Starting up a fitness business

How frustrating is it watching the candidates on The Apprentice mess up every single week? You’re watching each task and, in your head, you have a fitness business strategy, a winning formula and you know you’d be the best project manager since Sir Alan Sugar himself.

As a fitness professional, you may very well have had your own Apprentice thoughts and ideas about setting up your own fitness business. With the UK fitness industry up £4.7 billion since 2016 and more people rejecting the sofa in favour of physical activity, it would seem now is a good time to start your own business.

Before you do anything though, go and grab a piece of paper and write down three reasons why you want to start your business and three things you love about yourself. Pin it on the fridge, on the wall, anywhere you can see it and we’ll come back to this a bit later.

First, there are a number of factors you need to consider before you take your first steps to make sure you’re fully prepared for your new venture.

1) Know what your limits are

Although group exercise is a form of physical activity that is accessible to everyone, instructing group exercise takes a commitment to education and ongoing development.  As an instructor you have a responsibility to ensure you have the knowledge and skills required to teach, motivate and inspire the people that come to your classes.  Remember, your participants listen to you and respect your advice so be sure you know how far this extends.

If you’ve got your Level 2, you need to understand what that means you can teach. If you’re setting up a business where you’re teaching group exercise classes but also giving nutritional advice, you’re Level 2 ETM isn’t going to cover you. Think about what your business is and make sure you have the right qualifications, knowledge and confidence to deliver what you’re setting out to do.

2) Do your research

Group exercise is a form of fitness that lends itself to variety. With brands ranging from HIIT to LIIT, rebounding to pole fitness, resistance training to aerobics and everything in between, you need to know the market. If you’ve got an idea in mind for a new concept which is fresh, unique and never seen before, make sure you do your homework and check to make sure someone hasn’t already pipped you to the post.   It’s quite likely that there are two or three other brands with the same base idea as yourself. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, you just need to think about the following points.

3) What is your USP?

USP is your unique selling point. It’s the one thing that separates you from your competitors, no matter how similar your products are.

Let’s say, for example, you want to do a group exercise class that uses resistance bands as the main component. Your research reveals two main competitors who also use resistance bands; Resistercise and Band It.  You might be slightly disappointed that your idea isn’t unique but that doesn’t mean you can’t differentiate yourself from the competitors.  Look at what each brand is offering and identify their strengths and weaknesses and where you can offer something different.  It could be the music you use, your style of teaching or your inventive use of moves but you need to make sure you are bringing something new to the table.   Whatever you choose, make sure your USP is yours alone.

4) What exactly is your product?

Being clear about what your product is and what the benefits are to your customers is really important.  It is a crowded market out there and you have a very small window in which to inform your target market about your product.  Think about the last time you were on Facebook and a video popped up. Did you watch it all? If it was longer than one minute, you probably didn’t, and this is why you need to be concise in how you communicate your product. People want the key information immediately, not seven minutes after you started talking.

A good technique for devising your product explanation is the elevator pitch exercise. This will ensure you have a clear, brief explanation of your business that you can communicate to customers. It also ensures your instructors are communicating your product in the same way and consistency is key to brand awareness.

5) Write a business plan

No matter how big or small, every business needs a business plan.   This may sound like a daunting task, but it will really help you define the idea you have, identify your strengths and weaknesses, identify for your target market and set the key goals for your first year.

Writing a business plan will not be a five-minute task.  It requires you to set aside some dedicated time to really analyse your idea and map out the direction you want to go in.  You will need to be critical in your thinking, be realistic in your expectations and set short and medium terms goals that you can track and quantify.

If you’ve never written a business plan before or are looking for a good template, The Prince’s Trust have some great resources here.

6) You may not get rick quick

Setting up a business isn’t a lottery win; you won’t get rich overnight. You’ll need to prepare to invest both money and time to make your idea a reality. If you’ve written your business plan already, you’ll have an understanding of your initial set-up costs but be flexible and be aware that plans change.

Aside from obvious costs, here are a few additional things to consider which you may need to account for. They’re not essential, but you need to be aware of them and how quickly professional services add up:

  • Graphic designer fees
  • Website start up fees – agency or subscription
  • Business registration costs
  • Trademark registration costs
  • Merchandise

It’s sensible to factor in all possible costs, no matter how small, so there are no surprises along the way.  It’s much better to overestimate your outgoings than underestimate them.  It’s a common mistake and one that can be avoided. Remember, setting up takes time and can be a frustrating process, but it really does pay to do your homework and your planning thoroughly.

When everything is in place, the next thing you’ll need to do is market your product to build a participant database. Whether you choose print collateral, social media or a mixture of both, persistence is key.  It can take weeks to give your business any traction. Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends for help either. They can hand out leaflets, share posts on Facebook and/or turn up to sessions with their friends. Word of mouth is your biggest asset so get your friends on board with your product so they can share in the hard work.

Remember, slow and steady wins the race and your enthusiasm and passion for your idea will see you through the slowest times.

7) Starting small is for the smart

If you are thinking you’ve got the next Zumba® on your hands and you’re looking at going global you really need to slow down.  No matter how good your product is, conquering the world as not an advisable starting point.

You’ll need to test run your product, whether than be in your local community, at a leisure centre or at an event. If your class concept is quite unknown or unusual, be prepared to do these test sessions for free. This may seem counter-productive (after all, you want your business to make money), but it’s an invaluable opportunity to get feedback on your product before you take it to the next level.  Consider making some questionnaires to get honest feedback on the class. Don’t take it personally if there are negatives! You’ll need to be open to creative criticism.

Once you launch yourself into the market, keep the classes local and build from there. Network with other local instructors to shape further interest in your product, which may open up training opportunities, further classes and a spread of your product to other areas.

8) Get your training endorsed

If you want your product to go out to more than your local community, you’re going to need a few more instructors. Getting your instructor training endorsed acts as a stamp of quality, giving your potential instructors the knowledge and comfort your programme meets the highest standards. If you’re serious about fitness and striving for excellence in both your products and the industry, instructor training endorsement is should be high on your priority list.

9) Keep your profile strictly business

A common mistake people make is to use their business social media pages as their personal page. You are your brand ambassador and that means any customer facing profiles must be strictly business. It doesn’t matter what your opinions are on politics or whether you’ve had an argument with your friend, it doesn’t belong on your business page Facebook.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have personality. You can be quirky in your posts, savvy on what’s in popular culture and have opinions on industry news but always make it relevant to your customers.

10) Don’t give up!

You started your journey for a reason and you need to hold on to the passion that inspired you to take the first step.   It won’t be easy and it won’t always to go plan but if you expect a few bumps in the road, you won’t get so disheartened. Remember the piece of paper you wrote on at the start of this article?  Well, if you’re struggling to understand why you started or you’re lying awake at night wondering if it’s worth it, get up and find that piece of paper.  Look at the three reasons you started and the three things you love about yourself. Use these to give you the strength to carry on. Get out there and make your mark!

This may not be a checklist or a definitive list on how to start your business, but it should give you some things to consider and work towards. If you’re looking for further inspiration  you might also want to read  this blog from our friend Mikaela Jackson, founder of She Almighty. Whatever you need career or business advice EMD UK is here to support you at every stage of your development.  Get in contact here.