“Protect The Family” 5 Leadership Lessons With Billy Polson, Founder of DIAKADI
“The team of individuals which comprise your work community are the key component in building the most successful and inspiring work atmosphere for your employees as well as your clients. Your role as the owner is to protect and intelligently grow this ‘family’ at ALL times through the development of a thorough, scrupulous interview process. During our early years we did not take adequate time for truly vetting the staff members and trainers coming in to our facility. Consequently, there were times that individuals were brought in to the community that were not an ideal match for the facility and vibe of our team. Eventually, these individuals have found their way back out of the facility, but our current five step interview process has proven invaluable in guaranteeing that only the ideal matches of trainers and staff members ever make it in the door.”
I had the pleasure to interview Billy Polson, BS, CSCS. Billy is a nationally recognized performance coach, fitness entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and the founder/co-owner of DIAKADI. As a fitness performance coach, he was named by Men’s Journal Magazine as one of the Top 100 Trainers in America, as well as one of the Top 10 Trainers in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Chronicle and Haute Magazine. Peers and other fitness professionals look to Billy as a fitness advisor and business coach for good reason — Billy devotes his own life and energy towards helping others learn how to live the strong, healthy, successful and happy life they were meant to live. From his undergraduate and post-graduate studies, his national certifications, his 20+ years of experience working as a coach and trainer, and a lifetime spent as a competitive athlete, Billy knows body dynamics, injury prevention and how to maximize personal performance. He puts it all together, and is the rare trainer who has the knowledge to give, the experience to relate, the passion to share, and the natural gift to teach.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? How did you get into your industry?
I have always had a split personality: 50 percent mathlete + 50 percent athlete. What started as a competitive mathlete and soccer player in high school, developed into competitive collegiate cheerleading and tumbling while obtaining a degree in statistics from UNC Chapel Hill. After graduation in 1992, faced with minimal options for a career in athletics, I began my original career as a database programmer. Yes–a desk job– while I continued to follow my passion for coaching and competing outside of the office. After five years of the corporate ‘golden handcuffs’ I decided enough was enough. The personal training industry was just starting to take shape and progressing beyond the belief that trainers were simply luxury items for the wealthy populations. I knew already that life is way too short to spend every day doing something that doesn’t make you GLOW, so I began studying for my personal trainer certification. For 12 months, I worked two full-time jobs, training clients as an independent trainer in the early morning and late evenings, while database programming as my nine to five, until I was finally ready to make the leap. In 1998, moving to a full time independent training career, I finally discovered what it means to look forward to your work every day. I began to experience the incredible rush that comes from helping someone achieve an ultimate goal for their body and often their life. My life would never be the same again.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
My mom is a worrier– a BIG one. So of course, the idea of our opening a gym in San Francisco and signing a $500k lease, with her as a co-signer, was not an easy pill for her to handle. In fact, during our grand opening event, she walked around the party explaining to guests that she thought I was ‘crazy’. She explained to several guests, ‘I have no idea why someone would open a gym directly across the street from a Gold’s Gym.’ Then asking, ‘Why would you choose to come and workout at DIAKADI?’ Needless to say, after 14 years of ‘The Best’ accolades, two expansions, and half a million training sessions, she is much less nervous.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on currently?
We are focusing on three major projects for 2018:
Fitness Entrepreneur 101 Coaching and Coursework. For 14 years, DIAKADI and DIAKADI’s Business Movement have helped hundreds of advanced level personal trainers with developing the business skills to become a successful independent trainer and fitness entrepreneur. This year, we are expanding this fitness business coaching to fitness professionals worldwide through our Fitness Entrepreneur 101 course curriculum and coaching opportunities. For trainers considering the possibility of becoming their own boss or for fitness professionals that currently have an independent training practice or fitness facility that is performing below expectations, the FE101 course will provide the skills, tools and confidence to create your most profitable fitness business. Following an initial business skills assessment, students will combine private business coaching sessions with online guided study and video lectures, in order to create effective Business, Financial and Marketing plans for guaranteed success in their fitness business ventures.
DIAKADI NEXT Intern Program. After years of turning away young trainers, explaining that they needed to ‘gain more industry experience’ before joining DIAKADI’s team of advanced level trainers, we have realized that we have a bigger responsibility to assist in the proper education and molding of these young fitness professionals. We also realized that we were turning away vast amounts of business and missing out on the opportunity to build our ideal roster of future independent trainers for DIAKADI. So, in 2018, we are building the DIAKADI NEXT Performance and Business Internship program. We offer a flexible schedule, build your own curriculum program for certified personal trainers to develop the concepts of fitness performance training while also mastering the key elements and systems necessary for being a successful fitness entrepreneur and small business owner.
DIAKADI Strength + Performance (DSP) Small Group Training Camps. Our brand is built around the creation of assessment based, truly individualized training programs for every DIAKADI client. Staying true to our brand, we have steered clear of the generic workout programming found in the bulk of the group training brands that are currently sweeping the country. I won’t name names.
But the supportive community and team focused workouts of small group training are incredibly FUN and inviting to clients. So, we built the DSP Small Group Training Camps to provide the safety and efficiency of assessment-based workouts in a group fitness atmosphere. Every DSP client receives an assessment and individualized programming while working with a cohort of 4–8 people throughout their 4–6-week training camps. No single drop-in sessions are allowed, keeping the team experience protected and uplifting throughout the program.
What would you advise to a young person who aspires to follow your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Set the Bar
At EVERY opportunity, work to go above and beyond expectations in every way. From your education and skillset to your customer experience and gratitude, your entire business brand should exceed far beyond the ‘norm’ for your industry in order to truly differentiate from your competitors and guarantee your emergence from the pack.
As my coach and mentor Todd Holcomb explains, build your career in a way that you’ll “show up to life every day in a way that lights you up and changes everyone around you.” Our business is the business of helping people find their GLOW, and there is no way you can help someone GLOW without finding your GLOW. Find it and shine brightly! The rest will come naturally.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Outside of the gym and fitness business coaching, I focus on bringing goodness to the lives of a group of the sweetest, hairiest, stinkiest breath little critters you could ever imagine — senior rescue dogs. After rescuing our senior German Shepherd named Rex several years ago, my eyes were opened to the heart-filled world of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco. Sherri Franklin, named a CNN National Hero in 2017, created Muttville in 2007 in an effort to find homes for these wonderful little guys and girls to thrive during their final years. Some of my favorite hours each week are spent walking, photographing and loving these gentle souls, while raising awareness about the responsibility we each have as pet owners and guardians of their worlds.
Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?
For more than 16 years, my business coach and mentor Todd Holcomb (Grow Mind and Spirit) has been a constant source of creative insight, inspiration and support for my life and business. The current branding for DIAKADI as well as the over-deliver methodology we bring to our Business Movement coaching are all a direct result of Todd’s leadership. In fact, Todd and I were sitting at a small table in an outdoor cafe in San Francisco 15 years ago when Todd laid out a series of mock newspaper headlines for what could possibly lie down the road for my fitness business. One headline read ’New Training Center Revolutionizes SF Fitness Market’. DIAKADI opened its doors a year later. Thank you, Todd, for continuing to share your generous heart and wisdom with me.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Do It All, Kick Ass Doing It = DIAKADI
I live my life by it as well as run (and name!) my business by it. Enjoy every experience that this crazy world has to offer us and live every minute at 110%.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started my own gym” and why. (Please share a story or example for each)
- HIRE A TRUSTWORTHY SHARK
As small business owners, most of us do not have the funds to purchase a space from day one. As a renter, I recommend hiring a real estate agent that is a trustworthy shark to not only thoroughly explain the pit falls of a rental lease but to also fight hard for getting the best deal possible. 15 years ago, we knew NOTHING about ‘common area expenses’ and ‘property taxes responsibilities’ and that naivety came back to bite us in the butt when our building sold in the crazy real estate market of San Francisco.
- SWEAT + CARPET = DISGUSTING
NO room in any gym should ever be carpeted! We thought it would be nice to have an industrial carpet in the stretch room and offices for comfort. NOPE. Always look for flooring options that are easier to clean and maintain.
- FINANCIALS ARE FOR PROS
I know that money will be tight in the beginning, but if you are not experienced with setting up the books for a business, take the extra money to hire a professional to set up your financial software. Then have them teach you how to manage it correctly. While juggling a full-time training schedule and the operations of running a brand-new fitness facility, we had a college student working our front desk set up our QuickBooks in the beginning. How hard could it be, right? BAD IDEA! We then had to pay a professional A LOT of money to dig through all of our mess and rebuild the entire system. Budget the funds to do it correctly the first time.
- BUILDOUT BLUES
If you are opening your business in any large urban area, be prepared that the construction process will most likely be filled with delays, frustrations, surprises and adjustments to your original plans. When we first opened DIAKADI, due to a longstanding illegal billboard located on top of our building, we got caught in a permit violation war between our landlord, the previous building owner and the city building department. For TWO YEARS we had to operate without showers while we waited for the completion of the court case. During this delay, we did everything we could to provide our clients with alternate methods for showering in the mornings, with most people taking a bird bath in the sinks. But it was obviously NOT the ideal way to start our business. Be ready to be creative, patient, and a diligent problem solver.
- PROTECT THE FAMILY
The team of individuals which comprise your work community are the key component in building the most successful and inspiring work atmosphere for your employees as well as your clients. Your role as the owner is to protect and intelligently grow this ‘family’ at ALL times through the development of a thorough, scrupulous interview process. During the early years at DIAKADI, we did not take adequate time for truly vetting the staff members and trainers coming in to our facility. Consequently, there were times that individuals were brought in to the community that were not an ideal match for the facility and vibe of our team. Eventually, these individuals have found their way back out of the facility, but our current five step interview process has proven invaluable in guaranteeing that only the ideal matches of trainers and staff members ever make it in the door.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this.
I recently read an interview with Barbara Corcoran that detailed the gritty, creative approach she used in building her successful career from the ground up. I would greatly enjoy hearing more of her personal stories on business development as well as her creative insight into the further development of DIAKADI and The Business Movement.