Over a decade ago, I realized that my job had changed: I was no longer an employed personal trainer but a business owner.
The next epiphany was that my knowledge was asymmetrical: I knew a lot about fitness and exercise science but almost nothing about business.
I’ve always read for at least an hour every single day, but my crazy lifestyle was squeezing out reading time: I’d be in my truck by 4:30 a.m. to get to the gym and wouldn’t get home until 10 p.m. I’d collapse into bed without reading a word.
Then a friend turned me on to Audible. I bought a Seth Godin book. And I started to translate what I learned from general to specific: I wrote about how I’d use Seth’s material in my gym (publish more content). I did the same for other authors. And I started to churn through books pretty quickly.
But I still made two rookie mistakes that cost me a ton of time: I made myself finish every book before starting the next. And I also thought it was best to get a ton of different books instead of focusing hard on a few.
Naval Ravikant recently tweeted: “The smarter you get, the slower you read.” That was interesting but not true for me in all cases. Sometimes I can read the first few chapters of a book and skip the rest (as in David Goggins’ book). Sometimes I think it’s better to reread a great book and pick up the smaller pebbles that I missed than to buy a new one. I listen to “Resilience” every year.
The hard part isn’t finding a good book. The hard part now is finding the right book at the right time and catching the most important message. There are now a handful of services selling 10-minute versions of top books. I actually wrote “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” to filter huge ideas according to when the entrepreneur needs them most.
Top Tips for Buying and Learning From Books
1. Eighty percent of the time, buy the audio version. Twenty percent of the time, buy the print version. For instance, the first chapter of “Scaling Up” is almost impossible to follow in audio. You have to buy the print version. On the other hand, any of Nassim Taleb’s books are far more entertaining as audio.
2. Don’t be scared to buy multiple copies. I found myself lending out “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” to everyone and never having a copy on hand. Now, if you visit the workshop, you’ll see 20 copies of that book, 20 copies of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and 20 copies of “Never Split the Difference” on my shelves. I hand them out to nearly everyone (my nieces and nephews have stacks of books from Uncle Chris by now).
3. Don’t place a budget on books. Like mentorship, you’ll get personal growth from books … but your business will pay for it. Every book is a tax-free, life-changing event.
4. There’s no such thing as a bad book. But don’t get buried: Overwhelm leads to paralysis. After you take our Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief Test, make the best choices based on your current phase of entrepreneurship.
5. It’s better to retain a little than to read a lot. To make the messages from each book stick, I have to “teach them back.” That means talking about them with other people, or just blogging about them in my own words. That’s why I started my original blog (dontbuyads.com) back in 2009: to make the lessons I was learning stick better. It works.
The Top 11
Seth is trend-proof. He got that way by teaching principles instead of tactics. While we, the folks in the trenches, can be swayed by sexy business fads (like Facebook marketing, office “culture” and personality testing), I always come back to Seth’s message of authenticity and relationships. And the experts always come back, too: Facebook now says that building a content platform is critical for paid lead generation to be successful, for instance.
This is possibly his most specific book, and it’s required reading for anyone who wants to succeed at the long game. Seriously, buy it.
Recommended for: Founders, Farmers, Tinkers and Thieves.
It’s rare for an author to say “if you buy this book, you don’t have to read my other books,” but that’s what attracted me to “Scaling Up.”
As an author, I sometimes wish I could go back and rewrite “Two-Brain Business” (or even take it off the shelves, because “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief“ is so much better).
“Scaling Up” is a step-by-step process for growing your business as a CEO.
Recommended for: Farmers preparing to be Tinkers.
The key to business growth isn’t customer acquisition; it’s customer retention. Habits are formed slowly. Coleman believes they require careful nurturing over 100 days. The book focuses on mapping the client journey in your business and then digging really deep into the first 100 days. We teach the client journey map in the Two-Brain Incubator, and our focus has always been on retention before marketing. This is a book every gym owner should read.
Recommended for: Founders and Farmers.
Most business books focus on “what can you change, add or improve?” Maxwell’s books tend to focus on the how: How to lead through change, how to inspire others to stay on the bus when the destination isn’t clear and how to help people grow as leaders. In fact, many of the other books on this list borrow from Maxwell. They say things like “a leader’s job is to create leaders” and other maxims that originally came from Maxwell. So reading Maxwell is going back to the source, in many cases.
The hard part of shifting from Farmer Phase to Tinker Phase isn’t the money: it’s leveling up from “boss” to “leader.” Very few of us have the education, experience or practice necessary to do so when the time comes, so we have to lean on lessons learned in the trenches from guys like Maxwell. Half of the value of his books is in the content; the other half is in the delivery. Maxwell doesn’t bury anyone in statistics. Most of his teaching comes from stories. You can learn a lot about leadership just by observing how he leads his audience.
Recommended for: Farmers and Tinkers.
This book isn’t really about being “disliked.” It’s really about Joseph Adler, who wrote that “every problem is an interpersonal relationship problem.”
The book digs deep into Adlerian psychology and gives entrepreneurs really solid tools for having tough conversations, for relating to staff better and for knowing when to draw really clear lines. For me, the book helped me realize that being clear isn’t harsh; it’s actually doing everyone a favor.
Recommended for: Tinkers.
It’s rare for business books to be directive. Most teach broad concepts and ideas, and good entrepreneurs are left to figure out how to apply them in their own businesses. I try to write directive books (“Do exactly these things in this order”). But “Never Split the Difference” is a directive book covering one of the hardest topics of all: really hard conversations when there’s a lot on the line.
We lean heavily on Voss’ lessons when we’re guiding entrepreneurs through rate increases, firing staff or removing tough clients. I keep 20 copies of this book in my office and frequently ship a copy to my own mentorship clients. Like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” I give a copy of this book to kids in my family when they turn 18.
This book is so important that we’re bringing Voss in to deliver the keynote speech at the Two-Brain Summit in 2020.
Recommended for: Founders and Farmers.
I think it’s been a few years since I published a list that didn’t have Mike Michalowicz on it. His books are funny and easy to read—and always include at least one key concept that changes the way you look at business. In “The Pumpkin Plan,” Michalowicz taught us how to identify and keep our best clients and to build our businesses around them. In “Profit First,” he taught us how to make sure we got paid. In “Clockwork,” I think Michalowicz’s biggest idea is the Queen Bee Role.
A CEO should narrow his or her focus to doing the one thing that grows the company. For me, that’s thinking and then writing about it. That’s hard for people to understand—many people think I’m riding my bike for fun or “hiding” in my office when the door is closed. But really, the more time I spend getting into flow state, staying in flow state and publishing content, the better my businesses grow. That’s my QBR.
Recommended for: Tinkers.
I often say that “the people who got you here might not get you there.” But what if that person is you?
The Founder’s lifestyle—long hours alone, working with single-minded focus—can harm relationships and business. Ultimately, entrepreneurs need completely different skill sets—like the ability to lead a team and trust that their vision will be fulfilled. But the things that made them great in Founder Phase are probably harmful in Farmer Phase. So they need a “reboot.”
Jerry Colonna is called the “CEO Whisperer” in his Amazon profile (and he often winds up whispering in the book). It’s a guided journey through your demons, your ego and your weaknesses. And it’s directive: There are specific exercises and assignments to help you take the first steps to bettering yourself. I’ve never found a book that gave me a sense of therapy. But underneath all the habits, skills and knowledge is you—and you’re not perfect. Here’s how to deal with it, fix your problems and grow as a person.
Recommended for: Tinkers.
In 2018, I identified that I wasn’t equipped to lead a rapidly growing international company, so I started seeking mentors to help me learn to lead. I changed my world view and habits significantly, had some hard conversations and took some bold risks. But it was exhausting, and “boss Chris” wasn’t really the person I wanted to be at home. So Herman’s book made me ask: “Can I be the CEO part time and shed that skin when I don’t need it?”
According to the book, you can. And Herman shares a ton of examples that show how celebrities and athletes have used the “alter ego” to do the same. We introduced the concept to gym owners as part of their sales training (Herman originally tested the method when he was selling personal training). It’s definitely useful, and I signed up for Herman’s one-on-one guidance because the book was so powerful.
The hard part is switching into and out of an alter ego … but, like fitness, it takes practice. Herman uses “totems” at home to switch into “dad mode.”
Recommended for: Farmers.
This isn’t promoted as a business book, but few books make me pull my truck to the side of the road and say “holy shit.” So I included it. And the message definitely has bearing on you as a leader in the public eye.
Jordan Peterson is a polarizing figure. I wondered, “What’s this guy actually saying?” so I read the book.
The book itself is an epiphany. I recommend it to everyone. “Make your kids strong, not safe” is a transcendent lesson that every leader can use (replace “kids” with “business” or “relationship” or whatever). And Peterson models that “strong, not safe” approach to life: He’s attacked in the media pretty often for being anti-whatever. But his critics almost always take his message out of context to further their causes.
Peterson is an example of standing up for your beliefs (and also a warning). If you say “this is wrong” when you disagree with a popular trend, you’ll attract criticism in volumes. Not everyone can handle that. I certainly couldn’t take the storm of hate that Peterson deals with daily.
Recommended for: Everyone (you’ll either love it or hate it).
Collins doesn’t publish often. He doesn’t even appear on podcasts often and rarely takes the stage. But when he talks, everyone listens.
“Turning the Flywheel” was a curiosity buy—I loved “Good to Great,” “Great by Choice” and “Built to Last,” and I wondered what a “monograph” meant to Collins. This is really a how-to book: His previous books had so many huge concepts that he needed something to tie them all together. Don’t read this until you’ve read at least three of his other books, but when you have, this is an inspiration.
Recommended for: Farmers and Tinkers.
We’re in the business of behavioral change. “Atomic Habits” is a more useful tool for a fitness coach than almost any fitness book. It’s directive, and if coaches simply copied his model with their clients, they’d make more money for longer. Most of the big ideas are front-loaded, so this is a quick read.
A great story about creating change in a change-resistant environment. The typical model of submarine command depends on one leader rigorously enforcing predetermined rules. But Marquet pivoted—tough to do in the Navy—and eventually got buy-in from his crew. Best lesson: A leader should be measured on the success of his team years after he’s gone.
Unfortunately, the stories didn’t lead to a clear directive path (“Do this in your company”) but did offer some exercises (“Ask yourself, ‘How can I use this in my company?’”).
Another ex-FBI guy, Schafer is behavioral scientist to Chris Voss’ hostage negotiator, and the book reads like it. “The Like Switch” is really interesting and good at explaining why people behave the way they do. But where Voss’ book is directive (Step 1: do this; Step 2: do this), Schafer’s is mostly theory. If you want a scientific dive into “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” “The Like Switch” is a good one.
Dalio’s premise—that life, management, economics and investing can all be systemized into rules and understood like machines—is a pretty bold one. I was excited to read it. But “Principles” mostly just created “book guilt” for me: I have a lot of friends who loved this book, but I really couldn’t get into it. So it sits in my Audible account unfinished.
The counter to Dalio’s book is “This I Know.” Dalio has deep insights and draws conclusions based on profound experience. O’Reilly tells amazing stories. His book is really hard to put down. And while his insights might not be deep (he actually tries to present opposing viewpoints instead of saying “do this one thing”), I’m a huge O’Reilly fan. You can learn more from his delivery than from the content of most books on this list.
A marketer’s education should start with this book. But it shouldn’t end there. Most of us try to be too artsy—we make complicated websites that actually stop people from booking or signing up. We try to be different at the expense of being clear. Miller’s book is the antidote. It’s well written and clear (of course). Consider this the CrossFit Level 1 Course: enough to get you out on the floor. And Miller’s storytelling makes the message stick. But he doesn’t provide conversion data to back up his claims. If you don’t read any other marketing book this year, read this one. But I hope you read more than one.
Crabtree is a “celebrity accountant,” a status that’s pretty hard to achieve. His book makes accounting as clear as it can be. I was thrilled to find a higher-level accounting method that dovetails perfectly with the 4/9ths and Profit First models that we recommend at Two-Brain. And after reading the book, I signed up for his service; his firm now provides the CFO for my company. They build dashboards that help me figure out where to spend and where to save, and they bring a lot of clarity to my rapidly expanding company.
I started listening to this book while riding my bike. But after an hour, I realized that I should have been sitting in front of a laptop. The book is so directive that you could listen to a chapter and clearly understand the work to do, then listen to the next chapter, and so on. Several of the mentors at Two-Brain recommend this book, and our CPO is in Herold’s mentoring group. Highly recommended for entrepreneurs at Tinker level and above.
Books I Didn’t Like (But You Might)
Nassim Taleb once wrote that “most books would have made a good article,” and Naval Ravikant followed with “most articles would make a good tweet.” Like many business books, “Can’t Hurt Me” started with a good premise and then filled hundreds of pages with examples. The whole book could be summed up in a hashtag: #HTFU.
The Zappos story was a revolutionary one in 2005: an online retailer whose clients were raving fans. But Zappos leaders claim that their real strength is in creating “culture” in their team. In fact, “culture”—the biggest buzzword of 2019—probably originated with Zappos.
There was nothing really new in the book. But I’m biased: The team of mentors at Two-Brain gets to work on interesting problems all day long. They’re emotionally invested in their work. Zappos staff sells shoes. They need workplace engagement, tricks and “culture boosters” to keep them around; I don’t.
If you run a software company or online shoe store, you might need to artificially infuse “culture” into your workplace. If you run a service business, your culture is determined by your care for your clients.
Yeah, I wrote this one. After publishing “Two-Brain Business” in 2012, I’ve spent thousands of hours on the phone with other gym owners, collected libraries full of data and seen new ideas rise (and old ideas fall). I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in mentorship, read hundreds of books and spent thousands of hours online talking to others in the industry.
There’s a lot of knowledge out there. Frankly, there are too many ideas. The most common problem for entrepreneurs is actually overwhelm: We can’t act on everything, so we get paralyzed.
I wrote ‘Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” to give you the distillate: When you boil it all down, these are the habits, tactics and directives that you’re left with. And because not everyone needs everything at the same time, I broke the entrepreneurial journey into four phases. This book is a filter for the best strategies that we’ve actually proven to work.
Schrage’s premise is to start with ideal customer outcomes and work backward. How will your customers be transformed by your service? What will they look like after they’ve used your service successfully?
This is a useful idea for the service industry, and I think it could help gym owners. By painting an aspirational avatar (“here’s what a client should look like after three years at my gym”), a coach could work backward to set up an “ideal client journey.” But those are my ideas, not Schrage’s. His book sticks to high-level concepts and the usual examples (Google, Apple, Starbucks, etc.).
My mentor, Todd Herman, told me that I needed to listen to Christensen. He’s a pretty dry speaker, so his YouTube videos aren’t popular. But his ideas are: Others talk about him in their engaging videos.
The biggest epiphany I got from Mike Michalowicz’s “Pumpkin Plan” (now required reading for all Two-Brain clients) is that I should ask my best clients what they want instead of trying to guess. Christensen’s message compounds on that concept: We should all ask ourselves “What job is this service being hired to do?”
Christensen’s “jobs to be done” idea is a huge game-changer. But his explanations are so complex that other authors will probably simplify his ideas and make far more money on them.
I’m a fan of Diamandis, and this book is a good “big-picture” read. It reminds me of “Guns, Germs and Steel” but with a future-focused perspective instead of a historical one.
I wrote that “The Like Switch” was the science behind “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Contagious is like that for “Made to Stick.” But Berger’s book is entertaining, with examples from music and pop culture. “Earworms,” memes and viral videos are all examined in the book. It’s academic instead of directive—you’re never told “do exactly this one thing today”—but it’s still a good lens through which to view your own content.
I had this book on preorder for nine months, and it was a great surprise when it was finally published. I’m not always a fan of Sinek’s work. His theories sound good (“Leaders Eat Last”) but often lack in-the-trenches proof. So when this book started out really strong, I was thrilled.
I wrote about “playing the Infinite Game” in the fitness business because I was very inspired by the first few chapters. Unfortunately, the book took a dip in the middle and spent several hours berating CEOs for focusing on shareholder profit instead of employee happiness. Everyone agrees that employee happiness is important, but Sinek makes a logical leap over and over: that happy employees will automatically create happier customers which will automatically create more profit. As gym owners know, that’s a deadly false belief.
Luckily, I found myself with a long bike ride and nothing else to read, so I finished the last hour of the book. I’m glad I did: Sinek comes on strong again at the end. But you can probably skip the middle.
“Culture” is the top buzzword of 2019. As more and more people work remotely or sell a product online, we lose our sense of “cause.” In the description of the Zappos book above, I said that people in the service industry probably don’t need tips and tricks in the workplace—care for the client was probably enough.
Coyle lists many strategies for “building culture” that he pulled from the Navy SEALs and pro sports teams, but what’s missing is the reason people signed up for these teams in the first place. That reason was just cause: They believed in a mission higher than themselves (or, maybe, fame and fortune). The effect of cause is huge, and outweighs working conditions, boredom and the lure of incrementally better benefits or wages. When you give up a high-paying job to help people get healthy, you probably don’t need drinking games or cereal in your boardrooms to keep you engaged.
If you do need those things, then “The Culture Code” has some great examples.
Every summer, I roll up my garage door, pull out my barbell and listen to “Resilience.”
Greitens is a storyteller. He’s a real hero: He could have taken an academic path, but after volunteering in refugee camps, he realized that some situations required force to help save people.
That was a huge epiphany for me. His stories about boxing as a poor kid, turning down teaching jobs to volunteer in war-torn areas and ultimately leading a SEAL team are more than inspirational. They give perspective on your life and your place in the world.
What do you think of these lists? Do you agree with the summaries or have something to add about one of the books above? Did we miss something? Did you read something that changed your life or your business in 2019? Please leave a comment below and let us know what we should read next!
This series is about the Flywheel Principle and how I’ve built our mentorship practice to maximize its effect.
In the first post, I explained what it takes to get your wheel turning in the right direction and then how to build momentum and grow.
The second post showed how your personal flywheel is different from your business flywheel.
In the third post, I explained how you can remove flat spots in your wheel and obstacles from the road.
To close out the series, I’m going to talk about trust.
The Axis of Your Flywheel
Put a barbell on a rack. Place your hand on the sleeve. Spin it. Track how long the sleeve spins. That’s a measure of balance and friction. Good barbells have sleeves that spin longer.
Now put a 45-lb. plate on the sleeve. Grip the edge of the plate. Spin it on the bar. No matter how long the sleeve spun on its own, it will spin far longer with a plate on it. This is called rotational inertia.
Now put that plate on a rusted barbell that doesn’t turn at all. Spin the plate hard. It might turn a bit … but it will grind against the sleeve. It won’t turn for long. And you’ll have to use greater force to get it moving.
No matter how big your flywheel, it will spin faster and longer on a frictionless axis. And the axis of your flywheel—in business and in life—is trust.
I said that there are six “handles” on your gym business flywheel, and that pushing on any of them will make your business grow faster and last longer.
But if your axis doesn’t turn smoothly—if you don’t have trust—none of your pushing will work nearly as well.
The Six Handles
First Handle: Teach the Vision
Your staff and your clients know when you’re lying. If you’ll say anything to make a buck, they’ll see it. They’ll know when your values are different from their values. They’ll know whether you’ll have their back or throw them under the bus. But if they trust you, they’ll believe in your vision and pursue it to the death. Read more about Aligning the Vs (vision and values) here.
Second Handle: Improve Operations
Your staff and your clients know you’re not perfect. If you say, “I made a mistake. I should have charged more. And I should have focused on coaching instead of selling you open gym,” that’s going to be a difficult conversation. But the outcome depends on trust: If your clients trust you to do the best thing for them in the end, they won’t leave. If they don’t know why you’re making these decisions, or if they distrust your values, they will. And they should. They’ll argue. They’ll join another gym in revenge. They’ll try to recruit other members to go with them. These aren’t rational actions: They’re emotional ones, and they happen because there’s no trust.
Third Handle: Upgrade Team
Your staff has to understand their opportunities and responsibilities and trust you to measure them the same way every time. “That teacher hates me!” is now a common complaint among students who get bad grades. That means they don’t trust the teacher to provide equal attention and grading. If you sit with your team and set goals with them, show them their opportunities clearly, answer hard questions and give them feedback regularly, they’ll trust you. If you don’t, they’ll be susceptible to people who want them to fight with you (yeah, they’re out there).
Fourth Handle: Keep Clients Longer
When does your bank call you to ask, “How’s everything going in your business?” In my experience, that never happens until you close your account. Then, when the banker calls, I roll my eyes because I know the bank doesn’t really care; it just wants me to leave my money in the vault. Building trust with your clients means constant contact. You must re-sell them on your value. Just like a marriage.
Fifth Handle: Sell More
When your clients know you’ll give them the best possible prescription, they’ll pay for your suggestion. When they know you’ll run bait-and-switch marketing to get more clients, they also know you’ll say anything to get more money from them. If they understand that you value fairness, your rate increase won’t be a surprise. But if they see that you just value more clients, more clients, more clients, then they won’t trust you to give their goals much attention. Word gets around.
Sixth Handle: Get More Leads
When future clients see an ad, they might not take action. In fact, most won’t. And over time, as the high-trust early adopters move to something else, the rest of us need to trust you before we buy from you. We need to go to your website and see proof. We need to see other clients who look like us. We need to read or watch something to see if you know what you’re talking about. We need to trust you. Even Facebook now tells high-level marketers they need to publish a lot of free content to build authority (another word for trust) on their platforms. Gyms that publish a lot of media spend far less on Facebook ads (sometimes $0). Paying for attention isn’t the same as establishing trust.
Trust and Leadership
The axis of trust is important in your business. It’s also critical for your personal flywheel (listen to this podcast from Naval Ravikant on “compounding relationships”). But of course, there’s a lot of overlap.
Local physiotherapists and chiropractors refer their clients to my gym, Catalyst, because they trust me as a person. Local parents trust me with their kids because they see me volunteering in the community. And my wife trusts me to work long hours (and travel) because she sees me work hard to be a dad when I’m home.
Trust means that people know you will do the right thing even when it’s hard. That you will make the choices that will ultimately benefit them. That you have their best interests in mind.
Leadership means that you have earned the collective trust of your group.
Where will you lead us?
Other Articles in This Series
How to Build an Unstoppable Business
Building Your Personal Flywheel
Removing Speed Bumps
In the previous article in this series, I told you How to Build an Unstoppable Business. I used Jim Collins’ “flywheel” concept to illustrate.
I told you how to identify the six handles you can use to roll your business forward. We teach you how to remove obstacles, push on the six handles and get your flywheel turning in the Incubator.
In the Founder Phase, you’re really going to be pushing your flywheel yourself. But if you’ve made a smooth wheel and haven’t placed any speed bumps in your own path (like underpricing), you can still get the wheel turning pretty well.
In the Farmer Phase, you can get other people to help you turn the flywheel. You turn specific handles over to them one at a time. Gradually, your job becomes leadership: getting everyone to push together in the same direction.
And, finally, your job is to have someone else take over the leadership role so that you can work on your own flywheel.
The Six F’s
One gym is enough to make a living. But entrepreneurs often want more in their lives: They want another business or a bigger stage. They want a wealth platform. I call this the Tinker Phase, and Tinkers build personal flywheels.
The handles on your personal flywheel are:
Fitness—This is your physical and emotional capacity to meet your challenges. Are you ready? Can you manage your stress, your physical output demands—and your response to both? Can you last long enough to finish the race?
Finances—Do you have the capital necessary to invest in your big goals, and are you prepared for the increased financial risk at this stage?
Freedom—Do you have enough wealth to create choice? Are you free to spend your time and money in constructive ways? Do you have enough positive constraints to keep you focused?
Family—This is the sum of all of your relationships. Are you surrounded by the right people? Do your relationships make you happy or angry or sad? Who surrounds you, and where are they taking you? Where are you taking them?
Faith—This handle represents the belief that order exists among chaos, that we are not helplessly falling, that we have control over our destiny, that happiness is attainable.
Future—Do you have a goal? Do you have a clear vision of what you’d like to achieve next? Do you have a plan to get there? Are you focused?
Where’s the flywheel rolling to? Happiness.
One of my most controversial articles this year was called “Fat People on Mars.” In that post, I wrote that the ultimate goal of all of this—business, fitness and money—was to achieve happiness. But happiness isn’t a static state: You don’t simply cross the border into heaven, find a seat and sit down for eternity.
Happiness is an active process. To be happy, you have to keep the flywheel moving. That means a balance of challenge and triumph, of focus and creativity, of finances and time. People are happiest when they’re moving.
Other Articles in This Series
How to Build an Unstoppable Business
Removing Speed Bumps
The Flywheel Turns on Trust
If you’ve had a bad week—or a bad month‚ it’s easy to think, “I’m losing!”
But you’re probably not. You’re probably just playing the wrong game.
In the context of a 40-year business, a bad month is nothing. Hell, five bad years are no big deal—that’s only 12.5 percent of your career. No pro athlete, superstar entrepreneur or politician is at his or her peak 100 percent of the time. Five years spent learning hard lessons and 35 years spent reaping the rewards is a great tradeoff.
Take it from the guy who did it the hard way for 10 years!
In the Founder Phase, playing “the infinite game” is easy: You’re just trying to survive. Every day, you win just by opening the door. But eventually, you need your business to sustain itself and feed your family. These are the goals of Farmer Phase.
Most gym owners play finite games:
They try to get the most members.
They try to get the highest gross revenue or average monthly billing.
They try to get their athletes to the CrossFit Games.
Instead, they should be trying to build a business that lasts 40 years, provides great careers for their coaches and makes them wealthy.
Simon Sinek Says
Simon Sinek calls the long-term pursuit of success “The Infinite Game.” Here’s his new book on the subject—it’s great so far.
Sinek presents five keys to success in the infinite game:
1. Just Cause
You must feel compelled to serve your mission, whether you’re going through good times or fighting for your life. If you started a gym, I know you’ve got this one covered. You didn’t do it to get rich; you did it to get people healthy. Your “just cause” is so inspiring that helping you achieve it is my “just cause.” No exaggeration.
2. Worthy Adversary
You must have someone else who is trying to compete with you. I know, you have other gyms nearby. I know they copy you. I know they undercut your prices and blah-blah-blah-blah. Guess what: You need competitors. You need them to make you better. You need them to justify your high rates. You need them to force you to get better at business instead of better at coaching the snatch.
3. Open Playbook
You must pursue a fixed cause with a variable strategy. You must choose your methods without being trapped in an ideology. HIIT and Paleo are really effective, but they’re not what you sell. You sell weight loss. HIIT and Paleo are tools. When better tools emerge, you will test them and adopt anything that’s better. Right?
(Here’s a test: Could you change your gym’s name and still attract new clients? If your gym name is “Bill’s Pilates” or “Harry’s Barre+Boxing,” you’re probably trapped in an ideology.)
Your clients should know that you’re updating your skills and knowledge all the time—that you will find what’s best for them and filter out the rest.
4. Vulnerable Team
You must have a culture in which people feel free to say “I don’t know” or ask “how do I do this?” Your coaches must balance being an authority with maintaining a “beginner’s mind.” And you, the leader, can build trust by telling your team “I hired a business mentor to help me build a sustainable platform for you.”
5. Courageous Leadership
You must have leadership that focuses on the just cause instead of the competition or what’s being said on social media. This is pretty tough. It’s easy to get distracted by what the other guys are doing, what HQ is doing or what the critics are saying. But none of that matters: What matters is helping people live better, healthier lives. The more focused you are on The Mission, the easier it is to block out all these distractions. But it takes practice.
Up or Down: Where Do You Look?
Three years ago, Dave Tate of EliteFTS told me this:
“You’re playing a game of attrition. You don’t have to win; you just have to last. Three years from now, everyone else will be gone.”
He’s almost always right.
As other “gym consulting” businesses in the CrossFit space wither—or even fold up their tents and join Two-Brain—we’re growing.
The key reason why?
We’re focused on making gyms successful. They’re focused on us.
It’s pretty amazing to see Tate’s advice borne out three years later. The “competition” in 2016 is either gone, or they recommend us at their seminars, or they’re among our clients now. That means we can all focus on making gym owners successful.
Sure, some are still playing the finite games of getting followers or likes or attention—and some always will be. When they die, someone else will take their place. You and I will never be without critics or short-term competitors.
But if you play the infinite game in your business, as I try to do in mine, they won’t be distractions for long. Because it’s easy to ignore the mud on your shoes when you’re gazing at Infinity.
Other Articles in This Series
We Can all Win
Never Have Competition Again
The Mindset Necessary for Success
Why You Want More Two-Brain Gyms in Your City
1,000,000 Fitness Entrepreneurs: The Two-Brain Plan
In this series, I’ve been writing about the Path to Wealth and how we’ve mapped it. I even gave you some blurry little preview pics.
The journey from Startup to Legacy passes through four phases: Founder Phase, Farmer Phase, Tinker Phase and Thief Phase.
Here’s how a mentor helps you along the path.
Mentorship Through the Four Phases
In the Founder Phase, a mentor is primarily a teacher.
We’ve done so well with new gyms that the path is really, really clear. There are steps to follow, in order, that virtually guarantee a profitable opening. We just have to tell them to you and keep you focused.
Gym owners in the Founder Phase have either just opened, are about to open or are struggling to break even. Their best mentors are those who will help them avoid overwhelm and give them the confidence to do it the right way.
And it’s so much easier to open a gym the right way. New owners who have gone through the Incubator have literally shaved up to seven years off their journeys to wealth. Imagine: seven years of pain, poverty and poor health—avoided!
In the Farmer Phase, a mentor is a coach—and a therapist.
The majority of gym owners in the Two-Brain Family are in the Farmer Phase. And when we meet them, they’re usually paralyzed. Maybe they’ve made some mistakes that they’re terrified to correct (like low rates). Or maybe they’re just overwhelmed by all the ideas out there.
Like a fitness coach, a mentor in the Farmer Phase must provide clarity and support. First, we help the owner make decisions (“Do this one thing today”). Then we provide support while the owner takes action. And when the action is really tough, a mentor shares the burden.
Your investment in mentorship is $5,000 (a fraction of what mentors usually cost). A mentor’s investment in you is physical, mental and emotional. I’ve spent many sleepless nights knowing that my clients are anxious. I’ve skipped many holiday parties to shoot them how-to videos and taken hundreds of phone calls at my kids’ hockey games. I do all of that because a mentor is invested deeper than money can measure.
In the Tinker Phase, a mentor is a filter.
When you achieve Functional Retirement, you have freedom of time and money. Maybe a little too much freedom: It’s very easy to chase after every idea you’ve got locked in the vault. That’s a recipe for incompletion and burnout.
Tinker-level mentors help you get clarity. They help you decide and then take action on one thing at a time. Most of our clients in the Tinker Phase start by building a wealth platform, and then they decide to duplicate their current business. Or, sometimes, they start a new one. But they don’t pursue all options at once.
Tinker-level mentorship also includes group support with peers at the same level. Because relationships create opportunities—when you’re ready to receive them.
And in the Thief Phase, a mentor is a trusted confidante.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” then you understand the mindset of the Thief. In this stage, mentors help clients establish an immortal legacy. Your legacy should grow and give after you’re gone, and your mentors should guide you to set up a platform to make that happen.
Are you in Founder Phase, Farmer Phase, Tinker Phase or Thief Phase?
Take our test here.
The Right Approach at the Right Time
Good mentors are teachers, coaches therapists and trusted confidantes. Great mentors know how to fill all those roles. But the best mentors know which hat to wear—and when—to move you toward wealth.
Here’s our mentoring team:
All have been trained to be teachers, coaches, therapists and trusted advisors. And all have different personalities because there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to mentorship. We’re not a call center or a help line or a group of consultants.
We’re smart, caring and experienced professionals who have been where you are now and mapped the Path to Wealth for you.
Book a free call with our team to talk about mentorship here.
Other Articles in This Series
How to Achieve Any Goal
How to Solve Any Problem in Fitness
How to Solve Any Problem in Business
The Two-Brain Wealth Map
In this series, I’ve been telling you how to solve any problem by breaking it down. Fitness coaches are good at this process, but business owners sometimes forget how to do it. And the overwhelming number of business books, ideas, podcasts and videos makes the path to wealth unclear.
But if you’re a fitness coach, you’re good at filtering out pseudoscience and crazy workout ideas to give your clients a clear path. I’m a business mentor, and I’m good at filtering out bad ideas and overwhelm to give my clients a clear path.
It’s taken us years and tens of thousands of one-on-one phone calls with entrepreneurs to do it, but we’ve mapped the path to wealth. Real wealth.
I wrote about the process of mapping the path here:
Mapping the Path to Wealth
First, we defined Point B: Wealth.
I wrote “What Is Wealth?” to give us clarity.
What Is Wealth?
Second, we assessed thousands of gym owners to determine Point A.
From 2012 to 2019, I personally took over 1,000 free calls and 3,000 paid calls with gym owners. As our team expanded, we took more: We now book over 275 calls per week with gym owners. And we do them all one-on-one with a mentor for an hour at a time.
Then we worked backward to map the path. As I showed you in this video, we asked, “What’s the halfway point to wealth?”
The halfway point to Wealth is Functional Retirement. Basically, it’s the point where your business pays for your lifestyle but doesn’t require you to be there. You have security with your money and freedom with your time.
Then we chopped up the journey even further. We asked, “What’s halfway to halfway?” and “What’s halfway between Functional Retirement and Legacy, fixing-the-world status?”
Well, halfway between Startup and Functional Retirement is the Breakeven Point, where your business pays for itself (but doesn’t really pay you yet).
And halfway between Functional Retirement and Legacy is Financial Independence, where your wealth grows on its own. Your money has babies. You get paid in your sleep.
The spaces between each of those achievements (Breakeven, Functional Retirement, Financial Independence and Legacy) are the phases of the Entrepreneurial Journey.
I named those four phases Founder Phase, Farmer Phase, Tinker Phase and Thief Phase.
Founder Phase: from 0 to Breakeven
Farmer Phase: from Breakeven to Functional Retirement
Tinker Phase: from Functional Retirement to Financial Independence
Thief Phase: from Financial Independence to Legacy.
(That last one means that your wealth creates opportunities for others after you’re gone.)
So the map looks like this:
Next, we have to break down all the steps necessary to get from one phase to another.
I wrote “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” to share those steps with everyone.
In our mentorship practice, we break those steps down into their smallest irreducible parts. That’s my superpower. There are actually 10 steps from the start of Founder Phase to the end of Farmer Phase—multiplied by 42 categories. Seriously—there are 420 things you have to do to achieve Functional Retirement. So now the map looks like this:
Then we built our service to move entrepreneurs from Startup to Wealth as expediently as possible.
Our Incubator program is a 12-week sprint from your starting point. We move fast. And then the Growth Stage program takes over to maintain momentum, continue development, reward victories and keep your eyes on the prize.
Our mentors help entrepreneurs move from one step to the next, with personal guidance and access to MasterClasses. Sometimes mentors can help gym owners skip a step or two. Sometimes we have to spend a few months on a single step. And the net result is that gym owners can often become wealthy in three years (it took me 12!).
You haven’t heard about a map to wealth anywhere else. There isn’t one.
No one else has done it.
Other Articles in This Series
How to Achieve Any Goal
How to Solve Any Problem in Fitness
How to Solve Any Problem in Business
Mentors: Teachers, Guides and Therapists