The business of personal training: the ULTIMATE Guide
Everything You Need To know to make it as an INDEPENDENT personal trainer
and ensure your success
Have you decided to take the next step and become your own boss?
Congratulations, even if right now this is a pipe dream and you’re only thinking of taking the step into the great unknown- this is a brave step forward, and you are going to have the time of your life.
The first thing you need to know is that there is a great market for personal trainers.
There are plenty of people who are looking for your help and support as they try to achieve their fitness goals. All you need to do is go out and find them. When you have made your way through this guide, you will be ready to do exactly that.
The good news is there are a few steps you need to do to get going, but once you have those in place, you can get going immediately. Check out your first steps below:
pressed for time? download the COMPLETE PERSONAL TRAINER BUSINESS guide below!
Know what you’re good at
One of the things you need to be realistic about is what you are really good at.
Are you one of those people who can talk to anyone and get them to come on-board as a client? What sort of client do you work best with? Are you good at helping people after an accident?
That’s one side of the business, but there is another more practical side.
Are you good at managing the books? It is not a big deal, there’s software out there to help and you probably could do it.
Can you pull a website together? If this is not one of your skills there are other ways to create a web presence when you aren’t a programmer.
Every state has legal requirements which you must adhere to. Some of these may be obvious. As someone running their own business you still have to pay taxes. Depending on your state you might need to file an estimate once a quarter.
This guide will send you in the direction of the things you need to do, and give you some pointers. But you should check the requirements locally yourself.
Building a client base
Unless you are really lucky, and already have some clients who can start with you, getting started is the hardest time.
This is the time when you’re likely to question yourself more than ever before. This is the time to hold on to your hat and go for it. There are lots of people out there making money at this.
There’s no reason why you can’t be one of them.
There are some things you need to be aware of when you are kicking off this journey.
For starters, there may be legal and other requirements, so the discussion in this section centers on information you should work out before you begin.
Having made this decision, can we assume that you already have some sort of certification? If not, you’re going to need to get one. There are a number of options and a lot of choices you can make. If you are making that choice, check this out.
Don’t necessarily limit yourself to the obvious, having an interest in nutrition for example, might open doors and help your specialty. If you are looking to work in weigh control and management, being able to advise your clients on their food and drink intake might give you a business edge over your competition.
Membership of a Professional Associations
There are endless professional fitness associations.
Membership of any association comes with levels, which are dependent on the level of certification you have achieved. The higher the certification level, the higher the membership level.
If you're new to the association game, we've done the homework for you and sorted out the most 10 popular below:
Some states will also require that you have a license to practice in that state.
You will need to check local requirements. Nutritional trainers specifically require a license. You can check out your state's requirements here.
To be a personal trainer you will need to have professional liability insurance. Insurance is going to protect you from claims of bodily injury to a client or general slip and fall accidents during a training session. What if your client were to slip on some sweat moving from one exercise to another and break their arm? Guess what, you're liable. Even though this was a true accident, it happened during your session under your super vision and you can be sued. Purchase your complete coverage here.
While in the early days you might see this as a cost, it is a cost that you have to accept. It’s like having a cell phone, and it costs less than your yearly gym membership.
A Certificate in CPR
Lastly, you will need to show a first aid award which includes cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. This is for obvious reasons, and while they will be hopefully rare, there is the possibility that a client or someone else can have a problem at the gym.
Running your own personal training business has more to it than dealing with clients although obviously that is one of the very basic items.
Presumably that is what you want to spend most of your time doing, but there are going to be other things you must do to keep business going.
In this section we will discuss some of the things you need to understand from the very beginning.
Build a business plan
The business plan is your cold hard look at reality. It nets out what you need and what you have to do to get there. It does not have to be some big plan that has the answer to every possible question and delivers world peace too.
What it will do is give you a basic structure against which you can measure where you are and where you need to be.
Here are the things you need to remember about business plans:
If you have no other basis for your plan, you can simply start with how much you want to earn.
Assume that you’d like to earn $60,000 a year or $5,000 a month before tax. And the price of a session with you is $35.00/hour.
In addition, your gym membership costs $39.00/month. Your website $10.00 and your insurance $14.00 per month.
Your expenses look like this: (numbers are for illustration only)
* Remember numbers should be a lot more complex than this. You could add your cell phone bill, equipment, gas, etc.
The next step is to assess how many hours you would need to bring in to reach this income level.
Client hours needed = $5,063 ÷$35 = 144.66 and since you can’t spend 0.66 you need to spend 145 hours per month in training sessions. Broken down into weeks this equals 36 hours per work.
Now you have strong data points. You need to train for 36 hours/week and you need to bring in $35/ hour.
The next step is to question, is that reasonable?
Can you make the jump from no clients to 36 hours of training every month? Here’s a clue, the answer is NO!
Now you know you can’t do that on day one, you can roll back to what does seem reasonable. And then build to 36 hours over a period of time.
Business plans are a guess.
They are always flexible, but what they do give you is the ability to see what you are doing, and then help you decide if it makes sense.
This is about the most fundamental item you will need to consider.
How much are you going to charge a client for a session with you? There are a number of considerations to think about before you decide:
Booking a line of classes
Most trainers will offer a series of classes rather than booking a single class.
This has benefits for both of you. From your perspective you will know your commitment level and income. From your client’s perspective, they will expect a discounted rate. This is fine, but clients will expect a discount for booking (and paying) in advance.
Keeping at the $35/hour level, four hours training = $140.00.
Assume you decide to discount the booking to $130.
Three things have happened:
The best way to set your hourly rate:
Discounting is a psychological thing.
People like to get a good deal.
When you discount, you are taking money out of your own pocket. It might be good to discount, but do it knowingly.
Discounting is about getting clients to commit to you, so it has a value.
Discounting is marketing, how you express the discount makes a difference.
Going back to the client who commits for a series of 4 lessons. Which of these is more powerful to you?
Book four lessons for 10% discount
Book four lessons for $130
10% discount on $140 = $14.0 so you would earn $126. But you’d earn $130 if you gave $10 off. Both work; the customer knows they are getting a deal. But make sure that you are aware of the effect of your policies in exact dollars.
The important take away is discounting takes money from your pocket. Don’t give it away for no reason. When you do give it away, make sure that the client understands the value they are receiving.
Managing Cash Flow
This is an art that you must master. You will need to be stringent on the rules you set for yourself on this.
BUSINESSES HAVE EXPENSES AS WELL AS INCOME.
Business expenses happen monthly. In the early days especially, income might not happen monthly, or if it does it is likely to vary from month to month. The business will stop if you don’t have the money to meet your expenses, and so you must manage your cash flow.
As expenses are part of the cost of running the business they will be tax deductible. You need to have sneakers, you need gym wear, shorts in the summer, sweat pants in the winter, these are expenses you wouldn’t have if you did not have a business. You will have website costs, these can be offset too.
Remember the question about are you good with managing the money? As you see there’s more to it than cash people give you.
If your clients pay you for three months of sessions at the beginning of month 1 (and assuming that there are no other income sources and no new clients,) you will receive an injection of cash at the beginning of month 1, but you don’t get any additional cash until month 4.
You must set aside cash in month 1 to pay for months 2 and 3.
Cash flow is likely to be the biggest issue for you in the early days. Learning to manage cash will save you a lot of headaches.
Remember, this flows through to your personal finance too. You have to pay yourself three times in that same period. You needed to make your commitments on housing and whatever personal bills you have.
Cash flow is the difference between the business plan and reality.
There are ways in which you can manage cash flow, having a bank who will provide either overdraft protection or a line of credit is one way. Another is to start the business with a small injection of capital to get things off the ground. How you manage is up to you. But remember that you must do so.
Cash Flow and Profit and Loss are not the same thing
It is possible to have a profitable business which fails, because it doesn’t have the cash needed. So, wrap your head around that and file it away for future use.
As a business owner you will have to market yourself to get customers.
It is part of the job, and love it or hate it you have to do it, so you might as well get used to the idea.
By market yourself, what we mean is that you have to get your name out there to the people who are looking for trainers. Online is obviously a place where you can look, but many gyms have notice boards, coffee shops close to gyms, as well as having a business card you can leave are all ways of getting to your prospect base.
Who are your target customers?
Answering this question is absolutely fundamental to who you are and what you do. If you work with clients who are planning their first marathon, you want to go to the places where runners hang out. Is there a fun run group in the city? Join them. There might be people who would benefit from your skills in the group, runners know runners. Join in with the runners.
Where are your target customers?
If you’re a swimming coach looking for clients to take private lessons, the place where you’re going to find these people is at the pool. The first thing to do is check out if the pool has notice board and if so, get a flyer on there. Find out where your target customers hang out and join them, even if only on paper. You can't get hired, if no one can find you.
Become a session leader
Becoming a session leader at a local gym can be a paid gig, before you take the big step out on your own. Taking a job leading a High Intensity Interval Training class for example, might put you in touch with people who could use your training.
WORD OF MOUTH
There is nothing more powerful than someone else doing your marketing for you. Getting someone to tell everyone else what a good job you do will help get people through the door. Word of mouth will spread, and soon it will be a friend of a friend who approaches you.
You could also build this into a referral program. How this works is you ask people to forward your name and recommend you. You tend to give them something in return. Keep this so that it doesn’t actually make money go out the door. You could reduce your price one percentage point for every referral, or a free hour every five. The idea is to get other people recommending you to the rest of the community.
APPROACH YOUR TARGET CLIENT
You can’t get away from this truth. No one is going to approach you in the early days, and ask if you have ever dreamed about being a trainer. You have to make it clear to them by some message that you’re available for training. If this does not break your gyms’ policies you could wear a t-shirt during your own training time which says Personal Trainer and your phone number.
Your goal is to tell people this is your job and when they know, they will come to you.
ADD SOME TARGET ACTIVITIES
This works well with group fitness activities.
You can organize an event like a Friday Fun run or a Salute the Sun for a sunrise yoga in the park session.
People who show up for that may not be your clients, but if they associate you with the activity you will get to the point where business starts to come from these sessions and the money will follow.
HOW DO YOU GET SOMEONE TO BITE AND BECOME A CLIENT?
This is actually the easy part. When a someone comes to you with an interest, they are already more than half way ready to become a client. All you need to do is to bring them into your fold.
You do that by asking them.
If that seems too obvious, believe it. If you want it put more technically, you have to ask for the business. Don’t let that overwhelm you. You can ask something as simple as ‘Are you ready to start?’
It really is that easy.
YOUR GOAL IS COMMITTED BUSINESS
A client taking one lesson with you is not a lot of help. What you’re really looking for is repeat business. You need clients to come back for blocks of session. That way you build a reliable income stream and you have an idea what your schedule will look like from one week to the next.
You can combine the goals of committed business and getting a client to bite by creating special offers:
Build outreach into your activities every week
This is a must.
Think about your clients as being on an escalator. Some will take the ride and fall off at the other end. Others need to be coming on at the beginning to back-fill for those who leave.
Some part of your work week every week must be set aside to bringing on new clients.
Even when you’re teaching at your capacity hours you must still find time for marketing activities.
THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Your online presence refers to any of the ways in which you are online.
This could be as simple as hiving an email address or as complex as an integrated presence which includes everything you could think of; a website, social media, plus a blog and hundreds of thousands of followers.
A TRUTH ABOUT THE WORLD WIDE WEb:
There is one thing you need to know from the beginning.
Maintaining an integrated online presence can be a full-time job if you let it, and the more attention you pay to it, the less you are paying to your clients, who are the ones who will pay you.
As you read though the following sections think critically about each one; is this something that will help you get new clients and keep the old ones coming back? If not ask yourself critically, why do you need this?
You online presence has one goal, get more customers.
That is it. The only point about having an online presence is to get or keep clients.
It can prove that you are the best personal trainer, ever. It might demonstrate that you have an impeccable graphic aesthetic but unless it is keeping new customers coming to you for training and your old customers staying with you, it is wasting your time and resources.
We've laid out the top three ways to use the internet to your advantage below, take notes.
- SOCIAL MEDIA
A website does say quite a lot about you. It suggests a solid presence, it suggests that your training business is here to stay, and it there’s more to you than the other trainers who don’t have a website.
That sounds great doesn’t it? Except when it doesn’t work.
Here’s the problem, a bad website is worse than no website.
If you decide you’re going to have a website, it has to be good. Spelling mistakes, bad text, a badly organized website are all much worse than not being there at all.
If you’re going to have a website you must do it well.
How to do your website well
Luckily there are loads of ways and they don’t have to cost a fortune. Here are some of the routes:
Spend just time and no money. With this option you can go to one of the companies who offer you the option of a free site under their name. You can use their online tools to build out the site, they usually even have images and pop out boxes and it is an easy way to build a site.
The other way is to have someone do it for you. This will cost you, but luckily there are two options:
What should a website have?
Your website will be about you and what you can offer clients who work out with you.
Remember its job is to get you new clients or to keep old ones.
Your site needs a section about you. It will talk about things like who you are, what your aim as a trainer is and what you think about the business. It will show your licenses and accreditation's and express your areas of interest. But only the ones relevant to training and perhaps one other quirky bit of interesting stuff. Such as the fact that you hate broccoli or that you never have smoothies in the winter or you believe squats are overrated.
It is something that makes you a little more like a person.
Imagine for a moment that you specialize in weight loss training. You might create a section called Weight Loss and underneath it all the types of training you provide. If you specialize in weight management – you might talk about a different set of abilities and might have sections on weigh gain and maintenance too.
In this section you tell your prospective customers what you can offer and what they will gain from working with you.
Please ensure you get a quote from you clients and add it to the site. ‘I worked with your name once I came out of the hospital and he/she is the best swim therapist I have worked with’. You get the idea. Prospects might not believe you, but they will believe your clients, if you have a site this page is a must.
There’s always a contact page.
Some sites put it everywhere in a sidebar – do it how you think looks good but make sure finding out how to contact you is easy. It is best to have an entire page or section dedicated to this.
There are plenty of other things the website could do. You could add an online schedule that allowes your clients to see your availability and book their sessions online. You could add a payment portal allowing people to pay you online.
These are great additions but store them away for later, go back to the basic test, do you need it to get clients or keep them?
The idea of a blog is that you post often. The blogs come one after another in date order.
They can be big or small posts. A post can include images, video and spoken words or written words, links to other people’s posts etc.
With a blog if you spend a little time you can do everything you would on a website along with a blog. You could consider doing both, or just add static pages to the blog and you have both in one.
Like websites there are blog platforms out there that will do all the structural work, allowing you or someone else to create your message on the platform.
In the early days this is the way to go.
You Tube is a great medium for Personal Trainers but it requires a level of dedication, and building a channel is a slow business.
As you know YouTube is a showcase site for videos, form a personal trainer’s perspective there are all sorts of possibilities:
LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE YOU NEED TO BRAND IT.
There are things you can do with the actual video – overlays of logos etc, You can ticker-tape your contact details across the bottom of the video too. There are things you can do to brand yourself. Wear the same clothes each time so people get a feel for your video style. Wear a t-shirt with your logo on it.
You have to keep this going. It is like a blog in that as you begin to grow it, you must keep the momentum going. Posting a 40 second video shot on your cell phone once a week will get you a sizeable channel quite quickly. Posting an all dancing high quality video in HD @1080p is going to take a lot longer to do.
I know, all the hip kids aren’t on Facebook anymore.
But 2.23 billion people a quarter do use Facebook and the people who are likely to pay you to train them probably are part of this.
You have to be where your client base is. Having a Facebook page is a good idea once you get off the ground.
These three platforms of social media could ultimately be of value to your business. Pinterest and Instagram are primarily based on images and video.
All three have some value, but they are probably worth looking at later when you have the business established.
Gather emails while you can.
Going back and reaching out to people who have dropped by your site or your blog is a great idea and the way to do it, is to collect their emails. When people sign up to your email list, they have agreed to receive email from you and so you are able to send them a newsletter or a special offer by email without sending spam which is illegal.
Build into your blog, website, or social a way for emails to be collected and build your list over time.
There are lots of online sources who list businesses and services. Finding them and getting your name and listing on to them is a one and done thing to easily get your name out there.
If you enter a search using words like ‘personal trainer in hometown’, or ‘weight trainers near me’ or ‘celiac nutritionists’ you will see this sort of list.
How to get into these listings:
This is where all of these pieces work together. You post on your blog, it goes out to your twitter account, and hits Instagram and Facebook at the same time. It is a video of you showing how to properly do an asana in your yoga program and so you post it to your YouTube channel at the same time as well.
Avoid these mistakes
Don’t start with the big sell. Introduce yourself and what you’re going to and then do it. Your online presence should reflect what potential clients will get from training with you. No one likes to hire a used car salesman.
This is a little bit of a contradiction. It needs to be good quality, but not that good. You're a personal trainer, not a marketing professional. Keep your fonts, themes, and brand consistent across all platforms. Make sure it looks professional and clean but keep your focus on your actual job- training clients.
MAINTAINING YOUR BUSINESS
As you go through the experience of creating a business you will see that it changes. You will have distinct phases of the businesses’ life. You've gone through the sections before this, but now check yourself and make sure that you feel confident about the below stages your business will likely go through.
Phase One; Pre-start-up phase
This is before you kick things off and is the preparation phase. This is where you check into state requirements. Firm up your professional association membership, arrange your insurance coverage, and don’t forget the CPR phase.
Phase Two; The start-up phase
In the start up phase you will be actively doing things to start the business. These might overlap with the pre-start-up because there are somethings you can do in advance, but remember there are somethings that have to happen in order. Your marketing materials need your professional credentials for example.
In the start-up phase, you’re going to be busy getting things off the ground. Whatever you have decided in terms of marketing is going to be happening at this point. Most of your focus is going to be on getting clients. You will be using the business plan as your main measurement here. The plan is there to give you confidence that things are happening as you thought they might, or that things are better or worse.
Phase Three; The Early Days
In the early days you will be working with some clients, hopefully at least one more than you put into the business plan, but you will still be spending more time getting clients than training. The business plan is still your guide but you will be making changes based on your current reality.
At this point you need to revisit the plan and check the assumptions you made and decide if they were valid or not. Do you need to make any changes? Specifically, after a month or 6 weeks take some time out and question:
Be brutally honest with yourself.
If you got lucky and 5 people signed up with you, and you have no idea why, then go and ask them. You need to be certain of what was effective and do more of it, you need to also stop wasting your time on what didn’t.
You still spend more time on things other than clients in this phase, but the gap should be getting smaller.
Phase Four; Early steps towards being established
In this stage of the business there is a subtle change. At this point you feel you have a handle on it. You know what you need to do, you know what’s working and you make the change to spending more time with clients than on your other tasks. You will also need to look at paying some tax at this point as you have really kicked into the earning stage.
Now you have a firm handle on the business you can create a structure and a discipline to work to.
As a personal trainer, time management has to be on your side. If you let time management and you don’t get to things you should get to, what was a small task now becomes a huge task and you’re even less likely to do it, and this will be a disaster for your business.
How you decide to manage you time is up to you. It doesn’t matter if you go high-tech or keep it on a color coded piece of paper.
Break the week into hourly slots mark off client time and then allocate time to the other tasks that you need to do.
There should be time allocated for keeping track of the money side of things. Spending 15 minutes a week, which is probably all it takes will save you hours of work at tax time and ensure your cash flow.
In addition, you must allocate time for marketing.
These two are so important if you’re so busy with clients that you can’t fit it in, you should consider removing a client hour. This seems crazy, it is money in the door, but no it isn’t. This is the time that you make sure your business remains healthy and is critical.
Congratulations you now have a business that can create you an income, and maintain your lifestyle.
Now is a time when you can consider what's next? It just depends on you.
There will come a point where as there is only you, you’re at full capacity and your earnings have maxed out. You have no more hours for any clients, you simply can’t add more.
You have reached a point where your earnings are all they are going to be. You can increase your pricing for new clients, but if new clients are 5% of your time, a 10% increase is going to take a very long time to make any difference to the money in your pocket. There are a number of ways you could grow:
You must keep your eye on developments in your area of specialization. Developments in training and new ideas need to be brought into your work, and you need to remain up-to-date.
You may have a continuing education part of your license, so it is key to make sure that your license is never under threat.
Remember this is one of the ways you make yourself attractive to customers so any time you spend on personal development is time well spent. Anything you add to your portfolio is going to be of value, so take the continuing education classes as a great use of your time and not a nuisance.
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