Everything Is Negotiable

If you’re not getting the compensation you deserve, maybe it’s time to think outside the bucks.

By Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Jun 30, 2011

Do you deserve a raise, but your manager says, “No way, it’s not happening; our policy limits us”? Have you heard no to higher pay once too often? Fantastic! You now have one no out of the way and are closer to yes. Come out on top by looking past pay-per-hour to other types of compensation. Remember, everything is negotiable. Get past pseudo obstacles such as the idea that no to more money means no to more rewards. Earn more by thinking “outside the bucks.” Take advantage of proven strategies to find value, and bring your compensation to the highest level possible.

Consider Total Value

Consider all the aspects of true value that are available from your fitness facility. Expand your mental boundaries of what can and cannot be negotiated. For example, if you’ve been passed over for a pay raise in the past, cash in those nonexistent dollars now. When my daughter wanted a 6-week membership at my gym over her summer break, I traded an interim membership for a pay raise I didn’t get the previous year. I was never going to see those dollars in my bank account, but I used it as leverage to get something that was of value to me. The club paid out nothing, and neither did I. I was happy, my daughter was happy, and my manager was happy.

Lindsay Stiegler, MS, owner of LifestyleF.I.T, a personal training and fitness studio in San Francisco, offers a suggestion from the management side: “Since my studio is only a year old, it’s hard for me to adequately compensate my fitness instructors while keeping overhead low. So I allow qualified pros to use my studio for their private clients in exchange for teaching classes. We agree on a teaching salary, and I have a set per-client training fee for the studio. At the end of the month, we balance out who owes whom.”

It’s About Time

Next, understand what the real barriers are. Pay close attention to the details of your club’s “no raise” policy. If the obstacle is total teaching time, use this to your advantage. Kreg Weiss, yoga instructor and co-founder of MyYogaOnline.com, found a way to earn more in spite of this hurdle. “I was paid by class duration, so I negotiated adding 15–30 minutes to classes to increase my total pay and make my time at the club more worthwhile,” says Weiss.

If the issue is pay per time, here’s another approach: Let’s say you teach a 45-minute class and get paid for just 45 minutes. Suggest that you get paid for setup, breakdown and postclass discussion time. This adds 15 minutes to the total. Does your club pay per class, and do you teach a 60-minute workout that might be just as effective as a 45-minute class? Do you teach back-to-back classes that are each 45 minutes and get paid for 90 minutes total? Suggest separating the classes on the time sheet. That way you are paid for each class at an hour’s rate, which gives you a raise (the added 30 minutes on the time sheet) without additional teaching time. If you need an argument in order to succeed, propose this question: “If two different instructors were teaching, would each one earn an hour’s pay?” If the answer is yes, you have a good case.

Hard-Cost Items

Another way to think outside the bucks is to list all the services and goods your club offers and pick the ones that are valuable to you. In addition to memberships or guest passes for your family or friends, consider on-site childcare services, a credit for parking and free or discounted food, drinks or pro-shop items. Would you love some personal training sessions or time in specialty fee-based classes? Put a dollar figure on the raise you feel you deserve for a given time frame, and then “spend” those dollars at the facility. Prorate it if you have to.

Say, for instance, that you are asking for $3 more per hour, you teach three classes per week, and you are told to come back in a year with your request. Ask for a $468 credit. Then cash that money in! Does the club cover ongoing education costs, association membership fees or certification expenses? Sometimes facilities deny pay raises because they have payroll or salary range limits, not because they lack overall cash. If that’s the case, you have a better chance to get hard costs covered, because they fall outside the category that restricts your manager. Maybe the education budget has funds. Can you get extra vacation time? Ask for time in paid days off.

A word of caution: Don’t trade for something that’s already available. If all trainers and instructors get a discount on pro-shop items or an annual education credit, pull it off the table.

Soft- or No-Cost Items

If you get turned down when you ask for compensation that has a real or hard cost to the club, think of things that cost the facility nothing but are valuable to you. For example, do you want to market a service of your own to members? Ask for access to the database and e-mail network, or request permission to post signage and make announcements in classes. Then offer a fee-based specialty class or workshop, or gain five new clients through your in-house promotion. You may find that this strategy compensates you more than a straight pay raise would.

Or maybe you want first crack at the next open class on the schedule. Do you have a preferred time, day or location you can negotiate for? Would a designated parking spot be worthwhile to you, especially if your name were on it? How about being featured in the club’s newsletter or marketing pieces? Brainstorm for services or privileges that offer you value or that open other revenue streams.

For example, I was offered $1 extra per hour to take over a hard-to-fill class. The extra $52 per year was not critical to me, but the potential time spent finding a sub for that class was. So I traded that dollar for a service agreement that the group fitness director, not I, would find subs. My sub-searching time was worth more to me than the money.

Common Mistakes and Assumptions

One of the most common errors people make regarding additional compensation is simply failing to ask! Many fitness pros assume raises are automatic, so they wait … and wait … and wait. Some may even think that if they demonstrate their worth, bosses will offer them more. That happens about the same time the tooth fairy arrives. I led group fitness programs for 20 years and had only five instructors ask for a raise. They all got it, too. If you deserve a raise, ask for it! (See the sidebars for negotiating tips and case studies.)

Another huge assumption is that because something is written, it is immutable and outside the realm of discussion (signed contracts being an exception). Documents are meant to be questioned and revised. When I took over a university fitness program years ago, my predecessor informed me that pay caps were set and were posted in the department policy manual. During my tenure, program revenue increased by 42%, so I crossed out the numbers, wrote in what I felt the staff deserved, submitted the revised version and got the raises and range caps approved. Just because something is written down doesn’t mean it can’t be negotiated.

Conversely, but in a similar vein, some people believe that unwritten rules and traditions are law. For instance, no negotiating rule states that you must meet halfway or give up an equal amount. Let’s say you want $3 more per hour. Your manager offers $1. You split the difference and compromise at $2. Why? Instead, counter with $2.75. If you get a counter of $2.25 to your counter, then offer to split the difference at $2.50. Another negotiation fallacy is that you and your manager should go back and forth only once or twice each. Instead, be willing to embrace the process and counter as often as needed.

Yet another mistake is to think you have to come up with the solution. A cooperative, collaborative approach can work wonders. If your manager doesn’t have the budget for a pay raise, even though you both agree that you deserve one, ask how else to increase your compensation while staying within constraints. When you have an offer, reply with “Hmmm, and what else?” You may be surprised at how others will help you achieve your goals and how hard they’ll work to fill a silence or answer a question.

A final, common misbelief is that negotiation is rife with conflict and is always negative and problematic. On the contrary; negotiation leads to problem-solving. It’s a great way to address issues and to state priorities. If you are a valued employee, you likely have a few things in common with your manager: you both want a happy, productive employee (you!), fair compensation and continued employment. Start with what you agree on, and the odds are better that you’ll hash out favorable details—such as what “fair” means.

At the end of the day, what you think is the bottom line or ceiling cap may be just your perception, not the reality. Question every aspect of compensation. If price is the problem, consider all the terms. Believe that everything can be negotiated, because it can be.

Compensation: Items of Value to Negotiate For

Work around payroll freezes by knowing what the specific obstacle is. Payroll caps? Salary range caps? Percentage policies? Find other categories or funds that are open for discussion. Following are some suggestions:

  • paid time beyond actual class/client time (for setup, breakdown, staying to answer questions, handling paperwork, etc.)
  • membership(s)
  • guest passes
  • daycare, club-run camps
  • pro-shop discounts
  • workshops, certifications, continuing education fees
  • professional membership and subscription fees (such as an IDEA membership)
  • active wear
  • meals and snacks
  • free or discounted in-house services (such as personal training, fee-based classes, massages and nutrition counseling)
  • more vacation time
  • better/preferred/added hours or classes
  • preferred parking or paid parking
  • club postings, signa

Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

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