Everyone was talking about the recession at the recent International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association convention and trade show. It seemed that club owners were re-evaluating their business strategies and focusing their energy on making the best of a bad situation. The consensus was that they were trying to remain positive, look for ways to trim the fat and make changes that would benefit them in the long run.

What can you do right now to solidify the future you and your business deserve? Read on and you’ll find a few ideas that may inspire more ideas of your own and help your business become stronger than ever.

Tip 1 - Stay informed and in control of your business. Even with the best club manager or operator working for you, it’s essential to know what’s going on with your money. Over the years, I have talked to so many club owners who weren’t aware of their current financial situation. With the technological advancements in our industry over the past few decades, it’s now easy for you to review your club’s financial and membership information online, in real time, or get the critical data sent directly to you via e-mail on a daily basis. Staying informed gives you the power to assess your business and hone in on your strengths and areas for improvement. In this recession, you need to capitalize on those strengths and strive to improve areas where you need it most. Many billing and software companies provide reports to get you on the right track. Be sure to do your research and select the one that is right for your business.

Tip 2 - Member retention, member retention, member retention. It costs more money to attract a new member than to retain an existing one. Analyze the data you have about your club’s attrition and put that information to good use. Where are your challenges? Are people not renewing? How many cancellations did your front-desk person approve last month? Are you signing up members only to have them default on their membership dues halfway through their contract? Pinpoint the areas where your business is bleeding, meet with your team and get everyone focused on retaining the members you have.

Tip 3 - Be sympathetic, but don’t be a pushover. What is the No. 1 reason for cancellations in your club? These days, a lot more memberships are cancelled for financial hardship than in the past. It’s difficult to be the bad guy when a member tells you about getting laid off or about their ever-increasing medical bills but you have a business to run, and businesses don’t run without money coming in. So, how do you enforce your member contracts without burning bridges and being the bad guy? How about putting in place a policy of freezing memberships for members suffering financial hardship? By freezing their accounts, you are delaying their payments to help them in the short run, but your business will still benefit in the long run by the payments that they will eventually make, plus you earn their loyalty by helping them out. Get creative, think of a policy that your members would appreciate, and start promoting it now.

Tip 4 - Increase and protect your cash flow. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how much money is lost when billing is handled incorrectly. Drafting member accounts is just one step that needs to be taken to get the money you’re counting on. If your business depends on your membership dues, it is essential to have a professional handling them for you. Times are tough, and you’re probably looking to save money wherever you can, but I caution you about handling your billing in-house. Your cash flow is your life line, so treat it as such—and please don’t let your 17-year-old front-desk girl make any more collection calls for you.

Tip 5 - Create or improve your existing additional profit centers. Now is not the time to just sit and wait for new members to walk in the front door. With layoffs affecting every job sector, discretionary income is all but disappearing in most households, so naturally, new sales are not going to be what they once were. The good news is that member payments aren’t the only revenue generator out there anymore, so by maximizing your additional profit centers, you could make up that lost income. Invest in your business now by creating additional services that set you apart from your competition, help you make more money from the members you currently have and keep them at your club instead of somewhere else.

Rachelle Dodge (formerly Rachelle Shotwell) is the marketing manager at ASF International. She oversees the print, Web and client marketing programs offered by ASF. Consulting with club owners and operators over the years has given her unique insight into the challenges the fitness industry faces, and she’s happy to share her knowledge about how to thrive in a tough economy with the rest of the industry. For more information about the billing, software and marketing programs offered by ASF International, visit www.asfinternational.com. Rachelle can be contacted directly at 303-914-2724 or via e-mail at rachelles@asfint.com.