FBA 32: 7 Common Mistakes Fitness Studios Make (and how to solve them)

Jack highlights some of the common mistakes that prevent fitness studio owners from crafting an A-grade experience every time.

The good news is that these are fairly easy to fix through training and adding in processes, procedures and structure

In today’s episode we discuss:

  1. Don’t be late
  2. Why lack of class structure hurts the experience
  3. Always plan ahead
  4. Why a timer makes everyone’s lives better
  5. Email marketing – cheap and effective
  6. Focus on sales
  7. Why you’re running a business, not a passion project














Welcome to the FBA podcast, my name is Jack Thomas and I’m the founder and CEO of BASE, which is 3 studios strong in Bangkok and I’m also the host of this podcast.

Today’s episode is the top 7 mistakes that I see boutique fitness studios making but before we kick off, I’d like to say a quick thank you – I had the honour of speaking at the Boutique Fitness Talks in Bali last week and I had a great time connecting with old friends and meeting other fitness business owners from across the world. It was a real pleasure to share my story and the lessons I’ve learned along the way and some of the discussions I had gave me the fuel for today’s podcast.

I’d like to thank Elbert and Gill for hosting us at the Empire Fit Club in Bali – it is an awesome set up they have in Bali and I’d highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the area. I’d also like to thank Noel Nocciolo for running the event, Noel was a guest on the podcast in episodes 18 and 19 so I’d recommend going back to those if you missed them the first time round.

Links to both Empire Fit Club and Noel’s Boutique Fitness Talks are in the shownotes.

OK – onto today’s show. Wherever I am in the world I go to as many of the top fitness offerings as I can to see what’s going on in the industry and importantly, to see what it’s like to be on the client side. I think it’s easy to lose sight of what it’s like to be a client if you’re simply immersed in your business so I find this a very productive and fruitful thing to do.

We put so much effort and thought into crafting every single part of the experience when someone comes to BASE and myself, the management team and the coaches at BASE have a lot of discussion and debates on every detail of the customer journey. Honestly, I’m a little bit obsessed with the details – definitely more than most, but I think that the details matter to everyone on at least a subconscious level.

So here we go – based on my own experienes of being a client and the many discussions and feedback I’ve had from people – that’s both BASE clients or feedback on other gyms – here are my top 7 mistakes that boutique fitness operators make.

Number 1 – not starting and finishing classes on time.

I recently went to a class in London that finished 9 minutes late. This was bad on many levels but let’s highlight two – we had somewhere to go afterwards and were left rushing to our next appointment. Next time, I would think twice about going to that studio if I had somewhere to go afterwards. Secondly – with a 10 minute gap between classes that gave the cleaners and coach 1 minute to set up for the next class and no time to chat to clients or anything else.

I’ve heard of studios starting classes 5 minutes late because other clients were running late and I find this really hard to wrap my head around

Bottom line – respect your clients’ time by starting and finishing your classes on time.

This leads to our second common mistake:

Number 2 – Lack of structure when planning classes.

Your class formats should have some kind of structure. How long is the explanation, warm up, each individual set? If you have a proper structure to your class it should never finish late, and if it does you can go back and work out why. Perhaps the coach spent too long explaining the set up. Perhaps the cooldown turned into a 10 minute yoga flow which led to it finishing late.

Bottom line – if your coach is plannig their classes well with proper structure, they will finish the session on time and it will have an air of professionalism to it.

That leads us to number 3, which is kind of an extension of number 2 but it warrants it’s own separate point and that is

Number 3 – making classes up as you go along.

It’s amazing how common this is and to me, it beggars belief. It’s one thing to not have great structure but to make exercises up as you go along is lazy and unprofessional and trust me – clients will notice, either consciously or subconsciously. Even with years of experience a program will always be better with some thought and preparation before the session.

What often ends up happening when classes aren’t planned out is a series of movements that don’t work well together. It’s not a good idea to do a minute of push ups, then a minute of tricep dips then a minute of chest to ground burpees. That’s a terrible shoulder and chest heavy combo that is not good programming, but this is the kind of thing that happens when prior planning has not gone into a session.

Bottom line – your clients are paying good money for your time and session. If you’re making the workouts up as you go along, you are giving them a massive disservice and in an increasingly competitive market, people will go somewhere that puts more attention and professionalism into their programming.

Number 4 – Not using a timer in classes

Using a stopwatch instead of a set wall timer carries multiple disadvantages.

One – you’re prone to errors. Being told to sprint for the last 10 seconds of a set and then getting distracted by something and that 10 seconds turning into 30 is not fair on the people who went 100% all out and you start to lose faith in the timer, and coach.

Two – if you’re looking at the stopwatch and getting the timings perfect, that means less attention on the clients. If the timer is on a wall then the coach can give 100% focus on the clients and let the timer do the menial work of keeping time.

Three – it looks less professional. It’s not a park bootcamp you’re running, it’s an experience. Get a slick looking timer up and it shows you mean business.

Bottom line – use a timer as it adds structure, looks more professional and helps your coach focus on the important stuff – coaching people.

So the first 4 common mistakes are about the class, we’re now moving onto other areas of the business.

Number 5 – Not using email.

I’ve talked about this in episode 17 but it’s worth another mention now. If you’re not email past and current clients regularly then you are massively missing a trick.

Quick summary – you should be sending them a welcome email when they join, to help strengthen your bond with them. You should be sending them emails when they buy a package thanking them. Once a week send them a newsletter and make sure that over time you give them more value than sales. I would say at least a 2:1 ratio of value to sales, or better still a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio to really build trust and goodwill. Make your emails branded and slick and carefully consider your copy when sending these out.

I’ve been to around 100 of the world’s top studios and I think around 20% bother with email which I find mind-boggling. The ones that do email and do it well, stay in my mind.

Bottom line – email is cheap so use it effectively to build your brand and to drive sales.

Again, you can check out episode 17 of this podcast for a deeper dive into this

Number 6 – Not having any kind of push towards sales, whether it’s in branch or online.

Our first 6 months was tough for BASE as we didn’t have solid sales staff and weren’t doing effective marketing. We turned a corner when we hired a great sales manager and started investing properly into digital marketing. If we hadn’t of done that, even with a solid concept and great coaches, BASE may not have survived.

Many small fitness businesses have no kind of online marketing strategy and make no real effort at driving sales in branch in the misguided hope that the product will sell itself. If this sounds like you, you’re in serious trouble, regardless of how good your product is.

Look at all your front desk and sales staff and ask yourself if they can comfortably build rapport with clients and talk about your products confidently. If the answer is no then it’s crisis-timeGo back to episode 31 with Rich Hutson, last week’s episode for a discussion on sales, how to frame it and how to start improving it.

Bottom line – sales are the lifeblood of any business and if you understand and appreciate this, hard times are ahead.

Finally, our last common mistake of the day is:

Number 7 – Running a business as a passion project and not a business.

Passion is a great start, but passion alone will not give you a successful business. You need to get the fundamentals of business right to run a successful venture.

It’s so common in our industry to start a business because you love pilates, crossfit, MMA, yoga, whatever it might be, and want to do something you love. That’s a dangerous game because if you lose your life savings doing something you love then you might not love it so much anymore.

If you love, let’s say, pilates, and you think everyone should be doing it, try to discover a joy for getting the business side right because that’s in line with your overall mission of getting more people to do pilates. Try and get excited about marketing, sales, the finances and recruitment not because you necessarily love all these things, but they are going to help with your mission.


If you can’t do that, then it’s going to be tough to start a business as passion for the training alone will not be enough to take you through the tough times. A strong mission and a willingness to do whatever it takes for that mission might keep you ploughing through when the going gets tough.

Bottom line – your fitness business is a business, and you owe it to yourself, your clients and your investors so treat it as such

OK – let’s give you a quick recap on those 7 points.

Thanks for listening as always, I greatly appreciate it. If you need help on your fitness business, whether you’re starting out, you’re struggling or you’re doing well but want to take things to the next level, I may be able to help out so please reach out for a consultation. I offer a half price session for the first consultation – you can find out more at fitnessbusinessasia.com/consultancy and the link to that page is in the shownotes. Alternatively you can contact me on LinkedIn or at [email protected].

That’s it for today, to support the show please subscribe first and foremost so you get a notification each Monday when we release a new episosde. You can also leave a review or share this episode with a friend who needs to hear what we talk about.

For now, wherever you are, have a great week and I’ll catch you next tim

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