Find out how a top trainer created his own very successful personal training business.
Last night I had a coach from another gym observe how my studio runs on a typical night. As I was closing the place down he was nice enough to share his observations with me.
“Wow, I loved how everyone that came in had a smile on their face. They all came in and knew what they had to do; everything was so organized and you stayed so relaxed the whole time. The last gym I worked at was a zoo and whenever it got crazy you could tell the owners were stressed. This was a very refreshing experience.”
There’s no doubt about it, running a fitness business is tough and requires a lot of hard work. Sometimes you have to get up excruciatingly early, bend over backwards for your customers, and even put your health or relationships on the back burner to keep pace.
More often than not, we find ourselves being busy all day, but not necessarily productive. The problem with this is that these should be temporary fixes instead of long term solutions.
Business coaches call this paradox “working IN your business, not ON your business.“
Often we’re able to keep this going for a long time out of sheer passion. Most trainers/coaches love what they do so much that they’re willing to grind it out every day while hoping that eventually things will change.
They can change, but you must be willing to take action and work smarter. This will not only preserve your passion, but also allow it to continue to grow.
To run a successful fitness business and still retain your sanity it’s crucial to set boundaries as well as manage expectations appropriately with your clients. Here are some tips for doing so.
Control Your Schedule
The personal training industry is notorious for providing its employees with long and challenging schedules.
Due to being a service-orientated position, trainers often find themselves training clients based on their availability. This has led to the common “split shift” where a couple clients are trained in the morning then a couple more are trained in the evening with a significant time gap during the afternoon. This non-traditional schedule coupled with the mindset of many trainers to take clients at any time can lead to burnout fast (fix your schedule and avoid burnout here). This is why it is important to set boundaries.
While I personally enjoy working a split schedule, there are rules that I set for myself to ensure that I’m always able to be the best coach and person for my clients and me.
For example, I rarely take clients before 9am because I don’t enjoy getting up early and I know that I’m not mentally prepared to give my best coaching before that time. Also, I never work Sundays so I can devote time to my family and friends, and I take the first half of each Tuesday off to read, write, and devote to my personal development.
Figure out what you need to bring the best version of yourself to work every day and start implementing the restrictions into your schedule that will allow you to do so.
Here’s what my weekly schedule looks like:
1 on 1 Training.
Most of my business is private personal training in 30 minute or 1 hour blocks. Therefore, it takes up the majority of my day and is usually split with 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening (Saturday is an exception as I limit myself to a half day).
I use semi-private training to maximize my time and earning potential Monday through Thursday at 6pm because it is the most popular time slot.
Workout / Lunch/ Task List Items.
These time blocks are used to get my personal training sessions in as well as eat lunch. As I mentioned, it is very important to set boundaries to ensure that you have time to take care of yourself physically and mentally.
I should note that I keep a running task list to the right of my schedule (not pictured) that features personal and business related items to complete that week. Whether it be running errands, sending emails, or otherwise; these items are also addressed during my mid-day time blocks as well.
Personal Development Time.
I’m a big believer in consistent personal improvement and that requires disciplined practice. That’s why every Tuesday I set aside at least 5 hours to read and write at least 1 article. This has been one of the best practices I’ve ever implemented and it allows me to finish 2-3 books per month as well as countless articles across the web.
These time blocks are reserved for the rare occurrences when I may need to take a client outside of my typical schedule. As mentioned, I prefer not to take clients before 9am, but these slots allow me to make a concession from time to time without bending my own rules too much. When not booked, these blocks are usually occupied by more reading time.
Only Work with People You Like
For a long time while I was growing my personal training business I accepted just about any client that was willing to work with me. Like many trainers, I wanted to help everyone that I could and I certainly didn’t want to turn money down. This led me to working with individuals that were very negative or had personalities that conflicted with my own. I didn’t realize at the time, but this was hurting my business and causing me to enjoy my work less.
Now, I know better.
If you take a look at your current client roster you’ll realize that there are some people that are your favorite to train. If you take the time to compare these clients you will probably notice that there are some characteristics and goals that they all share. This is the blueprint of your ideal personal training client and it’s important because you can use it to determine your level of compatibility with future prospective clients. The goal is to fill your whole client roster with individuals that fit your blueprint.
This will do wonders for your fitness business because you’ll have a group of like-minded individuals that will not only get along with you, but also each other. This means clients will become friends and enjoy coming to the gym, which will also increase their likelihood of maintaining consistency (and we know consistency leads to results). We call this social phenomenon “club culture“ and it’s the driving force behind client retention. In addition you’ll be excited to come to work every day and bring your best.
So, what about the clients that don’t fit your blueprint?
My suggestion would be to recommend them to another trainer in your network that you think would be a better fit. This still allows you to help them without compromising your business and the potential client will likely get better results by working with someone that can embrace them.
It’s important to understand that your fitness business won’t (and shouldn’t) appeal to everyone. Fact is, trying to appeal to everyone is a great way to cause yourself distress. You only have a limited amount of time each week to help people and you are better off devoting that time to the people that can benefit the most from you.
Charge What You Are Worth
I believe that there are few industries that have as many passionate professionals as the fitness industry does, however, this tends to create an interesting dilemma. One in which many coaches and trainers have accepted that it’s okay if they don’t make much money for what they do because they get to follow their passion.
I urge you not to settle for this.
If you’re good at what you do, invest your time and money into improving, and operating with purpose, you deserve to get paid well. Money isn’t everything, but it can create freedom — freedom to take a vacation with your family, freedom to invest in your education, and freedom from the stress of not being able to pay your bills if you lose one client this month.
When fitness professionals don’t make the money they need/deserve they become frustrated and start to lose their passion. This can lead to stress and resentment, both of which will certainly make it challenging to perform their best and often leads to making poor decisions such as offering “specials” or “discounts” out of desperation. The big problem is that once you start cutting your rates, you can never get your clients to go back up.
You should start by objectively evaluating your market. How long have you been charging the same rate? How much to personal trainers charge in your area? How do you think you rank in terms of expertise and value? How much do you need to make to live comfortably and still be able invest in your education?
Once you answer these questions you can arrive at an appropriate rate that is both fair to you and your clients. I would also recommend re-evaluating this rate every 3-6 months by comparing it to how busy your schedule is. The busier you become, the more you can charge, and when you lose a client it will affect your bottom line less and possibly offer the opportunity to take a new higher paying client.
Set Proper Expectations for Your Clients
Good communication is essential for strong client/trainer relationships. When bringing on a new client it’s important to not only tell them what you expect out them, but ask them what they expect out of you. This alleviates any possible confusion and allows you both to follow through on those expectations.
For example, when I meet with a client for the first time, I let them know that I expect them to take accountability of their training and nutrition. This might mean learning the names of exercises or possibly keeping a diary of their food intake for a certain period of time.
I explain the reasoning behind the expectations and how it will benefit them and then make sure they are in agreement. Once they understand that we are a team and that I will work as hard as they do, result inevitably follow.
By creating this mutual trust you are gaining more buy in from your client towards adherence and empowering them to succeed on their fitness journey.
So I ask you, are you working your training business or is it working you?
Help! My Clients Won’t Follow Nutrition Advice – Jonathan Goodman
How to Raise Your Personal Training Prices – Ryan Ferguson
The Block System – Build a Better Schedule and Avoid Burnout – Jonathan Goodman
Starting a Personal Training Business [Online] – Jonathan Goodman
How to Get Clients for Your Personal Training Business – Jonathan Goodman