Crisis Management and Public Image
In times of crisis, it is important to remember a few things when you own a fitness business or anything else. Always remember that your public response to the the crisis should be much different than your private response. The personal feelings you have about the crisis should not bleed over into the response you give publicly, whether in connection to your business or not. It is important to keep in mind that people are always judging a business owner. They judge you based on your professional image, including how you handle adversity, what your priorities are, causes you support, and public involvement. They also judge you based on your personal life such as your friends and acquaintances, private rantings, politics, and lifestyle. The only way you are likely to avoid this level of scrutiny is if you are a silent partner or part of a big box gym corporation where people are more invested in the brand than the business.
If you are a small fitness business, the public scrutiny can be exhausting on a good day, but what do you do in the time of crisis? It is so easy to allow your private frustration to boil over and bleed into your public life. For instance, COVID-19 has created tremendous turmoil in the lives of many business owners, in New York, gyms are still not allowed to open and there is no end in sight for them. The opinion you have of the governor and his administration, the president and his administration, and local officials may be justified. It does not however have a place in your business. Your clients are expecting you to figure it out and provide them the service that they have hired you for. They are not interested in how you feel, what you want or about your needs. They are interested that the money they invest in you is being put to good use and that you are able to provide them quality services regardless of the circumstances.
A crisis can lead you down two different paths.....one of acceptance and the need to pivot to meet the new challenge and the other of disbelief, anger, fear and hatred. A successful business owner will never let the public see the stress they are under. They will find a way to continue to offer a high quality good or service that the public has grown to expect. Whether that is outdoor, socially distanced workouts, safe indoor workouts, or virtual training via zoom, the expectation is that you will figure out a way to provide the service they have hired you for. If you cannot, you will be ready, willing and able to offer them an alternative, either a refund or a freeze to use the service again in the future. The other path is the one that has you sitting back and venting, yelling, and being bitter about the circumstance. It is difficult to appear to be above your frustration, but keeping a cool head will instill confidence in your community that you can handle the most difficult situations.
You are human and a human touch is appreciated, makes you more relatable and can even be humbling. But there is a limit to how far this can and should go. If you use your public platform of your business or the private platform of your personal accounts to rant against the choices being made out of your control, you run the risk of losing clients. What is even worse, the perspective clients who are feeling out whether your gym environment is the one for them may become even more turned off by your environment.
What does this have to do with the law? Easy, I tell at least one client a week to take some ridiculous post down from their business or personal page because it can be used against them. It is attracting unwanted or bad publicity, or is generally inappropriate. What do I care? Well your image is also mine, I try to make sure that my associations are ones that promote quality and sound business decisions. It also makes my job much easier. When someone is looking to attack your business, when a dispute arises or if you need to try to recover damages from a former client or associate, having clean hands and a sparkling reputation goes a long way. It is very difficult to make someone seem like a horrible misguided person when there is no evidence anywhere to support that idea. But if you post all of the innermost workings of your brain, you will likely have an uphill battle to negate that image in a court of law or the court of public scrutiny.
If you need to vent, to cry, to scream, or be negative about this very stressful situation, do it in private, in trusted circles and please do not write it down. You are only begging for enhanced scrutiny and negative consequences.