What I learned starting a small fitness business
When I established my barre studio in 2015, I was a fledging businesswoman, following my passions and hoping I could generate something successful with my dogged determination. Now two years in, there are certainly things I would do differently.
I was 22 years old, had just finished a degree in media studies and communication at my local university, and thought “I want to start a business.”
I may have been somewhat naïve, but I believe my innocence and impulsivity were part of the success of Barre Base. I am not a ‘sit around and wait’ kind of lady, so when I couldn’t land myself a ‘job’ in the marketing world straight out of university, I decided I would just have to hire myself.
And that’s exactly what I did.
In fact, it was through the fitness industry that I first encountered Timely, not as a job listing.
In some ways, my naïvety was a blessing. Rather than obsessing over the things I was going to have to struggle with – I just did it! There’s a lot to be said about blind optimism. Starting a business is not for the faint-hearted. It requires hard work, dedication and persistence – and it also requires passion.
However, before I did launch into the doing phase, there are a few things I wish I knew first. If you’re contemplating establishing your own fitness business, or you feel that there is more that you could be doing, here are a few pointers to help your business take flight.
If you are planning on opening a fitness studio, you have to be sure you want to be more than just a fitness instructor. It is not enough to just be fit, or enjoy working out yourself. It’s not even enough just to be a good teacher.
You must be prepared for the behind-the-scenes logistics that take up far more of your time than the classes themselves – especially at the start. A studio owner must have a passion for their business, paired with the acceptance that every aspect of the operation comes under their quality control. As a small business owner, you are the accountant, the administrator, the marketer and the instructor.
Know that this is what you want, before taking the plunge into the world of small business ownership.
Getting your branding right
This inexperience and impulsivity almost got us into a lot of trouble early on too.
In our first three months, our business was called Barre Bodies. We were struggling to find a name, so we just hastily picked something that summed up what we were trying to sell. Within those three months, we purchased a website domain name, printed flyers, and made staff t-shirts.
It was all ticking along nicely – until we received a phone call from a international company, with a very similar name. They asked us to change our name to avoid brand confusion. Fortunately for us, they just gave us a warning. This was a big wake up call. It could have been extensive, and expensive, in a court of law.
As a result, we were forced to re-think our name. We needed to go back the drawing board to find a brand that summed up our core values and captured what our studio had on offer.
As young woman growing up in New Zealand, we found branding surrounding the fitness industry to be driven by ‘losing weight’ and gaining an ‘improved’ physical body image. Instead, we generated a message that encouraged people to exercise to build a strong ‘base’ for all other physical endeavours, rather than exercising purely to ‘improve’ your physical appearance.
Barre Base was what we ended up with. It epitomises the true ethos of our business: our classes aim to help people build a healthy foundation for all aspects of life. When you establish a clear message, people can easily understand and relate to it, whether they are clients looking at attending classes, or other businesses wanting to create working relationships.
So I encourage you; stop and think about your name and your brand. Does the ethos reflect what you sell?
Looking after yourself
The spirit of our business is about living a holistic, happy, healthy life and giving back to your body through exercise. If you are overdoing it, you may begin to resent your service – and your clients will feel that. If you are in the health and fitness industry, be an exemplar to your clients, and be true to your values.
We made this mistake in our first year. It’s easy to do when you’re waiting for client numbers to grow before you hire. We were each exercising alongside our clients 12 hours per week, on top of other work commitments, dancing, gym classes and study. By December of our first year, we were shattered.
My advice? Keep the frequency of your classes small to start with and let these grow naturally. When the demand is in place, add more classes to your timetable and think about whether or not you need to get more hands on deck.
Things we got right
Engage with your local community
We connected with local businesses who had a similar message and client base, which helped kick-start our growth. These relationships included competitions alongside local salons, spas and massage therapists on varying social media platforms. These were very successful, and helped grow our Facebook and Instagram followers, and encouraged more people to our website.
We also connected with popular print and online media companies that specialised in providing the ‘inside scoop’ on our little city. Insiders Dunedin, MoveMe Dunedin, and local newspapers named us in stories about being young women in business. This free marketing helped introduced Barre Base to a wider audience.
Offer to contribute your expertise to local publications and columns; create articles on getting fit, eating well or losing weight. Unsure what to write about? Think about the common or reoccurring questions that you are asked by your clients. No doubt more than just your clients want insight into these things. Write blog articles with at-home workout ideas or well-being tips; use your experience to your advantage!
Be active in your community
My business partner and I also entered many local fitness events, sporting our Barre Base t-shirt wherever we went. Get involved with your community and make yourself visible at events that matter to you and your clients. Support local charities, and rally your clients to support them too.
Creating a strong online presence
Very early on we created a quality website. Your website is a reflection of you and your business. Looks do matter: if your site looks professional, then your clients will assume that your services will be too.
Good website design and content also reflects the legitimacy of your service, and of your business, making your package more attractive to both clients, and potential partners. Not all that techy yourself? Check out this blog to help you simplify the process.
Social media presence
People want to see, to believe. Good photography is vital for your social media pages. Not only does it create a visual interest point, but it also demonstrates the services on offer. We are very snap happy! We take photos of our studio, our classes, and ‘technique tips’ to better demonstrate what is on offer.
People like to see others in class, and identify with those attending. If your clients are willing, get testimonials from them and share these on your social media pages. You want people to think “If he/she can do it, why can’t I?” This is much more effective then using imagery of photo-shopped fitness models.
The goal is to get your name out there; and the best way to do this online is to create interesting stuff that people want to read.
We created healthy recipe ideas, with beautiful imagery, to attract people to our pages. Many of our Barre Base clients had found these recipes before they built up the courage to try one of the classes. Keeping people engaged by making helpful content has been a very effective marketing tool for us.
We also gave back to our clients with downloadable motivational guides and ‘Summer Holiday’ workout ideas to keep them motivated (and thinking of us) even when they weren’t in a class with us.
People love to be inspired. Use your knowledge to create content that draws people to your website or social media.
Be your authentic self
If you are accustomed to a sneaky bag of chips from time to time, that’s OK! It is OK to be real when you are a fitness instructor. In my experience, clients like to know that you too have health ‘flaws’, as it makes you much more relatable and approachable. Nobody is perfect, and no one needs to pretend to be.
Believe in your product
If you love what you offer, others will too. With barre fitness being such a new concept to our small town, it did take time to fill our classes. We were consistent with our marketing and produced great content, but we also held on to the belief that what we were offering was important and would be valuable in our community.
Owning a fitness business is hard yakka; but if you love what you do, it won’t feel like ‘work’.