Starting a fitness business (any business!) can be a daunting prospect. Whether you are starting the business as a ‘fresh out of education’ ex student, or leaving the security of a regular income as an ‘employed’ person, the devil on your shoulder is always going to tell you how hard self employment is going to be and how risky it is financially... Quite possibly, that same devil will be shouting that you have ‘No chance of succeeding’!
Well, this article is to tell you that you have every chance of succeeding and enjoying a fantastic career in a rewarding industry - if you do it right! The tips and advice found here is not just regurgitated internet rubbish. It’s stuff that I have learnt through trial and error, as well as thorough research and learning over my time in fitness.
So, let’s get straight to the point. In no particular order, perhaps consider the following when building your new business:
1) Get your mindset right.
I wish I’d set out in business by myself a long time before I did. But I didn’t – mainly because I didn’t have the confidence to jump from my relatively secure jobs. I didn’t have the confidence, because I hadn’t taken any time to consider what it was I really wanted to do. I hadn’t laid out the risks and benefits of self-employment and certainly hadn’t rationalised these risks. My mind just saw self-employment as a ‘deep black sea’, teeming with danger. In my head, there was no chance I could jump into it and swim.
It’s natural that we feel nervous and inhibited about things we know nothing about… and so perhaps that is where you should start your business planning – Learn about what you want to do, about how others do it, about the risks and the benefits. Take time to study this. I mean really study it. Knowing what lies ahead is going to make you a lot more productive when you do dive in.
Remember that doing research into the business you want to build does not make the ‘deep black sea’ any less deep. Sure, the water is clear now, but you’re still going to have to swim like crazy to get to Paradise Island! Swimming like crazy requires work ethic. Not all of us have work ethic naturally… Apparently there is a gene for it (I think I missed out on this gene!). If you’re one of these people, you need to recognise this and do something about it. That may be planning your work time / business development into your diary just like you would a social engagement. It may be cajoling those around you to keep pushing you in the right direction (we all need social support!). Whatever it takes to get you to put in the necessary hours, do it! Setting up my business took six months of 12-14 hours a day working. I never stopped doing things. On top of the working hours, came thinking hours. I reckon I thought about my business for at least 2 hours every day. Developing ideas, clarifying ideas and ultimately, putting these ideas ON PAPER (that means writing folks)! Idea’s are just that, until you scribe them down and turn them slowly into a reality. (Don’t be one of those people that talks a lot, but doesn’t do a lot!).
Trust me, if you work as hard as you need to, then your new business will earn you money. You would have to be doing something monumentally wrong to not earn at least enough to keep your head above water in the first few months!
2) Be decisive
If you’re starting a new business, then don’t be ‘wishy-washy’. As discussed, a new business requires lots of time and effort. If you’re not committed to it, then it will fail. Believe in your self and believe in your product. Decide what you want to do. Decide to be successful at it. Decide to work hard enough to reach your goals.
3) Go niche or go BIG (and even if you go niche, go big)
The world of fitness has so many different facets to it. From Exercise Referral sessions with elderly patients, to elite sports fitness, to group exercise classes, to children’s fitness. All of these are niche’s that you may have a particular passion in.
My business was initially built around Exercise Referral. Myself and my business partner really wanted to do something more socially valuable than just provide fitness training courses to aspiring professionals, so we developed a range of workshops that specialised in teaching people about various medical conditions. Having this area of expertise helped us become established in the already over-populated world of ‘training provision’. We were the only company offering this unique training and thus, had no real rival and were perceived as the ‘experts’ in this field.
Niche’s are great. They can establish your identity. But… and I think there’s a big BUT… In my opinion, there simply is not a big enough market in fitness to stay as just a niche company. If you’re not careful, you can limit your market. Don’t do that, you’ll regret it. Be open and inclusive to everyone. Learn as many skills as you can and be a ‘Jack of all trades’. Even if you mainly focus on your specialist area, working in other areas will supplement your income and importantly, all your eggs won’t be in one basket.
4) Have a product
‘Having a product’ in fitness means two things:
Firstly, YOU are the main product. When you are selling Personal Training, or a fitness session of any description, it is YOU who people are buying into. So develop an identity. Often, that means either developing your personality, or getting better at showing your personality off! (You may have noticed that fitness is full of big personalities!). Developing your personality doesn’t mean you have to be a stereotypical loudmouth fitness instructor. But it does mean that you must be able to convey whatever your personality is, to your clients. That means you must communicate. You must develop your skills of body language, talking, listening and possibly these days, social media! Nobody will buy a box if they don’t know what’s inside it. Show your clients what and who you are. Take time to build relationships. Your future business success will depend entirely on this.
Secondly, think about your ‘fitness offering’. Fitness is a hard thing to sell, as it’s not a tangible product that people can see, hear, smell or feel (instantly)! You’re essentially selling an idea of what ‘fitness’ will be like when they have it. To sell an idea, you must help people to visualise what it is they will have. Help them to feel the emotions they will have when they attain ‘fitness’. This process is going to involve you understanding some simple psychological techniques. I’m not going to talk about those here – so you’re going to need to use that new-found work ethic and do some research!
Of course your ‘product’ will also include X amount of fitness sessions for £X etc. My advice here, would be to have a set cost and to not devalue yourself. Link the cost of training with you, to that picture and emotion that your client will now have in their head (because you put it there) of ‘fitness’. Whatever you do, don’t think, that just by advertising a price for a session, that you will automatically sell a session. That will not happen!
5) Understand maths
Simple. Make sure you are making money. Your income must be greater than your outgoings! Have a thorough understanding of what is happening with your accounts. Have a book to write everything down in – or even better, keep a spreadsheet up-to-date every night.
Keeping track of your finances will also help you see what the true cost of your business is and also, where you are making money! I was once told that you ‘Can’t turn a donkey into a racehorse’. It’s a good expression (although not as good as ‘You can’t polish a turd’!). In other words, if some aspect of your business isn’t working (ie, there is no real income for the amount of effort attached to it), then stop doing it. Focus on the things that are bringing in the dollars.
Part of getting maths right is the art of negotiation. In today’s world, everyone wants a deal. You need to allow for some compromise, but that also means that your client’s must compromise too. Don’t get your maths wrong, because you sold out too cheaply!
6) Evaluate your business regularly
Evaluation of your successes and failures is critical to developing and moulding your business into something that ‘the people’ want. Therefore, your evaluation should include feedback from everybody concerned… your clients, your business partner, life partner, the person whose facility you use… the list goes on.
Evaluate and adapt. Many people in fitness find that changing their ‘product’ regularly helps them win new business and keep older business interested. If you feel like your business offering has stagnated, then there’s a good chance that your clients feel the same. Recognise the signs of stagnation before it happens. If you feel your fitness competitors breathing down your neck, or offering something better than you, then change. It’s evolution, and without it, your business will fail.
7) Do some marketing
Of course, you need to get yourself in front of your clients in order for them to see what your product is and what it will feel like when they have it… But don’t think that just constructing a Facebook page, twitter account, website, having business cards printed, or putting posters up in a gym will gain you business. It won’t.
Websites and social media need working on constantly. They must be ever-changing with relevant content. Content that helps potential and existing client’s see what you’re about. Pictures of what you’re eating will not help people feel positive about themselves –it’ll probably just switch them off! Pictures of transformations, clients smiling during sessions, new exercises, even pictures of yourself doing stuff other than the gym, will help people understand your product and you better.
Marketing is pointless unless it develops your brand identity or gains you sales (that means, ££, not just likes and follows!!). Think of new ways to market that don’t use the more traditional means… Have social nights open to non-clients (word of mouth is likely to be your most effective marketing!), write a blog and ask for client contributions (so they share to friends and family – all prospective clients!), start an instagram / youtube account and develop your local following by requesting shares, tags etc… Fitness, remember, is 50% sales with the rest of your time divided between admin and delivery!
8) Tie up loose ends
Sort your finances. You're not going to be earning your target income straight away. Make plans to allow for this. You also need to remember to register self-employed with HMRC and arrange an accountant if you don't feel confident in submitting your own annual self-assessment.
It is also really important that you have all the necessary qualifications/training, insurance and licences in place. Sports Cover Direct is a good place to start for instructor insurance and don't forget a PPL licence and ProDub licence if required.
Of course, there is a lot more than just the above to business success. Lots of people have written lots of books about it!! If you need any advice then please don't hesitate to contact us!