This post is a little different than my normal fitness and health stuff. It’s a bit of a window into my world of entrepreneurship.

I think I’m stuck in a rut somewhere between paralysis by analysis and decision fatigue. Anyone else ever feel this way? For me it’s related to my business. I moved Custom Strength into a new and bigger home at the beginning of April, and it’s awesome. I’m so excited. So much potential. Hiring a new trainer, buying new equipment, adjusting our programming for the space, maybe offering classes, expanding marketing efforts, and I never really liked the old logo, so new space is a perfect time for a logo redesign. So fun and full of possibility. But then I sit down to look at my financial projections and budget. Stupid reality.

Expanding means equipment purchases, moving costs, paying first and last months rent ahead of time, paying for movers, taking on more than double the current rent I’m paying knowing that it will take a while to get my numbers up to a point where I can support that, which is particularly daunting over summer which has been a slower time historically. The hard truth is that financially this wasn’t a great time for me to expand. And I almost didn’t do it for that reason. But then I thought about how few great spots there are in West Centretown in Ottawa, which is where I wanted to stay, and I thought about staying in that same place for another year. I had to make this move work. And so I did, with two key moves:

  1. I decided that I’d expand by adding classes before I expand by adding more training. Classes requires less equipment, so I could put off some of the expansion costs.
  2. I reached out to some of my clients to help with financing, by offering them a discount on their training for the next 6 months or year in exchange for paying in advance.

The financing worked amazingly well, getting me to my target in about a day. That was one stress down. Regular banks could have been an option, but I’m still paying off some financial debt resulting from a previous business, which would complicate that. I limited the number of offers because I knew that this was really a loan against future revenues – which can be a dangerous step.

So I started to plan the addition of classes. This meant creating new content – I’m not one to show up and wing it. And then figuring out who would run the class – that needs a new trainer, but I could probably run a class on Monday night until I have someone. And then I thought about the Saturday conditioning class that we’d been running. It wasn’t very popular. Those who did go loved it, but I really didn’t do well at filling it. Meanwhile I was dragging my feet at pulling the trigger on the classes. And one day it hit me – I’m nervous about using classes as the primary means of growth. What if I can’t fill them? I wasn’t able to fill the Saturday classes. On the other hand, I know I can sell semi-private training. So that’s it – growth based on adding semi-private training instead of classes. Easy. Except I didn’t budget for that much equipment. I also didn’t budget for turf. Yes, I’ve decided that I want indoor turf in part of the space. It will be awesome. But definitely not inexpensive.

This might be the first time in my life that I’m avoiding Microsoft Excel. I used to love Excel. I’ve been a numbers geek since I was a kid. But now that I’m using it to create a layer of financial reality for my growth plans, I’m avoiding it like the plague. I spent the last month as a full fledged budget-denier. During that time, I picked out all the equipment that I want for the gym. It’s a pretty sweet list. It even includes indoor turf for a portion of my space. Yup, that sure would be nice. Unfortunately though, it’s not in my reality right now. And I start thinking back to some of the great advice I’ve received in the past. And one thing hit me:

Buying cool new equipment and adding turf is not going to bring in new clients or increase my revenue.

The truth is, Custom Strength is built on providing great training and a fun environment that makes people look forward to their next session. Sure, turf would be nice, but it won’t have much impact on my bottom line in terms of giving clients what they want and need, or in terms of meeting my revenue needs. It would be awesome, but not awesome enough to justify the cost. Or at least not now.

And so I am now redoing my equipment purchasing list, and each addition to the list must meet two criteria:

  1. Will it improve the training experience for my clients?
  2. Is it affordable now?

To kickstart this re-budgeting process, I spent some time at the gym yesterday just looking around. What do we need? What do we need more of? I took this picture so I could get a better perspective, and then I wrote in all the stuff we have.

The many toys of custom strength

I smiled. This is a pretty great gym set up, if I do say so myself. There’s room for improvement of course, but there’s really not a lot missing. And now I’m making my new list. It’s short and unsexy. But that’s what my budget can accommodate right now. I’m also keeping a list of equipment I’ll add in the fall, once revenues have caught up to the increased expenses. That’s a much sweeter list.  I’ll get there. But I’m not there now. Now is about necessity.

So this month, I will be buying:

  • an additional squat rack (a small one to go on one of the Olympic platforms)
  • another Rogue Bella bar (such an awesome bar!)
  • some more kettlebells and a few more weight plates
  • some floor mats for the back area
  • more airex pads (squishy mats for kneeling on)
  • another medicine ball, stability ball, and foam roller
  • another TRX and another TRX RIP trainer

And with that, we’ll be set to have more clients enjoying awesome training sessions with us.

What do you think? Is Custom Strength Strength missing anything? If you were me, what would you buy?


Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS, is the sometimes proud, sometimes stressed owner and head trainer at Custom Strength in Ottawa, Canada.


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