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Everything You Need to Know About Running an Online Gym

Published on: 
23 March 20
Posted in: 
15 min read

The information in this article does not constitute medical, financial, legal, or other professional advice and is meant solely for informational purposes. For more information on Coronavirus, visit the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease and Prevention

For the latest resources to help you through the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, take a look at the dedicated COVID-19 Resources section of our Knowledge Base.

This article was updated on 12/05/20

Maintaining your community at a time like this is more important than ever. Even if your doors are closed for the moment – it’s no time to give up. As fitness businesses globally are navigating the impacts of COVID-19, now is the time to improvise and adapt. 

Most governments around the world have now directed fitness facilities to close down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a result, gyms and studios are adapting to the situation by offering online classes to reach their members at home.

Moving your fitness business online can be a daunting task, especially if you have very little experience in creating video content. Delivering a class through Zoom or Facebook Live can also take time to get used to. But shutting down and doing nothing is not an option as you will find it very hard to retain your members.

The longer lockdown goes on, the more chance they will jump ship to a facility providing an online service, or simply follow one of the many free and paid services online. 

So the choice is very simple. Move your business online to give it a chance of surviving. Or, risk losing a large portion of your membership base while you wait for things to get back to normal.

In this article, we will look at how you can protect your business as you move online, how to retain members, the process of recording online workouts, and how to actually grow your business once you have steadied the ship.

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Protecting Your Business As You Move Online

While it’s important to pivot your business quickly from a brick and mortar business to an online one, take a moment to think clearly about all aspects of your business. You may need to financially restructure how your business operates. Make sure you are as financially stable as possible so have a discussion with your accountant early on how best to move forward.

To help you better understand finance, we have written a comprehensive article on how to financially plan for your future which includes expert advice from fitness financial expert Andrea Hovel. In this section, we will go through other key areas you need to cover financially. 

Every Member of Staff Needs to Drive Revenue

A key point made by Alex Hormozi on a recent episode of our podcast was that every member of your staff should be contributing to revenue generation. The obvious roles are around creating and performing live and on-demand workouts. For any surplus staff, consider tasking them with spending half their time making sales calls and the other half making accountability calls and texts. 

Renegotiate Your Leases

As a brick and mortar business, you may be paying rent for a property to house your studio. A common problem that has emerged for all businesses now is how they afford the rent for a place they cannot use. You will need to approach your landlord and see if an arrangement can be made to pause, defer, or reduce your rent. Consult with your accountant and any legal assistance you may have before doing this. 

Look Into Government Support 

Around the world, governments are providing financial support for their citizens and their businesses with financial aid to help them through these tough economic times. In the US, the Small Business Association (SBA) is a government agency created in 1953 to support small businesses and entrepreneurs across America. They operate a number of programs that you can avail of as a fitness business owner. The main funding options are the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). You can find out more about these on the SBA website.

Retaining Your Members as You Move Online 

When you transition your business online, the first thing you need to think about is how you are going to retain your members. There is a lot of uncertainty about what you should do about communications, pricing, and customer experience.

Brittany Welk, a fitness business owner who retained 100% of her members as she moved online, explained some great tactics when she joined us on our podcast. We also looked at these tactics in detail in a recent article on retaining members when moving online. Let’s look at three key areas you need to excel in to retain a high number of members. 

Communicate Early and Be Positive

Brittany Welk emphasized that regular communication with your members is very important in the first few days of moving online. At a time like this, there is a lot of uncertainty and panic around what is going on in the world so you need to make sure you communicate with members early and often.

Send out regular updates on things like why the gym is closing, what the new virtual timetable will look like, and what equipment they need. All this needs to be delivered in a positive and uplifting tone. One great piece of advice from podcast guest Jack Thomas was to make your gym a center of positivity for your members.

girl on phone

Virtual Accountability Is the Key Differentiator 

Once you enter the online fitness world you will see how competitive the market is. Not only are there established businesses like Beachbody and Peloton but also fitness influencers with large followings who are doing free workouts every day.

To gain the edge over these competitors you need to hold your members accountable so they get the result they want. They are more likely to stay if this is the case. People pay for you to pay attention. Read more about holding members accountable in this in-depth article.

Provide Real Value to Your Members 

As well as improving the quality of your online content and holding members accountable, you need to evolve your offering. Provide members with value worth paying for at the same price they were for your regular offering.

Think of services like nutrition seminars, mental health talks, one on one coaching and fitness challenges. Also, consider adding classes different from your normal schedule. For example, if you are a HIIT studio, offer yoga or pilates classes to give members a low impact class option to help with recovery.

Live Streaming and Pre-Recording Workouts

Gyms and studios around the world are already transitioning online with famous brands like Orangetheory, Barry’s Bootcamp, and Corepower Yoga offering some form of virtual offering to their regular members. The way studios operate is changing and when it comes to sharing your at-home workouts, you have two options: Live stream or pre-record.

So which one should you choose?

The answer to this question is simple – both if you can! Covering all options will give your members a greater range of consistency and flexibility. Plus, as you get to grips with home-workouts, you’ll get a sense of which format works best for your community.

Benefits of Live Streaming

Live streaming your classes is excellent for motivating members, as they’ll know others are joining at the same time. Everyone’s in it together – like they would be in class. If you are using a platform like Zoom, ask members to turn on their cameras so you can check their form and shout out encouragement like you would in a normal class.

Another benefit of live streaming is the routine you can create for your members, something that is crucial in a time of such uncertainty. Some of your members may be working from home at the minute – so they still want their regular 7 am class before they get to work.

Benefits of Pre-Recording 

Pre-recorded workouts are a great option if you want to grow your existing community. It’s also a format that will give you time to bank a few different options, so you can consistently share content. Think along the lines of uploading a ‘Workout of The Day’ (#WOD) at the same time every day on Instagram. 

This format is valuable to members as it offers flexibility, especially if they’ve not been able to make a live class. With this, it’s good practice to record your live workouts. This way, people who can’t make class can still access the same session at a later date. You can also repurpose the content from your live-streams to promote your home-workouts.  

Creating Online Workouts 

Before you jump in with filming your workouts, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got some basic equipment ready and a solid plan of how you’ll go about the process.  

Don’t Sacrifice The Quality of Your Brand

Careful planning will give you a better chance to continue the quality of your brand you have worked so hard to build-up. A lot of gyms and studios quickly jumped onto live streaming platforms like Facebook and Instagram Live and likely shot their workouts on an iPhone. It’s understandable, given the uncertainty at the moment. However, you will need to improve the quality of your production as time passes. 

Gym owner Jack Thomas launched the platform BASE Anywhere, which allows members to access a range of high-quality workouts, live-streamed sessions, nutrition coaching, and much more. The idea is to come out of this in a strong position not only financially, but brand-wise also. If you are a premium brand, it’s worth investing in keeping this consistent throughout this time.

Best Practice for Stress-Free Filming

Plan your sessions to avoid any hiccups – you don’t want to come across as messy or unprofessional. Give yourself at least a couple of hours for your first filming attempts, it’ll take time to find your rhythm. Don’t rush in the beginning, it’ll only make the process feel stressful when it doesn’t need to be. 

From the get-go, map out a 7-day schedule for your classes. If you plan on delegating sessions to your trainers, you’ll also need to work together on a staff schedule to keep everyone on the same page and maintain consistency.

As you plan and record more, you can swap different classes in and out. For most fitness business owners right now, moving to digital workouts is entirely new. Just remember that it’s probably new to your members, too, making it the perfect time to work with each other. Ask for feedback, like Ambition Fitness, in the example below:


Make sure you record all of your videos horizontally so you can share them on a variety of channels and they can be accessed on a range of devices and screen sizes and think about where you’re filming your workouts.

If you’re unable to shoot from your studio, you want a clean background with no distractions – your setting should be deliberate. Avoid having any clutter and try to have your logo showing somewhere, perhaps instructors can wear your studios branded t-shirts. 

Equipment Checklist

Lights, camera, action! 

You’ll need a few equipment pieces to get started. Long-term, you may want to invest in a few advanced options, we’ve included examples of these and where to find them at a fair price below. As well as this we have written a guide on how to live stream workouts which you can find here. 

person filming workout

Camera

To give you a better idea of what to choose, take a look at this list we put together of the best cameras for filming workouts. Whatever camera you have, be sure to check that the device or SD cards have enough storage space on them before filming any exercise. You don’t want them to cut out halfway through! For pre-recorded workouts, choose the highest-quality recording and exporting settings for editing.

Keep in mind that if you’re planning on live streaming with a DSLR, your camera will need a HDMI port, and you’ll need an external converter to USB. This video is useful if you’re planning on live streaming with a DSLR using Youtube live. For a step-by-step guide to live streaming your workouts on Youtube, check out this article from our Knowledge Base.

Sound

The best options for capturing audio, especially for any live streams, are wireless ones. If you don’t have any kind of microphone initially, improvise with what you do have. Film from your laptop and use its built-in microphone, even your phone can work as long as there are no other distracting noises in the background. 

You’re likely moving around a lot and don’t want this to interrupt the quality of instruction, especially long-term. We’d suggest taking a look at wireless earbuds; there are plenty to choose from online at various price points, just be sure to read the product reviews before purchase. The Optoma NuForce BE Sport4 wireless sport earbuds come widely-recommended. Prices vary across retailers but start from around $80, check out their review on TechRadar here.

Lights

If you don’t have access to lighting equipment, natural lighting can work as long as it turns out bright and balanced on camera. Test this out before you go ahead with filming to ensure you have no harsh shadows or dark spots. Prices for professional filming lights online vary, but a quick Amazon search shows options starting from around $40 – a worthwhile investment going forward with your workouts.

Editing

With a massive choice of free video editing software that’s simple to use, you don’t have to be an editing pro or have a big budget to create high-quality videos. The main thing you will need is time. Much like planning and filming your workouts, the more you do it, the better you’ll become. But if you’re new to editing, it’ll take a few tries before you’re entirely comfortable and again – it’s not something you want to rush.

Openshot is a free and easy-to-use option for anyone new to editing. The tool has a range of features, including clip resizing, title templates and creation, and more. All of its elements come together in its advanced timeline, which includes a drag and drop editor. 

Growing Your Business After You Move Online

Once you have steadied the ship by retaining your membership base the next step is to actually grow your business. This is through sales and marketing. A lot of businesses have stopped their digital ads as they feel they can’t grow at this time.

However, if you feel you are in a position where your business is running well online, it’s time to reboot your sales and marketing machine. We have written more detailed articles on marketing and selling your online service which you can find here and here.

Here are three key points to help you grow your business:

The Opportunity Is Huge Right Now

A lot of fitness facilities have taken the position of waiting until this until things get back to some sort of normal. However, this would be a mistake as there is still an appetite in the market for fitness services. There will likely now be a larger market share for you to go after.

For entrepreneurs, running any kind of business brings up a host of challenges to overcome. With every challenge comes opportunity and now is the time to take this opportunity. This, coupled with the relatively cheap price of digital ads at the moment means you need to act now and fast. 

Get Used To Selling Over the Phone

Because of what’s happening at the moment, there is no way to actually do sales in person, so you need to learn to sell on the phone. When we spoke about driving revenue online with Alex Hormozi, the first crucial takeaway from his advice on selling over the phone is that you need to dive in and do it.

You might make mistakes initially, but you’ll learn and develop your approach as you go. From his experience, Alex notes that it takes 25 attempts to get the same number of closed deals compared to in-person selling; “it just basically takes 25 attempts of sucking to kind of figure out the flow of how the script works.”

Charge for Your Service and Deliver on That Service

Right now, people have more time on their hands than ever, and as a result, their buying behavior has changed. People want to invest in something that will provide them with a long term benefit – in this case, their health and fitness.

Jack Thomas advises that your pricing and value go hand in hand; “It really puts you in a different mindset – you immediately have an obligation  to deliver a great level of service once you’re charging for it.”⁠ Remember that you have a competitive advantage over free online classes and programs because you’re providing more than just a workout. 

In Summary

Moving your business online is essential to your survival right now and is the best way to continue as a fitness business. The first step is to protect your business and retain your members. The next step, once you have calmed things down, is to actually grow your business to survive through COVID 19 and beyond. 

For now, though, be it the living room, bedroom, kitchen, or studio – you and your members are still in this together.

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