How To Run Your Fitness Business like the Pros

If Twitter is to be believed 99.2% of human adults in 2021 are entrepreneurs and business ‘experts’. What this means in practice, for fitness professionals, is that there is a slew of crap advice out there from people that don’t really understand how to effectively run a business.
This article is intended to be a practical guide on how to run, and make decisions in your online fitness business, informed by 10 years of experience running an online fitness business ourselves, and one of the world’s most successful businesspeople – Ray Dalio.

Dalio is the founder of the largest hedge fund in the world, Bridgewater Associates. His business is analysing other businesses and making big bets on behalf of investors. He knows a thing or two about running a business.

In his book ‘Principles’ Ray Dalio sees a business a series of smaller systems and processes that add up to make The System. Well, actually he sees everything as a system but for the sake of focusing this article for the reader we will discuss a fitness business as a System.

This System, at 100’000ft is designed to optimise for the blend of two things:
1.Benefiting your life as the business owner.
2.Benefiting human beings who interact with the business.
We often think of businesses as more complex than that but that’s all every single business is designed to do. Every single one.
Whether or not a business fulfils that second part, ‘Benefitting the life of other human beings’, becomes a little bit of a philosophical debate when you get down to whether or not Facebook is actually beneficial to the people who are using it every day BUT it stands that the people who interact with the business BELIEVE that it is benefitting them, otherwise they would not use it. That is an important distinction, because if you believed that you had the most beneficial business in the world, and it actually was beneficial, but nobody who interacted with it believed that it was, then you wouldn’t have a working business.
So, to correct that slightly 
A business is a system designed to:
‘Benefit your life as the business owner’
‘Convince human beings who interact with the business that they have benefited/will benefit from the interaction’
Absolutely everything you do as a business owner comes back to optimising for those two – and both should always be in mind whenever you are making a change to the processes within your business that add up to make the ’system’.  The reason you need to have both in mind at all times is that pure focus on one can detract from the other.
For example – the ideal client experience from a fitness perspective would be that you turn up to their house for free, cook all of their meals to optimise their nutrition, go through individual workouts with them, understand their specific psychology intimately, figure out how to help them change behaviourally by arranging the environment in their life to create the least resistance to them achieving their fitness goals and ensure that you are always there for consulting if any questions arise.
In no universe is someone going to come away from that thinking that doing business with you has not been beneficial to them. However, you would soon become homeless and die of starvation because you were not doing anything to benefit your life as the business owner.
The logical extreme on the other end would be a personal trainer expecting to send out a tweet that said ‘fitness – $1000000’ with a link to their paypal account, and hoping that every account on twitter re-tweeted it and sent them a million dollars. That is obviously completely absurd, but I put it there to clearly illustrate that the two aspects of ‘customer benefit’ and ‘personal benefit’ are intimately connected and the sweet spot for any business is one that maximises both efficiently.
From this you should be able to look at any activity within your business and see how it applies to both. If an activity you’re doing doesn’t fit within both columns then its probably a waste of time, or you don’t fully understand why you’re doing it and you need to dive deeper.
Here are some examples:
You give people expertise and guidance on how to achieve their fitness goals in exchange for cash
Customer Benefit: it is a faster process for them achieving their personal goals
Owner Benefit: You are compensated financially
You automate the emails within the delivery of your programme
Customer Benefit: Clients get a consistent product delivery and experience that can be added to and expanded over time without demanding more time per client
Owner Benefit: You spend less time sending out emails every day
You run a targeted facebook ad
Customer Benefit: People have a chance of coming across something that really resonates with their specific problem that they would have never found otherwise
Owner Benefit: You have the ability to promote your services to more clients and increase the chance of revenue
Some processes within your business will weight more heavily toward one side or the other and that is okay as long there is a general semblance of balance in your system as a whole.

From the Macro to the Micro

As previously stated businesses are large systems that comprise of other smaller systems. These systems all have their own goal which they optimise for and it can get really confusing understanding how everything slots together if you don’t have some way of arranging and understand these systems in the broader context of your whole business. This is especially hard for people that are the designers of the whole system (self employed, single owners) as emotional biases and the computing limits of the brain can prevent you from seeing the picture as a whole.
This is where the idea of Macro to micro comes in. Sorting the processes in your business vertically from Macro to micro is the best way to unpick the structure of the activities you do and see where you might need to pay more attention – or less, if you’re overemphasising a micro behaviour that on analysis you realise is only a small portion of a minor process within your business. 
Spending the time to do this can save you hundreds of hours chasing the wrong rabbit in the future. (that is coming from us, who have chased all the rabbits and got very tried and frustrated in the process).
From that top, big concept level the first branch down in any coaching/knowledge service business is a single statement of who you help, the result you help them achieve and broadly how you help them achieve it.
E.g – I help busy professionals between 25-35 lose unwanted body fat through HIIT training and intermittent fasting through online coaching.
From that guiding principle all else sprouts and your business actions are generally going to be divided into 3 sub-categories for most coaches.
Absolutely everything you do in your business day to day/ how you structure things should revolve around optimising one of these elements of your business – always keeping in mind the central statement.  
Below these three category trees come the overarching models that you use to achieve the category goal. In the case of a personal trainer these could look something like this.
Below that becomes the specific systems you use to optimise the output of that model. 

Ordering the business this way gives it verticality. The higher up in the chain something is, the more important it is to the success of your business.  There should be a line of reason from the very smallest branch all the way up to to the top. If there isn’t then you’re doing something for a reason you don’t quite understand.

The organisational process can be emotionally quite soothing, as all of the noise in your head looks a little more reasoned on paper. However, without a way of tracking the effectiveness of each system and process then it’s nothing but a pretty diagram.

At each stage of the tree there should be a metric you choose as a measure of success for the particular branch. Each metric below that in the tree should be part of the puzzle that contributes to improving the metric above it.

For example –  to track the effectivness of your Owner/Consumer Benefit you can reasonably assert that if your total yearly profit is growing then you are succeeding as a business.

That one may be a little obvious but it’s important to keep in mind that without that happening then at least one tree of the systems beneath are not doing their job effectively. 

One way that you might increase profit is to get more leads. so a branch below is Getting new leads. To measure this you could look at the number of email opt-ins.

Then you have to ask yourself ‘how do I increase email opt ins’?

Maybe you promote something on insta to get email opt ins –  to measure the success of this you cause a specific insta ‘link in bio’ opt in link. 

From there you can tweak the bottom of the tree – or split test a few different activities at the lower end of the tree and see which is the most efficient at producing the desired outcome of ‘more email opt-ins’


You also need to understand whether or not the ‘email opt-ins’ strategy is a reliable predictor of ’total profit’ so be sure to see if a change in the that number has a relationship with the total P+L of your business over time, otherwise you could be pouring energy into something that is doing literally nothing to help you.*

*As a side note a ‘link in bio’ is an awful way to generate leads unless you have a following in the high 5 figures and beyond. We are not recommending it here but using it as an easy example. 

Ground Rules

Just like exercise, the less variables you change the more likely you can reliably tell when something is actually working. If all at once you change your lead acquisition strategy + you sales process + your offering then how can you tell which change worked?

You have to be patient. 

The further you move up the tree the less often you should change things (unless you are getting no result at all).

The more often you change the macro the less likely you are to expose yourself to a successful outcome.

Even with the micro – you need to give each mini-system a good try (minimum 1 month) before hoping for any reliable/reproducible reading on how effective it is.
When you have results to analyse, look for the inefficient systems – automate, eliminate or alter the machine that is inefficient. 
In things that are demonstrably effective figure out if there is any way to turn up the intensity/efficiency of what you’re doing in order to double down. If there is not a way to double down through automation or increased personal effort then you need to hire staff, coaches with more knowledge than you, or make peace with the fact that there is a certain ceiling to that specific system within your business.

There are infinite systems you can build into your business to try and move that ‘total profit’ number.  Your job as the CEO is to pick the ones that maximise your expertise and skillset, and make them as efficient as possible. 

By Alex Williams (Coach at Propane Fitness)


If you would like to get a sense of the systems we would suggest for you then you can always read more of our articles below.


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The EXACT process we used to build PropaneFitness to 15k/month: