Dave Thomas Owner The Business of Lifting WeightsWritten by Dave Thomas

I have never allocated much energy for networking or glad handing with my fellow fitness professionals. I can count on one hand the amount of actual friends that I have in this industry and we never had, “Become boys with Tommy Fit Pro” on our list of how we’d get customers at our San Diego gym. It’s not to say that I don’t think networking can be effective or a great strategy for certain businesses, but for brick and mortar gyms who need local cash flow, I have never observed evidence of that shit working. I value my time greatly, and I have no time for what isn’t highly effective.

As all facets of my job require me to be active and engaged in social media, it’s allowed me to study online behavior of many different gyms, and few things produce a faster head shake than when I see struggling Joe’s Strength and Conditioning Gym posting and tagging famous gym owners, successful fitness professionals, and those with big followings in an effort to network and hitch their wagon to someone else’s following. It’s like watching a pledge try and impress the Frat president. With one side of their mouth many owners attempt to build great culture for their gym, and on the other side are still preoccupied with the distracting endeavor of fitting in with strangers on the internet.

It’s very understandable. When you are new to an industry and starting out, you want to know that what you are doing is of the highest quality, so naturally you want validation from those who came before you. Back when I wrote more consistently in 2010 and 2011, when people like Tony Gentilcore and John Romaniello first shared an article I wrote, I thought that was like, the coolest thing ever. As much as I appreciated that, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to convince the bank teller to deposit Facebook Shares into our bank account.

Today, I offer you a more effective way to network with an amazing group of like-minded professionals right underneath your nose. Your members. Stop thinking that your business is going to be saved or grown by anyone other than your customers, or through any other actions than by creating great culture among your tribe and nurturing it as your top priority. Put yourself firmly in your tribe, not above it, by focusing on the following areas.

Internally Focused Content

I have a very simple rule for content: Will our members find this valuable? This first and last line of defense has caused me to hit delete on many a drafts, and for good measure. Your content should engage your customer demographic, support your culture, and attract new customers to your business. Rather than sharing your fourth video of the month of you doing reverse Bulgarian single leg bridge press isometric holds with bottoms up banded cross lateralizations, in an effort to seem smart to your peers, why not ask your members to share their struggles with you and create valuable content for them based on that dialogue?

This usually equals happy customers who share what helped them, and an increase of potential new customers who want the same.

Internally Focused Relationships

I want to walk you through a real world example of just how powerful your attentive, engaged presence with your members can be your for business. Around five years ago, we had a new member join who we will call Kevin, who was one of our first 100 members back in 2011. We got to know him very well, and we welcomed him into our circle and treated him as a peer. Kevin became a great member, and ultimately, chipped away and convinced his girlfriend Samantha to join the gym from our direct competitor. We treated Samantha in the very same manner, and not long after she joined, Samantha referred every single executive at her company to join our gym. The executives recruited their sales managers, and their sales managers recruited their salespeople. I bullshit you not, out of engaging one loyal member, it lead to the addition of nearly 40 new members over a one year period. At an average membership of $100 per member, you don’t need an abacus to see that’s $4,000 in recurring revenue every month. Many of these members are still with us to this day and some our best, most loyal members that we have.

This large scale microcosm is why I do not waste my time with professional networking. Would this have happened if we were externally focused on engaging our fellow fitness professionals? On meeting up for lunch with San Diego coaches? I don’t know. Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t have. I don’t know what happens when you focus externally or when it pays off, but I exactly what happens when you engage your internal customers on a regular, consistent basis and it’s quantifiable, tangible referral revenue for your business. It takes effort and it takes caring, and it consistently delivers.

At the end of the day, this internally focused networking is really just caring about the experience your members have and engaging them on a regular basis. I am not suggesting you abandon professional courtesies and relationships with others, just suggesting that you worry less about approval from your professional peers and more about approval from your resources that exist in real life.

Watch your gym grow with more rad people.