How to open and run a successful independent gym — a basic guide

So you’re thinking about opening your own independent gym? What a time to start. Although gyms have suffered throughout the pandemic, soon they will once again be a special place for people to relieve stress …


So you’re thinking about opening your own independent gym? What a time to start. Although gyms have suffered throughout the pandemic, soon they will once again be a special place for people to relieve stress and improve themselves mentally and physically. This basic guide will get you thinking about the things you need to do to open a successful independent gym, making it an ideal read if you have this dream but have no clue where to begin.

Work out your start-up costs

It’s difficult to give a reliable estimate on the overall cost of opening a gym because there are so many variables. However, these are the main areas you’ll need to consider.

Location and size

Having a facility in the city centre sounds great on paper, but there are drawbacks. The most notable one is competition, but there is another. Generally, the larger the facility, the more expensive. The price per square metre is also contingent upon the location, with floor space being more valuable the more central a gym is. If you require a big space, opening up a bit further away is a wise choice if you need to maximise surface area. Most people out of a city don’t mind driving to a gym, though there must be adequate parking.


Running machines, barbells, weights, flooring, resistance machines — there’s so much gym equipment to consider. If your budget is tight, you may have no choice but to opt for lower quality, less expensive items. Luckily, this won’t necessarily make your gym less appealing. There are many demographics who don’t value equipment as much as you might think— they prioritise other things such as atmosphere, community and location. The equipment still needs to function, of course, but don’t think you need to kit your gym out with premium Eleiko barbells or state-of-the-art treadmills.


Although gyms aren’t typically dangerous, there is always a risk of injury. We’re all humans and accidents happen, so owners need to be prepared. As a result, tailored gym insurance is a necessary expense. This will usually cover general liability, theft, worker’s compensation and property insurance. And while insurance can be a frustrating expense, it’s better to be safe than sorry and it’ll be there for you when you need it. As gym insurance provider Salon Gold says: ‘with insurance, the test often only comes when you need to make a claim, so it’s important to be confident that the people arranging your insurance understand your industry’. Sort it out early with a reliable and experienced provider, and you don’t really have to worry about it..

Create a marketing strategy

The mass market is already taken by commercial gyms like PureGym and TheGymGroup that will eat you alive if your gym is generic and catered for everyone. If you’re going to attract customers, you have to win in other ways, using creative methods to stand out. But how do you do that?

Target a very specific audience

Seth Godin, expert marketer, once said that ‘Everyone is not your customer’. This is relevant here. You need to think deeply about who your gym is for. If the answer is ‘anyone’ or ‘people who want to be fit’, then you’re being far too vague. Designing your gym for a very specific group of people is crucial for independent gym owners. So how do you narrow it down, exactly?

Rather than considering basic features like age, gender, occupation and income level, there’s something much more important to consider: your audience’s worldviews, beliefs and pain points. For example, does your ideal gym member do lots of cardio, or do you just want to get big and build muscle? If so, don’t spend half your equipment budget on cardio machines. Instead, it should be spent on dumbbells, resistance machines, a selection of protein shakes at reception, or even an inspirational poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his biceps. If this is what they care about, give it to them.

Make it personal

Rather than challenging commercial gyms at their strengths, you have to take advantage of their weaknesses instead. And what is their biggest shortcoming? Their lack of community and impersonal treatment of members.

There’s a difference between ‘personal’ and ‘personalised’ though. Anyone can do personalisation, including commercial gyms, but simply sticking a subscriber’s name in the subject line doesn’t make email marketing personal. Genuine personalisation is different.

Personal is welcoming the member by name, knowing their favourite exercises, and understanding why they train. Personal is giving free training advice, and filming them on their iPhone as they break their PB. By making your gym feel like a second home where your members sense that they are valued.

Use online platforms

A large part of marketing independent gyms is word of mouth. But what happens when a member recommends you to their friend or family member? They check out the website or social media page, that’s what. Getting a referral is amazing: it’s probably the best quality lead you can get. But it means nothing unless they actually sign-up. In order to convert that lead into a real-life member, the right techniques need to be put in place.

Luckily though, this is pretty easy. The first step is to invest in a professional website (you can design your own using easy-to-use website builders like Squarespace). The next is to post regular, quality content on your social media pages. Right now the best options are probably Instagram and Facebook, but emerging ones like TikTok are well-suited to gyms too. Gyms are beautiful places, so don’t be afraid to post photos of your own.

You’re knowledgeable: write a blog or post a video telling members how to bench press, with no hands, while juggling. Do some challenges: get your members to do challenges, film them, and put them on social media. Growth. Inclusivity. Community. This is your chance to get creative. Just ensure your gym’s digital presence aligns with the one in person. This enables you to build a passionate community both online and in real life.

Leave a Comment