Take care of your clients, and your coaches, through COVID-19 and beyond

Back in 2014, long-time coach Chris Spigner sat down with Carl Brenton, the owner of his gym, to talk about a better way of being paid than via salary.

After a couple years on salary, Spigner was quickly learning he was never going to earn enough money to afford the expensive island life in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

The previous year, in addition to his salary, Spigner had added some personal training hours at 7 Mile Strength and Fitness. Brenton compensated him via a percentage of revenue for these sessions. As a result, Spigner had his best year financially.

But, the gym wasn’t doing so well.

The two agreed something wasn’t lined up correctly for all parties to succeed in their current compensation model.

“When I was on salary, if the gym made more money, I’d still make the same amount, but if the gym suffered, they still had to pay me. It made no sense,” Spigner said. “If we gained members, the gym would benefit, but if the gym lost members, the business suffered and I’d still get paid.”

That’s when Brenton shifted his entire model to a percentage of revenue-based one, meaning all of his coaches would be responsible for their own book of clients, and would be paid a percentage of revenue of their clients’ monthly fees for the lifetime of each client.

It has been a huge success. It has led to a massive increase in client retention, a huge increase in business revenue, and Spigner has been able to earn a professional wage year-after-year since 2015.

The percentage of revenue compensation makes sense in ordinary times, and it makes even more sense today during the current COVID-19 pandemic—a time when business revenue is particularly unpredictable and volatile.

In this uncertain time, we’re admittedly all trying to figure out new best practices, and while nobody can pretend to be an expert in running a gym amidst a pandemic, one thing we do know is that paying your coaches via dollars per hour makes even less sense now than it ever did.

Some advice to gym owners we have heard floating around includes:

  • Pay coaches per group Zoom class they coach
  • Temporarily let go of the coaches who don’t want to be online coaches, or who don’t excel at it
  • Hire new coaches who are more experienced with remote coaching

We think there’s a better way:

Now, more than ever, is a time to focus on client retention—to have coaches who already have relationships with these clients—provide them the necessary services to retain them. 

Why would you risk hiring new coaches you know nothing about, and have never met in person, to take care of your long-time clients?

And now, more than ever, is the time to look after your current coaches—to ensure they get through this weird time and continue to be a part of your coaching staff well beyond COVID-19.

The way to do that, we believe, is through:

  • honing personal relationships with your clients, 
  • focusing on servicing and retaining clients on an individual level,
  • and on compensating coaches based on their clients’ success (i.e. client retention)

We are not living in a vacuum. We have been speaking with dozens upon dozens of respected experts in our industry.

Here is what two of them had to say:

“Owners need to start thinking about how they’re actually going to care for their clients remotely in a one-on-one way…They need to actually be spending time on these people…What people remember the most about what happened during hard, emotional times is who was there to help them. They need to know you’ll be there when this thing ends.” – OPEX CEO Jim Crowell.

“I think this is the best time in the history of fitness to show that we aren’t four walls and access to equipment. We are the guides, who help people to be able to do the things that they believe fit people can do, and that has not changed.” – Dr. Sean Pastuch, owner of the Active Life Rx. 

Here’s the dilemma for the business owner. It’s hard for you to take care of 100-300 members personally, so you NEED HELP FROM YOUR COACHES.

Thus, we recommend this:

Divide up your clients and assign each of them to a personal coach. This coach then becomes responsible for this client. (Keep a portion of clients for yourself and distribute the others amongst your coaches).

Then, keep running your group online Zoom classes, keep offering at-home programming, keep providing equipment rentals etc. The only difference is now each client will get the added value of having a personal coach, who checks in with them personally every couple of days to see how they’re doing and to ask about what they need.

This personal coach can also offer services such as lifestyle consults, one-on-one zoom calls to answer any of their programming questions, nutrition or meal planning guidance, or individual program design. Essentially the coach is there to offer whatever the client needs.


Each coach will now be compensated a percentage of revenue of their clients monthly fees—whatever you can afford, but we recommend 30-40 percent of revenue from each of their clients.

Thus, if the coach does a good job continuing to service their clients, and their clients continue to pay, the coach gets paid each month for their book of clients for the lifetime of these clients.

From a business standpoint, this, of course, protects you from having your payroll higher than your monthly costs during this pandemic. 

On top of this, you, the owner, doesn’t have to be responsible for communicating with all 150 of your members, as each one will have a personal coach in their corner.

This will:

  • ensure each client is properly cared for by a personal coach and is more likely to stick around,
  • allow you to continue to be able to pay your coaches, 
  • and is your best bet to keep paying your bills through this uncertain time.




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