Why did you start your fitness business? I'm guessing it was because you love being fit and love the way it makes you feel -- so why not share that feeling with others, right? It probably was not because you love managing the day-to-day administrative tasks that keep a business afloat.

For some fitness professionals, these day-to-day tasks are manageable aspects of their business. For others, they can become overwhelming duties that take you away from what matters most -- your clients.

If you fall into the latter group, business management software may be just what you need to find the time to refocus on your clients. If chosen correctly, software has the potential to save time, reduce administrative expenses, track the health of your business, increase revenues, and attract new clients.

Why use business management software?

- Retain your current clients as you gain new ones. Studio software helps you automatically create client profiles, track purchase histories and create targeted email and marketing campaigns.

- Reduce administrative expenses. Online booking rids you of phone tag; automated appointment confirmations via text or email save you time; and reports let you check productivity, inventory and sales at the touch of a button.

- Tap into the online market. Online sales accounted for over $178 billion worth of retail in the U.S. last year. Over $6.7 billion of those sales were via mobile*, and these numbers are expected to increase at a significant rate over the next few years -- indicating an important trend: consumers expect to be able to book and pay for services online and via their mobile devices.

Is your studio ready for today's online world?

According to The Nielsen Company and the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of the U.S. population uses the internet - that's 240 million Americans on the web. Over 105 million of them surf via their smartphones. And let's not forget iPads. Nearly 20% of the world's population is expected to have one by New Year's.

Is your studio ready for this technology-driven, "I want it now," consumer environment? Are you adapting to the changes in consumer behavior brought on by the availability of online (and now mobile) shopping? Take this short quiz to find out if your studio is primed to do business around the clock.

Answer Yes or No to each of the following:

I am using some type of integrated business management software to run my studio (e.g., a single system that does scheduling, payroll, eCommerce, marketing, etc.).

My clients can book (and pay for) their appointments and classes online (vs. having to call or stop by) and my system automatically sends them appointment reminders via text or email.

I offer my clients the ability to pay with credit, debit and/or gift cards, both at the front desk and over the web (via my website and/or Facebook page).

I am able to access my business data from any computer or mobile device that has an Internet connection, anywhere I happen to be.

My employees can check their schedules whenever and wherever they happen to be (e.g., from their smart phones).

I can easily manage and export employee payroll information.

I am able to retain existing clients and attract new ones via automated marketing programs (e.g., targeted emails, client referral and reward programs, Facebook integrations, etc.).

Scoring: Give yourself 1 point for each Yes answer, 0 for No. Not applicable? Give yourself 1 point.

5-7: Congratulations! You are well on your way to meeting the high expectations of today's consumers. Chances are you're using some type of business management software to offer some or all of your services online -- putting you in the perfect position to take advantage of your clients' late night resolutions to get back into shape!

2-4: It seems you have some good strategies in place, but you might be relying on multiple systems to make it all work (e.g., an email program for mailings, an accounting system for payroll, or maybe a PayPal account for credit card processing). Perhaps it's time to find a system that integrates all these different functions in one place. See below for tips on finding the perfect software system for your business.

0- Don't worry, you're definitely not alone. Many fitness professionals still use a good old-fashioned spreadsheet to manage client appointments and payroll as well as index cards to track client information. It's time to enter the Information Age (a.k.a. efficiency, modernity, peace of mind) by researching whether business management software is right for you. See below for tips on finding the perfect software system for your business.

Which software is best for your studio?

If you've never used business management software before, it's hard to know which one to choose, let alone what kinds of questions you should ask. Before you make this crucial investment, it's important to understand what your needs are and how software can meet those needs. Use this guide to help you evaluate your software options.

1. How long has the software company been in business? How many clients does it have?

2. Is the software web-based (a.k.a. online) or desktop-installed?

3. Does the company meet Level I Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standards? (Hint: If the company isn't sure, it probably means they do not.)

4. Does the software run on Macs, PCs or both? Does the company offer any mobile apps?

5. What features are important to your business?
a. Do you want your clients to be able to schedule appointments and classes online?
b. Do you want to conduct eCommerce (i.e., sell products and services online or in your store)?
c. Do you want to manage your inventory or staff payroll?
d. Do you want access to your business via mobile apps (e.g., iPhone, Android)?
e. Do you want to see sales and performance reports at the click of a button?
f. Do you want to keep client profiles, send targeted emails and track promotions?

6. How much does the software cost?
a. Are there any set-up or initiation fees?
b. What are the monthly costs?
c. Are the costs flat or do they increase as your sales increase?
d. Is there a separate charge for training and support?
e. Does the company offer an integrated merchant account? What are the rates?
f. Are there any other fees or costs you should be aware of?

7. What other kinds of support or services does the company provide to help your business succeed?
a. Business education
b. Client referral programs
c. Webinars
d. Ongoing technical support
e. Membership ID services
f. Hardware
g. Consultation, premium support, etc.

The right business management software can make running your fitness business easier and more effective by automating your most time-consuming tasks under one roof. More importantly, software will help you adapt to the latest changes in consumer behavior with solutions that will help you maximize your business's online presence.

Think about your studio's unique needs and use the questions presented in this article to investigate the various software options out there. This strategic head start will help you choose the perfect software solution in no time and get you back to the basics of your business -- making a difference.


Stephanie Jennings drives sales strategies worldwide for MINDBODY, a business management software provider. A certified group fitness instructor, she is passionate about helping fitness professionals renew their focus on their clients by streamlining their businesses. www.mindbodyonline.com/PFP
* Source: eMarketer.com


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