The Journey Of A Fitness Business Owner

The Skills You Need To Go From Struggling Start-Up To High Performing Entrepreneur

One of the scariest parts of being a business owner is the unknown.  There’s nothing guaranteed when you make the courageous, often times scary leap to running your own fitness business.  

Do you ever find yourself wondering what’s next in your journey as a fitness business owner?

What should I be focused on?

What should my business look like?

What should I focus on to get to the next stage of my business?

You’re not alone!  After working with hundreds of fitness businesses we laid out what your business will look like at each stage, the challenges you are going to face, common reasons for failure and what success looks like, including the skills you need to develop at each stage to prepare for what’s next.

The Business Owner’s Journey

We’re going to take a deep dive into each of the 5 Stages through this article, but first let’s do a quick overview of each.

You may find it valuable to read through each of the stages, or if you’d rather skip right to the stage you are in now and figure out how to get to the next stage of your journey that’s cool too.  This article is a lot like a choose your own adventure. Read it and use it however you see fit to help you.

Stage 1: Sell, Sell, Sell

Facility Type/Space:  Independent Contractor

Gross Revenue (monthly):  $0-$2,000

Major Earnings Benchmark: Make enough to pay the bills

Values: Being a great technician

Stage 2: Marketing Machine

Facility Type/Space:  Independent Contractor

Gross Revenue (monthly):  $2,000-$12,000

Major Earnings Benchmark: Income is 50% of revenue, paid on a regular basis

Values:  Going from technician to marketing and sales

Stage 3: System-wise

Facility Type/Space:  Leased space

Gross Revenue (monthly):  $10,000-$25,000

Major Earnings Benchmark: Income is 30-45% of the revenue, start earning market based wage

Values:  Going from marketing/sales to business

Stage 4: Manager-Leader

Facility Type/Space:  Leased space

Gross Revenue (monthly):  $25,000-$50,000

Major Earnings Benchmark: Six figure icome 

Values: Going from creating results to getting results through others

Stage 5: Entrepreneur

Facility Type/Space:  Leased space or property ownership as investment

Gross Revenue (monthly):  $50,000+

Major Earnings Benchmark: >50% income from profits, working less and making more, getting paid your highest dollar per hour amount 

Values: Opportunity, balance, family, experience, retirement

Take an honest assessment of where you are and let’s dive in and look at what each stage looks like and how to get from one to the next.

Stage 1: Sell, Sell, Sell

When you are first getting started one of the most valuable skills you can develop is sales, outside of being a great trainer/coach…of course.

You won’t last long in this industry if you can’t get people to pay you for your services. Many fitness business owners are forced out of business quickly because they never learn to sell their services.  It’s an easily avoidable fate.

The Challenges

At this point you’re asking questions like:

  • What should I be doing each day? 
  • Who do I listen to?
  • I need clients…where are they?

These questions along with overcoming your internal fears about sales will need to be addressed as you continue to grow your business.  As you gain new clients you’ll also build your credibility.  

Common Causes of Failure

If you never learn to sell it will be impossible to stay in business.  Not developing sales skills and utilizing a system that will get you predictable results will leave you clientless and penniless.  

This is a stage where you are most vulnerable to bad advice.  You are working diligently to make your business work and open to taking advice or coaching from just about anyone.  This advice could be detrimental to your growth.

A bad lease at any stage can put the strain on a business, but when you’re just starting out and trying to generate (and keep) as much revenue as you it can put you out of business.   

Many times Word of Mouth marketing drives a Stage 1 business, if that doesn’t take off because your clients aren’t willing to talk about you or you can’t deliver results worthy of referrals it’s going to be a long, tough uphill battle.

What Does Success Look Like?

You’ll know you’re having success in this stage when you have happy clients and you’re seeing steady, continuous growth.  

This success is built on the foundation of you acquiring the proper credentials to deliver training services and have a big focus on getting better at delivering results.

To support your growth you’ll need a polished and consistent sales process in place that allows you to hit your daily and weekly goals.   

Congratulations if you can check off all these boxes…

YOU’VE PROVEN YOU CAN SURVIVE!  

What Competencies and Resources Will You Need?

Getting out of this stage isn’t going to happen by accident.  You’ll need to focus on developing certain competencies that will be the foundation for future success.  It’s also important that you seek out resources to make success a little easier.

Here are a list of competencies:

The resources to support you:

Your Support Systems

Very few, if anyone can do this alone.  The road to success in the fitness industry is too challenging to have to figure it all out.  Learn from those who have been there before and build a support system that will help you when you get stuck.

At this stage you’ll find this support in:

Understanding the value of a business coach at this stage will give you a distinct advantage!  They will help you implement systems faster, avoid the mistakes that put many fitness businesses out of business and get results quickly.  

By having a coach early you will build a solid foundation for your future success.   

Key Performance Indicators

With sales being the biggest factor to success in Stage 1 your KPIs are tied directly to your ability to add new clients.  Focus on New Core Offer (new clients) and New Front End Offers (trials, etc) during this stage.  

The faster you can bring in new clients the quicker you’ll be able to move to the next stage.

Stage 2: Marketing Machine

Congratulations!  If you’re in Stage 2 you’ve got your business off the ground and are making a bit of money.  Many fitness pros never get to this stage, you should be proud of yourself.

But, there’s more work to do…

In Stage 2 you’re going to need to ramp up your marketing.  It’s critical that you develop a plan to attract and acquire new potential clients for your business.   By learning how to predictably bring in new leads you will be able to support your business through the future growth stages.  

Without the ability to market you will be vulnerable.  

The Challenges

You’re getting busier now and there’s a good chance that you’ve said ‘yes’ to every opportunity that came your way to get to this point.  That’s going to be a risk for you.  You’ll have to learn to assess the right opportunities so that you have a focused plan for growth and aren’t chasing the idea of ‘busy for busy’s sake’.

You’re now more comfortable selling, but are starting to wonder how this whole trading dollars for time thing is going to work for you in the future.  There’s a good chance you’re starting to ask the question “how much should I be charging”.

It’s easy to be a victim of your own success in this stage.  If you continue to sell it means you’ll have more clients to train.  That’s great, but if you are spending all your time training you can’t sell any more.  Your revenue growth stops!  

Marketing can be tricky, especially in a competitive industry like fitness.  You’ll need to hone in on your target market and learn how to create a plan that gets you in front of the right people.  Spreading your message and attracting more leads is crucial if you want to grow.  

There’s a good chance you’d train people for free, because you love it.  But, that’s not a great business model… A huge challenge for many fitness pros as they go through this stage in their journey is overcoming their own issues with money, self worth and fear of success.   

You are great at what you do!  If you earn it, you deserve success.

Common Causes of Failure

As you grow and move through the stages of your journey the risks become greater.  They continue to evolve with you and your business.  If you know what trips up many business owners you can take the steps to avoid the causes of failure

In Stage 2 common causes are:

What Does Success Look Like?

Success in Stage 2 is all about being able to control your marketing.  You must be able to bring in new leads when you need them, be consistent with your marketing activities and these activities allowing you to hit your quarterly goals.

As you grow and time becomes an issue it’s also key that you bring on your first new hire for your business, likely an administrative assistant to help with some of the office work tasks that are keeping you from revenue producing activities.

A successful Stage 2 business owner will also begin manage their time and priorities well.  They have a system in place and structure to create time in their day instead of hoping they can make time.

What Competencies and Resources Will You Need?

Getting out of this stage isn’t going to happen by accident.  You’ll need to focus on developing certain competencies that will be the foundation for future success.  It’s also important that you seek out resources to make success a little easier.

Here are a list of competencies:

The resources to support you:

Your Support Systems

Very few, if anyone can do this alone.  The road to success in the fitness industry is too challenging to have to figure it all out.  Learn from those who have been there before and build a support system that will help you when you get stuck.

At this stage you’ll find this support in:

These require a bit of explaining…

The community that you’ll find the most support in is a network of your peers.  You want to find a group of fitness business owners who have been or are going through the same journey you’re on.  This allows you to feel connected and eliminate the feeling that you’re the only one experiencing the challenges and problems that arise in your business.

A community of your peers can lift you up and provide you support when you need it most.  

It’s also critical that you seek out and attend skill development workshops and mentorship programs.  These can be in person or online programs that are focused on helping you develop specific skills and competencies needed to move forward in your business.  

Key Performance Indicators

We’ll take a small shift in Stage 2 and start looking at the front end of your marketing funnel when evaluating performance metrics in your business.  

In Stage 2 you should be tracking and reviewing:

  • New Leads
  • Core Offer Conversion Rate (Lead to New Client)
  • Expenses

Stage 3: Systems-wise

Things have really taken off for you!  It may have taken you 12 months to get to this stage in your journey or several years.  No matter the time it took, you’re here now and have proven that you want to create a successful, High Performing business.  

This is a pivotal stage for most fitness business owners.  It’s where you have to begin thinking of your business as an actual business!  You have to replicate the results you can get yourself through systems and structure.

The Challenges

In Stage 3 you’re going to be thinking…

  • Not all of my customers are awesome…
  • Is this the best use of my time?
  • How can I get other people to do this well?
  • I need a break!
  • What’s important?  What are my priorities?
  • How am I doing?

Things are going well in the business at this stage but you’re realizing not all opportunities are created equal and it’s quickly becoming evident that you’re going to have to develop a new set of competencies.

It’s critical that you begin to make the mindset shift from being a great trainer who can market and sell to a great business owner.

Common Causes of Failure

As you grow and move through the stages in your journey the risks become greater.  They continue to evolve with you and your business.  If you know what trips up many business owners you can take the steps to avoid the causes of failure.

In Stage 3 common causes are:

  • You stop marketing because you are too busy
  • You stay in this stage too long and never progress
  • Open another location too quickly
  • Hire reactively (too fast), fire too slow
  • Disorganization/lack of priorities
  • Burn out
  • Can’t adapt to the business to shifts in the market
  • Thinking a system is a checklist
  • Bring on a partner or realize a current partnership is bad

What Does Success Look Like?

This stage is often the toughest for a fitness business owner to go through because what is required for success may not come naturally.  

When you’re in this Stage look for the signs of progress and success by recognizing the following:

You can see there is a lot that goes into success in Stage 3.  There’s a reason many never make it out of this stage and it’s often the stage that sends good people packing in our industry.

This is where the hard work starts for your business.  But, if you can get through this you’ll have a solid foundation for growth and an ability to scale your business.

What Competencies and Resources Will You Need?

Getting out of this stage isn’t going to happen by accident.  You’ll need to focus on developing certain competencies that will be the foundation for future success.  It’s also important that you seek out resources to make success a little easier.

Here are a list of competencies:

The resources to support you:

Your Support Systems

Very few, if anyone can do this alone.  The road to success in the fitness industry is too challenging to have to figure it all out.  Learn from those who have been there before and build a support system that will help you when you get stuck.

At this stage you’ll find this support in:

You’ll notice that a close knit peer group or High Performance Mastermind makes its first appearance in this stage. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that you have a close group of peers to help you develop as a business owner and speed up your results.  High Performers don’t want to stay in a stage longer than needed, and a good peer group will help hold you accountable and get you results quicker.

Stage 4: Manager-Leader

You’ve made the shift and now you have a business you are proud of and that you love running.  Congrats on your success thus far, but there’s still work to be done.  

It’s time to learn how to get results through other people. There’s a good chance you’ve built up a small team to get to this point and they are responsible for driving certain areas of your business.  How will you keep making progress and get the results through your team?

The Challenges

In Stage 4 you’re going to be facing things like:

  • How do we perpetuate improvement?
  • Early decisions to ‘bootstrap it’ are catching up to you
  • Figuring out what investments you can afford to make
  • What is your culture, really?
  • What’s next for you as the business owner?
  • Should you open a second location?

You’re now beginning to think forward and start realizing the decisions you make today greatly impact the direction of your business for the future.  You may also get a sense of dissatisfaction, or uneasiness from your team doing a lot of the work.  

Common Causes of Failure

Yes, even at this stage it’s possible to fail!  Many businesses take a step back when they attempt to transition to this stage.  Sometimes it’s because they didn’t take the time to develop the foundation in their previous stages or it could be because they resist the need to develop new competencies.  

In Stage 4 common causes are:

  • Not evolving as a manager
  • Trying to leave this stage too soon
  • Not letting go of the technical work
  • Getting in the way of your team
  • Letting your ego keep you from being transparent about the real issues

If you refuse to allow others to help you grow your business it’s going to be difficult to move on to the final stage in your business journey.  You’ll have to set your ego aside and help others improve at their job to truly have success in this stage.

What Does Success Look Like?

Another big shift happens in Stage 4, you are now more focused on the people in your business than dominating tasks or mastering technical skills.  You’re undergoing the transformation into a High Performing Business Owner!

When you experience the following you’ll start to notice success:

What Competencies and Resources Will You Need?

Getting out of this stage isn’t going to happen by accident.  You’ll need to focus on developing certain competencies that will be the foundation for future success.  It’s also important that you seek out resources to make success a little easier.

Here are a list of competencies:

The resources to support you:

  • Performance Based Compensation (if applicable)

You’ll quickly notice this stage requires a lot of development for the business owner.  It’s a time where you will be required to develop your own competencies to support your team.   

Your Support Systems

Very few, if anyone can do this alone.  The road to success in the fitness industry is too challenging to have to figure it all out.  Learn from those who have been there before and build a support system that will help you when you get stuck.

At this stage you’ll find this support in:

During this stage relying on a great business coach to help you develop the required competencies and uncover your blind spots will be critical.   Paired with a peer group, like the High Performance Mastermind, you’ll have the support you need to continue you journey.  

Stage 5: Entrepreneur

Finally, the coveted entrepreneur stage!  You’ve worked hard and and done the required work to get here.  Celebrate a little 🙂

All your hard work has it’s rewards if you stay focused on the right things.  But, you’re still not immune to failure or falling back into old habits that could set you back.  

A High Performer is constantly seeking to learn and develop as a business owner.  

The Challenges

In Stage 5 you’re going to be facing things like:

  • How do I let go?
  • What defines me?
  • What can I break? Do they really not need me?
  • What’s my job?

It can be tough when the entrepreneur to realizes their team is functioning well and they aren’t needed in the day to day operations for the business to be successful.  If you aren’t careful you will be your own worst enemy and sabotage your success.  You’ll find ways to break things your business so that you can jump back in and be the hero.  

You’ll need to focus on your new identity as a the entrepreneur.  

Common Causes of Failure

Yes, even at this stage it’s possible to fail!  Many business owners take a step back when they attempt to transition to this stage.  Sometimes it’s because they didn’t take the time to develop the foundation in their previous stages or it could be because they resist the need to develop new competencies.  

In Stage 5 common causes are:

This stage requires that you have someone or a group of people in place in the business where the ‘buck stops’.  They have the final say in the day to day operations.  Learning how to manage them and letting go of the responsibilities  you have given them will be key for your success.

What Does Success Look Like?

Once you’ve got to this stage you’ve afforded yourself the opportunity to focus back on some balance in your life and meeting your bigger life goals.  It’s time where you can take on passion projects or pursue things that you’ve always been interested in because of the foundation you’ve built in your fitness business.

Here’s what you’ll need for success:

  • You have a General Manager or Manager in place to make decisions on day to day operations, including hiring/firing
  • An exit strategy is in place
  • A gatekeeper says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for you
  • You are investing in inspiration
  • Life goals are being met 

What Competencies and Resources Will You Need?

Your focus at this point may be to extending your impact and helping others.  That may mean mentoring other fitness business owners and or giving back to your community.  To be effective at this you’ll need to develop competencies that help you (and help your team).

Here are a list of competencies:

  • Mentorship
  • Social Responsibility

The resources to support you:

  • Continuity Plan (what happens if something bad happens to you?)
  • New Business Development Plans

This stage is about you ensuring you leave something behind that you are proud of and that can be sustained without you there.  

Your Support Systems

Very few, if anyone can do this alone.  The road to success in the fitness industry is too challenging to have to figure it all out.  Learn from those who have been there before and build a support system that will help you when you get stuck.

At this stage you’ll find this support in:

What do I do with this info?

There’s a lot of information here, especially if you read from start to finish.  In fact, it’s over 4000 words on what it takes to be successful on your journey as a fitness business owner.

Using this to help you is easy…

  1. Identify the stage you are in
  2. Learn what it’s going to take to have success
  3. Implement those things
  4. Look ahead to the next stage so you know what to expect

Skipping stages will only result in you failing.  Looking too far ahead won’t give you a big benefit because you’re taking your eye off the ball.  It’s okay to know where you are going, but focus the majority of your precious time and energy on mastering the stage you’re in currently and building a solid foundation for success.

If you need a little help complete the application below and we’ll jump on a call to figure out how to get you unstuck or speed up your progress.

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