Health clubs were the first entities to pair fitness with business, but today a whole new set of entrepreneurs are bursting onto the health and fitness scene—and many of them are women.
This new breed of entrepreneur is breaking away from the tradition of working as an instructor or a trainer for someone else and realizing her potential for success by starting her own studio or training business. The exciting prospect of business ownership, however, is often tempered with questions of doubt: “Can I generate enough clients to support myself?” “Do I have enough money to get the business off the ground?” and “Do I really know what I’m getting myself into?”
These are all excellent questions to ask before delving into the world of self-employment. However, preparation and education are the best tools a woman can have when branching out on her own. If you are ready for independence, here are the top 10 absolutes you should address to increase your chances for business success.
When starting your own business, you must first create a clear picture of what exactly it is you want to do and what you want your business to be. The best way to do this is to develop vision and mission statements.
Your vision statement creates focus and should outline the direction you see your company going in the first 3–5 years. If you can see where you want to go, it will be much easier to plan a strategy to get there. Here is an example of a vision statement:
“The aim of (Name of Business) is to provide ongoing education and support programs to encourage mothers of young children to be active, competent and responsible role models who value their own health as much as they value their family’s health.”
Your mission statement succinctly brings together the purpose of your business and the reason for its existence. It should address your image, your target market, the services you’ll offer and the benefits to your customer. Below is an example of a mission statement:
“(Name of Business) inspires at-home moms to attain healthy living and healthy bodies through creative, family-friendly fitness programs, resulting in a lasting balance of body, mind and spirit.”
The benefit of creating a concise mission statement is twofold: (1) your mission statement can easily convey your business purpose to others; and (2) your mission statement can also be used to help you evaluate strategic business decisions pertaining to marketing, advertising and networking.
Once you have solidified your business vision and mission, you must develop a business plan that details how you will turn your dream into reality. Many entrepreneurs make the serious mistake of not devoting enough time to writing a business plan (or skipping the process entirely), which is why most new businesses fail. A builder wouldn’t attempt to build a house without a blueprint, and a business owner shouldn’t try to build a business without a business plan.
Business plan templates are widely available online (see the sidebar on page 101) and in business start-up books. A standard business plan should generally include information on your current business situation, your products and services, your intended customer, your marketing strategies, your financial plan, your management and operation systems and your business controls.
Another crucial factor in your business success relates to obtaining money and managing your finances. Many new business owners underestimate how much money they will really need for start-up and operations and how easy it will be to get it. That is why it is absolutely essential to develop a solid business plan. Your business plan will help you determine exactly what you will need money for and approximately how much those things will cost. It can also give you an advantage when approaching potential investors (which can be family, friends or banks) because it indicates that you are serious, prepared and professional.
If your money-handling skills are weak, you should consider taking a money-management course or hiring a skilled accountant to assist you with financial matters.
As you put the pieces of your business together, you will need to develop a marketing strategy. Many business owners confuse the concepts of marketing and advertising, and it is important to distinguish between the two. Marketing is everything you do and put out there to convince your potential clients that they need your services and/or products. Marketing covers everything from your letterhead and business card to the way you answer your phone to the uniform you wear. Advertising informs people of your services; it is only one component of your marketing strategy.
A comprehensive marketing strategy should clearly communicate the benefits of your service or product to the specific segment of the market that you have identified as your potential customers. It should also accurately reflect your professional image and give people an indication of what they can expect to be charged for your services. For example, you know from its appearance, and without even seeing a menu, that McDonald’s is not an expensive restaurant. Just as you know that an eating establishment with white linen tablecloths and crystal candle holders will have substantially higher prices than McDonald’s.
What about a website? Many new business owners ask, “Should I have a website?” The answer is yes and no. Eventually, it is a good idea for a company to develop a website, because the Internet is rapidly becoming the new “phone book.” However, until you have solidified your business image, determined exactly who your potential customers will be and created a marketing strategy, spending your time and money on a website may not be a priority, particularly if you have limited resources.
Your clients are the lifeblood of your business. Therefore, it is essential to consider and prepare policies that relate to customer care and expectations. Two common customer service “sore spots” that fitness business owners may encounter relate to cancellations and refunds, so from day one make your clients aware of your cancellation and refund policies. Provide this information in writing, and ask every client to sign the form during his or her first session with you. Clearly communicating policies will help establish the ground rules for the way you run your business, so clients won’t encounter any unexpected surprises.
Getting a business up and running is no small feat, so make sure to protect it. From an operational standpoint, you should obtain professional liability insurance, ask all your clients to sign liability waivers (which have been reviewed by a qualified legal professional in your area) and develop safety procedures and guidelines for your workout areas and facility. From an enterprise standpoint, ensure that your commercial
property liability insurance or homeowner’s insurance (for home-based businesses or studios) is in effect and up-to-date.
You should also protect yourself. Entrepreneurs should always have additional financial plans in place for unanticipated events. A smart business owner should have at least 6 months’ worth of business operating expenses in the bank to cover small emergencies, but it is also a good idea to have additional insurance in case disaster strikes. You should seriously consider getting health, disability and life insurance coverage.
Most women business owners have responsibilities outside of their business (e.g., children, family, elderly parents and/or volunteer responsibilities). That’s why it’s imperative to figure out how to use your time most effectively. Avoid spending time during business hours on things that will not move your business forward. In addition, focus on the pieces of the business that you excel at, and delegate the tasks you struggle with.
Keep in mind that time management strategies aren’t only necessary in a work environment; they apply to your personal life as well. Make time to disengage from business matters and focus on activities that are fun and help you re-energize. You will be more successful in your business endeavors if you designate time each week to do something strictly for yourself. The demands on a woman in business are many, but you cannot give from empty pockets. In order to be your best, you have to feel your best, and that can be achieved by developing and implementing good time-management strategies.
Check out these helpful resources for women in business:
Gerber, M.E. 1995. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. New York City: HarperCollins.
www.sba.gov, see Women’s Business Centers under Local Resources tab.
www.bplans.com, for information on preparing a business plan
www.womensnet.net, for information on funding and grants for women
Nicki Anderson is the owner of the award-winning Reality Fitness studio in Naperville, Illinois.
Mary Bratcher, MA, DipLC, is the co-owner of another award-winning studio, The BioMechanics, in San Diego.
Together, they have created a DVD program, Essential Business Tools for Fitness Professionals, to help trainers and studio owners develop effective business systems.