Interview with Ryan Lee
Ryan Lee was the single-most, influential person in opening my eyes to what was possible when it came to building a business that not only was reflective of your strengths and still had a really profound impact, but one that was, not just lifestyle-friendly, but family-friendly.
I know that Ryan shares a lot of those same values that I do about family coming above all else. Ryan has done about everything there is to do as far as launching businesses, mentoring many people that are in our field and beyond.
Non Traditional Method of Coaching
I’m going to lay out a strategy that’s ideal. It started a long time ago with my first site in 1999. I had a website up for my personal training business. That’s how I started in the health and fitness industry. I did strength and conditioning and messed around for a few years. I would do some online training. I actually made most of my money, a lot of people don’t realize this, selling gym equipment online. I would sell bands and medicine balls and all that kind of stuff.
It really became apparent after a couple of years of messing around, when I created my first paid-membership site. I basically took all this content that I created and, remember this was 20 years ago, people would pay me 99 bucks for a personal training program. I started getting a little overwhelmed. I couldn’t do all the programs so I hired a guy. The first guy I hired, who started working for me creating training programs, you probably know who he is, Craig Ballantyne. This is 1999 and 2000 so we’re going back a ways. You were still kind of limited and trading hours for dollars in a sense when I put everything behind a pay-wall and said, “All this training content, you now have to pay.”
Out of the gate, I don’t remember how many members, but it was like hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of members, which at the time, doing this part time, was just mind-blowing. I’m like, “Man, I could scale this up a thousand members to five thousand members and there’s no extra work effort because I upload the article and it could reach one person or it could reach ten thousand people.” That’s when the light bulb went off. That’s when I really put my head down and said, “You know what?” I told my wife, (we didn’t have any kids at the time but we have four kids now), I said, “If I could do this for six months consecutively and keep putting members in, we could really make a go with this. I could get more leverage. I could have more time and when we start to have a family, we could do this.”
“You could still make six, seven, sometimes even eight-figures depending on the market, in the nice niche markets.”
That’s where it all really changed. I did that for a few years and it was growing. Other trainers were like, “Well, Ryan. You’re an idiot and if you can do this and make all this money, can you teach me how to do it?” First round, the clients were Alwyn Cosgrove and Mike Boyle and Zach Even-Esh and all these people who are well-known in the fitness industry now were my first guys that started learning how to do this. A decade later, they’re still rocking. I still have not changed my concept of, lifestyle comes first. I said to my wife, “I want to do this, but what I don’t want and there’s nothing wrong with it, but what I don’t want is an office with 500 employees and running a big, billion-dollar company.”
To be honest, I don’t even know if I have the skill-set to run a billion-dollar company. That’s a whole different world. I said, “If we can get a six, even a seven, figure business where there’s not a lot of stress, not a lot of overhead, I can still do the coaching I love with the kids and spend time with them and spend the afternoons with them and volunteer and have more than enough money for us and for our family and have no financial stress, then that’s what I always want to do.” When I run it through that filter of, is this going to high-profit, low-hassle? If the answer is yes, then let’s explore it.
I worked this morning for a few hours from the coffee shop, which is what I love to do. I came back home and my kids are at school. I have the whole little basement office to myself with some reclining chairs and I’m good to go and I love it. I wish this, for everyone who wants it. I really want to help them achieve it because there is no better thing in the world than building a business. You could still hire some people. You could do it the right way. You could have a virtual team. You could spend time with your family or your friends or go watch movies, whatever the heck you want to do, but enjoy life. Especially the health-sports performance people and the fitness people, there’s so much we could do and there are so many lives we could impact, rather than just people within a five or ten-mile-radius. When I think about all those thousands of trainers we’ve impacted and how many millions of lives those people have impacted, it’s awesome.
What Makes Someone Successful
Talking tactically, it’s never stopping. Whatever it is you do, never stopping, not giving up. Elliot Hulse, it took him years to crack the code. He was doing a YouTube video a day and general fitness stuff. It transitioned into more personal development and he just kind of went along the journey, but he never stopped. Zach Even-Esh has never stopped doing videos and blogging. Alwyn Cosgrove has never stopped teaching. Mike Boyle has never stopped teaching. It’s never stopping. It’s being prolific. What you’ll see is, a lot of people will get online and they’re not very patient. They’ll do content for three weeks, a month, two months. They’re like, “Man, I’ve only got three hundred Facebook fans.” It’s going to take time if you’re going to do the free method.
So, one trait, is having that nothing is going to stop you and you’re not giving up. On the other hand, the other trait is knowing your role, knowing what you’re good at, being in your zone. Whether it’s, tactically, I’m good at doing videos so that’s what I’m going to stick with or I’m good at training baseball players so that’s what I’m sticking with and just being the baseball training guy.
When you can come into a market and niche it down and step up and be the man or the woman and say, “This is me. This is my market. I’m all in with this.” and just go for it, not thinking too far ahead. Another issue people have is they over-analyze and they start thinking, I love training football players now. Six years from now, I might not want to just train football players. So much changes online in six years. I mean, six months, things change. Don’t worry about it. You’ve got to start with a market and a niche.
“Stop sitting on your computer all day long. Get out. Go meet people.”
I use the example a lot of Facebook. Everyone says, “Ryan, you’re wrong because Facebook reaches everybody.” Look how successful Zuckerberg is. You look at the history of Facebook, it started with one niche within a niche within a niche. Everyone says, “He started with college.” No, he didn’t start with college. He started with a specific college. He started with Harvard. Then, once he got some traction, then he branched out and said, “Not just our college, now we’re going to go to Ivy League and then we’re going to go to college. Then we’re going to go to high-schoolers and then to everybody.” He took his time, went to one market and grew from there.
You could still make six, seven, sometimes even eight-figures depending on the market, in the nice niche markets. Look how many people we know that have made money in the business of fitness world, which didn’t really exist fifteen, twenty-years-ago. There was only a handful, like two or three of us, teaching this stuff. Now it’s like a whole industry in itself. There’s a lot of money to be made in just about every market you can imagine.
Those are the traits that I think are really powerful and the people who have had success, that I taught and mentored over the years, have fit into those two things. If you think your business today is going to be the same a year from now, you’re mistaken. I look at my business and it’s a journey. It’s a transition, especially if you’re doing the majority of your marketing online. Five, six years ago, no one was doing Facebook ads. Now, that’s the majority of most people’s ad spends. Look at the way Google has changed. Where everything was about Google Ad Words and that’s really shifted for information marketers.
Things shift. When I first started, there was no video online. There was no YouTube. There was no Facebook. There was no audio. Now, if you don’t have video, your scene is almost antiquated. It will shift. It will change. You’ve just got to go along for the ride and not just get too stuck in, this is what I want to do and I don’t care what anyone says. I don’t care where technology is. I’m just going to do my own thing. Keep your mind open and don’t stop.
My Method for the Future
I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell the future, but what I do understand are people and their behaviors and human psychology. I say this to my subscribers all the time and I don’t think they listen to me. I always, always tell them, “Put yourself in the shoes of your customer, of your client and what do you want?” If I’m sitting there at night, going to sleep and I want to watch a little bit of TV, I’m looking like, okay, what am I watching? What am I viewing? Oh, I’m on Netflix. Okay, look at the way this looks. I’m taking that perspective. If I was a client it’s not just, what’s cool.
Here’s another e-book, Six Weeks to Lose Six Inches. Big deal. How many freaking programs are there like that? What’s going to shake the market? What’s going to have them stand up and be like, “I want that. I like that guy. I like that girl and I want what they’re selling.” The offer is so good that they can’t wait to get their credit card out. Everyone’s focused on traffic, traffic, traffic. How do I get the cheapest clicks? They should be spending 99 percent of their time, especially in the beginning, on their offer. The offer is everything.
I’m always focused on the market, on what they want, on what the offer is. Then, I say, “Okay, how good is this offer. If I’m charging 30 bucks, is it worth 300 dollars? How can I make it worth 3,000 dollars? How can I make it worth 30,000 dollars?” Even now, with Freedym University, it really is almost like a mastermind group, too. There are guys that charge like 25, 30 grand. Mine is 30 bucks, but it really is a $30,000 value. That’s why it’s going so well. Between knowing your customer, but being able to predict trends, it’s the getting outside your industry.
“Be a student of marketing. Be a student of business and enjoy it.”
A lot of fitness people, what they’ll do is they’ll go and they’ll say, “What are the biggest selling products?” They’ll look at the top of clickbank. They all have a video sales letter. Let me copy them. There is validity to seeing what’s working and finding ways to improve upon it and make it a little bit better. That’s great and you can get some nice hits. Those add up, nothing wrong with hitting singles and doubles. If you want the home run, you’ve got to get out of fitness and look at what other people are doing.
What are they selling in the whatever market? Knitting. What’s the number one knit—I want to create a fitness membership. What are some people in knitting memberships or gardening… What are they doing in the entertainment space? What do these sites look like? That’s how I came up with Freedym. When I was looking at Netflix, I’m seeing the way it’s laid out visually. I’m like, “Why can’t I create the Netflix for lifestyle entrepreneurs?” To be honest, when you get the big breakthroughs is when you’re not on your computer. Get away from your computer, living life, experiencing life.
Stop sitting on your computer all day long. Get out. Go meet people. Even now, when I go to the mall with my family, I’m looking at every store. You’d be shocked if you saw my cell phone because it’s pictures of different stores and the logos. I’ll go into a store that sells natural cosmetics and I’ll take pictures. I’m like, “This could be a really cool niche for our new supplement company. I like how this looks kind of high-end. Maybe this is something I could use for the new product we’re creating. Just the lettering, maybe I could send that to my graphics guy.”
A jewelry store has nothing to do with online business, but I’m thinking, what can I take from this? What can I learn from this business? I learned that from my Dad. We would walk around and if there was an empty store, he’d be like, “Ryan, what do you think would go well there?” We would just start flexing our entrepreneurial brains. Really getting outside your market, looking at different markets. What’s going on in these other places? What are they doing? What can I learn from them? Then saying, “Okay, if I adapted this for my market, how could I make it even better so that my members, the people in my world, are just freaking blown away?”
Not only will they join, they’ll tell everyone they know about it. That’s my little secret sauce. In fifteen years I don’t think I’ve used the Google Keyword tool search. You know how that used to be the big thing? Before you do a market, you’ve got to do a keyword search and make sure… Bull. You don’t need to do any of that stuff. Just freaking put it out there, man. Just get that offer that blows people away and you’ll be surprised of some really cool things that can happen.
Even if you want to look at purely numbers. I think my most successful student, financially, is Mike Geary. He has made tens of millions of dollars with his e-book. People look at that and they’re just trying to do the same video sales, copying from things that was working for him a few years ago. They also don’t know his whole business or the funnel he uses.
They don’t know the back end and they’re making guesses based on very, very little information. They don’t realize that if you’re buying an ad, and Mike has this big funnel on the back, that he could be losing 20 dollars a sale and still make a lot of money because of his back end funnel. People will copy it and be like, “I don’t understand, man. I’m charging 39 and I’m losing 15 dollars a sale. How is this possible?” They go, “Internet marketing is all bullshit. It’s all a scam.” They don’t really understand what’s going on. Be a student of marketing. Be a student of business and enjoy it.
Don’t Be a Jack-of-All-Trades
It’s amazing how many people make this mistake. Let’s say they go to a fitness business event. Maybe it’s not one of ours. Maybe it’s some other guy who’s some scum-baggy, upsell bullshit guy. I’m not going to name names. Let’s say it’s one of those things. They’re excited.
“If you do want to partner, find people who complement your skills.”
They have a 101 ideas – they want to do six-pack abs, eight-pack abs, vertical jump. They meet another guy and he’s just as excited. They’ve been studying marketing and they’re going crazy. They have all these ideas. They’re like, “Let’s partner up and let’s go 50/50.” You know how this story ends. I wish I could name names and tell you how many failed partnerships I’ve seen and been a part of. I’ve been guilty of this in the past as well.
The term I used to use all the time was, there’s starters and there’s finishers. The starters are the ideas guys. They can’t sleep at night. They’re the ones like, “Ryan, I have 18 ideas. I want to do this e-book on six-pack abs. I also love cooking so I want to do a cooking one later. I love to help my kids so I want to do one on how to be a super dad.” They’re screwed because they’re never going to do it. These guys get together and all they do is launch, launch, launch, but nothing ever gets traction because they’re bored and they’re onto the next thing and they don’t really go deep into a market. That’s the kiss of death. Maybe you start off well and it goes downhill pretty fast.
There’s the opposite and it’s the finisher, the person who is a little bit more detail-oriented. They love the stats. They love split testing, but they’re not necessarily the big idea person. When you get two of those together, they have some great ideas but nothing ever actually gets launched. They’re thinking about it, they have programmers, and they get all this stuff. They play business for like six years, but they never actually make any money.
Either combination is bad. If you’re a starter, you need what’s called a finisher. There’s a great book called Rocket Fuel. That book is transformative. They call them a visionary and an integrator. If you’re the visionary, the starter, you need that integrator or that finisher. You need that person. Two integrators together or two starters together, it’s not a good combination. If you are going to partner, find someone who compliments your skills and know what you’re good at.
Like I said earlier, if you’re good at video, do video. I don’t care if anyone says, “You’ve got to do this or that.” A marketer will come out with the subject, “Video is dead. If you want to succeed online, you have to do 5,000-word blog posts once a week because look what I did with one of mine and I got three thousand clicks.” All of a sudden, you’re not doing video anymore. You’re trying to follow this guru, but if you’re really good at video, stay in your lane. Be good at that.
If you do want to partner, find people who complement your skills. Another thing I’ve learned along the way, it was a quote from Felix Dennis, a publisher who was worth millions. He said, “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up equity.” I’ve learned, because I’ve been really generous. Someone will come on and I’ll give them ten percent. Don’t do that. If you’re going to be the owner, you want to try to hold on to as much control as possible.
There’s a difference between the ownership and distribution. You can pay someone 50 percent, but it doesn’t mean they’re a 50 percent owner in the business. They’re two very different things. I did a coaching call with a guy and he was kind of annoyed with me. He had a programmer who put together some crappy looking membership and he’s giving this guy 20 percent of his company. I asked him, “Why are you doing that? Why are you giving a programmer that when you could have paid a guy 300 bucks on Elance to do this?”
“Whatever that thing is, you’ve got to have people involved and excited about your mission. It’s never just about the paycheck.”
That’s a big mistake. What happens is, to these programmers, you’re the last priority. If it’s between their 20 percent in your business, which hasn’t really gotten started or the new client that’s paying them 7,000 dollars upfront, guess who’s getting the priority, my friend? You’re getting knocked to the back of the line.
I’ve never seen that relationship work either. Be very, very careful with partnering. So many examples, I’ve had probably three or four. When they didn’t work, it’s because I made the mistake of partnering with another visionary. Partner smart if you are going to partner, but you really don’t need to. You can outsource a lot of that stuff, especially building a lifestyle business.
I get attracted to the other big idea person because it’s just so much fun. I had two employees recently that I had to let go because they weren’t implementing. They were too busy coming up with stuff and then doing their own thing on the side. With Matt, we went through a long dance. We dated for a long time, so to speak. It’s funny. I bought him a copy of that book, Rocket Fuel. I said, “Matt, read this book and let me know what you are.” Of course, he read it in like a day and said, “I’m a hundred percent the introvert.” He’s like, “I’ve tried to be the other guy. It’s not me. It’s not my role. This is what I’m good at. Ryan, you run with the ideas. I’m going to support you.”
By the way, this is another important role or quality you need of someone. As you become more successful, there’s going to be more people who want to get involved with you and want to do things with you. What you don’t want is a yes man or a yes woman. You need someone who has their own opinions that can stand up and say, “Hey, I understand what you’re doing but I don’t agree with you.” Someone is going to hold you accountable because if it was just up to me, I would have launched a million things. I like having this accountability and someone saying, “Look, you’ve got to get this thing done. Don’t forget to take care of this and don’t forget we need to do this thing.” It’s so important. You’ve got to find the right people and you have to make sure they’re a part of your mission.
It’s never just about the pay. I’ve had people with me from the Philippines who have worked with me four or five years, which is unheard of. You hear of stories all the time. Someone from the Philippines, they’re with you two weeks then they disappear. These people have been with me forever. They’re still Facebook friends and they still say, “Hey, Ryan. How are you?” It’s amazing. I brought them in with a vision. The first thing that we talked about was not, here’s how much you’re going to get paid. Do you know Word Press? Do you know how to do this? No. It’s, here’s the company. We are changing the lives of entrepreneurs. We are helping them have more time with their family, with their friends, make more money, have more freedom.
“Big, big difference between selling a product and building your business. I know the difference. Most people don’t. Get out of product mode. Get into business mode.”
If you’re a fitness business and you’re going to hire someone, you’ve got to make sure they’re along with your mission. Look, we are here to transform the lives of 3,000 women, ages 30 to 50 or we’re going to help 100 baseball players get scholarships. We want to change their lives and get stress off their family.
Whatever that thing is, you’ve got to have people involved and excited about your mission. It’s never just about the paycheck. If it is, the minute that they can get better pay, better benefits or whatever, they’re gone. Matt, the other day he sent me a screenshot. He’s like, “Look what I just bought.” He bought bumper stickers with Freedym on it. What employee does that? It’s not just about the pay. It’s about being part of something special. It’s kind of circling back to what I said originally.
You’ve got to really be excited about what you’re doing. It’s not just about an e-book. If it’s a message people get today, it’s not just about selling a six week, weight loss e-book. It’s not about that. That’s a product. That’s not a business. Big, big difference between selling a product and building your business. I know the difference. Most people don’t. Get out of product mode. Get into business mode. Boom.
Business Owning You to Your Ideal Business
The first thing you have to do is figure out financial goals because I think most people don’t have a target they’re aiming for. They feel aimless and they’re hopping from one thing to the next. They’re not really sure what they need to do. It almost sounds a little countered to what I was saying with doing that thing that gets you excited because, at the end of the day, you’ve got to pay your bills. I always try to have people come up with a number.
It’s funny, we’ll do a coaching call. I’ll say, “Okay, what’s your goal.” “Well, I want to make more money.” “How much more?” “Enough to pay the bills.” Well, what the hell does that mean? Your bills are going to be much different than my bills with four kids living here. How much do you need? Well, I want to make $10,000 a month. Okay. That’s $333 a day. What do you want to create? Well, I want to create a $10 e-book. Okay, well you need to sell 33 of them a day. Then we start getting into, what do you need to do. There’s so many paths to get there.
Some people who have been following me know that I love recurring revenue. It doesn’t mean you have to force it. Anytime you can have some type of dependable recurring revenue, the better. If you want to eventually leave that job or close your studio or just do less training, you’re going to need some recurring revenue. It’s great to sell a $30 ebook and sell 20 a day. The reality is, you’re only as good as your last sale. If you could sell 30 today, tomorrow you’re starting back at 0. You’re always resetting the clock at 0, always.
Even with a really good system in place, even with Facebook ads that are working, those ads get stale and you’ve got to keep doing it. If you have 1,000 people paying 20 bucks a month, that’s 20,000 a month. Now we’ve got to start taking care of them and keep putting people in and just make sure we’re getting more people in than are leaving. That’s a retention game. It’s a little bit of a shift, but I would say look into opportunities. Where could you create that recurring revenue? Do not leave your job, quit, do anything, until you have at least six months of regularly good data.
Okay, I need to make 10,000 a month and I’m making 10,000 a month. I’ve made that for the last six months, now I can do it. I’m not a fan of the whole burn your bridges, just quit your job and do it. That’s the worst. People who say that are like 23-year-old dudes living with their mom. It’s easy to say, but you know and I know if you’re married, if you’ve got kids, if you’ve got a mortgage, the bank doesn’t care that you’re now passionate about doing ebooks. They could care less.
“Be responsible. Take some of that money, put it aside, and put some right back in the business, and then slowly start to grow.”
They want their money at the end of the month. Rule number one, pay your bills. I think it’s a slow transition. I think you keep things really, really, really lean. Only spend on what you need to. Don’t go out and get an office. You don’t need an office. You can do this stuff from anywhere. Don’t hire full-time people. You can hire people per project. You can hire a virtual assistant for a couple of hours a month for small projects. You’re going to end up doing a lot of this stuff yourself at the beginning, which is good because you learn your business. Keep it lean.
If every guru is telling you, “It’s a 2,000 dollar set up and 300 a month.” You don’t need that from day one. You can start and just start using PayPal. Make some money and then if you want to reinvest in better stuff, do it. You don’t need the premium plan for everything. You don’t need all that stuff. Keep it as lean and streamlined as you can until you start building revenue and then you could reinvest that money back into your business. If you made a 1,000 bucks this week, doesn’t mean you go out and lease a new Mercedes S Class.
Stop being an idiot. Be responsible. Take some of that money, put it aside, and put some right back in the business, and then slowly start to grow. Everyone says, “Ryan, do you invest in the market?” No, I don’t invest in the market because I have no control over the market. I could put a 1,000 dollars in the market. Okay, I’ll make six or seven percent or I could put 1,000 into my business in ad spend and make 4,000 dollars back in a week.
I’ll take that bet all day long. Be smart and the better you get in this world and in this game, the more you can reinvest and you can grow pretty nicely. Stay lean. Be smart. Don’t feel pressured to join someone’s $25-30,000 “coaching program or mastermind program”. That’s why I created Freedym U. You don’t need that. If you want it, great. If you think that’s going to help you a little bit and you have the money, cool. Just be smart. Be very, very smart.
Focus on One Thing
There are two very good books that essentially say the same thing. One is Essentialism and the other is The One Thing. Just focus on one thing. That is really good advice and it’s not easy. I know it’s not easy. I know we have a million ideas and you want to build your business. I will tell you the key is focusing on that one thing.
Focus and put all your energy, even if it’s only part time. If you only have two hours a day, you do that one thing, and you find out what’s the biggest driver of your business. For me, the biggest driver is my daily email. That’s the first thing I do. I wake up, I go to the coffee shop, and that’s the first thing I do is write that daily email. For you, it might be Facebook ads or it might doing a video or it might be doing a podcast. It’s going to be different for everybody. Whatever that most important thing is to drive that business forward, do that first. Focus, focus, focus.
Be like my other clients, like Zach and don’t stop. Niche it down. Take all this stuff together and then build that on a concept or idea or a platform or concept that you love. I love entrepreneurship, lifestyle entrepreneurship. I could talk about this all freaking day. Whatever that thing is that gets you really, really excited, tap into that and your enthusiasm is infectious, you’re doing the big things and you’re focused with your blinders on and you’re ignoring all the bright, shiny objects. You’re not like, “Man, now I have to do SnapChat. Now I’ve got to do Pinterest.”
“Whatever that most important thing is to drive that business forward, do that first. Focus, focus, focus.”
You’re focused and you’re doing the right things. Do those basics. Do the big things and you just can’t lose. Obviously, make sure you’re following the right guys. If you’re following Pat Rigsby, good. You’re in good hands with Pat. Follow what I do. We’ve been doing this a long time. We’re not going to lead you astray. I can’t stand when these guys who come into the fitness market—a young guy who’s like 21—never made a dollar in his life.
He’s all, “I’m going to teach you how to make six figures a year as a personal trainer.” It’s like, what are you talking about, man? You never trained a client. You don’t even know what you’re talking about. Follow the people who have been in your shoes, who understand, who are actually ethical and care about your success. There’s a lot of sharks.