Do’s & Don’ts of Running a Fitness Studio

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Running a fitness studio is hard work. Unless you’re a franchise owner, there are constantly decisions you have to make that will ensure your business’s success… or demise. After running my own fitness bootcamp, taking class at many studios around the country, and speaking with lots of colleagues, I’ve noticed several consistent owner/operator behaviors that will affect longevity. Here are 10 Do’s and Don’ts for those embarking on (or in the trenches of) their own fitness studio. 

We’ll start with the Don’ts first:

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{Don’t Bring Your Sh*t To Work}

Everybody has stuff going on outside of work: relationship drama, kid issues, family problems, etc. There’s a time and a place to talk about and deal with it. Even though it probably feels like a tight knit environment, your studio is not that place to bring up drama. If you went to get your teeth cleaned and your hygenist talked about their relationship issues for 45 minutes, you’d probably ask for a different person next time. People are there for their workout and a sense of community… not to listen to your problems.

If you show up looking a mess because you didn’t sleep the night before, people notice. If you’re constantly late, ill-prepared for class, or otherwise unprofessional, people will notice and begin to doubt your ability to run a business. If there’s something truly life-altering that’s going on, try to arrange for another person to open, teach, or manage. If you don’t have another person, cancel business for the day and apologize profusely. Then make it up by offering free classes at another time in the near future. If you want people to take your business seriously, you have to take it seriously.

{Don’t Diss the Competition} 

No matter what your business is, there will be competition. You can hate them all you want in your mind, but talking sh** about them publicly does more harm to YOUR image than theirs. It’s immature and unprofessional. The moment any business touts “We are better than _____.” I immediately know they’re intimidated by (and usually jealous of) their competition… which leads me to wonder if they’re as qualified as they should be. I see it all the time and it turns me off.

{Don’t Pressure Your Members For Validation/Sales}

I understand that getting a great online review or a personal referral from one of your current members helps attract new clientele, but if you’re constantly hounding your paying customers for help in spreading the word, that will get old quickly. If you want to offer members a chance to write a review, send them a link to do so in a newsletter once or twice a year or put up a sign. If you want referrals, have an ongoing referral policy that they’re made aware of when they sign up (make sure there’s incentive for both the current customer as well as the person they’re recruiting), then leave it alone. Keep in mind that marketing is your responsibility, no one else’s.

{Don’t be afraid to make a change. Or change back.}

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If it’s not working, change something! Not everything, just something… and see if it helps. Whether it’s class schedule, formats, or instructors, fitness businesses evolve over the years. You have to keep up with current standards and sometimes that means changing some of your basic offerings.

On the other side of that, sometimes we make changes that we think will help our businesses, just to find out that people liked things the way the were the first time around. So change it back. Whatever the case, do whatever works best for your business. As long as you’re listening to the majority of your members and their needs, you’ll be ok. You won’t win over everybody, but nobody ever will. I always liked bringing a subject up to my members and giving them a chance to vote on the decision.

{Don’t Get Greedy}

I know that business is a numbers game and that we all are looking to be a success, but don’t let your thirst for profits affect the work that you’re actually doing: offering a quality fitness experience for your members. Raising your rates is fine if you’re selling out classes. Adding lots of new instructors and classes is great if you’re able to manage them effectively. Fast growth is wonderful if you’re able to stay on top of everything like you did when you were smaller. When owners get too focused on profits (usually when they go through a big growth spurt), they start to lose sight of their original culture… which is what brought people there in the first place.

Everybody knows about great companies that expanded too fast and immediately went downhill. Don’t be them! You could make 6 or 7  figures and be stressed the hell out and busy all the time, affecting your studio’s success… Or you could make 5 very good figures and run a great, long lasting business. Your studio doesn’t have to be the biggest and best. As long as it’s operating, members are happy, and you’re making enough money to pay your bills and a little extra, you’re successful.

 

OK, whew. That’s over. Now for the Do’s:

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{Take Advantage of Social Media}

It doesn’t matter if “it’s not your thing.” It’s everybody else’s thing and if you want to keep up, you’d better play the game. Your business isn’t about catering to yourself, it’s about catering to the public: your potential customers! I know that figuring out how everything works is annoying at first, but we live in a social media world now and there’s a ton of opportunity for exposure. You could literally carve out 15 minutes per day to take a photo, edit it to look attractive to your market, and post it up. Plus, it’s f**king free! Why not take advantage of free marketing as much as possible?! When you’re shelling out money for everything else, it’s nice to be able to save some money where you can.

{Invest in Marketing} 

I know I just said social media is free and you should totally take advantage of that, BUT your reach only goes as far as your current followers list. Once you’ve gone through them, you’ve maxed out your network and it’s time to spend a little money in other marketing efforts. This is one of the hardest things for fitness folks to grasp (myself included). It’s crazy how much money we’ll spend on equipment and studio decor, but we wouldn’t dare give any money to a Public Relations or Marketing professional.

You didn’t know iPhones were cool until you saw the commercial showing you everything they could do. The software technicians didn’t get the word out about the cool products they built, the marketing team did that. There are people that specialize in getting businesses out into the public eye. They will do a better job. Pay them to help you out.

{Get To Know Your Members} 

Yeah, you know people’s names and hopefully their health history… but do you know anything else about them? Why they’re there? What they’re training for? What their life is like outside of class?

I used to take attendance at my bootcamp because I wanted to keep track of who was showing up and when, for my own analytics. One of my regular members missed two classes one week and when I called her to check on her, she told me she was going through a rough patch but really appreciated that it mattered to somebody if she was ok. When people feel like they have a community that wants them there (their presence, not just their money), they’re more likely to want to stay involved.

{Read Your Audience}

It’s always easier to just ask your members what they like and don’t like, but sometimes that’s awkward and a lot of the time, they won’t be entirely truthful to your face. Hopefully you know how to read your audience. Are they responding positively to the music? Do they like an instructor’s personality and programming? Are they moving better and getting stronger? Staying injury free? Coming back on a regular basis? Do they seem like they’re genuinely having a good time taking fitness classes at your studio?

There have been times that I thought a playlist would be a blast only to find out 3 songs in that it wasn’t bringing the energy I wanted. Time to swap it out! There have been workouts that I programmed that were way too much for the group. Halfway through the class when I noticed everybody was dying, I nixed the rest of what I had planned and moved to slower core work and a long stretch. When I brought in a new product to class (The TRX Rip Trainer) and everybody was immediately stoked, I made sure to obtain several more so I could have an entire Rip class and take advantage of the energy. Whatever it is, if your class is diggin’ it, keep it up. If they look bored or otherwise unsatisfied, change it up! But do it sooner rather than later.

{Create an Experience}

There’s a fitness studio on every corner nowadays. People can get a hard workout anywhere they go. Be better than just a hard workout. Take pride in your education so you can offer the best programming possible. Take workshops that show you how to teach and coach people effectively. Be authentic in your style and humble in your demeanor. If you can give your members a great workout AND an experience that will make them feel successful, they’ll come back every time.

 

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Comments

  1. If that’s your studio in the picture, it looks gorgeous! Which part of San Diego is it located?

    • Ami says:

      It’s not my studio, no. It is beautiful though, huh? I got the image from WeHeartIt.com. I believe it may be a yoga studio in Santa Monica, but I’m not totally sure. There wasn’t a credit link on the site.

  2. I really like your last “don’t” – It’s true that you’re running a business, but I agree that you want to provide a quality service first and foremost. Getting to know people (my favorite “Do”) usually makes keeping everything in perspective a little easier, in my limited experience. Thanks for sharing your advice! I feel like a lot of people could take it to heart in running their gyms.

    • Ami says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Tobias. Quality over quantity… always. : ) Thank you for reading!

  3. Hey!!! Studio Owner in Toronto for almost 9 years!!! so good to read your article and get recharged again!!… Also glad to be doing all the dons and very few of the donts!! great wokrl!!

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