How to Start a Fitness Business

Starting a fitness business seems like a natural step to take for someone who enjoys physical activity, or even already works as a fitness professional.

It’s highly enticing to have the opportunity to be the boss and work at times that are convenient for you.

However, starting a fitness business is a challenging process that requires quite a bit of planning and preparation.

To have the best chance at success when trying to figure out how to start a fitness business, avoiding common pitfalls is a step in the right direction.

There are no guarantees when it comes to starting a business, but thorough preparation will increase the chances of making your dream a reality.

The Easy Parts of Starting a Fitness Business

Starting a new fitness business will have quite a few challenges, but it also can be quite a bit of fun. It won’t be easy all of the time, but there are some areas where things should be relatively easy.

Fitting Your Personality

If you worked for someone else as a fitness trainer in the past, you may not have been able to let your full personality shine. You may have had to adhere to the boss’ rules.

When you start your own fitness business, you can set the rules so that they fit your personality. And it is important to let your personal style come through in a fitness business. Your clients need to be able to trust you, and this is easier when you feel comfortable with how you can interact with clients.

You may find that your style and personality fit a perfect niche in the market that your competitors cannot match. 

Doing Something You Love

It’s far easier to generate excitement about going to work and about your business when you are doing something you love. 

If you appreciate the ability to help people reach their fitness goals or you enjoy the physical challenge of leading a fitness class, you will love the work that goes into operating a fitness business.

Playing To Your Strengths

There are literally dozens of different ways to teach fitness. Do you love group fitness classes, like Zumba or pilates? Are you into Crossfit and other high-intensity training? Are you a yoga fanatic? Or do you love outdoor fitness like hiking, climbing, or even parkour? With a fitness business, you can offer training, coaching, and/or classes in the kind of fitness you’re already really good at. 

Similarly, you can choose to teach or train in the ways you’re most comfortable with. Do you like working one-on-one with people in person? Teaching to big crowds? Working with small groups online? Teaching early in the morning or later in the evening? With your own fitness business, you can tailor how and when you teach or train to the times and methods that work best for you. 

The Difficult Parts of Starting a Fitness Business

This isn’t exactly a breaking news flash, but starting any kind of business is hard. Starting a fitness business does have a few specific difficulties that you should understand, however.

Wearing Many Hats

If you want to start a fitness business because you love being a fitness trainer, that’s a good start. However, the majority of small business owners in the world of fitness must handle many other parts of running the business, including:

  • Equipment purchase, maintenance, and repair
  • Accounting
  • Advertising and marketing
  • Continuing education and building new skills
  • Customer service

You do have the option of hiring others to handle some aspects of operating a small fitness business. But when finances are tight at the beginning, you may need to try to handle these items on your own.

Stiff Competition

There are thousands of athletes, fitness professionals, and generally active people who are trying to monetize their fitness hobbies. Companies like Zumba and Crossfit certify dozens of new trainers every month. And fitness is a buyer’s market–there are far fewer gyms looking to hire trainers and coaches than there are trainers and coaches to hire. This disparity tends to lead to lower pay for the fitness trainers themselves, too. 

Owning your own gym also brings heavy competition. These days there is a 24-hour gym every few blocks in most major cities, not to mention multiple yoga studios, martial arts dojos, and Crossfit boxes. It’s certainly possible to stand out among the dozens of other gyms in your city, but it won’t be a cakewalk. 

Long Hours 

Everyone wants success in their new fitness business. To achieve that success and to keep it going, though, you will almost certainly have to work long hours. 

Part of the reason you may want to start a fitness business is so you can gain flexibility about your working hours. What you may find, though, is that your work hours end up spiraling out of your control. 

You may take on too many clients or gigs too quickly, leading to long working hours. You may find you’re spending significant time on administrative or marketing tasks. You may have a hard time finding regular classes or clients, leaving you with a lot of ongoing marketing to do to make up the shortfall.

And don’t forget about the time needed to prepare classes or training regimens ahead of time, the time to drive between different appointments, and the time YOU need to recharge and recover your body and mind between classes and training sessions. These hours are easy to overlook, but if you leave them out of your schedule you’ll pay for it. 

Being busier than you expected can be good if the business is making quite a bit of money. But if you’re struggling to turn a profit at the same time you’re working a lot of extra hours, it can be disheartening and frustrating.

Step 1: Make Sure You Have the Proper Training

For anyone looking to have success in a certain job or business setting, training is vital. Someone who knows very little about plumbing, hanging drywall, or selling real estate cannot jump into those professions without training, at least not successfully.

Sure, you could try to learn how to become a fitness instructor and trainer while on the job, but this rarely works well. Training ahead of time is important.

Understand the Competitors

Take a bit of time to understand what kinds of formal training other fitness trainers have. If the competitors operating in your area have a high level of training, you will need to match them to compete. 

If your competitors have minimal training, you can set yourself apart with extra training. Or you can start with light training to match what the market currently supports. You then can add more training in the future after you begin operations, so you can figure out the exact type of training that will benefit your business the most.

Understand What Credentials You Need

Some local or state entities require that fitness trainers hold certain licenses or credentials. Other times, you may want to obtain credentials from national boards to give potential customers confidence about your level of training. It never hurts to have some framed credentials on the wall behind the service counter.

Figure Out If You Truly Enjoy It

Through the training process, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of fitness. You probably will learn that you really do love this type of work. On the other hand, you may find out that fitness instruction and training aren’t quite as enjoyable as you imagined. It’s better to discover this now than after you open the business.

Step 2: Study the Competitors

Once you have a good feel for whether you will enjoy fitness training, the next step toward starting your own fitness business is studying the competitors. 

Looking at Location

Scout some physical locations for your potential fitness business. Don’t focus on particular buildings or available properties just yet, though. 

Instead, pay attention to what kinds of fitness gyms already exist in the areas you’re considering. For example, if an area already has four yoga centers up and running, you probably don’t want to be the fifth one. Or if you’re planning on being a personal trainer that focuses on powerlifting, make sure there are at least two or three active barbell gyms in your immediate area where you can offer your training services.

Remain flexible in this phase of the process. Find multiple potential location options, as you may learn that your preferred location doesn’t work for you, or that you need access to multiple locations. 

Focusing on Your Strengths

You may come into this process with a certain type of fitness center or business already in mind. Maybe you only have an interest in starting a yoga studio or a cardio training center. There’s nothing wrong with having a particular area of interest and focus from the start.

However, if you are open to starting almost any kind of fitness business, you’ll have more options for competing. Going back to the area with four existing yoga studios, rather than opening the fifth yoga studio, you might try opening the first weight training center in that same area. This could provide a significant leg up against the existing competitors. Similarly, if a gym near you already offers a lot of dance-based fitness classes, try offering to teach high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength classes to balance them out. 

Step 3: Be Honest With Yourself About Your Business Expertise

This step will apply to starting a fitness business, but it really could apply to almost any kind of startup small business. Think about what you know about starting a business and, perhaps more importantly, what you don’t know.

No Business Expertise

If you have zero experience operating a small business or even working in management at a larger business, you will want to obtain some help. 

  • Government: Multiple resources are available from local and federal government sources, such as the Small Business Association. These entities are free resources for doing research and answering basic questions about starting any kind of business.
  • Local sources: Your local Better Business Bureau may be able to connect you with some local resources. You may find advice from small business mentors or from consultants interested in helping businesses perform the required startup work. Understand that most of these services will carry a fee.
  • Lending institution: If you plan to take out a loan to start a fitness business, you often can find helpful sources of information and advice from the lending entity. Your lender may even be able to steer you toward real estate opportunities.

Past Business Expertise

If you tried to start or owned a business in the past, you have some understanding of what goes into this process. You may understand the areas of starting a business where you have strengths. Just as importantly, you may understand your weaknesses, so you know where to seek help.

Focus on areas where you know you need help, and find mentors or consultants that can deliver in these areas. 

Don’t Ignore Naysayers

You probably know this already, but some people will tell you that starting a fitness business is a crazy idea, while others will be highly supportive. 

Don’t just listen to the advice that you want to hear. You can always learn something from people who don’t agree with you. 

Some people certainly just have a negative attitude, and they probably aren’t going to give you much useful advice. But some people will provide constructive criticism about your plan to start a fitness business, which can be helpful for you. A naysayer may even point out a challenge in operating a business that you didn’t think about previously.

Ultimately, completing a strong business plan and doing extensive research can help you feel comfortable about your choices when some people are doubting you.

Step 4: Create a Business Plan

Now you are ready to start your business plan. This process is hard work, but it is absolutely necessary. It will help you put your ideas into a concrete plan. You can share your vision and dream with others in a way they can understand. 

You will need a business plan in place to obtain financing. Some state and local governments require a plan before you can obtain licenses as well. The Small Business Administration has multiple resources for helping with creating a business plan. Local small business consultants or lending institutions may have business plan advice for you as well.

Marketing and Competition

You may want to start a fitness business because you love the idea of helping people become healthy. You may like the idea of being your own boss.

Regardless of whatever idea steered you in this direction, your small fitness center business must be able to draw in customers. A very important part of the business plan is developing a marketing plan and calculating what your marketing costs and sales goals will be. 

As part of this section, it’s important to study the competition closely. Understand what areas of the market have saturation and what areas will benefit from your business. Then include ideas of how you will market your business to take advantage of those areas. 

Financial Expectations

Your business plan must include an estimate of your startup costs. Not only should you have an estimate of what your real estate rental costs will be, but you should also estimate the costs for transforming the space to meet your needs.

A general fitness center will require workout equipment and large spaces for classes, resulting in potentially high startup costs. A yoga center may not have high equipment costs, but you may end up spending quite a bit on decor and design to make the space relaxing and inviting. A personal training or fitness coaching business likely won’t have rent or location costs, but may still require some equipment to buy up front. And don’t forget about paying for certifications and continuing education!

Then you need to come up with an estimate of what you believe you can earn in the business over the first few years and several years into the future. This is challenging. It is an area where most startup business owners will need extensive help. Don’t just pull numbers out of thin air for this section, or no lending institution will take your plan seriously.

Include an estimate of the number of employees you may need to hire as well. Labor often is the biggest ongoing expense for fitness centers and gyms, so if that’s the route you’re taking, don’t leave this cost out.

Business Structure and Licenses

Include information in the business plan about the type of business structure you will select. Limited liability companies (LLCs) are easy to set up and relatively inexpensive to operate for small businesses, for example. 

Ultimately, you want a structure that shields your personal finances and legal obligations from the finances and legal obligations of the business. In other words, with this protection, if your business suffers a loan default or receives a lawsuit, your personal holdings remain protected.

Include information in the business plan about how you will set up this structure and what kind of legal advice you will have. Plans for insurance are important here too. Additionally, include information about what kinds of local licenses and permits you will need to obtain, along with a cost estimate.

Step 5: Obtain Financing and Get Started

With your business plan in place, you then can start seeking financing. If you can afford to fully fund the business through your own means, this is a good idea. However, being fully self-funding is not realistic for many people looking to start a fitness-related business.

Financing Options

You may be able to obtain a loan from a local financial institution, but many banks expect you to put up some of your own money in the process. In other words, the bank rarely will fund 100% of the costs.

Small Business Administration-backed loans are possible for some startup businesses. Lines of credit are available too, but you may have to secure these with your personal holdings.

Friends and family may want to invest in your business, but this can be a tricky process. If you go this route, put the terms in writing, so everyone knows the expectations for paying the money back. Treat this source of funding like any other official loan you are seeking.

If you’re starting a group fitness teaching or personal training business as a side hustle, you may not need outside capital, assuming your day job can cover those costs. But any extra money will help, so you might want to look into financing regardless.

The SBA has multiple resources for helping you determine the best way forward with financing.

Keep a Reserve

When it’s time to open the business, always try to hold back a bit of funding in reserve. Odd expenses and unexpected costs are going to happen for a new fitness center. No new business owner can anticipate every situation that will arise in the first several weeks.

It’s nice to have some peace of mind that you can cover these unexpected costs right away without putting yourself in a giant financial hole before you have a chance to establish yourself.

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