Four Ways to Build a Stronger Business

Four experts share their strategies for creating a booming business.

By Ryan Halvorson
Apr 4, 2016

Building a successful, sustainable business can feel like a guessing game. However, one surefire resource on that path toward increased growth, revenue and fulfillment is to learn from those who have already done it. In this article, four top entrepreneurs share the strategies they believe are paramount to creating memorable, rewarding brands.

Focus on Your Culture

Mark Fisher, owner of Mark Fisher Fitness in New York, has spent plenty of time toiling away on how he wants his brand to feel. He is known for his playful sense of humor—and he makes no apologies for his infatuation with unicorns. The Mark Fisher Fitness website even offers a warning: “If you don’t think unicorns and glitter go hand in hand with achieving your fitness goals, WE ARE NOT YOUR JAM!” He refers to clients as Ninjas, and on any given day there’s a good chance that a dance party will break out in the middle of a workout. But amid all the glitter, Fisher asserts that while he and his team love to have fun, they are serious about offering their Ninjas the highest level of service.

While unicorns and glitter might not be “your jam,” Fisher’s approach has earned him significant success: In 2015, Inc. magazine named Mark Fisher Fitness one of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America.

“We attribute our explosive growth at MFF to building genuine community and bringing authenticity to our branding, our marketing and even our training systems,” he declares.

Fisher adds that he was able to build that authenticity only after he found his niche. “Finding your niche is absolutely key, because it allows you to get laser-specific about everything—from your marketing to the services you offer,” he advises. “Once you know exactly who you’re looking to serve, you save lots of time, energy and money by catering to them.”

Here are his top tips for finding and building your niche:

  1. Work from the existing clients you most enjoy spending time with. Create a profile based on a few of these individuals, and go deep. List out everything from demographic data (income, profession, gender, etc.) to psychographic data (greatest hopes, fears, etc.).
  2. Look for the common threads in this information, and use them to create an avatar of your dream client.
  3. From then on, make sure everything you do is geared toward your niche.

Add Revenue Streams

A personal training business’s growth potential is often limited by one factor: time. There are only so many hours in the day, which means that you have only so much time to train clients. Ultimately, this limits the amount of money you can bring in. Here’s how Ashley Selman, owner of Evolution Trainers in Mountain View, California, overcame this limitation.

“When we first opened in 2006, we had one primary revenue stream [personal training],” recalls Selman. “Since then, we have added seven revenue streams that each bring in over $2,000 per month. Of our total revenue, 40% now comes from these multiple streams, making our business significantly more profitable and offering greater convenience, value and results to our most committed clients.”

The payoff? Evolution Trainers now generates more than $4 million in annual revenue.

“Not only are multiple revenue streams a great way to boost your bottom line,” Selman asserts, “but also they can create a valuable one-stop-shop experience by offering additional fitness-related services that will make your clients even more satisfied and dedicated.”

However, it’s important to use caution when adding products or services to your fee schedule. She notes that the offerings must provide extra value to your clients and must be something that won’t fall flat.

Here are the three questions she asks before providing additional client services:

  1. Does the new revenue stream serve your core demographic, or will it require you to market to a completely new demographic of clients?
  2. Is the new revenue stream within your core competencies as a business?
  3. Once the new revenue stream is up and running, will it leverage your time?

Emphasize Your Focus on People

You can’t run a successful personal training business without people. While this is an obvious concept, it can get pushed to the back burner as you try to grow a company. Losing sight of the reason you’re in business—helping people—can be a fatal mistake, declares Trina Gray, owner of the Bay Athletic Club in Alpena, Michigan.

“For health clubs and studios to stay relevant and thrive in the next few years, we must understand our competition,” Gray explains. “And our biggest competition in the industry is not each other. It is the couch.”

Like Fisher, she puts a great deal of effort into building a thriving community, because she believes this is one of the most effective ways to generate repeat business.

“We need to make real connections with our members and serve them beyond memberships,” Gray advises. “People need accountability and support along with fitness and nutrition coaching. Business is about people. Solve their fitness and nutrition problems with care and compassion, and the bottom-line numbers will follow.”

One of Gray’s most successful methods for attracting new customers to her facility is to place the focus on her current members. She believes that people are moved by stories, not by fancy marketing gimmicks.

“A brand is what people say about a business, not what the business says about itself. Therefore, your best marketing is to create physical and emotional transformations for your members and then collect them. Your members’ stories are the silver bullet. Real—even raw—success stories say more than any discount, coupon or even training certification ever could.”

To learn more about how Gray uses her members’ stories as marketing tools, check out “Celebrating Client Successes” in the April 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

Rethink Employee Motivation Strategies

Susan Fowler, author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work . . . and What Does (Berrett-Koehler 2014), wants to change the way owners and managers motivate employees. She believes that the current common practices are obsolete.

“If a club’s primary goal is to sign up members who don’t renew, or to pressure salespeople to make as much money as possible now, then offering pressure-inducing deals to potential members and incentivizing salespeople might work,” observes Fowler, owner of Catalyst for Growth in Escondido, California.

Fowler believes that the above approach is likely the reason why many gyms and clubs have a high employee turnover rate. And because of this, many business owners have created a model that continues to cultivate short-term employment.

“I think it’s ironic how management practices at so many clubs destroy the optimal motivation of staff—by focusing on bribes and pressure to sell memberships, rather than effectively tapping into the values, purpose and joy related to health and exercise that staff members bring to the club every day.”

Instead, Fowler urges owners and managers to take a different approach: “Many staff members work in clubs because they are exercise and health enthusiasts and/or they see the job as an interim step to a longer-term profession. Club managers need to help staff take advantage of their interest and passion—not only for themselves, but with members.”

So how does Fowler accomplish that? “One way is to have regular ‘Motivational Outlook Conversations’ with staff members, to help them align with their values, connect to a more noble purpose, and appreciate what they learn every day that will make them better at their current job and prepare them for whatever dreams they have in the future.”

Each of these four experts insists on this: Whatever strategy you employ must remain true to your business, your culture and your client base.

Do you have a unique plan that has helped you boost success? Send your story to [email protected].

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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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