Technology is moving fast. Business owners are always looking for new ways to make their business more profitable and to manage it effectively. One of the most overlooked areas that owners should consider is management software.
    But what should you look for if you’re ready to automate your client and staff management? Here are 10 features in next-generation management software for the fitness industry that your club won’t want to be without:

    1. Digital contracts — The old way to handle membership or service agreements at a gym was to have the client physically sign a paper contract. The gym must store the physical contract somewhere accessible but safe. A better way is to have the contract digitally signed in the system utilizing a digital signature pad. The contract will now be securely stored in the software system and easily accessible to your staff .
    2. Door access — Secure access to your facility using access control from a door can reduce staffing costs while delivering 24/7 access to valid clients. The important point is that your management software integrates with your door access system so you aren’t managing multiple databases. Based on the types of memberships you offer, you can control access to locker rooms, swimming pools, tanning machines, day care and other locations throughout your facility in order to efficiently offer members safe, round-the-clock access to all appropriate facilities.
    3. Fingerprint access — An easy way to check members in is by way of fingerprint scanning. _ is makes it convenient for the member since it’s pretty hard to forget his or her fingers on the way to the gym. It also creates the impression that your facility is cutting-edge and will make you stand out when compared to other gyms.
    4. Electronic funds transfer (EFT) — Next-gen EFT software should provide two very important things for your business: First, the ability to process credit cards and eChecks (bank debits) inexpensively. Good rates are at 2.1% for credit cards and $0.25 for an eCheck. Any rates substantially higher than that are not cost-effective for your business. Second, it should provide the ability to bill, on a monthly basis, memberships and services such as training and massages. The software should provide the ability to handle this entire process in about 15 minutes every month. The important point to note is that you should have the ability to control this yourself each month with the option to run this as many times as you want without any additional charges.
    5. Automatic emails — Sending automated emails to your clients or prospects based on certain actions is one of the most effective ways to continue to grow your business. For example, having an email automatically sent when a member has two sessions remaining on a training package will increase the probability of them purchasing more sessions to continue their fitness program. If this task is left up to your staff , they will sometimes forget to do this. Having your management software automatically send this out for this or other scenarios will generate more revenue for your business.
    6. Collections — Spending time chasing clients who won’t pay you is costly and time-consuming. A time-saving software feature offers the ability to quickly find delinquent clients and electronically send their files to an effective collections company from your software.
    7. Member web access — Providing your members with web access to various services and personal account information is becoming very important. Your management software should be fully integrated with this feature. Great services that can be offered to your members would be videos on how to perform exercises (see #8), ability to prescribe weekly workouts, viewing fitness assessments, making purchases, registering for classes and registering for training appointment based on trainer availability. For example, you can offer a “gold” membership for an extra $10 per month. This will include access to instructional videos and weekly prescribed workouts. If you get 25 members to do this, you will generate an additional $250 per month. This concept will typically be able to pay for the software. In other words, the software used to run your business will not be an expense; it will be a profit center!
    8. Videos — With the strong emergence of YouTube, videos are an easy and effective way to communicate with your members. Your software should provide the ability to easily create and link to a member’s account for easy access for a member. You can create personalized workouts and/or messages that a member would be willing to pay a service fee for to help them achieve their goals.
    9. RSS feeds — RSS is a technology that dynamically creates updated content on particular subjects and delivers it automatically to those who subscribe to it, both via email and on the Internet. For example, you can have RSS feeds that produce health and fitness articles for the member login area. A member can log in everyday to view new articles about health and fitness, encouraging them to check each day to see what is new in health and fitness.
    10. Web-based system — The most important feature for any management software is that the system is web-based. With a system that utilizes the power of the Internet, you can monitor your facility from anywhere in the world. You can offer services to your members (see #7) that will generate revenue. Your valuable business data will be secure and backed up daily by professionals that are in the technology business. If you have more than one facility, you will be able to view valuable information from one report that will enable you to see all the revenue produced from all facilities for any time period.

    The greatest value of the next generation of software is having all of the functions needed to run your business packaged together into a single system. That, along with making sure the system is web-based, will provide you with a much better chance of operating your business most effectively.
    Larry King is the owner and founder of Shape.Net software, the first company to offer a web-based management system for the fitness industry.