By Megan Senger
Are you looking for a profitable new twist to add to your fitness business? Corporate wellness programs—in-house offerings specifically targeted to the employees of a company—continue to be one of ACE’s top industry developments to look for in the coming year.
Now more than ever, the time is right for independent trainers and fitness entrepreneurs to take advantage of this trend. “The economy has prompted businesses—large and small— to be proactive in finding cost-effective ways to reduce healthcare costs and increase employee engagement and morale,” says award-winning workplace wellness specialist Libby Norris.
This article does not focus on traditional in-house, employee-based wellness coordinator–type careers. Rather, it examines part-time, short-term opportunities in corporate fitness; specifically, the kind that allow an independent trainer or exercise entrepreneur to slowly and selectively add to his or her existing portfolio of services—and bottom line.
Contract wellness opportunities ideally suited to independent trainers take many forms, says Greg Justice, M.A., owner of AYC Fitness in Kansas City, Kansas, and a fitness business coach who specializes in corporate wellness for personal trainers. These may include:
- fitness challenges (such as an eight-week weight-loss competition)
- lunch-and-learn lectures
- keynote presentations
- ongoing group exercise/boot-camp classes
- non-exercise-oriented lifestyle-management programs (think smoking cessation or stress-management classes)
- telephone or online fitness coaching
- onsite chair massage
For non-workout options (such as massage) you can partner with a professional licensed or trained in a complementary discipline and outsource the work, taking a payment share as the coordinator of the opportunity, Justice notes.
The benefits of contract corporate work go far beyond boosted revenue:
- Source of prospective clients. Corporate work provides valuable networking opportunities, allowing you to reach many potential new trainees, says Norris, who is also the founder of Inspired Energy, a corporate health and fitness consulting firm in Mississauga, Ont.
- Ideal hours. Corporate fitness services are usually provided during the workday (8am–5pm). This allows trainers to maximize revenue during times that are traditionally slow and to work more family-friendly hours, says Justice.
- Expanded expertise. The diversity of workplace wellness offerings allows you to develop different leadership and presentation skills beyond basic workouts, notes Norris.
- On-the-job education. You will be in the right environment to learn more about traditional business environments and procedures that may benefit your own entrepreneurial efforts, Norris explains.
Finding Corporate Clients
New corporate customers typically come from one of two places: the pool of clients you already train (the preferred, more effective source of leads, say both Norris and Justice), or from cold-calling businesses within a purposefully chosen professional niche. Here’s how:
- Ask attendees. Justice recommends tapping into a resource that no one else has—your current client base. Norris agrees. “Your existing clients and network already know your expertise and passion; they can be your best PR agents and may surprise you with the ‘warm leads’ they can offer.”
- Cold call companies. To drum up leads from scratch, first determine your dream company, says Justice. Choose a business sector you are comfortable with—chances are you’ll speak the same language and build rapport more easily, he adds.
Corporations Vs. Small Businesses
Big business or a mom-and-pop shop: Which to pitch?
Larger businesses typically require more complex proposals, including specific and minimum standards with respect to health and safety and insurance coverage, says Norris. By contrast, smaller businesses may be limited by space and resources, but are often more open to contract short-term wellness programs, she says.
Regardless, the company needs to be big enough to ensure solid program participation—and justify your contract, says Justice. He typically observes a 25 percent to 50 percent participation rate among employees.
How does this relate to his preferred client-company size? Justice recommends targeting operations with 75 to 125 employees. Companies of this size are large enough to run a great program (averaging around 19 to 63 participating employees overall), but small enough to avoid the slow-moving bureaucracy inherent in big business.
Lead sources include your local Chamber of Commerce’s networking events and membership lists, as well as business listings in your local library (often called a “blue book”), says Justice.
He also recommends www.ReferenceUSA.com, an internet-based business directory available free of charge through most public libraries’ websites, using your library card for access. “This is a very useful tool that enables you to gather a large amount of prospect information in a short amount of time,” Justice says. You are able to set search criteria such as geographic area, number of miles from a certain address, number of employees, annual sales volume and type of service or product offered, and then download these leads into an Excel spreadsheet.
Finally, remember that company culture counts, says Norris. Be on the lookout for “workplaces that have an employee-centered approach in their mission and vision statements, take part in active charity events and that may already run health fairs or recreation programs for employees,” she says.
Talking to the Right Person
Once you have a list of companies with potential, you’ll need to speak to someone who either has the authority to hire you, or can influence the person who does.
Typically, a wellness program is sourced and priced by the Human Resources Department, says Justice. However, the ultimate yes-or-no may lie with another decision maker, be it an individual or a committee, he adds. “In small- to medium-size companies, the CEO or President usually has the final say.”
Thus, Justice recommends asking your company contact the following question: “Before we spend our valuable time on a presentation, can we arrange to meet with (decision maker) to understand his or her needs?”
Selling What They Want
To win contracts, you’ll need to tailor your contract proposal toward the specific concerns of a company’s management and decision makers.
To help sell your services, do your homework and learn about the company’s objectives, policies, demographics and specific culture, says Norris. “This will help you to best package and present your programs and services.”
Also ask probing questions of managers inherently motivated to improve employee wellness. For example, a safety director at a warehouse will have a vested interest in reducing injuries created by improper ergonomics, whereas a front-line manager in an office may want to reduce absenteeism due to general employee illness, Justice says.
Presenting Your Proposal
Describe the benefits of your programs in terms of what the company decision maker cares about, not what the potential participant might want. For instance, instead of saying your boot-camp classes will help participants tone up and look great, talk about how improved employee health saves corporate dollars by reducing illness-related absenteeism.
To help seal the deal, Justice recommends asking questions such as:
- What is it that you are waiting for before you implement a wellness program?
- How much money is not implementing a wellness program costing you? How long can you continue to incur those costs?
- How much would it cost you in time, money and lost opportunity to replace one high-ranking executive who may die from preventable illness?
Charging the Right Price
Fitness instructors often undervalue and underestimate the time it takes to conduct services, says Norris. She encourages trainers to consider that, while a fitness class or lecture may only take one hour to present, there is always “behind the scenes” time required to prepare and/or follow up on the event, which may include enhanced insurance coverage or legal consultations for contracts.
However, there is strong upside potential, says Justice, whose company charges between $60 and $100 per 30-minute workplace-based boot-camp session. “One corporate client (running two boot camps per week) can easily generate $10,000 per year,” he says.
One caveat: Charge by the session, not by attendance, cautions Justice. That way, employees who drop out of your program won’t create accounting and refund issues within your contract.
Building on Your Success
To ensure quality of delivery, start small—offer a single session or introductory class or presentation, says Norris. You may also choose to offer a sample session for free. “Once you establish rapport and demonstrate success, it becomes easier to pitch an eight-week session, a series of presentations or perhaps an annual plan that includes a variety of programs,” she notes.
From then on, there is only potential. “Referrals from existing corporate accounts are wonderful leads to follow up on once you have your program up and running and showing results,” Justice says. “There are more than 30 million small businesses in the United States alone. Opportunity is everywhere!”
For more online information, articles and statistics that demonstrate the results of workplace wellness programs, check out:
Megan Senger is a writer, speaker and fitness sales consultant. Active in the exercise industry since 1995, she holds a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and English. When not writing on health and lifestyle trends, techniques and business opportunities for leading trade magazines, she can be found in ardha uttanasana becoming reacquainted with her toes. She can be reached at www.megansenger.com.