The 6 stages of fitness business growth

Fitness sales maestro Sean Greeley lays out a roadmap of the stages, challenges, goals, and success factors you must grow through to take your fitness business to the next level.

  • To move from freshly graduated fitness professional to owner of a successful business that can continue growing even in your absence, requires a journey through 6 stages
  • Each stage has its own challenges, and tackling them will give you valuable experience and prepare you for the next stage
  • Each stage will have different specific goals and markers of success
  • Moving from sole trader to small business operator and then employer is not easy, but the work you put in and sacrifices you make will enable you to achieve your goal of running a business that is not reliant on you for the day-to-day operations
  • By growing a team of great people that work daily to grow your business, you can focus on the bigger picture strategy.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000+ hour rule. Studying top athletes, executives and elite performers across many fields, he analyses the factors involved in achieving mastery in any field, and concludes that the most important one is time. You’ve got to put in a lot of time in your field to achieve mastery. Gladwell proposes 10,000+ hours as the benchmark.

In 2006 I founded NPE to support fitness professionals and business owners gain mastery of their businesses, and since then we’ve helped thousands of people in 96 countries do just that. Along the way, we’ve learned what the entire fitness business journey looks like, from personal trainers wondering if they can work full time and make a living at fitness, to elite entrepreneurs with multiple locations, franchises, certifications, and licensing arrangements.

This experience has enabled us to create a 6-stage roadmap that lays out each of the stages, challenges, goals, and success factors that fitness professionals and business owners must grow through to take their business to the next level. As you progress in your career, this is what you can expect.

Just starting out

Revenue: Not applicable.

Challenge: You’re still new to the industry and don’t yet have the skills and experience to successfully serve clients. You may be insecure about not having all the skills needed and unsure if you can successfully follow fitness as a career path.

Goal: To discover if you can make a business out of your passion, to learn the craft, and to help clients achieve their health and fitness goals.

Success factors: Vision and Community.

For most, developing a vision is where the journey begins. You love fitness, you love sports, and you may have an athletic background. Now you’ve decided to get qualified as a fitness professional. So what’s next?

Most fitness professionals start out working for a commercial gym. Depending on the facility, your work when starting out may well involve more than training clients, such as working the front desk, cleaning equipment, and doing other low-level work. It can be frustrating when you’ve studied hard to learn a professional skillset and now find yourself a glorified treadmill cleaner!

I started out just working with a few friends, helping them write programs and coach them, and my first client – an elderly man named Bob – was referred to me. Bob was recovering from an injury and just wanted to get back to being active again. Fitness was also a social time for him to get out of the house. When you’re 70-years-old, getting out of the house and being able to move without pain is really important in order to stay active and socially engaged.

I had a challenge, in that I wasn’t working for a gym, so had no facility in which to train him. So I had to pretend that Bob was my training partner while we ‘worked out together’ at the local gym, which didn’t ingratiate me with the trainers there who were frustrated that I was taking a client into their territory as a rogue operator.

My methods may not have been entirely above board, but I can’t regret it because my experience working with Bob switched me on to loving working with personal training clients and seeing how coaching and teaching could powerfully transform someone’s life.

I don’t believe there is anything more rewarding in life than serving others and making a difference in somebody’s life through the work you do. And that’s what you’re trying to really figure out at this stage. How will you grow and follow your passion in this career path, and will it be something you will truly love doing day-in-and-day-out?

The keys to success are to expand your vision. Seek others who’ve been down the path you’re exploring before. Ask good questions. Listen to everything they have to say. Take it all in.

Work full time in the fitness industry

Revenue: $0 - 2,500 per month.

Challenge: You love working with clients but struggle to communicate with prospective clients in a way that inspires them to sign up for your programs. You may get uncomfortable when asking people for money and struggle with valuing yourself and your time. You may also feel that you shouldn’t have to compromise your values to grow your business.

Goal: You want to help more prospective clients commit to their goals, charge what you’re worth, and fill your schedule with great clients you love working with.

Success factors: Mindset, Vision and Sales.

To break out on your own, you must learn how to sell. Nothing makes a greater immediate impact on your bottom line than mastering salesmanship.

If you’re going to make anything of yourself in business, you must first learn how to sell. Many people think of sales as something sleazy: a used car salesman taking advantage of people, making them buy something they don’t want and that isn’t right for them.

Certainly, these characters exist, but professional salesmanship is something entirely different. To be really good in sales you have to both love people and love serving people, because then you can truly live the ethos that ‘selling is serving.’ When you take the time to really understand and care for the prospect in front of you, and direct them in a positive direction to solve their problems or achieve their goals, you are serving them at the highest level.

What are their goals? Why are their goals important to them? How committed are they to achieving their goals/solving their problems?

Learning all the components involved in effective salesmanship makes the biggest impact on driving you forward quickly. When you combine that with a couple of referrals, you’ll find your schedule gets busy very quickly.

Ready to open and grow a business

Revenue: $2,500 - 10,000 per month.

Challenge: You’ve started to grow a business, but don’t know what to do to find new clients. You may be scared you’re not good enough to charge clients to work with you. You may even believe you don’t deserve to be successful yet.

Goal: Build a client base, pay yourself every month, and create a foundation to grow beyond yourself.

Success factors: Professional Development, and Sales & Marketing.

This is a fun but tough stage. Up until now, you’ve learned how to work hard and how to be successful by doing a better job than others out there.

You’re supporting yourself and making some money, and you want to take things up a gear by making your business a big success. But you might not be ready to do so just yet.

The truth is, it’s a question of developing the right systems, using the right tools, and bringing to bear the right resources that create success. For example, growing a business takes a tremendous amount of re-investment. A new facility, equipment, software, insurance, and more don’t come cheap. You need revenue in order to continue growth.

If you don’t have enough money to re-invest, you’re going to have to sell your way to get some more! You may also need to get some assistance in order to help with your work, whether a part-time admin person, or an additional trainer.

You’ll need to learn a system for managing what you say, to whom, and when in all your marketing activities. You’ll need to define who your best prospective client is, where they live, and why they buy. And you’ll need lead generation marketing strategies so you can add 10-30+ new clients to your business.

It’s tough to consistently challenge yourself to put in the work, sacrifice more than others would, and push yourself toward your dream. This is where your vision and commitment get tested as never before.

Not every day is fun. This is real work. Your mind will try to trick you into thinking (incorrectly) that it would be so much easier to go back into Stage 2 – working for yourself, keeping all the money you earnt, not having much risk or responsibility to anyone or anything… But there is no leverage there. You must press forward. By growing through the challenges, you’re preparing for a more serious level of commitment yet to come.

Committed to long-term business success

Revenue: $10,000 - 25,000 per month.

Challenge: You don’t have the systems, skills and team needed to continue increasing total client numbers. You may feel overwhelmed learning all the new skills required to grow your business, as well as scared of losing personal income. And although you probably feel confident training clients, you’re still unsure whether you have what it takes to be a successful business owner.

Goal: You’re ready to get serious and committed to growing and expanding your business, finding a sustainable balance between your personal and professional roles, and becoming a successful business owner.

Success factors: Professional Development, Sales & Marketing, Operations.

By this point you’ve had some business experience. Maybe you’ve got married, decided to buy a home, or have children (or a new baby on the way) that are dependent on you.

Regardless of the motivation, it’s time you achieved even greater financial success with your business. And you can’t simply continue ‘working harder’ and expect things to change.

You’ve got to invest significantly in your business now and develop a plan for your long-term success. You’ve got to have very clear goals and a rock-solid business plan that you actively pursue each and every day.

You will need strategic marketing plans that outline how you’ll consistently grow your client base. You’ll need advanced sales and marketing systems and skills that allow you to uniquely position your business against competitors in your area. And you’ll need personal and professional management systems that allow you to monitor and manage all the different functions of your business and team.

Most people don’t get this far, let alone progress into, or beyond, this stage. It takes a strong commitment in order to grow your business from the early stages to the $10-25,000 per month mark.

You should expect to meet challenges along the way and get knocked about at times. But no matter what setbacks or challenges you encounter, you must continue progressing forward in order to grow.

Lead and empower a team that grows your business with you

Revenue: $25,000 - 50,000 per month.

Challenge: Businesses stop growing when they reach the personal limitations of the leader’s ability to scale. You may be frustrated that you don’t have a team in place that you trust to solve problems and you have more to lose if things go wrong. You may think you just need more leads and people you can trust to continue growing the business.

Goal: You want to consistently attract and keep top-paying clients who stay for years. You want to build a team that allows you the freedom to step out of day-to-day operations. And you want to take home a six-figure salary.

Success factors: Professional Development, Leadership & Team, Sales & Marketing, Operations, Finance, Strategic Planning.

If you’ve reached this stage, you’re doing a lot of things right (even if it doesn’t always feel that way). You’re already hitting some great revenue goals with your business, and have grown your personal income. But you’re working too much in the business and your business still depends too much on you to run and hit targets each month.

If you were to leave for a few weeks, growth would stop. And, as strange as it may seem, at this point you will find yourself in a position where you are the limiting factor in the continued growth of your company. You must now evolve into a leadership role and develop a team that is trained in all of the sales and operational functions of the business so that it continues to grow whether you’re present onsite or not. This involves things like:

Learning about what is required to move into a leadership role with your team and enrol everyone in ‘the mission.’

Beginning to monitor key metrics in your business that you haven’t before, like what it costs to acquire a new client, how much a client is worth to the business over time, and your retention rates.

How to create an ongoing recruitment pipeline and hiring systems to ensure you never run out of team members to support your business growth.

How to create a winning culture of fun growth with your team.

Long-term strategic planning work for continued success of your business in the years ahead.

When you progress through this stage, your business will be generating $25-50k+ per month in revenue, you’ll have a great team in place that allows you to get out of daily operations and work on growing the business full time, and you’ll be paying yourself a six-figure salary while having time for relationships and fun.

For some, this involves launching a second location. For others, it’s about spending more time at home with a young family and children as part of a work-life balance.

Whatever that means for you, the opportunity is yours for the taking. And celebrating the success you’ve achieved from all your hard work and efforts is awesome.

Achieving your goals and ready for the next challenge

Revenue: $50,000 - 100,000+ per month.

Challenge: You may lack clarity with your long-term personal vision and how it’s tied to business model, company mission, team alignment, and your timeframes for achievement. You may feel unfulfilled and have fallen out of love with your business. You may also feel overwhelmed if the business has become too complex.

You are already successful, but you may feel it shouldn’t be this hard, take this much work, and feel this uncomfortable to grow yourself, your business, and your team to the next level.

Goal: You want to create an inspirational company mission that aligns with the fulfillment of your long-term personal vision. You’ll need to develop leaders who share responsibility in achieving the business mission. And you’ll want to increase business profitability while building personal wealth.

Success factors: Mastermind and Fun!

If you’re currently in any of the preceding stages, you’re probably thinking, ‘Wow! Life must be totally awesome for the folks at Stage 6!’

That’s true. But everyone faces challenges when they’re growing in new areas – that’s what growth is all about! You learn to love the challenges and recognise that the simple things are what matter most in life (not the money). Business, like life, really is about the journey and not the destination.

The keys to continued growth and success at this stage are to surround yourself with others who will inspire and challenge you to continue growing. And you need a new dream. We’re most alive when we’re growing, and a new dream allows us to grow and develop ourselves (and our entrepreneurial skills) in new and exciting directions.

Where are you now?

There you have it, an overview of the 6 stages of fitness business growth. Which of these stages are you currently in? And are you ready to commit to growing to the next stage and beyond?

Want to grow your fitness business, but unsure what steps to take?

Request a complimentary 30-minute fitness business coaching session with a NPE Success Coach. Overcome your biggest challenge by getting clarity and a path forward to achieve your goals. Click here to apply to speak with a coach.

Sean Greeley is the founder and CEO of NPE. A former pro athlete, fitness business owner, cancer survivor, competitor and leader, he has guided NPE to its position as a global leader in business leadership, mentorship, and coaching in the fitness industry. Founded in 2006, NPE has worked with over 38,000 fitness professionals and business owners to grow their businesses.