Small business owners are accustomed to putting in a little old-fashioned elbow grease in to get their business off the ground. Our trusted Merriam-Webster defines sweat equity as 
“equity in a property resulting from labor invested in improvements that increase its value; also the labor so invested.” 


As fitness studio owners, we put in (and clean up!) a LOT of sweat! Applying this concept is much more than at first meets the eye. From business concept into reality, in daily operations that include everything from cleaning the bathrooms to tackling a myriad of issues in human resources, small business owners are rarely exempt from getting their hands dirty in every aspect of business upkeep. Most business owners have worked for companies large and small prior to taking the leap into ownership, so we might recall the days of having various departments or support staff to handle the tasks that now fall 100% under our guise. That ends up being a lot of sweat, both in the literal and figurative sense.


The aim of this article is to shed light on the concept of sweat equity to allow would-be and newer fitness studio owners behind the curtain. These might even be great reminders for established studio owners as they self-check their current state of being. My hope is that you feel less isolated if you are running a business and finding yourself slightly overwhelmed, sweating more than you might like to right now! Within each bullet point are actionable items as tips to help as you manage the sweatier times! 


Sweating throughs and must-dos:

1.   There will be the occasional sleepless night when you either (1) work on the items that did not get done during the day or (2) worry. Challenging times, whether due to newly opening, staffing issues, a tough economy, expansion, or a corporate competitor setting up shop in your neighborhood sometimes means longer days or even sleepless nights. No one except an owner really understands the gravity of the responsibilities – financially and emotionally, to your community, to your staff, and to your own family. Even when business is good, there will be times you metaphorically sweat, because you care, because “it” must get done, and because you want to flourish! Try not to allow these moments to break you. Rather, use them as the defining moments that strengthen your abilities to handle the realities of business ownership. Tip: Perhaps befriend other local studio owners; nothing soothes the soul like a short coffee date with someone who is also in the trenches and who empathizes with your position.


2.  Mindful use of every hour of every day of a small business owner’s habits matter, particularly in the earliest days of the business, matters. Sit down at the end of every day, and plan out the next. Chart workflow at week’s end, and decide where you can improve. Work-life balance is perhaps laughable during business start-up or during periods of great change, but there must be an end in sight to make owning and operating your studio sustainable. It is like designing a fitness program versus just working your clients out – one gets results on purpose, the other (maybe) by accident. Tip: Consciously decide where you want and need to put your sweat in each and every day! Take ten minutes before you close out each day to map tomorrow’s plan. Take an half hour on Sunday night to plan the week ahead. Be realistic; allow more time (15-30 minutes minimum) for each task than you think you actually need.


3.  Avoid the pitfall of leaving a decent career working for another company, only to buy yourself a job with much more massive responsibility! We hear it all the time – make time to work ON your business, not just IN your business. And truer words have never been spoken. The time you put in now strategically planning for growth are the moments that will allow the business to evolve as time passes. It may feel impossible some days, as business owners may always sweat to some degree. It is the very nature of the role! The seeds you plant each day will bear fruit; be certain of what you are planting so that what you are watering with your sweat ultimately bears what you intend. You cannot plant an apple tree and hope to harvest grapes. All the work you put into growing the apple tree will only serve to frustrate you in the end. Tip: Be strategic about how you apply your very precious sweat each day, each week, each month, each year. Even when time seemingly doesn’t allow for it, make the time to work on your business even if it is only for a short time each day or week. It is a cumulative effect: the more time you spend working on your business, the more time you will soon have to work on your business!

In summary, putting in sweat equity or “the labor so invested” is a part of the fun of building a fitness studio! Even if we could pay someone to do all the tasks we maybe don’t want to, it somehow takes away from the experience of birthing and raising the baby! We don’t always want to be changing diapers, but boy, it sure makes us appreciate the potty-training successes! Find the beauty in even the most menial of daily tasks, and drop deeply into the excitement of planning for your business’ future. Your team will be inspired as you walk-the-walk alongside them; your community will feel connected to your business as they witness the commitment!  Success is not guaranteed and is rarely automatic, so embrace the journey and enjoy the wild ride. 

Post was originally published by the Association of Fitness Studios, where Bahneman serves on the Industry Advisory Panel.