It’s Wednesday at 3:27pm. You’re staring at the computer reading over the latest research on knee biomechanics (or looking at pictures on Facebook that the girl you like just posted from her beach vacation over the holidays).
As you take a sip of water, the metallic ball in your shaker cup hits your teeth for the 10,000th time; suddenly you become aware of the phone in your pocket: “Not again” you think, “please God, not again”. A feeling of apprehension grips you as if it’s foreshadowing the inevitable.
The phone rings.
Slowly you avert your gaze from Jessica and her friends frolicking on the beach and zap yourself back to reality. The caller ID says that it’s your 4pm client, right on time to cancel the session — again. Her son is sick and she hates to do it, but she can’t make it in. She’ll see you on Friday — hopefully.
Personal training isn’t easy and day-to-day annoyances like the one above can contribute to a lot of frustration over time. These annoyances may eventually have you looking for another career.
Clients will cancel last minute, they will make up excuses, you will get upset that people still believe they can buy a quick “magic” fix, and you will force yourself to put on a smile when you’re hungry, exhausted, and in a bad mood. Accept that these things will happen. With any job there are annoyances. The difference is that you have control while many others in different professions do not.
Done right, personal training is rewarding physically, emotionally, and financially. This article is meant to prepare you for dealing with the inevitable every day frustrations trainers have. This is how to make it as a personal trainer.
At the bottom of this article I have one final tip that you must read. Make sure you don’t miss it.
You’re an entrepreneur, act like it
I want to emphasize two points here:
1. You, and only you, are responsible for your business. Whether you train people with a couple bands out of the back of your car or you work for a nation-wide commercial gym, you are on your own.
Take initiative. If you don’t have enough personal training clients, do something about it – don’t complain that management isn’t supporting you enough.
Figure out what is the biggest need of your target clientele and become an expert on it. Write a pamphlet on the subject (for example fat loss for busy mothers) and leave copies at reception, post it up at the gym, and in the local coffee shop.
If you don’t think it’s allowed, do it anyway. It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.
[A bonus tip: Always put an advertisement above the urinal in the dude’s change room. Guys will read anything there just to make sure they don’t accidentally turn their head to the side]
2. Put a value on your time. Want to know how I made it as a personal trainer? I worked my butt off training clients and on my professional development. I also paid somebody to clean my apartment, cook my food, and I shopped at the expensive grocery store because it was closer.
I’m not lazy – I’m efficient. If I can pay somebody $50 to clean my apartment that would take 5hrs of personal and professional development time away from me it’s worth it. It would have taken me an extra hour to save $15 on groceries; an uninterrupted hour of study is worth more than $15 to me.
I did these things when I didn’t have much money. Take a look at the time-consuming tasks that make up your day. Some of them can be outsourced and others ignored. Coupon clipping to save a couple cents is almost never worth it.
Ignore certifications and question everything
If anybody claims that they have a secret solution, have found the key, or have the best way to do something – run; move fast, and zigzag back and forth to make sure they aren’t following you.
Getting lots of fancy sounding certifications is not how to make it as a personal trainer. A certification has value because somebody has taken the time to organize a method and make it easier to digest. The letters you get after your name mean nothing. Your clients don’t know what they mean and don’t care, as long as you do a good job.
Question everything you hear and be willing to evolve. The best trainers recognize every 6 months how terrible of a trainer they were 6 months ago.
Want to know more about the difference between certifications and what you need to know about them. Here’s the Personal Trainer Certification Comparison for the United States and a comparison of the Best Personal Training Certification: Canada.
The Cheers Effect
When anybody comes into your gym smile a big smile and say hello. If you don’t know them, introduce yourself and remember their name. Be sure to introduce your clients to every member of the gym. Always give people a big smile and a handshake the minute you see them.
A secret to how I made it as a personal trainer early in my career was to help make my clients the cool people at the gym. They loved walking in through the door and being greeted by name and the friendships they built with other members still exist to this day. That, and I found my clients were more eager to share the gym with their friends and family because of how special of a place it had become to them.
Update: I’ve written an entire article on the Cheers Effect (click to read it).
Your body is your livelihood, train it, but don’t be stupid
Learn how to deadlift well. A strong low back will save you from getting hurt.
Long days spotting clients and demonstrating exercises meshed with your own workouts can put you in a precarious position. Tailor your own training around your weekly flow of clients. If you know that you will have 10 clients on a Wednesday then Tuesday is probably a bad day for a heavy leg workout, save it for the weekend.
Training a lot of clients while sore sucks – it’s also dangerous. If you need to jump in and help a client who is pinned by a barbell on the bench press your spinal erectors shouldn’t be sore. If they are, you will compensate and put your own body at risk.
Wear good socks
Because nothing is worse than standing and sweating for 10hrs in the half-inch cotton socks you just bought 5 for $10 at Wal-Mart.
Empower first, educate second
You should never worry about teaching a client too much, that is not how to make it as a personal trainer. Teach your clients everything you know and empower them to make positive decisions. I know what you’re thinking:
“But if I teach them too much, doesn’t that mean that they won’t need me anymore?”
Giving your clients autonomy over their fitness plan is the best way to ensure adherence. Educate them on the right choices and let them work with you in creating the plan. Instead of a dictatorship, make the session a democracy.
Empowering your clients will have them getting better results and one of two things will happen:
- They will be so happy that they will never want to leave you.
- They will move on and train by themselves but tell everybody they know how great you are.
Figure out a way to generate passive income without sacrificing your integrity
Selling supplements and participating in multi-tier marketing programs is one way to make passive income. If you have done your research and truly believe it’s the best way to help the client – go for it. If you haven’t, please stop selling overpriced powders to your clients they don’t need.
I wrote an article a while back called What’s in My Desk, it’s still one of my favorites. I had developed systems all originating with my desk at the gym that enabled me to fluidly train 12 clients in a day. I was ready for any interruption.
Another system I built was that I had clients on call. I built a spreadsheet of clients that lived close to the gym that wanted to be squeezed in at a moments notice. On this form was which day(s) they could make it and what times. Going back to the story that started this post, if my client cancelled 30 minutes before a session, I opened up my spreadsheet and was able to fire off 5 text messages in a minute. I could usually fill the spot.
I also suggest checking out the 3 simple systems that every personal trainer should use.
It’s Never About You
If you forget everything else in this article, remember this. If you’re wondering how to make it as a personal trainer my #1 tip is to always put yourself in your clients shoes. Look at things from their perspective, not yours.
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