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4 Common Mistakes Club Owners Are Making Right Now and What to Do Instead


If you would have asked me a month ago what the chances were the government would describe my fitness facility as a “non-essential business” and close us down for the unforeseeable future, I would have scoffed. No way would that even be plausible.

Yet, here we are. In California it’s been a month since we went into a “shelter in place” state.

It is easy to sit back and feel like COVID-19 not only took you by total surprise, but it’s left you behind in the dust, unsure of how to make rent in a week and whether your clients will remember you after it’s all over.

Life has been unfolding so quickly it’s like every 24 hours something new and unexpected happens. What has made this global pandemic so frustrating for all of us trying to keep our businesses afloat is the lack of verified information. It’s led 95% of fitness facilities to close down, place all their clients on hold, lay off employees and go LIVE and give away all the value they spent years teaching their clients to pay happily for.         

I’ve watched our industry respond as best as they could under false assumptions that I believe have led them to make these four mistakes:

1. Make decisions based on believing “sheltering in place” will only be two weeks.

With most small businesses having some kind of “rainy day fund,” being closed for two weeks isn’t ideal but it’s not earth shattering for many of us. But within days of learning COVID-19 cases were popping up, I watched in disbelief as a I read email after email of fitness businesses announcing their closure and placing memberships on hold. I knew in my gut these gym owners were making some big mistakes that could put their business’ survival at risk. The mistake was believing it would be two weeks, even though in Italy is has been far longer. Had we been told from the onset we could be looking at three to four months, I guarantee the response from our industry would have been very different.

2. Placing memberships on hold.

There are two main reasons doing this is a mistake. First when you’re in a siege that threatens your existence, you don’t give away all your food. You protect it like never before. You guard it. You watch it more closely and think of new, creative ways to make it stretch for the foreseeable future. Putting all memberships on hold puts your business in serious risk of reopening.

The second reason this is a mistake is your memberships are essentially an agreement between you and your clients. Simply put, they hire you for a longer term to help them achieve their goals. Does that change with COVID-19? Sure, in the 1980s when we didn’t have the internet or ability to train remotely. But today, we have everything we need to deliver value through technology in a number of ways. Let’s get back to remembering what those memberships stand for. It’s a promise you made to show up for them and help them achieve their goals. Nothing changes that, unless the client specifically asks for it to go on hold.

3. Forgetting what your clients need MOST.

The biggest mistake I witnessed is fitness business owners forgetting what their clients really need right now. Originally placing them on hold could alleviate their concerns about overspending in an economic downturn. But shouldn’t they make that call? I’d be willing to bet what’s way more important than that is staying mentally sane, emotionally connected and physically energized during such an uncertain time.

Sure, on face value it felt compassionate to volunteer to be one less payment they would be charged during such a stressful time, but on the other hand, your services uniquely offer stress relief and health in a time where those two things have never mattered more. They need this so much that I guarantee they will migrate to other brands, fitness professionals and services that have found a way to deliver this. This is the opportunity others are taking that could hurt you long term. I believe when you place your members on hold it’s naive to assume they will still be loyal to you when this is all over.

4. Putting workouts consistently online for FREE.

The final nail in the coffin for many fitness studios is to start using a “freemium model” with content you’ve trained everyone in your community is a paid service. This undermines your value. I think back to my grandfather’s advice to me about dating boys and not “giving the milk away for free.” Regardless of how antiquated that advice is for you, the point is why would you ever pay for something you used to get for free? Sure, your members will thank you when you first go to the free model, and you’ll feel like you did the right thing. But fast forward to when we return, the value proposition will have changed. It will be harder to justify paying for what you were used to getting for free.

So those are the four mistakes I see fitness business owners making. But there is hope. Even if you’ve done each or some of these things, you can pivot back into getting paid and here are three steps to doing just that.

1. Focus on recreating community online.

Even if your fitness experience relies heavily on the building, the equipment and the amenities, it’s still most likely that the community under your roof is the single biggest selling point to your clients. So take the time to identify what makes your community unique. Don’t for a second believe Peloton or some online fitness influencer can replace your fitness tribe so easily.

Even if your clients have found other fitness brands to follow, they are still likely trying to replace what they loved about your studio or fitness facility. It’s not too late. But they will need somewhere to “go” online to get that experience. We’ve found Facebook Groups has been amazing for that. We host 17 live workouts per week, an early morning Live show with us as owners chatting about whatever comes to our minds, we host Zoom call socials, and even have our coaches posting to the page showing off their quirky personalities.

2. Productize your services.

If you sit back and consider all the virtual training options you have there is bound to be at least one format that could deliver your clients what they’re missing. If you have the time and budget to create a series of workouts into an on-demand video series, that could be a great revenue generator for you. But what I think is the quickest and highest value option for us has been to start using Zoom or other video conferencing calls to start training in real time through screens.

Yes, you have to worry about if the client has access to equipment, enough space and if their audio and lighting work, but after that you’ve recreated the training experience they previously have paid for. I’m even talking about group training. Before COVID-19 hit we had over 125 weekly sessions going. Now, three weeks later we have 85 remote training sessions per week (not to mention our Facebook Live workouts). The pro tip here is to try to get your clients to reactivate their memberships (or keep them active) by offering remote training that’s as close as possible to the services they are used to paying for.

3. Bring your clients back into the fold.

Once you have a Facebook group built, start inviting your clients to join. Then personally reach back out to everyone who had memberships before COVID-19 and worked out consistently with your staff. Find out how they are doing. What is working? What are they missing? Invite them to join the group and share your plan for how to continue to partner with them in staying active, mentally sane and getting back in touch with their gym family.

In three easy steps you can create your online community, productize your services and get your clients back engaged.

Regardless for how long we are addressing COVID-19 as a country, if you’re a business owner, you’re a leader and entrepreneur. We create in the void. We rise to the occasion. We do whatever it takes to reach our goals. It’s time to get off the side lines and jump back into the arena and serve our clients like never before. Because at the end of this, if you maximize this opportunity you will have built a new revenue stream you can always have attached to your business. That is how you survive this. That is how you have a business to come back to.

Paden Hughes

Paden Hughes is the co-CEO of Gymnazo and co-founder of Gymnazo Media.

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