Vacations used to make Yasmine Tarek anxious, twice over.
“It always felt like I was letting my clients down,” says the personal trainer and mother of three in Hurghada, Egypt. “They're depending on me and I worried that their progress would be affected by me taking time off for myself.”
The double whammy: a loss of income, “which isn't an easy thing for me being a single parent of three kids.”
But over time, Tarek realized that breaks were essential. Truth is, not taking holidays or days off was a disservice to herself and clients.
“We’re no good to anyone if we're suffering from burnout,” she says.
She and other coaches are living, vacationing, relaxing proof: You can and should take time off without sacrificing relationships with clients or losing money.
The result can be your dream: no more guilt about leaving clients, no more fears about misfires while you’re away, and days off that are truly, totally off.
Let’s look at the strategies that Tarek and other coaches use.
1. Tell clients your plans—clearly!
It’s crucial to be upfront with your clients. Tell them two weeks to a month ahead of time the exact dates you will be away. Explain your plan for meeting their needs while you’re gone.
The healthiest vacation means disconnecting entirely. Tarek suggests having a colleague standing by in case a client, say, becomes injured and needs help.
If you’re the type who doesn’t mind checking in during a holiday, tell clients that you’ll only respond to messages at certain times during your trip.
Plan and enforce regular days off as well. Jon Vlahogiannakos, an online trainer in Toronto, sets one day a week aside for his family when he does not work at all. He tells clients about this from the very beginning.
“I tell clients in their welcome package and our first call that Sundays are my day off, so I won’t be answering messages or updating programs on that day,” he says.
That means he can enjoy the day with his family without checking his phone and replying to messages.
2. Let automation work for you
Certain aspects of your business can be automated to free up your time.
Vlahogiannakos estimates that he saves one or two hours a week by automating his onboarding process.
“When a client enrolls into my coaching program, all I have to do is create the invoice and they are automatically added to my Trainerize roster, sent the welcome email and package, documents to be read and signed, and the link to set up their Trainerize account,” he says.
Automation gives you time. It’s your choice what to do with it—take that time off, or, as Vlahogiannakos says, “focus on taking care of your clients and growing your business.”
Karina Inkster, who heads the K.I. Healthy Living Academy in Vancouver, also recommends Trainerize. She likes pre-programming automated messages, “which you could use to remind clients of workouts, nutrition goals, or lifestyle habits they’re working on,” she says.
Trainerize offers monthly subscriptions that vary in price—up to five clients costs $20 per month, while up to 30 clients costs $60.
Other automation help includes:
- Wave is financial software for small business owners. It allows you to track expenses, create invoices, and receive payment via credit cards and bank payments. The software is free to use, but there is a charge per transaction ranging from 1 to 3 percent.
- Zapier is a service that connects different apps to automate workflow. For example, when Vlahogiannakos creates a new account in Wave for a client, that triggers a “Zap” to his Gmail to automatically send them a welcome email, as well as an invitation from Trainerize to set up their account. A professional subscription costs $49 per month.
- Later is a social media marketing platform that allows you to plan, analyze, and publish content in the same place. You can use the Later app to upload content ahead of time and schedule it to go up when you choose. Prices range from $12.50 to $33.33 per month.
3. Plan content in advance
Vlahogiannakos recommends blocking out time to plan content like social media posts.
He did this twice recently: before his wife gave birth to their second son in December 2020 and before moving to a new house in February 2021.
“I knew I wouldn’t have it in me to create new content each week for December and January,” he says. “I blocked off four hours the first two weeks of November dedicated to content creation, and I used the Later app to schedule and automate my posting schedule for those months. It made life so much easier.”
With time freed up, Vlahogiannakos was able to concentrate on his growing family and impending move.
4. Block off working hours
Being accessible to your clients is part of the job, but it’s important for your mental health to set boundaries.
Anders Carbonnier, a trainer in Sweden, blocks off a two-hour window on his calendar to respond to clients’ weekly check-ins. Outside of that, he is available to answer direct messages—within reason.
“On most days, my working block is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. So if during those times, something pops up and I’m not doing something specifically, I reply quite instantly.”
But when excessive messaging pulls him from other tasks, Carbonnier will wait to respond until his other tasks are complete. He’ll respond within 24 hours, a promise he makes when he begins working with clients.
5. Make your phone your servant instead of your master
To help himself stick to those boundaries: Carbonnier has separate phones for personal and business purposes. When he’s not working, he turns his business phone off.
“It saves such a headache,” he says. “My clients don’t have access to my personal number.”
If you can’t afford two phones, turn off notifications. “My notifications are off for everything except for direct messages,” he says. “I don’t get ‘like’ notifications , and my email notifications are off so if I want to check my email I have to go into it.”
This helps his sanity and his productivity. “I can’t be looking at my phone every three minutes every time someone comments on or likes a post,” he says. “It’s draining and takes me away from whatever I’m doing, whether it’s spending time with my family or work time.”
6. Work hard so you can play harder
During launches, Carbonnier extends his working hours into the evenings. “But this is something I make sure I communicate with my family that I need to take calls and do things later,” he says, “because this is the time when I pull in all the money.”
This summer, Carbonnier plans to spend several weeks traveling with his family in Sweden. During this break, he’ll limit work time to three to four hours a week.
He’ll continue to do weekly check-ins with clients. He uses Loom Business to create 3- to 5-minute video messages responding to the weekly questionnaires they fill out on Sundays detailing their progress.
He also designates about 15 minutes per day to check direct messages and answer specific questions from clients. If anything comes up that will take longer than a few minutes and cannot wait until he returns to work, he will schedule a time over his break to deal with it as he sees fit.
The rest of the time on holiday his business phone will be off. And clients will be told this well before he leaves.
7. Hire a substitute coach
Tarek, who is taking her first kid-free vacation this summer, and also spending a month with her children at the beach, hires a coach to help with check-ins and other tasks while she is away.
Inkster recommends a similar approach. “If you’re running a solo operation, you should be able to take a few days off whenever you like fairly easily,” she says. “For more than a few days off at a time, I recommend hiring a substitute coach.”
Inkster, who says she is now able to take time off whenever she likes, started off with one additional team member in 2019 and now has four. These coaches help with weekly check-ins, answering clients’ questions, and keeping notes on things for Inkster to take care of when she returns.
“Taking more than a few days off at a time does require some preparation, but having a competent coach handling our clients on her own is a complete game changer,” she says.
Hiring an assistant coach is expensive—so how do you know if it’s worth the investment?
“I learned the hard way that I probably should have hired a coach sooner,” Inkster says. “I had a full client roster and was spending all my time working in the business, with hardly any time left over to work on the business.”
That’s when she decided to hire an assistant coach. But you have to train that coach, too.
“If your goal is to scale your business, I’d suggest hiring a coach a bit sooner than you think you’ll need one,” she says. “You’ll need to spend time training them before they can take on client work.
“In my case, I was simultaneously refining my systems and processes so I can add more coaches in the future. As no two fitness businesses are structured the same, I found it very helpful to speak with other fitness business owners who had multiple coaches."
If you’re not in a position to hire another coach, consider teaming up with another coach. You can ask them to cover you for a few days and offer to do the same for them in return.
You might also consider hiring a virtual assistant. Learn more about hiring a virtual assistant (and how much it costs) in this article.
8. Consider a hybrid business model
Taking time away from in-person clients can be more challenging than with online clients. They're used to seeing you face-to-face on a regular basis, which often means more of a personal connection. The guilt can hit harder when you take time off.
As always, communication and planning are important. Hiring a virtual assistant or arranging a swap with another trainer to cover for each other are good strategies.
Another option is to transition some in-person clients to a more hybrid model. This will take some time.
“You can’t necessarily jump from all-in in person to all-in online,” Vlahogiannakos says. “You have to help clients get used to the software and be able to be self-sufficient.”
But if the hybrid model interests you, start gradually. (And be sure to avoid these seven common mistakes new online trainers make.)
New and existing clients can get started with software to monitor progress. “Then it becomes a smooth process when transitioning them to hybrid when they’re ready or they need to or when vacations are happening,” Vlahogiannakos says.
The bottom line is that, like everyone else, coaches and trainers are entitled to breaks.
“Don’t be afraid to communicate with your clients that you’re a human being,” Carbonnier says. “The more you are yourself with your clients, the more they will understand that you are a human being and have needs, as well.
“They go away on holidays. If you let them go away and have time off, they will let you go away and have time off. If you pretend to be an everyday working machine, they will see you as an everyday working machine.”
Tarek agrees. “It’s common to feel guilty about taking time off, but reminding ourselves that going away and recharging is not only beneficial for us but also for our clients helps,” she says. “It's also good to practice what we preach when it comes to self-care!”