When your operations are excellent and you’re ready to scale, hiring a general manager (GM) can buy you time.
A GM’s job is to maintain your standard of operations while you focus on marketing or to maintain your gym while you build the second location (or something else). Remember: Every person in your business must generate revenue or save you time. The GM role is the most expensive, so you must have a plan for your saved time before you hire.
The key is to understand that the job is to keep things the same. Consistency is the GM’s goal.
The GM’s primary tool is your staff playbook. The person must maintain the standards set in that guide. The GM will also use other tools, like staff meetings and contracts, to maintain the gym.
Most importantly, the GM will solve problems—not just report problems to you.
When Should You Hire a GM?
Your GM should be the last hire before Tinker Phase—the third stage of entrepreneurship. (Take our quiz here to discover what stage you’re in.)
To hire a GM:
- You should already be earning $100,000 per year (or close to it).
- You should be ready to focus on marketing and sales and have a plan to do so—or you should be ready to start a different project.
When Should You Wait?
Don’t hire a GM:
- If you’re not being paid well yourself.
- If you need someone to grow the gym (that’s your role).
- If you just want to give a coach “more work.”
- If you’re just trying to avoid doing something you hate (like sales or management).
- If you don’t have someone who can manage other people.
Paying a GM
A GM must do more than punch the clock: This person must bear the burden of responsibility. The GM must have some flexibility in the time spent working but must also display absolute reliability when it’s required.
A salary is not a birthday present or a reward for time served. It’s an agreement, by both parties, that some flexibility is required.
For example, when the gym floods, the GM is going to be the one calling the plumber at 2 a.m. Obviously, the person is going to need a late start the following day, but the GM shouldn’t have to call you to resolve the problem.
A GM role doesn’t need to be full time. My GM at Catalyst works in that role for 20 hours per week and coaches for another 20 hours. His pay rates are different for each role because each role brings different value to the gym.
While a GM should make less than an owner, a good GM should be able to earn between $35,000 and $45,000 per year in a microgym. You can use our Microgym Model P&L Spreadsheet to calculate what you can afford.
Finally, a GM should not earn a commission on gym growth unless the person can directly control that growth. If the GM isn’t handling sales and marketing, this person really can’t influence growth. However, you could tie a commission to retention or some other measurable metric that is controllable.
Training a GM
I’ve had four GMs in the last 12 years. I put them through the Two-Brain RampUp program and then meet with them monthly for an hour. That’s it.
I get my GM a mentor because it removes proximity bias. The GM gets an objective perspective and clarity—and why wouldn’t I want to provide the best help running my gym?
If you’re going to train your GM yourself, start with the most important things: member billing, member management and member retention.
Give the GM your gym playbook to review. If you don’t have a playbook, you aren’t ready to hire a GM.
Train the GM on your gym-management system. Take as long as you need to make sure the GM is comfortable. Every minute spent troubleshooting and calling help lines is money poured down the drain.
Train the GM on your member-management software, including your customer relationship management tools, Facebook groups, coaching software, website, email software and texting app. You can’t ever risk shutting off the flow of new clients (or risk current clients slipping out unnoticed).
Get the GM a gift card for the store where you buy lightbulbs, mops and cleaning supplies (like Home Depot or whatever). That way the GM can solve problems without coming to you.
Perform the five audits with the GM. This is a great time to find holes in your processes and upgrade instead of just training a GM, fixing stuff yourself and retraining the GM later. The five audits: client journey, operations, facility, marketing, sales.
Book career roadmap meetings with your staff. Have the GM sit in and help plan their growth.
Set up monthly mentorship calls with the GM. This person must have a mentor (just as you did). You can be that mentor or you can get someone outside your gym to fill the role (as I do).
Don’t forget: The GM hasn’t learned all the hard lessons you have, the GM hasn’t read the books, and the GM doesn’t have your education or experience. You must treat your manager like a new entrepreneur and assume you’re working with a blank slate. This process is great practice for mentoring others!