I laughed, realizing others shared my frustrations, and was encouraged by an opportunity to share ideas with other fitness professionals on common ground. In an interview of 30 small-market colleagues, I found the most universal problem facing small fitness business professionals is finding, training and keeping staff.
Locating qualified employees can be challenging, since many professionals are not attracted to small markets. Qualified employees are either not available, due to a sparsely populated area, or they go to larger clubs that can pay higher salaries. When I owned my studio, those who qualified as potential instructors were also my No. 1 students. To pull a faithful participant from your club means one less member. On the other hand, students who show the most interest are often the easiest to train. In my case, I had no choice but to hire my students.
Others experience the same problem. I had several people tell me they would run an add for an employee only to have no one answer. As small business owners, it is hard to pay large salaries. Most often, the work is part-time and, therefore, low-pay. It is also difficult to run specialty classes such as yoga or martial arts if trained personnel is not readily available. In small markets, we have fewer choices. We are forced to work with what we have. We must work with the qualifications that are there, while being careful that training is continual.
Staff training can be incredibly time-consuming, but there are many ways to ease the number of hours involved. First and most important is writing a detailed job description to let your employees know exactly what is required of them. A lot of people may want the job to help them commit to their own exercise program. Don’t let this be the case. Once employees start training, they are often amazed at the time commitment and how hard the job really is. There should be no surprises for your staff. To prevent any conflict, go over your expectations right away. Good communication and honesty up front will help prevent misunderstandings and save you time in the long run.
You can also speed up the training process by asking experienced personnel to help train new staff. Whether employees are training to teach aerobics, provide personal training or recruit members, they have a lot to gain from others who have been through the process and who know your market. To enhance their training, provide new employees with literature and study guides that pertain to their job or field. After they read the material, ask a few questions to determine whether they understand what they’ve read. Then, have them put what they’ve learned into practice. Make sure you provide as much feedback as possible. Try videotaping their classes or their form when lifting weights so they can see where they need improvement and practice at home. This also helps to build confidence. Assigning experienced staff, providing easy-to-read information, answering questions and letting new staff practice will cut down on your time and have them ready for the floor sooner.
Once we train an employee, we have to keep them. Employee turnover is costly, so above all, let your staff know you value them. Most of the professional advice I’ve gathered from lectures on employee retention is way beyond my means. But the simple task of showing appreciation and encouragement can be done on a small budget. Having your staff over for lunch or dinner is a great way to show appreciation. Sending them a card of thanks or displaying a bouquet of flowers for everyone is another idea. You may also want to offer to baby sit for a night or, if budget allows, buy your employees a thoughtful or inexpensive gift. Be creative in your own ability to show gratitude to your staff. Actions speak louder than words.
Small markets are often isolated from opportunity, which can lead to employee burnout. To avoid this, try holding monthly meetings and workshops. When I did this, all the staff would come and we would team teach. This is an inexpensive way to improve on your team’s knowledge and skill, as well as share ideas and motivate each other. I bought instructor’s manuals and gave out information as it was relevant. This lets your staff know you have an interest in their improvement and keeps motivation high. A weekly phone call to each staff member is a great personal touch. Make sure that the job is going well for them. This will let them know you are available to help them and, ultimately, will build a better business. Building strong relationships with your staff will be the most important asset to your business. Happy employees mean happy customers. And even though we have certain limitations, we can easily overcome them by creatively using what’s available to us. It may not always be what we want, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.