The Core Four: Guiding Principles for Fitness Business Success

by | Jul 9, 2023 | Business Owners Journey, Fitness Business Alignment System, Fitness Business Owner, Leadership | 0 comments

(Last Updated On: July 26, 2023)


Prologue: A Bit of Backstory

I’ve been in the business of helping gym owners run their businesses since 2005. 

When I started in 2005 there were 13 CrossFit facilities. lol

Personal training was something people usually only got as a pricey add-on to their big box club membership – and they were buying it in packs of 10/20/30.  

In fact, what pulled me into consulting other gym owners was that I owned a personal training business having huge success using a few concepts that no one else was at the time; selling training on annual commitments, giving monthly billing options, using automated payments, and offering group sessions.  

Yep, believe it or not, there was a time when none of that was standard. No one was doing those things, except for us in little Elizabethtown, KY. And we were killing it.  

Around that time, I also co-owned an Anytime Fitness. It was like the 32nd or 33rd Anytime Fitness to open I think. Something like that.  Now there are ~3000.   

I realize I’m talking about this like I’m ancient…I’m actually 45, and I don’t really feel like 2005 was that long ago, but there has been so much change in the fitness industry since then. Actually, our industry wasn’t even a thing then.

The point is that we’ve come such a long way. There has been a ton of growth, tons of people have contributed to it, and there’s a lot to be proud of. 

And there’s still a LOT of work ahead of us.


Here’s Where We Stand Right Now in the Fitness Industry:

If you own a fitness business, you’re in a competitive game, with a lot of players.  

You’re probably passionate about fitness and you probably love your community. But unfortunately those things aren’t enough if you want to build a successful fitness business. 

That’s just the reality.

The world of training gyms is still very young and trying to mature.  One major ongoing problem it faces is that there still aren’t many good options out there for the fitness business owner who wants to learn how to be the best business owner they can be.  

  • You could go the academic route, get a business degree.  
  • You could open or buy a franchise.  
  • Or you can sift through the mega-crowd of experts available and try to filter it down to the few who do have expertise and can deliver on their promise.   

It may not sound like it, but I do think there is value to be found in each of those avenues, under the right circumstances.  

But for someone who is in business, who is seeking growth and professional development, trying to build their business owner’s acumen – that list of options sucks.

We started Fitness Revolution to be the option that list is missing.  Having been in this industry since nearly the beginning, myself and my businesses have always been known for a couple of things:

  • We can develop business owners so they are equipped for their journey, and
  • You can trust we’re going to look out for your best interest and shoot straight with you.      

We’re for the fitness business owners who want to grow and develop, and learn how to think and act like the best business owner – the best leader – that they can be. 

And having that very clear ‘line in the sand’ also means that we aren’t for everybody. 

We’re not peddling shortcuts, hacks, or magic pill solutions. 

If you come to us and say “I need to get more leads”, or “I’ve got no systems in my business” – ok, no problem. Easy fixes. But we’ll ONLY agree to solve those problems if we believe that you’re also committed to a growth plan for yourself as the business owner.  

Why is that so important to us? Because we believe in the long-term development of business owners and their businesses.  It’s possible to solve short term problems AND build for long-term success.  You don’t have to choose one or the other.  

We think you want (and need) both.  A plan to hit your long term goals that’s also going to help you out in the short term. It’s the same approach you probably take with fitness or athletic programming.

So to answer the question above: It’s important to us because we think it’s important to you.

We’re here to help those who aspire to be better business owners.  

And in our 18+ years, working with 10k+ gym owners, we’ve learned that there are 4 ‘must-follow’ principles for a fitness business owner if they want to achieve short-term wins WITHOUT sabotaging their long-term success. 

They are the non-negotiables of growth for a business owner.  

These four principles make up our…


Core Four Philosophy: Guiding Principles for Immediate Wins and Lasting Success

This philosophy provides a comprehensive approach to long-term business development. It weaves together our ‘Core Four’ principles; leadership growth, strategic vision, systematic execution, and feedback systems

For a fitness business owner to have immediate success as well as sustainable growth, they have to continually develop and apply each of the four principles.  

We have not seen a single exception to that. 

The principles are not just interconnected, they are mutually reinforcing.

I’ll explain…

The Core Four: Guiding Principles for Fitness Business Success

It starts with Leadership Growth, which is about the development of the decision maker steering the vessel.  The challenges and uncertainty along the way will never end, so the decision maker must continually strive for growth, for new and better ways to navigate and to solve the challenges. 

The Strategic Vision is set by leadership, and is the destination and guidance system for getting there.    

This vision then informs Systematic Execution, which is the vehicle that brings the planned journey to life.   

Finally, Feedback Systems provide constant feedback to leadership to gauge the effectiveness of the strategy and execution, foresee obstacles, make ongoing adjustments, and stay on course. 

Each of the four principles is integral to the whole.

They each contribute to this holistic model, creating a cyclical, self-reinforcing process that continuously drives business growth, adaptation, and ultimately, business excellence.

The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. 

Which is why the methodology we deliver through our fitness business coaching program and curriculum is built on this philosophy and these four principles. 

Here are those guiding principles…


The Core Four Philosophy: Guiding Principles for Immediate Wins and Lasting Success in Your Fitness Business:

1. Leadership Growth: Continually foster personal growth and honing your skills and mindset as a fitness business owner and leader of others.  

You can look at Leadership Growth like a 3 legged stool, with the legs being:

  1. Self
  2. Support
  3. Skill

Continually foster personal growth and honing your skills and mindset as a fitness business owner and leader of others.

The first leg, ‘self’, is your mindset, beliefs, and how you see yourself as a leader. Your role will continually require the mental agility to handle uncertainty and a constantly changing landscape. 

That’s the job. 

We call the set of essential skills needed to be ‘mentally agile’ the ‘Leadership Muscles’; growth mindset, high agency, stakeholder awareness, critical thinking, communication, and adaptability.  

And while all are important and require ongoing exercise, we also believe that there is one ‘leadership muscle’ that a business owner will certainly fail without: high agency.   

The second leg, ‘support’ is about the professional support system that you build around yourself.  

Business ownership, while exciting, is a difficult journey through a complex and uncertain landscape.  But it doesn’t have to be traveled alone – nor should it be. The business owner can (and should) be responsible for building a strong professional support system around themselves to provide support along the way. 

We have outlined a recommended framework for this type of support system, the 3 Layers of Support. The 3 layers include 1-on-1 guidance from an expert, involvement in a larger industry community, and an active role in a smaller, more intimate group of like-minded peers.  Each resource integrates with and reinforces the others while providing unique support and insights.  

The third leg of the Leadership Development stool is ‘skill’, and is about developing your business acumen. 

If you want to think like a business owner, you have to know some of the subject matter that business owners think about.  It doesn’t require an MBA, but the landscape of business is constantly changing and it is important to have the proven principles to lean on as you’re making sense of it. A dedicated curriculum can give you the understanding of business principles that are the foundation of good problem solving, decision making, and innovation. 

Having a leadership growth plan for the business owner is the non-negotiable here.  A business whose owner isn’t intentional about their own development will fail.   

2. Strategic Vision: Define a clear, compelling direction for the business and outline a clear path to get there. 

Your Strategic Vision acts as a guidance system for decision-making and path navigation. It helps you resist shiny objects and quick fixes, and stay on course toward your goals.   

Strategic Vision has three non-negotiable criteria:

  1. Envision a future AND a path to get there.  A common mistake is to limit aspirations to a snapshot of an ideal future, which leaves an incomplete picture. Seeing a pathway to that future vision is part of the vision
  2. Strategy before tactics.  Because strategy gives tactics purpose.  Without a strategic Vision, tactics lead to chaos and stress. With a clear Strategic Vision, all actions are purposeful and contribute to the overall business objectives.  “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun-Tzu
  3. It is a recurring process.  A Strategic Vision isn’t set in stone. It needs to adapt to changing circumstances and evolving goals. Regularly revisiting and updating your Strategic Vision ensures that it remains aligned with the current realities and objectives of your business. Think of it as your business’s living blueprint that requires periodic reviews and refinements to stay effective.

Strategy as we use it is not an abstract, nebulous concept.  It includes concrete ingredients that, when brought into clear focus together, paint a picture of the future of the business, and answers the mission critical questions: 

  • Where are we going?
  • How are we going to get there?
  • Who are we going to work with?
  • What are we going to do for them?
  • How are we going to compete – and win?

We use a framework when guiding fitness business owners through the development of their strategic vision. A framework should be rigid enough to create alignment and coherence, yet flexible enough to allow for your unique business identity and autonomy.

3. Systematic Execution:  Transform plans into productive, efficient action. 

It’s about getting the right things done in a disciplined, systematic manner. This is what brings your strategic vision to life.

No matter the business or the strategic vision, having a method to get everything and everyone rowing in the same direction – toward the goal – is the non-negotiable.  Without that alignment, the business fails.  

The method we use for building and maintaining the alignment needed is a business operating system.  

A business operating system is what turns chaos into productive activity.   

A fitness business operating system can look many different ways, but it has to meet three critical objectives:

  • Create alignment: From your strategic vision down to the day-to-day
  • Provide flexible guidance:  Structure, but not so restrictive it doesn’t allow for agility, autonomy, and brand identity. 
  • A regular cadence of touchpoints to ensure sustained alignment and agility.

Aside from turning chaos into production, there are two other common problems that the right business operating system solves:

  • Random and/or misaligned marketing activity.  We believe that marketing is a system. A good business operating system treats it as such, ensuring that the fitness business marketing activities are in alignment with the strategy laid out.  
  • Over-systemizing. “How in depth should my systems be?” isn’t a bad question to be asking.  For the independent gym owner who wants to maintain their autonomy and identity, the goal is to find the right balance between orderliness and flexibility.  If autonomy and identity are not important to the owner, then they should consider looking into a franchise fitness business.

The phrase ‘business operating system’ might sound complicated or tech-ish, but that’s misleading.  Think of it more like a collection of ‘playbooks’ that can be arranged and fit together in a variety of ways, like Legos. 

The Fitness Business Alignment System™ is our business operating system that has supported thousands of fitness businesses since 2015.  It was designed to meet the criteria and solve the issues above when we could not find any other solution that could do the same.  


The Fitness Business Alignment System


4. Feedback Systems: Regular tracking of business progress and performance through multiple inputs. 

Feedback systems are designed to keep leadership informed to ensure that you’re not just running your fitness business, but that it’s running well. It’s the metaphorical medical checkups and fitness tracking for your business, constantly monitoring your business health and progress across multiple dimensions.

A business assessment is akin to a thorough physical examination – it looks at various aspects of your business – performance, processes, resources, infrastructure, strategy, and market position. A good assessment helps paint an accurate picture of the current state of your business, serving as a solid foundation for strategic planning and decision-making.  

The key to a good business assessment is knowing where to look and what to look for. We created GrowthCatalyst 2.0 to take care of that part for you. GrowthCatalyst 2.0 covers the 8 areas that every fitness business owner should be assessing which we call the ‘Essential 8’.

Separate from business assessments, but at least as essential, is the tracking of specific metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). This data should provide you a continuous feed of important information you can rely on. This is where you ‘measure what matters’, as they say. 

Just like you track your heart rate, steps, and sleep in a fitness program, in your fitness business, the indicators include marketing and sales performance, financial and customer-related metrics. 

Regular monitoring provides real-time insights into how well your business is progressing towards its goals, and more importantly, it allows you to spot the areas that require improvement.

We consider business assessments and KPIs to be ‘internal’, meaning that they are comparing your business to itself over time. Other sources that can also provide valuable perspectives are those that give an ‘external’ basis for comparison, comparing your business to other similar business types (i.e. industry benchmarks) or other businesses going through similar stages (i.e. the proven success path). 

The benefit of all of this input? Leadership being armed with the right information at the right time. The data and feedback tells leadership what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to be adjusted.  

Simply put, it enables you – the leadership – to make informed decisions, which is the cornerstone of successful businesses.

Short-Term Wins and Long-Term Success Can Co-Exist

The Core Four Philosophy: Guiding Principles for Immediate Wins and Lasting Success presents a well-rounded, holistic approach to business growth. 

You’re in the fitness business, so you already understand the benefits of a well-rounded, holistic approach, as well as the dangers of going without one.  

It’s about growing personally as a leader, setting a clear strategic vision, executing systematically, and using feedback systems for continuous improvement. 

Each aspect is vital. They are each essential gears in the intricate machinery of business growth.

We want you to have an approach to business that allows you to achieve short term wins while building sustainable success, rather than having to choose one or the other.  

The Core Four Philosophy and these four principles are your guide to do just that.


If what you’ve read here sounds like exactly what you need for your fitness business, let’s talk about how we can work together.

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Author: Nick Berry

Nick Berry is an accomplished entrepreneur, CEO, mentor, and author, with a track record which includes founding and leading numerous companies to success since his first venture in 2002. Nick Berry is the Founder and CEO of Fitness Revolution.

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