For many personal trainers, the move to digital is very appealing. Make no mistake, starting an online personal training business has its perks and can be very lucrative. However, the digital landscape is vastly different. There are potential pitfalls you need to be wary of, even if you think you know the ins and outs of the personal training industry.
In fact, many trainers who dream of training their clients from the comfort of their own home or the sun-kissed beaches of Cabo make three major mistakes that end up costing them a lot of time, energy, and money. I’ll be discussing what they are shortly, but let me first say that creating a viable and successful online training business requires us to take our own advice to our clients:
Build a strong base and grow from there.
In other words, don’t worry about anything else until your basic foundation has been lain. As part of that goal, you need a well-oiled system in place, but that’s actually the first place where things go wrong.
Mistake 1: You have a bad email system that wastes your time.
Nearly your entire business is conducted through email, but the cold reality is that email will drive you crazy.
Services like “unlimited email support” sound good on paper, but emails themselves don’t help the client because it creates dependence. Worse, you’re wasting your time and giving away your freedom. That's disappointing and ironic since extra time and freedom are the two reasons why many personal trainers go toward online training in the first place.
The solution? Establish a precedent.
Your clients can send you emails, but you must include added stipulations: Tell your clients that they can send you one email a week. That email has to be in point form, where each point is one question and no longer than three sentences. They can send as many points as they want. Meanwhile, you pick one day--let’s say, Sunday morning--to answer all emails in one fell swoop.
There are many reasons for this tightly-controlled system, including:
- Most people aren’t writers, so forcing them to condense their thoughts in bullet points avoids the wall of words.
- Allowing only one email a week means that only the important questions get asked.
- You’re able to block off your time and set aside an hour or two once a week to do all email support, which adds back a degree of freedom and control into your life.
If needed, you can always offer additional support on a case-by-case basis at your discretion.
Mistake 2: Your value-adds are hurting you.
As an online trainer, you need to think critically about what you are including as part of your training packages. It’s easy to let the concept of time get away from you in an online setting.
Allow me to illustrate this with an example:
When I first began helping online trainers turn their business around, one trainer named Steve contacted me, saying that he was really worn out. He was working more and making less, the opposite of what good personal trainers should do. We got on the phone, and I found out why. Here’s what he was offering:
- 1 hour Skype check-in call each week
- Program design
- Nutrition design
- 24/7 email support
That doesn’t look too bad, but let’s look at it another way: Steve charged $75 an hour for in-person training. When we spoke, he told me that it takes three hours for him to design the program and come up with a nutrition plan. In essence, he was offering seven hours of his time for $199/month, or $28/hr, and that’s not considering email support. All in all, he was training at a loss of $329 per client each month. No wonder he was burnt out! He didn’t think his systems through.
The lesson here is that just because you’re working online doesn’t mean that you’re working smarter.
Rather than do what Steve did, try this: When deciding your program offerings, base your pricing off of the amount of time it’d take you each month to deliver your service and go from there. If you’re unsure how to put a monetary value on your time, click here to open an article laying out the steps to read after.
Mistake 3: You’re taking the wrong type of clients.
You’d be surprised to hear that being able to maintain a high-quality service online requires more proactive and lateral thinking than in-person training does. That’s because with in-person training, you can be reactive--whenever something goes amiss, you can address it then and there. In the online space, you have to anticipate problems and plan for them so that they never happen, or at least drastically reduce the likelihood of them happening.
This doesn’t mean you need a crystal ball or anything. It does mean you need to very fully understand the type of client you’re training.
You have to know the problems they may run into, the complaints they may have, and the barriers they may face. In other words, you have to be a lot more selective of your clientele. The PTDC has written plenty on finding your ideal client, but refinement of this approach comes with time and experience personal training--typically, a year.
What does my ideal client look like?
Let’s say, for example, I’m training a 30- to 35-year-old working, professional male who has no serious injuries. I can make a good guess that he probably works a desk job. With a little more thought, I can predict that he will likely have some trouble with the bench press--perhaps a shoulder impingement. We’re talking generally and hypothetically, so bear with me.
For this client, I might substitute the bench press with an incline neutral grip dumbbell press, which is a proactive response to my anticipation of a problem that may arise.
My suggestion is to identify the two to three key client avatars that you deal with. Be specific. Examples:
- Female, aged 30-40 with one client less than 6 months post-partum.
- Male 40-55 was a college athlete but let things slide and has some lingering knee issues.
And so on.
It all comes down to knowing your client. Providing a quality online training service is possible without taking away your time, sanity, and freedom, but a big part of that comes from taking on the right type of clients for you.
Figure out who you know best, who you enjoy working with most, and only take those people as your online clients. After all, the people that you actually enjoy working with and don’t drain your energy will be the ones that will help your business thrive.