fitness business

Building A Successful Fitness Business With A Remote Team

Shane Farmer and Dark Horse Rowing are proving that a fitness business can be run with a remote team. Here are his six tips for success!

Emily Beers
February 23, 2023
Shane Farmer and Dark Horse Rowing are proving that a fitness business can be run with a remote team. Here are his six tips for success!

Since 2015, when Shane Farmer founded Dark Horse Rowing, one of his biggest successes was building an effective remote team.

A former collegiate rower, Farmer was part of CrossFit HQ’s rowing seminar staff and competed in the The Games with CrossFit Invictus. After all that, he decided to start his own programming business.

From the start, Dark Horse Rowing programs were designed to compliment people’s primary training. Many clients were already doing things like GPP (general physical preparedness) or competitive CrossFit.

Shane Farmer, Founder of Dark Horse Rowing
Shane Farmer, Founder of Dark Horse Rowing (Photo Credit:

“Inherently, most people hate rowing in the market I work with,” said Farmer. “So I’m not trying to work with rowers.”

Instead, he caters to people like CrossFit athletes who want to fix their rowing weakness, or are looking for additional gym programming. He also targets lifestyle fitness enthusiasts: Family people without extra time on their hands. His programming allows this group to easily choose one machine - the rower - and do three weekly workouts from home.

Though rowing is obviously the “bread and butter” for Dark Horse Rowing, the company also offers other options. Clients can access bodyweight programs, mobility and some simple dumbbell/kettlebell strength training as well.

Today, Dark Horse Rowing has thousands of clients in an increasingly-competitive, online fitness market. Farmer has successfully built and properly nurtured a remote team of eight people. And today, he’s sharing his tips for success.

Farmer’s Six Tips For Building A Remote Team:

1. Think About Opportunities From A Global Perspective.

Unlike brick-and-mortar gym owners, the remote business owner “isn’t limited by regional restraints,” Farmer explained. Not having to find coaches who live - or are willing to live - nearby can be extremely beneficial.

First, a broader candidate pool means Farmer has been able to find the perfect people for each role. Farmer admits this often means recruiting team members whose strengths complement his weaknesses.

Second, his staff is worldwide, which helps with serving clients in various time zones. Farmer currently has employees in the United States, Canada, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. So when one team is outside of office hours, another is on the clock.

In the same way gym owners prefer hiring coaches from within their community, Farmer says a remote team can be built the same way. Some of his own team members were long-term, loyal followers of his brand or part of his YouTube channel community.

“That to me is the best,” he said. “Because they already know you and want to work with you.”

Pro Tip: The next time you’re looking to hire, check out, a job board specifically for fitness professionals!

2. Keep Online Meetings To A Minimum.

The Dark Horse Rowing remote team consists of a support person, a video editor, a copy editor, as well as an events manager. They meet once per week via Zoom. And Farmer says the goal is keeping meetings to a max of 30 minutes.

Keep online meetings quick for your remote team

He went on to clarify that this doesn’t mean only connecting with employees once per week. Much of the Dark Horse Rowing communication is done on their Slack channel. The weekly Zoom calls are meant to be a quick team huddle for updates and important info.

3. Don’t Underestimate Mentorship.

Managing a remote team comes with just as many challenges as traditional gym ownership. Therefore, having a mentor who’s been there helps to navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

Farmer’s advice is, “Find mentors to learn from for each of the really important pieces.” For him, that’s selling, copywriting and support. And since each business is unique, it’s natural to have differing mentorship needs too.

Beyond just direction and advice, there are quite a few good reasons to hire a business mentor.

4. When It Comes To Technology, Do Your Homework.

Technology is an essential piece of running a business and managing a remote team properly. The earlier you can find the right software to maximize your business efficiency, the better.

Farmer’s advice is to invest the time upfront with your options. Book a demo or do a free trial to test the software you’re exploring. He even recommends initially choosing a higher-priced, month-to-month plan. As opposed to committing for a year, let the technology prove helpful first.

“Build simply, and add systems as you need them,” said Farmer. “And when you run into a problem, go find a system that works. But don’t over-invest in any technology. Only add on as you need.”

When you do find the software that works best for your remote team, Farmer says to take full advantage of the opportunities. For Dark Horse Rowing, this meant partnering with various software companies to grow the business.

As an example, gyms that use PushPress can offer their clients the ability to purchase Dark Horse Rowing programs directly on the PushPress Train app. The endurance affiliate program is like a “program in a box.” It includes rowing, Ski Ergs and bikes, helping affiliates to add variety and revenue streams.

Affiliate programming includes rowing, ski ergs and bikes

5. Trust Your Gut.

Farmer admits that, when it comes to employee performance, having a remote team can be a little tricky. Because he doesn’t see his staff in-person on a regular basis, there have been a few occasions where employment lasted longer than it should’ve.

It’s easier to avoid those uncomfortable conversations, he notes. But each time, letting the issue go too long has come back to be detrimental.

Therefore, Farmer simply recommends trusting your gut. Hire slowly and fire quickly.

6. Give Your Remote Team Freedom.

The perks of being on a remote team include flexibility and autonomy, among other things. If that’s what you enjoy as an entrepreneur, chances are your team is seeking the same benefits.

Being cognizant of this, Farmer says he essentially leaves employees to their own devices. He believes that, as long as the work gets done (and done well), does it matter when they do it, or how long it takes them?

“I like to give a lot of autonomy,” he said. “I don’t have hourly requirements. People don't have to check in at certain times. Everyone is a contractor. I don’t have any requirements other than, ‘Let’s get the job done.’”

In Summary: Put Yourself In Remote Control.

Shane Farmer is proof that managing a remote team is achievable. And in the case of Dark Horse Rowing, the potential for that success exists in the fitness industry. Farmer recommends not limiting yourself geographically when searching for candidates. He says to keep weekly meetings short and give your team autonomy. Do your research when it comes to technology. Hire a mentor to help you navigate the waters and always trust your gut.

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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