For this week’s blog, we will be drafting a checklist of Five Key Steps To Starting Your Gym Business and how you can avoid the worst business habits before they even have time to form.
The first months of a new gym or fitness club business are a real make or break period. While it is entirely possible to let your gym business come together naturally, if you leave too much up to chance and happenstance, bad habits could form within your Gym that will be hard to remove.
A bad habit formed within the first six months of a business’ lifespan can become systemic, and this could spell disaster if it is costing you your reputation, customers and income.
But rest assured, we are here with a detailed list of ten things to keep in mind as you set up your Gym Business. These have been picked from our wealth of experience working with Gyms and Fitness Clubs across the UK and Ireland, and have been designed to ensure that your new Gym Business doesn’t form any bad habits. As such, we will be focusing mainly on how to set up your “business as usual tasks” (from here on in we will be calling that BAU for short) to minimise the chance of introducing systemic inefficiencies.
Starting At The Top: Defining the management structure of your Gym Business
From the outset, you should have a clear idea of what the management structure of your Gym Business or Fitness Club is going to look like. In this section, we will be looking at how to ensure that when the launch day for your Gym business comes around, everyone knows their position, their responsibilities and their objectives.
Ideally, you will have certain positions already filled with people that you know are capable. Bringing in people who you trust, and who are capable of doing the job from day one will be a massive boon to your business. Having an established working relationship will go a long way when it comes to navigating the tumultuous first few months of any Gym business venture.
We think you can probably understand where we’re going with this…
However we appreciate that this isn’t always possible. If you are starting a Gym and many of your positions are not yet filled, our advice would be to lock in as many of these roles before launch day. Preferably with plenty of time to space.
Most likely, you are going to have an aspirational launch date, and this can be perfect for giving your new talent time to wrap up any existing commitments they have.
If you have the time, make sure you look for people who not only have the necessary skills, but seem like they will be able to innovate and work under pressure. In the first few months of your Gym Business’s lifespan, there will be a lot of decisions to make. Many of these decisions will subtly (or not so subtly) affect the course that your Gym Business will take. As such, it is important that you trust the individuals that will compromise your Management Team.
The other important aspect of this section is Structure.
A talented, innovative individual in a broken structure will always struggle to make the impact you want, regardless of their talents.
Therefore, once you are sure that you’ve hired individuals you trust, create a management structure that empowers them to make decisions, but one that will keep you, as the leader, in the loop.
Make sure that there aren’t overlaps in authority where possible. If there absolutely has to be, make sure that each of the people in the structure knows who has priority in which part of the business. Draft a list of all key responsibilities within your new Gym business and ensure that every single one is covered off by an individual.
Where possible, avoid single points of failure. It might be tempting when you have one person who can do multiple roles, especially in a small Gym business that is starting up. But that person is going to have to take a holiday, and might even have to take unexpected time off. As such, there should always be someone who can run the BAU operations when they are out.
This doesn’t mean you need to train them on the entire job, wholesale. Just make sure that whoever is designated knows enough to make it possible for the business to function. Depending on the workload you’ve assigned, you could even take this back-up role. Learning some of the roles well enough that you could do them in a pinch will prove invaluable when it comes to making sure that these job positions are performing to an optimal standard.
Finally, make sure your upper management structure is lean and dynamic within your new Gym Business. The last thing you need is several people doing the same job. Make sure that your management team can respond to changing situations early on. If something isn’t working every single business day, it might be time to adapt the team. Keep aspects of your team modular where possible so that moving one piece doesn’t cause the entire house of cards to collapse.
This philosophy of efficient, dynamic and lean structure should be applied not just to your management team, but across the entire structure of your Gym. There is no reason that this line of thinking needs to stop with your management team.
Consider applying similar approaches to your rank and file employees as well where possible.
Make Sure Your Marketing Works From Before Day 1!
Marketing is going to be a perennial issue for your Gym business throughout its lifespan, but at no point will it be more important than in the initial start-up period.
The marketing campaigns that you run in the first few months are going to look very different in message and intensity to any other period.
This isn’t a bad thing, if done right, it can be an incredibly effective way to catch-up with your more established competitors, but it is going to take a significant amount of time and energy. Finally, it isn’t a strategy that is meant to last forever. The marketing strategy of your first months shouldn’t become your Gym Business’s BAU.
As you are starting up, two key factors at the front of your mind should be:
- Your target demographics
- Your brand identity
These two should be interconnected to a degree, so there is no harm thinking about them at the same time. As you are starting up your marketing campaigns, you should be constantly focusing on your target audience and your ideal customers.
Are your ideal customers the dissatisfied members of a local competitor Gym?
Are they people who have never set foot in a Gym before?
Obviously you needn’t (and shouldn’t) limit yourself to one demographic. But it is important to understand who you are pushing your message to.
This is particularly pertinent at time of writing. The Covid-19 Pandemic of the last eighteen months has dramatically changed Gym membership trends across the fitness industry. If you are starting a new Gym Business in and around the ongoing pandemic, there is a unique opportunity to capitalise on the shift in both consumer trends and the demographic shift away from the cities. Given that established Gyms and brands will often have an in-built advantage, this could be invaluable for giving your new start-up the edge.
When it comes to brand, you want this to be in support of your brand identity. If you are targeting local, more traditional and maybe slightly older Gym goers, then a flash, post-modern Gym logo and name probably won’t get you very far. Conversely though, if you are trying to get Gen Z and younger Millennials into your Gym, a heavily online and convenient brand supported by unorthodox social media tactics will be perfect.
Your marketing strategy shouldn’t just be the same methods with a different message. Different demographics will respond better to different methods of outreaching and communication and it is important that there is as little dissonance as possible between the marketing methodology of your Gym business and the brand identity you are striving for.
For instance, if you’re targeting an older audience then Instagram or Tik Tok is going to be a bad way to keep in touch. Conversely, your younger members aren’t going to be as active on Facebook.
This can be very costly if you spend your first few months making these kind of communication mistakes, so make sure that you have a customer in mind and invest all your time into reaching them where their attention is.
Think about what you can influence and what you can’t. If you don’t have control over the front of your Gym’s facility, it is important to keep that in mind when creating marketing materials. There will be a significant amount of dissonance created if your marketing implies that it is a trendy and high-tech facility and yet the front of your Gym just looks like a normal converted retail unit. That doesn’t mean it is impossible, but if there are certain realities that can’t be changed, you need to think about how your marketing strategy will address and work around them.
Finally if you have any sponsors or partners already lined up before the launch of your Gym Business, now is the time to utilise them post heavily. If you are having a launch party, make sure that everyone on your sponsor’s mailing list knows about it. Make sure that if your sponsors or partners have a physical store that the appropriate marketing material is there.
Utilise their existing social media following to start getting and traffic to your own social media accounts.
Successfully Weight Up Your Risks And Opportunities
Speaking of the Covid-19 pandemic, this section feels particularly pertinent at the time of writing. The next key thing we would urge you to consider whilst in the process of starting your Gym business are the Risks and Opportunities that might occur. Now this might seem obvious and intuitive.
The big risk is the business might not work, right?
Well, we don’t just mean you need to think about everything that could happen, but what you will do if it does happen.
With the last eighteen months of the Covid-19 pandemic now thankfully behind us, we feel pretty safe in saying that things won’t always go as we had planned them. In the post Covid-19 era, a Gym will be partially defined by what measures it will be willing and able to take to cope with outbreaks. On the other hand, the Pandemic offered a chance for innovation for those who were adaptable and prepared.
It is important that while you are starting your Gym business, you look at what you will do when risks and opportunities present themselves. Drafting a list of potential positive and negative scenarios with your management team will go a long way.
Some examples of this could include one or more of your competitors closing down, or more Gym’s starting up nearby. It could include the return of Lockdown if the pandemic continues to worsen, or a significant growth in the population of your local area due to the demographic movements over the last two years.
List the actions that can be taken as you start-up to take advantage of this situation should it occur. If they are comparatively inexpensive, then consider doing them ahead of time. If they will bring benefits irrespective of whether the situation comes to pass, even better. By implementing this forward thinking, agile approach, your Gym business can be ready to deal with any risk and capitalise on any opportunity at a moment’s notice.
DO YOUR RESEARCH!: Understand Your Area And The Competition Your Gym Will Face
Next we will be focusing on market research with a specific focus on the competition in the local area that your new Gym business will be operating in. Developing a good understanding of your competition and their capacity and ability to compete with your operation will be one of the keys to creating a successful Gym Business. If you are successful in your research, you will be able to carve out an existing piece of the competitive marketplace your Gym is setting up in.
Start by making a list of every competing Gym or Fitness Club in your area.
Once you have done this, whittle it down to the few Gyms and Fitness Clubs that are trying to do what you envisage your new Gym business will focus on.
For example if you plan for your facility to have a swimming pool, then it is only natural that say, the university pool, or the community pool is therefore a competitor. It takes a portion of that market share that you will be focusing on. On the other hand, if you are setting up a Gym that only deals in cardio and weight machines, the local swimming pool probably isn’t your biggest concern.
Make additional notes and flesh out your competition.
When we say make a list, unfortunately we don’t just mean to write down the name of the Gym or Fitness Club in question and call it a day. While this would be much easier, a list of names isn’t much use. You and your management team won’t learn much by reading the words ‘Jim’s Gym’.
But if underneath the words ‘Jim’s Gym’ there is a list of every piece of equipment at that Gym and the number of members, suddenly this goes from a list to a battlemap. A valuable document that will help you understand the area you are hoping to conquer.
In addition, you should be listing the demographics each of these Gyms and Fitness Clubs are focusing on, and which they are ignoring. Hopefully it should quickly become apparent while doing your research what the target audience of each given Gym in your area is.
This may require a few boots on the ground (or hands on keyboards), but knowledge is power and the price for this knowledge is relatively low.
In addition to the quantity and focus, you also want to be looking for the quality of your competition. Specifically you want to be looking at how effective and efficient the competing Gym businesses in your target area are. This information might be harder to obtain and verify, but if you can determine how satisfied a Gym’s members are with the Gym, it could go a long way to understanding their viability as a competitor to your new Gym business venture. It could be daunting if you knew that there were three dedicated cardio-focused Gym or Fitness Club establishments in your local area, but if you know one is in financial trouble and the other two are chronically mismanaged then the paradigm shifts somewhat. What could, at first glance look like a crowded marketplace becomes an arena ripe for expansion.
As a closing note, it is important to state that this market research and competitor analysis should be done as early as possible in the cycle of launching your Gym business. It is also not something that should just be done once and then ticked off. The market is constantly changing, and what is true in January might not be in June. Where possible, keep your competitor research moving on a rolling basis. This doesn’t necessarily mean a weekly visit to your competitor’s Gym (they might start to get suspicious), but if you are basing a Gym business decision on a piece of information, it is prudent to check it is still correct.
Get Your Payment Collection Sorted From The Start
For our final section, we will be focusing on one of the most important aspects of your new Gym Business. Collecting payment from your members and for the goods and services that you will be providing. It is imperative, especially in the early stages of a Gym Business’s lifespan, that the cashflow goes unimpeded. It is what stops a company from being a massive money sink and it is what will convince your investors that they made the right decision.
As such, you have a huge incentive to ensure that there are minimal barriers between your new members’ bank accounts and your Gym’s bank account. The last thing you want to happen is for your Gym to initially accept all sorts of payment types in a desperate bid to collect capital. There can be a temptation to accept cash, card payments and even cheques, just to make sure those positive numbers are coming into your Gym’s bank balance. But this is a trap. All of those different payment methods will make for an administratively intensive workload.
Your also accountant won’t thank you (especially if you are your own bookkeeper)
This is exactly the sort of bad habit we were talking about in the introduction to this blog. It is the sort of procedure you don’t want becoming your BAU practice. If every month you are having to reconcile large amounts of payment data, in three or four different payment categories and collate them against your Gym membership records. Well, we don’t have to tell you that that is a bureaucratic nightmare unfolding before your eyes.
But with a little bit of planning and philosophical reflection on the nature of Gym membership, this can be avoided. It starts with recognising that the collection of a Gym payment isn’t solely about making sure the money goes from point A to point B. It is closely connected to the management of the Gym Membership itself. We have seen a lot of Gym’s have made it so that the collection of payment is a separate entity in constant conflict with the administration of Gym membership, but this needn’t be the case.
This is where the market has provided a convenient and powerful solution in the form of third party direct debit management companies. This system of managing Gym membership has become one of the go-to methods of payment collection, and with good reason. It has helped make membership payments easier for both Gym’s and their members through applied knowledge, expertise and technical innovation.
The main draw here is that these systems are often light-weight, easily integrated (especially if you are starting a new Gym business) and convenient for all parties involved. It can help reduce the administrative workload around payment collection and reconciliation, as well as provide an expanding payment platform if you intend your Gym business to branch out into other services.
These companies have achieved this by utilising new payment technologies, such as the safe, easy to setup and unobtrusive direct debit payment system. This system works great for well-established mega-Gyms and local, single-Gym start-ups alike. It allows for a scaling system, going as granular as even payment per membership. This means that the relative difference in cost and workload can grow steadily alongside your business.
Furthermore, the expertise that these companies can bring to a fledgling Gym business venture can be invaluable. Money is an omnipresent concern, but the collection of it needn’t be something that dominates your thoughts in the first months. By allowing a team of qualified, experienced experts to deal with the collection of your Gym membership payment structure, this will allow you to focus on the other pertinent tasks and objectives required to launch a successful Gym business.
In Conclusion – Plan Ahead Not After
And so there we have it, we hope you have gained some insight into these five different areas of starting a new Gym business. If you have found this article useful, please save it or bookmark it and refer back to it as you embark upon your new business venture. Now all we have left to say is good luck!
Want To Solve All These Problems? Let us take a load of your mind
Here at Ashbourne, we have a proven track record, having helped thousands of Gym and Fitness Club owners across the UK and Ireland over the last 25 years. We have been personally responsible for managing membership payments and assisting the day-to-day runnings of thousands of clients. We have been a valuable partner to all of our clients and we hope prove that we can be a valuable business partner to your new Gym as well
Over the last two and a half decades, we have developed an advanced payment collection and direct debit system that is world class. We have refined our operation, with the ability to integrate our club management software solution into nearly any Gym or Fitness Club infrastructure. We are confident that we have everything we need to help run your club efficiently, effectively and profitably from day one.
Our software has been developed to ensure frictionless integration and exchange within your Gym’s existing infrastructure. Equally, if you are in the process of starting a new Gym, we will be able to work with you to ensure that our systems work seamlessly with your own from launch day onwards. Using our unrivaled knowledge of the fitness industry, we hope to be able to astound your new members with the ease and efficiency of our payment system. You won’t just be obtaining a new piece of software, you’ll be engaging with a partner who understands what it takes to become successful, one that will help you grow your business.
Interested in finding out more? Show us the Gym business plan template you’ve just crafted and let’s begin the process of upgrading your club.