If you manage a fitness facility, or particularly if you own one, the stakes are too high to depend on trial-and-error learning for how to optimize the business and make it a place where physical and financial success is achieved. You can take valuable insights from others in the field to instantly upgrade how you operate.
In this guide, I’m sharing the best advice to help new and existing gyms run smoother, increase revenue, and ultimately have a positive effect on more of the people who work and train there. You won’t want to miss any of these unique tips!
If you’re ready to manage your gym better, schedule a demo with Exercise.com.
#17 – Set an identity and stick to it
What sets your gym apart from the many others a prospective customer might join? Before you can communicate it to them, you have to know the answer yourself! Think of how you want to be perceived and what will give you not only financial success but also satisfaction.
An identity can be based on a certain type of methodology, the atmosphere you create, or the population you serve. You could be anything from a Pilates studio to a blood-on-the-bar hardcore powerlifting gym, but once you determine who you are stick to that so that people can clearly identify what you do and how your gym is different from the competition.
Check the video above where Dean, Kellie, and Tony talk about the importance of finding your niche and identity.
#16 – Advertise selectively
When you own or manage a gym, you’re flooded with pitches for advertising opportunities. From spots on the local high school scoreboard to radio ads, many organizations will approach you to sell advertising; be prepared to say “No” most of the time.
Just because you’re offered the spot doesn’t mean it’s a good call for your business, it’s just the salesperson’s job to ask as many businesses as they can and sell ad space to any who bite. Contrarily, it’s your job to be selective and only commit money to ads which have a high return on investment.
Don’t be sold on how many people will potentially see an ad, decide based on whether the potential viewers will be high-quality leads for your business. Case in point, if your potential clientele is a narrow group, broadcast advertising like billboards or radio ads are likely a waste. Instead, you should narrowcast by aiming ads only where you have potential customers.
#15 – Leverage professional help
Gyms just getting off the ground or struggling financially need to do as much free DIY marketing as possible but if you have the room in your budget, getting the help of an advertising agency can be a worthwhile investment. Before you think, “What can they do that I can’t?” consider this:
As a fitness professional, you can provide a superior result for clients compared to what they’d achieve on their own even though many people likely ask themselves, “What can a trainer do that I can’t?” They simply aren’t aware of how much more you know about training than they do. Now, the shoe is on the other foot with you as the client. Remember that an advertising professional knows their game every bit as well as you know the fitness game.
Find a reputable marketing agency with a track record of success, preferably one that has worked with fitness professionals in the past, and do a consultation with them to learn what they can offer you. This day and age, online digital marketing is the gold standard, and professionals in this arena can precisely target your audience with ads and implement processes for turning viewers into clients with much more control and sophistication than any form of print media.
#14 – Represent your business with a well-designed website
Far more people will research your gym online than will walk in your door to ask for information. It is highly likely that your website will be where they get their first impression and it’s up to you to make it a good one!
Because many small business gyms are falling far short of their potential when it comes to the perception they create through their website, you can quickly gain a competitive advantage by investing more effort into yours. Your site should be visually appealing, user-friendly, and clearly convey information all while expressing your gym’s identity as mentioned earlier.
How do you make sure you have a website that’s up to par? You can enlist professional help as with advertising if your budget allows, or, if you have an eye for design, take it on yourself. With inexpensive, easy-to-use tools like Wix and Squarespace which have great-looking templates to simply drag and drop your content into, there’s no excuse not to have a respectable site that makes a good impression.
Of course, you can always enlist the help of Exercise.com for all of your custom-branded website and smartphone application needs.
Get custom-branded web and smartphone applications through Exercise.com!
#13 – Don’t rely on cheap pricing promotions
Free, Cheap, and Easy. You may expect these words to attract people to your gym and sometimes they will, but what happens every time is they lower the perceived value of what your gym offers. Think about it: If you ascribe a cheap price to something, what are you telling customers about the value of it?
I’m not saying never give a trial class or a reward for referrals, but don’t make it so often or so easy that people get the impression it isn’t worth much. If you do that, particularly as their introduction to your gym, it may be impossible to raise their opinion or their price of membership up to the level it really should be down the road.
What’s more, you need to consider who you’re attracting. Low price or No Commitment advertising attracts people who either don’t take fitness seriously enough to invest in it or people who are already looking for a way out as soon as they start. These members are of little value to your gym as they don’t contribute to the community, don’t refer others, and are the most likely to give you payment collection problems.
Particularly if you’re a small business, you don’t want to get into the discount price war. That’s the battleground of big-box gyms who choose the high volume-low quality strategy. The best way to compete is to offer a premium service and make sure it’s perceived as such.
#12 – Make your pricing clear and simple
In the modern marketplace for nearly any type of product or service, customers are used to having instant access to information. Giving them the run-around on pricing or making them go through several steps to get information can lose them before you even have a shot at making a sale.
You can avoid this pitfall by making your pricing and service options easy to understand and remember. For example, rather than tiered pricing for personal training sessions (1 per week – $70 each, 2 per week – $60 each, etc.) decide on the single figure your training is truly worth and charge a flat fee.
Gym owners and managers also must inevitably decide on whether or not to make their prices public. I strongly suggest you do for two reasons:
1) It eliminates the risk of losing good prospects who just want to know a price before coming in physically,
2) Anyone who sees the price and thinks it’s too expensive was not a qualified customer for your business anyway. You’ve allowed them to filter themselves out before any time is wasted on a fruitless consultation.
#11 – Pitch the Pros of your business, not the Cons of someone else’s
As tempting as it can be to put down your competition when speaking to a prospect, resist that urge! Sure, at the time you might get a head nod or an “Oh, I didn’t know that,” but in the long run, you’ll only hurt yourself.
Regardless of the validity of your criticism, prospects will remember you as being negative and will possibly perceive it as insecurity; especially if they’ve shopped around and had a good impression of the competitor.
Clients want to have a positive experience during their consultation appointment and during their hopeful future participation at your gym, so set up the situation in a way where they’ll remember you as the positive person who made them feel confident and capable.
What if the prospect asks you directly to compare yourself to the competition, how do you handle it?
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples which show the wrong approach and the right one:
#10 – Maintain Price Integrity
Price integrity means two things:
1) Holding true to the value of what you offer by not undercutting the price
2) Every client that registers for the same service pays the same price
Thinking specifically about point number two, if your first thought is: “Of course everyone pays the same, don’t they always?” you likely have a good ethical compass but haven’t spent much time working in the fitness industry.
Unfortunately, it’s common practice for gym managers and salespeople to let their hunger for the sale override their sense of fairness and many companies support the practice of charging full price for some members and discounting for others. For both moral and practical reasons, this is bad business.
When members know they’re not being charged equitably, it drastically reduces their respect for and trust in your business. In turn, they won’t recommend you to anyone they know and likely won’t even consider renewing their own membership down the road.
What’s more, it is incredibly taxing and stressful for a staff member to keep secrets about the different prices people are paying. As a manager, you and your staff will be much happier and more satisfied working in a place with no secret deals where you can openly answer any question that arises concerning pricing.
Now you may be thinking, “What about sales and special promotions? When someone joins under those, can’t I give a discount?”
Yes, you can, but do so carefully and pay attention to how your full-price members will view the deal new members are getting. The last thing you want to do is alienate members who’ve been loyal supporters and there are two reliable ways to avoid that:
First, if you want to offer a new member discount, make it only on their initial costs at sign-up, not their ongoing monthly fee as this is what existing members will want to compare most. It will sit a lot better with them knowing they only missed saving money once, not every month.
Second, and preferable to the first option, is to not offer a discount, but an added value instead like complimentary personal training sessions. The key is to then offer the same bonus to you’re existing membership as well. This not only keeps things equitable but also lets members know they are valued. As an added bonus, you may even upgrade more members to personal training from standard memberships.
#9 – Get comfortable talking about money
Some gym managers are natural salespeople, the kind with charisma and self-assurance to spare who don’t get nervous in the sales situation. However, for many of us working in fitness, this does not come naturally and we have significant hurdles to get over when it comes to the monetary side of closing a sale.
It’s an all-too-common scenario: you’re in a consultation with a prospective client and the conversation has been going great, you’re totally comfortable talking fitness and goals. Then the moment comes when you have to transition to asking the person to sign up and pay you, now you lose your nerve and the confidence you had moments ago is gone.
It’s not just you who feels it, the customer sees your discomfort and reflects it too. The sudden awkward turn in the conversation can be enough to make them lose their excitement and fall back on the objections they already had in the back of their mind. Ultimately, the appointment ends with “I’m gonna think about it” or “I want to visit some other gyms before I decide”.
If that sounds like a situation you’ve experienced, you’re not alone. Many of us got into this field for our love of training and never cared to get involved in sales at all. But before you resign yourself to the thought, “I’ll just never be good at selling”, know that there are ways to get over your anxiety about discussing money. Here are the two most valuable strategies:
First, don’t project your relationship with money onto the customer. So you’re struggling to pay off student loans, pay rent, and keep the lights on; it’s understandable that money is an uncomfortable issue for you but don’t assume it’s the same for the customer. They could have money to spare and are ready to invest it in fitness if they find the right gym or trainer.
Second, you may lack confidence in the service you’re selling and need to step it up. To put it simply, you need to increase the quality of what you provide until you stop thinking “Is this worth the price?” and start thinking “Why wouldn’t they sign up?” (watch the video above where Kellie Davis talks about setting prices for your business).
When you know that you’re always going to give more value to the client than the price they’re paying, it will become much easier to ask them to pay it.
Grow and manage your fitness business better with Exercise.com
#8 – Keep a buffer in your budget
Think a gym can be successful in business just by being passionate about fitness and providing good training? Think again.
There are many very talented fitness professionals whose businesses have failed not because of failure to achieve fitness goals, but because of failure to prepare for financial hardships and unexpected expenses. You can minimize this risk by always leaving some buffer room in your budget.
Let’s start at the very beginning: you have a brand new business with a facility still being built and no equipment yet. Whatever funding you’ve received from a loan, investors, or personal savings, don’t assign a duty to every dollar.
Specifically, if you have a $75K budget to start the business, it’s a mistake to commit it all right away on $40K for renovations, $30K for equipment, $5K for rent and utilities. What will you do when the contractor ups the cost of his work from the estimate or you find out there are building code violations you’ll have to pay to fix?
The best way to prevent an unforeseen problem from derailing your business before you even get off the ground is to leave money aside that covers the inevitable unexpected challenges.
Keep the same thing in mind even if you manage a more stable business with a few years of operation under your belt. Never exhaust your bank account on discretionary spending; you never know when an A/C unit could break or a high-value client could move away and cancel their membership.
#7 – Use software that streamlines your business
If your gym is going to operate efficiently, management software is a non-negotiable necessity. Without a platform that tracks memberships and billing, you would need another full-time employee just to do all the manual record-keeping and payment processing.
Fortunately, business management software has become sophisticated enough that you can do far more than the bare minimum of billing and membership sales. All-in-one software like that offered by Exercise.com combines everything you need to operate your business from a financial standpoint plus specialty fitness features like workout creation and remote delivery.
With Exercise.com’s software, you can integrate your in-person business with your online presence giving members the ability to sign up for services on their own and even purchase additional products to add revenue without any extra work by you or your staff.
What’s more, clients will interact with your business through a custom-branded mobile app which opens up entirely new benefits your business can offer like performance health assessments and customized training that clients receive directly on their phones.
BONUS TIP: Always Know Your Numbers
Be sure your software can provide you with insights into the financial health of your company through instant access to reports. You should always know your gym’s monthly revenue, average member value, and member retention rate. These are equivalent to vital signs for your business and staying on top of them ensures you’re in the driver’s seat and not just along for the ride.
#6 – Keep records of everything
None of us got into a fitness career with dreams of handling accounting, taxes, and legalities but just like any other business entity, these are a necessary part of operating a gym. To pursue what you’re passionate about, you have to take precautions to protect the business from litigation and stay on the right side of your state’s Dept. of Revenue and the IRS.
Store membership contracts, waivers, cancellation letters, and even complaints; make sure you have a process for documenting and saving every bit of information on anything that goes on in your gym. On a routine basis, you’ll need financial records at minimum to file annual taxes but every business also has some degree of risk for more serious legal situations to arise.
Keep all the evidence you can to show that you’re doing everything in your gym above board. If, for instance, a member decides to dispute whether they gave you permission to draft their bank account, their signed authorization will be a handy document to have.
As another example, if a former client takes legal action against your business accusing you of causing physical injury to their back, their signed Health History Questionnaire where they indicated they had back pain preceding their training with you could save you from a major liability.
The point is not to expect the worst, just to be prepared for it. At the end of the day, it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have!
Depending on the market you live in, customers could have dozens or even hundreds of other options for where to accomplish their fitness goals. How are you going to stand out when the new customer is shopping around? How are you going to ensure your current members are with you for the long haul?
The answer is giving your gym a sense of community.
Most people enjoy and benefit from working out with others and even those who prefer to be independent will still like the positives that come from a people-focused approach to fitness:
- Gym staff and members know each other by name
- Members help hold each other accountable to keep up their consistency
- Members look forward to the social aspects of visiting your gym
- Members identify with the gym community and take pride in it
These benefits add up to one major takeaway that the business gains from most: members who form relationships and think of themselves as part of a community stay longer, promote your gym, and are more successful in achieving their goals.
Think about it: if your selling point is just the facility and its great equipment, what happens when a newer gym opens with nicer equipment? If people were only attracted to your gym because of low membership cost, what happens when another gym undercuts your price?
The answer in both scenarios is the member jumps ship because there’s nothing you’re providing that they can’t get somewhere else. Now factor in the emotional draw of being part of a community. The member will not leave their friends who count on them nor trade a coach who’s seen them through obstacles just to save $10 a month or to use a new toy.
#4 – Create processes for check-ups and testimonials
Keeping your members engaged and on track is critical to their success and your business’s. Don’t leave this to chance or think, “People will just come to me if they want to talk.” As the leader of the gym and its community, you should initiate those conversations and keep your finger on the pulse of your member base.
Do this with check-up appointments and have a process in place for making sure they’re done consistently and no one falls through the cracks. A check-up is a consultation with an existing client where you ask questions to find out about their progress, their outside life, and their overall satisfaction with your gym.
This shouldn’t be just another conversation during their workout, set aside time that is focused only on what they have to say and it will show you care and take their feedback seriously.
When it comes to implementing a process for check-ups, your goal should be to have a systematic method without your clients realizing it. Let me explain:
For efficiency and consistency, you should have a pre-planned schedule for when check-ups take place and set up a reminder or mark your calendar for when each member will have one. For instance, you could set one to be 60 days after they join, then every six months afterward for the duration of their membership.
A set schedule for these appointments makes it almost automatic on your end, but don’t reveal this schedule to members; from their perspective it should be a casual, organic moment when you ask them, “Hey Ryan, I want to sit down with you soon and hear how things are going. Do you have 15 minutes after your workout on Thursday?”
The check-up process naturally flows into a process for receiving testimonials and online reviews, which are crucial for attracting new members. These are something you must ask for and not assume members will think of doing on their own to help you. Here’s what you do:
During your check-up with a member, if they are enthusiastic and report being very satisfied with the gym, ask them in a natural way if they’d leave you a review on Google, Facebook, etc. You may say, for example, “That’s awesome! I’m glad things are going well for you. Would you be willing to share that story as a review online? When people see a 5-star review it goes a long way to helping us grow our community.”
The client who’s excited about the gym and grateful for your help will be more than willing to return the favor by taking a few minutes to give you a good rating. Also, note the mention of 5 stars, you’ve implied that’s what you need without awkwardly asking, “Will you give us 5 stars?”.
In the event that the member you see for a check-up isn’t very happy with their progress or excited about the community, of course, you will not yet ask them for a review. Instead, take their feedback and try to improve their experience between now and the next conversation so that you can get the great review then. Just taking the time to ask and pay attention to how they feel will already put them on the road to a better experience at your gym.
#3 – Encourage referrals organically
While many gyms have a system which encourages members to refer friends and family by rewarding them, there is a better way for small businesses to operate their referral program. It all comes down to making it organic rather than transactional.
Here’s the typical process:
The gym has an ongoing program with an advertised quid pro quo trade such as “Refer a friend and get 1 month free!” This is displayed on posters in the gym or sent by mass email to every member. Then, when a member refers someone, they come by your office to ask if you’ve credited their free month.
The problem is that this is nothing more than a transaction to the member; when they send a person who then joins, a reward is expected and you oblige. This does nothing to enhance the relationship with the member or their loyalty to your gym. What’s more, some members will just spam an invitation to everyone they know to try to gain more shots at their free month reward. That leaves you with getting visitors who are not the right fit for your community or what you offer.
Now, here’s the better way:
Offer your members something of value they can gift to a friend like a $50 gift card to the gym (not to be used by the member). Because it has value and scarcity, the member will not give it to just anyone; they’ll select the person who is most likely to use it and will be a viable candidate for inclusion in the gym community.
Thus, you don’t merely get junk leads, you get pre-qualified prospects your members filtered for you who are highly likely to join since they have the gift card and stay long-term because they’re a good fit. Additionally, you’ve given the existing member an opportunity to be the awesome friend who hooked-up the new member and will have a vested interest in their success and integration into the community.
There’s one more important step: you still reward the existing member for helping you out with the referral. The trick is that it’s not expected. It could go something like this, “Hey, Ryan, thanks so much for sending Josh our way! He’s a cool guy. He’ll fit in great here. I just wanted to return the favor so I got you a tub of that protein powder we talked about, enjoy!”
You can fill in any reward you like, the more personal the better, but you can also just discount their next month of membership. Because it’s a surprise and a personal interaction, it furthers their relationship with you. All in all, you’ve helped their friendship, gained a member, and built loyalty. Everyone’s happy, everyone wins.
#2 – Empower employees to bring out their best
When you manage a gym and hire staff, sometimes you hit the jackpot and get a rockstar employee with enthusiasm for the job and a head for business, but this is the exception, not the rule. Most employees come in as middle-of-the-road performers who need your leadership to get them from average to good or from good to great. Here’s the best strategy to upgrade your people:
When you see a spark of potential or skill, call it out and amplify it. It can be a small thing and the employee doesn’t have to be great at it, the trick is when you recognize them for it they’ll begin to think of it as a unique strength and invest more effort into making it even better. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that works due to one’s natural desire to build esteem and garner respect.
For instance, let’s say you employ a high school student part-time to do cleaning and upkeep at the gym. So far, he’s meeting expectations but doesn’t seek extra responsibility or show ambition to do better. On his way out one day, you say the following:
“Before you go, Brad, I just wanted to say thanks for the work you’re doing. Keeping the gym in good shape makes members happy and it makes my job easier knowing I can count on you.”
To Brad, this will make a huge impression and even if he’d never thought of his job as that important, he’ll want to grow into the image you have of him: the dependable guy whose work is important to the gym’s success.
You can utilize this strategy with staff members of all levels and duties. You’ll see improved performance and, in some cases, make a significant impact on the employee’s future.
In my personal experience, I have managed multiple gyms and now own one. I trace my career path back to a moment 10 years ago when, as a personal trainer, my manager told me that she thought I had leadership potential and asked for my opinion on a group of new job applicants.
#1 – Create a plan for employee development
It’s important to the success of an organization to have capable employees and keep them around. You can’t rely on chance to make this happen; great employees may be hard to find and the ones you do have could leave for greener pastures if you don’t develop loyalty. This is where employee development comes in.
You should create an organized path for employees to learn new skills, upgrade existing ones, and stay inspired to improve. This is particularly relevant to anyone who works as a coach or salesperson.
If your business can afford it, it’s great to send trainers to seminars or contribute money to pay for a certification. Because of the expense, gyms that do this often set requirements on the trainer to ensure they’ll benefit from their investment. For example, a minimum of twenty PT sessions per week and at least a year of employment.
But don’t think that the learning experiences have to be formal and end with a certificate; you can create content yourself and give bi-weekly or monthly presentations on business, fitness, and leadership that will greatly benefit staff who have the desire to learn. You can also involve them in the process by having them share skills with each other.
This education combined with one-on-one mentorship will level-up your employees and promote loyalty. After all, talented employees are much more likely to stay with you if the environment of your gym supports their growth and development.
Like me, you’re probably a fitness pro who got into gym management or ownership to advance your career and have a bigger impact. With the tried-and-true advice in this guide, you can upgrade your gym’s performance in business and your members’ success by taking what other leaders in the industry have learned from years of experience and applying it right away.
One of the biggest steps you can take to elevate your gym is to manage it with Exercise.com’s all-in-one Business Management Software. Take what’s already working in your business and make it even better with a platform that streamlines how you operate and improves your presentation with custom-branding that makes your website and mobile app truly yours.
Colton Tessener is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and gym owner from North Carolina. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from UNC-Wilmington and has 10 years of hands-on experience in coaching clients of all types on improving physical performance. His gym, Arise Athletics, has been recognized locally as Small Business of the Year and named one of the Best Gyms in Wake County (Raleigh, NC).