Take time out every day to move your body, exercise or do something that challenges your body. It will enhance your productivity and improve your health.
Nick Mitchell is an author, writer, fitness expert and founder of the world’s leading personal training business Ultimate Performance (U.P.).
He is widely recognised as one of the world’s foremost personal trainers and body composition experts.
Nick is the global CEO of the Ultimate Performance Group, which is widely considered to be the only truly global personal training business.
Nick launched the U.P. business in the City of London in 2009. The business has now expanded operations across four continents, including gyms in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Dubai, Sydney, Singapore and Amsterdam, with an ever-evolving team of 250 elite personal trainers.
Nick is the author of a number of best-selling books including 12 Week Body Plan, Your Ultimate Body Transformation Plan, Principles of Muscle Building Program Design, and most recently Body Transformation Meal Plan Design.
He is now based in Los Angeles, California, where he is spearheading the expansion of the U.P. business across North America.
Where did the idea for Ultimate Performance Group come from?
The one consistent thing in my life, all my life, aside from my family, has been the gym.
I started going to the gym when I was 14. I’m 46 now so I have been going for a long time.
In the 1990s I competed as a bodybuilder.
Bodybuilding for many many years was my obsession.
I fell into becoming a personal trainer in my mid-30s because I didn’t know what else I wanted to do with myself.
I’d had a varied career before that, which was perhaps more corporate or rooted in academia than personal training is.
I went into personal training quite reluctantly. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.
I was 34 years of age. I was putting a suit on every morning and I just hated my life.
I didn’t think this was where I wanted to be. It wasn’t for me.
I really sincerely believe we should find things that fulfil us in life.For me, I needed to be fulfilled by work.
I’m from a self-made family. I needed to prove myself and I didn’t think I had proved myself. If I hadn’t done that I would have felt I was a failure for the rest of my life.
So, with my back to the wall and with the fear factor for the very first time in my life I took the plunge and it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done, aside from having my children.
I channelled all that fear and anger with myself in a very positive way.
I looked at the personal training businesses that were around at the time, when I was in London in 2007.
I didn’t like what they did.
What personal training businesses were offering was ‘fluffy’ training and what we call ‘rent-a-friend’ or at best an ‘entertrainer’.
This wasn’t for me. I come from a background of hardcore bodybuilding gyms.
I wanted to bring that visceral emotional experience to the personal training client and give them results.
Ultimate Performance was founded on giving the client maximum results in minimum time – charging top dollar, but having people come to me and say ‘I would have paid more’. I was always overdelivering on value and I didn’t see anyone else doing this in personal training.
The business was borne from that. It was the marriage of visceral emotional ‘tough love’ environment I had grown up in around bodybuilding gyms from the age of 14, coupled with a more professional veneer and, as I trained as a lawyer, coupled with the concept of being a trusted advisor.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day isn’t great to use as a model for anyone to emulate.
I’m based in Los Angeles and I have businesses all across the world, and all ahead of me in their time zones. Starting in Sydney, going to Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai, Amsterdam, London and the U.K., and then all the way across to LA.
I’m a million miles behind the day when I wake up.
The first thing I do when I wake up is check my phone, which nobody should do.
I tend to get seven or eight hours of work without a break done at the start of the day.
I get up, I have a shower, I grab a cup of black coffee, I sit down and work, then take a break to have a little stroll around, then have a little bit more black coffee and work again, then I exercise.
I make an hour every single day to exercise.
It’s part of my job, so it’s easier for me than an entrepreneur in a different industry. It’s a release mechanism for me. Exercise is my meditation.
I weight train four times a week. That’s my biggest indulgence of time. But when I don’t weight train, I’ve engineered my life so that I live very close to the beach in LA and I will go for a walk or a run on the beach, or I will ride my bicycle around Santa Monica. Every single day I do something like that, I move my body and it massively enhances my productivity.
I will get 12 hours a day in, then I take a couple of hours off to spend time with my children. Then I might do a little more work at night depending on time zones and what day of the week it is.
In terms of being productive, I don’t have any fabulous productivity tips.
I have a list every day of the things I want to get done. I never get it done.
It’s like a Sisyphean task rolling a boulder up the hill, that is the life of an entrepreneur.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have way too many ideas. My team must live in fear of late night emails where I’ve switched off from my day-to-day jobs and now I’m sat there thinking of ideas.
I pluck ideas from absolutely everything – business books or good autobiographies.
I struggle to read good business books because I’ll be three pages in and I’ll have half a page of notes and half a page of ideas.
How do I actually bring these ideas to life? We test them.
I’ll give you one example of the process I take. Let’s say we wanted to try a new role – a content editor, for example.
It might cost us $50,000 a year in wages.
I would say ‘Six months, $25,000. Is it worth a $25,000 punt on this new role?’ You can extend ‘role’ to ‘project’, ‘app development’ or whatever it may be.
If it’s a disaster, are we going to lose all $25,000 or maybe get $12,500 value?
If it’s a $12,500 punt, we have to weigh it up and look at the costs, all our regular coats, can we afford it. Then usually, we will go for it as an experiment to see if it works.
I would say 75% of the time it works. 3 out of 4 – you can’t expect to win everything.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In the fitness industry, the VR trend. There’s a business called ‘Peleton’ that’s a fabulous business. There are very few businesses that I like in the fitness industry. But Peleton is amazing.
I’m sure the costs on their technology development are huge. But their business is phenomenal. You spend a ridiculous amount of money on a Spin bike, then they feed shot video or live videos at you and you interact with maybe 1,000 people all over the world doing exactly what you’re doing and following an instructor.
The top instructors are making an absolute fortune.
I’ve never heard of anyone in the Client-facing end of the fitness industry making as much money.
I think that aspect of marrying technology with fitness, which everybody will be hearing about, that for me is the most exciting thing.
The most exciting thing that will change the diet industry and have a profound effect on millions of people’s health is when (not if) and I believe Alphabet, Google’s parent company, are investing huge sums in the technology now, when we have the technology to be able to take a photograph of the phone on our plate and we will get a reasonable accurate estimation of what’s there – calories, macronutrients and that kind of thing.
Right now, all the tracking software and people’s ability to track their diets, requires you to be quite anal.
The most popular food app at the moment is MyFitnessPal. It’s awful. You’ve got to spend time putting all the numbers in, which is not for the majority of people.
That will all change when it’s as simple as ‘here’s what I’m eating. Take a picture.’
The barriers, then, are gone for the user.
Once you start to properly track what you eat, it’s a huge wake-up call for most people.
Most people, however, can’t be bothered to do it. But when we have this technology, that will be a billion-dollar app and will have a profound impact on the world in terms of health.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I don’t spend time thinking about my habits. I don’t think I do anything special.
I just try to master the fundamentals and do it time after time after time after time.
What has helped me as an entrepreneur is that I come from a background, a family and a school founded on ‘tough love’.
I couldn’t do what I do without tough love.
You have to give praise where it’s due. But you have to give constructive criticism.
I’m not afraid of giving constructive criticism. My job as my business has grown from just an idea in my head to a multi-national business, is to be the standard bearer and gatekeeper. The buck stops with me. That means my job is a huge pain in the ass. I have to be the bad guy with absolutely everybody. I also have to be the bad guy with myself.
I’m an equal opportunities bad guy.
I can’t let things slide. That habit has helped me the most.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The advice I would give myself is simple.
The hardest experiences I’ve had were when I started the business when I opened the first gym and I put a lot of myself into it. Any personal trainers working with small teams will understand this and will go through this all the time and is arguably one of the biggest hurdles to growing a business in personal training – you invest so much of yourself in your team, and they’ll stab you in the back – or even in the front. The fitness industry, more than most, is full of fickle people who don’t think twice about stabbing you in the back.
I had that quite early on. It hurt.
You have to see this as a game – a game you want to win and a game that obsesses you and you take super seriously, because this is the game that feeds your family.
But it is a game. If it’s not terminal or criminal, don’t let it bug you and don’t let it be the thing that wakes you up at 3 in the morning and means you can’t get back to sleep because it’s playing over and over in your mind.
I still have these times when things bug me and play over in my mind, but you build up a callus to bad experiences.
Poor judgment creates bad experiences and bad experiences create good judgement. So you can’t be frightened to put yourself in positions where you’re going to make mistakes because that’s what you learn from.
The advice that I would give is simply not to take things to heart. You still have to give of yourself to people. My product is my people, so you have to give of yourself.
But you have to have a line to keep things away otherwise it’s very hard emotionally.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The only thing that pops into my head, but that most entrepreneurs and business owners agree with me on, but I don’t think the rest of the world necessarily understands this is that if someone messes with you, you mess with them back.
If someone messes with you, you don’t turn the other cheek, you have to set an example.
If someone messes with you in private, you can be softer and more conciliatory – it’s often not worth the fight.
But if someone messes with you publicly, which ex-employees often do across all industries, you fight your corner and you fight your corner hard.
Not everyone understands that, and not everyone gets that.
Business is a game, but sometimes with competition, it’s a war.
So, my attitude is that if someone messes with me, I’m going to find a way to go after them. It might take me two years, five years, 10 years, but I’m going to find a way to go after them and I’m going to make sure everybody knows I’m going to go after them.
Because what that does is acts as a deterrent. It’s not about being aggressive, it’s about setting a tone and setting an example and making sure people don’t want to mess with you in the future.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Everybody with sense knows that tough love works. Everybody knows that constructive criticism works. Everybody knows that failing forwards is the thing that works.
Everybody should know that being fair and honest with people – forget morals and ethics – is the right way to do business if you’re in it for the long term.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
There is no one strategy. There are a thousand strategies and equally almost no strategies.
There are a thousands of daily habits you need to live by to build your business.
But there is no one trick. It’s mastering the fundamentals and doing them day in, day out.
It’s being relentless. It’s being patient. It’s also being inpatient. Being impatiently patient is hugely important in Business.
One strategy that’s helped me? It’s a people-driven business and so in a people-driven business it can’t be the ‘Nick Mitchell show’. I named the business Ultimate Performance – I didn’t give it slime eponymous title like ‘Nick Mitchell Personal Training.’
I wanted to be bigger than just myself. In order to have what we have now, it’s ‘we’ not ‘me’. And it’s always been ‘we’ not ‘me’. The strategy is always ‘we’ not ‘me’.
It means finding the right people, giving them an opportunity, and if they fail, possibly giving them an opportunity to try again, and if they succeed and prove themselves, great.
If someone succeeds and proves themselves, you can forgive themselves far more easily if they go onto fail.
It’s about giving the right people the right opportunities when they deserve it. When they deserve it, having the opportunity there for them to take on. And being fair, honest and straight. If you’re fair and honest and straight with people, I’ve found you can also be pretty hard. My team would say I’m a pretty hard guy to please, but I would hope they would also say that honest and fair and you know where you stand with me.
You’ve got to know where you stand with your boss or the person leading the movement that they’re going to buy into it.
I’ve infected my core team with a united goal and belief in what we’re trying to do. And what we’re trying to do is really create a world class business – I want to create an Apple or a Google within Personal Training.
It’s about infecting the team with the right standards to achieve that vision.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I had to learn to be more cautious. For most entrepreneurs that comes with bad experiences – we learn good judgement from when things go wrong so long as we’re prepared to take an honest look at our actions and thought processes.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I was speaking to one of our best guys at UP – Mark Bohannon and he was talking to me about the funeral home business and how the funeral home business must be ripe for modern social media advertising. I think that’s a great idea.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’m at the stage of my life where I don’t look at what things cost, unless they cost a lot of money.
When I spend $100, I don’t really know. We went to a cinema recently in Pacific Palisades where it was $27 for one ticket. For one large popcorn one large Diet Coke, it came to $50.
But we had a great time in a small, private and very intimate cinema with beautiful seats. Goldie Hawn was two seats away.
It was pretty cool and a nice experience. But the best experience is when I spend $2 on gas, throw the bikes in the truck, drive to the beach, and as a family we go riding.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I don’t use anything at all aside from my Gmail which prioritizes my emails.
Other than that, I don’t use anything fancy.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Entrepreneurs are alone. It’s lonely at the top. Heavy lies the crown, if you’re the boss.
Reading autobiographies by successful men and women is very useful and very inspirational.
If you really wanted one book, it would be the Rockefeller biography by Ron Chernow because JD Rockefeller was amazing. You don’t have to live your life like him, but when you read the book you understand the why and the how he did what he did.
I think when you read about the so-called ‘Robber Barons’ like JP Morgan and the Vanderbilts and people like Rockefeller. These, to me, were canny, shrewd, Sharp, amazing businessmen.
What is your favorite quote?
I have lots. If it’s not terminal or criminal, don’t let it stress you out. That’s probably the best.
When I was younger and not happy with my life because I wasn’t working hard enough, there’s a phrase from King Lear ‘nothing will come of nothing’. Everyone should remember this. Especially because we have got the ‘participation trophy’ over-entitled younger generation who have the expectation they will all become superheroes, they should remember that ‘nothing will come of nothing’. If we apply nothing, then we will come to nothing in all aspects of life – getting in shape, building a business, our relationships. It’s very telling.
If nothing comes of nothing, then surely it stands that something will come of something. You’ve got to have skin in the game.
- Take time out every day to move your body, exercise or do something that challenges your body. It will enhance your productivity and improve your health.
- Take ideas, inspiration and motivation from everywhere and anywhere.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely – Learn lessons and take heart and inspiration from the biographies and books of the greatest business luminaries of the 20th and 21st century.
- There is no one strategy for success. There are a thousand daily habits you need to live by that will build business success. Master the fundamentals and do them day after day and success will follow.
- Don’t let the fear of making mistakes paralyse you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself into a place where mistakes occur. This is where you will learn and improve your craft.
Poor judgment creates bad experiences and bad experiences create good judgement.
- Develop a thick skin and don’t take things to heart in the game of business. If it’s not terminal or criminal, don’t let it stress you out and keep you awake at night.
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Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.