Making the Switch for the Client, Coach, and Fitness Business

Sean McCullagh: Making the switch for the sake of the client, the coach and the business

Sean McCullagh couldn’t do it anymore: He couldn’t run a business that lacked proper systems for success, not to mention systems for measuring his clients’ progress.

“We never really knew how much people were progressing because we didn’t meet with them and sit down and talk,” he said of his first 10 years owning a gym prior to opening one of the first OPEX-licensed gymsOPEX Baltimore.

“I actually met James (FitzGerald) five or six years into running my CrossFit gym and started doing the OPEX Coaching Certificate Program (CCP) classes and implementing some of the things he did,” McCullagh said.

For example, instead of having one program for the whole gym, he offered three different programs for group classes to accommodate various skill and fitness levels.

“And we did some individual programming on the side. But we were still largely doing the group thing,” he said. (Learn the basics of individual design coaching for free here.)

McCullagh added: “Eventually, though, I got to the point where I was sick of trying to put a square peg into a round hole.” 

It was time to move to an individual program design business model, where clients follow a training program that caters to their specific needs and goals and meet with their coach once a month for a lifestyle consult.

McCullagh knew the switch wouldn’t be painless on his business in the short-term—he knew he’d lose some clients who wanted to keep doing group classes and who didn’t want to pay more money for the increased coaching service—but he also knew it was the right decision for long-term success both for his clients and his business.

“It’s way better for the client. We sit down and talk every month. There are checks and balances on everything, and we get to talk about what’s working and what isn’t and be pragmatic about how to fix it,” he said.

This means clients stick around longer, so he doesn’t have to be scrambling each month to pick up new clients, nor does he have to work as many on-floor hours coaching, which makes his life as a gym owner much less stressful.

In the end, McCullagh did lose some clients when he made the switch, but his monthly rates jumped from US$180 a month to US$250—and now they sit around US$299—so much of the lost revenue from losing some clients was reclaimed because of his higher rates. Not only that, but annual client retention has increased from around 75 percent to close to 95 percent, he said.

More importantly, his job satisfaction has increased tremendously, which is hard to put a price on.

“Fulfillment is much higher. Group classes were burning me out and I didn’t feel like I was making a difference in people’s lives. I just felt like I was selling a product,” McCullagh said. 

Today, he said he feels like he’s offering a valuable service.

“It feels like a career now, a professional career,” he said. And having a professional career is also an opportunity for his coaches now, as well, he added. 

“There are upward possibilities in terms of income. In the (group class model where coaches get paid by the hour), only the owner really has upward mobility. But in this system coaches can also be full-time professional coaches,” he said.

Creating this life for himself was something he had always wanted, McCullagh explained. 

“I was an athlete in High School and college and had really great coaches that were really formative for me. I have always respected that profession and meeting James, arguably the best coach I have ever met in my life, made me want to be like that and have that type of impact on people’s lives,” he said. 

McCullagh added: “And I feel like I can do that now.”

At OPEX Fitness we do one thing, educate coaches. Get a free introduction to the same coaching education that helped create McCullagh’s new professional career and sign up for the Free 7-Day OPEX Coaching Course.

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