4 keys to building your successful fitness business

by Ryan Wagner

If you are in the fitness business then the odds are against you that your gym will succeed as a successful fitness business. That’s the harsh truth. In fact, according to Martin Rooney’s research, 80% of gyms go out of business in their first five years and 16 out of 17 are out of business in 8 years! These are not encouraging statistics.

But at the end of the day, the fitness business is just that, a business. And without having a basic understanding of how to run and grow a business, reaching that five year milestone is going to be a lot more difficult.

So, how can I can help?

Well, I’ve teamed with another young entrepreneur and trainer, Dillon Carter, to provide you with (2) different viewpoints on running a business.

But don’t think that these concepts are merely for gym owners or trainers trying to build their network. No, these tips can help you with any type of project you may be working. Or even if you’re just trying to spread an idea.

Here are the (4) key points you need to consider to build your successful (fitness) business.

Key point #1 – Marketing

[Dillon] Many trainers get started with an employee mindset. My first week was not what I expected. I quickly realized that is was all up to me. My actions directly dictate my success. Being an entrepreneur at heart, I cannot stress enough the importance of marketing. Marketing is simply getting yourself in front of potential clients. This can be done through Facebook advertising or even Craigslist if you want to get a little down and dirty. Take a few weeks and study the art of marketing. Then, spend the next few months applying what you learned. The rewards will quickly begin stacking up and your success will begin to grow.

[Ryan] I used to loathe marketing. All it meant to me was glossy advertisements in magazines whose aim was to convince me to buy something I did not need in the first place.

But the truth is, we are all in sales.

We all have a personal brand we project. And no, you don’t need to buy interruptive ads in a newspaper or online to get people to know you.

What marketing means today, in 2014, is providing your clients something useful that will help them to solve a problem. When you do this, they will eventually pay you pack.

Here are (2) examples that you can do today.

If you own a gym and are struggling to grow your base, do this: Send a nicely written email to your local newspaper. Invite one of their journalists to your gym for a workout. Why? Because you want to show them why you’re the best gym around.

With any luck, they will write a story that their audience will want to read and you’ll have new people in the door.

Another example – and one with a similar structure to the fitness model: Let’s say you are trying to grow a following for your innovative idea on after school tutor groups. How do you get the word out? Here’s something to consider: Give free classes once a month. If your idea really is that good, then people will want to share it with their friends and you’ll start building a tribe in no time.

Do the above examples sound like traditional marketing? Absolutely not. And unfortunately, traditional marketing is what most people in the fitness industry are still doing.

Marketing isn’t a bad word. Instead, it’s a way of getting your good idea out to the world to help solve their problem.

Key point #2 – Strategy

[Dillon] Although marketing should be at the forefront of your mind and will drive your success, strategy and systems will help you maintain your success. Once you have applied and found success with marketing, it is incredibly important that you make it better or scale it. Once you understand how to easily add five or ten new members to your gym or new clients, you gain leverage. You control how busy your schedule becomes and how much money you make each month.

[Ryan] Back in February there was a very interesting article about how the big box gyms are feeling pressure from the small disruptive startup. What stood out for me was that in the Life Time Fitness earnings report, attrition in the fourth quarter jumped to nearly 10%. This was a slight increase from the previous quarter. I couple years back, I was a member at a LTF and trust me, there are a lot of members in those gyms. Probably in the neighborhood of 10,000 people at any given gym. So when 10% pack up their bags and leave it’s a huge deal.

What about the small gyms?

I don’t think the attrition numbers are quite 10%, but in a small business, owners need to keep people!

This is where strategy is important. Do you want your members for 3 months or 3 years? How about 10 years because you’re committed to offering them the very best health and fitness experience (e.g. results!) they can find?

You can blog, hold workshops, seminars, relay what you’ve learned at conferences to your members – whatever it is – committing yourself to being the best source of knowledge for your clients is a great long term strategy.

Regardless, don’t just be a tactical thinker (i.e. short term), instead play the long game.

Key point #3 – Innovation

[Dillon] Just as you should innovate your workouts for your clients, so should you innovate your business. You should be constantly testing new things within your business. Test new marketing ideas, run contests that drive revenue and test new revenue streams. Innovation does not have to be complex or life changing. It should simply keep your business evolving over time. To stop innovating is to die. To innovate is to make progress.

[Ryan] It’s easy to think of innovation as pertaining purely to the tech industry and something not applicable to fitness. But innovation is just finding a better way of doing something. It could be your training methods – the way you train yourself or others – or how you organize your time. Dillon and I could spend hours telling you our own personal anecdotes, but the key thing to take away is that fitness is everchanging. We are constantly learning new things about how the human body works and curious coaches and trainers around the world are always trying something new.

How do I continue to innovate and ask why? I follow my own shortlist of gurus – Gray Cook, Steve Maxwell, Martin Rooney, etc and I’m constantly pulling inspiration from these giants of the industry.

Key point #4 – Management

[Dillon] I have always been a fan of routines. Not the type of routine that keeps you buried in work, but routines that allow you to work effectively and still give you enough time to do the things you love outside of training. When you begin focusing a small portion of each day to achieving one goal you will see how your actions compound. I tend to batch my tasks throughout the day. My sessions tend to be early morning and late afternoon. In the middle of my day I focus on growth and the business side of being a trainer. Testing new ways to get clients, making phone calls and increasing my knowledge.

[Ryan] I sure hope you don’t see a boardroom with an endless meeting going on when you hear the word management. Instead, through the eyes of a fitness professional (or nonprofessional), management is how you manage your business, your ideas and yourself.

Let’s look at (2) examples. Firstly, let’s look at your own workout program. Nobody has time these days. It’s hard enough getting to the gym and when a trainer or coach informs you that you need to be stretching more often, your first thought is probably “and when will I do this?!” How about taking Dillon’s advice and create a new routine or, as blogger Shawn McKibben likes to say, a new life theme?

So, regarding stretching, how about including a few poses while you’re watching TV? That’s a simple form of management that will enhance your own personal fitness.

Secondly, let’s look at the fitness professional trying to grow his or her business? Many, many trainers don’t give much thought to business development – that is, how they intend to find new clients. The “build it and they will come” mantra is dead and doesn’t work. But again, who has the time to work on expanding your business with all the other constraints of life pressing hard against you?

To give a singular tidbit of advice – automate! Anywhere and everywhere you can.

Wrap up

Do you think you can apply the (4) tips above to your business and the projects you’re working on? I think you can.

This blog post certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of how you can turn your struggling gym around, but the intention that Dillon and I had when we first started out writing this article was to get you to start thinking differently.

And thinking differently is just what needs to happen for the disruptive startup fitness businesses to succeed and be around for the next five years.

By Ryan Wagner and Dillon Carter

Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below.

And if you’re in the Denver area, the first ever Fit Mornings is about to happen – see you there on September 5th. Check out the website for more details.

Further reading

Thomas Plummer blog
Fitness startups – Angel list
The Fit CEO

About Dillon Carter

Dillon Carter is a young entrepreneur turned fitness pro. He currently writes at The Fit CEO, sharing his experiments in marketing, business and overall how to be more successful.

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