Great question.

The answer is a strong maybe with a side of “Probably not!

Obvious context: my name is Mark Fisher, and I own a gym named Mark Fisher Fitness, hi, it’s very nice to meet you, thrilled to be visiting you here in your inbox.

A question that comes up semi-frequently is: Why? Why did you choose to name your business after yourself?

Oh my sweet {Contact}. You make me blush and giggle with your assumptions that there was strategy involved in the early days. As if I wasn’t making every damn thing up as I went along. *Tee-hee* ←- Gigglez sound

When MFF started in 2011, it was just me. I had no intentions of having a team, let alone a physical location. At the time, I was a professional actor who was focusing a teeny bit more on a side hustle I loved. I was as surprised as anyone to see it catch fire. Even when things started ramping up, I had a clear vision of an awesome, lucrative freelancer job; one that would afford me a great lifestyle in between my TV and film gigs.

Then when things started taking off and Keeler came onboard as my partner, I was already operating under the name “Mark Fisher Fitness.” (Well… the laughably clunky “Mark Fisher Fitness Training and Consultations.”)

So that was the name people already knew. 

And remember, NYC is the home of David Barton. So there was some precedent for a drag-queen-loving fitness business named after the founder. And a number of the businesses I looked up to were also named after founders, most notably Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning and Cressey Sports Performance.

Plus I was still teaching the lion’s share of classes. And all of the email copy was (and still is) written by me. While we could have changed the name to something else, the reality is it never even occurred to me/ us to consider it. 

Candidly, this is something I continue to have mixed feelings about over the years.

First of all, once MFF became kind-of-a-thing, it was truly embarrassing to say the name for a while. I could see barely veiled eye rolls. I remember once meeting some other fit pros at a dinner for NYC fitness industry mucky-it-mucks. After being introduced, one person half-kiddingly-but-kinda-not “joked” with me: “WOW. You must have some ego, huh?”

Hahahahahahahahahaha

🙁

Ultimately, 10 years later, this name has worked more for us — and for me — than not. Sure, it overly directs attention (good and bad) my way. In particular, when the media started picking us up, there was some resentment from the staff on how much of the focus was on me and not on the team.

(For better or worse, founders always get more credit and blame than they deserve. Particularly in the media. While leaders have a big impact, one human only does so much. But when you think of pretty much any media profile piece on a business, how often do they cover “the members of the leadership team?” Or the staff as a whole? Literally never. Maaaaybe they talk about the culture. But even then, it goes right back to the founder who gets disproportionate credit for creating it. See Zappos/ Tony Hsieh RIP.)

But on balance, we’ve been able to leverage one of the most important elements of marketing success:

People want to work with a person (or people), NOT a business.

So we’ve been able to leverage my (admittedly coo-coo-choo) personal brand in building relationships with our members via email marketing and most internal communications. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m a decent writer, solid on camera, and a professional speaker. This has let us have our “personal brand cake” and eat it without requiring me to personally do most of the fulfillment.

And part of this is because we built a strong team that’s great at delivering the gift of fitness.

It allowed me to step back from training almost totally within 18 months of opening. Sure, there were complaints from Ninjas. And most people don’t like change. But as new people came in, the dynamic personalities of our team quickly forged meaningful relationships.

It also helped that when people offered to throw money at me to train them, the answer was always “Nope!”

With time freed up to work ON the business, it allowed me to upskill myself on all the other parts of running a training gym besides training clients. I studied management, finance, alternate training models, customer service, and more. And in my role as head of marketing, I have leveraged myself as a dancing monkey/ brand ambassador to great effect.

So…

Should YOU name your business after yourself?

Maybe, but probably not. 

It really depends on what you want for your life. If you plan to be the star trainer indefinitely, then it could work. But it will also mean the business will depend on you in a way that will limit some of your options. 

If you go this route, you’ll also have lots of clients assuming you’re the best trainer and demanding you personally. This too can be leveraged by simply charging a big ol’ premium. But this is different from business owner income. And it can be a tough thing to unwind if you do want to step back at some point. Especially when you’re personally pulling in most of the business’s revenue.

Alternatively, if you grow the business big enough to step out of the day-to-day and leverage your personal brand, it can also work. But particularly if you have a big personality, this only works if you have a strong team to run and refine your systems. Ideally you want this to happen anyway. But it becomes very necessary if you want to transition away from the many clients who joined up when you were doing 80-90%% of the training personally.

Regardless, you can still get a lot of the value of being personal-brand led. Find ways to channel your full, authentic, juicy, human self into your communications with your prospects and members. I mostly use email for this, but social media is obviously a great way to do this too.

Long term, one of the vulnerabilities of a personal-brand led business is what’s called “key man risk.” Basically this means your business is hard to sell because buyers assume — possibly correctly — that your biz is a personality cult that will fall apart when the keystone is removed.

Now you may be able to get out of this by doing a rebrand. 

I’m not looking to sell MFF anytime soon, but I have been thinking about rebranding. I’m very comfortable being our dancing monkey. I see the upside for the business. And I see the upside for me personally. But I hate the implication that it’s a personality cult.

I broached this with Keeler recently.

He gave me one of his kind responses along the lines of “Sure, we can talk more.” Usually this is Keeler’s nice way of saying: “I see this matters to you and I’m not dismissing your concerns but I sense you’re having feelings and that doesn’t always lead to clear thinking so I’m going to talk you out of it later.”

I guess we’ll see! 🙂

So there you have it {Contact}. The inside scoop on how we’ve thought about it over the years, and how we’re thinking about it now.

Current gym owners, hopefully this helps you consider the pros and cons of your name. And for those aspiring training gym owners, maybe you’ll be a bit more intentional about the decision!

[Quirky Mark-style sign off see personal branding IN YO FACE!],

PS Want to check out a training-gym focused podcast with legit guests and actionable strategies?

Oh you saucy minx! I’ve got one for you right here in my back pocket...

Check out the Business for Unicorns podcast HERE.