How to Pay Your Staff During the COVID-19 Crisis

Gym owners care a lot.

They’re worried for themselves and their families. They’re worried for their clients. And, of course, they’re worried for their staff.

So how do you pay your staff during the COVID-19 pandemic? The crisis will end eventually—but how do you keep them around and engaged until then?

And the fitness world won’t ever be the same as it was a month ago. So how do you help staff members pivot to your new business model?

And should you?

Here’s how.

First: Where You’re Going

There are two sides to a business: operations and audience. Most of us have staff to help us on the operations side. But our operations have changed overnight.

This means we’re back to square one: a new business model to deliver, test and teach others. In other words, we’re all back in Founder Phase here—the first stage of entrepreneurship. You need to deliver online training yourself first, create your SOPs, figure out where you can hire others to help you most effectively and then train them.

Just as we have you do in our Incubator program, start with a blank slate: Deliver the program yourself first. Write down all of the different tasks you have to do to deliver your coaching online. Then group those tasks into “roles.”

Next, write specific instructions for each “role.” What type of person will do really well in this new role?

Will you hire any of your coaches to work on your new ops?

For example, if you’re running group classes, you want a coach who can engage a big audience. Peloton coaches are great examples. But I’m certainly not.

If you’re doing 1:1 coaching online, you want a coach who can engage really well with people all day over text. You also want a coach who knows how to customize your general programming for each client. Sadly, most weekend seminars do not prepare coaches to do this.

We’re all back to the beginning now. The key is the same as it was the first time you were in Founder Phase: get out fast. That means hiring people to help you. But the people who got you here might not be the same people who work with you on this new platform.

What if They Don’t Want To?

Many gym owners are quickly realizing that some of their coaches aren’t going to do well online.

It’s not their fault; they didn’t sign up for this. Maybe they’ll be a perfect fit again later, when you reopen. But you’re literally taking your audience and starting a new business now, and they might not fit the new model.

Don’t wait until they’ve dropped the ball and your clients start cancelling: Have a candid conversation before you assign any clients.

“Billy, I’m leading our tribe in a new direction. This is a critical move, but I know this isn’t the job you signed up for. Here’s what I have planned. Do you want to do this?”

Be prepared for some to say, “No thanks.” And also be prepared for some to say, “Yeah, I need the money” and then hate it later.

How to Bridge the Gap

You might have too many staff for this new model.

The most important question you can ask your staff is this:
“What do you want now?”

Some of your staff might prefer to stay home with their kids. Some might hate the idea of training online. Some might prefer to just do nothing. Let’s remove those folks from the equation first.

Pick up the phone and say, “We have a new business now. Do you want to be part of it?” and let them make it easy for you.

The next step is to calculate what you can afford to pay. Your total payroll (including you, in this phase) must fit under the “salary cap” of 44 percent of your revenue.

If your revenue has gone down, your salary cap has gone down with it.
(There are different ways to calculate your salary cap, including the 4/9ths Model. And while I’m not one to say “told you so,” it’s worth noting here that gym owners using the 4/9ths system aren’t worried about making payroll right now.)

You can pay your coaches by their hourly class rate to do client program delivery. You can pay them 4/9ths to do online personal training or No Sweat Intros or online nutrition meetings. Everything is fine as long as you stay under your salary cap.

Your next step is to hire staff according to the new roles you need to deliver on the operations side. Don’t try to hand out tasks to your existing staff; honestly ask yourself, “Who do I need to fill this role?” There’s a great chance one or two of your coaches will be a perfect re-hire. But don’t take it for granted.

Start with the easiest-to-train roles and climb the value ladder from there.

What to Do if They Don’t Fit

If you want to keep a coach around but he or she is not attracted to online coaching, no problem. Tell the coach, “This is all I have right now, but I’d love to bring you back when we reopen. Are you amenable to that?”

If you don’t want to keep a coach around, this is actually a golden opportunity to part ways. Tell the coach, “Our business has changed. This new model isn’t for everyone. We might eventually reopen and run group classes again; we’re considering our options. Can we call you then if we have a spot?” Or say something equally tactful.

Let’s face it: When your gym closed, we all got fired. The old model died. It might come back in a few months—maybe—but it won’t be the same. You have a chance to start over here if you want one.

Some Legal Reading

U.S. Department of Labor: Coronavirus Resources
Government of Canada: Resources for Canadian Businesses—Coronavirus Disease


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.