Stealing From Yourself

Here's a dirty little secret about business that I learned pretty quickly - most entrepreneurs and business owner's aren't nearly as financially successful as they appear to be. 

Early in my career I remember going to fitness conferences where we were regaled with stories how this or that business was producing record sales, had hundreds of training clients, and was moving into bigger and better real estate. Looking back now I don't remember profit ever being talked about, or how much the owner was actually taking home as pay.

The topic of owner's compensation remains a huge problem in most small business. It doesn't matter how much you are producing in sales if you are living in a van down by the river (RIP Chris Farley).

Here's the bottom line; the owner of a business needs to be paying themself a market-based wage. 

The simplest way I have found to determine what a market-based wage in your industry and for your role is to ask yourself this question:

"What would I have to pay someone else to do the job I do?"

market based wage stealing from yourself

If you aren't making that, you are stealing from yourself.

I get it. Your business in new and you can't afford to pay yourself that much - yet. You actually have an advantage over a more mature business, as you most likely don't have the overhead that comes with a lot of employees. You have more control of the situation, but you still need a plan to close the gap between your current salary and your market-based wage. And you need to be tracking all this.

Now to the "not so new" business owner. What is your deal anyway? Why do you continue to add overhead (more employees, fancier "stuff") and leave yourself scrambling for scraps?

Let me put it to you this way. You have a job opening in your company which is slotted for a salary of $75,000. You decide you want the job, but only if the owner (you) agrees to pay you (the employee) $30,000. How long do you think a new hire would be satisfied in their $75,000 role if they were only getting paid $30k? 

Why are you?

"But I'm NOT satisfied", you may be thinking. Then what are you doing about it? An owner who finds themself in this situation has some hard decisions to make, and too often just never gets around to making them. Getting serious about things like overhead, debt, and excess employees and wages is necessary for long term viability, not to mention your sanity.

But there is more to this than you just being your most underpaid employee, as bad as that is.

You are also severely devaluing your company. No matter the size of your business and how big you want to grow it, you need to think about the value of your business in the terms of an outside investor. Would I want to buy your business today? Why or why not? 

When I sold my first service based business its value was directly linked to "benefit to owner".

In other words, what could the new owner reasonably expect to draw as salary, profit distribution, and other wage related benefits after purchase? Numbers don't lie. Your business is going to be far less valuable, if not practically worthless, if you can't show you have been making good money.

And realistically, these are just a few things in the "market-based wage" discussion. There are potential tax implications in paying yourself too little (in the eyes of the IRS). From a practical standpoint, if you can't pay yourself General Manager money, how will you afford to hire a GM and have anything left over for you? 

You wouldn't put up with an employee stealing from you. How long will you put up stealing from yourself?

The first step to paying yourself a market-based wage is actually sitting down and doing the work of defining what roles you are currently filling and how much they are worth. What's the number you came up with? What's the gap between that number and what you are currently paying yourself? What are you going to do about it?

And one more pet peeve. You are just fooling yourself if you aren't adding in Owner's Compensation when you calculate your net income and margins. As we discussed before, the value of the business is related to how much benefit it is creating for you as the owner. An audit will reveal that. But beyond that, what would your net income be if you were paying yourself a market-based wage? I have seen margins drop below zero if you run those numbers. Not cool, and dangerous to the health and long-term viability of your company.

Actions Steps:

  • Calculate your market-based wage, and your wage gap. 
  • When you calculate net income, make sure you are adding in Owner's Pay. For instance if you are an LLC and take draws, that won't usually show up on your P&L.
  • Calculate your net income again, this time using your calculated market-based wage. How do things look now?
  • Formulate a plan to close the wage gap, and track your progress monthly.

Fit Pros: Earn CEU’s with this Cash Management Course

If you are a fitness professional you need accrue CEU's on a regular basis to keep your certification current. One of the very positive trends that many certifying bodies are adopting is allowing business courses to be CEU eligible. All the technical knowledge in the world on health, fitness and nutrition does the fitness entrepreneur and business owner very little good if they can't actually make a profit and stay in business.

My course "Maximize Your Profit Starting NOW", co-created with Jane Curth of, not only will help you understand the basics of a good cash management system in order to increase profitability, but you will also earn CEU's upon completion. A win-win for sure. Enroll now and get your knowledge on!

CEU Recertification Course: Maximize Your Profit Starting NOW

CEUs-NASM: 0.2; ISSA: 2.0; NCCPT: 0.2; NAFC: 0.2; ACSM: 2.0

Can you really make money in the fitness business? If you have ever asked yourself that question this course will help you gain the confidence and peace of mind that success is not only possible, but probable, when you have a winning cash management system in place. We will identify the common obstacles fitness entrepreneurs face, and examine why what you have been taught about business finance may actually be the root of the problem. You will then learn a step-by-step system that leverages the habits and behaviors you already have to manage your cash easily, create profit immediately, and grow your company more quickly.

Fitness Business, MRC, Dean Carlson, Jane Curth

Who Needs A Cash Management System?

First of all let’s get this off the table.

Accounting and Cash Management are not the same thing, nor does having a cash management system in place mean you don’t need to keep your books in good order.

Thankfully good accounting software, bookkeepers, and accountants exist. I look at accounting this way; it is necessary for me to maintain legal requirements, such as paying my taxes. It provides records that allow me build a credit history for my business. When I sold one of my businesses, the fact that we kept immaculate records eased the process of valuation and allowed us to prove what the business was worth. Accounting also summarizes business performance into quantifiable measures – sales revenue, profit, expenses, etc.

Well if it does all that, what else could I possibly need?

Here’s the main problem with accounting. It wasn’t designed for humans, it was designed for rational, number crunching robots (eg. Accountants)


For mere mortals like you and me, accounting fails miserably. For example when you look at your Profit and Loss Statement, and it shows you made, say, $7500 in profit this month, it doesn’t always square with the reality of what is in your checking account, right now.

How can that be?

Because you already found a way to spend it, that’s how. And that just means you are human.

The reason I love (no, that’s not too strong a word) the Profit First cash management system is because it works WITH human behavior, not against it.

By allocating my profit FIRST, in a separate account from my primary checking, it doesn’t get caught up in the “backwash” of my (over)spending, which is what we all tend to do too much of.

Remember Parkinson’s Law?

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

In other words, if we are given 30 days to complete a project we will take 30 days. If we are given 7 days to complete the same project, we will figure out how to get it done in those 7 days.

The same thing applies to your finances. If we have $500, we will spend it. If we have $1000, we will figure out how to spend the extra $500, even if we don’t really need to.

By putting away my Profit FIRST (that extra $500) I am using behavioral psychology in my favor. Out of sight, out of mind, and no longer in my account to spend.

The same applies to the other core accounts in our cash management system; Owner’s Pay and Taxes. The best way to make sure I pay myself and have the money to pay the Taxman is to be putting it away BEFORE I have a chance to spend it on other things. The biggest benefit to this is the peace of mind that comes with earning a regular paycheck and keeping taxes up to date.

Once we have those things taken care of – profit, paying ourselves, and taxes, then and only then do we address our operating expenses. This forces you to think hard about every spending decision. You have to get serious about streamlining processes and systems to produce the same or more quantity and quality of work, with less resources. This is a GOOD thing, because it’s going to make you more money.

So who needs a cash management system?

Business owners and entrepreneurs that struggle to understand their basic cash flow, don’t want to waste time poring over accounting reports (and/or don’t know what they are looking at when they do), and those who lack discipline in their spending. Yeah, that’s pretty much everyone, including me.

If you haven’t read the book Profit First, you can get the first two chapters for free right here, and get started on your permanently profitable business today.

How Taxing was Tax Season For You?

file taxes

One of the most stressful times of the year for many business owners is "tax season" - that frustrating period of time between about the end of January and middle of April, when your accountant or tax preparer is performing some kind of alchemy on all the receipts, documents and records you sent them from the past year, coming up with your tax bill for the year.

And You?

You spend that period of time hoping and praying (and maybe doing a lot of sweating) that you don't owe a bunch. Because you don't have any extra cash just lying around waiting to send to the government.

I've been there. 

And it's not always about just sticking your head in the sand and hoping that taxes just get abolished so you don't have to pay them. One of the big mysteries surrounding taxes for me was how to know if I was putting away enough as our business scaled. We grew really fast over the period of three or four years, and the privilege of earning more is you get to "contribute" more to the tax man.

And while you aren't going to get out of paying your taxes, April 15th (or 30th my Canadian friends) doesn't have to turn you into a stress monster every year. 

Implementing the Profit First Method in your business will ensure that will not be left scrambling at the end of the year coming up with money you don't have to pay a tax bill you don't really want to, but have to. You can delay paying your vendors, or yourself, but the tax man is GOING to get his. 

NOW is the time to get your tax situation settled for next year, and once and for all. 

Contact me today and let's get working on getting your taxes taken care of for next year, as well as creating your permanently profitable business.

Let's Do This!


Do You Need To Change Your Mind About Money?

personal fitness professional

Over the last several years, the fitness industry has begun to understand how important mindset is to helping people achieve lasting change. We work hard to understand our client’s motivations, then assist them in overcoming obstacles, real and perceived. We pour our hearts into coaching each one to become the best version of themselves; mind, body and soul. Did you ever think about how we got here? When simply knowing how to coach sets and reps become inadequate?

Filling the “mindset gap” in fitness coaching started happening when we realized we can write the best training programs and our clients don’t consistently show up. We can craft healthy and balanced nutrition plans, and they keep hitting the drive-thru. We can faithfully teach stress reduction techniques and the importance of adequate sleep, only to have our clients drag in the next morning after the latest binge watch.

Until a client changes their mind, it’s hard to change their health and fitness. As fitness professionals, we tend to be exactly the same way, but in a different brain space. We have a serious “mindset gap” when it comes to money, as we often struggle to reconcile our true value in the marketplace with our self-perception of that value.

Problem: We think we don’t deserve money. Because fit pros tend to be caring, selfless, generous people, we settle for earning less while giving more.

Solution: Accept that you provide one of the most valuable services on earth. You create healthy and happy human beings. Pay yourself first, every month, no exceptions.

Problem: We equate money with greed. We are bombarded with stories of corrupt businessmen and unethical businesses, and we don’t want to be viewed that way.

Solution: Conduct your business honestly, every time. If you make a mistake with a client’s billing, fix it right away. The reward is trust.

Problem: We don’t know how to manage money. Even when we see steady sales growth, we have no idea where all our money goes every month. Shouldn’t more sales mean I have more cash in the bank?

Solution: Implement a cash management system. Adopt a structure that allows you to know your cash position at a glance, anytime, anywhere. Be intentional, understand that money is a tool to be used, then use it wisely.

Changing your “money mindset” is possible, but just like your clients, you have to put in the work!

This article first appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Personal Fitness Professional Magazine. 

The Top 5 Tips to Get Your Gym “Fiscally Fit”

As a fitness professional, you are a world changer. You do some of the most important work on the face of the earth; you create happy and healthy by helping people move better, perform better, look better, and probably most importantly, feel better. You are a superstar.

But, you say, if the work I do is so important and so many people need it, why am I struggling to get ahead? Why aren’t I making what I am worth? Why can’t I seem to attract the people who need me into my business? Why do more sales never seem to add up to more money in my bank account? I love what I do, but all this “stuff” always just seems to get in the way.

I get it, because I have been there. The good news is all these questions and all these current challenges you are facing absolutely have answers and are solvable. But be prepared to do the work. There are many parallels between Physical Fitness and Fiscal Fitness.

Imagine your clients who want to lose weight or get stronger. They aren’t going to lose 50 pounds of body fat or gain 100 pounds on their bench press in a month. And just like them, it’s going to take you time and effort to build the business of your dreams.

Let’s take a look at what five successful fitness business entrepreneurs and coaches who know what it takes to build a “Fiscally Fit” business have to say about it.

The Top 5 Tips to Fiscal Fitness

Tip 1: Learn How To Scale and Build A Team

Doug Spurling, President and Founder of Spurling Fitness, and author of “One Percent Better” knows the power of building a great team. “If you are a one man or woman operation you are always going to be capped at how much you can make, because you’re trading time for money” he explains. “In order to scale and make more, you have to build a really solid team.”

Spurling outlines his 3-step approach:

  • Get clear on your vision. How big of a business do you want? How many team members? Biggest is not always better, and there's no right answer but we need to know that first.
  • Hire people that complement each other. Don't hire a bunch of duplicates of you. Become very clear on what your unique abilities are and hire the areas that are not those.
  • Be a student of leadership. Building your team, leading your team, is all about giving them the support they need and being seen more as a "mentor" and not a boss.

Doing this allows you to be tied to the business, it allows you to scale your time, make more money, and have more personal freedom.

Tip 2: Learn How To Be An Effective Marketer

Ryan Ketchum is the Executive Director of Fitness Revolution, whose company provides business coaching programs to fitness studio owners who want to scale their business.

Ketchum sees the number one challenge preventing fitness business owners from making more money as effective marketing, and an overall marketing strategy.

Ketchum analyzes the problem this way. “There's a wide range of issues revolving around marketing that I see, and it's not just for beginner fit business owners.  Specifically, fitness business owners don't have a strategic marketing plan that they can use to bring in new leads and then scale their marketing efforts when needed.” He then points out the problem. “Instead of a calculated approach to marketing, many fitness business owners perform random acts of marketing when they have time or when they think about it.”

Ketchum advises the strategic marketing plan be comprised of the following elements; Identifying your Ideal client, Identifying and communicating what makes your fitness business different, simplifying your marketing message, and a marketing calendar.

“Marketing cannot be treated as a side project in your business.” Ketchum warns. “It needs to exist as one of your responsibilities as a fitness business owner, with time dedicated every day to market.”

Tip 3: Track Your Numbers

Mark Fisher operates his ultra-successful “Ninja Clubhouse”, Mark Fisher Fitness, in one of the most competitive environments in the world, New York City.

Fisher says that tracking your numbers is the best way to know why or why not you are making the profit you want.

“If you don't have some kind of dashboard and you're just looking at how much money you have in the bank, you don't know where the issues are. Is it not enough top-of-funnel leads? Is the sales process wonky? Are people signing up but leaving because your services are subpar? Are you simply spending too much of the money coming in?” He goes on to say “A related point is that if you're not tracking, you don't know if you're off-track on any of your target numbers until it's too late.”

Fisher advises to keep it simple. “Just start tracking something. Pick 5-8 numbers, put them in a spreadsheet, and figure out how to track them on a weekly basis.”

Tip 4: Don’t Focus Solely on Facebook

Michael Keeler created “Business for Unicorns” with Fisher in 2016. Michael is a Certified Life and Business Coach, works with many of the leading fitness studios in the US and UK, and counts among his clients Sony Music and Sylvan Learning.

Keeler sees the number one challenge holding fitness business owners back from making more money as “the belief that Facebook is the holy grail of lead generation.”

He says that while some people can find great success with advertising on social media, “for brick and mortar studio owners Facebook marketing is not the only option” and encourages them to “invest in other lead generation strategies like client referrals programs, community workshops, business partnerships, and local advertising”, which he helps them do through his coaching.


Implementing even one of the tips above is a sure-fire way to create and increase cash flow into your business, and when properly managed, increased cash flow will equal increased profits. Which leads me right into Tip #5.

Tip 5: Get Clarity by Using A Cash Management System

When I owned Get Fit NH the number one benefit we saw from putting a cash management system into our business (Profit First is what we adopted and use) was clarity.

Why is this important?

Because nothing gives me more peace of mind and the ability to sleep at night than by knowing where your cash is and how it is being used, any time and at all times.

Here’s what implementing a good cash management system does:

  • Let’s you know at a glance how much money you have and where it’s going.
  • Ensures you have enough money set aside to pay taxes
  • Allows you to pay yourself what you are worth and feel good about it.
  • Provides a system for keeping your operating expenses in check.
  • Builds in an action plan to get and stay out of debt.
  • Establishes permanent profitability from day one.

Creating a more profitable business is not magic, any more than weight loss or strength training is. You are skilled at identifying the gaps in your client’s nutrition and training plans, then implementing a system to fill in those gaps so they can reach their goal.

Start building your “fiscal fitness” by carefully evaluating these five tips and choosing just one to implement in your business. Again, it’s like your weight loss client. You wouldn’t tell him five things to do at once, you would work on one habit at a time. Once that skill is built, you move on and layer the next highest priority in.

And remember, nothing happens unless you take action. Open your mind to the possibility that you can and will be more profitable; permanently profitable, and then do something about it.  The world needs you to succeed, so let’s make it happen!

What Are Your Expectations?

Seth is spot on here. 

In his blog post Relentlessly lowering expectations he writes:

"Over time, we embrace the pretty good memo or the decent leadership moment, because it’s so much better than we feared."

You will never get ahead by doing what "normal" people do to fit in or be accepted, or by accepting mediocre because it's better than it could have been.

Don't settle.

Is Expense Drift Killing Your Profitability?

expense drift

When is the last time you took a look at EVERY expense associated with running your business? A week? A month? A year?


If it's been over 3 months, it's time to dig in and take a look.


Because of a common occurrence I call "expense drift".

These tend to be smaller monthly expenses that are easy to overlook or ignore. It's easier to focus on the big expense items; rent, payroll, utilities. After are those are core to running our business.

Where "expense drift" comes in is with the smaller items it's easy to overlook or think don't really matter. Usually these things are on auto-payment. We just get used to seeing them on our statement every month, but never take the time to figure out how much they are really costing us. An easy example might be a magazine subscription no one reads anymore, or a membership to an online forum you haven't visited in 2 years. One example from a client out in Michigan was their towel service. They got a great deal when they signed up, only to realize  over the last couple of years they were paying triple!

You'll also want to take a look at things like merchant account fees, and insurances. These things can and should be negotiated. As your business grows and you establish better credit, give your merchant services provider a call and see what they will do. It could save you hundreds or even thousands every year.

I coach our clients to perform an expense audit every quarter, and provide the recording tools as part of the Fit For Profit OS. The first time through can take awhile, but once we establish a quarterly rhythm it only takes a short time to keep up on it.

Here's what to do:

Write down the product or service, how often you get billed for it, and the cost, then categorize the expense in one of 4 ways:

  • P = expense that directly generates profit
  • R = necessary expense, but could be replaced with a less expensive alternative
  • D = desirable (e.g. we want it) but not necessary for delivering our core offering(s)
  • U = unnecessary for delivering our core offering(s)

Eliminate all your "U's" and replace all your "R's" with less expensive alternatives.

Thinking it's not worth the hassle?

Let's say you do this and save $1000 this quarter. If your Profit Margin is 15%, you would have had to sell over $6500 in additional products and/or services over that time to come out ahead. For some reading this that might be easy, but for others not so much. Regardless, your business will become instantly more profitable by taking action and getting your expense audit done.

Stop your expense drift starting today. Your profits will be glad you did.

Revenue Is Vanity, Profit Is Sanity

No doubt we need to make sales, but the pursuit of top line growth for growth sake really is vanity. It's not JUST about how much you make. What you can KEEP is more important.

Contrary to a lot of the noise out there, this has nothing to do with being a greedy business owner. It is the ultimate in corporate responsibility to manage your cash flow well, so you have the resources to invest back into your team, your clients, and your community.

How are YOU making this happen?

- DC

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