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$ per hour isn't the way to long-term personal training success

by Jonathan Goodman | Follow on Twitter

The better you are the more you have to work. Sounds like nonsense to me.

“Get as good as you possibly can and everything else will fall into place.”

This was my strategy when I started as a personal trainer. It’s my second career and the philosophy was simple – acquire as much knowledge and skill as possible, exude my true passion for fitness.

Looking back on it, that wasn’t much of a business plan. Maybe I should’ve consulted with the guys who created Angry Birds.

become a personal trainer

Truth be told, that plan worked really well. But there does come a time when you want to up your game. To go from a trainer getting paid by the hour to a small business owner (even if you are it’s only ‘employee’) maximizing your knowledge and efforts. All the while building your reputation in the health and fitness community. If that’s where you’re at in your career and you want to get to the next level, this article is for you.

Surround Yourself With The Best

Are you the best trainer at your facility? Be honest, it’s a good thing. Are your co-workers starting their client’s programs with triceps kickbacks while regaling them with stories of their powers over the opposite sex? If that is the situation you find yourself in, don’t get complacent being the big fish in a small, uninspiring pond. It’s time for you to branch out and surround yourself with like-minded trainers who will motivate you, increase your knowledge base and give you exposure to better opportunities.

When I first started at Peak Performance I was a volunteer intern for Joe Dowdell. I didn’t have clients and I didn’t get paid. It was probably the best career decision I’ve ever made. Joe taught me how to structure training sessions, how to coach exercises, how to design programs and how to garner respect and trust from clients.

I wasn’t going to get any of that working a floor shift at GloboGym earning $15/hr (it was actually less at the time). It also opened me up to a world of incredible coaches who have become my mentors, colleagues and friends. I can’t tell you how cool it is for a fitness dork like myself to get involved in impromptu conversations about hormonal optimization and their relation to training parameters in the trainer’s lounge on a random afternoon.

How to become a personal trainer

Knowledge bombs were dropping faster and more furious than blitzkrieg

Bottom line: You are the company you keep. Get involved in a facility or situation where you are around likeminded people who challenge you to get better. Even if it means taking a step back and giving up $15.hr.

Don’t Work By The Hour

“I value my time and my worth.”

I find myself saying this at every Charles Poliquin lecture or certification I attend. There are several times during the week where Charles will make us put down our pens, calipers or dumbbells and repeat what he considers his most important messages. This one seems to come up at every workshop.

When you work hour-to-hour you’re at the whim of your client’s schedules and cancellations. Plus once you become an in-demand coach, the only way for you to increase your revenue is to increase your hours. To use a business term, this is not a very scalable approach (Angry Birds’ 350 million downloads taught me the benefit of scaling). Most good coaches work too much and are teetering on the brink of burnout. You’re much better off using the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired to develop alternative revenue streams. This will allow you to increase your revenue while also increasing the amount of hours you actually get to sleep.

There are several ways to accomplish this. I think there’s a great demand for smart online training businesses. They’re much more affordable than individual training sessions and it allows you to share a majority of your skills (periodization, exercise selection, program design) without having to spend a full hour with a client during every session. With the right, self-motivated client this can truly be a win-win situation.

The one caveat I will give is that often times internet coaches lose sight of what it is like to actually be on the training floor. They also become isolated and don’t experience the camaraderie and sharing of knowledge that comes with being around fellow trainers. Therefore, unless you are a very experienced coach, consider online coaching to be part of your strategy rather than a full-time gig.

become a personal trainer

It can be lonely being the sole fish in the sea

There will come a point in your career where you’ll be approached to train more clients that you can handle. Instead of just turning these clients away, outsourcing them to other trainers you trust is also a fantastic way to make somewhat passive income. If you do come to this point there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. You need to be a very good record keeper as you will have to track payments and sessions for a client that you are not necessarily interacting with on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.

2. You may also want to consider changing your pricing structure so you are charging a premium for any client that wants to train with you and a lower price for you to outsource them to another trainer.

3. Be sure to communicate with outsourced clients on a regular basis. After all, even if you’re not personally training them, they’re still clients of your business and you want to make sure they are happy and satisfied with the service they are receiving.

Developing an affiliate network for supplements or other fitness related information (e-books, equipment) can be an excellent way to derive some revenue from your current client base as well as any other network you have established.

Bottom line: Working by the hour is for grocery store clerks. Establish additional revenue streams using the tools and knowledge you already have to maximize your time and your worth.

Establish A Great Network Of Colleagues

Speaking of networks, very few things in your career will have as profound an effect as the group of colleagues you associate with. This includes not only people in your facility, but great coaches and trainers you meet at continuing eduction events, through social media and wherever else your travels take you. (The PTDC Facebook page is a great place to start.)

These are the people who will refer you clients, present you with media opportunities, partner with you on a book and offer you equity in the new facility they open. In many gyms, trainers are very competitive with each other. After all this is a bit of an ego driven industry and many trainers are jockying for the same clients. Don’t be one of those trainers who thinks that everyone else in the business is the enemy.

Bottom Line: Establish great contacts and connections and you will expand the amount of opportunities available to you.

Get Writing

In many ways, I’m torn about the meteoric popularity of strength coaches, trainers and nutritionists sharing their information via social media and the web.

On one hand, I feel as if I am in the business of getting people to put down their computers and pick up some weights. I also think there are a lot of arm-chair coaches out there who have never gotten any results for any client but since they have 8,000 Facebook friends everyone thinks they must know something.

On the other hand, there has never before been the opportunity for you to reach as large an audience and effect so many people in a positive way. And if you’re sharing great information and establishing yourself as an expert in the field it will ultimately lead to a lot more opportunities. So, I advise you tread with caution. Use social media, websites and magazines as a platform to share the information you’ve learned in the classroom and out on the training floor. But don’t be one of those guys who becomes an internet guru, gains 300 pounds and sits in their apartment photoshopping their head on some ripped guy’s body so you can have a decent profile pic.

Bottom Line: Think of writing as a way of sharing your skills, knowledge and passion with your audience, not as a means of replacing being a solid coach, trainer or nutritionist.

I’m sure there are many other strategies to help take your training business to the next level. I hope to find them and to share them. And in the spirit of practicing what I preach, I welcome you to reach out and connect so we can become part of each other’s professional network. In the meantime, I’m gonna scour the internet and see if any arm-chair trainer out there pasted his head onto my body.

How do you rise above the negativity that surrounds personal training? Comment below and, as always, please share. Also don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook. The PTDC just updated and has an awesome new page.

About the Author
Jonathan Goodman

As the creator and head coach of thePTDC, I'd have to say that this thing is pretty awesome. If you're interested in my book, it's called Ignite the Fire. Feel free to come hang out on my Facebook page where I talk explore the perfect balance between fitness, business, and living an awesome and fulfilling life.