This started as a resource. It has turned into more of a story, and a lesson, and hopefully, a resource for more people than we originally intended.
We own a private one-on-one personal training gym in the SF Bay Area, in one of the first counties in the country to be forced to shelter in place (i.e. to close our business) with less than a day’s notice.
AXIS has traditional employees, as well as what we have coined as our Club Members. These are trainers – and our massage therapist – who run their own businesses under the roof of AXIS. They are not independent contractors; we don’t pay them but instead they pay us to “rent” space to train their clients in a first class facility. This team of over 35 people, is just that: a team. Employee or Club Member, it does not matter in the gym. As a group our goal is to make sure everyone has an outstanding experience, from our towel delivery guy (we love you, Walter) to our amazing clients (we miss you like crazy) to our AXIS Team members (always was our #1 customers) who consistently deliver results and show love every single day.
Through the 23+ years of being in business we have seen our share of struggles and challenges like the dotcom bust in 2001, and the huge economic downturn in 2008. However, we have seen nothing like what we are experiencing now: a virus that has single-handedly shut down almost the entire world, our economy and our small business along with it.
In February, we knew scary times were ahead and we were proactive from the start, ordering extra disinfectant wipes and sprays, as well as hand sanitizer and gloves. Our goal was (and still is) to make sure AXIS was, and will continue to be, the cleanest and safest gym ever! In the early part of March, we were limiting how many people could be in the facility at one time and we (the leaders along with our team members) were cleaning/disinfecting the entire gym several times per hour as well as providing clients and trainers with gloves and extra hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
We knew it was inevitable, but when we got the official shelter in place order on Monday afternoon, March 16th, 2020, it seemed surreal. There were some tears shed for our people and our business, and an initial WTF moment where it was just unfathomable that this was happening. In less than 12 hours we would have to close our business for an unknown amount of time. The first thing we did was email our team to assure them that we were going to do everything we could to take care of them. Immediately we had an overwhelmingly large number of clients reach out to us to ask how they could help. Some clients have offered to pay for some or all training sessions that they would normally have, or purchased gift cards that they could use for later sessions. We have also transitioned many of the training sessions to FaceTime and Zoom so workouts are continuing, just in a different way. This benefits the trainers, who are still getting paid, and the clients, who are still getting top-notch training and expertise in a one-on-one session that they are used to.
What has helped us to (so far) survive this situation is the years of preparation before this – constant focus on building a wonderful community, a place where clients and trainers feel safe, feel successful, and are supported, a place where we work hard, laugh harder and always feel the love. That doesn’t just happen. That’s been a deliberate and continual process to always improve on every aspect of the experience for our team and our clients, to make sure we are growing, developing and connecting constantly. Our business is based, not on a financial transaction, but on creating value and sincerely caring for our people. During the good times is when you must build that solid foundation, because as Tony Robbins has always talked about, winter will hit – well we have just gotten the blizzard of a lifetime!
During this time we are doing what we can to continue to help our trainers through this, both financially and emotionally, and to help our clients as well, either through written programs, online live sessions, or simply checking in and caring about them. We are sending daily emails to clients with workouts, inspirational quotes, funny videos and photos, but nothing about the Coronavirus; we have always wanted AXIS to be the eutopia for people where they didn’t have to worry about outside stresses or distractions for a few hours each week. We are committed to that now as well and are trying to give people a little love, fun and encouragement each day. We are sending texts, emails and making calls to the team. We’re exchanging funny photos and anecdotes all of the time. We must stay engaged as a community or we will not have a business to re-open.
The biggest challenge so far has been the mess of applying for an SBA loan under the Paycheck Protection Plan, part of the CARES Act that was signed last week. We have been researching all of our options and the process as well as preparing every bit of documentation needed to apply. Sadly the execution of this program has been poorly managed to say the least. Some of the best information we have received has been from Inc. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We have watched webinars and read countless articles on this so we would be ready. As prepared as we were for the April 3rd application process to start, the government and the banks were not ready to handle this – and still are not quite there yet.
We want to share what we have learned so far and hope this can help other small businesses as well as those who are self-employed (as many personal trainers are). The PPP is for businesses with under 500 employees and includes Sole Proprietors, Independent Contractors and Self-Employed Individuals. Sole Proprietors (those who are not registered with the state as a business entity) and small businesses can apply now; self-employed individuals and independent contractors can apply on April 10th. By now there is a ton of information online about this. Here is one of the best references we found from the Chamber of Commerce. The latest update was as of April 1st and there is now a link to the loan application in the document. It sums up better than we can, the eligibility requirements, application process and everything you need to know. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
- Be patient 😉 We were eager and ready to apply only to be told by our bank, and several others that they weren’t ready. The bank where you have your business will be your best bet. We were turned down by a local bank because we are not a current business client. Bank of America seems to be successfully processing these loans now, but you may have difficulty if you’re not a customer.
- Be prepared: Download the application (SBA Form 2483) and get all of your documentation ready.
- Make sure you document every penny spent from the loan – this will be extremely important if the loan is to be forgiven. Read the fine print and know what you can and cannot spend that money on (75% must go to payroll).
- Make sure this is the best program for your business. There are also unemployment options (now extended to self-employed individuals), as well as emergency grants of $10,000 which are (supposed) to be funded within 3 days and disaster assistance loans. More information on these can be found here.
Lastly, know that you’re not alone. The silver lining that seems to be coming from this crazy time in history is that the world has had to slow down and figure out what is truly important, to re-engage with loved ones and take a break from the mad pace we have been subjecting ourselves to for years. The best in people really shows through in the worst of times. We have experienced this tenfold and are humbled by the outpouring of love and support we have received from our community. We thank you and we love you and we are following your lead by helping others.