So, last week I mentioned I would continue on about how I got my old boxing gym going.
It's kind of my 'origin' story too, because it's really how I got started with this whole thing over 11 years ago now.
At the time, I was at the University of Queensland studying a dual commerce and economics degree.
The gym where boxing was held was on the way to one of my lecture halls and I didn't have a locker or anything like that, which meant I had to lug massive textbooks all over campus. Which was huge, I'll add.
I hated it so much that'd I'd just leave textbooks at home and share the textbook with whomever sat next to me that day.
Anway, I'd been at university now for a month or two and I'd discovered about the boxing club through their orientation week - basically a bunch of stalls in the main quad and you'd get to see what there is to do while you study.
While I was talking to the boxing guys, they mentioned that they'd love to have me there, but that the club would likely be around for just another term or two - they were out of money and the university needed their hire fees paid.
The guys running it weren't happy, but they couldn't see a way out of it.
They'd racked up a lot of debt trying to get the club going and it didn't seem possible to bring it back to black in such a short timeframe.
I got an idea.
I asked them if they'd be willing to transfer the gym over to me and that I would take on the debt. If I cleared it, I got to keep the gym; if not, I took the fall for them.
Now, I thought of it like this: I can't lose.
- If I clear the debt, I get a boxing gym.
- If I don't clear the debt, I've got a locker for two terms and I lose a gym I never had in the first place.
Plus, I checked the university bylaws relating to clubs, and the worse they could do was dissolve it... big deal, I could always make another under a different name and I wasn't personally on the line for any money.
So, as I said, win-win.
When I got to the club they had a whopping $42-odd dollars in the cash box, a few busted bags, and some of the stinkiest, oldest gloves you've ever seen. Not ideal, I thought.
But I knew if I wanted more people in, to get cash so I could pay the debt, pay the trainers, and get new equipment (I trained there too, so I wanted the place fitted out properly) I needed to get the word out and advertise.
So, I took $20 from the cashbox and went to the library.
I made an awful copy of a boxing poster I found online, possibly a promotional poster from the 'Thriller in Manilla' fight with Ali, put it on a USB and went to Officeworks for printing. I put the posters up around campus and couldn't wait to come to the first training session that week.
I got there early and set up, excited to see how many members we'd make tonight.
Crickets... not a SINGLE new person came.
I was crushed.
There was only $20 left in the till and I needed to make this work; I could understand how the old owners felt about it now and it was my first taste of failure in business.
So off I went to the library after training and devoured a book written by Drayton Bird. It was all about direct response marketing within the banking sector. I think it was called 'How to Sell Money' or something along those lines... anyway, this book was amazing.
I'd never heard of direct response marketing, or variable split-testing, or copywriting, or any of this other stuff that I do everyday now, and it changed my perspective on everything I was doing. But back then, it was all so novel for me, and this direct response marketing stuff just made sense!
I immediately saw the errors in my old poster and went to fix them that night.
The next day, after getting the remaining $20 worth of posters printed and put up in one very specific area of campus, I knew something was different.
I was suddenly getting emails and texts and Facebook messages - they were asking if they could come to the next class with friends.
And that's when I know my new poster worked.
Here's how I did it:
- I chose a specific audience. Initially I had planned on going for men, but realised we didn't have enough trainers so I needed to focus on just one group for now so I could tailor the creative. I ended up with women as the target audience, because I thought it would be the easier sell, as I explain below.
- I packaged my product into a more attractive version. In my mind, the boxing gym was going to be a 'pure' technique and sparring gym. That was basically what boxing gyms were at the time, there wasn't really any 'boxercise' stuff going on and MMA was barely a thing so people still saw the sport as just guys beating each other up.
But I realised I didn't have proper equipment or a real ring, so I couldn't compete with the other boxing gyms in the area - it's also why the old owners failed, they couldn't realistically compete. I needed something different.
And that's when I settled on female fitness and self-defence classes. It was a 10-week program, was female-only for the first 30 minutes, and where you'd gain confidence, build lean muscle tone and have fun. (I knew that lots of the girls at college didn't want to go to the gym because they thought they'd get 'muscles' but also hated cardio... PLUS they didn't like getting stared at by guys in the gym while they were working out. So, this was the perfect inbetween AND it was a novel
- I advertised this product in the right place. Because I already knew what the offer was, and who it was meant to be seen by, it was really easy to put this in the 'right place'. I simply went to the female-only colleges on campus and put the flyers up there. I thought this would be a good idea because if one of the girls wanted to come, she'd likely bring her friends with her too because
it was something new and didn't involve drinking or studying. And that's exactly what happened.
- I made it easy to 'get'. I knew student weren't flush with cash; I was one and I was broke. So I offered payment options and even put a little bit of copy saying that it was a university approved club and that we would accept payments from parents via secure bank transfer. I also made it very clear that you didn't need to bring anything - we would provide all equipment and there was free
cold water at the gym. I switched the training times from early mornings and afternoons to around dinner time. This meant people could also come after their studies or work; this was a big one, because lots of friends of the girls from college would come join them for a boxing class after they finished work around 5.
The combination of all these things (which I got completely wrong my first time trying!) had the gym flush with cash after the first week.
We had several people pay in full for the 10-week program (well, their parents did, at least) and many continued to pay per session instead.
With that money, I paid back the complete debt in full to the university club accountant and cemented the deal, earning me a new boxing gym in the process.
The accountant was astonished the money came through so fast. She asked if I had used my own money, to which I said no, this was all from the money we made last week!
She said that she needed to speak to me about another club, and would I be willing to see if I could do the same for them.
I said sure, no promises, though, and an email was fired off introducing me to the owner of a struggling karate club... but that's another story for another time.