Many trainers dream about starting their own gym one day, but have no experience in running a business and don’t even know how to make the first step. Building your own company is a challenge and there is a long list of gyms that fail within the first year of opening. Even if some people follow the No Pain No Gain mantra, obstacles and challenges are behind every corner and hard work alone will not get the job done this time.

Many considerations shall be done just to make sure it is a feasible idea. First of all, you need a plan, more specifically a business plan involving every single detail that can be foreseen, for everything else you must prepare accordingly by protecting your interests from uncertainties and external factors. While you may not be able to eliminate all risk, there are things you can do to limit your risk for legal liability.

We will not delve into analyzing the setting out of the business strategy here, involving the traditional costs, marketing, customer care, location, equipment etc. Let’s focus on effective compliance to industry standards, regulations and liabilities concerning most fitness activities and everything required to operate at best business practices.

Before you consider launching your business, you need to first take the appropriate legal steps to protect yourself. If you’re going into business with a partner, you will sign a partnership agreement that includes the parties duties and terms and conditions of the investment. If the gym is a franchise, there is a whole area of liability under the franchisor/franchisee relationship.  Nowadays, privacy is a sensitive matter and there are statutory requirements in order to protect personal information – especially the health data – of your clients. Whether you are an experienced professional or just a rookie, you may manage to sign sponsorship agreements with supply companies, and will need the assistance of a lawyer to review the contracts.

In addition to legal advice, you will also need insurance to protect yourself against claims and losses. Hopefully this insurance never becomes necessary, but it’s a must for this business sector. Although you may be covered by a liability insurance policy, there are situations and circumstances where the gym will not be covered from liability insurance.

During a usual day at the gym, there are a number of unpleasant events that may occur, therefore if you want your client to have a nice experience and recommend your place to their friends, you must take measures in order to prevent such incidents from happening. Bad reputation can kill a business just as well as a lawsuit can.

Gyms are crowded by sweaty people and raging hormones and unfortunately people’s behavior becomes somewhat animalistic at times. Sexual harassment in locker rooms, or elsewhere is therefore never far away, there is also the usage and sale of illegal performance enhancing drugs which is becoming more and more common these days. Regarding the personal hygiene of gym goers as well as the equipment, all measure to prevent the spreading of disease must be put in action. Let’s make sure your gym is a place where people can feel safe and would gladly come to exercise and even relax by steaming out the stress of the work week, but also lawsuit proof.

On a more general point, there is some precaution required in any place where strangers meet, as property theft, physical assault and other misdemeanors will eventually occur.On a more technical level, areas of potential risk are emergency procedures, staff certifications and compliance with the relevant laws and regulation.  It’s your responsibility to have an emergency plan in place and ensure your staff is trained for administering first aid and to be in compliance with all the regulations, and  fitness certifications.

This is true whether you are an employee, a contractor or work independently for a gym facility. Injuries may happen to clients while working out in your establishment while even under staff supervision. The easiest but not entirely effective way of protecting your business is making sure that all members sign waivers against claims of regular or ordinary negligence, it is worth noting that such waivers would not protect against gross negligence or reckless conduct. Other relevant issues include clients with physical limitations as a result of prior injuries or illness being injured further in a new way and/or failure to show a client how to use a new piece of equipment which results in injury. If found liable, you could be responsible to pay damages for the injury, lost earnings, and damage to personal property among other kinds of compensation.

A legal professional can provide the required support you need to establish the corporate structure for your business, register your business, obtain necessary permits, as well as all other necessary steps. An experienced professional should take care of the typical contractual arrangements that will be encountered during the establishment and as part of the everyday operation.

*This article was published on the Nanjinger magazine on September 2019.