GOING FOR PRO

Creating professional-looking marketing materials.

At some point in your career, you've probably seen a competitor's marketing piece and envied its slick approach but thought, “I don't have the money to do that.” Well, you may be wrong. A professional-looking brochure featuring your club could be just a mouse-click away.

While hiring a design firm to create a brand and marketing pieces for your club may be the ideal way to go, sometimes it's just not affordable, especially for smaller clubs. Instead, if you're willing to make an upfront investment in some design software and some training in use of that software, you could design some basic marketing materials, such as flyers, posters, coupons and perhaps a brochure. Here's some advice on how to pull together a more professional look for marketing materials you create.

Invest in some design software

Assuming you already have a computer, you probably also already have Microsoft Word or Microsoft Works. Both programs allow some design possibilities, including the importation of graphic elements, such as tables, charts and photos. However, to get really creative, you may want to invest in design-specific software, such as QuarkXpress, InDesign or PageMaker. These programs run about $700 to $900 a piece. The software programs come with manuals or you can take a class through a local computer store or college.

Good design requires concise text and good graphics

One of the surest signs of a “homemade” marketing piece is too much text, particularly on the cover of a brochure. Text is important, but too much could cause your potential members to shun your marketing piece. When designing a brochure, the cover should have an arresting image and a few attention-grabbing words that will cause the potential member to pick up the piece. Once you get them inside the brochure, you can spread your message over a few pages, making sure to intersperse the text with graphic elements.

How do you find an appropriate and interesting graphic element? Whether you use a photograph or an illustration, you can find the right graphic element on the Internet. For about $300 to $400, you can buy CDs of photos related to health clubs on Web sites, such as PhotoDisk.com or CorbisImages.com. You then have rights to use any of the images on that CD. Or, you can buy just one of the photos on a CD. The cost depends on how big you plan to use the photo and the purpose of the photo.

Remember, however, that your competition may be scouring the same stock image files. If you end up using the same graphics, it may make it difficult to distinguish you from the crowd. For that reason, you may want to invest in a good digital camera and a memory card of at least 64Mb, says Cheri Jones, owner of Graphics by Design in Overland Park, KS. You can take your own images, using real people at your gym in real situations. You then can import the digital images into your design without too much effort.

Don't overdo the red

Marketers have found that red catches the eye's attention better than any other color. However, that doesn't mean every marketing piece should be printed on red paper.

“While the colored paper may initially grab attention, 4-color graphics will always hold the attention of your prospective client longer,” Jones says. Besides, color photos or illustrations are more impressive than printing on color paper, Jones says. These color graphics look sharpest and cleanest on white paper, especially if it is a heavier or glossy card stock, which also increases the professional look of any piece. However, if you print the marketing piece internally on glossy stock, watch out for the possibility that the ink will run.

Keep branding in mind in your design

Maintaining a consistency in the look of your marketing pieces creates a branding identity. You should be able to put all your marketing pieces on a table and see that they go together. That similar look can be anything from always using the same two ink colors, to always using the same fonts, to always using illustrations by the same illustrator.

Invest time and money in creating a good logo

Logos are of utmost importance in maintaining a common look to your marketing pieces. That's one area you should invest a little money in and hire a professional designer, Jones says. Once you've gone so far, you're married to that logo because you can't easily (or cheaply) throw away reams of marketing material with an old logo. In addition, changing a logo may cause you to lose brand identity since the public will recognize your logo in as little as about seven viewings. So, investing money in a good logo at the beginning will save you from being stuck with a poor logo for years to come.

If you can't afford to hire a design firm or freelance designer to create the logo, check into getting an art student or graphic design student at the local college or university to do it. Many of them will do it for the experience and for a minimal charge.

Know when to use an outside print shop

Any time you are printing more than 1,000 pages on your printer, you should consider using a local print house. The wear and tear large mailings will take on your printer will be great. Plus, a local print house can easily print oversized signs, flyers and other marketing pieces. In addition, if you want to do a mailing with the printed material, a print house that is also a mail house will come in handy, freeing you from stuffing envelopes. Most mail houses will handle direct mail, postage, addressing, imprinting and mailing.

Know when to turn it over to a pro

If all of this sounds daunting, it's because initially it can be. Many graphic designers go to school for two to four years to learn design. It would be difficult to pick up good design skills immediately without some design training or a lot of reading. Besides, do you really have the time to design marketing pieces, and did you really get into the club business to be a designer?

When you no longer have the time to properly think through and design your marketing materials, it's time to seek out a professional. In addition, if you are sending a mailing to more than 2,000 prospective members, you'll want to ensure the marketing piece is the most professional it can be or you're wasting your money. That's when you may want to invest more upfront and hire a designer.

Besides, graphic designers often know tricks of the trade that you may not — and those tricks could end up saving you a lot in the long run.

“I know of someone who printed their own direct mail and ended up paying $1,700 just in postage when I could have designed the piece, mailed it and printed it for less,” Jones says. “He also took the piece to Kinko's to get it printed instead of a print shop, which would have saved him about 35 percent.”

Now that's a savings that would have made the investment in a graphic designer well worth the expense.

MAKING TIME

Fitting in your own workout time.

Remember the days when you couldn't wait to get to the gym for your workout? Come on you know you can. That was before you started working in the fitness industry or owning your own club, wasn't it? Seems like a long time ago.

Now, you may not feel like you have enough time to do your day-to-day job, let alone get in a workout of your own. However, if you're not exhibiting a healthy lifestyle, then how can you expect your members to believe you when you tell them workouts are important? Believe it or not, you can find the time for exercise in your busy day. Here's some steps to help you.

Create a time for workouts

You probably find that every moment of your day is filled with some sort of task, whether it's interviewing job candidates, training new employees or talking with members. That's why it is important to schedule time for your workout by writing it down in your day planner or putting it into your PDA and sticking to that commitment you've made to yourself. If it helps, schedule a time to work out with another person. You may cop out on a workout if it's just you that you'll be letting down, but you're less likely to cop out if you'd be letting someone else down.

Work out before or after hours

Unless you're open 24 hours a day, you can often find a time before opening or after closing to get in a workout of your own without being distracted. Of course, this means getting other opening and closing responsibilities taken care of prior to or after your workouts.

Join a health club

Why join a health club when you work for, run or even own one? Unfortunately, working out at your own club often means interruptions in your workout from members and staff. While those interruptions may be beneficial to maintaining a good club, it's not all that beneficial to maintaining a good workout. At another gym you can remain anonymous.

Vince Consalvo, owner of Mid-City Gym, which has two locations in the New York City metro area, belongs to a health club other than his own, but not because of the interruptions at his own clubs.

“I get a double benefit,” he says. Workouts in foreign territory, especially on his days off, allow him to get away from distractions such as whether a machine needs lubrication or a locker room needs cleaning. In addition, he can see how another club is run and how another staff works.

“If I notice bad customer service or problems with certain equipment or in the checking in process, then I know it's probably also happening at my gym,” says Consalvo. “I get a fly on the wall view. I see issues that people at my gym probably wouldn't voice around me because I'm the owner.”

That's not to say that Consalvo never works out at his own clubs. In fact, he works out at one of his clubs about half the time, but he tries to do so with a partner so he can stay focused on the workout and not on the equipment or problems at the facility.

Besides, there are advantages to working out at your own club. Not only does it show members that you “walk the talk,” but it also can lead to other profit centers. Consalvo's club has a juice bar. Members frequently ask him about supplements and drinks. His answers often lead them to visit the juice bar.

So, sticking to your own workouts not only can benefit you physically, but it also may have benefits for your club's bottom line. Now that's a side benefit worth doing an extra crunch or two for.