Get Lean: Trimming the Fat vs Cutting the Flesh

Lockdown has forced fitness professionals to take stock of our financials: but when it comes to long-term strategy, we need to be careful about how lean we choose to go.


Just a few months ago, lockdown hit and gym doors closed, throwing the fitness industry into the biggest crisis since its inception. Personal trainers and gym owners alike were forced to have a hard look at our numbers – or risk going under.

This new perspective is one of the biggest positives to come out of the pandemic: it’s forced us to pay attention to what we’re spending money on, how much is coming in, and how the numbers are going to play out over the weeks and months to come. But as we trim the fat by streamlining everything we do, we need to make sure that we don’t cut the flesh – take damaging shortcuts in the very elements of our business that make it resilient and able to grow.

How to trim the fat

Trimming the fat is about focusing relentlessly on ROI: going through everything that we do and deciding whether the result is worth the outlay. It’s about evaluating where we spend our time, money, and effort, and getting rid of non-essential spending. It’s about improving our profitability, our productivity, and our organizational efficiency.

The process of trimming the fat isn’t a one-off affair: it’s an ongoing approach and governing mindset as we evaluate our businesses on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis.

“Once you get to the point where you’re discarding lean tissue it starts to get choppy.”

This topic has been covered in great detail by specialists like Daniel Ries (The Lean Startup) and proponents of the ‘agile’ business approach. But the model at the heart of this approach is actually incredibly simple: it’s an ‘action learning’ approach that sends us through a Cycle of Action: Research, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation. This allows us to be both planful and adaptable, creating strategy but also having the resilience to respond swiftly and effectively to changes in our business environment.

Here are some pillars of a lean approach:

1. Create systems

Once you have a process down-pat, make it into a system. From stock ordering and programming to marketing and securing referrals, everything in your operations should be a governed by a system.

2. Audit your resource

Every quarter, look through all your accounts. Where are you spending money unnecessarily? What can you do to make savings? For example, services like these IFBA Trusted Partners allow you to consolidate your energy expenditures and make savings with little to zero outlay.

3. Focus on high yield

Post-lockdown, the Modern Training Gym approach that focuses on yield per client and maximum lifetime value is becoming more valuable than ever before. Instead of stacking memberships high and selling them cheap, head for the premium end of the scale and enjoy the greater profitability over the long term.

4. Know your metrics

If you don’t know what’s going on with your numbers, you haven’t got a hope in hell of running a lean business. Get on top of your Key Performance Indicators and Business Plan to get in the driver’s seat of your business’ success.

How NOT to cut the flesh

A lean business model is the new baseline for success in today’s unstable financial climate. But as with most things, there’s a point of diminishing returns: once you get to the point where you’re discarding lean tissue, the foundational pillars of your business, it starts to get choppy.

Examples of lean tissue would be staffing, marketing, and support.

If you cut your marketing budget to the point where you’re not generating leads, collecting email address, or building your local networks, you cut off your oxygen. When the times comes to tighten your belt, marketing may feel like a luxury, but it isn’t. In order to build-in longevity to your business plan, you need to have a steady stream of new clients coming into the business. Do it right, and Covid may even boost your gym to new heights.

If you cut off all of your support infrastructure – be it accountancy, marketing, consultancy or outsourcing – you’ll run into confusion and operational friction. Neglect the underlying systems that make your business tick on a day-to-day basis and it will come back to bite you in the proverbial.

If you cut your staffing to the point where you have no hours to grow in to, you won’t be able to service additional sessions or evaluations, and therefore can’t grow. Remember that your people are your biggest asset and that cutting corners will only lead to tears further down the line. From staff recruitment and onboarding to development and performance management, you need to look after your people if you want your business to be outstanding in the long term.

We need to run lean, now more than ever. But in responding to changing conditions, there’s a very fine balance between trimming the fat and cutting the flesh. We need to play the short game AND the long game, creating a business that’s agile and responsive but based on a solid foundation that lasts.

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