‘Pay the Cost to Be the Boss’: How to Think about Investing in Yourself to Be Successful as a Business Owner

Executive Summary:

Every fitness trainer and coach dreams of running their own studio or gym. But not all fitness business owners are willing to invest in developing the skills they need to lead themselves and lead a business. They aren’t willing to “pay the cost to be the boss” as the old James Brown song puts it. 

Are you willing to pay the cost to be the boss? If so, here are 3 prerequisites you need to have (or get) in place, and then 4 ways to find funding to invest in learning the skills (and getting systems, tools, and coaching) you need to succeed as a fitness business owner. 

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Every fitness trainer and coach dreams of running their own studio or gym. 

You run the show. You make the decisions. The enterprise – your fitness business – stands or falls based on what you do. 

But not all fitness business owners are willing to invest in developing the skills they need to lead themselves and lead a business. 

And that’s a shame, because the problem is they aren’t yet ready or willing to “pay the cost to be the boss” as the old James Brown song puts it. 

Are you willing to pay the cost to be the boss? 

Or are you content with just dreaming about running a successful fitness business … thinking, well, if it were my business, here’s what I’d do. 

In this article, I’m going to walk you through a special topic for me and for many of our most successful clients, which is about investing in your own development so that you can learn the business skills (and get the systems, tools, and coaching) you need to succeed in the fitness industry.   

First, let me introduce the personal biases I have as an author: 

  • I own a company that has been selling business education and coaching for the past 14 years. 
  • I have invested in my education and coaching for the past 20 years, spending more than a million dollars total in professional development.
  • I believe that my willingness to invest in learning and coaching is an essential part of my success in creating a successful business at NPE and in helping so many NPE clients create and grow successful businesses around the world.

That’s the paradigm that I operate from today. 

If you want to be the boss, you have to pay the cost. 

And that cost is investing both TIME and MONEY in your learning and development. 

But before you make the leap, I want to warn you about the two mistakes people make when it comes to investing:

  1. They don’t do it. 
  2. They invest, but don’t really understand what they are getting themselves into. As a result, they “buy” but they don’t “invest” because they aren’t willing to do the work required to see a return.

NOTE: Buying business education or consulting, and then getting upset that you’re not where you want to be yet is the equivalent of a fitness client signing up with a coach and then getting upset because they don’t have six-pack abs yet. The truth is you can’t “buy” a healthy and fit body, you can’t “buy” an amazing relationship with your spouse, and you can’t “buy” a successful business. As with all the best things in life, you have to do the work required to EARN IT. The investment just gets you into the gym, access to the equipment, and the support of a coach who will support (and challenge) you to become the best version of yourself you can be.

So let’s start out with 3 things you MUST commit to before you invest in yourself to grow into a fitness business owner living your dream lifestyle. 

1. Believe it’s possible to succeed 

This first part has to do with personal psychology. Your belief system will (for the most part) determine your reality in life. 

And our belief system is formed in a large part by your programming, how you were brought up, what you were surrounded with, and the environment in your home. 

My grandparents’ generation thought success meant getting a good job and working with the same company for 50 years until it was time to retire. That was the immediate post-World War 2 Era for a lot of Americans, and even people all over the world. 

That generation went to work for others because at the time most businesses required a huge amount of capital and energy to get started, with huge barriers to entering the marketplace. Working for a big company made sense.  There was no internet and you couldn’t just start a business with your smartphone.

But I grew up in an entrepreneurial household. My dad started and grew a commercial real estate company from nothing to something of significance. It was common to see my dad working very hard … extra hours at night and on the weekend. He made personal sacrifices to grow and be successful, and to reap the rewards of that. 

That meant supporting his family, driving nice cars, having a beach house, spending summers on boats. This lifestyle wouldn’t have been possible if my dad hadn’t created a business that was capable of funding those experiences and that lifestyle for me, my brother and sister, and my family. 

One lesson I was taught from a very young age: “You can do anything you want to do. You just have to work for it.” 

A strong work ethic, personal sacrifice, self-discipline, focus of my time and energy to drive a goal or project forward, and setting and achieving goals. These values and traits are inherent in my belief system (and the DNA) that I have operated from in life, from an early age. 

I recognize that I’m very fortunate, not because I grew up in a household where my dad was able to provide a great lifestyle for my family, but because he taught me lessons about how to be successful that I’ve carried with me throughout my life. 

My goal is to pass those lessons onto my own son as I watch him grow up in the years ahead.

And I’m inspired to share those lessons and (hopefully inspire others to do the same!) for themselves and their families. 

2. Believe it’s possible for you to succeed and have the confidence to make a commitment, see it through, and be “coachable”

It’s one thing to look at something from the outside looking in and say, “it’s possible for that person to do X because <insert something you think makes them special here>.”

But generally that’s a cop-out. We justify someone else’s success, or claim they have some superpower that we don’t, when that’s just not the case. 

Our minds do this because it allows us to rationalize excuses for why we’re not as successful as we want to be. 

The reality is, the reason you’re not successful (or I’m not successful) in anything we want to do in life is because we haven’t earned it yet. 

The universe operates with very specific laws of nature. Plant seeds, they grow and you harvest. You reap what you sow …. These aren’t just sayings; they are fundamental laws of nature. 

I know it’s scary to think about a dream or goal that may really stretch you outside your comfort zone. But I believe those are the best kinds of goals and dreams. There’s nothing better in life than learning and growing– and the personal satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from doing so. 

And it’s normal to have some self-doubt. When you look at a whole journey all at once, you may start to doubt if you can achieve all you’re setting out to do. 

That’s why you have to understand that to earn it, you need to make a full commitment. And that means to sacrifice … that is, to pay the cost required. If you aren’t willing to make the sacrifice, you aren’t really committed.

That means you must take personal responsibility for your success (see NPE Success Principle #1: Personal Responsibility), and you must attack your fears to grow (see NPE Success Principle #2: Have courage, practice faith). 

Have the courage to set a goal that inspires you, and find (and stay connected) to your purpose and WHY it matters. 

That’s the drive that helps you push through when times get difficult. Along the journey you should expect to face a LOT of setbacks and challenges, and fail MANY times along the way. 

Failure is an essential part of our learning, growth, and development. 

And it’s true that, “you only really lose when you quit!”

Mistakes, set-backs, and failure are just part of a normal part of the journey when you choose to view and play the long game.

I’ll share a very personal (and painful!) story of what I mean by that in a moment.

3. Self-organize your time, be diligent about executing, and ask for help when you get stuck 

I’ve said this earlier and I’ll say it again. 

A successful business is not bought. It’s EARNED.

This means you must have the personal discipline to self-manage your time, energy, and focus consistently… over an extended period of time…  on a goal or project. You have to be willing to “put in the work” that you may not see the full rewards from for weeks, months, or years. 

What does that look like? 

It means this: 1) take out your calendar and 2) block time to focus on study, learning, growth, development, and practice. 

Do this daily if possible, or at least a few days a week, for an hour or two. 

Now this sounds simple, I know. And it is simple, it’s just not EASY. 

If you’re NOT willing to make this type of commitment to building your business and going after your goals, then let me be the first to tell you… you just aren’t ready yet and you won’t be successful. That’s ok. Come back when you are.

Because when you DO have these things in place, and you commit to following through, then it’s not a question of IF you’re going to be successful… it’s simply a question of WHEN.

You ARE going to grow and you will succeed. 

One key point to add here: If you are going to succeed on anything in a reasonable timeline, you have to raise your hand and ask for help when you get stuck. 

Too many people waste a lot of time spinning their wheels and digging themselves into the mud deeper and deeper. Don’t do that. Get help when you need it.

How to get access to capital needed to
invest in your professional development

Ok, so by this point you’ve got the right foundation in place. You believe it’s possible to succeed, you believe it’s possible for YOU to succeed, and you’re committed to organizing your time, energy, and focus to do the work required to grow.

Here are 4 strategies you can use to get access to capital needed to invest in your professional development (and buy speed rather than wasting decades with trial and error trying to reinvent the wheel).

Strategy #1: Work and save money

Having the ability to manage money and manage personal finances is essential to becoming a successful business owner. You must have the discipline to make money and save money. And any investor (or bank), wants to know about your track record with creating and saving money. The better track record you have, the more confidence they have in lending or investing in you. 

So like a lot of things in life, success starts with you.

If you can’t manage your own finances very well, then how are you going to manage the business’s finances? (You won’t.)

That being said, you may not have any money saved right now, and you’re here because you’re trying to figure out how to generate some more. 

I get it. I’ve been there. Every business owner has been there. Every entrepreneur has been there.

If you don’t have any cash saved up right now, commit to building a warchest. As you start to grow and make more money with your business, commit to saving money. Having access to your own capital allows you to make investments, will provide security for a rainy day fund, and will allow you to start creating wealth over time. 

Strategy #2: Ask for support from family and friends (loan or donations)

A lot of people are very uncomfortable asking friends and family for financial support because they’re too prideful to ask for help. 

They feel it’s not “making it” unless you “make it on your own.”

That’s part of my DNA as well. I believe in being a self-made person and the value of being self-reliant. 

That being said, someday you may face a big challenge in business or life that you just can’t figure out on your own.

Be grateful for this experience when it happens to you.

The toughest challenges in life always offer you the greatest personal growth opportunities.

And you’ll discover (if you’re open and willing) that there are people who love you and care about you, who want to support you and help you succeed. Another fundamental law of the universe is not just giving, but receiving. Life doesn’t have to be so impossibly challenging all the time. And it’s ok to accept support from those who care about you.

There have been several times when I have faced big challenges in business. One of the most painful being when I had to face an embezzlement that cost me $500,000+ and put NPE at great risk of survival many years ago. 

I can tell you now that it was only through the grace of support from close friends and family that allowed us to keep going. For some strange reason, banks don’t want to lend you any money when you’ve just been robbed!

I share this very painful and personal story with you here, because I hope it will be helpful to you. Looking back on my entrepreneurial journey, up until this point in my career… I was always successful in everything I did. I always achieved success with my goals and never faced a challenge I couldn’t figure out. As a result, I was very confident in my skills and abilities to “handle anything needed on my own.” But that pride, and the ego that came with it, weren’t best in serving me long term.

Facing (and overcoming) this very difficult challenge humbled me greatly, and allowed me to grow in new ways I never expected. I learned how to have more patience. I learned to be more kind and understanding to myself and others facing big challenges. I learned how to open myself up to accepting help from others. And since that time, NPE has been able to pay back the friends and family that supported us with a great return on their private investments. 

We’ve also had clients who created Kickstarter campaigns, crowdfunding campaigns, and have asked for support from their community to get their business off the ground. They started campaigns on different platforms and asked for donations or even presold services, complete with gifts and prizes for certain donation amounts. Some people have been able to open up their own facility within just a couple months because they were able to raise between $5k and $40k in seed funding through their network. 

People love to support causes and people they believe in. 

Every successful person in life has been successful because someone showed them some grace along the way. 

And they want to give back and support others where they can. 

Don’t be afraid to share your passion, purpose, and mission with others you know. And be open to receiving when others want to support both the work you are doing and your journey.  

Strategy #3: Open a line of credit or get a credit card (zero interest money for 12 months IS the best you’ll get outside of a donation)

In many countries, there are great opportunities to borrow money from banks, lending institutions, and the government. 

There are fantastic government programs for small businesses that offer start-up loans and funding for continued professional development. In the USA, there is the SBA or Small Business Administration.

In Canada, there are great provincial grants available. I encourage you to research and learn more about them (or ask us and we’ll help direct you). 

In the UK, Start Up Loans is a great program that offers up to £20,000 per director (3 directors in total) for new businesses with long-term, low interest loans.

Take advantage of the opportunities if and when they make sense for you. 

Generally these programs give you access to capital at low-interest rates over long terms, that make it very affordable to borrow money to get your business growing and get it off the ground. 

And there’s even more support available with mentorship, and access to different resources that can be very helpful for small business success. 

In some countries, the financial system just has incredible options for borrowing money. In the U.S., it’s amazing how much capital you can get access to for nothing. 

Just about every citizen in the U.S. gets in the mail every month multiple direct mail and online offers to open a line of credit in the form of a credit card, giving you access to thousands of dollars worth of capital, for zero percent interest rate for 12 months. 

You’re never going to get free money like that from a bank. No bank will give you 12 months, no interest. And in most cases zero-interest credit cards are the cheapest way you can borrow money and have access to capital. 

But here’s the catch: The credit card companies are not lending you money for free for no reason. They are betting that at the end of the year, you will not have paid off some amount of the loan, and then they’re going to make a profit through the interest you pay on that capital. That’s how banks and lending institutions make money. They don’t sit on cash, they lend it out to make money with the interest companies and individuals pay from borrowing it.

However, if you are smart and disciplined, you can pay off the note before the promotional offer expires, i.e., pay it off before the year ends. Or you can refinance the money before the term ends, so 11 months from now, you take advantage of another zero-interest 12 month credit card offer and transfer the balance for free to the new one. 

Now, I want everyone to be cautious with debt, especially high-interest debt, because that can be expensive, and high interest rates can make paying back the loan very difficult. 

So sharing this strategy comes with the caveat that you:

(a) have the discipline to make money and pay it off or

(b) transfer it before it becomes due, or the amount you have left over after a year is so minimal that a small interest fee on the balance as you finish paying off the line of credit is really going to be negligible. 

You CAN get smart with some creative funding options, and if those opportunities are available to you and they make sense, take advantage of them. There is always capital available to you.

Strategy #4: Sell something, such as prepaid services with a client, stuff around your house, a car, etc.

This is one of the best options. Because you’re giving value in exchange for money. 

Or you’re selling something physical … things you may have around your house or garage or even sitting in your closet right now. Whatever you’ve got, you can sell it on eBay or Craigslist, or have a garage sale. 

Gary Vee has a show on YouTube where he goes around and buys things from garage sales and then flips them on eBay. He demonstrates how people can make hundreds if not thousands of dollars every month just by committing to a little bit of hustle. 

You can also sell bigger assets. We’ve seen people sell a car because they lived in a city where they didn’t need one anymore and they were able to use public transportation or ride a bike. The sale of their car helped fund their business. 

Or you can even pre-sell services like a 3, 6, or 12-month training package to a client or to someone you want to work with. You are paid in advance for your services, and then have the capital to make investments for your business now. 

All these are great options we’ve seen people use to fund their businesses and be incredibly successful as a result. 

The point is… there is always capital available to you IF you’re willing to do the work required to go get it.

Let’s review…

To be successful, you’ve got to believe it’s possible. You’ve got to believe it’s possible for you. And you’ve got to be willing to self-organize your time, energy, and focus in order to go execute and get a return on your investment. 

If you have those things in place, then you owe it to yourself to go work one, two, three, or all four of these strategies to get access to the capital you need and want to grow. 

Look, there’s always a way to get access to capital. You hear investors say, “Money is not the problem.” When you don’t have money, you don’t really understand this. I get it. I know. 

But money really isn’t the problem, because you can create and get access to capital by using one, two, three or all four of these strategies covered. 

Please don’t say it’s not possible. 

A more accurate statement is “I’m not willing to do the work required to pull things together to make it happen right now.” 

And if that’s the case, fine. 

But be honest with yourself, that you’re just not willing to go do it because you don’t want to “pay the cost to be the boss.”  And that’s OK. 

Being the boss is difficult. Being the boss is challenging. It’s not for everybody. 

But there are great returns and rewards that can come from being the boss of your own fitness business … even though it also comes from a tremendous amount of sacrifice, and effort.

If you want to be the boss, follow this plan and go do it. 

Because it is possible … if you have these things in place and you’re willing to do the work.

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Sean Greeley, NPE Founder & CEO
Sean Greeley, Founder and CEO of NPE, has an unrelenting passion for empowering fitness business owners to grow their business and create the life they want. Since 2006, NPE has helped over 45,000+ fitness professionals and business owners in 96+ countries grow to the next level. NPE has been listed 8x on the Inc 500/5000 list of fastest growing companies, and is a global team with offices in Los Angeles, London, and Sydney.