Your staff is so important. You don’t have employees, you have a team, and that distinction is very important. Employees look at their job description and decide that those are the only duties that fall into their channel. They want to get paid, so they do what’s expected of them, but in an evolving business such as fitness, you need people who are willing to put in the work for you and help you evolve as your brand ages.
You need a team. You need people who love this business, people who understand that responsibilities and duties shift or evolve with time, and people who you can continue to pay more as your business improves as well. You want to train a team and treat them like you can be their forever place of employment, so let’s talk about how you can find the best staff and how you can keep them around.
Traits to Look for in Front Desk Staff
Your front desk staff are the frontrunners of your business. They’ll be responsible for far more than most founders and managers realize. As the direct contact with your clients to both solve their problems and ensure they’re having a good time in your gym, they help maintain the customer experience for every single visit and upkeep relationships while you’re running the show from the back-end.
- Eye Contact: Eye contact is one of the most important things you can do in any conversation. It doesn’t matter who it’s with. It builds trust, shows that the listener is giving their full attention to the person speaking, and builds confidence that this person (your customer service representative/front desk staff) is doing everything in their power to make that client feel valued and heard. You can test for this during an interview. Look for eye contact while they’re addressing you and listening to you, and if they provide it well, you’ll know they’ll do the same for your customers.
- Ability to Focus: Have you ever talked to someone and it feels like their attention is just drifting away from the topic? Like you feel small because they’ve become disinterested with the conversation at some point, but haven’t vocalized it? This is a loss of focus, and if your desk agent can’t focus on a client while they speak, they’re going to be terrible at customer service. You absolutely want someone who can give your customer the attention and time that they deserve.
- Reactive Listening: Reactive listening means emulating facial expressions, body language, and of course dialogue that reacts to the words the client or customer is saying. A reactive listener will understand and help customers better than someone who doesn’t respond with their full attention, hand gestures, and appropriate responses.
- Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence is related to empathy. It’s the ability to read people and what they’re feeling based on their body language, tone, and the look in their eyes. Emotional intelligence isn’t something that comes with the rest of the package, so you might have someone that has excellent reactive listening, but can’t personally empathize with the person they’re talking to. That’s okay; remember that every employee can be trained as long as there’s a good foundation to work with.
- Customer Service Experience: If they have prior experience, that will come in handy. Having nerves of steel is important for not only acting the part, but looking the part. Customer service experience means your front desk staff won’t look frightened, anxious, angry, or disgruntled when dealing with high levels of stress on the job. The experience will speak volumes when you see them in action behind your counter.
- Empathy Towards Others: Customers just want to be heard, and hopefully have their problem resolved if that’s an option. That means you need someone on the front desk who’s willing to listen to them and put themselves in the customers shoes. How can they take action to help the customer? As a customer, how would they want to be taken care of? It’s important to practice this through reactive listening.
- Ability to Retain Composure: Some customers are just looking for buttons to push. You know what happens when they can’t? They run out of steam. If you don’t show signs of being frustrated when dealing with difficult customers, they run out of room with nowhere to go. When you’re visibly upset, they keep pushing to get what they want. Not every single client you attract will be a gem of a human being, and your staff has to be prepared for that. If your front desk staff can’t maintain their composure during altercations where customers are trying to escalate things, you will quickly lose the respect of all other patrons in the gym if your staff member has a meltdown.
Finding good customer service/front desk staff isn’t an easy task. Many will have to be trained, and those coming from experienced customer service roles will look for higher pay rates. In our experience, it’s better to pay someone what they’re worth. They’ll be happier with their position, more likely to stay, and feel valued (nobody wants to feel undervalued, whether it’s work or personal matters). The difference is worth it.
Traits to Look for in Trainers/Coaches
Your trainers are the money-makers. A positive customer service experience is important, but trainers are the breadwinners. If they’re good at their job, word-of-mouth marketing will spread and soon they’ll have full classes all the time. Finding good instructors is paramount to your success, and classes will be a big portion of your revenue. This is what you need to know about hiring the best trainers and coaches.
- Patience: Nobody gets ahead by being yelled at or berated if they’re not up to your trainer’s standards. Your trainer should be calm and patient with every client, because in every class, there will be one who falls behind all the others—it’s just how these things work. Your trainer has to have the patience and grace to work with them and encourage them no matter what, even if they encounter problem after problem. You’re not just helping someone with a lifestyle change. Fitness can change someone’s entire life, but not if they’re dissuaded from pursuing it because of an aggravated trainer.
- Effective Communication Skills: If your trainers can’t communicate well with your staff, they can’t help them. It can be daunting to work with a trainer, whether it’s a one-on-one situation or in a class setting. Trainers need to be ready to help guide people through their exercises and communicate what they’re doing, and why it’s effective. It sounds basic, but it’s a sorely undervalued skill. It isn’t just enough to know about fitness; that’s not what makes you a trainer.
- CPR and First-Aid: Nobody wants to think about it, but you have to realize that during intense exercises, we’re putting our bodies through a rollercoaster ride. What if that ride ends up with a medical emergency? Having a trainer with CPR and first-aid knowledge can help keep a fallen client alive until the ambulance arrives and they can get medical care in a facility. It’s also good to have for insurance liability reasons. Having some form of emergency medical assistance from a certified trainer is absolutely required before they sign a contract and work for you.
- Education: Beyond knowing fitness and being toned, a personal trainer needs to understand what exercises do to the human body on a fundamental level. If they aren’t well-versed in how their efforts will change and shape a client’s body and overall health, they have no business being in a position where clients look to them for guidance.
Clients may never have an experience with you, personally, but they may look forward to three classes a week with a specific trainer. To them, that trainer is the gym. That’s who they communicate with, take recommendations from, and who they interact with at just about every single class. Make sure you hire the right trainer for the job.
Traits to Look for in Freelancers
Freelancers are your mini workforce. You need a lawyer, a bookkeeper, graphic designer, and maybe even an SEO consultant to help you with your digital marketing efforts. Freelancers are their own one-person businesses. This is what you need to know before you hire one.
- Punctual: Freelancers may “work for you,” but they really work for themselves. There aren’t many other positions where you can fire your boss (or in this case, client). If they take their business and reputation seriously, they’ll be punctual with deadlines. They’re not getting paid for the time they spend; it’s not a wage-based position. They have to bill for hours and have proof of the work (and how long it took), so they’re motivated to be punctual to get paid on time and upkeep their relationship with clients.
- Transparent About Deadlines: If they set a deadline and it’s too far out for you, they’ll tell you why. They explain what their process is, why they operate this way, and what it means for the quality of the work you want. Spoiler alert: underpaid freelancers are overworked, burned out, and will eventually be late with mediocre work. It happens to the best of them, then they raise their rates and make what they deserve, and are able to offer the quality that you want without running themselves ragged. It’s the natural cycle of freelancing, so feel free to ask why a deadline is the way it is, but the answer will be somewhere in the realm of “Quality over quantity.” That’s a sign that you’re working with a true professional.
- Reachable: If you can’t reach your freelancer with a somewhat decent response time, it could be troublesome for the business. Freelancers generally respond to emails and phone calls during normal, and sometimes extended business hours. If they take an exceedingly long time to reply to your messages, chances are they aren’t taking your relationship seriously enough. Most freelancers are reachable and transparent about their operable hours, and stick to them.
- Flexible: Flexibility is important, but not a dealbreaker. You may hire a freelancer that’s booked right now, so flexibility may (and usually does) include rush fees if you want something done ASAP or to move a deadline up. It’s good to have a freelancer that’s flexible, but not one that’s willing to bend over backwards to help you over every single email. That means they’re doing it for other clients as well and they’ll burn out.
- Industry Knowledge: One of the greatest things about hiring a freelancer is that you also get a knowledgeable consultant roped-in with the cost. Sure, you may have to pay for their time on a phone call, but you’re both setting up the work they’ll be doing and gaining valuable insight from their experiences in the industry. A good rule for life is to always be a student; always learn from others, because other people often have a lot they can teach you. You might as well get the free consultant-level knowledge while you’re at it.
Freelancers won’t be the most constant and high-priority members of your team. They’ll handle legal aid, graphic design, marketing, or whatever else you need, but they won’t be integral to the in-house day-to-day operations of your gym. They will require higher rates than your staff, albeit it for far fewer hours per month.
Start With the Right Team and You’ll Always Have an Advantage
Your team is everything. They decide first impressions, they decide how customers get treated, because they’re the ones carrying out those duties. Make sure that your team is trained well and they know what you want from them. Make them part of the family in your business.