Many fitness professionals share the dream of operating their own business. For many years, I shared that same dream and not long after I cried tears of joy upon my first glimpse of the facility design, I finally achieved it. I say this now with humility that after so many years of success, failure for me in the fitness industry never seemed possible. However, to keep a long story short, my dream became a nightmare soon after we opened those doors. Broken partnerships, inflexible lease agreements, competition with well-known brands, rent costs, lack of capital and then some, taught me a lot of hard learned lessons. Little did I know then that those dark business experiences would help me prevent other aspiring fitness entrepreneurs from making the same mistakes.
Many of us are passionate and purposeful about changing lives through health and fitness, but those of us that have endured the challenges of this business know that it is not for the thin skinned. The fact is, I witness many club, gym and studio owners work more than they did when they were working for someone else, as well as, be forced to persevere through more unexpected obstacles than they originally anticipated. On top of that, many independent fitness entrepreneurs barely put enough money in their pockets to secure their futures.
If we do the research, we learn that there are a lot of reasons that so many fitness businesses fail, but there also many opportunities to thrive. Here is a short list of quick tips to increase your success from the beginning if you are one of those chasing “The Dream”.
- Write a Comprehensive Business Plan
A well thought out written plan helps create clarity, anticipate challenges, as well as, develop systems and strategies to boost financial success. If you seek funding, a comprehensive business plan is mandatory. However, many struggling gym owners fail this foundational step and end up spending more time in their businesses operating reactively vs. proactively because of this essential piece of the process. That’s why it’s called a business “plan”. It helps create strategies and predict situations that would be possibly unforeseen without it.
- Financial Projections
Admittedly based on experience, rarely will your initial projections hit the targets you project. Most future business owners shoot for the sky and miss with improbable numbers. Sometimes they miss big. However, a realistic and conservative (3) year financial pro forma will give your business a good benchmark to gauge success. In the fitness business, we must understand our financial scoreboard and key performance indicators. We must also pay attention to our “scores” daily, know our numbers, track, compare, communicate and execute the necessary tactics to maximize our potential to reach them.
- Site Location
Location. Location. Location. We’ve all heard this a lot and yes, the community and demographics within the 3-mile radius does indeed matter. Here are simple questions to ask and answer honestly to yourself:
- How much competition in the area presently exists? It’s important to remember, you are a start-up, most likely an unknown entity and it’s very challenging to build trust vs. well-known brands (regardless of their reputations).
- How does your model and brand differentiate from the competition? The answer I hear a lot is “our culture”, but depending on the volume of clients needed for your business to thrive, that’s no longer enough to attract and retain the necessary number of people. Most fitness entities these days claim to possess a remarkable culture as well, so please “dig deeper” on this question because the answer(s) most likely create how you position yourself in your market.
- Is your business filling a need in the area that will attract and retain the necessary amount of members and clients to make your business thrive vs. survive? The answers to the questions above will help you understand the difference.
- What are the demographics of the area? How many households? What are the average income levels? How many businesses are there? What are the traffic counts? Visibility, convenience, value and experience all come into play here.
There are a plethora of other questions to consider, but these will help you get a better idea of whether or not the location is right for your business.
All of the above is just a sliver of what it takes to get your fitness business up and running… lease negotiations, facility design, equipment selection, marketing plans, pre-sales, organizational structure and then some must be considered when building your dream fitness club, studio or gym. Then, the big challenge really begins once you open the doors.
The fact is, it takes guts, a never give up work ethic, street smarts, management systems, influence, leadership, continuous learning, humility, a consistent smile and more money than you might think to truly be a successful small independent fitness business owner.
So to conclude, if you still want to chase that dream and believe that you really have what it takes to own and operate a fitness business, please remember these foundational tips and questions.
And if you need help, let’s have a conversation and possibly turn that dream into a reality.
Jarod Cogswell, Founder, WORK like an Athlete
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