What to Do When You Really Mess Up as a Gym Owner

A glum looking gym owner - what to do when you mess up

By Kenny Markwardt, Certified Two-Brain Business Mentor

Here’s a list of things I’ve done as a gym owner:

  • I’ve made people do burpees for every minute they were late to class.
  • I’ve had multiple people get rhabdo.
  • I’ve gotten in public arguments online.
  • I’ve gone on wild rants on our public Facebook page.
  • I’ve charged $80 a month for memberships.
  • I’ve had mass exoduses of members who were upset with changes.
  • I’ve had people tell me I’m an asshole.
  • I’ve had people write negative reviews.
  • I’ve had people write long, detailed emails about why my gym sucks.
  • I’ve told people to f*ck off.


And yet, here I am, owning and operating a very successful microgym. 

The point is that no matter what you’ve messed up or are currently messing up, it’s all repairable. And none of it is worth losing a ton of sleep over. (Yes, I’ve also lost an ungodly amount of sleep.)


Prepare to Fail, Then Succeed


As a gym owner, you are undoubtedly going to make mistakes. Many, many mistakes. It’s unavoidable. In fact, I’d say that if you don’t think you’re making any mistakes, or if you think that you haven’t made any mistakes, you’re either completely oblivious or you’re just setting yourself up for some colossal errors in the future.

So, when you realize you’ve made a mistake, instead of lamenting what you’ve done or what you could have done differently, here’s what to do:

1. Admit when you’re wrong and make it right according to your mission, vision and values. Be careful here. It’s easy to fall on your sword and profusely apologize for things that don’t deserve that much weight. Most of the time it’s better to just make a change quietly and move on, letting your actions speak for themselves. The people you want in your gym will be cool and won’t rub your nose in it.  

2. Turn your mistakes into a great story you can tell in the future. All my errors on the list above are pretty funny to me now. Am I proud of them? Not really. But as the current owner of a gym that’s consistently on Two-Brain’s leaderboards every month, I can say confidently that I find those flaws of an immature gym owner amusing and part of the process of growing into a better entrepreneur.  

3. Learn from your mistakes and use them to refine your business, process and decision making. At the time I made many of the mistakes listed above, I thought I wanted to run a hardcore, athletes-only gym. I thought I wanted a gym where you’d check your shirt at the door, chalk the f*ck up and crank Rage Against the Machine as loud as humanly possible so you could make sure you’d crush your previous Fran time. Turns out that vision wasn’t exactly what I hoped it would be. By refining my vision, I was able to make clearer decisions in the future.  

4. Help your staff develop by explaining what happened, why you’re correcting your course and what you hope to do in the future. The best gifts we can give our teams? Clarity and an understanding of the “whys” behind our decisions. This info will help them make their own decisions according to your vision when challenges arise.  

5. Talk to your mentor. They’ll help talk you through it and figure out exactly what to do next. They’ll also probably regale you with all the screwups they’ve had over the years. It’ll be good to get everything off your chest, to know that you aren’t alone and to know exactly how to move forward.


Cool Down and Level Up


So next time you mess up, don’t panic. It happens to all of us. 

In fact, I can almost guarantee I know someone who has messed up a similar situation much worse but came out better on the other side. You’ll fare the same. 

Remember that if you’re planning on owning your gym for the next 20 or 30 years, anything you do now is just a small blip in the lifespan of your business. Most of us cringe at the stuff we did as people 10 years ago. We were younger and dumber. Same goes for your gym.  

Errors might sting a little now, but I promise you’ll be fine in the long run.

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