With over 36,000 gyms open in the U.S. alone, there is no shortage of competition. Survival can be challenging enough, considering that small business fail rates eclipse 80%. A constantly changing industry landscape and consumer expectations requires businesses to supply not only great training and results, but a unique experience that can evolve and grow with clients.
Considering these challenges, the question must be asked whether entrepreneurs should travel the path alone or if partnering can increase success. Partnerships offer massive opportunity for accelerating growth and reach, but failure rates across industries are reported to be as high as 70%. Despite the negative press that partnerships get, they are not inherently bad. The decision is one that an entrepreneur must explore in depth to determine what is right for them.
Why partnerships work
Partnerships allow entrepreneurs to pool complementary skillsets. It’s rare to find a fitness professional who is skilled in both the front-end (including working with clients and serving as the face of the company) and the back-end of the business (including managing financials, marketing and long-range planning).
Even for those who may be capable of both, time limitations only allow for so much focus on each aspect, ultimately leading to underperformance in one aspect or another. Entrepreneurs must be self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses to identify where they need support and ensure potential partners are truly complementary.
Different skillsets may also bring the benefit of seeing different perspectives to challenges. This decreases the likelihood that an entrepreneur may be hindered by their ego or skewed views. While it may not always come easy, collaboration results in new outcomes that neither partner would have thought of on their own. A great example of this can be seen in operation of Cressey Performance and Mark Fisher Fitness, two of the fitness industry’s fastest growing facilities.
Partnerships also allow for shared risk and costs. Depending on the scale of the business project, partnering could be necessary to make the jump and get started. Many entrepreneurs may individually lack the start-up capital needed to launch their vision and are unlikely to qualify for standard business loans as a non-existent business. Pooling resources can be the key to obtaining the leverage and stability needed to successfully weather the first year of operation.
Aside from leveraging partners for skills and financial risks, there is also something to be said about the collaborative nature of success. Burnout is common in the fitness industry, especially among in-person training models and small businesses where the solo-preneur is attempting to wear all hats. Partnerships can spread out some of the time burden associated with launching a successful fitness business while still maintaining social and family relationships. Partnering may mean giving away a piece of the pie, but it could increase the likelihood that entrepreneurs have time to enjoy that pie along the way.
Overcoming partnership obstacles
Partnerships present one of the most common ways to achieve success in business, but many of the advantages also serve as the biggest challenges. Differences in vision, for example, could easily lead to the demise of a business or partnership. Entrepreneurs tend to be strong-willed and have their own picture of the future, but a partnership requires compromise. Slightly different viewpoints may serve as an advantage but if long-term goals and vision are too inconsistent, it can lead to detrimental friction and resentment in the relationship.
Entrepreneurs often have strong visions and feelings about the way things should be accomplished and it’s essential to establish early on that all parties are looking to move in the same direction. This means taking time before entering into a partnership to lay out individual goals and objectives for the future in detail. These should be put down in writing and discussed, not just in the beginning, but ongoing. Vision and goals may change over time so monthly and annual communication is the only way to remain consistent.
Along with vision, it is also essential that partnerships begin with an accurate and clear understanding of roles within the business. Initially this means communicating openly about expectations among partners, as well as clearly detailing the responsibilities of each partner. Partners that struggle to focus on their area of expertise and lack trust in their counterpart are far more likely to fail.
Issues can arise when leadership and communication styles are out of sync. Partners can work to understand one another and themselves better through tests and resources like those on www.builtforgrowth.com. Too similar views and approaches can be just as problematic, leading to group think or lessening the need for both partners.
Partnerships that are formed around friendships and loved ones should remain conscious of this problem as individuals may be too similar to reap the complementary skill potential that partnerships offer. In addition, the difficulty of maintaining separation between business and personal relationships can strain the ability to maintain open and frank communication that must happen for partnerships to succeed. Making decisions and discussing finances can be challenging enough without the stress of how it may impact personal relationships.
Before entering into a business partnership, individuals should clearly understand why each party wants to engage in the project. If one party is purely looking to make money and the other is motivated to create social change and impact a community, there may be inconsistencies in how partners go about making decisions. This requires far more communication to increase the likelihood that the partnership lasts and the business can prosper.
Much like having a life partner, there may be more to accomplish and enjoy through the collaboration with others, but not every marriage was meant to be. Jumping into a partnership without time to address and discuss the items laid out here may be the cause of such a high partner fail rate. It all comes down to spending time asking the right questions and facilitating open communication. Partnerships thrive when they continue to invest time into the relationship and work together to craft a clear vision of the future.
Joe Drake is a personal trainer, fitness educator, and co-owner of Gravity + Oxygen Fitness in South Florida. He also co-owns and runs a fitness academy helping fitness professionals find success. When Joe isn’t working with his team and changing lives, you can find him somewhere on a paddleboard or off finding new ways to include peanut butter in every meal. www.joedrake.com