Hard times are here. Inflation is skyrocketing, petrol prices are through the roof and more and more economists are predicting a full-scale recession ahead. All of these financial pressures are bound to have an impact on gyms. With people being squeezed from every angle, they’re going to be looking at every non-essential expense with a critical eye. 

For your gym to make it through the hard times, you’ve got to adapt. In this article, I’ll run through thirteen strategies you can apply today to come out the other end as healthy as ever. 

The Strategies at a Glance

  • Nurture Your Brand Advocates
  • Learn to Duck and Weave
  • Use Targeted Social Media Advertising
  • Diversify the Markets You Serve
  • Automate Your Business Processes
  • Set Up More Subscription Paid Services
  • Request Feedback
  • Do Not Drop Your Prices
  • Focus on the Big Picture
  • Conduct a Staff Inventory
  • Make Sure You Have Cash Access
  • Focus on the Details
  • Do Not Cut Back Your Services

Strategy #1: Nurture Your Brand Advocates

You will have plenty of happy and contented customers who are willing to spread the news about your gym. During hard times, these members are more valuable to you than ever. At this time, you need to help them maintain interest and desire to become your best advocates.

Identify who your gym advocate members are. These will be people who have a lot of influence in the community. If you can win over that person, they will be bound to tell a large number of people all the great things about your gym. As well as delivering the same top-notch service that you give to all of your members, consider offering some sort of reward to your identified brand advocates. It could be that they receive a free month’s membership for every new member that comes in from a recommendation from them. 

Strategy #2: Learn to Duck and Weave

During hard times you have got to be able to duck and weave. In other words, you must be ready for anything. If something isn’t working, be prepared to ditch it. Be open to new low-cost ways of promoting your business. The worst thing you can do during hard times is to do nothing as if you were a deer stuck in the headlights. So, be prepared to make the tough calls and to think outside the square!

This includes looking for ways to get your message out there without spending money.

Here are ten free advertising ideas for your gym that really work …

  • Set up a Google business account and keep it current with videos, images, reviews, and special offers.
  • Comment on blogs and articles, including those in online newspapers.
  • If you aren’t already doing so, attach a blog to your website and keep it updated with cutting-edge content. Provide information that isn’t on the thousands of other fitness blogs on the internet. Make it your goal to deliver at least one ‘aha’ moment per article. Do that and you’ll get people sharing the article, spreading your gym’s influence in the process. You should also have your staff write articles for the blog.
  • Start an email newsletter – you can use articles from your blog as your core content. Ideally, you should be segmenting your email list so that different demographic groups receive different content. The key to success with a newsletter is regularity.
  • Speak at local events. Start with your local toastmasters. You can simply try some of your best blog articles into speeches. Then network from toastmasters to find local businesses and other organizations who would welcome a speaker. 
  • Send out press releases. You can make use of websites to spread your press release quickly. Two that come to mind are www.americantowns.com  and www.prlog.com . Rather than selling on a press release, you send out announcements about the gym. This could include member success stories, extensions, or new, innovative workout programs.
  • Post on Reddit. This is a place that a lot of people go to get information on working out. You should be friendly and helpful, without being pushy.
  • Post guest blogs on other websites. Contact complementary businesses like local tanning salons, weight loss, centers, hair and nail salons, or health food shops. Allow these businesses to reciprocate by guest blogging on your site. 
  • Repurpose your content. If a piece of content – be it an article, video, or image – has done well in the past, update it and use it again. If it worked before, it will probably work again. 
  • Ask for referrals. This is a basic part of the sales process that is too often neglected in gyms. Set up a system where you incentivize new and existing members to provide referrals. 

Strategy #3: Use Targeted Social Media Advertising

Targeted social media advertising has become the most important advertising method for successful gyms. Targeted marketing means that you decide who your target niche is and then go narrow to target the social media platforms where those people congregate online. 

The problem that many people have is that the social media world seems so overwhelming. Where do you start and which platforms do you put your time into? Too many gyms go in with a shotgun approach and end up hitting nothing.

To be successful, you must have a social media plan. Without a plan, you will more than likely end up attacking social media from all angles with very limited success. Before long you’ll convince yourself that the whole social media thing is a waste of time and money.

Your social media plan doesn’t have to be some huge, multi-page document. In fact, it should be limited to a single page. All it must do is to provide a clear direction so that you know where you are headed and can track your successes.

I love this quote from former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch . . .

A strategic plan is simply picking a direction and implementing it like hell.

Ok, so let’s create your social media marketing plan. Begin by asking yourself these questions…

  • What is my purpose in using social media?
  • What am I hoping to achieve?
  • What is my desired outcome?

Here is a social media marketing plan template.

Social Media Plan

What is the purpose?What is my 12-month social media objective?
What will it achieve?What is my 6-month social media objective?
What is the outcome?What is my 3-month social media objective?
The target market is . . .?Measured by

When it comes to your social media objectives, think beyond lead generation. That is your ultimate goal, but in order to achieve it, you need to realize stepping stone goals. Examples could be to two create 200 likes, and 200 followers in three months, understand your customers’ desires, or appear on Page 1 of Google for gyms in your area. Your success will be measured by Google Analytics, followers, likes, shares, engagement, and five-star reviews.

Strategy #4: Diversify the Markets You Serve

Following on from the previous strategy of targeted social media marketing, you should take a look at how you can diversify your target markets. Look for market niches that are not currently being addressed. If you can find a group that your competitors are ignoring, you will have free reign.

Examples of target markets that may be being neglected in your area of operation could be basketball players, seniors or pregnant women. Sure, these people will be part of the general marketing of other gyms. But you want to do specific targeted marketing to them. 

For instance, you could market to basketball clubs that you are running programs to increase jumping height by 6 inches in 12 weeks. Offer group discounts, along with a reduced-cost personal training package. Imagine, if you were able to establish your gym as the go-to place for basketball players to train to be able to dunk the ball and get in optimum game fitness condition. You will have teams banging down your door!

You can combine this strategy with Strategy #1. Identify your brand advocates within your market niche. If you can get people who are already respected within the community – be it a coach, star player, or anyone else – to actively spread the message for you, you will be well ahead of the pack.

Strategy #5: Automate Your Business Processes

The more automated your processes are, the more time you will have to focus on increasing your revenue and trimming the fat. However, you need to be balanced here, You don’t want things so automated that the human element is taken away. 

For example, it is pretty easy to set up an automated entry and exit system to the gym where a member scans their card for access. That may tempt a gym to do away with front-of-desk staff for a part of the day, if not entirely. But that robs the member of precious interaction with the staff at the two most critical touch points on the gym experience – entry and exit. When done properly, those interactions are invaluable, creating a sense of belonging and loyalty. 

So, what should you automate?

Your communications can be set up with an automated system. A simple example is your phone. When a person calls you, voicemail picks up if you don’t. You can set up a system that recognizes the caller if they are in your system. It will then send them a personalized text message. At the same time, the caller’s voicemail message can be transcribed to a text message for you. 

When you send out emails, make sure that you are using a system that tells you if it’s been opened. You should also be using automated drip campaigns that don’t require your manual input.

Strategy #6: Set Up More Subscription Paid Services

A gym membership is a subscription-based service. Your members pay every month for the service you provide. But are there other subscription-based services you can get going? It could be personal training. Rather than buying set packages of personal training, can you offer a subscription program at a reduced cost so that you have the regularity of money coming in each month?

Another possibility for a subscription opportunity is to sell supplements. Supplements are consumable products that usually last for a month. That makes them an ideal subscription-based product. 

If you have a pro shop, you can also set up a subscription service. One idea that has worked well for some gyms is to have members set up a $10 or $20 payment similar to a Christmas Club. When they go to redeem the card, they get a 15-20 percent discount. In the meantime, you enjoy an increased cash flow. 

Strategy #7: Request Feedback

When times are tough, don’t think you need to go it alone. Ask involved parties for their feedback. This should include your members, your gym mentor (you should have one), your accountant, and lawyer. The more input you can get from these people, the better position you will be in to make the right decisions. 

The worst thing you can do is to hunker down as if you’re isolated in a bunker. When you get into that mindset, you will become paralyzed like the deer in the headlights that we mentioned earlier. 

When it comes to requesting feedback from your gym members, you can do this through your email newsletters that link to an online survey. You might introduce the survey with something like this …

We know that times are tough out there and we are committed to maintaining the service and quality you expect from us. At the same time, we want to do everything we can to help out members as financial pressures mount. Please take a couple of minutes to give your input as to how we can better serve you in these difficult times.

When you receive the feedback, be open-minded to it. Share it with your staff and get their input. Once the survey results have been collated, use it as the basis for a staff training session. 

Strategy #8: Do Not Drop Your Prices

It can be a knee-jerk reaction to drop your membership prices when hard times roll around.

Don’t do it.

If anything, you should look for ways to give more value to your members, with a slight increase in price. When value exceeds price, people will pay. By dropping the price, you will actually be lowering the perceived value in the mind of your members. 

The last thing you want to do is to get into a price war with other gyms. Give your members more credit than thinking that they’ll disappear as soon as they can save a couple of bucks per month. If you are doing things right, the inherent value they see in your service will far outweigh the dollar value. 

Strategy #9: Focus on the Big Picture

When you first opened your gym, you were big picture focused. You were thinking about yearly, two yearly and five-yearly projections. You developed a budget and a business plan. But, down the road, as hard times settle in, there is a tendency to become micro-focused on what is going wrong. While you certainly need to do this, you should do so in the context of the big picture.

Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate your business plan. It is not set in concrete. The same thing applies to your budget numbers. Reassess them in light of what is happening now. Realize, too, that life is nothing more than a series of cycles. Hard times are followed by recovery and good times. There will be light at the end of the tunnel.

Strategy #10: Conduct a Staff Inventory

Creating a staff inventory involves, first of all, ensuring that you aren’t carrying any dead wood. Is every person on your payroll a necessary addition to your business operation? Are you able to combine some roles to save wages? For example, can your front of desk staff do some cleaning so that you can cut down your cleaner’s hours?

If you are thinking about combining sales and front desk operations into one or two people, I strongly recommend retaining a person who is trained and experienced in sales to take on front desk duties as well rather than the other way around. A good salesperson is irreplaceable. Front-of-desk people are valuable, too. But when it comes to making the tough decisions, you need to prioritize. A successful salesperson will have public relations skills while a great front desk person may not be a very good salesperson. 

Conducting a staff inventory goes beyond considering laying off staff. You need to ensure that every staff member is one the same page as you. They need to have the right attitude and should be fully trained to follow procedures and offer the very best reflection of your business to your members and to the outside world. 

The last thing you need when times are tough is staff members who are dragging you down. Every staff member needs to be producing for the business. Make sure that you are having regular and meaningful weekly training sessions with your staff. All staff members should also have a training manual that puts every procedure in black and white. 

Strategy #11: Make Sure You Have Cash Access

As a standard practice, you should have a  month’s operating capital on hand at all times. So, if it costs $40,000 per month to pay your bills, you need to have $40,000 cash in the bank. That can be a challenge when times are hard. 

To ensure that you have that cash on hand, you need to get a bit inventive. You could have a pre-pay membership drive where members pay 12 or 24 months in advance at a discount rate. You could easily discount that idea on the basis that times are tough so people aren’t going to be able to afford that. The reality, though, will be that at least 20 percent of your members will be doing just fine during financially hard times. Many of them will jump at the opportunity to save money over the long term. 

So, let’s say that you’ve got 1000 members. Your monthly rate is $50 but you drop it down to $45 per month if a member pre-pays for 12 months. Your target market for your pre-pay membership drive is 20 percent, or two hundred people. If only 20 percent or forty people, take up your offer you will be bringing in an extra 20 x $540.

That works out to a cash injection of $21,600, which will be at least half of your operating expenses for a month. 

In addition to initiatives such as this, you should communicate with your creditors. Get on the phone and let them know that you may need a little longer to clear a bill. In my experience, so long as you are up front with your creditors, they will be amenable.

You should also check out any grant programs that are available in your city, county, or state. If there is money that is legally available to you, you should take advantage of it. 

Strategy #12: Focus on the Details

When times are hard, you need to offer even more exceptional service to your members than ever. You know that some of them will be assessing the value of their membership as they work to cut back their expenses. It is up to you to elevate their gym membership in their minds from dispensable to indispensable. 

Every customer interaction needs to be top-notch. Nothing should be too much. In fact, you or your staff member should overdeliver. Make sure, too, that your sales staff are receiving the ongoing training needed to close sales. During tough times, it is also critical that new members are being mined for referrals. 

Carry out regular gym inspections to ensure that every area is spotless. If you are not already doing so, put up a whiteboard in the changing rooms where the cleaner notes what time it was last cleaned.

If you have faulty equipment, get it fixed promptly. Machines that sit with an ‘Under Repair’ sign on them for more than a few days can be really off putting for members. It could be enough to cause some of them to ditch their membership. 

Actively work to reduce your attrition rate by setting up a system of contacting members who haven’t visited the gym for a month. Offer an incentive, like a free protein shake, when they come in, along with a reassessment of their goals and training program. 

Strategy #13: Do Not Cut Back Your Services

When times are tough, you do not want to cut back on the quality of what you offer. If you do, you are going to push quite a few members over the edge, so that they cancel their membership. Now is the time to make sure that you have the best service of any gym in town, with the best atmosphere and the highest level of service. 

While you definitely should analyze all of your classes and programs to see which ones are producing income and which aren’t, you should never drop something without replacing it. 

Summary

When times are tough, you need to be able to adapt to the challenging environment in order to keep your members engaged. Here’s a summary of the 13 strategies we’ve covered in this article …

  • Nurture Your Brand Advocates
  • Learn to Duck and Weave
  • Use Targeted Social Media Advertising
  • Diversify the Markets You Serve
  • Automate Your Business Processes
  • Set Up More Subscription Paid Services
  • Request Feedback
  • Do Not Drop Your Prices
  • Focus on the Big Picture
  • Conduct a Staff Inventory
  • Make Sure You Have Cash Access
  • Focus on the Details
  • Do Not Cut Back Your Services

Why not make this content the basis of your next staff training session? That way all team members will be on board to work together to get through the hard times.

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