Stage One: Crisis

Seven Steps to Success During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus has hit, throwing our businesses, our livelihoods, and our futures into doubt.


We take a step back and reflect on some key steps in managing the Coronavirus situation in the weeks to come.

1. Stop. Breathe. Think.

There’s no denying that this time is going to be a real challenge for independent gym owners, PTs, and pretty much anyone in the fitness business (and beyond). There will be long days, periods of indecision, a lot of uncertainty, and potentially some pretty lean weeks.

However, giving in to anxiety over how this will pan out isn’t going to help anyone, least of all you or your clients. Running around like a headless chicken with no clear plan will land you in deeper water. So acknowledge your emotional reaction to the situation; take a beat to let it run its course; then deliberately set aside time and headspace to think things through as clearly and objectively as you can.

Having a supportive group of people around you to help you work through your concerns is a vital step in this process.

2. Understand how change works

When any major change happens in our lives, there’s a process of adjustment that we follow to deal with the new ideas and habits. Here’s what it looks like:

The Coronavirus is a massive change for pretty much everyone in the country, so both you and your clients will experience this process to one degree or another. You’ll see that your ability to ‘perform’ – in other words, think clearly about what to do and how to cope – will drop before it comes back up. Being aware that this may happen is important, both for you and your clients.

For you, it may mean giving yourself a period of grace while you come to terms with the situation. For the client, it means remaining a constant and supportive presence as they also adjust to the massive changes. Stay in touch and meet them where they’re at, being flexible, adaptable, and responsive to their needs.

3. Get online

Moving online will be the logical step for the vast majority of us.

Here are some key guidelines to work from:

– Don’t try and replicate the gym perfectly.
You need to adapt to the different delivery model, the changing needs of the client, and the remote interface. The training won’t be the same, and neither will the community feel.

– Listen to your clients.
Each client demographic and psychographic will want a different format of both programming and support, so what works for one gym may not work for another.

– Think kit.
Some of your clients will have minimal kit to work with – dumbbells, kettle bells, and a couple of bands (you can help them source these things). Others won’t have anything. Make sure you have options for both of these scenarios so everyone is included.

– Drive quality.
In your programming, your delivery, and the finish of your videos, try your best to stay on brand and project a polished, professional image. It’s better to do fewer workouts to a higher standard that many that are sloppy.

– Take care of tech.
Now more than ever, the technology you use to stay connected is vital. Want to be able to see clients as they take part in live sessions, coaching them through the exercises? Consider Zoom. Want something super simple? Try Facebook lives. Need a platform to host your programming? Try TrueCoach. Want a high-tech, highly customised platform? Consider a site created specifically to support your online offering. Feel your way through the process, doing your research and learning as you go.

– Look at the whole picture.
The actual training is only one piece of the puzzle. Remember, people are stuck at home, isolated from their usual social activities. They need more than a coach – they need a community. Make your offering focused on bringing people together, entertaining them through long periods of inactivity, and creating a spirit of collaboration and support. This is likely to take the form of additional content, on top of the training sessions – what this looks like will depend on your brand and your client base.

“Don’t charge in with a plan, guns blazing”

4. Put the client first

The best fitness businesses keep the needs of the client at the forefront in every decision they make. Now, more than ever, this needs to be your priority. Don’t charge in with a plan, guns blazing, before you’ve even heard what your client base have to say.

Instead, give them a voice and listen to what they want and need in the light of the changing conditions Coronavirus brings. Sending out a survey to find out where they’re at on key decisions (like when to run at-home sessions and what support they think they’ll need most) takes guesswork out of the process. It’s also a chance to demonstrate that you’re there, you’re listening, and you care. Use this data to inform your plan, but don’t feel that you need to try and satisfy everyone all the time. We need to give clients what they think they want, but also what we know they need.

Staying connected to clients through your usual channels – keeping an ear to the ground for what they want and need – is an important part of being responsive on an ongoing basis.

5. Be transparent

Communication and connection are absolutely vital at this time. You want to stay on your clients’ radar, throwing them a lifeline and letting them know that in this uncertain and often scary situation, you’re there for them. You also don’t need to come across like you have all the answers.

Be clear from the get-go that you don’t have a ready-made solution upfront. Own the fact that nobody knows what’s going to happen here, and that you can’t solve all their problems immediately. But what you can say is that as the process unfolds, you will evolve, adapt, and continue to serve them with the dedication that you always have.

Then, as each stage of your plan evolves, keep them up to date on what you have to offer. Be professional and consistent in your communications. Don’t try and push a moral position – stay in your lane and focus on offering them what’s best for their health and fitness.

“Keep in mind that these people are the lifeblood of your business.”

6. Stabilise the business

There’s no denying it: for the vast majority of us, the Coronavirus pandemic is going to be a major financial challenge. But there are measures we can take to stay afloat and even emerge the other side with a stronger, more complete offering.

First and foremost, you need to get the proper advice. Speak to your bank, your insurance company, your mortgage provider, your accountant, and your landlord. The government are in the early stages of providing financial relief in a variety of formats, some of which will apply to us, some of which won’t. Stay up to date on the official line here.

Review your finances. Identify expenditures that you can defer or cut out. For bigger outfits, staff will be a significant cost. Leverage the government offerings and keep in mind that your people are at the heart of your long-term success – how you treat them now will make a big statement about what type of business you really are.

Be upfront with your clients. You’re a local, independent business and you don’t have a massive bank of resource to fall back on. Give them the option to continue supporting you by paying full membership if they want to, and be open and honest in your gratitude if they take this path.

You’ll also need to offer people another option: this may be deferring training sessions until the gym reopens, or ‘loaning’ the cost of membership from the client with a promise to repay later down the line. For us, the best path was to offer membership at a lower price point in acknowledgement that an online offering is valuable, but that people may not want to shell out full cost on an offering that isn’t face-to-face.

Some people will want to freeze their membership or leave altogether. Don’t offer this as an option upfront, but have a plan in place to deal with this. Above all, be human and compassionate in your response, and keep in mind that these people are the lifeblood of your business. If someone can’t pay full whack but is really committed to the community, allow them to contribute what they can and stick around. This isn’t a time for rigidity – hear your clients and respond with sensitivity.

7. Move with the times

The situation with Coronavirus is constantly changing. What people want will also change. Official support will shift as the weeks pass. You need to stay alert and responsive to these changes, not simply putting a programme in place and robotically delivering it.

This takes us back to the Cycle of Action: research, plan, execute, and evaluate, then start again.

You’ll need to be creative and hold the mindset that this is both a challenge and an opportunity. An event of this scale will change the face of fitness permanently, and this instability in the industry is a real opportunity for innovation to take root and thrive.

At this point, you need to focus on the short term – the coming week and the coming month – as the country and the economy adjust to the Coronavirus situation. Spending too much energy on guessing what the future holds isn’t your best use of resource right now. However, an eye on the horizon is also important, allowing you to see opportunities as they arise and come out the other side stronger than ever.

Once ‘Stage One: Crisis’ is over, the second stage will take effect. Guidelines may change and strategies shift.

At the IFBA, we’re here to support you through this situation and help you land safely on the other side. We’ll be producing updates on this guidance in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for our next article.

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