you can pretty quickly end up doing as much work (if not more) than if you just posted things yourself. Follow us- @crossfitlumos!

Accountant

Another member (and former client from CFSBK in NY) is a CPA, so I’ve had him keeping an eye on finances, reconciling our expenses and income with an online bookkeeping tool, and getting us prepped for tax season. It’s still only as good as the records and receipts you keep, so don’t make the mistake of just totally checking out here, but it’s nice not to have to do the heavy lifting here. (I’d also certainly make a mistake somewhere and end up audited by the IRS.)

Dude’s got STRONG accounting skills.

Cleaning

I hate cleaning, but I love a clean gym. Members appreciate it, it helps sell it to prospective clients, and dirty gyms can be dangerous- just ask anyone who has ever gotten ringworm. I pretty quickly found someone to clean twice a week in exchange for a membership. I still tidy up, sweep leaves up, etc. but the deep cleans are handled.

Marketing/Branding/Events

I’ve got one person handling all of this, and it’s been very valuable. She’s been great at focusing me and getting me to take a lot of the thoughts that bang around in my head and put them into action. We’ve created a “brand bible” so that communication, social posts, and advertising is all in line with our vision and values. In fact, just the fact that I’m using the terms “vision” and “values” is probably thanks to her.

Photography and Video

Sometimes I see a picture a coach posts online that very much looks like the coach took it (this is especially true with live video, Snapchats, etc.) My first question is always “if they’re taking the picture, who is coaching?” Maybe I’m being stuffy, but I think coaches should coach, not take pics, check their phone, or anything else that isn’t centered on giving their clients value. That said, part of that value is in recording our efforts in the gym- members love seeing pictures of themselves! So I bartered with a member who does some wedding and other event photography to spend a few hours each week taking pictures of our classes. This also helps personalize your website and build a gallery to use for social, so I consider it crucial. I’ve also done a barter with a member who works in film production to produce some videos for the website, social, and to use in some of our membership welcome/onboarding materials.

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