Our story has nothing to do with “once upon a time”. It is of true, hard facts about our experiences to help us be where we are today and where we plan to be in the future.
Some of you may have similar experiences and can relate. Some may have chosen a different path. We are all trying to get to the same place, to have the freedom to choose a life that we envision while calling ourselves successful business owners.
We are going to start with some of the lowest points that started our leap from employee to business owner 4 years ago and the obstacles that would have stopped most people from moving forward.
Let’s say we jumped in head-first and haven’t looked back.
We had to start our business out of our garage while Oscar was in a cast, on crutches, and on a knee scooter (while recovering from an Achilles’ tendon rupture and repair surgery).
We received a threatening letter from an ex-employer’s attorney in attempts to force a non-compete clause once our strictly cash business (which was started in our garage) was successfully growing.
We went from restaurant to restaurant eating Surf and Turf to relying on eating cups of noodles, top ramen, and Spam as our daily meals just to save money.
We pulled out all of our retirement money from a 401K in order to survive for one year as we began our entrepreneur adventure.
We had to split up from a nightmare of a business partner who was holding us back from achieving our business dream.
We had to pay double the original rent amount plus an additional security deposit to eliminate our business partner from the lease who happened to have his home as the personal guarantee.
We had to completely rebrand our business with a new logo, new colors, a full remodel, and transition from sports physical therapy to women’s health and Pilates.
We had to work second jobs to be able to pay our bills as we worked around the clock (especially when the kids went to sleep) – including building our own original website to help get our business off the ground.
Worked 7 days a week for 18 hours, sometimes 20 hours a day, for a full year or longer to help our business keep marching forward.
Sacrificed 4.5 years with no medical, dental, or vision insurance for both of us.
Had to endure and survive financially during a world pandemic as employees fled and were forced to be shut down for nearly 10 weeks by our property manager due to a Covid case in the building.
Have you ever been broken? When you set out to live your dream by opening a business and while you always envision everything going great, bad things start to happen?
No matter how hard you work the dream turns into a nightmare.
You invest every ounce of who you are emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, financially, and physically into your dream and it still hits a wall and disintegrates.
Have you ever been broken like that? We have.
Our story isn’t about recovering from failure, although if you are going to lead and/or own a business, you will learn those lessons.
However, it is good for you to know the DNA, of our success in every area of our business in the last 4 years following this crazy story.
Our past experiences, times of difficulties, and our failure are at the root of our success today – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our story is a bit of a playbook.
We will describe to you the methods we used to achieve unusual levels of not only financial success, but more important, tremendous satisfaction and joy from our business and how thankful we are for everything that life has thrown at us.
The point is, you can win at business and have a blast doing it along the way – no matter what life decides to throw at you.
So how do our life experiences and failures play into your success? Our story is not made up of formulas based on research.
Our story is based on principles that were discovered by experience and taught to us by Paul Gough. Our story is dotted with lots of blood, gallons of sweat, laser focus, many tears, and a deep desire to achieve our goal.
Hopefully, we will be able to help you learn from us and our team what we have learned by DOING IT.
At The Start
Our original company as co-owners (Athletic Body Specialists) started in March 2016 from a very humble beginning in a garage while living in Beaverton, Oregon prior to moving to Carlsbad, CA, and starting LEVEL4 PT & Wellness in September 2016.
We worked for a respected outpatient sports physical therapy company in Portland, OR.
Dawn was originally hired to help out with their new location which provided Pilates rehab and Oscar was hired to help develop and run their new sports performance and PT facility.
In 2016, you would think that we were two PTs living the American dream with our two daughters (Alexa and Sophia), living in our new 4-bedroom home (purchased 6 months prior) in the suburbs of Portland, while both working in our dream jobs.
Then life decided to throw our family a curveball when we both lost our jobs.
For the first decade of our careers, we had been kicked in the teeth plenty of times: given false hopes and promises from past employers – even lied to.
We were taken advantage of in more ways than one and we had enough. We decided to start our first cash practice (Athletic Body Specialists or ABS) out of our three-car garage.
Oscar ran the practice, while Dawn began working in home health part-time and part-time women’s health out of our home and out of rental space in a professional business building.
Our reputations in the local community helped us get our business off the ground quickly.
We were shocked when we noticed that we were bringing in more money for ourselves on a weekly basis than we had ever done working for anyone else, even when Oscar was working 60+ hours a week as a clinic director.
But we knew we wanted more out of life.
Early in our careers, we had lived in sunny Southern California and Oscar had had enough of the rainy and cold Pacific Northwest and wanted to move to where he had always originally wanted to live since a child: San Diego.
Dawn thought that Oscar was completely nuts at first because she prioritizes stability for her family (as most great women should), but one quick visit to Carlsbad and she was sold.
It was a risky choice, but we wanted to live back in Southern California. We wanted to provide our daughters with the same sunny and beachy lifestyle we craved and missed.
Luckily, the housing market in Portland was hot, so we were able to sell our home in hours.
Thirty days later, we packed up two U Hauls and drove from one corner of the country to another, heading for a two-bedroom outdated townhouse a mile and a half from the beach in Northern San Diego.
We were picking up and starting all over again in a new part of the country.
A former coworker of Oscar’s out of PT school caught word that we were moving and he had a proposal: to allow him to become a business partner because he had already been living in San Diego for 5 years and he had supposedly developed strong relationships with orthopedic doctors and other referral sources.
We agreed that he would put in $20K startup and we would provide an additional $20K for the equipment.
We also cashed out Oscar’s 401K ($70K) to live off of the first year and Dawn worked home health part-time.
We had the hope to defy all statistics and build a successful and profitable business by our second year. Boy, were we wrong!
California life doesn’t come cheap. By our second year in business, we had quickly run through our retirement money and Dawn’s part-time home health job was barely keeping us afloat.
Meals predominantly consisted of Ramen noodles out of small Styrofoam cups. Adversity will force you to dig deep and find out who you truly are.
Many quit. That’s easy. As Paul mentioned in his November issue of Planet Paul: “Tough Times Don’t Build Character, They Reveal It”.
Even if you are currently experiencing similar struggles or even worse circumstances, we can tell you first hand from our experience – we know what it is like to be in fear of not knowing how you are going to pay your mortgage or rent, to feel embarrassed and ashamed inside.
We know how it feels when at times you think you are doing the wrong thing and you should just throw in the towel.
Our First Location
When we first opened LEVEL4 in January of 2017 we were in a 6ft x 16ft room, shared by three practitioners, tucked away in a corner inside a fitness facility in another town.
We had no business loan or line of credit, just lots of grit to the point we could afford our own space 12 months later.
The personal trainers at the facility were not welcoming. We felt tension on our first day with the stares and sarcastic rhetoric.
They saw us as a rival gang on their turf. Oscar was getting hate emails from the personal trainer telling him that his treatments with his clients were all wrong.
We then became aware that the leader of the personal trainers was frustrated with himself.
He saw himself as the top trainer and couldn’t figure out how we were growing so fast and charging the prices that we were ($175 per session).
This helped us focus on finding a way to move out into our own space.
We met clients at their homes and even saw them at a local park if we had to until we negotiated a temporary lease for a small office, while our new location was being renovated.
We finally moved into our 2,900 sq. ft. facility with the plans for a full-service PT and wellness space around New Year’s Day 2018 in Encinitas.
The start was very slow as our online presence was dropped from Google. The first year was rough.
We started paying ourselves a minimal salary partway into the year and weren’t profitable until nearing the end of 2018.
Our long-term goal was to create a business where clients don’t want to leave; a membership model that starts off in steps.
That was how we founded “LEVEL4” with the 4th level being our wellness plan that all clients were transitioned to.
With PT being the first line of entry for most of the clients and our start of charging higher prices in this new space we were not going to need as many clients, but they would be the right ones.
That way, if we took the goal of building a membership model we could have a stable way to keep the cash flow coming in.
Our biggest shift in 2019, was when we attended our first CEO MM meeting (and the relief was lifted when we had others giving us advice we needed).
We parted ways with our business partner in January 2019. What we thought was a perfect partnership turned out to be a complete disaster.
We knew it had to be done for the business to continue growing. Some of you may feel like this is a daunting task; separating from a business partner or firing your first employee.
When you make your decision from an objective stance versus making an emotional decision – the decisions you make with much more clarity and confidence are liberating.
This also caused another financial hit, but after the separation, we came out ahead and profitable in the first and second quarter of 2019 because we had a new momentum.
We hit record numbers following the separation.
Investing In Ourselves
From the start, we knew we had to actively focus on personal development and leadership. Over the years we have read countless books to help enrich our minds.
Oscar devours books. He reads a minimum of 70 books per year, just so he can study and learn from other great businesses from different industries and apply them to our business model.
Since we moved to San Diego, we enrolled in Accelerator (twice), 4% Club, attended Sales Bootcamp and Marketing Strategies events, read all four of Paul’s books numerous times, independently studied his sales program, have listened to every one of Paul’s Podcasts, YouTube videos, joined CEO Mastermind, and in 2019 authored a book – with a second book released during May 2020 while our office was forced to close during the beginning of the pandemic.
All while still attempting to raise our two daughters alone, coaching their soccer teams, homeschooling… and we’re still married!
Self-Growth And Leadership
We understand and are aware that as leaders, one of our responsibilities and skills comes to recognizing when we need to “whack” our star performer; when to blood new talent; when to change our game plan altogether, and when to grow as people.
Organizational decline is inevitable unless leaders prepare for change -especially when something like a pandemic is thrown at you.
It’s hard to explain what does it take to truly make it in this challenging entrepreneur journey, but we do know that you have to embrace being uncomfortable.
When we started we had no experience, no knowledge, no money, no connections, no place to stay -. We literally had nothing.
We had only one thing – a passion to change things, to change our and our client’s lives.
Discipline is so important, so holding ourselves and our staff to daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly accountability goals has been key.
We achieve this through weekly 3-hour meetings every Friday afternoon where every staff member brings a summary of their week along with their strategy as to how they objectively think they can contribute to pushing their department forward (and company) and assure we all “land the airplane safely on the runway.”
We currently have 7 employees, fired 4 employees, more than 400 clients, clients that have stayed with us and continue to pay us every month for more than a year, our brand is present in our local community and we now are working towards having a half a million-dollar business moving into our 4th year while we both have stepped away from the treatment room.
Our clients come before us, before our people, before everything. We care about every person who is willing to spend money and trust us.
We will do everything we can to please each client. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. We do it for ourselves.
We won’t lie. In the end, we also do it for ourselves. We improve day by day to become the best possible version we can be.
To become an inspiration for others. For our employees, clients, family, our 4% Mastermind group members, and our CEO MM group members.
In our greatest battles, there are no winners, only survivors. The wins, they all blur together. The losses are etched in your mind forever.
At some point, the only way to succeed is to stop giving a f@*k! It’s a mindset that we highly recommend and a statement you will often hear Paul say.
We have learned through 2020 that the people we have on board who truly value their role and our company will get you through everything with the right direction.
We shut down from March to May with so much uncertainty in the world and (2) two of our best employees stayed by our side without a paycheck during that time in order to see through it all and keep us alive.
Growth only comes from adversity. When you’re comfortable, you’re never really growing – because what’s the point?
We’ve learned a hell of a lot in the past couple of years. Ultimately, we realized that ‘eating caviar’ is not about actually eating caviar.
It’s about the important things: building a secure future, having more financial freedom, and having time for yourself and your family.
We value our family time more, and we share all the many lessons we’ve learned with others. We hope we have shared them with you.
We didn’t share this story with you to just win a competition, but rather to help other members in our 4% Mastermind Group learn from our mistakes and struggles and to hopefully help them avoid making the same mistakes.
More importantly, to inspire you on how through adversity – there is always an answer to your problems. You just have to find them.
Remember what Paul says: “Business is a game of chess, not checkers”.
We had to come to terms that life and being an entrepreneur is a cruel teacher. They love to give you the test first and the lesson later. And we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Five Marketing Campaigns That We Implemented in 2020
1. Google Ads $1,200/month budget – By far the best marketing investment month after month. In the last 6 months, we generated 23 leads on our worst month and 39 on our best month on Google ads alone. (this program is arranged and taken care of by Paul’s Private Practicing Agency)
2. Newspapers – Since Covid, our local newspaper has reduced its delivery time from weekly to bi-weekly.
This has made it difficult to run consistent informative ads that build on each other week by week so we tend to interchange our ads between educational and free guide ads.
We have been successful with acquiring leads from every ad that we ran for the entire year of 2020.
3. Authored our 2nd Book – Published during May 2020 when there was still a lockdown in CA and have been using it for shock and awe packages and warming up clients to gain more trust before they are a paying customer.
4. Podcast – Dawn started in fall 2020 as a way of networking with other professionals and giving more information in another platform to the women’s health clientele.
5. Weekly email blasts – Ongoing offers and Referral for Rewards campaigns.
4% Club Mastermind Involvement
1. Facebook Group – Great for tactile questions and motivation if you get stuck. However, since joining CEO we have not been as involved.
We still check in from time to time to see how we can help answer someone’s question. However, because of the clear direction and plan we are provided in our CEO group, we have found that we don’t rely as heavily on it as in the beginning.
2. Planet Paul Newsletter – We love Planet Paul! It’s a great resource for reminding us of key concepts that Paul and all of the other contributors are teaching.
We also listen to all of the CDs to and from work and even on road trips. Even our kids can recite Paul’s quotes. It’s hilarious!
We also contribute to the newsletter from time to time to share our greatest achievements and successes with the group.
3. Weekly Q/A Calls with Paul – We often like watching the replays because we can pause, rewind, and take good notes.
We can even forward it when he goes on one of his rants. Just kidding! The calls are by far the most valuable part of being in Mastermind.
Paul is always great at refocusing our thoughts and challenges our thinking as business owners.
The calls help us think about things from a more strategic and higher level. Every week we leave the call with an actionable idea that immediately impacts our business.
4. Monthly Strategy Calls with Barry/Simon – The best part about these calls is that they talk to so many business owners from around the globe that often know what has been helpful for other business owners and will pass on the information to help you.
They truly care about your business and want to see you succeed. Make sure you schedule out your calls regularly because they are quite popular.
5. 2-Day Meetings – We look forward to attending each 2-day meeting event with our 4% Club.
It’s a great opportunity to be surrounded by other like-minded business owners for an entire 2 days! The best part is that each event gets better and better.
The entire Paul team does an amazing job and outdo themselves at each event to make sure you have an experience of a lifetime for your time and money.
Paul and his team are always looking for new ways to WOW us at these events and they deliver every time.
6. Networking with other members – It doesn’t get any better than this. This has been one of the most exciting benefits.
Being able to network with other business owners who are spread out throughout the globe is one of the greatest aspects of being part of Planet Paul.
There exists a more unique connection to wanting to make sure everyone in the group succeeds.
Three BIG Challenges That We Faced During the Last 12 Months – And How We Overcame Each One:
1. Having to close our doors for 10 weeks due to Covid – Operational excellence, chased opportunities, maintained a positive mindset for ourselves, staff members, and clients.
We published our second book. We kept marketing and increased our budget on Google.
We quickly transitioned to offering virtual PT, Pilates, fitness, and yoga classes, while maintaining and strengthening client relationships.
We raised our prices from $350 to $395. We continued to invest money in the growth of the company by hiring more staff.
We went from a team of 2 at the beginning of 2020 and ended up with a team of 9 by the end of the year and both of us out of the treatment room.
2. Hiring and retaining staff – We lost two staff members as soon as Covid was mentioned and there was word that there was going to be unemployment benefits for 16 weeks.
We were able to fill their roles by ‘hiring up’ and hiring second staff members in their department. We sure were able to see who really was on our team when the sh*t hit the fan.
But being able to provide certainty to an uncertain situation we were a team of 4 people who pulled together and rallied for one common purpose and goal and are proud to say came out on top in the end.
3. Financial Ignorance – In the beginning, we used to fly by the seat of our pants when it came to finances.
We would basically check our bank balance at the end of the month and ask if any money was left. If so, we chalked it up as a win.
But in 2020 we were able to gain a lot of clarity by implementing Cockpit relentlessly. Business is all about a numbers game, it is VITAL that you know yours.
Top 3 Things We Did This Year That Helped with Growth
1. Hiring the right people to replace ourselves: We can’t say enough about how important this is.
Combining our revised recruitment process with a solid onboarding process has allowed both of us to step away from the treatment room and the freedom to be business owners who are “growing” a business versus “running” a business.
2. Consistent Marketing: We committed to continue marketing aggressively during the 10 weeks we were shut due to Covid (Google ads, newspaper, weekly broadcast emails, FB ads, etc.).
The consistency allowed us to build trust and stay in front of our Perfect Patient.
Consistent newspaper ads have fuelled our growth and has created greater omnipresence within our community.
3. Focusing on Culture: We fired 2 people based on our core values and protecting the culture of our environment.
This is huge when you realize that protecting the culture and elevating it makes the entire team value their role so much more and keeps propelling us forward.
Three Pivotal Mindset Shifts That Led To More Profitability And Our Best Year Yet
1. Strive to be respected, not liked: This has been liberating, to say the least. Throughout this past year, we had to let go of several staff members and pass on seeing a few clients maintain the culture that we have set.
Being in control of your environment and playing by your rules versus always feeling like you have to bend over backward for people because you “think” you have to has been so revolutionary for us and has led to larger profits.
Reminding yourself of this concept when it comes to both clients and staff will significantly increase the efficiency and productivity of your staff, the quality of the clients you serve, and more importantly, your happiness.
2. Understanding That We Are In the Relationship Business: Focusing on building and maintaining relationships throughout the pandemic resulted in a significant profitable return.
By contacting all of our clients if they were OK during the initial crisis (March-May), hand-delivering care packages to our year of care clients, weekly email broadcasts which contained positive messages and brought certainty to an uncertain situation allowed us to keep 100% of our “Year of Care” members and others paid their yearly membership upfront for 2021 ($24,000) because they trust in us that we will ALWAYS be there to take care of them.
3. Asking ourselves “Who are the people we need to become to achieve the goals and success we want to achieve?” This goes back to personal growth.
We understand that the biggest risk to our business success is us. Many times, this past year it has been easy to believe that what we were doing (especially our failures) represented us as people.
This type of mindset can be no further than the truth.
It is easy to fall into this way of thinking trap because there were so many hard lessons that we learned for very few and short-lived wins that it was important for us to shift our mindset and realize that our business was still succeeding DESPITE us and our failures as leaders.
Paul once said that in reality “many of us are all rookie business owners trying to figure it out while employing professional employees.”
That gave us reassurance that no matter how many challenging obstacles were still heading our way we realized that the biggest risk to the business was us not being able to lead it.
By looking within ourselves first, we’ve been able to make very tough CEO-level decisions, and we have been able to develop a much clearer vision.
Two Specific Achievements We’ve Made In The Area of Staff
1. Relentless Focus on Culture (Scorecards): Culture is a true reflection of what we as business owners tolerate from both our staff and the clients we serve.
As Paul said: “Culture teaches people how to behave.”. One of the areas of culture that we significantly improved was accountability through the use of scorecards for each role.
Now everyone has a clear vision for what their main responsibilities are, knows what their measurements of performance are, and where they need to improve.
2. Improving our recruitment, interview, and on-boarding process (Paul-style): Going through several painful hiring mistakes has allowed us to step back and assess where was our biggest point of failure during the hiring process.
Hiring the right people for the roles that our company needed was HUGE because a poor recruitment process was severely hindering growth.
We ended up going back and refining the questions we were asking specifically to the role.
We made sure we split up the interview process into 5 stages (phone call, in person for skill qualification, in-person for core values qualification, in-person for hands-on demonstration, in-person team member panel interview for culture qualification).
We noticed that the longer we invested in developing a relationship with the candidate on the front end, a much greater success was achieved in the end.
Tightening our recruitment and interview process by looking for people who really shared and demonstrated the company’s core values and with a track history of upholding our standards has been a major achievement for us.
3 Ways that the CEO Mastermind Contributed To Our Success:
1. Personal Growth: We can honestly tell you that we are not the same people since we started CEO in 2019.
Being in a room with 10 other business owners (plus Paul) around a table for two days talking about solving problems forces personal growth.
There is no better experience to be able to witness the growth of each other’s businesses and personal growth within ourselves – all while enjoying the same journey of creating better lives for ourselves and our families.
2. Clarity and Confidence: Having a trusted group of people to tell you what you NEED to hear versus what you WANT to hear to help you keep moving forward.
We all have what we call “blind spots” and the group is great at having you see the true problem versus what you want it to be.
You always know that every single member has your best interest in mind and they can help you see things from an objective point of view versus an emotional one.
3. Accountability: We love our group and have grown closer and closer every year because we all have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and care about the success of each other’s business.
Nobody can do it alone! When you have a team that you know is cheering you on and are always there where you need them makes it even more special.
Their support and accountability have been the number one driving force behind huge pivotal shifts that have happened for us and our business.
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