You’ve just opened your gym (or are about to). You know how to coach the squat, you’re passionate about helping people change their lives and you’ve got a killer playlist ready to rock.
But you don’t know much about running a business. Maybe you’re looking for a plug-and-play guide to basic gym operations. This isn’t it.
If you were opening one of the major globo-gym franchises, you could get a step-by-step guide. It’d tell you exactly what to do and dictate everything from the banners you hang on the walls to what time you open and close each day.
But if you’re here, you’re probably not a franchise—and that means there’s no instructions included in the box. Why? Because your gym is unique. It’s individual to you, your goals and what’s important to you—and that means that before you can even dream of an instruction manual, you need to determine your core values.
First Things First
Before you make your class schedule, before you design your logo, before you worry about how to onboard new clients: Determine your core values.
“The first few core things I would say (new gym owners need to do) is set the core values of their company, the biggest things they believe in,” said Dan Uyemura, PushPress CEO. “Because you have to hire people against those, and then it also helps set the community and the entire outward-facing company. You want to keep those in line with your values.”
Be specific. Don’t just say, “We want to help people get in shape.” Who do you want to serve? (Hint: It can’t be everyone). And how? Are you in a young, transient area where you might see more 20-somethings? Or in a residential area with moms and dads who want to keep up with their kids? Is your priority to help people overcome sickness and obesity, or are you more interested in training competitive athletes?
They say your vibe attracts your tribe—so make sure you’re sending the right signals.
After you’ve set your values, then use those values to inform your operations by determining and documenting processes.
What’s a process?
“Someone told me once ... that if you ever say ‘every time,’ that's a process,” Dan said. “Every morning you need to unlock the door, clean the bathroom. Every night you need to do this, every time someone joins you need to do that, every time someone quits you need to do that, every time a newbie walks in the door— every time, every time, every time. So if you find yourself saying ‘every time’ or ‘every morning’ or ‘every’ something, that just becomes a moment for you to sit down and write it all down and add that to the process book.”
Does that seem superfluous? It’s not. What seems obvious to you might not be to another staff member, and if you haven’t determined set processes and procedures for every task, no matter how small, you force your staff to guess.
“And they’re probably just doing whatever they think is right if you haven’t trained them, and that may or may not reflect those core values,” Dan continued.
For example, he offered, you might put your most outgoing coach on sales calls. Maybe he or she has a background in sales and takes a more forward approach.
“They might be super salesy and you don’t want them to be,” Dan said.
Another important reason to document every process is for training purposes.
No matter how great your team is, staff will eventually leave you. Maybe they relocate, have a career change or want to start their own gym. Chris McConachie, PushPress Founder, advises you prepare.
“When that staff gets promoted to another position or moves into a different department or they quit, expectedly or unexpectedly, you have to train other people on that process, and so if you don't have documentation you are just doing the same thing over and over, and it takes so much time to re-explain it,” he said.
Merging Process and Purpose: Some Examples
Cleaning. Tracking inventory. Ordering supplies. Though these tasks seem like small no-brainers, they, too, deserve a process, written down and stored in your employee handbook.
“Being in the position I am now, I kind of realize that all of those things, if I had the diligence and the understanding of establishing processes, could have been easy,” Dan said, recalling when he first opened a gym. “Every single thing that happens like that, the first time you go through it you kind of screw it up, but then immediately thereafter, you sit down and say, ‘That didn't go so great; let me think it through,’ and you write down everything you think should happen.”
It’s what Dan calls “operational excellence,” and it prevents you and your staff from making the same mistake twice.
“You just keep refining the process, and because it's written down, you can do that. … If it's not written down, you can't go back to it and say, ‘OK, I need to insert this thing here, I need to remove this thing or change this thing.’”
Surely you don’t need a thoughtfully designed process for things like email automations or lead management, right?
Wrong, according to Dan. You can’t automate something unless it’s already a process.
“So what I did before, and what I'm sure (many) gym owners do, is they jump straight to the automation part,” he said. “But if you haven't documented the process, you're kind of like building a car while you're driving it.”
Think of all the steps you need to take when pursuing a new lead: new customer greeting. Reminders the day before and day of for first sessions. Thank-you’s. Follow-ups. Reminders to yourself that you’ve a new client coming in and they’ll need a handshake and a tour.
Rather than leave these important personal interactions to the whims of AI, Dan suggests you automate one thing: a reminder to yourself to do them.
“You can automate follow-up, you can automate billing, you can automate a lot of things computers can do, but in the gym business, you're in a human-relationship business, and you can't automate human,” he said.
It’s critical that you determine your core values before hiring new staff members, “because ultimately the staff at the gym need to be the embodiment of (them),” Chris said.
It’s easiest to find a match when hiring from within, but that’s not always possible—especially when you’re first starting out. If you’re hiring from outside, Dan recommends you tailor your interview questions not only to the skills you’re looking for, but also to the personality and values you want the ideal candidate to have.
For example, if one of your core values is that you’re a family gym, you might ask questions that help you see whether the candidate likes kids or not.
“If I asked you to watch my kids, what would you do with them for an hour?” Dan suggested. “Not saying they’re gonna be a babysitter … but you want the person who’s like, ‘Oh, that’d be amazing, I’d take them to a park and we would play tag’ as opposed to ‘Oh, I don’t know, I’m not really a kid person.’ Then that person’s automatically not a good candidate if that’s a core value.”
Sometimes, a candidate’s alignment with your values might be even more important than hard skills.
“There's an element of competency which can be learned, like how good they are at coaching, and the tougher one to learn is personality,” Chris said. “And so my approach is going off the personality and then teaching them how to coach better.”
Having a set of specific core values and processes is also integral to keeping your team running well.
First, processes provide consistency. Determine standards for how classes should be run and hold regular meetings to check in with staff.
“The main reason why you want that is consistency with your brand, because how they’re coaching is an extension of that,” Chris said. “It’s OK to have some variety and some uniqueness, but you gotta think about consistency. You can't have someone that goes to the 6:00 a.m. class and gets coached and all these cues and then one day show up to the 5:00 p.m. class and not even get a warm-up.”
Consistency goes both ways, too. Employees need to know the standards and expectations they’ll be held to, and without documentation, they’re shooting in the dark.
“Different business coaches call it different things, some call them employee contracts,” Chris continued. “It just needs to be written down and they need to agree to it.”
Your core values should also inform your relationship with your employees. If one of your core values is to help your clients grow and lead more fulfilling lives, help your employees do the same.
“You gotta give a shit about what you can do for your employees,” Dan said. “What I’ve found in workplaces is what's missing when you go to work for somebody, no one ever sits down and say, ‘What can we do for you?’ It's always like what can the employee do for the company.”
To increase employee satisfaction, performance and retention—and help the relationship continue to be a good mutual fit—Dan recommends taking a mentorship approach to managing your staff.
Maybe that means sponsoring continuing education courses or allowing a coach to spearhead a new program.
“Actually showing your employees or your coaches that you give a shit about what they need and how can you help them get there will make all of them have a connection to you and your business that you couldn't buy,” Dan said.
It’s an Ongoing Process
Yes, you need to have your core values determined before you figure out the day-to-day minutiae. But don’t be paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection.
“You probably won’t get it right the first time; they're probably going to be iterated on is what I've found, and it's OK to do that,” Chris said. “Put it in play and then improve on it.”
The important thing is that you act from a value-oriented perspective, not just out of eagerness to get things going.
“I think a lot of gym owners go directly to ‘how are we gonna onboard new clients,’ ‘what does our fundamentals look like,’ ‘how much am I gonna charge for a membership,’ and they haven't done the first step of ‘who are we trying to serve,’ ‘what do we represent’, ‘what are our core values as an extension of us,’ ‘what should our coaches be representing,’” Dan said. “I think that should be the first step before worrying about ‘how do I start making money?’ Because it will all fall apart six months down the road if you haven't thought through those things.”