How many of you are swim coaches? Looks unanimous. How many of you are paid swim coaches? Still pretty unanimous. How many of you are professional swim coaches – and by that I mean you derive all, or substantially all, of your livelihood from coaching swimmers? I notice that there are fewer hands up there now. How many of you plan to be swim coaches the rest of your career? Alright, even fewer. How many of you expect to be able to raise families, house them in comfort and security or drive SUV’s, put kids through college, take the family on long luxurious vacations, retire in a manner in which you wish t become accustomed and do that on your swim coaches income – looking pretty bleak.
Are swim coaches professionals? Webster defines a profession as a vocation or an occupation requiring advanced education and training and involving intellectual skills – such as medicine, law, accounting, architecture, engineering, teaching, etc. I think you will agree with me that swim coaching, in every sense of the word, meets Webster’s definition.
Do our economic expectations differ from that of other professionals? I suspect that we would see a different show of hands to the questions I asked a moment ago if we asked professionals in those other disciplines. Your typical doctor, lawyer or accountant would likely have his hand up on even the last question.
Why do we become coaches? There is a nearly unanimous sentiment amongst the coaches that I come in contact with that the reason we get into coaching is because we enjoy the challenges of our profession and we enjoy working with people – and I find that refreshing.
But then why do we leave the profession? Money. We find that many coaches determine, after a period of time, that they are just not able to make enough money in this profession to justify continuing to do it, particularly once they begin to have families. I find this discouraging. So that begs a question – should we expect to be able to make professional incomes doing what we do? My wife has a coffee mug and it says, “I don’t believe the world owes me a living, but for I make it sure owes me an apology.” I used to have that attitude about swimming for a period of time and I kind of resigned myself to never really making a great income in my profession. But then I held my first-born son in my arms and I realized that my financial situation simply had to change – either that or my line of work had to change.
So, over the last eight years I have made an intense investigation into upgrading the rewards of pursuing my profession. My experiences in the last eight years tell me that, yes, we can expect to make a professional income in doing this. But that experience also tells me that we are likely to have to do things differently than some other people have, and perhaps differently that we have done in the past. And this experience tells me that it is largely a matter of attitude and action whether we swim coaches are going to make good money doing what we do.
There is a book entitled “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey. How many of you have all read that? Excellent. The first time I ever asked that question there was only one hand that went up in the group. I think that is perhaps the most important book I have read as pertains to swim coaching and I don’t think there is a word in it about swim coaching. One of the things Covey talks about is the difference between a “scarcity mentality” and an “abundance mentality”. Swim coaches in this country have been approaching the sport of swimming with a scarcity mentality. By that I mean that we act as though there are not enough swimmers out there to fuel our programs. There is not enough money in the pipeline to prime the pump of expansion and economic enhancement. We think and act as though there are a limited number of customers for our services and then we run our programs that way. But I challenge you to step out of that thought pattern and I challenge you to adapt an abundance mentality. Assume that there are no boundaries to the program growth. Assume there are no boundaries to economic enhancement and assume there are no boundaries to the length of your career and the quality of your life and that of your family.
Hypothetically what if I could point you in a direction of potentially doubling or tripling the size of your program on a short-term and then perhaps making it ten-fold as large on a long-term – would that change the way you think about your future as a swim coach – both competitively and financially? I think you would agree with me that we could all afford to look at swimming with an abundance mentality in the face of that kind of a situation. Now most of you are aware of some of the successes some of the entrepreneurs in this business have had. Jerry Rodriguez at UCLA with the Bruins program has somewhere in the vicinity of 250 swimmers. Kerry O’Brien, you just heard about his program and in a little while you are going to hear about Mel’s program – he has got somewhere in the vicinity of 400 swimmers. Davis Aquatic Masters with 400 dues paying swimmers. Jim Montgomery and Bobby Patton in Dallas with more than 400 and Clay Evans’ SCAQ Team has 900 swimmers paying 50 bucks a month on average – this man is my hero. Now these are just a few of the larger adult programs in the country. There are more than fifty USMS clubs that have more than 200 swimmers. These coaches certainly demonstrate the abundance mentality.
Close your eyes a minute and I want you to think what it would be like to have a couple of hundred swimmers show up on your pool deck tomorrow willing and eager to join the workout. Better yet, they all arrive with a swimming background. All of them can swim all four strokes, they know how to read a pace clock and they can circle swim in a lane. It would be nice wouldn’t it? I warn you, they are probably out of shape. You can’t have perfection, right? I am of course talking about ex-competitive swimmers – adults who were brought up swimming – either AAU or USS or YMCA or summer league or summer camp or high school or, or, or. There are a lot of different places people get competitive swimming backgrounds. If we add up all the people who have participated in AAU and USS Swimming over the last forty years we have a total that is very conservatively in the vicinity of four million experienced swimmers out there in the real world between the ages of 20 and 60. And if we extend that number a bit into the future for another decade we can extrapolate another very conservative estimate of over six million experienced swimmers between the ages of 20 and 70 by the year 2012. Now, I say these are very conservative estimates because they totally overlook people who have come by their swimming experience through YMCA swim teams, summer leagues, summer teams, summer camps and so on. These are much harder numbers to come by so I haven’t counted those at all. The real data that I have leads me to believe that the true totals might be double or triple the four to six million dollar conservative estimates that I gave for experienced swimmers out there in our country.
I want to take a look at the potentials that we have, based on these estimates. If we assume that every one of the roughly 500 existing Masters clubs begins to actively pursue growth – I mean beat the bushes for every swimmer that they can get a hold of – and are competing tooth and nail for these – we have roughly 8,000 experienced swimmers out there to go around for each one of those clubs and a decade from now there will be something like 12,000 swimmers available per club. In a military lexicon this is referred to as a target rich environment so I am talking about abundance mentality.
Let’s take a look at the economic scope of this. Four million experienced, potentially re-enlistable swimmers, assuming monthly dues of $50 per swimmer, this represents an annual 2.5 billion dollar potential market. And that is just workout fees. When you add up all the money that gets spent in well run programs by avid participants – things like equipment purchases, one-on-one coaching fees, clinics, fund raisers, competitions, logo-based merchandising, affinity merchandising etc. and multiply that by our four million candidate swimmers we have, conservatively, a five billion plus annual potential market right now.
Now it may seem that I might be overestimating a bit the ease with which we might go out and suck all those swimmers into our programs. I once sat down with my little brother with a picture from our old AAU team in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We used the internet to contact seven out of the 24 people that we could actually recall names for. We didn’t have any names on the picture. We just had to go by recollection and guess at what their names were spelled, but we were able to contact seven of them. Later on I did the same thing with my high school yearbook. Out of that one we were able to contact 26 out of 41 swimmers using just a computer and just a couple of search engines. Now out of that 31 ex-swimmers we contacted 17 still lived within a hundred miles of where they were born and brought up. They still lived essentially in the same towns where they started out – 17 out of 31. So lets get creative. Do you think that armed with old club rosters and high school yearbooks that you might be able to quickly contact a goodly percentage of swimmers that have participated in organized swimming in your area? You can go down to any high school and almost all high schools will have yearbooks going back years and years and years in their library. Check one out. Try it for yourself. The internet is a great thing. You can contact almost anyone.
Those 31 swimmers that I contacted – of that group, without exception, those who had children either had them in swimming programs or planned to enroll them in swimming when they were old enough. I will bet that over 50% of the parents in your local kids programs have some sort of swimming background and you are just not aware of it yet because you haven’t asked. An even more telling statistic of this highly unscientific poll was the fact that only two out of the 31 that we contacted had any knowledge of Masters swimming. What that tells me is that the vast majority of those four million experienced swimmers who ostensibly already have a warm spot in their heart for our sport are clueless that we exist. Now that is not their fault – that is ours, but we can to start to fix that for the future.
Okay, so you don’t buy that you could pull in all 8,000 swimmers that are out there just ready and waiting for your program? I don’t blame you. And you don’t even buy that you have a good shot at getting 1/10th of that; I don’t agree, but I will play along. Lets suppose you look to the future decide to align your program with a kids program. Maybe you and your swimmers help out at occasional meets. You provide some funds for the occasional pace clock or lane lines. Maybe come in and help in the cleanup day around the facility. What you are trying to do is endear your program to theirs and then perhaps you can schedule workouts so that the kids cannot help but see that there are parents – there are adults – there are people who are swimming after childhood. Maybe you get a small corner of the team’s newsletter and you can insert blurbs and keep adult swimming in the plain view of the kids. Perhaps you get other coaches in the kids program and you negotiate the opportunity to have mixer workouts where you have kids and adults in the pool altogether – perhaps even competitions like that. Maybe you even have one day each season where you make a 15 minute or 30 minute presentation to the kids team about their options for swimming after they get out of college. Of course, your expectation through this whole process is that once a person has been through senior swimming and gone to college – whether they were swimming or not – that they are going to understand that, as adults, there is still a place for them in the swimming world. And that those that stay in your area – what program do you think they are going to come back to? Do you think they are going to go to somebody else’s or are they going to come looking for you? If this sounds like a long-shot, demographic experts will tell us that over 60% of Americans stay or return to within 100 miles of where they grew up or spent their adolescent years and that certainly proved true in the sample that we had. They can all be in our programs eventually but it is up to you and I to do the educating – to get the word out to them that there really is swimming after 20. I am still talking about an abundance mentality.
I said earlier that Clay Evans is one of my heroes in this business, and a program like his proves it is quite possible to run big teams and have big incomes as a result of putting lots and lots of swimmers in a pool, but that scenario was not for everyone. I used to run a large program – we offered 26 workouts in a week in three different and sometimes four different pools. I had a coaching staff. I had an office staff. However, over the last eight years I have opted to run a much smaller workout program. I just run four workouts a week now, but at the same time I have been tapping into a bunch of other pipelines of cash that still involve swimming and I am going to share with you three of those that I have been building over the last eight years. Some of you have already been dabbling in some of these, but I found that each one can be a much bigger moneymaker than I ever expected, and purely as a result of running them in the right way. As I have developed each of these aspects of my business I have kept a careful eye on three things: The resources that each endeavor requires, the value of the product to the end-user and then finally the financial reward due to the coach.
For over twenty years I have been involved in running swim clinics for kids and adults of virtually every ability level. Throughout that time I have come to understand that the most valuable portion of any swim clinic – both valuable to the coach and valuable to the swimmer – is when you shoot videotape and give feedback based on the videotape that you can both see at the same time. In my H2Ouston Swims business I offer four types of fee-paid video analysis service. Our first one is what we call Private Video. This is one-on-one with a client. It is essentially an extension of swim lessons that I offer – I just use video when we do it. I am going to go into that a little bit more in depth in a few minutes.
Another service is Group Video – this is where we sign up a maximum of 12 swimmers ahead of time by email for a session that runs on Saturday right after our Saturday morning practice. After practice I videotape two lengths of either a stroke or a drill and its turn, whatever the swimmer wants, and then I go through a formal, but short analysis and entertain questions from the group of the swimmers. I give them five minutes of analysis each and when you add that up it ends up to be about two hours total from the time that I load in my equipment until the time that I load out my equipment. I market this to the general public on an average of once every two weeks. The cost is $25 for each participant and the potential profit is $300 per session and if you run just 20 of these sessions in a year you can boost your income by $6,000.
Our next scenario is Project Video. This is where I take signups by email for a maximum of six swimmers and it is for a 20-minute intensive video session. The swimmer gets to take home a VHS tape of the entire analysis – everything that we said – everything that we showed on the video – stop action, slow mo, questions that they asked, answers that I gave. We charge $75 a person for this. Profit potential is $375 in a two-hour session after expenses and if you run just twelve of these sessions in a year you can boost your annual income by 4500 dollars.
And now we’ve added Postal Video: this is my latest gig – it is my most profitable gig. This is roughly the same as Project Video except people send me the videotape by mail and then I return the analysis to them on a VHS tape – again by mail. The cost is $75 per submission with expenses of around $5 for postage and the return tape that I send back. Each submission takes 20 minutes to service so the profit potential if you have got a few of these is $200 an hour. Best of all, I can service this at any time of my choosing. My personal favorite time is 4 o’clock in the morning. My wife is still asleep. My kids are still asleep. The phone doesn’t ring and it gets my brain in gear to get ready to go run morning workout. If you service just three submissions a week – three tapes a week – you can add an additional $10,000 to your annual income.
While all four of these scenarios require some investment and equipment it is entirely feasible to get started for under $200. If you want to know more about making money with video services be sure to be here tomorrow morning. I am going to go into a bunch more depth about how you can really make money just on the video aspect.
I have a website. I have a lot of articles posted and a forum section where I answer questions so it gets a fair amount of traffic from all over the world and as a result of this I have almost by accident collected a base of long-distance consultation clients with whom I communicate by email, telephone and video tape. This is not a portion of my business that I really marketed in any way. It simply comes as a result of people contacting me, asking questions and eventually opting to retain me, and my services, on an ongoing basis. My arrangement with these clients is on a pre-paid retainer basis to cover my hourly rate plus expenses if any. The typical scenario is where the client wants personalized workouts written for their training and in the case of triathletes this often requires consultation with other coaches whether it is a triathlon coach or a running and cycling coach – just to coordinate what kind of work loads they are doing. Clients want to be able to ask questions via the email with the expectation of a rapid response and I guarantee at most a 24-hour turnaround except on certain blackout dates. When I am home during the day I am almost always in front of the computer, unless I am with my kids, and questions will come in and sometimes I can answer them in just a couple of minutes. I will also respond to chat prompts from these clients. Most of these clients also send me videotapes to analyze and generally these arrangements will include occasional phone consultations. All of the time that is spent on the client’s behalf – whether it is analyzing their videotape or talking to them on the phone or typing responses to their questions on email – all of that is billed to them in five minute increments against their retainer. Each client is quite different in his or her needs so that we work as a team to determine the right mix of two-way communication. Every situation is unique. I think that there is a large untapped market for such services – especially in foreign countries where coaching is tough to come by. Any of you that are multi-lingual – there is just an awesome opportunity here. We are talking abundance mentality.
What if I told you that you could add another 40 thousand dollars a year or more in your spare time? What would that do to your lifestyle? Think of a business that requires no inventory – no selling – no employees – no paper work. A business where you set your own hours and meet lots of people with similar interests – kind of sounds like an Amway presentation doesn’t it?
Throughout my coaching career, I have been asked for one-on-one instruction. How many of you do the occasional swim lesson? Almost everybody. What do you charge? (lots of answers from the audience) With the exception of two over here you all are grossly undercharging and you two may be undercharging too. A long time ago I was doing lessons – not because I wanted to but because I am one of those people can’t say “no”. If somebody comes up to me and says, “Coach, will you help me with my freestyle?” I can’t say no and that is part of why I am a swim coach. Usually they would catch me while I was at workout in the evening and I would say “Okay, after workout is over I can work with you” and I would charge the going rate – 25 or 30 bucks or whatever it was for a lesson. That kind of extended my day and it really wasn’t a whole lot of money and I wasn’t really excited about it and in fact the next time they were coming back I would be looking at my watch during workout and going “I hope my lesson doesn’t show up.” But still, if they came to me I couldn’t say “no” so here is what I figured – I figured I will make it so that they will say “no”. I will raise my price. I will quote them a price that they are not going to accept. So the next guy that came to me I said “Sure, I will take a lesson – it costs 50 bucks” and thinking there was no way that he was going to take that, right? He says “Fine – when and where?” Man, that is not the answer I wanted to hear so I was still in the swim lesson business. So I got smart – I thought okay, I run morning workouts too – here is what I can do. The next guy that calls I say “It costs 50 bucks and you got to be there at 5 o’clock in the morning and we got to finish by the time my workout shows up at 6.” He says, “Okay – where?” Damn – still in the swim lesson business.
So, over a period of time I kept raising the price up and raising the prices up and raising the price up – you know what – my price is high enough now – I am excited about doing swim lessons. I like the swim lesson business. The swim lesson business has been good to me. Now I will admit that I have been accused of being a bit aggressive – perhaps even confiscatory in my pricing scheme, but I am going to lay it out for you here and I am not suggesting that you charge what I charge but I just wanted to give you an idea of what is working on a day to day basis consistently and it has been doing that for a while. If you come to me for a swimming lesson at one of my extremely convenient (for me) times at one of my extremely convenient (for me) locations then you get my basic rate of 125 bucks. That is for 45 minutes. I quote it as 45 minutes, but it takes an hour because there is that relationship building time on either side. If you want a lesson at some other time you pay extra. If you want me to travel to you – you pay extra. If you show up late that comes out of your time and if you don’t practice between lessons I won’t take another lesson with you. They have to do their part. I am doing my part – they’ve got to do theirs. My cancellation policy is darn near predatory – I don’t have a frequent swimmer plan. I do have a simple guarantee however – if for any reason whatsoever you are not totally satisfied you owe me nothing. In the entire period of time I have ever been doing this I have only ever had one guy take me up on that. Two weeks later he called and wanted to book another lesson – I said, fool me once man –not twice. He was scamming me the first time, but he got enough information that he had to have more. He came back. He apologized. He paid for the lesson he scammed me on. He paid for the lesson he wanted to do and six more in advance so I said “Okay, you’re forgiven.”
My typical customer does anywhere from 4-10 weekly lessons with me, depending on where they are starting and where they want to end up. And then after that they go on monthly brush-ups and I have also got two weekly regulars – I mean every single week, like clock work and that is now going on 5 ½ years. I do a maximum of ten lessons a week. I do no more than three in a day, otherwise my brain just gets entirely fried. My calendar is usually booked two weeks solid – for two weeks out and then I got a bunch more that are in advance and I have got some clients that have got stuff scheduled literally through the next year.
Now, it may sound like I want you to think that I am kind of special – but quite the contrary – I am only recounting what I am doing because I am absolutely convinced that any knowledgeable and communicative coach could do just as well, if not better. A goodly number of coaches that I have been in contact with over a period of time have done precisely that – some are in this room. They have raised their rates and fond that it really works. Have you guys found that as you raised your rates the number of people that came to you went up or down? UP! – that has been the experience that I have had too. Now I more or less lucked into what I am doing. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been charging a whole lot more a whole lot sooner. If you average ten adult lessons a week at a hundred dollars a pop for 40 weeks – notice I just gave you 12 weeks of vacation – 40 weeks out of the year, you can make an extra 40,000 dollars and 40% of that is going to come in untraceable, unmarked 20’s and 50’s. Did I mention that I have an abundance mentality?
Now I can’t help continuing to look for the next place to add to my bottom line and I am going to talk to you very briefly about two areas that I have started working with that I think over a period of time are going to be very good to me, but I haven’t quite figured out exactly how to work them, maybe you guys can give me some ideas. The first one is instruction for prospective Navy SEALs. There seems to be a network out there of prospective SEAL candidates. They want to improve swimming skills in general and in particular they want to learn how to do something called combat sidestroke. There are actually some videos out on the market where you can buy it and see what combat sidestroke looks like and as a swimming coach you can take a look at what a lot of them have been trained to do over the years and you can look at that go “Wow- I can fix THAT.” In fact the newest combat sidestroke that is being used by the SEALS was actually devised by a Total Immersion coach. I had one client initially, two years ago, that came to me for help with this and since then I have got a bunch of business based purely on referrals from him and then from subsequently referred people that I have worked with. This group is a real treat to work with. They are supremely motivated adults. They will do literally whatever it takes to become successful. I think it is just a function of when does it become known that services of this nature are available. The thing that I find from all of them is that to find an instructor seems to be almost impossible and so that they are very, very grateful to find someone who is willing to even take a look at working with something different. And it is really not that different. The dynamics of movement through the water are no different for them than they are for us – they just have some constraints that we don’t or they have different constraints than we do. Now I am not sure how big this market is, but I think it is going to be fun to explore.
Another area that I have started to get into is that I have a nucleus of my swimmers now who are on corporate benefit programs. Their employers give them a benefit of fitness clubs dues. Instead, these swimmers have gone to their employer and said, well I don’t want to go to the fitness club, I want to swim – will you pay my swimming dues? And so I now have 15% of my group are people who are on this kind of program. I get the check from the company and the company writes me one check a year for the whole thing – in advance, whether that person uses the service or doesn’t use the service. The company doesn’t care. For them the administrative hassle has already gone. They have taken care of the benefit package for their employee. This is an area that I think is going to be big in the coming years and I know it is working well for my H2O program right now.
Now it may seem as though I am juggling too many things, an impossible number of different business activities to keep track of. But I have become aware of a number of dynamics that come into play in this process. The first is serendipity of participation. Separate, but related, activities tend to support and feed off of each other. Most people who come to me do so with a fairly narrow focus. “I want to get videotaped.” “I want to join a workout program.” “I want to take not-drowning lessons.” But many of the people who join my workout program end up buying my video and one-on-one services as well. Many of the people that come for video or one-on-one services end up joining my workout program. I have a goodly number of people who have moved away from Houston but are still availing themselves of my services through my long distance consultation. And, of course, everyone winds up buying a copy of my book.
Stability of income. By having several different income streams – each largely independent of the others – you can be insulated against some potential pitfalls. About a year and a half ago I was coming back with my kids from doing slot car racing and we were going over this overpass and my 3.5 year old goes “Papa – moke!” as he points off over there and I am looking over about where the Astrodome is and there is this big pillar of smoke going up in the air – just absolutely straight up because there was no wind whatsoever and I am looking at that and I go “Wow – the Astrodome is on fire – no that is all concrete and steel – that cant burn” so I put it out of my mind for a few minutes. Imagine my surprise when I walk into our house and my wife is sitting there watching the TV and on the TV – right there in the middle of the screen is my swimming facility – it is just a stack of fire and smoke – the whole building was all made out of wood, well now it is just leveled ash. During the next couple of weeks I rented lane space here and there around town – had a hodge podge schedule and let me tell you that is a tough way to make a program survive. For two months we were without a real home pool, barely breaking even without me taking any salary, with no prospect of a solution any time soon. But you know what? I didn’t really worry. You see, my business – the bottom like of my business – didn’t depend on that swim team. It didn’t depend on that group of swimmers being able to be in the water. When September 11 happened and my wife forbade me for the next six months from flying anywhere. I was out of the Total Immersion business. A pretty decent chunk of my income was from doing TI clinics, but did I worry? No because I’ve got a bunch of different business activities – there is no one single one that would tank me.
Portability of my business. How many of you have experienced, in your childhood, snow days off from school? Think about that – you wake up in the morning – you look out the window – the snow is coming down – there is a foot of snow on the ground and you go ohhhh and you go to the radio and you turn on the radio and you start looking around for the station that is announcing all of the schools that are going to be closed. Our school started with “W” so we are waiting until the very end of the alphabet – but finally they call out the school’s name and we’re jumping around hollering for joy and we go outside and play in the snow and go sledding and throw snowballs and get all wet and cold and come back in and have the hot chocolate and go back out and do that whole routine again – those were the very finest days of my childhood. I don’t want to deprive my kids of that. I want my kids to have that opportunity. I live in Houston, Texas – we are not going to have any snow days off from school. Occasionally we get the rain day from school and it rains so hard the whole city just shuts down, but you know what – there is the thunder and the lightening – you cant go out and play in that. You sit there in the window going “When is going to stop?” I want snow days from school for my kids. So, when I do move, nearly half of my business is going to be able to make the transition with me without missing a beat. For my long distance consultation business all I have to do is make a little change in my website. For my Postal Video all I have to do is make a little change in my website and my business comes right to me. Yes, I will still have to build a new workout group from scratch and build a new local client base for one-on-one services, but my long distance video and consultation businesses are going to survive very easily through that process.
Flexibility of schedule. I can easily fit my schedule around such things as taking my kids to school in the morning. Picking them up afterwards. Spending the afternoons and the evenings with my family. Going camping nearly every weekend when the Texas weather is right for it – going on vacations, etc.
Finally, that kind of diversity simply suits me. Largely because it allows me to have the opportunity to spend time doing what I really love about coaching – spending it with swimmers. When I ran a big program I spent a lot of my time doing the administrative crap and I had people working for me doing the part that I really wanted to do – work with swimmers. Not so these days.
I make no bones and make no apologies about the fact that I charge high prices. In fact, I always warn prospective clients that I am exorbitantly expensive which is something they already know because most of them are coming to me basically by word of mouth. But at every turn I have been amazed at how much adult swimmers, and particularly triathletes and fitness swimmers, are willing to part with in order to get competent coaching services. But the more I think about this and the longer I have been doing it the more it really starts to make sense. Consider that triathlete that we heard about that spent $800 bucks on that set of wheels for the bike. He can’t tell you that he is noticeably faster. He looks cooler, but that is about it. To that triathlete spending a few hundred dollars to get input, lessons, to become noticeably faster, noticeably more efficient – that is a no-brainer. A large percentage of our market is professional people themselves – people who understand the value to time and specialized knowledge. Their big investment in swimming is not their money, it is their time. If, because of our specialized knowledge, they can spend a few hundred dollars to increase the productivity of the time that they already invest in swimming well then, that is a no-brainer. The fitness swimmer who has had little or no instruction at all is usually quite envious of the professional swimmer over in the next lane and how easily and effortlessly their laps go by. For the person who hits the pool as regular as clockwork in search of heart healthy exercise, a few hundred dollars spent to feel better while logging millions of laps in the future, well that is just a no-brainer. Vanity drives a staggering portion of purchase decisions made in today’s world. If you think about it – cosmetics, clothing, cars, even houses, are all purchase decisions that are driven at least in part by vanity and self-consciousness. For the person who simply wants to look like they know what they are doing in the water, spending a few hundred dollars to ensure that they never again are mistaken as a drowning victim well that’s a no-brainer.
Now I know that there is likely some scientific way to determine appropriate prices but my tendency in the past is to just pretty much go on gut instinct and trial and error. My #1 philosophy is that the price that you set should be high enough to energize and excite you. If you are not excited about what you are doing you shouldn’t be doing it and I am telling you that the money that you make doing something can help you get energized and excited. Is there anyone here who would not be energized and excited to make $500 to teach a one-hour swim lesson? Would that increase your intensity of involvement? Maybe you can do that. I don’t know – I haven’t been able to step far enough outside of my comfort zone to charge $500…YET. When you quote your price to a new prospect you should have the prospect of them saying “no” and you have got to get out of your comfort zone to do that. No one likes to hear “NO”, but you have got to get out of your comfort zone and charge a price high enough that at least the is the possibility that someone will just say “no” because of the price. When someone does say “no” don’t take it personal. It is just a sign that you are in the right ballpark with your price. You are not losing business – you are making room for a higher paying client. I always have a list of three other people that I can refer my economy class swimmers to. If you were a cardiac surgeon would you rather be known as the #1 guy in town or the guy that the city sends all the indigent cases to?
I have come to understand that there is also several dynamics that work with top shelf pricing. I have talked to a number of high priced instructors in other disciplines and find their experience is quite similar to mine. People who pay top dollar for anything are guaranteed to give great word of mouth advertising. Anyone who pays over 50 thousand dollars for a car, for instance, has nothing but good stuff to say about that car. Instructional services are no different. When you are being paid a lot for your services you will naturally be more excited about being out there and probably give your client – and notice that it is “client” now that we are charging them more money – you will give your client more focused attention. People crave that and will gladly pay a lot for it. When people pay top dollar they are more likely to get there on time, pay attention during the lesson and do what you ask them to do. When someone pays big bucks for your services you can be pretty sure that they will take your counsel to heart. They will practice more effectively. They will practice more often. They may even go ahead and start and keep that training diary that you nag your other swimmers to do. They are going to make more progress. They are going to be happier. They are going to say more good things to more people and they will stay with you longer. Heck, after a few beers I have been known to call high prices a “customer service”. All of this works together to provide a mutually beneficial relationship that keeps customers coming back and keeps them advertising.
You may have noticed that in nearly everything that I do I am aiming for a base rate of $100 or more after expenses for my billable hours so to speak. If eight years ago you and I had been at a darts pub someplace – relaxing, say, after a swim meet and you had said “Hey, you know, one of these days you will be able to make a $100 or more an hour.” – I would have guffawed and spit a whole pint of Guinness right through my nose. I am not saying that you should charge as much as I do. Of course, if you have the abundance mentality I am not saying that you should charge as little as I do either. I don’t think we have found the breaking point on what swimming services are really worth in today’s market and I challenge each of you to help me push toward that point.
Now I have developed a top ten list of what I consider to be critical success factors in getting paid like a professional.
First of all – your clients are paying for your time, your expertise and most importantly they are paying for your attention. They should get 100% totally focused attention. I don’t talk to other people or even acknowledge their existence when I am working with a one-on-one client or doing a video clinic. My clients never see me look at a watch. I turn off my pager – turn off my cell phone. My goal is to make them feel as though they and I are the only people in the world while our session is going on.
Two, be hard to get – regardless of what my calendar looks like I don’t book a new lesson less than two weeks out. I tell prospective clients when I am available and I typically offer two options of when I can “fit them in” – especially in the building stages this helps to create the image of a busy person in high demand.
Three, always give more than expected. My appointments are scheduled as 45 minute sessions yet with the before and after relationship building time that we have got – every lesson is going to be an hour.
Four, always encourage them to call you with questions that they may have. Few will actually take you up on the offer, but the offer itself enhances the perceived value in your client’s eyes. They will know that you are there for them if needed.
Five, do strongly encourage your clients to keep a training and progress diary in which they are to make notes about the lesson, to write about their practice experiences – noting any questions and leaving space for the answers. Then what I do is spend five minutes at the beginning of each lesson going over their training diary since the last lesson with them. It does two things – it kind of refreshes my memory of exactly where they are, where did we finish, what have they accomplished during that practice period in between and it impresses the hell out of them that I am being so thorough in my attention to what they are doing.
Six, do have professional business cards made with the title “Teaching Professional” or “Swimming Consultant” or who knows – “Technique Developer” – this is going to put you a notch higher in the client’s estimation than simply “swim coach.” Never hand out just one card – always hand out two or more. Your clients will invariably hand them out to others and generally come back to you looking for more.
Seven, do set up a merchant services account and accept credit cards. I can tell you that just from my workout group alone the first six months that we accepted credit cards we saw a 20% increase immediately in monthly membership fulfillment. When you make people write a check they have to proactively make the money come to you – in this situation when you accept a credit cards and you do it on automatic billing – if they decide this next month “Oh – I am not quite sure whether I am going to swim – I will wait until the first workout I go to and take my check.” With the credit card, on the first of the month it is billed – boom. If they want to not pay me for that month they have to proactively call and say “Coach, would you cut me off of the credit card billing?” Once the charge is already on there they have a high likelihood of going ahead and coming back. They have already paid for it – they are going to use it. 20% increase on the existing business – 20% increase in our membership fulfillment just because of credit cards. I use Quick Books and arranged my merchant services account through them – which automates that process pretty much completely. It is a little bit more expensive. I want to say that between setting up American Express and Discover and Mastercard and Visa – I think I ended up spending aobut $250 to get it all set up and then I got about another $50 or so a month in monthly service fees – but it more than pays for itself. Now if you have a tiny program, twenty swimmers, it doesn’t work. We are billing 60-70 swimmers and it way more than pays for itself.
Eight, do make yourself available to speak to triathlon, running and fitness groups. I estimate that each 30 minute presentation that I make to one of these groups pays off with an average of $2,000 in immediate services signups and a whole bunch more in long-term profits as a result of repeat business.
Nine, understand that your clients will be repeat and loyal customers and sing your praises because of the relationship that you build with them. Yes, the information that they get and the progress that they make are important, but it is the personal relationship above all other things that make them keep coming back and paying money.
Finally – get out of your comfort zone. Get out of your comfort zone when you establish your prices. Get out of your comfort zone when you set your business goals. Get out of your comfort zone when you are accepting new coaching challenges and get out of your comfort zone in every aspect of your coaching career.
I have a few closing thoughts. I want to run a couple more random footnotes from the abundance mentality manual past you. We talked about the large number of experienced competitive swimmers out there right now. Mel Goldstein in his wonderful book – “Swimming Past 50” estimates that there are 10.5 million Americans doing what we call real fitness swimming. And by that I mean actually swimming laps for some appreciable period of time and of these 2.5 million are over 50. Now, the health club industry is gearing up for what it forecasts to be an extremely profitable future in the seniors fitness market. These are people who have more free time and more disposable income than most and that number will be mushrooming as baby boomers graduate into seniorhood. Life expectancy for active adults is going up at an unprecedented rate and people in their leisure years are taking to physical activities in greater numbers than ever before. I am going to leave it to your fertile imagination to couple all of that with the fact that swimming is the only truly lifetime sport. I mean – are there any other sports that have a 105+ age group?
Health club industry forecasts also show their expectation that within the decade or so health insurance coverage will routinely cover fitness activities as a form of preventive medicine. That in it’s self, may be the single largest boon for the adult exercise industry ever. And what form of exercise do you think is likely to be prescribed more than any other? I don’t think preventive medicine is something that the HMOs are into yet. They are moving in that direction, but 10-20 years from now I think that is going to be a standard deal – it depends on the area of the country you are in. I am sure that in California it is more likely it is happening than it is in Texas. Who knows they may be going to hunting as preventative medicine in Texas.
Some estimates say that as many as 70 million American adults profess to engage in swimming. Now you and I both know that every country bumpkin and suit and tie yuppie in the world who has ever gone into the water over knee deep and called it swimming has been counted in that number. But from that number, if we subtract the 4 million ex-competitive swimmers that I have already talked abut and then subtract the 10 million active fitness swimmer that Mel estimates, that would indicate that there are perhaps another 56 million people who are really wannabe swimmers – they will tell you that they are a swimmer – we know they are not a swimmer yet – who is in the right position t fix that problem? I haven’t begun to calculate the market potential there for lessons, clinics, video analysis and other coaching services but I think that is part of the abundancy mentality.
Now you have listened to my rant about charging higher prices – unabashedly striving for profit and enhancing your economic outlook but I am afraid that sometimes that leaves people with the wrong impression about me. As I said before, I am a swim coach because I have a passion for what I do. I have a passion for working with people. I have a passion for imparting knowledge that I think I understand to somebody that knows they don’t and I love the smile on their face when they get it. That is the thing that thrills me more than anything else about what I do, but to be able to do that I have got to make a profit, otherwise I’ve got to go and do something else. And so what I am really advocating is that we take advantage of the capitalistic opportunities that are available to us. Think of it this way – if you are charging prices that are well below what the market will bear you are in effect running a charity which is fine if that is what your goal is. If that is what you set out to do. I want to save the swimming world. I want everyone to be able to swim for free, but I am not in a position to be able to do that. However, if your business is really profitable then you can afford to run some true charity work. If you read my bio – it is in the program – you will see that I do charity work and it is only because I have a very profitable program now that I can do that.
In closing, I want to leave you with a challenge. Adopt an abundance mentality – instead of accepting things the way they are – get off your butt – get out of your comfort zone – get creative. Don’t be afraid to dream big. As I said before in the opening comments, what we do is a matter of attitude and action. Whether swim coaches in general are going to be able to make good incomes is not really the question. But if we get really specific it works out to be YOUR attitude and YOUR action that determines what YOUR financial future is going to be. That’s it – thank you for putting up with me and I hope all of you will go out and have a profitable year.
Q & A:
How often do you see a typical client?
Lets assume we are talking now about swim lessons – right? Just one-on-one lessons? – My ideal is to see them once a week. We try to set the same day –same time for a number of weeks in a row – but that is going to be dependent on how often they can practice. I want them to be practicing an absolute minimum of three times and really probably more like five times in between lessons and there are some people who because of how slowly they learn things, and how well they grasp what I am asking them to do, really need to practice maybe even a little bit more than that. So I do occasionally have some people that will extend it out a little bit further – they are a little bit harder to schedule that way, but I will work with them. I want somebody to practice enough so that they feel like they are still making progress but not so much that they have now hit a plateau and they cant get anywhere. That gets frustrating so we are trying to find out what is the right number for that person and usually it is in the 3-5 practices in between when we get together and for a lot of people that works out to be once a week.
That depends so much on the person – as I said – my typical client is somewhere in the 4-10 lessons weekly and then we will bump it up to once a month – kind of as brush-ups. But I have some people that have literally been with me for years – every single week like clockwork. I have got some other people that are just kind of hit and miss – a guy maybe comes in to town every once in a while and he wants to catch a lesson with me when he is here. I get quite a bit of that so it really depends on the individual.
What do they want long-term?
It depends on the individual and our first lesson together usually is a lot of – we probably do more talking than we actually spend in the water because that is what we are trying to do. I want to see where they are right now and then we do a lot of talking about where do you want to go with this? A lot of times I have already had that conversation with them on the phone ahead of time in the process of selling them on my services to begin with so I already have a good idea. To me, it doesn’t matter where they are trying to go – I am going to find a way to work with whatever their goals are. I do start out with the same basic set of skills that I am going to teach them in the water. Everybody needs to know how to get balanced in the water. None of the other possible skills are going to be worth anything to them until they learn how to get balanced so we start there with everyone. I will even have seasoned swimmers come in – people who are good swimmers and they come in and they still haven’t figured out how to get balanced in the water and maybe just that first lesson revamps their whole thought structure about being in the water. When we say, you have to be balanced and see what happens when you do get balanced? Everything changes so it really depends on the client.
How do you handle people who don’t practice?
It depends a little bit on the client but the typical scenario for that is as soon as I am aware that it has happened once and the swimmer hasn’t contacted me ahead of time to say “Coach, I haven’t been in the water and we got this next lesson coming up” – if he calls me 72 hours before the lesson he can cancel – no problems – I wont charge him a penny – as long as he calls me that far out from the lesson then we are fine. Now if he gets to the lesson and it is obvious that we are literally starting over from scratch then I will say, “Gee Dave – did you practice?” “Well gee coach – no.” I have had some situations where that starts to become chronic and I will say, “Well look, lets just not even do the lesson – we are not working together. You have got to do your part for my part to work. You are not going to be able to get the value that I need you to get out of this – you are not going to be satisfied with what I am giving you unless you are willing to put your side into it.” We come back to – what do I enjoy about working with swimmers? I like to see the progress and if that swimmer is going to use me to handhold them every step of the way then the way we need to do that is “You to hire me today and tomorrow and the next day and the next day and I will walk you through every step of the process, but I am not going to do that once every week.” I have got a number of clients that I have said, “Look – this isn’t working. Let me give you a list of a couple of other instructors that can deal with that kind of a situation a little bit better.” It has to make me happy. The money makes me happy, but if there is no progress I am not happy – I don’t care how much they are paying me.
What kind of facility usage – what kind of opportunities to use the pool do you have?
I am in a high school pool where I have carte blanche. I pay rent to run my swim team and then they let me come in and run lessons and do video clinics as long as it is not stepping on top of any of the other programming. I have a key to the facility. You know, at 5 o’clock in the morning there’s nobody else there – but the pool is not great for doing lessons in because it is 78-80 degrees. There is a pool nearby that is more like 86 degrees – that is my main pool for lessons. I send most of my lessons there. It costs me $15 every time I run a lesson – I have to go up to the front desk and pay $15 out of the $125 that I collect from my clients I am left with $110. I have a place I work with a dive shop that has a tank in their building – well they don’t open until 9 o’clock and I went in and expressed the desire to rent their space before they open. This is a guy that I had done some business with back when I was at the University of Houston and he says “I know you – I know what you are into – I know what you do – tell you what – how about if I give you a key and you come in the morning – here is how you turn off the alarm – you do your thing as long as you are done and you set the alarm before you walk back out – then send me some clients. Any time somebody talks to you about scuba diving make sure you mention my shop.” And he does the same thing – any time somebody comes in and says, “I am really afraid to take this first scuba lesson because I can’t swim a stitch,” he gives them my name and so it is a symbiotic relationship. I am not paying any rent there at all. Hotels – there are a couple of hotels in town where I go in and I make an arrangement and pay $10 or $15 – the highest price that I pay to get lane space is $25 for an hour for one lane in one location and I use it sparingly. Hotels are a great place to negotiate the use of pool space.
What’s your swim team facility like?
The high school is a 25-meter pool with a bulkhead at 25 yards. There are 8 lanes and then I have got the space between the bulkhead and the end – that is my pullout lane so that during workouts I can pull somebody out and do something special with them and they are not bumming up a lane for me.
Do you provide workouts for one-on-one clients?
You mean for between lessons? That comes under the heading of Long Distance Consultation. My rate is $100 an hour for doing long distance consultations. I have a couple of local people that I do that for. I am writing individual workouts that are designed specifically for their needs and their goals and I just charge my hourly rate for that and you know I warn them – I am a slow typer and my brain is slow – if it takes me at least a half an hour to write a workout that’s the way it is. If you want a week’s worth of workouts that is going to cost you a lot of money, but there are plenty of people out there who have money they want to spend on their sport and they want competent input as a result of that.
Do you write personalized workouts or use pre-written ones?
What I am giving them is personalized. I am not going to my data base of 1000 workouts and just kind of going “This one would be good for Joe.” – I sit down and I write his workout the same way I would sit down and write the workout for my group because I am going to give it the same kind of individual attention – he is going to pay for my individual attention and as long as he is willing to do that I am willing to give my 100% to figure out what is going to be best for him in his situation and what works for him today. For instance, he may call be and say after the second workout, “I got to that set over here and you know the interval you asked, it just absolutely didn’t work” – and so I may say okay look, on the next couple of workouts lets make this adjustment so we spend five or ten minutes on the phone and that gets billed against his retainer.
Can you tell us how big a retainer you work on?
We generally start with a $500 retainer and it depends on the individual – we will sit down and the guy may say, here is what I want – I am going to be participating in a triathlon 8 months from now and you are going to need to talk with my running and cycling coach every week to coordinate schedules and so on. We are going to go through $500 in about three days and so then I will say we need to go with a higher retainer. Actually in most cases these days they are going on credit card – now that we have credit cards that is absolutely the way to go – and then I just send him an email at the beginning of the month when I bill his credit card saying here is how much – some people want a breakdown, you know – exactly where did the money go – how much time was spent here – how much time was spent there and I say as long as you are willing to pay me to produce that list for you I am happy to do that and others say – “just bill it – just bill it.”