What I’ve Learned From Fitness and Wellness Clients

I’ve learned a lot from Radial’s clients–but not the fitness tips and diet advice you might expect.

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The Train Or Terminate Flowchart: Deciding When To Invest In Underperforming Employees

We’ve all hired someone who turns out to be lacking knowledge in certain key areas. Maybe their understanding of healthy nutrition isn’t up to date. Or their ideas about conditioning need a refresh. Or their subject-matter knowledge is great, but they don’t know how to handle certain customer interactions smoothly.
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Lessons I Learned From My Bosses

1) Respect is the bedrock of strong companies

I worked for a top partner at Arthur Andersen – then the leading public accounting firm in the world. When he visited audit teams at clients, he always had individually-wrapped domino-sized Chuckles candies with him. And on more than one occasion, I saw him HURL these things at staffers when they came into our work area. I’m not talking a casual toss, either. Picture Clayton Kershaw’s fastball. Not charming or funny, just obnoxious – plus, he could easily have hit someone in the eye.

Other partners would routinely have audit staff – people with masters’ degrees and CPA licenses – retrieve their cars from the parking garage. It wasn’t even intended as hazing or initiation – it was just a reflection of how unimportant they really felt the audit staff was.

The result: A constant brain drain. As soon as most professional staff had enough experience to make them attractive to private employers, they were outta there.

That experience taught me to treat everyone in the business with respect and appreciation. If they didn’t add value, their job wouldn’t exist. And that’s true for the front desk, the cleaning staff, and the accounting clerks – not just the folks who deal directly with clients, members and customers. 

2) Challenging high-potential employees stocks your bench with talent

In one position, I reported to a company president who always gave smart people big projects and then left them alone to figure it all out. The result: more often than not, their project teams accomplished amazing things.

It didn’t always pay off in the short-term; there were a couple of times that projects took longer than they would’ve in the hands of someone more experienced. And sometimes these folks rubbed people the wrong way because they were learning leadership and collaboration on the fly.

Yet the long-term result was invaluable: because smart people constantly learn from their experiences, they just get better and better. You’re building a bench of go-to people who can help your business solve problems and seize opportunities.

I learned from him that people learn most by doing, least by being told what to do. Micromanagement is ineffective and annoying. I also came to see that nearly every problem has multiple right answers. It’s smart to give people room to find a solution that works, even if looks different from the solution I would’ve chosen.  

3) Make the hard decisions, for Pete’s sake

But…that same boss was as slow as molasses when he had to deal with executives who were failing.

One of my fellow VPs was a big-picture kinda guy, and he was rightly convinced that another part of the company could be much more productive and efficient. So he spent a lot of his time and his team’s time pushing for changes over there.

Unfortunately, his own department was dropping the ball on its responsibilities – and that directly affected every other department down and even hurt paying customers. This situation went on for at least a year – despite lots of concern from customers and employees – before he was removed from his position.

Lesson learned: it’s smart to start with feedback and coaching when you have a problem person. But if you don’t see fairly quick results, leadership requires that you protect the organization’s effectiveness as a whole, even if that means firing your problem person or making another drastic change.

(Bonus lesson: Stick to your knitting. Once your own department’s perfect, then  you can criticize other groups.)

4) No one succeeds in an information vaccuum

Once I joined a company at about the same time that the president was seriously considering demoting – perhaps even outright firing – the CIO.

I didn’t know the CIO well, but he seemed sharp, high-energy, practical — all the right stuff. My responsibilities included HR, so I asked the president to explain the problem. The bottom-line was that the CIO “just didn’t understand the big picture.” I commented that he rarely included the CIO in other executive conversations – most of his in-depth conversations were held with just one other executive.

That was an eye-opener, so he changed his approach and started including the CIO in those high-level conversations. And guess what? Our CIO was a star! All he needed was context – the big picture.

What I’ve seen is that we often assign tasks – tiny fractions of projects – without providing nearly enough information about the project’s context or objectives. The result is usually results that fall short. Then we blame our employee – when the truth is that we failed them. Managers who don’t share context are usually guilty of desperately hanging onto responsibilities that they really ought to be delegating in their entirety.

5) Be absolutely predictable

One of the best managers I ever worked for always kept her promises. If you had a meeting with her, it started on time, and she rarely canceled or rescheduled. Looking back, I realize that probably 70% of the emails she sent weren’t about big decisions – they were mostly just to communicate stuff that was going on in the business. She wasn’t big on small talk, but we loved her because you could count on her to follow through. No surprises – she didn’t suddenly swoop in and reverse decisions – and we always felt like we understood where the company was headed and how that affected our priorities.

I had another colleague whose miserable time management meant that he was frequently hours late for business meetings – yet expected his staff to blow off their personal commitments to stay late so he could catch up. He was quick with a smile and small talk, but none of that overcame the resentment his team felt. The one thing they knew they could count on him to do: drop the ball.

Several lessons here: First, trust and respect exist when people can predict how you’ll behave. If you’re erratic, trust and respect aren’t possible.  Second, respecting your team’s time as if it were your own is one of the greatest relationship-building tools available for managers. It makes it possible to ask your team for the earth and get it – on those rare occasions when the situation demands it. But make everything a fire drill – and pretty soon, nothing matters.

The Worst Wellness Marketing Mistakes & Business Blunders

Here’s my laundry list of the most common mistakes, flawed assumptions and bad decisions made by health and wellness businesses:

1) Updating our website’s too expensive and takes too much time.

Like it or not, your website is the go-to place where potential customers learn about your services.

If it hasn’t been updated in a year (or two, or longer), what you’re really saying is “We can’t afford to let customers know we exist. We can’t spare the time to connect with potential customers.” And no, adding the Twitter and Facebook logos at the bottom of your home page doesn’t count as an update.

If you really don’t have the time or money, then it’s probably time to look at whether your business is truly viable.

Otherwise, create a clear strategy for what your site should say and do. Then, invite bids from site developers. Today’s websites are more affordable and easier to update than they’ve ever been, particularly when they’re built on top of a blog content-management platform like WordPress.

2) All we need’s Facebook and Twitter

So, so overrated for finding new clients and members.

3) Our search firm got us to the top of Google in three weeks!

At least, that’s what they’re telling you.

The real question is how many new site visitors you’re getting, and how many of them are responding to your call to action – signing up for your newsletter, watching a video, reading an article. And what it cost you to get those unique actions (divide what you paid your SEO consultant by the number of “next steps” visitors actually took).

4) We need (large number goes here) more customers in 30 days

Businesses who think this way are usually discounting themselves into an early grave. (See #8 below).

You can always buy more customers by dropping your prices. The important question is whether your business can make money at that price, and whether they’ll pay higher prices after that initial purchase.

5) Our services/programs are perfect for pretty much everyone

No, they really aren’t.

Your weight loss program is a home run for women with emotional eating problems. But that’s not every woman.

And what about guys? What works for them is usually quite different.

Not to mention cultural and ethnic differences, differences in what people are able and willing to pay, their receptiveness to online vs face-to-face programs, the unique concerns associated with a long list of chronic health conditions and on and on.

You can’t be everything to everybody.

6) We don’t want to focus on a niche, we can’t make enough money that way

Actually, it’s probably the only way you can make money. Different market segments have different needs. If you try to market to everyone, your message will be so generic that it doesn’t click with anyone.

Did I mention that you can’t be everything to everybody?

7) That looks great, but our name/logo should be bigger and at the top


8) That Groupon/daily deal campaign will get us tons of new clients!

Probably, but they’ll only visit once and you’ll lose money on them.

9) We would never use direct mail, email is all we need

Marketing is additive (not addictive). Sending one postcard, one email, and holding one public event is better than sending three emails. It’s more memorable and it gives you three different ways to catch a potential client’s eye.

Now, should you blindly send thousands of postcards to strangers? Certainly not.

More on postcard marketing and direct mail.

10) We’re going to stop using email, social media’s all we need

Social media – your blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. – are great for some things, wildly ineffective for others.

11) We desperately need more clients but we don’t want to change anything we’re doing

Well, I want world peace – but I don’t want to cancel my plans for this weekend.

If you want different results, you must change what you’re doing. You may need to overhaul your programs and services, raise or lower your pricing, target some customers and drop others, revisit your costs or rethink your marketing activities.

If you’re unhappy with your business results – but you’re pretty sure everything you’re doing is right – then your mindset will have to change first.

12) Building our own email list will take too long, we’ll just buy a list

Except that if you buy a list, it will be full of strangers who never heard of you and have zero interest in your services. Many will report your emails as spam and then you’ll have email delivery problems in the future.

 Here’s 50+ ways that your wellness business can build its own email lists.

13) We’ll do all our marketing ourselves (or have the admin/intern/virtual assistant do it)

And the guy who mows your lawn can probably fix your computer, too.

True, we all know how to write – but choosing the right words at the right time, in the right quantity, to influence and persuade people to buy your wellness services is a blend of art, science and experience.

Your virtual assistant may be a Microsoft Publisher or Photoshop whiz – that doesn’t mean they’re marketing strategy experts.

14) Let’s write some online reviews instead of waiting for customers to do it

Eek! First. It’s sleazy. Second. It nearly always sounds fake. Third. It’s much easier to get real customers to do it.

15) YouTube videos! Video postcards!

YouTube has lots of potential when it’s used intelligently as part of a coherent marketing strategy. But if it’s just standard exercise demos, or superficial nutrition or lifestyle tips, it’s not an effective marketing strategy.

And I’ve never seen a video postcard campaign that actually generated new customers.  Video has its place – usually, on your website, with links in newsletters or marketing emails or from social media. But just sending someone an email that literally says “Watch my video postcard!” is a dud.

16) Choosing a long business name/web address that can’t be easily shortened

This particular headache is very common among health and wellness businesses.

You end up with business names that are a mouthful for customers, email addresses that don’t fit on business cards, web addresses that are so long they’re hard to work with.

17) We just had another great idea!

That’s wonderful – because continually adding cool new stuff, improving what you’re already doing is truly a key to success.

Now, write it down, file that piece of paper and keep working on the stuff you already have in progress.

Jumping from one good idea to another – without ever bringing any of them to maturity – is not healthy for your business.

18) Our new improved program will save our business

I think it’s an occupational hazard. Health and wellness businesses are never done. They always see ways to improve the programs and services they offer clients.

That’s not a bad thing – unless it takes up all the oxygen in the room.

Many people think a great program or service is all it takes to succeed. But that’s really not true.

It’s just table stakes – it’s a necessary element, but it’s not all you need.

You’ve also got to be able to find paying customers for that program or service. And you’ve got to be able to deliver that service consistently with a price and cost structure that produce reliable profits.