Virtuosity: Making Excellence Standard Operating Procedure

On a yellow background, the words "standard operating procedure."

The towel on the hotel bed in the shape of a swan isn’t an accident.

The scalp massage before your haircut at the top salon? That’s in the playbook.

And there’s a reason you’re handed a steaming cup of great coffee and a high-speed network password when you book vehicle service at the best shop in town.

The world’s best businesses—the ones that clearly stand above the competition—have standard operating procedures (SOPs) that cover absolutely everything.

Excellence is defined in these businesses, and the procedures for achieving it are documented.

Nothing happens by accident, and your experience as a client doesn’t hinge on one amazing staff person who over-delivers. In the top businesses, virtuosity is formalized so every customer receives the same A+ service every time.

I want your gym to be a world-class business people rave about. Guess what? The first step toward that lofty goal is simple and boring but essential: You must create SOPs to define and ensure “10-out-of-10 service.”

Here’s how to do it—with a little help from AI if you need it.

Creating SOPs

We work with a gym owner who spent an excessive amount on cleaning supplies every month. Bottles and jugs were always empty, and he couldn’t figure out why.

Turns out his cleaner was using concentrated products without diluting them, which cost the business a lot of money over many months. He just assumed the cleaner would dilute the chemicals according to the instructions on the label, but the cleaner hadn’t been told anything beyond “clean the gym.”

If you’ve ever worked at McDonald’s, you know the solution: pre-measured packages of cleaning solution and precise instructions, such as “put one packet of solution into the mop bucket and add water until it reaches the line on the side.”

As a gym owner, you might not recommend McDonald’s as the pinnacle of performance nutrition, but you can’t argue with the company’s focus when it comes to consistency and standardization.

So how do you start systemizing your independent gym business? By doing something yourself and documenting every step. Leave deep tracks for others to follow. Go into detail so it’s clear what perfect performance is.

When you follow this plan, you will have to focus on the task to avoid skipping steps that are obvious to you but not to others. Remember, virtuosity requires focusing on the basics.

Here’s an example of an SOP entry with skipped steps: “Create a great atmosphere as clients arrive.” That might get you what you want—by accident.

This is better:

  • Be completely ready to coach the class 15 minutes before it starts—the workout is on the board, you have completed all set-up activities, and the WOD Assault playlist is on the stereo at volume level 2.
  • Your job for the next 15 minutes is to enthusiastically greet every athlete by name and ask at least one personal question that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no.” Examples: “What happened with that major client you were telling me about?” or “What did your partner think about your huge deadlift PR last class?”  
  • Ensure that you speak to each member at least once. If time allows, ask each member an additional question or facilitate introductions and conversations. Example: “Hey, Tom. I want you to meet Sam. She knows everyone in town and can help you find a mechanic who can fix your truck.”
  • Wrap up conversations in the final minute before class starts, turn off the music and start the class precisely on time with the whiteboard brief.

Does that seem like overkill? It isn’t. It’s precise documentation of procedures and standards. You can—and should—apply the same principles to all the other tasks in your business.

If you do this, new staff members will start on the right page with clarity, and experienced staff members can operate by habit after they’ve learned the SOP. If they start to forget anything, you can reference the SOP in the next performance review.

AI: Your Secret Editor

Maybe SOP writing isn’t your thing. I get it. You can’t skip this basic process entirely—remember, virtuosity involves a focus on fundamentals—but you can expedite it with ChatGPT or another AI platform.

Write down everything you need a staff member to understand, then paste your notes into the AI program of your choice below this text:

“Please simplify the following list into a standard operating procedure. Include major section headings, and use bullet points. Increase clarity and eliminate redundancy or wordiness. Reduce the text to its essential elements so it can be easily understood by anyone. The goal is brevity with maximum clarity. Here is the text:”

All you have to do now is review the AI copy, make sure it’s accurate and paste it into your staff playbook.

Don’t Make Staff Guess

As the business owner, a lot of things are obvious to you. But your staff can’t see inside your head.

To get the results you want, you must document everything, deliver your SOPs and review performance. That’s virtuosity.

If you just assume everyone on your team will figure it out, that’s mediocrity.

Virtuosity in Business is the theme of our annual summit on June 8 and 9 in Chicago. Join us to learn from world-class speakers and grow your gym!


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.