If there is one characteristic that defines today’s young professionals, it’s the fact that they are always on.
Work-life balance has morphed into something much less defined than it has been in the past—gone are the days of working nine to five, locking up, and heading home for the night, leaving the office at the office. Mobile email access keeps the office in your pocket, and for young entrepreneurs, a constant social media presence can be a necessary part of building a brand.
It should come as no surprise then, that places and activities that were once thought of as personal have become fair game for business development. The latest frontier? The gym.
The gym and the office do have somewhat of a history of entanglement. Many professionals use their lunch hour to work out, and many gyms partner with organizations to offer corporate discounts. It’s a symbiotic relationship that many are now taking to a new level.
For the past two years, World Health, an Alberta-based gym, has hosting an event at Edmonton Small Business Week targeted to those who want to take the “work” in “workout” to another level. Networking with a Kick is a fitness class that doubles as a networking opportunity.
“We partnered-up with the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce (ECC) to host Networking with a Kick (NWAK) to end Small Business Week on a healthy note,” explains Bobbie Gaw, promotions coordinator at World Health Edmonton. “The idea for the event came out of a brainstorming session between World Health and the ECC last year. The ECC wanted to create unique opportunities for Chamber members to showcase their business and services to the other chamber members. At the same time, World Health was working towards educating Edmontonians on the importance of pursuing a healthy lifestyle and being their primary resources for their fitness journey.”
“The goal of NWAK was for Chamber members to step-out of their comfort zone, into their workout gear, and network,” Gaw continues. “It was a daunting challenge, but participants raved about how much fun they had. During lunch, they spoke about how the workout was the icebreaker as they literally leaned on one another and laughed their way through planks.”
Though NWAK is explicit in its dual intent, networking has been happening organically at gyms across the city. Gaw describes it as an increasingly common occurrence, which is perhaps a little surprising “because gyms have a reputation for being an intimidating place.”
But when you dig into it, it does make sense. Gyms attract the goal-driven, the ambitious, those looking to advance and improve. It’s no surprise that a person who holds these personal values would approach their professional life with the same drive. Pat Stride is the executive director of the Alberta North chapter of BNI, a marketing organization that specializes in creating and encouraging networking opportunities. She sees another pattern that may be driving the desire to make business connections at the gym. She feels that today’s work habits might not be conducive to good old-fashioned networking, leading younger professionals to look for those opportunities in unorthodox places. “More than ever before, young professionals can be branded as being the digital generation. That can mean missed opportunities,” she explains. “Getting out and networking gives them access to a wide range of professionals from a wide resource base, who can become not only potential business connections, but also information, support and referral networks.”
Stride also sees the gym networking as the new version of an old strategy. “For many, the gym can be today’s version of the golf club,” she says. “Lots of business has been created on the course.
Mind Your Manners
However, is the gym a good—or appropriate— place to network? According to Bradley Finnegan, a sales representative at Powerhouse Gym, it’s all fine and good as long as long as you follow a few basic etiquette rules. “It is only a problem if you are hogging the equipment, discussing work matters while there are people in line to use it,” he says. “But as far just chit-chatting during a workout, or sitting down in the cafe afterwards, no one can really be angry with you about how you choose to spend your time in the gym.”
Caution should be taken when approaching someone aggressively or unexpectedly. “Obviously some people would prefer not to be approached while exercising,” he says. “It is usually their break time and it distracts them from their goal of actually getting in a workout.”
Stride agrees, and stresses the value of using discretion to make a good first impression when it comes to fostering business relationships at the gym. “Don’t overstep and interrupt a serious workout with an eager ‘Hi it’s great to meet you’,” she warns. “Watch for cues and indications that someone is open to speaking before approaching them. Look for a common ground to start a conversation – handing over a business card might work well at a designated networking function, and less well at the gym.”
Closing the Deal
As with any business transaction, success isn’t a guarantee. Not everyone will be interested in your attempts to add them to your business network, and some might be downright offended by the interruption. If you want to add someone to your business network while they’re pumping iron, you will have to approach them strategically.
According to Finnegan, your success might come down to clever targeting. “I think the best way would be to take a look at the businesses in the area, and view that as the main indicator for which employees use that facility,” he says. If you are unsure if you should approach someone, don’t be afraid to call on gym staff for assistance. “Talk to the person working at the front desk, and perhaps some of the gym’s personal training staff,” he says. “They are the ones who would do the most socializing with the clients.”
Stride agrees. “My best advice is to ask for an introduction,” she says. “If you know someone who knows the person you want to meet, ask them to introduce you. Be aware, that if they do, their reputation is on the line. Be respectful. Let the person know why you want the introduction and be sure to build their reputation in the process.”
Of course, by virtue of probability, you are most likely to make a connection in a larger, more social setting. “You could also join some of the group classes offered at the facility and try to make connections with people that way,” suggests Finnegan. “As well, most gyms have social media outlets and websites where clients can post any questions, comments and concerns, and you could potentially use that as a platform to make connections.”
Perhaps the best part of a gym partnership is that it doesn’t have to start or end with business discussions. According to Gaw, these relationships often end up running deeper, turning into legitimate friendships. “It’s incredible to watch relationships flourish in our clubs,” she says. “What begins with a crooked smile and question like ‘Will you spot me?’ or ‘Have you taken the 6:30 p.m. Zumba class before?’ often turns into a group with a committed daily fitness routine. These like-minded individuals support and encourage one another to wake-up for the 5:30 a.m. class, add another set of plates, or sign-up for their first half-marathon.”
If you’re still feeling a little shy about approaching the potential Procter to your Gamble at the gym, not to worry. World Health and the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce are looking to provide another opportunity to work on your network and your fitness. “Networking with a Kick was an incredible success,” says Gaw. “We’re looking forward to working with the Chamber on making it bigger and better for 2018.”