I realized early on that my life would not follow a conventional path. I would never have cast my future self as a trainer, but it turned out to be a great fit for me.
Training supports my desire to stay in shape, allows for plenty of autonomy, and connects me with individuals I admire across all walks of life. More than anything, though, it gives me the opportunity to help people change their lives and become the best versions of themselves.
Still, I could have used a heads-up on a few things. I probably would have landed in the same place, but maybe I would have arrived a bit sooner and more efficiently.
While a few companies do employ online trainers, most of us are entrepreneurs. That means, more often than not, we simply have to figure it all out as we go.
I can’t give you all the answers. (No one can.) But having worked with clients online for more than a decade now, I can share some of the lessons I’ve learned.
1. It’s a job
Some get into online training with the idea that they can make six figures without much effort. They’re wrong. While it can be an incredibly rewarding career, you have to understand it’s also hard work. It demands consistency, passion, and skill. For those who stick with it long enough to succeed, it becomes more than just a job. It becomes a purpose.
2. Your work will follow you everywhere
As an online trainer, you’ll quickly learn to set boundaries for your clients, allowing you to step away from your mouse and keyboard at the end of the day. But you’re still never more than a conversation away from your job. Every workout, every meal, every family gathering, every night out with friends, there’s always a chance you’ll find yourself back on the clock.
Friends will ask your opinion of the alkaline diet, and accuse you of judging their carbohydrate intake. And don’t be surprised if Aunt Becky interrupts your Christmas dinner to ask how to lose belly fat. Politics isn’t the only dangerous topic at the dinner table anymore.
3. Your communication skills will be tested
In-person clients get you. They understand (and probably appreciate) your sense of humor, and they can tell from your body language, facial expressions, and vocal tone when you’re serious and when you’re being sarcastic.
Online? Your communications have to be as clear as possible, even if you have to imagine you’re writing for young minds who need simple instruction. If you’re more comfortable with the spoken word, use video-chat apps to keep in touch with your clients.
4. Every post matters
On the Web, someone is always watching. You want those eyeballs when you write new posts or share articles you like. But what about that meme you shared? Or that photo you were tagged in? Or that comment you liked? Every move you make online is part of your brand, a reflection of you and your business.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be true to yourself, or that you can’t make mistakes. (And you will make mistakes.) But it does mean you should think twice before you click that heart emoji.
5. You’re not the only online trainer (and that’s okay)
Some 4.2 billion people worldwide are active on the Internet. Of those, 3.4 billion routinely use social media. That’s well over half the world’s population. More numbers to consider: A hundred people is 0.0000001 percent of a billion. A hundred people at $99 a month is a six-figure yearly income. Don’t be overwhelmed by the competition. Focus instead on what you bring to the table. There are plenty of clients to go around.
6. You’ll need to learn more about the world
Online training allows you to work with anyone anywhere in the world. That means you need to know more about different cultures and religions than you currently do. Why? Because good trainers cater to their clients’ needs. They create flexible plans that account for, say, religious fasting or product availability in other countries. If your motto is “Expensive Supplements and Baked Kale,” your market reach just got smaller. On the other hand, if you enjoy new experiences and perspectives, the online realm should suit you just fine.
7. You’ll have to fight distraction
My current obsession is Amoeba.com’s video series “What’s in My Bag?” It shows actors and artists sharing what they found at the legendary L.A.-based record store. The videos are simple and aesthetically stimulating—so stimulating it took me 30 minutes longer to write this section because I couldn't stop watching them.
Set timers, use apps to block social media, or pretend to exert your own "parental control." Remember, work time is focus time, and split focus produces compromised results.
READ ALSO: Confessions of an Online Training Virgin
8. You should turn away some clients
One of the most important lessons—not just in business, but in life—is that you’re not right for everyone, and not everyone is right for you. Part of your job is turning away clients who aren’t a good fit. Maybe you have personal differences. Maybe you’re not well matched to that particular client’s goals. Or maybe you feel the client has other issues that should be addressed before you work together. (You should have a network of physical therapists, dietitians, and psychologists you can refer out to when needed.)
I know it’s hard to imagine turning clients away when you’re preaching protein but living on ramen. But in the long term, it’s best for everyone to be with the right people.
9. It can get lonely
When the bulk of your working life consists of sitting alone in front of a screen, you may start to crave human interaction. You may get a bit too chatty with the mailman, or find yourself waxing poetic to your dog. Forging your own business can be lonely, which, as far as I know, isn’t mentioned in any certification course.
Try to stay connected with the nonvirtual world by occasionally seeing clients in person, attending conferences, and networking. Also, prioritize two or three friendships. In entrepreneurship, friends help keep you sane.
10. There are no overnight success stories
You know there are no shortcuts for getting in shape. It’s all about consistency and hard work. Same goes for your career. I’ve seen many friends and colleagues experience their “big break.” Every one of them worked long and hard to get there.
As the field continues to grow, standing out and achieving new levels of success just gets tougher. Learning to respect that can help you stay motivated as you work your way up to the big leagues.
Don’t just prepare for the long haul. Welcome it.