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7 Lessons Learned When Transitioning from Trainer, Instructor or Coach to Fitness Studio/Gym Owner

By Stephen Tharrett

1. Move from Celebrity Actor to Producer

Whether your past work experience had you teaching classes or training clients, one thing is certain, you were most likely a one act play. Your success, or failure, depended on you; your passion, your enthusiasm, your expertise and your hard work. If you had clients waiting in line it was primarily because of who you are and what you did. Chances are, clients and members told you how good you were; how you should open your own studio, and you probably heeded their advice. It is one thing to be responsible for your own success but an entirely different proposition when it comes to building a successful business.

2. Become a Storyteller with Something Vital to Say

In the book Karaoke Capitalism, the authors made a profound statement that says, “Stories translate information into emotion.” What they meant is what moves people, whether it’s employees to deliver on a brand promise or clients to make a purchase, is dependent not so much on facts, but on emotions. They noted that there is no more effective way to inspire and lift emotions than through stories. While most employees are at the receiving end of stories, leaders and managers must become the storytellers.

3. Become a Wealth Manager

Robert Dedman, the founder of ClubCorp, regularly shared the following line with his senior management team, (including the author): “Losing money is inherently evil.” This might seem rather harsh, but the reality is that being in business is about making a profit. As a personal trainer or instructor your goal was to generate a sufficient base of clients to generate the income you needed to lead the lifestyle you wanted. As a business owner the picture changes. Now, you are responsible for the financial viability of the business, and believe it or not, for the financial well-being of your employees and other partners.

4. Moving from Salesperson to Sales Manager

As a personal trainer or instructor chances are you were good at selling yourself. Great trainers and instructors are consummate sales people; they sell themselves every minute of every day. As a business owner you now have to manage how your team sells. You have to establish sales goals for the business, as well as for your employees. You have to monitor sales and make sure you hold everyone accountable for their sales performance. You have to educate others on how to sell (a universal truth is that most instructors and trainers are not great sales people). You have to find ways to inspire and motivate others to sell, then recognize them when they succeed and deal with them when they fail.

5. Move from Specialist to Jack of All Trades
Recently I was working with a client whose trainers saw their only job as training their clients. Theycouldn’t be bothered picking up a towel, or heaven forbid if they were asked to work the receptiondesk for 30 minutes to cover for an ill employee. For whatever reason, personal trainers and groupexercise instructors see themselves as highly skilled specialists with no other responsibilities than todo their thing. Owners and managers must be jacks of all trades: answer phones, clean, teach classes, make sales calls, handle the books, doing literally whatever it takes to keepthe business on track.

6. Become a Magician and Agent of Change

No business can stand still, unless of course, it wants to become extinct. Every day the world changes, people’s preferences evolve, market conditions change, industry innovations occur, employees leave, and finally, members change. As a trainer, most of this has little impact on what you do day-to-day. Once you become a business owner it all changes. Little things that you never had to think keep you awake at night. Now you have to be prepared to drive change if you want the business to survive; if you want the business to thrive then change must become your mantra.

7. Become a Cheerleader

As a business owner you have to hang up the cleats and take up the pom poms. As an owner and manager you’re about to experience a monumental shift; instead of being the object of praise you have to be there to inspire and cheer on your team. Like a sports team, businesses have their highs and lows, employees experience success and failure, goals are achieved and missed. As a business leader you need to keep everyone focused on the big picture and help them overcome the daily challenges and frustrations that can bring a business to its knees.

In Conclusion

Entrepreneurs are the engine that drives the American economy. In the health/fitness industry, entrepreneurs have been the innovators who have taken us from our infancy to where we are today. As a new fitness entrepreneur, your passion most likely exceeds the competencies you’ll need to bring that vision to life. If you are prepared to accept and act on the changes that will confront you on this journey from trainer or instructor to business owner, then you will have taken the first step toward fulfilling your vision.

About the author:

Stephen Tharrett is a former President of IHRSA, member of AFS’s Advisory Board, AFS community expert, and member of the Club Industry Advisory board. Stephen, along with his business partner Mark Williamson, are co-founders of ClubIntel, a brand insight, market research and consulting firm serving the fitness and private club industries. He also has served on the education, certification and health/fitness facility standards committees for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Council on Exercise (ACE).