Let’s be real. Becoming a personal trainer is both a lot of fun and a lot of work. I believe that most of us become trainers because we like working out and staying healthy and I would certainly like to think that we do it even more because we want to help others feel the same way.
At the end of the day, however, it’s long hours and oftentimes, not a lot of pay. So how can we work at becoming a better trainer that hopefully leads to more clients and a higher income?
If we start off by looking at the stats for the personal training industry it shows a bit of a contradictory picture. On one hand, it shows the industry has steadily been growing (even through Covid) and that jobs will continue to increase over the next 5-10 years.
On the other hand, while pay has increased, both hourly and over the past 10 years annually, it is still reported that around 80% of personal trainers quit within the first year.
My best guesses are the overall income is not high enough, especially in today’s economy. I also believe that most trainers don’t understand the amount of time they have to invest in getting clients, further education, and running their business. All of this takes a lot of time and effort and burnout is a real thing.
What are some things you can do to set expectations and preserve your sanity while you are building your business?
Here are some of my thoughts.
1. Treat this as a profession, not a hobby.
You might love working out everyday and think that everyone else does to, but guess what – they don’t. A vast majority of your clients, the ones you want to help the most, do not train that much or they haven’t in a long time. A good majority of them hire you simply for accountability to show up and get it done.
2. Before you decide to get your certification, invest some time to research all the various companies that offer certifications.
Do some research into areas you might want to work and see what certifications they require.
I would recommend you don’t purchase a bundle (usually a personal training certification along with nutrition or some other course). Why? This locks you into this particular company. For example, you might want your certification with NASM, but you might prefer to get your nutrition certification with Precision Nutrition.
3. Remember that your certification is the bare minimum you need to start training.
You need to continually educate yourself, so don’t think it starts/stops simply getting certified. You will also need to keep your certification current every few years with a re-certification and additional educational credits. You need to keep this in mind, financially, as you move forward.
4. Legally, especially if you plan to train privately, get insured (liability).
Consider creating an LLC for your business and make sure you have a legal binding contract and client waiver created specifically for your business and the State you work in. (Note: Do not copy/paste these from the web as they may not be worth the paper you print them on if you were to get sued).
5. Set aside money for investing in your marketing.
Business cards, flyers, posters, a website, excellent training apps like Trainerize.
6. Make sure you set up, from the beginning, a business bank account.
Keep your business funds separate from your personal accounts.
7. Keep all your receipts that are training business related.
Check with a tax professional as to what you can/cannot claim.
8. Carve out your income as it comes in.
Immediately set aside a minimum of 30% for taxes, 40% for living expenses, 15% for marketing/continuing education, 10% for you personally and 5% for things like gas/food while training clients. It isn’t exciting to see so much money go out to things you don’t care to spend it on (like taxes), but you will be glad you have it set aside come tax time.
9. Check with a tax professional on when to pay taxes.
If you are training privately, you may have to pay taxes on a quarterly basis. Consider a program like QuickBooks or the like to help you keep track of everything.
10. Be the professional you are.
Communicate with your clients on a consistent basis. Send them reminder texts about their appointments and ask for confirmation that they will be there. Again, you are thinking about training 24×7 because it is your job. They are not. I have had several instances where a reminder text saved a session from being cancelled.
11. Always be marketing and seeking more clients.
If you are lucky you will find clients who will train with you, regularly, for quite a long time, but they are your unicorns. Most clients will do short runs of a few months and then leave for one reason or another. You must find another client to fill that spot in those cases, so ideally work to have a waitlist.
There are so many ways to train these days … private in person, privately virtually, in a big box gym, in a small boutique gym, but also in a corporate gym. Are there some really large employers in your area? Check to see if they have a gym on site and if they do, do they offer training? Would they consider it? You can often make a much higher rate at these gyms than you can in a big box gym.
12. Highly consider a mentor.
Finding a trainer in your area who is already successful and learning from them on how they train various clients or run their business can be super valuable. Don’t ever think that you know everything, we can all learn from one another.
13. Imposter syndrome is real in this business.
It is very easy to think that you aren’t good enough to be a trainer. If you have studied and received a certification, you are on your way. Once you get some clients under your belt, you will gain more confidence. Target clients you want to work with and know you can help.
14. Finding your niche will help you become more successful.
The more refined you make your niche, the more likely you will become the go-to trainer in that area. Simply stating that you will train anyone of any age is pretty broad and can be a nightmare programming wise. Think about it this way, “I train anyone who wants to become fitter and healthier” versus, “I focus on training postpartum stay at home mothers” The more refined you make this niche the more you can market directly to this client. Keep in mind that it is best that you have specific training experience in the area you are training for so if you don’t, but are interested, seek out courses to take.
15. Build out a network.
Build yourself a network of chiropractors, massage therapists, nutritionist, physical therapists in your area so that you have a referral network for your clients. This can end up working both ways because those contacts will likely, in turn, refer you to their patients who are seeking training.
16. Lastly, have fun and enjoy the journey.
You hopefully became a trainer because you have a passion and desire to help others become fit and healthy. You enjoy the environment and the challenge to help others become better. If you don’t and you became a trainer because you simply thought it was an easy way to make income then sadly, you will most likely become part of the 80% that quit this rewarding career within their first year.
Best of luck and stay healthy.