If the pandemic taught me anything as a fitness business owner, it’s the importance of having a business plan that you continually revisit and refine.
I’ve been a personal trainer since 2003, and opened my first Innovative Fitness studio in Vancouver in 2005. By 2020, it was the largest independent network of personal training studios in North America, with 250-plus full-time trainers across 12 locations.
On March 15, 2020, everything I had worked so hard to build came to a halt. We closed our doors due to the pandemic.
It was an incredibly stressful time. I not only had my own family to worry about but also the well-being of my franchise owners, their employees and families and, of course, our clients.
On March 16, we decided we weren’t just going to sit around and hope things would blow over quickly.
We decided to find a way to keep our community intact, our trainers employed, and our clients well served.
After careful evaluation, I determined there was an opportunity to deliver the same quality services in a virtual form. In just under two weeks, we developed our own software, and on March 30 launched a virtual training platform.
That eventually led to the creation of an entirely new brand called WRKOUT.com—a virtual marketplace for trainers that went live on June 7, 2021.
None of that would have happened if we didn’t pivot the way we did two weeks into the pandemic.
What enabled us to do that so quickly was having a detailed business plan that I had been revisiting and refining for the last 15 years.
Building a business plan gave me the skill to assess the market and adapt with new strategies. Without that foundation, there’s no way I would have been nimble enough to do what I did.
If you’re like a lot of trainers, you probably don’t have a business plan.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if less than 10 percent of personal trainers have any form of fitness business plan or meaningful strategy.
You could argue that’s a positive. A lot of people get started in the fitness industry because they’re passionate about it.
Maybe fitness and wellness impacted their life in some capacity, or perhaps like me they grew up playing sports and know what personal training and fitness can offer.
This passion comes through in the services they provide, and clients benefit.
But passion will only get you so far. Not having a business plan built around those services will eventually hold you back.
I know. When I started, I was educated and passionate, but I didn’t have a business plan.
Looking back, I shake my head because I definitely would have benefited from being more prepared. It wasn’t until I needed a sizable bank loan to open my first studio that I was forced to create one.
That initial business plan got me a $450,000 bank loan and became the basis for growing my company. And it continues to pay dividends today.
Having a business plan can benefit you in similar ways. Here’s what I learned about creating a good fitness business plan and evolving it as the market changes.
The three buckets of every good fitness business plan
Although there’s no cookie-cutter business plan that will work for everyone, there are some general guidelines that apply to both in-person and online personal trainers.
1. Value proposition
This is the foundation of your business—a succinct statement of mission, vision, and values.
What are you going to be?
What will make your fitness business unique?
Who are you going to service?
It’s super important to identify and describe these elements early on because it impacts everything you do.
2. Competitive analysis
So you’re aiming to provide a certain service to a certain target audience with a certain value proposition.
Good. But how will you back that up based on the market?
Who are your competitors?
What are they charging?
How do you plan to gain market share or differentiate yourself from them?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
What are the opportunities and threats?
And when you step back and objectively look at the answers to these questions, do they support your value proposition?
3. Financial analysis
Numbers don’t lie. This is how you determine if your business idea is really viable.
What are you planning to charge for your services?
What costs are associated with delivering those services?
What are your fixed monthly expenses?
How many clients and how much revenue do you need to generate to cover those costs and expenses?
What are your short- and long-range profit projections?
Make sure your fitness business plan is SMART
SMART is a business acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Each of the goals you set for your business should contain these five elements.
For example, when you’re doing your financial analysis, don’t just write, “My goal is to turn a profit in 6 months and then double that in a year.” That’s too general. It’s not SMART.
Instead, rephrase it as: “My goal is to sign up X new clients per month at a rate of $XXX in order to increase my total revenue by XX% per month. In 6 months, my goal is to have X clients and $XXXX profit. In 12 months, X clients and $XXXX profit. And in 18 months, XX clients and $XXXX profit.”
Do this for every aspect of your business: marketing, sales, operations, HR, and finance. Make your objectives as specific, measurable, and realistic as you can and then give yourself a deadline for meeting them.
Plan the work, then work the plan
I revisit and re-evaluate my business plan every three months. And I encourage you to do the same, whether you’re just starting out or have been training people for years.
Every day you spend as a trainer, you learn more about your business, your target audience, your market, and your competition, so it makes sense to update your plan as your knowledge grows.
Every quarter I assess each of my objectives this way:
Is this part of my business on or off track?
If I’m not hitting my target in a certain area, why is that? Is it because I didn’t plan appropriately, or do I need to shift my approach? Or is my goal not achievable after all, because I was making assumptions that are not being validated?
If I am exceeding my target in a certain area, why is that? Is there even more opportunity here that I’m not currently exploring? If so, how can I capitalize on that?
Reviewing a business plan is essentially a red light, green light process. You’re continually reassessing your assumptions and targets, and that’s what keeps you nimble.
COVID was a catastrophe for many trainers. But it was a boon to others because they were able to quickly evaluate and pivot to a better position.
About one in 10 businesses make it beyond five years. And only 10 percent of those make it past 10 years.
The more prepared you are and the more planning you do, the greater your likelihood of success.
Four tips for writing a fitness business plan
One of the big reasons more trainers don’t write business plans is because we’re not businesspeople. Like I said, I didn’t think I needed one when I was starting out. But it’s not as intimidating or difficult as it may appear.
If you need help, here are four tips.
1. Approach your business plan like a fitness training program
Writing a business plan is actually very similar to writing a training plan.
You assess the client, help identify what they want to achieve, write SMART goals, and then periodically revisit and adjust the plan as needed.
Instead of marketing, sales, operations, HR, and finance, you’re dealing with strength, cardiovascular conditioning, body composition, agility, and flexibility.
Same thing. If you can write a training program, you can write a business plan.
2. Make your fitness business plan one page
Too many times I’ve seen people spend a massive amount of time creating a plan that’s 35, 50, or 100 pages and before you know it, it’s irrelevant.
I’m a big fan of starting off with a one-page plan that outlines your mission, your vision, your core values, your niche, your target audience, and your goals.
Take a SMART approach when writing it and use your own language and format—whatever you can easily follow and execute.
If you’re not raising capital or applying for a bank loan, that’s really all you need.
3. Find a mentor
If you require more focused help, reach out to successful entrepreneurs you know or ask an accountant for advice.
If you’re trying to raise capital or applying for a bank loan, I recommend hiring a business professional or consultant.
4. Buy this book
In Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, author Gino Wickman lays out a simple method for achieving business success called the Entrepreneurial Operating System.
I’ve shifted to his model, and it’s been very helpful. The book elaborates on everything I’ve been talking about.
But at the end of the day, what’s important to remember is that passion will only get you so far.
To stay on track, grow your fitness business, and react to any challenges that come along, you need a plan. It’s the best investment in your future success that you can make.