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How to Write a Franchise Manual for a Successful Fitness Franchise


The mountain you have to climb to become a successful single studio location seems daunting when you open your doors for the first time. As we have documented many times, especially here and here, there is a lot to plan, manage, and execute. Along the way, there will no doubt be failures. However, these make the wins and success evermore sweeter.

The journey to the top of this mountain will be familiar to you. All the times you considered giving up and going back now seems like a distant memory now you have a successful business. But in reality, the journey is just beginning. The most successful names in the industry didn’t stop at one location. Think of Barry’s Bootcamp, F45, and Soulcycle. The reason they are known the world over is that they didn’t stop at one location. 

They climbed the next mountain. And the next one and the next one and so on. 

So maybe you are in the position to climb the next mountain and open up a second and possibly a third location. The decision you have to make is how you do this. There are really two options available to a fitness business.

The first option is to operate a multi-location business where every location still falls under your management. The second option is to franchise your business out to another business owner. They pay you a franchise fee to operate the business under your brand name. In return, they get the benefit of starting from day one with a proven business model along with your knowledge and expertise – which usually comes in the form of a franchise operations manual.

For this article, we will expand your brand through franchising with a specific focus on developing a winning franchise operations manual. Franchising notably has a high success rate, although the exact rate of success up for debate, as shown in this article from Entrepreneur magazine.

In reality, no matter what business model a person takes on, the same principle of putting in the hard work applies across the board. For your potential franchisee, this should be a given, and by giving them a solid foundation with your franchise operation manual, they should have every chance of success. 

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What Is a Franchise Operations Manual? 

Basically, it’s the playbook. We have long preached the importance of developing a playbook from every aspect of your business from day one. It ensures your staff are trained up correctly, but it also gives you a document detailing the processes that make your business successful. This playbook should be the basis for your franchise operations manual. 

According to franchise experts,, a franchise operations manual is a confidential document that contains the systems, procedures, and operations of the business. It is a “how-to” guide on how to make the business successful. It’s good practice to have an overall operations manual that gives an overview of everything and then more specific playbooks for different business areas. 

The Format and Layout of a Franchise Operations Manual

The document format can come in several different formats, such as hard copy, digital pdf, or even video. Pick the form that you think will communicate the information most effectively. In some cases, producing all three formats may work for the franchisee. 

In your overall franchise operations manual, you the franchisor, will need to include information on what the franchise is about, the operations, the supplier list, and the confidentiality agreement. Let’s have a look at each section in more detail. 

Confidentiality Agreement: The information in the manual should stay between the franchisor and the franchisee. The information should not be released and should only be used for the franchise’s business. For example, they should not use the information to open up a separate company. The is different from the franchise agreement.

About the Franchise: In the beginning, there should be a section detailing the business’s history and what its core values are. This is similar to a mission statement in a business plan. The purpose of this section is to get the person in the correct mindset to run the business. 

Business Operations: This section should give the franchisee an overview of how the business operates daily and around different procedures. In the case of a gym or studio, this would be things like staff hiring, class pricing, class size, health and safety policies, financial management, and most importantly, member management. 

Sales and Marketing: One of the most valuable learnings in the manual should be sales and marketing or, putting more bluntly – getting members in the door. This will include sections on tactics, strategies, target audiences, and software tools. 

Services Guidelines: This section should describe the methods behind the service you offer, which are the classes and workouts. The franchisor should also include accredited suppliers that supply the correct equipment for each class. 

What Areas of a Fitness Business Need an Operations Manual? 

Now that we have gone through what should be included in your comprehensive operations manual, let’s look at what areas of the business will need a more detailed playbook and what should be included in that playbook. 

Acquisition Playbook

The attraction of taking on a franchise for the franchisee is that there is a proven system of getting members in the door. Big franchise brands like SoulCycle and Orangetheory know how to compete in competitive markets because they have developed tried and tested methods to generate leads and convert them into members.  

In your acquisition playbook, you need to lay out how the franchisees should conduct sales and marketing and explain what kind of numbers you need to hit to be successful. This should include what their target market is, the messaging, the channels they should use to reach their target market, and the tools they should be using. The acquisition playbook should also list external content creators such as videographers, copywriters, or photographers who can create consistent marketing materials. 

Retention Playbook

While bringing in members is key to keeping your gym running, keeping them there on a recurring monthly membership is the real challenge and will be the difference between failure and success. For the franchisee, the attraction of a ready-made retention strategy can drive them to take on a franchise option. 

Creating an engaging member experience is what will drive your retention rates high. To do this, you need to show the franchisee how to make onboarding plans, member journeys, intervention strategies to stop members from leaving, and guides on how member communications should be written. Retention expert Dr. Paul Bedford advises showing your franchisees the data around your retention – listen to our podcast with him here. 

Operations Playbook

The operations playbook should lay out how the business operates at a high level, including things like accounting practices, hiring strategies, pricing strategies, staff and management structures, and health and safety procedures. 

As a part of this playbook, you should also layout for the franchisee what they to do in terms of running classes. This could include the workout structure, class sizes, class timetables, the workout equipment used and the accreditation needed. F45 runs the same schedule in every franchise location across the world, for example. 

Why Do You Need a Franchise Operations Manual? 

Put simply; you need a franchise operations manual so your franchisees will get off to the best start possible. As well as that, franchisees expect a blueprint to follow, and it’s one of the key reasons they buy into a recognized fitness franchise brand. Here are 3 key reasons why you need a franchise operations manual.  

Establish Your Relationship With The Franchisee

As we have said before, your operations manual is also a legal document that establishes your relationship with the franchisee. The manual should make clear that there is an expectation that any of the procedures in the form must be kept secret. Franchisees should also get a clear understanding of what is expected of them in terms of success and the type of timeframe this success should achieve. 

Maintain a Consistent Member Experience

Franchising your business out means more than just allowing the franchisee to use the branding or the messaging or the logos. The number one thing you are franchising across the business is creating an engaging member experience for your members. Everything from the first welcome email to the first member consultation is mapped out to perfection. Every touchpoint on the member journey should be similar in each location. Listen to our podcast with retention expert Dr. Paul Bedford to find out more. 

Empower the Franchisee to Succeed

When it comes down to it, the success of the franchisee is your success. By providing them with a playbook and a solid foundation to build from, they have every chance of succeeding. However, be aware of exerting too much control over the franchisee as this could have a negative effect. Instead, you should be aiming to empower them to make their own decisions with the business. You want your franchisees to grow and feel like their success is their success, albeit backed up with your support. 

How Do You Write a Franchise Operations Manual? 

Now that we have given an overview of what should be included in the franchise operations manual, let’s take a look at the essential factors to think about when writing your franchise operations manual.  

Document Your Process in the Main Business

From the moment you open up your gym, you should be documenting the processes that take place. This is an excellent practice to get into as it lays the foundation as you grow. As you take on new staff and management, this documentation will be so key to training new hires quickly. Brittany Welk explains this procedure well in a podcast interview she did with us. Regular documentation makes it easier to pull together your operations manual. 

Make It Clear and to the Point 

When trying to teach the complex operations of a business, a good rule of thumb is this: keep it simple. Any process that you describe in the operations manual needs to be clear for the franchisee to follow. This could be through the written word, visual or audiovisual means. As long as the franchisee and their staff can understand and follow along, there should be minimal risk of misunderstandings. 

Consult an Expert 

Often when franchising out a business, the business owners will engage with a franchise expert to help them make the best decisions possible. Glofox customer Spartans Boxing Club did just that, as Managing Director Russ Harrison explained on our podcast episode. A franchise consultant like this could help in writing your franchise manual, pulling together all the documentation you have about the business. The advantage of this is that it assures you that your business operations manual will be of the highest standard.

In Summary

A franchise operations manual is the foundation on which the franchisee can build a successful business. Creating this document is essential when it comes to franchising out a company, and its document needs to be developed in a way that the franchisee can hit the ground running from day one.

We empower you to boost your business

"I think Glofox speaks to lots of different fitness businesses. I looked at a few options, but the Glofox positioning was more flexible. Without it the business wouldn't be scaleable”
Mehdi Elaichouni
Owner at Carpe Diem BJJ

Trusted by studios, and global gym chains.

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