Everything I Needed to Know About Business, I Learned from Dungeons and Dragons

Written by Pete Figtree on . Posted in Guest Posts

I started my weight loss journey in 2006. I really got serious about losing weight and doing it right for about four months in 2009 (right before my wedding). People started telling me I was an inspiration and asking me to help THEM lose weight in 2010. I got the wild idea I could make a living out of it in 2011.

July 2011, right after graduating from one of the most intense 6 month vocational programs for personal trainers that I know of, I started Action Hero Fitness. It was supposed to be geek and nerd inspired fitness. We’d have themed classes (Danger Room and Away Team Training), personal and small group training. It would also have sliding scale fees, because I wanted fitness to be accessible and affordable. I’d teach some normal classes – cardio kickboxing, Dance and Pilates formats – to “hide the secret base”. I went full bore and got started.

I bought all the equipment I could fit into my trunk (I was a mobile trainer and would come to you). I made some seriously poor choices on times I could teach. I even got into a business partnership that was horribly wrong for me. I thought I had to do it all alone and “by the book”.

I believe in failing often and failing fast. I did both in the first year. I let my corporation dissolve, let my business license expire, and considered throwing in the towel almost every other day. After facing horrible defeat at the end of my first year, I decided to get back to my roots for inspiration – gaming. These are the lessons I’ve learned in starting your own business – especially when completely changing vocations:

Create Your Character Sheet

You know you. You know you better than you think you do and if you want to be in business, you had better write your character sheet down. Write down everything you are good at, everything you like to do, and everything that is important to do. Make note of your motivations, what drives you. Build your background, why have you ended up here. Make note of your skills, everything you are exceptional at (and even more important, what you suck at).

Your character sheet is your armor, your weapons, your skills, your attributes, your role in the party, your strengths and weaknesses. You need to know this. This is the cornerstone of what is to come and unless you clearly and HONESTLY assess and document all this information, you are going to fall short.

Assemble Your Party

You know your skill set and you know the role you play. Now put up the “LFT” sign and build your party. Low level wizards don’t make good tanks (depending on the edition you’re playing, they never make good tanks, but I digress). If you want to be a caster, pick up a rogue, a tank and a healer (at minimum). The same is true in business.

If you want to be the face/personality/front person of the business and you hate having to deal with marketing or the finances – get someone to keep the books and do all the publicity for you. These can be people you know who would love to support you in this endeavor. They can be programs you purchase or people you employ.

A family friend is my treasurer. My husband is my vice president. Any purchases over $100 have to be cleared by all three of us. That works for me. The friend has years in banking and can keep the books. The VP is there for the “gut check” and strategy partner. We still don’t have our marketing guru, but we’re still “LFM” and will know when we find them.

Come tax time, I take a deep breath and hire a CPA. I know when something is out of my league and if I want to continue doing what I do best-being a killer personal trainer and thinking up some awesome and fun workouts-I have to be willing to turn other things over. I don’t have the same skills the CPA has when it comes to tax time.

Make Preparations

You’d never storm the castle without some sort of plan. Make your plan. Determine who you’re going to target, why they would pick you, what you can provide that no one else can provide or how you’re different. Know your value, make your plans. Know where you are going and why. Know as much of “how” you are going to get there as you can.

You may not have the whole map, but if you at least know how to get to the next town or three and the wilds/wilderness/tribulations between here and there, you’re better off than a good many people. Make it your business to know as much as you can about your competition. Know where they are, the road they are traveling and who they are going after.

Determine what is right for you and what isn’t. Set your boundaries and know when you’re going to walk away. Not every opportunity is going to be right for you. Some of them will make you cringe but you’ll be sitting there telling yourself, “If I pass this up, I’m never going to get another chance.” I’m here to tell you, there is always another shop, always another drop, always something that is right for you. Be willing to walk away. It’s the toughest thing to learn but it will save you a lot of grief and burned bridges.

Don’t spend all your time “getting ready to get ready.” Make some decent preparations and put together some general strategies and then set out on the road to adventure. No one ever got famous “planning” the raid on the dragon’s lair. They got off their tushes and DID IT.

Set Up a Watch Schedule

Every party I’ve either DM’ed or have played with, set up some sort of watch rotation when the group made camp for the night. Casters would discuss the spell lists, what they thought would be coming next and what they could prepare for the following day. Tanks/damage dealers would review the combats of the previous day, determine what went well and what didn’t and they would make adjustments. The party would reflect and plan and then they would decide who would take first watch. Do the same with your business.

Every opportunity you get – I would recommend daily – reflect. What went well? What would you like to do better next time? What do you think you’re going to come up against in the next day? What small adjustments do you need to make to your course? You don’t have to do this with the whole business party, but you – as the owner/entrepreneur have to do it daily.

Once a month get the whole group together. Take a look at what happened over the last month, ask each person what changes need to be made to their specialty, what plays are working well and what aren’t, where do you need to go next.

Once a year you will need to do the BIG reflection where you think about the next mission you’re going to take and plan how you get there as well as determine where you are now and if you didn’t accomplish your last mission, why you fell short. This is another meeting that will take everyone in your business “party” and could take a few days.

When it’s obvious your plan is wrong, change the plan.

They say, “The plan never survives first contact with the enemy.” It’s true. You can plan for what you know, that’s the best you can do. You know the dragon’s strengths and weaknesses. You know the layout of the lair. You know most of the denizens around the place but you don’t know what traps you are going to face or when a surprise encounter is just around the bend, so you do the best you can do and you adapt.

Business is the same way. You never know when a recession is going to hit. What happens if all your clients leave? What happens if everyone in your family gets laid off and you now have to work this fledgling business while working your full time job and everyone else either goes to school or looks for work? You didn’t plan for it, you didn’t even get a hint on the wind it was coming, but now you’re faced with this challenge. So adapt.

Your party is there with you, strategize with them, make plans, exercise damage control and overcome the challenge. Not every challenge is a combat. Sometimes it’s a diplomacy thing, other times it could just be a case of mistaken identity. Figure out where you are, work through it and resume your journey.

Retreat is ALWAYS an option, but don’t let fear paralyze you.

There is always value in a strategic retreat. Knowing that if you fall back to a defensible location you can turn the tide of a combat is a valuable thing. The same is true in business.

If you find yourself getting overwhelmed or pummeled, make a strategic retreat. Fall back. If you have a defensible position, then turn the tide in your favor from that position. If you’re getting pummeled, find out what decision you made that caused you to get your behind handed to you and correct it. Maybe you’re going after a market that you’re not passionate about. Maybe you’re making offers that aren’t good fits for you but you’re doing it because you think you “have” to. Maybe, like me, you’re offering to take clients at times that really don’t work for you. If so – retreat.

The challenge is knowing when you’re retreating because you’re just not ready for a combat and retreating because you’re afraid of moving forward. Do an honest assessment. Do you really think you have everything you need to move forward? Have you planned? Are you equipped? Have you actually MET the enemy on the battle field? If the answers are Yes/Yes/Yes and No – MOVE! Don’t let fear rob you of your prize. If you’ve met the enemy on the battle field and you’re taking a beating, then – and only then – is a strategic retreat in order. Fail early. Fail fast. Fail forward.

Never forget why you are there.

Every good adventuring party knows what the goal is. Every solid entrepreneur does too. My purpose at Action Hero Fitness is to make health and fitness fun and affordable. I want to create a community that supports one another, has fun and reaches goals that are celebrated. Knowing that colors everything I do with the company. I name exercises like Spiderman climbs and Superman pushups. I have an action hero board where people gain levels as they get closer to their goals. Every time someone gains a level, there is a celebration. I even let my clients choose “Super Hero Names” if they want to – because it’s FUN. Never forget the reason you’re doing what you’re doing. Some days, it’s the only thing that will keep you pushing through the next challenge.

The most enlightening statement ever made about gamers in my presence was, “Gamers like to know the rules. They need to know every rule so they can bend them, interpret them and manipulate them to their own ends.”

Business is the same way. Learn the rules, then bend them, interpret them and manipulate the ones that you legally can – to your own ends.


Tonja (aka GmrGirl) is a die hard D&D geek, MMO player and occasional card game/board game player who is passionate about a lot of things. Hobbies include thinking up cool workout programs (Danger Room/Action Hero Training/Zombie Apocalypse Survival Training), photography, hiking and gaming when she can find the time. Action Hero Fitness is her blend of her favorite things – the celebration of her geekiness with health and fitness!

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Pete Figtree

Pete Figtree


I am a father, a teacher, and a gamer. I believe that games can give us some keen insights into our lives, and I know that they can encourage and foster friendships and community.

Ruthless Diastema: Loading the Dice for a Meaningful Life

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