So you’ve been doing the personal training thing for a while now; you’re a rock star at it, and you’ve decided you want to start your own fitness facility. After all, there’s a lot to like about the idea:
- Be your own boss
- Own your own facility
- Make your own rules
- Work when you want
- Keep all your hard-earned money
Sounds like a dream right? Not so fast!
I have colleagues and interns tell me all the time their goal is to start their own fitness facility. While I respect their ambition, I know the difference between the dream of owning a gym and the reality.
Don’t get me wrong: Being your own boss definitely has its perks.
But there are so many small things most people don’t take into account. By the time they realize what they signed up for, they’re burned out and close up shop.
Let’s look at some things to consider and understand before you make that leap, things I wish I’d fully understood before I opened my own gym. I hope my mistakes can help you before you start your own fitness facility.
1. Business plan. Before you start your own fitness facility, you absolutely need this. It’s the backbone of any business, and it needs to entail a ton of details to make sure this decision will be for the best. Make sure your business plan includes the following.
- Research. You gain quite a bit of knowledge being a personal trainer in a gym facility, but are you an expert in your area on all things fitness? Do you know a popular niche in the area, what can you charge, what locations are available, what is the competition, what are the upstart costs, where you will get more personal training clients, what equipment you’ll need, and how much it will cost? These are all preliminary questions that need to be answered.
- Mission statement. Every business needs a mission statement to guide every decision. Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, is a great book to help you figure it out.
Starting with the why of your business will allow all the other pieces to fall into place. People don’t buy what you do. They buy the why—the reason you do it. I look back on my mission statement at least once a month and use it to guide tough decisions, make sure things are being run in-line with the statement, and remind me of my values and purpose of the business.
- Competition. Is there competition in the area? What differs you from the competition? It’s important to know who will you compete with, what do they offer, and how can you separate yourself from them before you try to start your own fitness facility.
- What do I need to be successful? This question will dictate your plans. How much space, what equipment, what tools, and how many clients will you need to do what you want and be successful?
- Timeline/goals. This is an incredibly important for any business owner. I remember writing long-term goals for my first one, two, and three years of the business, and I also write a goal for every month.
This keeps me motivated and allows me to breakdown my big goals into smaller, attainable goals. It’s also a great way to track progress and evaluate your business. Think of it this way: You want to start your own fitness facility, but that’s not the end goal. It’s just the beginning.
- Investments. Are you willing to give away equity or share in your business for a startup investment? This is different for everybody, but I wasn’t willing to do so. I waited and built my business to the point where I could venture out on my own without any outside investment.
I wasn’t interested in an investment, whether from a silent partner or bank, because I wanted control over my work. I didn’t want to owe someone equity or a share of my business for an upfront investment, nor someone to give suggestions when they weren’t going to be involved in the everyday operation.
Again, I knew the why of my business. Because no one else could fully understand that, I wasn’t willing to give up that side of things. My advice is to hold off on investors and hold on to the long-term upside profitability of your business.
2. Money. It takes a fair amount of money to start your own fitness facility. Not only is fitness equipment expensive, but also the hidden expenses add up quickly.
Here are two tips for you off the bat:
One, whatever expenses you come up with, whether it be overall startup costs or monthly costs, add another $500 for total startup and $100 for monthly expenses. You’ll never anticipate some of the things you need to pay for, like toilet paper holders.
Two, you should have at least two months of savings that can cover operating expenses up front. This gives you some leeway during the initial months and leaves you prepared for hidden costs or potential down periods.
Here are some costs you need to consider:
- Rent. This will likely be your biggest expense when you start your own fitness facility. And on that note, are you going to rent or own? Each will bring different expenses.
- Utilities. Electricity, water, gas, sewer, internet, cable, and garbage services can add $300 to 1,000 a month to your expenses. Make sure you factor these in and go high when planning for them.
- Liability insurance and liability. You’re going to need this, and it isn’t cheap.
- Flooring. Carpet or rubber flooring can cost anywhere from $2 to $5 per square foot. Even a space as small as 1,500 square feet can run you a pretty penny.
- Business fees and taxes. These will vary by country, state or province, and municipality. You need to know what you’ll owe and when you need to pay it.
- Miscellaneous furniture and supplies. Your office will need a desk, chairs, refrigerator, printer, and whiteboards. Your facility will need garbage bins, towels, posters, and picture frames. You’ll need to print flyers and business cards. These costs can pile up quickly if you’re not prepared.
3. Many hats. When people ask what I do, it’s cool to say I own my own business and get to coach athletes all day. But those are only a small part of what I actually do.
If you start your own fitness facility, you’ll be responsible for lots of other jobs, including these:
- Maintenance and custodial (five to seven hours a week). You’d be astonished by how much time you spend vacuuming, cleaning toilets, doing laundry, wiping down equipment, taking out the garbage, and, depending on where you live, shoveling snow or maintaining green spaces. Factor in the time you spend maintaining equipment and fixing machines, and the work really never ends.
- Accounting and bookkeeping (one to two hours a week). For a sole proprietorship, accounting and bookkeeping is easy enough. I use a free software program that allows me to track everything and prepare reports for tax season. It’s less expensive than paying an accountant, but it’s also more time consuming. And if you add employees, or additional revenue streams, you’ll need professional guidance anyway.
- Advertising and marketing (six to eight hours a week). Personal trainer marketing is an everyday job when you open your own place. It might include social networking, emailing, writing, hosting public events, starting a fitness blog, or shooting videos.
- Administrative assistant (four to six hours a week). You’ll answer the phone, schedule meetings and sessions, and take care of all the mundane paperwork that commercial gyms hire someone else to do.
Overall, you’ll spend 16 to 23 hours a week on work unrelated to coaching athletes or training clients.
4. Hours. You never truly appreciate how much time it take to run a business until you’re actually running one. And it’s not just the number of hours. It’s when you have to work them.
As a trainer, you’re used to working when other people don’t. But when it’s your own facility, add on time in the early morning to open and at the end to close. Those dead hours in the middle of the day, when you used to work out or write programs or take an occasional nap, will now be consumed by all the tasks I just outlined. And don’t forget about weekends.
Your family time or social life will be severely truncated when you start your own fitness facility. You have to be prepared for that.
5. Network. Reach out to others who’ve gone through the process. Most are more than willing to give you advice and guidance during this process. Their experience will help you avoid mistakes and make the best possible decisions.
6. Is this your passion? Last, and probably most important, is this deceptively simple question. Is this really your passion? Is it important enough for you to persist through all the challenges I just described?
Only those with a passion for coaching and training make it through the early mornings and late nights, the sacrifices and compromises. And I haven’t even mentioned the clogged toilets and flooded showers.
If it’s not your passion, you won’t last. If you’re in it for the money, you’ll quickly figure out there are faster and easier ways to make it.
It’s a tough journey to start your own gym. The process can wear you down. But those who enjoy the grit and grind will reap the very special rewards of owning a facility that reflects your unique mission and attracts clients who make it all worthwhile.