FBA 02: How To Recruit The Best Coaches For Your Fitness Studio

In Episode 2, Jack focuses on the recruitment process and the things you need to consider when hiring for your fitness business.

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Some of the key points from today’s episode:

  1. [0:57] Why the quality of your staff is crucial for the higher end of the fitness market.
  2. [3:16] Have a clear idea about the qualities you expect your coaches to have
  3. [4:04] Do they really want the job?
  4. [4:41] Why selecting open-minded coaches is of utmost importance
  5. [5:39] Don’t rush
  6. [6:18] Meet them and know them well to reach the right decision
  7. [7:31] Save time and money by setting all the expectations at the beginning.
  8. [9:25] Utilize the probation period to invest in their development and see if it’s a good fit
  9. [10:11] If you have serious early doubts, listen to them
  10. [11:57] Art of keeping a balance between giving chances and taking tough decisions.

Episode 2 transcript

My name is Jack Thomas and welcome to episode 2 of the Fitness Business Asia Podcast.

If this is your first time listening I’d recommend going back to episode 1 so you can understand better what we’re aiming to bring you with this podcast.

So I promised in our opening episode that I’d be getting into the meat of the topic quickly, so that’s what I’m going to do today.

In summary, this episode is about how to recruit the right coaching staff for your gym or studio.

The strength of any company is largely dependent on the people that work there. Do they believe in the vision of the company, are they excited by the direction and the mission, do they feel proud to be a part of it?

In the fitness business, this is especially true as it’s largely a client facing service, especially at the higher end of the market. Typically in fitness, the more premium your offering is, the more important the quality of the staff is.

At the lower end of the market it’s usually less important. If we look at the growing trend of 24/7 gyms, they are more about convenience, quality of equipment, location and perhaps things like lockers rooms and lighting would also play a part in someone’s decision on whether to join or not. Sure, it’s important to have staff smile, help out and keep the gym clean, but people will generally view your business as the material things in your gym over your people.

Let’s take a look at the opposite end of the market – Soul Cycle is one of the biggest boutique fitness chains in US which is all about the experience, the connection with the instructor and the journey that the coach at the front takes you through. Soul Cycle’s instructors are superstars, celebrities with followings and their top coaches sell their classes out within minutes. The clients are not coming for the bikes or the bathrooms, they are coming for the coach, the experience, the atmosphere that’s created by the staff.

In a business like this that is at the higher end of the market, usually categorized as boutique fitness, the quality of your staff is everything. The quality of your staff is everything. If this is underestimated then your boutique fitness studio quite quickly becomes nothing more than a room full of weights, or in Soul Cycle’s case, just a studio full of bikes.

Today I’m going to go through some tips and approaches to recruit the best possible coaches for your business. They are important for any business, but if your gym is a higher end offering that’s all about the experience, getting the right people to spearhead your brand is absolutely crucial.

Before we delve into these I’d like to point out that these things all work best if you have a strong company culture, you already have team members that are happy and invested in the business and you have an idea of what your personal and company values are. Even if the business is just you at the moment, if you have some clarity of vision on what you want your business to be, that is a great start that will help you make strong recruiting decisions.

  1. Identify what kind of qualities you would like to see in one of your team’s coaches, and interview with those in mind. For example, you might want someone who is deeply passionate about helping people, someone who can work alongside other coaches in developing your gym’s programs, someone who is warm and friendly to everyone or perhaps someone who’s obsessed with your gym’s particular training method. Maybe you’re a high-end personal training studio that’s all one-to-one training and you want someone who’s methodical, focused and hard working. Whatever the qualities are you’d like to see, consider those and ask questions that delve into whether this person fits the profile. This should also be considered when advertising for a coaching position – with your job posting you need to talk to and attract the kind of coaches you’d like at your gym.
  2. Make them show you they want the job. I have them send a full resume and cover letter and I like to see a personalized cover letter that shows that they have done some kind of research into our studio and our concept, and understand our approach. If they get past this stage and onto the face to face interview process, I ask some questions to find out if they know much about what we offer and how they might fit in. It may not be a complete dealbreaker if they haven’t done this, but if they made the effort to do their homework then that’s a good sign that they’re taking this application process seriously.
  3. Can they adapt and are they open minded? Finding the perfect coach will be hard, so a better question is sometimes not ‘are they the perfect coach’ but ‘do they have the open mind and personality to adapt to our methodology, our training methods and our environment’. Earlier in my fitness management career, I made the mistake of overvaluing a potential coach’s experience – the more experience, the happier I was that this was someone that could just hit the ground running. A few failed coaches later, I realized that many coaches that brought 5, 10 or more years of experience were very stuck in their ways, struggled to be part of a team and couldn’t adapt to what we’d created and our vision. This is not a hard rule – I’d like to note that some of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with brought years of experience, but over time I learned that you want to look for not just experience, but the willingness to be open and adapt.
  4. Hire slow. Don’t rush the decision and if you feel there’s something you need to see for the job to be done well, introduce a test, trial session or role play to see if they are showing the right qualities. Another hidden benefit of taking this approach is that if they see how seriously you’re taking the recruitment process, they will respect that and they will see that you are serious about the kind of people you bring onto your team. It will automatically show the potential coach that you have high expectations and won’t take second best. Done correctly, they’ll want to live up to these high expectations that you have for them and the business.
  5. Have multiple meetings to help you make the decision. We start with an informal chat that often turns into a long and sometimes deep conversation into training methods, approach to work, the fitness industry in general and what they get up to outside work. It’s a casual conversation but I am of course scoping out if they will be a good fit for the team, if I can see myself working with them and if they are the kind of caliber that we expect at BASE. Then I will have them train one of my friends, clients or myself to discover more about their training style. After the session I give them detailed feedback, both positive and constructive and their response to this is critical. Even when delivered in a very open and progressive way, some people get instantly defensive. This is not a good sign that they will be a good fit for the culture we’ve built. Assuming the trial training session goes well, I’d finish up with a final follow up interview to ensure thatthis is going to be a good working relationship for both of us. In the recruitment process, too many meetings is better than too few. Bringing someone onto your team is an important decision and you should take your time to ensure you’ve made the right decision. You owe it to yoursel
  6. Set all the expectations for the role at the beginning. The goal of this is two-fold – firstly, it’s so they know exactly what to expect and there are no nasty surprises later. This makes difficult conversations later much easier. For example, if you let them know that they need to come to all of their personal training sessions 10 minutes early is extremely important and that it’s a key part of your offering that the trainer is already here when the client arrives, if they turn up 5 minutes before the session in their first week it’s easy to bring this up as a policy that has been addressed. If this is not mentioned, you may find that at the beginning they arrive 15 minutes before, then 10, then 5 and then after a while they turn up just as the session is starting. This evolving pattern of behavior over time is often harder to correct than a set expectation from day 1 that is corrected early on. Secondly, if they have any major objections to the expectations, it may highlight that it is simply not a good fit. This is a good thing – an interview should always be seen as a 2-way process to see if both parties want to commit to a role, so it’s better to identify early on if it’s not going to work for either of you, and save everyone time, effort and money.
  7. Consider a trial day at the studio to see how they fit in. What better way to see if they’re a good fit for the company and the team then have them join some sessions, meet the team and hang out. As highlighted at the beginning, the stronger your team and culture, the more revealing this process will be. If you have a team of people who value their work environment and are excited about the company and its direction, they will not want anyone in the team who isn’t consistent with this. Another perspective is always good and hearing the opinion of your trusted and dedicated team members will often help you make the right decision.
  8. Use the probation period to your advantage. The probationary period, which in Thailand is a maximum of 4-months, is an opportunity to see them in action and to monitor how they fit into the role and position. If you’ve made the expectations of the role clear it should be fairly easy to see whether they have the ability to live up to these and if it’s a good fit. Correct any errors inconsistencies in a positive, constructive and personal way and give them every chance to adapt and learn. There’s a lot to take in and becoming part of a new environment is sometimes tough. Consider this if they’re struggling to find their feet. Invest time into their development and show them that you want to see them do well. Now if you do this well, point number 9 becomes easier.. and that is:
  9. If you have serious doubts early on, listen to them. Let’s say you’ve really tried hard to help them fit in, correct things that weren’t being done in the way you expect and you’ve spent some quality time with them to help them fit and understand how things work. If you’ve done all these things and you’re seeing some early warning signs, some red flags, that’s concerning. I always think that if someone can’t show a positive attitude in those initial first months then what hope do you have a year or two down the line? Even if your recruitment process has been thorough and slick, you will make mistakes – people can be good at presenting an unrealistic picture of who they are. Some people just know the right things to say, even if it’s not consistent with their actual personality. If there are any small issues deal with them quickly and clearly, if the issues are bigger then I would call a meeting to make it completely clear what the problem is, reiterate the expectations of the role and give them solid actions they can take to improve. If, after offering this clarity, the issues continue then I think 99% of the time they are not a right fit and the longer you delay ending their probation, the more potential damage it could do to the company. After telling an early mentor of issues I was having with a new member of staff, he told me to ‘hire slow and fire fast’, and following a rough interpretation of this has served me well since then. There are exceptions, but if you’re having major doubts early on and you know in your heart of hearts it’s not right, the best thing you can do for everyone is to move them on.

I have never had any major early concerns about a member of staff who has then turned things around and become a fantastic team player. Quite the opposite, you often think to yourself once you’ve ended their probation ‘why on earth didn’t I do that a month ago?’ and there’s an instant wave of relief.

Getting this balance between wanting to give them a chance and recognizing they’re not right for you is hard, and as much a science as an art – you often feel obliged to give new members of staff a fighting chance to improve and there’s also an internal battle with all those promising things you saw about them in the first place. When you get it wrong, it’s a tough decision and conversation but it’s one you need to make strongly and decisively for the good of the company and what you’re creating.

OK, let’s recap the 9 things to consider when trying to recruit high quality coaches…

I hope some of these points has helped your recruitment processes. I’ve been tweaking my processes and approach for the last 5 years and I still don’t get things 100% right every time. Some people are great at interviews and can say all the right things and then they turn out to be quite different, but by having a strong process you have a great chance of identifying the warning signs early on and if you make a mistake, you’ll be able to rectify it quickly and move on.

If you have any questions or comments on the coach recruitment process or if you haveif you have any topics you’d like covered in future episodes then the best ways to contact me are at [email protected] or on Instagram at jacktbase.

My name is Jack Thomas, thanks for tuning in to the Fitness Business Asia Podcast and I’ll catch you soon!

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