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Leading a Fitness Business in a Time of Crisis

leading crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic has caught the world off-guard. Businesses across the globe are facing a crisis, and for many business owners, their leadership has been put to a test. 

From governments to small businesses, coronavirus has had an impact on almost every industry there is. Gyms and fitness studios were no exception. 

In a recent Glofox report, we found that by the end of April, global gym attendance dropped by 95% compared to the beginning of March.

Instead of seeing this as doomsday, many business owners took the bull by the horns and quickly adapted their business model to provide online services.

While it may not have always been a smooth journey, those who’ve survived and thrived online have shown strong leadership at a time when it has been needed most. But what makes a successful leader and what are the strategies they use?

Time is of the essence during crisis, so let’s dive in. Skip ahead to:

Leading in a Time of Crisis

A crisis is every unexpected situation that threatens the stability of a business. It’s an unplanned event that demands the immediate reaction of the business owner. 

In 2020, we have seen such a crisis worldwide. The preventive measures during the coronavirus pandemic demanded that many businesses close their doors, and gyms and fitness studios were among the first ones to be closed

Suddenly, everyone was forced to spend most of the time at home, isolated. This abrupt event caused panic among personal trainers and fitness instructors who were afraid of losing their jobs. Having to face this crisis without an emergency plan, caused many gym owners to declare bankruptcy

However, every crisis is also an opportunity. It’s a chance to adapt and act fast and it’s a time when true business leaders come into the spotlight. They are the ones who act rapidly and effectively when everything else is in chaos. With the purpose of getting the business back on track, the leader motivates and inspires the employees even in the darkest hour. 

What Defines a Real Leader?

Being a business leader doesn’t just mean giving orders and paychecks. There can be many kinds of leaders within one company. For example, a project manager doesn’t have to be the owner of a company, but he or she is the leader of a team. 

A true leader can sometimes be recognized based on the following traits:

1. Not Afraid of Change

Effective leaders don’t fight change. They welcome it and try to make the most out of it. 

Based on a study of over 65,000 leaders, younger leaders were found to be more effective than the older and more experienced ones. Why? Because they weren’t afraid of embracing novelty. 

After the pandemic broke out, many gyms and fitness instructors moved their business online

Those gym owners didn’t panic or wait for things to go back to the way they used to be. They acted and made the most out of the given situation by using live-streaming platforms, fitness apps, and on-demand classes. 

2. “We Can Do It” Attitude

Experiencing a crisis like a coronavirus pandemic means having to deal with a lot of insecure and frightened people. This can result in stress and poor job performance.

In such situations, effective leaders can be recognized by a positive attitude that motivates those around them. 

They don’t succumb to the feeling of fear and uncertainty. Instead, they send a message that through hard work and dedication nothing is impossible. But only if we work together. 

This is one of the most important characteristics of a leader. Because it shows that an individual is able to inspire others and believes in teamwork.  

3. Respectful of the Co-Workers

Real leaders always respect those who are part of their working environment. 

Those who perceive the role of a leader only as a title, that gives them the right to talk down to others, won’t make a true connection with the team. 

A true leader knows the value of empathy, care, and respect. Constantly showing that you care about your employees and their ideas, will make the employees feel secure and comfortable around you.

The ultimate goal of every leader is to earn the respect of those surrounding them. And that is why the following trait is crucial…

4. Integrity Above Everything Else

Being honest and keeping one’s word is one of the core characteristics of a true leader. 

To be a real leader, you must have the trust and respect of the employees. That trust can easily be lost if they find that you’ve been trying to deceive them. 

Therefore, be careful when making promises or providing new information. Double-check the facts, and make sure that all promises are achievable. 

5 Ways to Lead a Franchise in a Time of Crisis 

There are different ways in which a leader can act in difficult times of crisis. Different strategies offer different solutions, and a leader should incorporate as many as possible:

1. Consistently Communicate Throughout All Locations

During a crisis, a franchise should should maintain regular communication with its franisees and location owenrs. It’s important for keeping everyone on the same page as well as supporting everyone with the tools and information they need for success.

Remember that their success is your success.

In a recent episode of The Fitness Founders Podcast, we were joined by Andy Peat, the Chief Product Officer of Lift Brands Inc. which includes SNAP Fitness and the 9Round International Franchise. 

In this episode Andy talks about his career to date and rising to the top of a large franchise. It’s a must listen for any fitness franchise navigating the impacts of the pandemic, as Andy talks us through how SNAP and 9Round dealt with closing down during COVID-19 and how the fitness industry has changed as they open back up:

2. Keep Your Internal Communications Positive

Your franchisees will be looking to you to lead right now. While you need to be transparent with them, it’s also essential to keep your internal communication positive to keep everyone motivated and aligned.

It’s likely similar tone that you will be conveying to your end members at this time. BASE gyms in Bangkok is an excellent example of delivering this message. In an episode of The Fitness Founders Podcast, we spoke with the owner, Jack Thomas, who is focused on continuing to deliver a message of positivity to the BASE community:

“We really wanted to make sure that BASE was a center of positivity. And that’s been one of our values since day one – we are a center of positivity. It’s important to continue that with something like this happening.”

Another great example of a brand doing this well for its members right now is Orangetheory Fitness. The franchise has a dedicated page for all things COVID-19 on its website, including an outline of new health and safety protocols and reopening updates for its independent studios. 

But what stands out with the Orangetheory’s messaging is its positivity. This video shows how studios will be operating amid Coronavirus, but the tone clearly intends to get members excited:

With these excellent examples in mind, ask yourself how you can take inspiration to reassure and motivate across each of your locations.

3. Have a Plan and Be Transparent With Your Intentions

Unexpected situations are by definition impossible to predict. That is why no one expects a leader to have a plan for every possible crisis. But, what’s expected is the readiness to act. 

For gym owners, this meant organizing a new plan around online sessions. By using live-streaming platforms and fitness apps, fitness businesses had the opportunity to keep working with their customers. 

Delivering a studio experience in a digital form in a short period of time wasn’t easy. This meant new strategies, like niche-centered communities, that would keep the online audience engaged. 

But the one key thing to remember is that Coronavirus has changed the fitness industry; not just for now while we navigate its impacts, but forever. New member expectations come with this shift, and to continue thriving, your enterprise needs to prepare to deliver. 

4. Be Compassionate 

Your employees are one of the main elements of your success. Therefore, checking on their mental and physical health should be a priority. 

Perhaps it’s a new “emplyee wellness” playbook that you distibuteacross business, or maybe it’s regular meetings to take time to understand concerns that employees may have. 

With group meetings, you can maintain a positive spirit among team members; they will have the affirmation of their workgroup that they aren’t alone. It’s important for every employee and location to feel supported.

It’s challenging, but you need to balance both running a business and ensuring your employees are happy. Compassion goes a long way during times of uncertainty and people will remember the actions you take to support them.

5. Be Mindful of Your Own Health

Being a leader can take a toll on your own health. Worrying about the business and the well-being of your employees all the time can make you forget about looking after yourself.

The best leaders tend to put everything else before their own health. With so many obligations at hand, they forget the importance of eating healthy or sleeping regularly.

A lack of physical activity isn’t a common case among the great leaders of the fitness industry. However, they should dedicate their free time to doing an activity that will strengthen their mental health. Painting, meditating, or simply watching movies can help you relieve stress and unwind.

Recharging the batteries is important. You need to be your best self so you could lead others through challenging times.

In Summary

Efficient leadership should include being ready for times of crisis. Unfortunately, in 2020 many leaders have been expected to make that extra effort and save their business and their teams.

However, facing a crisis isn’t reserved only for the pandemic. A new crisis will come again,  in different shapes and forms, and a true leader must always be prepared to act.

With a few simple strategies mentioned above, even a novice leader can manage to overcome a difficult period and emerge victoriously. 

A real leader is more than a set of dos and don’ts. It is their traits and inner will to help others, combined with the right guidance and verified methods that lead them to the top. 

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"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

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