Don’t hesitate. If your heart yearns for it, make the jump no matter what you think you’ll give up. You will become better for it.
That was the key insight I’d learned when I made the biggest decision of my life to leave my long-time career as a stockbroker to become a personal trainer.
That was actually the easy part. The hard part followed in the six months thereafter when I went through life’s shaky rollercoaster of having uprooted my entire foundation to start again from scratch. I hope my insight here will help you overcome some of the struggles of the first year that inevitably come as a new personal trainer.
I want to share with you the business strategies that I’ve learned from my time as a stockbroker to turn my fitness business into something sustainable in six short months. I will say right now that your ability to hustle and out-work your peers is what will set you apart. The key is to not become a clone of Tristan Knell Fitness, but to implement some of these tips and continue forging forward on your own.
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My Story: From a Fancy MBA Degree to Humble Beginnings
My story began late last June. There I was at 33 years old, seemingly at the peak of my career in the finance industry, where I’d been for the the past 12 years. I’d earned my MBA to be in the business of business and was regularly on print media and radio. But no matter what, something felt unfulfilled — I was lying to myself. The office became a disease I wanted to avoid. The people I worked with were the only reasons I stayed so long.
I knew that my passions were elsewhere, except at the time I wasn’t sure what.
And then it hit me. It was so obvious. I loved fitness.
All my life I have always competed in sports at different levels, learned from different coaches, and tested my body against its limits. I truly became myself whenever I stepped into the gym. I loved lifting heavy and learning new techniques and workouts from my trainer. I loved to chat about it to people, and I spent hours a day researching the latest training and nutrition articles.
So, I decided to leave a very decent wage and job security to begin anew–a rebirth, if you will.
I wish I could say I hit the ground running, but reality is not a kind mistress. That first week in July, I was petrified. I had zero clients, zero income. What I did have was a vision–one that I think many of us share–to create a sustainable business to offer a total client experience and have multiple revenue streams.
Here are my most important tips to help you during the early growth stages of your business:
1. Your Customer Experience Sets You Apart
Let me begin this section by asking: How can you effectively sell something you have no experience in?
Sounds difficult if you ask anyone.
Before I became a trainer, I had my own personal trainer for over three years, but I’ve never trained anyone in my life. But my own experience working with my personal trainer was immensely helpful. This helped put me in the customer’s shoes and create expectations of what I wanted for my own customer’s experience. So, here are the things I came up with.
- Prior day reminder: Some people are just so busy, particularly executives who are likely to be some of your best clients. A simple text to confirm your session will set the way to a punctual start to the day.
- Post workout check-ins: Little things to show you care go a long way. After a session, check in to see if they are ok, especially if you’ve put them through the works.
- Constant accountability: Don’t limit your correspondence to just your one-on-one sessions. Check to see they have been tracking with nutrition and workouts and help them if they are struggling. Be careful not to be overly bossy, as this can have the opposite effect and make clients pull away or be less consistent.
- Continual progression: One thing I do (with great feedback and success from my clients) is that I record every set, weight, and rep that my clients perform. Do this on an iPad or on a piece of paper (or this spreadsheet here!). Throughout the first six months as a trainer, I have had every weight, rep, and set performed recorded for every one of my clients. This is an effective way to let them know they are continuously improving and see that you care. Plus, what is a trainer who doesn’t measure his or her client’s progress?
- Small gestures for clients: Thank your clients regularly. Show the that you really appreciate their time and business. Try taking them to lunch or coffee, or buy them a shake. Just go the extra yard. It doesn’t matter if it’s a meal or a drink. The fact that you make a small gesture will go a long way.
Instead of thinking about what you want for your client, think about what your client will want from you. Thinking from a customer’s perspective will give you a leg up on the competition.
2. Treat Your Personal Training Like a Business
Whether you went to business school or not, the moment you signed up for the gig was the moment you started a business.
And whether you like it or not, that means doing very business-like things, such as managing budget, having goals, and evaluating the things that work or don’t work. This stuff is my strong point, so here are the things I highly advise you pay attention to:
Budget: An important consideration is to know whether you are managing your finances for periods such as holidays or even periods where clients drop off. Inevitably, there will be days when clients may pay you all upfront and you get a big cash payout one day. But then you may not see a single cent again for two weeks (uh-oh!). You must be ready for this.
You should also map out a budget for marketing and promoting yourself, as well as have a reserve for investing into your personal development and expansion. Create a budget which lists all of your expenditures, like on a spreadsheet. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do have to be able to keep track of it.
Goals: Set goals for your business unless you want to work week-to-week and hope for the best. Write down your business (and personal) goals. If you have don’t know what a business goal looks like, these are some examples:
- Earn $100,000 in the next 12 months.
- Schedule 40 client sessions in February.
- Write 10 new blog posts for the month.
- Create and manage a charity.
These are big goals, but you want to create mini-milestones that will set you on the path to that big one. Write your goals for the next month, three months, six months, or even nine months (as far out as you can realistically envision), detailing how you are going to get to them and breaking them into smaller milestones. A good way is to write down daily lists that help you toward your goal. Be realistic and set your time frames. Put this “cheatsheet” somewhere where you can see it so that you can refer to it each day.
Business Analysis: As you go about selling your training business and gaining clients, you’ll start to notice business “trends” that are likely to continue in the long term. For example, there will be periods of high influx and dead periods. These will help you plan when you want to have holidays and periods when you will need to rely on your savings.
Aside from learning these trends, take a hard look at when clients leave your business. After all, client retention is just as, if not more, important than acquisition. Was there a reason? Always ask for feedback from current and past clients. If you build good rapport with them to begin with, it only makes it easier to figure out how to be better for current and future clients. It will only help you create an even better service for them.
Every quarter, I like to perform what is called a SWOT analysis, which lets you look at your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. According to Wikipedia, these are what to look for in each category:
- Strengths: characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others
- Weaknesses: characteristics that place the business or project at a disadvantage relative to others
- Opportunities: elements that the business or project could exploit to its advantage
- Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project
Perform a SWOT, and it will open your eyes to many different areas of your business–both the good and the bad.
3. If You Don’t Value Your Time, No One Else Will
They say, “Time is money.” There’s a lot of truth to that, but more importantly, time is precious.
Once you secure clients, don’t devalue your time by giving discounts or “buddy” rates out. I made this mistake.
When you devalue your business, people don’t take you seriously. Not because of ill-will, but that’s just how it goes. Remember that what you charge is not only for the one-on-one session in the gym. You’re charging for your program and nutrition expertise, and your ability to keep people accountable. Rates of $70 to $90 for a 45-minute session may seem steep when you first start, but you will quickly learn why you charge a premium.
Time is precious.
This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that your own personal time is precious. This job can often feel like there’s stuff to be done around the clock, so when holidays come around and your own clients go on holidays, it’s the perfect time as any to recharge. But that doesn’t mean completely closing shop. This “down time” is also one of the best times to research, better yourself, or your business. Do the things you didn’t get around to before, maybe doing a quarterly recap of what’s been working or not working for you, working on (or starting) your blog, going to seminar or events, and so on.
An important reminder I like to tell others: when your competition is sleeping, you should be working.
4. Be Smart About Your Training Schedule
When you’re first starting out, it’s easy to get into the pattern of jamming clients into your schedule for fear of letting them slip away.
The problem is that nobody can do 14-hour work days for very long. This is how you burn out. If you’re smart about making your schedule, you can avoid hating life and instead love making your business (and clients!) thrive.
The biggest tip I can give seems like a no-brainer: don’t go back-to-back with your sessions. It might be tempting to, but don’t. Otherwise, you (or the client) might feel rushed and you’d end up unprepared for the next one. I like to give a 5-minute gap where possible to allow me to get refreshed, use the bathroom, and prepare for the next clients. I also wouldn’t recommend doing longer than a 4-hour block at a time. Give yourself some time to recharge; it’s not just for you, but it’s for the clients as well. Remember that your client is paying you top-dollar for your service, so they deserve the energy you gave to the first client of the day!
The other thing to consider in your scheduling is how close you reside to the gym. Think about it: If you start early in the morning (like 6 a.m. or something), don’t just stick around in the gym until late at night. Find chunks of gaps in your schedule to do something else. Go home, train, relax, or work in a coffee shop. For me, I like to start early, between 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Then do something else until my afternoon slot from 4 to 8 p.m.
In the beginning, I too made the mistake of scheduling clients whenever I found them. My day was jam-packed with a 6 a.m. session, then a 7:45 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and finally, a 6:30 p.m. That’s pretty much one of the downsides of being a personal trainer: your schedule is not truly yours, as you have to constantly cater to the client.
At least you can take back control of what you can do with your free time, when you are not working with a client.
5. Give Back to the Community
It feels good when our clients are able to achieve great things with our help. Harness this same positive energy and put it towards the community as well.
To start, think of areas within your community that relate to you. My business training partner, Jonny of therealfitcoach.com, and I have had family members who’ve had a brush with cancer, so the first event we organised was raise money through our network for cancer research. We did this by participating in a 27-kilometer walk to show our support for the Cancer Council. Our second event was a shoe drive for the homeless, where we collected new and near-new shoes for the homeless around the Sydney, Australia area.
Think about what you can do for your community. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture of donating thousands of dollars nor does it need to be some elaborate event.
Of course, you don’t need a charity to be a good personal trainer, but doing something good for others without expecting anything in return is a great way to build your business reputation (and also develop empathy). Not to mention, a charity is a great way to get your network together and have the opportunity to support issues in your society and actually make a difference.
More importantly, you don’t need “credit” or proof that you’re a charitable person, so don’t look at it as simply a way to post a photo on your social media. People can see through that!
My Final Advice
You might be feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the different things you have to consider. This is normal, and while the information is out there and you can research all that you want to learn how to be the best personal trainer around, you have to have the energy and guts to execute.
Just remember you’re not just a personal trainer who counts reps. More importantly, remember this quote:
“DON’T JUST WORK IN YOUR BUSINESS – WORK ON YOUR BUSINESS”
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