By Ben Dulhunty, Special AFS Contributor
A lot of people out there are constantly asking me how I successfully left my studio to focus on the next stage of my career, without the studio falling apart. Well, I know you'll be shocked to hear this, but it wasn't a complete success.
The transition didn't happen overnight, it took over a year.
The point at which I decided to step back from the day to day operations of the studio I made a deal with myself that I needed a systemized action plan. To be fair to myself, my family and my supportive clients this was not negotiable, it had to be this way.
To that point, I knew to properly give myself the best opportunity to succeed in my new business I had to make sure my studio was well looked after, the members would be cared for, and the person or team to keep the business running had the same ideas I had for over 8 years. The most important thing though for me was that the members were well informed of my direction for them, and my career at the same time. I knew if I explained it properly, they would support me, and the way they would support me was to stay and support my business too.
As I'm sure all you small business owners can appreciate, your clients are your livelihood - they're your bread and butter. You piss them off and don't keep them informed, they will walk, and there goes your business! After all, they have stayed in YOUR business because of YOU. This is the fear of all successful business owners, to leave a profitable, well-oiled business in order to "scratch that itch" that may or may not pay off.
So...I digress. Remember I said it took me a year to completely leave the studio.. well for that year there was a lot of trial and error. There was a studio Manager AND an assistant manager trialing to do the 1 job I used to do all by myself. There were more responsibilities given to Senior staff, a lot more planning and time spent with key networks to solidify our partnerships and ensure the studio kept running with the local support.
So, to identify IF you want to leave your studio I recommend following these steps..
1. Make the decision to do it
Be realistic in your expectations of "life after the studio." What I mean is, the decision to leave is a calculated risk. It cannot be one out of passion for the new venture, or lack of motivation for the studio. These ARE reasons to move on, but they have to be backed up with an action plan for the new venture and a timeline for it to succeed. Also know that the new Studio Manager will not bring the same passion and have the same motivation as you once did. Expect the Studio Manager to not have the same finesse about the details, to not spend the very long hours you once did, or to have the same sleepless nights worrying about the studio as you did. No one will ever put as much effort into your studio as you. They WILL do certain things better and it WILL grow if the same ideals are there, but be realistic in your expectations. After this decision is made and you are at peace with it, move forward.
2. Have an action plan
This plan includes defining the exit timeline, what the exit will look like, the personnel who are going to take it over for you, the message you want your clients to receive and adopt, and your role in the whole process.
Also know that the new Studio Manager will not bring the same passion and have the same motivation as you once did. Expect the Studio Manager to not have the same finesse about the details, to not spend the very long hours you once did, or to have the same sleepless nights worrying about the studio as you did.
3. Execute the plan
As I said before, this has to be a systemized approach. Don't shoot from the hip and expect everyone to be ok with your decision. Know that you will have to be involved with the handover for around a good 12 months if you want the process to go smoothly. This doesn't mean you have to keep training your clients for the 12 months, just be around & present so the members can still see you so they don't think you have abandoned them!
4. Leave the door open
This means have a re-entry option. If you have followed the plan to the letter, you will transition perfectly and your business will keep running the way it always has. However, if for some reason it all goes poorly and the member's rebel, the staff are lost without you, or your new venture isn't doing as well as you hoped, make sure you have an option to get back into the studio - roll your sleeves up and get it back on track.
Remember, there is no perfect time, no perfect formula for exiting a business. Most will say when it all seems to run like clockwork and things are good, it's time to step back.
In my experience, you will always be involved in all of your businesses in some capacity. In fact, I thoroughly recommend you be involved. You don't have to be pumping out 40 or 50 PT sessions a week, but a simple check in with your Studio Manager, the members, and the staff is always appreciated.
I'll finish by saying no small business can be run with the same passion and energy as the owner. It is imperative you realize this before even thinking about stepping away. If you do not, you're in for a rude shock.
Ben Dulhunty is the Managing Director at Smart Studio Solutions. Starting out in the Fitness Industry at 19 years old, Ben didn't know where to begin. It was very daunting and there was very little support. There were no business coaches, or online learning programs ... heck there wasn't even "online"! So, by working side by side with some of the best in the business, Ben gained the confidence to start his first PT business at age 21 when he graduated University. He then opened his first Fitness Studio at age 24, a Corporate Health Company at age 28, and has been Coaching Fitness Professionals since he was 30. Along the way, he spent a lot of time (and money) developing the systems & software solutions to assist him in systematizing his businesses. The beauty of it is, now they can all be yours! Never before has this concept been available in the Fitness Industry... Ben only wishes a solution like this was around 18 years ago when he started out.