SYSTEMs Are the Answer to a Successful Health Club Business


SYSTEM is more than a word. It is an acronym that stands for Save Yourself Some Time, Energy and Money. SYSTEMs are the reason 75 percent of franchises succeed while 80 percent of independent small businesses fail.

Most of us who are in the fitness business found our way into it because we like the technical aspect of it and we are good at it. We are good at coaching people and getting results. The problem is that after we open the doors to our fitness business, we find out all of the other things we need to be good at, such as understanding organizational structure, aligning people under a common mission and set of core values, hiring, training new staff, creating detailed workflow processes for people to follow, creating marketing and sales systems, writing policies and procedures, and that's just to name a few things. All of these things are listed in the operations manual of a franchise business yet most independent small businesses don't have an operations manual.

An operations manual is the most essential tool in your business. Without an operations manual, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, would have remained the owner of a single location, and he would have felt like the master juggler trying to handle more jobs than is humanly possible. Instead, Kroc created a business that now has more than 36,000 locations worldwide. He did this by taking time to write down processes and procedures. Kroc knew that French fries could not be left in the warming bin for more than 7 minutes or they would become soggy, so he wrote it down. He knew the pickle had to be placed by hand a certain way or it would slide off onto the customer's lap, so he wrote it down.

"Whether you intend to have one business or 5,000, you must create your business like you were going to make 5,000 more," said Michael E. Gerber, author of "The E Myth: Why Most Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It." Here is why. The secret to having a greater customer service experience that creates more profits is writing down and teaching your staff these customer care systems. The secret to you having more time and freedom is writing down things so that others can learn to do certain jobs so you don't have to do every job. This is called an operations manual. So what goes into an operations manual? Everything. Below is a sample table of contents.

Let's take a minute to break this all down and understand the importance of some of the things listed above. When people see organizational structure, they may wonder why they need a hierarchy. They might ask why everyone can't just work together to get it done. The organizational structure section of the manual is important because it lists who is responsible for each area of your business, even if the same person is responsible. The thing to remember here is that if everyone is accountable, then no one is accountable.

The hiring systems section is important. Verne Harnish wrote the book "Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don't." He said: "The wrong hire can cost you more than three times their annual salary." Remember the old saying: Be slow to hire and quick to fire. Having a hiring system allows you to be slow to hire, which increases your chances of hiring the right person.

Have you ever wished people would just do it your way? The secret to having your staff do it your way is to write it down and teach them. This is also the cure to "master juggler syndrome," which is what I call it when you have to do every job. In the job and workflow processes section of your operations manual, you can hand off certain jobs and give your team a reference so they don't have to call you with every question. This section should include pictures, if possible, and step-by-step processes.

Most people talk about marketing and sales more easily because they know it means bringing more money into their business, but that doesn't mean your manual shouldn't include a section on it. You have to describe how your business will handle every area of marketing and what you will do when you get a customer in your door.

The policies and resource section of the manual allows you to make the same decisions every time with regard to your members and staff. This way no one is made to feel that someone else received special treatment. This is also a great place to keep forms so everyone uses the same forms.

SYSTEMs are the secret to freedom with your time and money. SYSTEMs are everything that makes your business run, and all these SYSTEMs must be written down in an operations manual.


Travis Barnes is owner and CEO of Journey Fitness, and he is an ACE-certified personal trainer. He is coauthor of the best-selling book "Results Fitness," written with Rachel and Alwyn Cosgrove, and is author of "Journey Fitness" with a forward written by Todd Durkin. He teaches fitness professionals how to systemize their businesses, helping them to systemize or write their operations manuals. Contact him at [email protected]


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