There is a twinge of jealousy that flares each morning as I watch my husband grab his bag and head to the office. Sure, he has a boss, holds little (if any) control over his schedule, and spends most days holed up in a laboratory working on the same problem he did yesterday – a routine in stark contrast to my days as a fitness business owner, where I make my own rules, decide when (and where) I’ll work and am presented with a new challenge every day.
My husband loves what he does, and I love what I do. The jealousy doesn’t stem in our duties themselves, but in the outcome. No matter how many hours my husband puts into his job, he will be compensated for it. There’s no question that as he bikes the eight miles to his office that when he leaves he will have accrued a stack of money and paid time off (PTO) in his next paycheck.
On the other hand, my profitability depends largely on things beyond my control – sure, my effort is a major factor, (ideally investing as little energy as I can to get the greatest return) but at the end of the day it is how many prospects I meet and their readiness for change that affects the profitability of my time.
This grind is mentally fatiguing, and it has nearly pushed me to close my doors on several occasions.
Eighty percent of small businesses fail within 18 months, which is unsurprisingly the industry average of a personal trainer’s career. A fitness professional not only runs her own business, but is the business itself, whether working in a “big box” gym that sends clients or a one-woman trainer show like me. At the end of the day, it’s much more than our performance that puts food on the table, gas in the tank, and vacations on the calendar.
Being mentally tough and able to objectively pursue our goals in a way that will bring the most benefit is integral to our success. It’s difficult to shut off the emotions that well up when a day (or more) has passed without a sale, or when the latest client opted to not renew their contract. Over time, these setbacks become mental roadblocks that inevitably prevent success altogether.
It’s tough to make it in the fitness industry, which is surprising when we have something few, if any, entrepreneurs have at their disposal: the recipe for success.
We help dozens of people each day achieve greatness in their lives, whether it’s in a grand arena or a department store fitting room. My fitness business advice is to help you recognize that we have the tools to create our own greatness, if we would just follow our own advice.
Here’s what to key in to:
As fitness professionals, we sell the value of accountability and expertise as integral to a client’s success, so why wouldn’t we pursue the same with our own business? We know that a client with little weight lifting knowledge and experience is destined for injury if she doesn’t seek guidance for a strength training program, and as business owners, we’re in the same type of boat.
Regardless of how much experience you have as a business owner, you need support. Join one (or more) professional societies and take advantage of their educational and mentorship opportunities. (Start with your local chamber of commerce, and don’t forget about organizations like the NSCA or ISSN. Google “local business development” and find a nearby network that specifically supports and connects entrepreneurs and small business owners like yourself.)
Attend conferences and workshops to improve your skills, like the NSCA Conference or Fitness Business Summit, and don’t say it’s too expensive — you should be setting aside at least 10 percent of every dollar to use toward professional development. For those truly determined to succeed, hiring a business coach is the best way to get customized solutions to the biggest problems you face. Your professional networks are the first place to look for these individuals.
You can have the greatest mentors in the field, but at the end of the day there’s only so much you can do alone, especially if it’s outside your skill set. Determine what needs to be done to succeed, carve out five to ten percent of it for yourself and outsource the rest. Does it cost money? Sure. But so does losing business because you’re not optimizing your resources. If you structure the pay scheme correctly, the help will more than pay for itself in added revenue streams because everyone – including yourself – can bring their best to the table.
Reach out to other business owners in similar fields and find out who they use for their media marketing, financial affairs, sales and other tasks. Talk to your clients — what skills do they bring to the table that can grow your business? Business-to-business relationships like these are part of an essential foundation for growth within a community. It’s my advice to work with individual instead of large or remote organizations, because it’s easy to fall through the cracks as a small business owner and you want to keep things as customizable and flexible as possible to ensure you can stay on target and budget with your goals.
Balance your focus
One of my major hang-ups is spending more time worrying about where I’m not rather than where I am and how far I’ve come. Like a client discouraged over her 10-pound weight loss because she hasn’t dropped 50, I tend to get caught up in what I’m not achieving rather than what I am.
Business growth and development is an important aspect to success as a fitness professional, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of investing into the business you already have. More often than not, pouring into current clients and projects you’re already running will open new doors on its own.
A healthy goal would be to split your time 50-50 between current projects and future development, erring towards current events so you don’t lose business you already have. Keep a running list of ideas for future business ventures, but don’t pursue them until you can create a solid plan for implementation and ensure it fits with your current model. There’s nothing wrong with slow, strategic growth.
Change your goals
One of the first things I teach my clients is how to set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. But when it came to my own business, my goals were anything but. Once I realized I was being held back by vague goals like “grow the business” and unrealistic expectations of “convert every prospect,” I was able to steer my thoughts away from ones downtrodden with failure and toward ones of hope and purpose.
A great way to approach business goal setting is to hold a strategic planning session at least once a year (but ideally every quarter). Perform a “SWOT Analysis” (where you identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to establish solid aspirations for your organization. (Click here to download a SWOT analysis template)
Use proper measurements
For our clients who see the scale halt from one week to the next, it feels like their efforts are going unrewarded and it’s time to throw in the towel. We know, however, that the scale lies and there are many other rubrics by which we can measure success in our clients. The same is true for our business. There are times when sales will lag, clients will drop and you’re tempted to seek the help wanted ads for fast food openings.
Look at the big picture when these times come. If you don’t already, keep track of how many leads you generate, how many consultations you provide, the number of prospects who convert, the price you pay for each new client, how many clients you train weekly and how long a client stays with you. These rubrics are like bloodwork and strength tests for a client seeking body change. The weight may not be changing, but there are other measurements that that show improvements are being made and things aren’t as doomed as they seem.
Adjust when necessary
A systematic review of client results will show whether a program is working. If and when the data shows a significant lag in results, it’s time to make some changes. Is it a nutritional issue? Is the exercise ineffective? What is the client’s adherence to the program? When you review your business records, ask yourself some questions: Is this is a real or perceived lull? Is there a seasonal slump, a change in the market or another external factor to which you must adjust? Have you slacked off in your marketing efforts, or has your networking and outreach waned? Maybe it’s time for a rate increase or to close down an unsuccessful program.
You should ink into your calendar time every three months to review what’s worked and what hasn’t over the last period. (This would be a great time to also do your “SWOT Analysis,” as it will be a very helpful tool to evaluate your business.) Once you uncover the source of your slump, create a new plan of action. If necessary, begin back at number one and work your way through the process again.
Having and growing a successful business is contingent upon clear, objective, and positive thinking that will steer your decision making and bring fulfillment in your work. These simple steps will serve as a basic template around which you can build your confidence and success as a fitness professional.
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