You don't need a background in business to be successful in personal training, but you do need to have the right strategies and attitude if you want to start your own gym.
Let’s start with a confession. When I first opened my gym, I had no idea what I was doing. My knowledge of business amounted to…absolutely nothing. I only had a couple hundred dollars left in my bank account. I didn’t know anything about advertising or marketing. All I had were three clients.
In college, I studied exercise science, not business, and like most personal trainers, I got into the industry because:
- I love working out.
- I love helping others reach their fitness goals.
- I love wearing shorts all day.
Wide-eyed and optimistic, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I opened my gym. Make no mistake, I was ignorant and screwed up many times, but we grow faster when we learn from our or other’s mistakes, right? Well, I’ve already made them so you wouldn’t have to. Here are the top eight things I’ve learned:
1. Be a lifelong learner
Whether you run a group training facility or perform one-on-one coaching, you need to be really, really good at what you do, no matter who you train.
Your results need to speak for themselves. Your clients’ success is your success. Others will notice their transformations, whether it’s an athlete improving for sport or a regular joe transforming his physique.
Results lead to referrals. The word will spread. That’s the real secret to success.
To become really good at what you do, you need to dedicate time every week to learning more about your craft and to become a lifelong learner.
As mentioned, I started with three clients. Those three clients came to me because of the results of other clients I had before I’d broken off on my own.
In fact, as I searched for my first location for my gym, I was training my clients in one of their basements. Because I was helping them get results (and other factors that I’m about to discuss), they only wanted to see me grow.
One of those first three clients was directly responsible for bringing over 20 additional clients to my door in the first six months.
2. I focused, then expanded
When I first opened the doors, I focused exclusively on training athletes. If you train teenage athletes, the athletes themselves probably won’t do much to promote your work. But the parents will. They’ll talk about the great job you’re doing at games, practice, and events. The next thing you know, you’ll have become the “go-to guy”. Your phone will ring. Guaranteed.
The same thing applies to clients who are interested in weight loss or body composition. When you dramatically change someone’s life, they’re going to brag about it. Their referrals will grow your business.
Today my gym still trains athletes, but I’ve now expanded into weight loss and body composition for “regular folks”. Along the way, I never lost sight of the overall transformation message for everyone.
3. Knock on doors
Yes, you’re going to have to put work in, especially if you’re a broke personal trainer who’s just getting started. No getting around it: you’re going to have to knock on doors.
This is really old school, but I knew if I could get someone in the door, I could sell them. I just had to get them in. That brings me back to my previous point on focus. When you focus, it’s easier to identify your target market.
If you’re training athletes, find out where they shop, where they spend their time, and where else they might be getting coaching. .
Get your name in front of where your clients are by reaching out, going to these places, calling these places, and emailing these places.
I’ve helped two good friends open their gyms in the past year. Both are already expanding, and the number one thing they did when they opened?
They found out where their customers were. And then they went there every available opportunity to promote their services
They passed on taking naps or wasting their time. Instead, they made sure to spend every free moment where their client was.
It costs time, but no money. That’s fine for now, because when you start out, you have lots of time but almost no money.
4. Promote, promote, promote
Okay, this is kind of embarrassing, but when I first opened, I didn’t advertise outside of free websites because I thought I didn’t need to.
So please do as I say, not as I did.
Now I target my audiences through many social media platforms. With the right message, I can generate as many leads in one day through direct marketing on social media than I did in an entire month through the emails and Craigslist postings I used in the beginning.
I recommend starting by developing a Facebook presence that includes videos–they can be shot on your iPhone–great content that’s immediately actionable, and ads that ask your potential client to do something like opt in to your list. Remember, you’re targeting your client, not other personal trainers. Keep it simple.
None of this requires much money. Initially, you pay a few bucks to boost the posts and develop some sales funnels.
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Once I started investing in marketing, my gym blew up. So here’s my advice in a nutshell:
- Craft a killer message to get the clients in.
- Once in, don’t suck.
- And remember: The number one method for retaining clients is providing results.
You just have to educate yourself. As things progress, don’t be afraid to ramp things up and spend more money to make more money.
5. Make sure your gym culture doesn’t suck
No one is going to want to train at your gym if your gym culture is boring. Your clients are paying good money to make their day less sucky. I mean, think about it for a minute: Is anyone really going to want to be in a place that doesn’t get them excited at 5 a.m.?
You, your gym, and your coaches need to be so freaking awesome that your clients can’t wait to get there. Even if that means waking up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. or coming in after a 12-hour shift.
Personality is key, but if you don’t have a big personality, recruit someone who does. So, hire the right people! Low energy, boring coaches don’t cut it. If they give the impression that they don’t really want to be there, the clients will notice. They will conclude they don’t want to be there either. And your gym will fail. Guaranteed.
You’re only as good as your team. My gyms now have the absolute best people and coaches. That’s reflected in our retention rate and growth.
6. Show you care and show it every day in every way
Never, never, never let a client become:
- Just another number
- Just another body
- Just another time slot being occupied
Show that you care.
Many of your clients have enough crap going on in their life, whether it be a stressful job or a bad relationship. If you show that you actually are invested in their progress, they’ll stay with you forever (and refer their friends).
If a client misses a workout, skips a session, or isn’t progressing, find out why. Don’t wait until the client says goodbye. Be proactive. If they’re unhappy, you need to fix it.
It bothered the heck out of me whenever I lost a client. And you know what? It still does. I always wanted to figure out what went wrong and how I could have prevented them from leaving. A little humility goes a long way in these situations. More often than not, my clients noticed how much I cared, and many have ended up staying for years.
7. Earn your workouts
I believe that you have to be in shape to be in this industry. Some people will disagree with that, and that’s fine, but you should have a decent physique. And so you need to find time to work out.
That said, you need to earn your workouts once you finally go out on your own. When you have downtime, you shouldn’t spend three hours working out. Instead, that’s prime time to reach out to any potential clients.
There were many days where I didn’t work out until 9-9:30 p.m. I was at the gym by 5 a.m. for my first clients and my last were at 8. The middle of the day was all dedicated towards growing my business, even if I had no one there (which was often).
During the day, instead of training, spend time to educate yourself on business and training. Get in your car and get in front of clients. Make phone calls and send emails. Spend your time actively growing your gym.
Basically, I was doing something that would improve the gym not my biceps. I believe this was a huge part in how I went from three clients to over 115 as a personal trainer in under a year. Not boot camps, but one-on-one and semi-private.
It then allowed for me to open two more gyms that are thriving and growing.
8. Find a mentor
Once I was able to, I invested in a coach.Finding a mentor was a game changer for me. Don’t we believe in coaching and improvement for ourselves?
With the coach’s guidance and advice, I was able to leapfrog my way to implementing proven strategies that kicked butt.
With a few bucks in the bank, I was able to take more calculated risks. I was no longer shooting blind.
Earlier I had gotten advice from clients who were successful in their own fields. They loved to encourage and dish out tips to improve my facility. I listened to the advice and acted on some of it. (But if clients are willing to give you advice, don’t turn their session into “help me” time. When you’re coaching, coach.)
If you have a client who’s awesome enough to help you out, take him out to lunch or buy him some coffee. Ask your questions then. The client will be much more willing to help if you show that you value your training time for training.
How your training business will grow
I never opened my first gym with the intention of opening others. The only thing I wanted to do was wake up every day, help people improve their lives, and bring my dog to work with me.
Seriously, that’s it.
However, I’m extremely passionate about what I do. I love to learn and I love to pass on what I’ve learned.
My clients recognize this. Their results were through the roof. And it wasn’t just because I knew what I was doing. No, it was because I genuinely cared about how they were spending their time and money….
…and it showed!
Other trainers found these articles helpful:
- Be the Change to A Better Gym Culture by Matt Klingler
- 6 Things to Consider Before Starting Your Own Facility by Michael Zweifel
- Do You Have to Be Ripped to Be A Trainer? by Jonathan Goodman