I get asked a lot of questions through The PTDC. Oftentimes, many of these questions deserve full-fledged responses that I believe are also worth sharing with the wider The PTDC community, rather than just existing as an email response that only one person could see.
And so, I now present to you The PTDC Mailbag, a monthly feature where I’ll pick a mixed bag of your questions and answer them more in-depth. In this edition, I answer the following questions:
- What are the best first steps for becoming a personal trainer?
- How do I know the right training program to give to the right client?
- What are your tips for getting trainers to feel comfortable talking about money?
- How do I make money off my fitness blog or website?
For your convenience, I’ve also included video and audio responses in addition to the written text. Choose which media format best suits you, kick back, and enjoy.
1. “What are the best first steps in becoming a personal trainer?”
– Robyn S.
Hey, Robyn. First things first, you should go get certified. It’ll help you build a working knowledge of anatomy, biomechanics, exercise physiology, and exercise prescription, all of which you’d ideally possess before you start working with clients. If every one of these terms doesn’t make sense to you, then you have some work to do.
It certainly helps to have studied kinesiology or exercise science during university, but neither is required to develop a strong background in those subjects. Without a doubt, a degree in those fields is helpful, but you can start to build a strong base by meeting the prerequisite knowledge requirements for a personal training certification and continual self-study.
Sure, some gyms will hire an uncertified trainer, but the corollary is that these trainers are required to get certified within six months, anyway. After all, a certification is the bare minimum for trainers to show that they know something. At the same time, don’t stake all your hope on it. It certainly isn’t a fair predictor of your success as a trainer. I’ve talked about this in detail a number of times (here and here, for example), but let’s review the few benefits and caveats to getting certified.
1. Certifications Are Good For One Thing
Here’s the most important detail to know: No official governing body regulates personal training, or the industry. This means that there are no “official” standards. Most of the current standards and practices you read or hear about have been entrenched in the industry because the certification companies, like NASM and ISSN, “said so”. As well intentioned as these companies are, the “standards” they’ve put in place hold no real, official clout because essentially they set and reinforce their own rules.
Furthermore, your clients won’t care about your certification. What matters is whether or not you can get them results. In other words, you’d have the best chance at succeeding by basing your education on how to best serve your clients and build your business, not by obsessing over the made-up letters you’ll get behind your name.
That said, a certification is primarily good for one thing: it helps you get your foot in the door.
If there’s a specific gym you want to work for, they may prefer one cert over another, so it’s worth asking the gym before you sign up for a particular cert. Additionally, if you’re an independent trainer, you will have a hard time getting insurance without a certification.
Basically, don’t overthink which cert to get or which one is best; just go out and get one. Get your foot in the door, then let your passion guide you to where you want to improve your education in the future. That brings me to the next point.
2. You Need to Develop Your Skills On An Ongoing Basis
I always believe that the best investments you can make are in yourself and your own development. In particular, books are an incredible investment of your time and money. Look at it this way: You are essentially purchasing somebody’s lifetime’s worth of knowledge for 20 or 30 bucks–what a steal!
To figure out which books to read, check out our recommended reading list on the best books for personal trainers. It’s a good starting place.
Ideally, you should always have two books at one go: one on fitness and one on business.
In fact, I recommend a minimum of five hours of reading a week. It’ll pay off!
Another great way to learn is to study the programs and work of popular trainers. If you know what type of client you train, seek out the books, videos, and materials from the most popular trainers for that niche. Study not just how the programs are made, but also the type of language they use and how the workouts are presented.
3. Getting Started Working With Clients
I always tell new trainers to get their start in large commercial facilities. The reason is quite simple: you don’t have much experience yet; you will screw up; and you don’t know the kind of client you love working with yet (you may think you know, but you really don’t, trust me on that).
So, while you’re figuring all of this stuff out, figure it out on somebody else’s dime. You may not be treated all that well, you will probably work a lot of hours, and you won’t make a lot per hour (compared to when you finally make it on your own), but it’ll all be worth it.
Early on, experience is all you’re really after. You want to see as many clients from as many different backgrounds and walks of life as possible.
From here, I encourage you look through these other resources (also by The PTDC!):
- Top Personal Training Certification Comparison – This helps you figure out what each cert is good and not good for, including a comparison chart looking at what you pay and what’s included with different certs.
- The Best Books for Personal Trainers – This is a list of the top ten books on fitness and top ten on business that I believe all trainers should read.
- On Getting Better Every Day (audio) – This is an audio lesson about developing yourself. It details how to identify good information and how to best spend your time.
2. “How do I know the right program to give to each personal training client?”
– Justin C.
Great question, Justin.
There isn’t a straightforward answer, and this is the kind of thing that comes with experience. Obviously, there are hundreds of potential programs that will take a specific client to where he or she wants to go. Plus, no two trainers are alike. What’s important is that you learn how to create and individualize templates, choose a program, and stick to it.
First of all, don’t worry about trying to make a “perfect” program. It simply doesn’t exist. I mean, if you don’t look at your programs from six months ago and think they’re horrible, then you aren’t learning quickly enough.
Next, you should be able to group your clients into their goals, potential obstacles, and demographics. An example of this would be 20- or 30-year-old guys with no injuries who want to lose a bit of fat and also put on muscle in their arms and abs. With every client you train, you should be able to put them into a category, or create a new one, if need be. When you create a program for that client, keep it as a template, write a couple of progressions and regressions for each exercise, and file it.
So, the next time that you encounter a client who meets the same characteristics, you now have a template to work off of.
Individualize for the new client as needed, based on their medical history, goals, intake, and general assessment.
As you learn more as a trainer, you’ll adapt your templates.
However, I want to note that one of the biggest mistakes excited young trainers make is program hopping. If you’re constantly learning (which you should be), then you’ll learn a lot of new ways to achieve results. This is fantastic, but can also pose problems for you and the client.
Avoid falling into the trap of thinking that you need to always be on the cutting edge. If you give a client a program, see it through. No matter how magical a new training modality might seem, you’re doing your clients a disservice if you stop a program in the middle and change course because you learned something new and exciting.
3. “What are your tips for getting personal trainers comfortable talking about money?”
– Kate G.
Allow me to twist this question a little bit, Kate. I’ve yet to meet a trainer who is actually nervous talking about money. Let me explain.
As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Everybody lives by selling something.” Every client you work with sells for a living. We all do. Not only that, we all get a high from purchasing something we’re excited about.
So, what you need to work on is not your hesitance with asking for money, but your confidence in presenting your services, what you offer, and the value you provide.
The latter is what I’ll speak to.
First, as a trainer you’re selling one thing: yourself. You’re the product. Be proud of it. Now I get that’s easy for me to say, but probably isn’t all that helpful.
In my experience, the real reason that younger trainers lack confidence in themselves and their abilities is that they don’t know which kinds of clients they should be working with. If you reflect on previous sales meetings with clients, you can probably remember feeling comfortable in some, excited in others, and downright worn out by the rest. This is normal.
We want to work with people we feel excited about, but the key to attracting these right kinds of clients is first knowing who those clients are. To better speak to that, this article by Elbeth Vaino is excellent for helping you find your niche.
Once you know the kind of client you can help, you should be confident enough to say “no” to clients whom you cannot help. Getting comfortable enough to turn down clients is also a skill. When you get to that point, it’s a great position to be in because you can use it as a powerful networking tool and refer them to other trainers in your area who specialize in areas that you may not be familiar with. This allows you to create and build referral networks.
I do, however, want to share with you a tip on pricing:
Have a rate sheet printed up and laminated with three packages–a low, medium, and very high option that each outlines your services.
This is a widely used and successful selling strategy. The top-level package acts as a price anchor, and the really expensive option helps make the middle option look like a deal. Likewise, having a bottom level allows you to go down to a lower level if need be during a sales meeting. This is especially powerful since there’s no real precedent for training costs.
Give the sheet to your client so they can see all of the options and say that you think the [whatever package you decide is right for them] is best because [insert a reason how it will help them to get to their goals].
In almost all cases, this will be the package priced in the middle. We’ve written about ways to help you close your sales with clients too.
4. “How do I turn a fitness blog or fitness website into a source of income?”
– Becky H.
I’m so glad that you asked this question, Becky, because my thoughts on this oppose much of the conventional advice.
Here’s the thing: most people will advise that you produce information products, like ebooks, courses, paid webinars, print books, etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, except that they all require a lot of up-front effort, momentum, and sales.
Instead, ignore the more scalable stuff (like the ebooks and webinars) at the beginning and focus on the activities that produce the highest yield.
Simply, it’s a lot easier to gather a small amount of great customers willing to pay you a lot versus a large pool of customers willing to pay you a little.
I recommend getting started with online training. Online training services may not be a passive way to make money, but it’s high-yield. Let’s say that you want to make an extra $50,000 per year. You could have 21 online training clients who are paying you $200/month. Or you could sell approximately 1851 ebooks at $27 a pop. It’s clear here that finding 21 great customers would be much easier than finding 1851 customers.
Focus all of your efforts on getting your first batch of online clients.
Once you have that, you will be able to afford to buy back your time by hiring people to take over tasks that you either aren’t good at or simply don’t want to do (like cleaning your home). You can then invest this extra time into building out your assets, or intellectual property and marketing materials to sell.
For further reading, check out the article I wrote on knowing how much your time is worth. I delve more into the “buying back your time” concept and help you put a quantifiable value on your time.
Developing an online fitness business through a website can be tough, but there are a lot of things you could do. What’s important is that you take a step in the right direction and focus on it. That step takes you to the next, which takes you to the next, and so on. Information marketing can allow you to build out multiple income streams, passive income, impact a lot of people, and have a great life. But it takes a ton of time, effort, and money to get going.