Want to know one of the most common mistakes I see personal trainers make when launching an online business?
As program director of Online Trainer Academy Level 1, I interact with a lot of new coaches every day, and it saddens me to see them pour money into things that won’t help them grow their business like they hope.
When new coaches are first getting started, they’re excited and want to do everything they see other coaches doing. But in that excitement and desire to succeed, they end up complicating things.
Feelings of fear and inadequacy creep in, and they hyperfocus on areas that make them feel like they’re accomplishing something but that don’t really move the needle on the business.
The truth is, you need far less than you think you do.
The client has no idea what to expect, so if something isn’t perfect, they’re not going to know.
What’s most important is that you’re meeting clients where they’re at and providing a quality service. How pretty or tech-advanced your delivery method is doesn’t matter that much when starting out.
To help you know where to focus, I’m going to take you through the three stages of launching an online business:
- Starting out
- Starting to grow
I’ll tell you what I think are necessary (and unnecessary) investments. (All cost estimates are in U.S. dollars.)
Keep in mind, though, that this is general advice. When it comes to things like setting up an LLC or budgeting for taxes and other expenses, there are bound to be regional differences.
But based on my years as a coach and what I see every day at the Academy, here are my best tips.
Cost of Launching an Online Personal Training Business: Starting Out
Meet your minimum standard
Check what’s required in your area to qualify as a coach—google “How to become a personal trainer in [your country].”
This can vary between states or provinces and according to what you want to do (personal trainer, nutrition coach, etc.).
In some places, like the United States, certification is not legally required to call yourself a personal trainer. In others, the standards are higher.
Regardless, I strongly encourage you to seek education. It’s important to have a basic skillset to grow from.
Cost: Expect to spend about $600+ for standard PT certification in the U.S.
Identify a target market and a problem to solve
Most new online trainers say, “I want to help everybody!” I would argue that you don’t.
We’ve all had that client who makes an hour feel like forever. You might be able to work with everyone, but you’d probably prefer not to work with some of them. Why not build a business full of your favorite type of client?
Try one of these strategies to figure out your ideal target market for personal training:
1. Think about all the people you’ve ever worked with. I bet there’s one or two clients you wish you could carbon copy tenfold. Think about why you loved working with them. Who were they? What was their life situation? What was their goal? What obstacles or problems did they have? Identifying these things is a great starting point.
2. If you don’t have that kind of client experience to draw from, you probably do have a personal fitness journey. Think about where you started, what obstacles you had to work through, and where you wanted to be. Then start with clients who are similar and share your journey.
Either of these strategies will help you identify a general target market that you can then dial in as you move forward and learn more.
Create content (Part 1)
A lot of new online coaches overthink content creation. Don’t worry about getting fancy—share simple tips and stories that speak directly to your target market.
While you can create graphics, a real photo works even better. Or, go live to share your tips and stories.
The idea is to be helpful and to establish yourself as an expert for [type of client] who want to [their goal]. Do this as consistently as you can.
Just remember who you’re talking to—leave out the jargon and peer-review journal-style of writing.
Identify your 1% Uniqueness Factor—what makes you you.
Think about what makes you special on a human level. Maybe you’re really proud of your culture, or you make your own costumes for cosplay, or maybe you’re weirdly good at finding a way to quote The Big Lebowski in any conversation. (Find more fitness niche ideas.)
Whatever it is, lean into those parts of you. For example, if you know me you’ll know that:
- I love giving gifts (the weirder the better).
- I make gifs and use them way too much.
- I really like stickers and will often design and have them made for no reason.
Sharing what makes you unique makes it easier for people to connect with you. No matter how awesome your program is, people buy coaches—not programming. So provide opportunities for them to see who you are.
I can’t tell you how often I get tagged in posts or have people send me links about oddball gifts or stickers. When people see those things they immediately think of me and want to share. It furthers our connection.
It can take time to discover your 1% Uniqueness Factor, but it doesn’t cost anything. Ask friends and family what makes them say, “That is SO [your name]!”
Once you know what makes you unique, magnify it and share it.
Pick a platform
Although it makes us feel more grown-up to have a specialized software platform to deliver our services, when you’re starting out it’s absolutely acceptable to use what you already know.
Deliver your services via email, text messaging, Google Sheets or Google Docs, or even Facebook … whatever you’re comfortable with.
This way, you can get up and running quickly, with no overhead, and you’re not trying to help clients troubleshoot software you’re still learning yourself.
Market within your existing network and continue to build it
It’s tempting to create a website, sales funnels, or ads. The secret to making these work in the first place is to already have a keen understanding of your ideal target market and a long game plan to convert them.
When you’re starting, that’s something you’re still figuring out.
Instead, I recommend operating from your existing personal social media profiles. You’re already comfortable using them and you have a network that already knows, likes, and trusts you.
This gives you an amazing opportunity to learn what works for your target market and then, if you really want to create a website or ad in the future, you’ll have a stronger foundation for doing it.
What about Facebook or Instagram business pages? Ignore them. They’re harder to grow, and they want you to pay to be seen. Not that they can’t work, it’s just way harder than your personal profiles. They might have a time and a place later, but don’t worry about them now.
Your job is to deliver value by speaking to your ideal target market, developing relationships with people in your network, and continuing to grow your network.
Stay within your Zone of Genius
There are lots of things you’ll be tempted with when starting an online personal training business. The options can be overwhelming.
What I tell coaches is to stay within their Zone of Genius. This not only applies to your target market and communications platform, like we discussed, but also to everything else.
Don’t take on things you absolutely hate doing or aren’t skilled at or aren’t interested in becoming skilled at. Either avoid them entirely if possible, or delegate them.
For example, I have no interest in accounting and taxes, so I have a CPA handle that. Likewise, if you’re someone who struggles with tech, go with what you know.
For every decision you’re facing, think about your Zone of Genius. Don’t force yourself to do things you absolutely hate. Instead focus on the areas you’re good at already and take the path of least resistance.
Grand total: ZERO!*
*After you get your certification, you should be able to launch an online personal training business for free.
Cost of Launching an Online Personal Training Business: Starting to Grow
Professional liability insurance is something you absolutely should have. Although I’ve never heard of someone being sued as an online trainer, you don’t want to be the example.
But don’t buy insurance until you have your first client. Then look for two things:
- You’re covered no matter where your client is in the world.
- You don’t ever have to meet your client face-to-face.
A lot of companies will say they cover online training, but they don’t meet these stipulations.
Cost: $190–$250 in the U.S. and Canada; $400+ in Australia (sorry Aussies)
Connect with your Small Business Administration or equivalent
Once you have some clients, you’ll want to address various business concerns, such as accounting, payments, taxes, and business structure.
In the U.S., a great resource is your local Small Business Administration and specifically its SCORE Mentorship Program. The SCORE Mentorship Program is a volunteer organization of CPAs, attorneys, financial advisors, small business owners, and other experts you can network with and get help from for free.
If you live outside the U.S., there is likely an equivalent. Here are a few that I’ve found:
To find your local version of SCORE, visit your state’s/province’s government website and check out the business section. You can also look for a Chamber of Commerce in your area that offers free mentorship programs.
There might also be nonprofits that offer mentorship, in which case you can google “[state/province name] free business mentorship” and see what’s available.
Another option is the Academy’s Online Trainers Unite Group on Facebook. It has nearly 37,000 members worldwide and is a great source for information.
Cost: While the advice you’ll get from these resources is free, licensing and registering a business name is not. For that, expect to pay about $200 in fees.
Create content (Part 2)
You’ve already been delivering content, but it’s not everyone’s forte. If it’s a significant pain point for you, get help.
Good copywriters and graphic designers generally charge $30-plus per hour.
Or you can invest in a service that offers pre-created content. You can expect that to run about $100 a month or more. Word of warning: This content is usually for a broader audience. You’ll still want to go through and tweak it to fit your voice and target audience.
Upgrade how you deliver services
If you’re using email, Google Docs, or Excel, and you want to upgrade your service delivery, you might look at switching to personal trainer software.
Many have free trials, and can cost as little as $19 per month for up to five clients. Check out our walkthrough of the best online personal training software to learn more.
Cost: $0 to $150+/month. (The more clients you have the higher this can get.)
Assess your level of “success”
As you begin to grow, get philosophical and think about what “success” means to you.
When I first started as a trainer, it meant having enough income to pay the bills and save for my son’s college. But financial considerations are only one part of it.
You’ll want to look at quality of life as well:
Am I stressed all the time?
Do I have enough time off to do the things I enjoy doing outside of my job?
Do I have time for my family?
Do I have time for myself?
Success looks different to everybody, and these are the questions you should be asking yourself.
Hire a CPA
When you’ve never run a business before, it’s easy to overlook taxes, fees for taking payments through companies like PayPal, and other overhead expenses. These can pile up quickly and cut into your profit.
For example, if you want to make $5,000 a month, you actually might need to sell $7,000-plus per month in services to net that amount.
Working with an accountant can help you figure out how much you’re actually making and whether you’re saving enough to handle these expenses.
The Academy has an Online Pricing Calculator that helps coaches get started figuring this out and determining how much they should be charging each month. But once you’ve got clients, a good accountant can help you really understand your numbers. And when you understand your numbers, it’s a lot easier to scale effectively.
Grand total: About $350/month
Cost of Launching an Online Personal Training Business: Thriving
Get some virtual help
The more your business grows, the more sense it makes to hire a virtual assistant. There are only so many hours in the day, and you want to focus on the things you enjoy that bring in money. Virtual assistants allow you to do that.
I recommend exploring Upwork and Freelancer.
But first, figure out exactly what tasks you want help with. Then look for virtual assistants with those skills. Pay them for a test project before hiring them.
Cost: Varies wildly. Expect to pay $10–$15 per hour for super basic stuff like sifting through comments and emails; $20–$30+ per hour for tasks requiring knowledge of trainer software or sales. Overseas assistants are cheaper ($2+ per hour) but set your expectations accordingly.
Over time, you’ll start seeing opportunities to automate. For example, you can use Active Campaign as your customer relationship management and email software, and Zapier to help automate actions between other software.
Cost: You’ll see a lot of free trials or limited free plans, but the more you need done, the more it can cost. Expect to pay $0–$100+ per month, depending what you’re trying to automate.
Work up a website
I half-jokingly tell our Online Trainer Academy students that you’re not allowed to have a website until you have at least 30 clients.
Building a website before you have clients is just a “productive procrastination” technique. We do it because it makes us feel good to have one. It makes us feel legit. But it doesn’t serve new trainers.
Your job when launching your online business is to make your current network aware of who you’re helping, with what, and how. You should be focused on providing value and building relationships.
A website, landing page, funnels, and all that stuff can be fantastic, but only if it’s adding fuel to a fire. When you’re first starting you don’t have a fire yet.
Once you’ve established a client base and you want to scale beyond 30 clients, you might consider a website. I still hold firmly that most coaches will never need one, but for some people it might make sense.
If you plan on using the website for lead generation, offering ethical bribes, blogging, SEO optimization, or as a login page for clients, then it can be helpful.
Cost: If hiring someone to create a website, expect to pay $700+ for a basic setup and then a maintenance fee of $50+ per month, on top of registration fees for the site itself. Your domain name will likely run $20+/year, and the fee to the website host can run $20+ per month, depending on the features you select.
Dabble in advertising
Creating advertising is a mix of clearly understanding your target market, strategy, experimentation, and playing the long game. Match the cost of figuring all this out with the high cost of advertising, and it becomes pretty expensive.
That’s why when we’re first launching an online business, when we are still learning about our target market, it doesn’t make sense to try ads.
If you’re looking for a lot of clients, say 100 or more, advertising might be an option.
Cost: You can technically advertise on social media for “any” amount, but it may not yield much. Be prepared to experiment, but set aside at least $100 per month to start, not including other costs associated with creating the ad. It could easily get into the thousands, depending on how many people you’re trying to reach.
Consider specialized certification
While standard certification is all you need, as time goes by you may discover an underserved niche in the market or find that you really enjoy working with a particular type of clientele.
For example, maybe you want to work with people with diabetes. If that’s the case, then you might look at getting training specifically in that area.
Cost: Additional certifications can vary but expect $250–$1,000 or more, depending what you’re getting certified in.
Spend what it takes to keep it personal
If you’re looking for investments with a large return, finding opportunities to celebrate your clients’ achievements, no matter how small, is sure to come back tenfold.
When you’re first launching, there are a ton of free ways to do this. It can be as simple as recording a video and telling them how awesome you think they are and how hard they’ve worked.
Or, as you know, I’m a big fan of gifs. I create them and send them out.
Or you could build a Spotify playlist and say, “Hey, as a bonus I wanted to make this for you because this is how I see where you are right now.” So there is a lot you can do for free.
As you grow and charge more, you might decide to start spending a little money to surprise and delight clients.
If you need somewhere to start, try saving 10 percent of their package price each month. You might choose to do small, regular gifts or save it for a bigger surprise-and-delight.
To help make it really special, make it as personal as possible.
Keep notes about what you know about your clients and look for opportunities to surprise them based on what you know. Remember, a $10 personal gift will usually beat a $100 generic gift.
Check out this article about building rapport with client gifts.
Cost: Totally up to you but 10 percent of each client’s package per month is a starting point.
Grand total: $1,200/month*
*For a trainer with 30 clients (this would be on top of the spending total for the Starting to Grow stage).