How my personal training journey started
My journey in the fitness industry started quite late. I came back after travelling overseas for 5 years at 28 and wanted to find something I’d enjoy doing. Up until then I did odd jobs; worked in bars and put on roofs. I wanted to work for myself and have an actual profession, I just didn’t know what. All I knew is I didn’t want to pour beers and I definitely didn’t want to be running around on roofs all day long.
I looked at doing youth work, real estate and flirted with the idea of being a personal trainer but I wasn’t sure if it was for me. I didn’t really know much about it and I’d never even had a personal training session before. It was strange looking back now because at the time I had a job at a bottle shop and I’d do roofing on my days off all the while each night after work I’d go to the gym. My friends, family, and partner at the time kept encouraging me to work in the fitness industry because they could see it would be doing something I love.
Finally, I remember sitting at my dining room table after a conversation with my partner and thought, you know what I’m going to do it. It was like a light switch flicked in my head. I had this inner belief that I could do it, even though I was an outsider of the industry, even though I’d never been to a group session, boot camp, or had a PT session before I thought I’m going to try. Within a week I had enrolled at AIF for a 3 month full time course.
In personal training, it’s everything or nothing
At the time I had $10,000 to my name. The course cost about $4000 and I lived of the $6000 that was left over while I studied. I threw all my eggs in the one basket.
Once I graduated I applied for jobs at gyms around Glenelg but no one was interested. Funnily enough the gym I’m at now rejected me initially. I was working out one night at the small gym I trained at and the manager approached me and offered me the spot as head PT. Each trainer there before me kept bombing out and they wanted someone who could stick and build the culture within the gym. I wasn’t sure at first because I was worried why everyone before me kept failing and also I knew there was going to be no help or support there. I would really be throwing myself in the deep end.
After a week of thinking about it I signed the contract. I remember the following week I walked into the gym and sat on the red couch near the door with zero clients, no idea what I was doing and zero experience. I was down to my last $500 also. It wasn’t like I was a kid living at home and had financial support either, I was 29 years old. I had an old Ford that was worth $800 in which I hated driving and lived in a small apartment with my girlfriend at the time. I didn’t have a choice really, I had to make it work.
If you’re going to open a personal training business or go out on your own with something, you can’t go in halves. It’s either everything or nothing.
There has got to be a point somewhere along the line where you commit yourself 100 percent. I think one of the reasons I was able to build the business and stick with it was because I had to. I didn’t have a choice, I had pressure from the get go.
There was no backup plan, there was no one to lend me money, there was no second job. It was either build and get clients or I wasted $10,000 and I was back to working in the bottle shop.
Don’t learn bad habits from other people
I had an advantage at the gym because it was small and there was no other PTs to compete with but in saying that I also didn’t have any support either. There were no other PTs to learn from.
I didn’t know how PTs booked in sessions, planned their weeks, did payments, or did exercise plans. Actually looking back now I had absolutely no idea. Everything I did I made up as I went along. Sometimes I think that’s the best way because you don’t learn bad habits from other people. You think quick when you have to. If you bite of more than you can chew, you just chew faster.
The management at the time was very poor so they didn’t help at all. The first 6 months was just an absolute grind; it was long days, lots of stress, and lots of work. Still the key factor was I didn’t give up. It was that simple, I was consistent and I didn’t walk out.
It seems to be the deciding factor for a lot of new trainers starting out, they just simply quit too soon.
Think big when setting up a personal training business
Setting up the personal training business at the beginning is the hardest part of all.
Remember to always think big.
You’re thinking about 2 years down the track and not just 2 months down the road. When I first started Kitsonpt I designed a logo. I knew I needed something that people would recognise. Then once I had the logo I wanted to set up my Facebook page, Instagram page, I got business cards and registered the business name.
When I started at the gym I called back at least 100 people asking them if they wanted a free personal training session. I still have founding members that train with me today from those phone calls. I would start at 6am in the gym and stay for hours on end with no clients. I’d just talk to people and walk the floor.
In personal training, consistency is key.
I see PTs bomb out all the time but I feel if you tick all the boxes you can make it. Follow up leads, call people, be at the gym, market yourself and talk to people. If you start a group training session each week at a certain time, keep with it. If one week only one person rocks up then train them anyway.
I started a group abs session and ran it every Tuesday night for nearly 4 years. At the beginning no one rocked up, then finally it was full. Same with my boot camp; I remember only one person rocked up numerous times and I still ran it for 45 minutes making only 15 dollars. Sometimes no one rocked up and I’d just go home thinking how can I get people out. Clients would cancel on me constantly, I’d wait for hours between sessions and they wouldn’t even come. Slowly but surely though people started to re-book and the ball started rolling.
You just have to roll with the punches.
Get into a personal training routine
Once you become more established and get more clients on the books you have to set it up with a routine. A lot of PTs seem to have clients booked in randomly and at different times each week, straight away I put people in set times.
I’ve had clients be in the same time slot for years. Not only does it give consistency and routine to the clients but it is much more easier for you to manage.
I do my admin and bookkeeping on Monday morning to set up my week. Then all my clients are booked in back to back every day with the same times each week. I couldn’t imagine trying to book in 40 session every week in random times. I set up what hours I want to work each week also. For example, I don’t work Friday afternoons. Mainly because people aren’t interested in training then but they cancel regularly also at those times. Still, it might take time to learn what works for you but each week I have regularity to the times I work and number of sessions I want to book in.
This also helps with your work/life balance and lifestyle.
Take control in your personal training business
There is an art to running a personal training session. There is a lot of do’s and don’t’s. Especially in the beginning when you are trying to build your client base. The biggest piece of advice I have for someone when they are first starting out is to take control.
You have to take control of the situation.
When a new client walks in they are usually nervous. They don’t know what to expect. They’re apprehensive of the exercises you are going to give them and second to that they’re worried about you, and if know what you are doing.
The personal trainer must take lead with the conversation and remember the conversation is about the client, not yourself. All personal training sessions are about the client. We all have problems, we are all tired we are all busy but that client is paying you for a service to be trained, not talk about the personal trainer’s day. You may feel nervous yourself, you may think you’re not sure on what you’re doing but you have to act confident and in charge because if he or she feels your nervous energy or thinks you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll never see them again.
They’re waiting for you to reassure them.
You need to adapt your personality
Secondly, you have to realise that one rule doesn’t fit all. You have to adapt to the personality of the clients.
Sure we are who we are but you have to behave differently with different clients. It seems easier said than done, but I see PTs applying the same rules to each client, being the same persona to everyone. It doesn’t work like that.
You are constantly handling the client and their personality.
If they are tired, flat, full of energy, quiet or loud you are the one that works around them and makes it work. Everyone responds differently to instructions. You have to figure out quickly how you can get your client to respond to you the best. If you can’t get through to them you’ll lose them early. Lastly, the client needs to like you. If they don’t get along with you, they are not going to keep coming back each week.
It is crucial that you win the client and build that rapport early.
Never set a client up to fail
You have to remember people are there for the experience, you have to push them but not too far. If the session is too hard you’ll never see them again, if it’s too easy, the same applies.
It’s all about monitoring and figuring out super quickly what your clients are capable of. It leads me to the next point – never set a client up to fail.
Remember you are working with them to reach their goals. Whatever exercise I give a client I’m very conscious of whether they can do it or not. If they feel disappointed and don’t feel good about themselves then why would they keep paying you to come back week after week.
Work with the clients, not against them.
If you give a exercise in which he or she can’t do then move on quickly to something that they can do. The client never fails, if so, then you have failed them.
Everything has a purpose
Remember people want something different but people also don’t like change. I know it sounds like a strange thing to say but it’s true.
For example, all my clients know the system that I work with. We warm up, you incorporate exercises that are different but still stick to a certain formula. It makes sense what I’m doing.
You can’t just give random exercise to make up the time. In personal training, everything has a purpose. Just about all my sessions will finish with core work. There are a few reasons why but the main reason is so the clients know the session is coming to an end. Each session has a beginning and an end.
There is structure to what I’m doing. You can’t just finish randomly on a exercise that makes no sense. The clients need the journey to finish. If you give exercises to your clients that you are just making up then you are doing something wrong. Everything is directed to reaching the clients’ goals and everything has a reason to it.
For example, I see a lot of PTs take a client off a machine, walk them across to the other side of the gym, notice the next piece of equipment they want to use is full, then seem lost on what to do next. It makes it seem like the personal trainer is just making it up, the client can tell.
Finish each personal training session on a high
You must always leave the client on a high note.
I actually focus more on this than anything else with my one on one sessions. The closing few minutes of the session are all so important to leave your client feeling satisfied. I do this time after time all day long. They can’t be left in a negative state of mind; always positive and feeling good about themselves.
It is so important to finish your sessions on a positive, never a negative.
For example, in a group training or boot camp make sure everyone gives high fives. If it’s a one on one session, offer encouragement with an exercise you know they can complete or are good at. This is the feel-good industry, the sessions need to be fun and exciting. You are trying to make exercise a positive experience. You are always selling the sizzle not the steak. If the client doesn’t feel good or is disappointed, especially at the end then you are not going to have a high retention of clients.
The power of encouragement
Don’t be surprised by the power of encouragement. Remember the clients are trying to improve their life, trying to make a change, trying to better themselves.
Your job is to help them. Remind them of how far they have come. Remind them that they are doing a good job. You are never negative, you are never dismissive, you are never rude, you are never tired, upset or mad, etc.
You are the one that encourages and guides them.
However, fit or unfit they are, you are trying to get them where they want to go. I always say to new clients who are nervous about being in the gym not to worry about anyone else. “Don’t worry about what people think, you are here with me and it’s going to be OK.” You need to make them feel comfortable and confident with your presence.
Your job is not to be intimidating but be approachable, understanding, and encouraging so they feel safe and know they are in good hands.
You have to care
If you don’t care about what the client is feeling or wanting to get out of it, you may as well forget it. Understand they might have had a bad day and they aren’t feeling like training. That is fine but you have to adjust and work with it. You can’t just yell at someone and expect results. It is too easy for them to quit and not come back. They need to think why they are coming back and the reason is because you care and you are trying to help them. If they feel like you are just in it for the dollar then you are doing something wrong. Not only for them but yourself.
I’ve always cared about my work, what I’m doing in the session, the business, and the clients. If I didn’t then what’s the point? I couldn’t imagine just going in and thinking let’s get this over with so I can get paid.
You have to love what you do.
If you are not invested in what you are doing and the people in your business then you are not going to get very far. It’s all about the love! To inspire people to stay consistent and reach their goals is not easy. It’s all too easy for them to quit though.
If you can’t relate to your clients, if you can’t win their heart or their minds then you’re going to get nowhere. The client comes first with everything you do. Don’t get lazy and just think people will keep booking and keep coming back each week.
I’m always thinking about each client and their needs.
Set your personal training standards
If you start being late, start being negative, start not caring and being lazy then so will the clients.
You set the benchmark of what you expect. Don’t let things slip. If the client doesn’t come in 5 minutes early to warm up then say something. If they come late, tell them to get in early. They start cancelling last minute? Warn them that you’ll charge them. If their body language suggests they don’t want to be there remind them to stay positive and cut the negatives.
Clients and people will respect you more if you set the bar high. Show them what you expect. I’ve always said I’d rather train 30 clients each week that want to be there, buy into the culture and working hard rather than training 40 clients and half of them not caring.
Your body language, your demeanour, your attitude and presentation is crucial. If you look and act like you don’t give a shit then don’t expect the clients to either.
You have to completely engage with your clients
Each session I’m completely engaged with the client, I even count the reps out loud. I’m focused on what they are doing and thinking while they are doing their exercise what I’m going to give them next.
I change the weights for them, the pins, the height of the benches, or whatever it is I need to do. I see other PTs leaving their clients to get something while the client is mid-way through an exercise. This is a big no no.
You should be watching and involved with what is going on at all times. You can’t chat to other people, you can’t be looking of into the distance while the client is doing something. Always remember you are basically selling time and the client has bought your time to be with them. You have to make sure you give every minute of that session to them. If they feel like you have cheated them, it falls on you, no one else.
You have to take that responsibility and take pride in the time and effort you spend with the person you are training.
Time management and structure
I am forever keeping my eye on the clock to make sure we get everything we need to get done; the sessions have to finish on the dot.
You can’t be late because you’ll have another session booked in afterwards and can spill over to all your clients like a snowball effect. You can’t finish early either because it is a risk ripping the client off by a minute or two.
If it’s a 30-minute personal training session it has to be exactly 30 minutes.
The structure of the sessions has to flow while starting and finishing on time. Some clients have injuries, some are doing weight splits, cardio, strength, or a variety of different things. You need to make it work all the while making it seem effortless.
What is running through your head and what you show are two completely different things. You need to be upbeat, in control, and in a positive mindset. The client shouldn’t and doesn’t need to think of anything except for the task you’ve given them. You are the one who needs to put it all together without making an obvious mistake.
It gets easier in time but time management and the structure of the sessions is super important.
Personal training is all about culture and community
It is really important to establish a culture within the group. This is absolutely key to being successful. People don’t want to just be trained, it’s not just a personal training session. They want to be part of something.
As soon as you get more than 5 clients, get them involved with each other. Start a group training and invite them all along. All my clients know each other. They all go to boot camps and group trainings together run by Kitsonpt.
I put on shows every few months so we can all socialise together. One of the first things I did was start a closed Kitsonpt group page for clients to join and communicate with each other. Once one client finishes a session with me the next one comes in and stops to say hi to the other, they are a part of Kitsonpt.
Other PTs have clients but they don’t know each other, they are not really part of anything. The only point of contact is the personal trainer. They need more than that.
They want to be part of a community.
As soon as I get a new client I try to get them to a boot camp or a group so they are involved in the group. The longer a client doesn’t join in and remains isolated to the rest of the group, the more likely they are to drop off.
People want to train with other people and be part of a culture or brand that has a positive and strong environment. It’s a community.
Bookkeeping makes small businesses
You have to be on top of what you are doing with your money. A lot of PTs get their 50 bucks and go down to the beach without recording it. From the get go I have recorded money going in and money going out. It is impossible to see the growth of the business if you are not keeping track.
Each week I know how many sessions I have booked, how much money I made from one on one personal training, money made from group trainings and / or merchandise that I have sold. I also have receipts of all money going out as it is all tax deductible. My car, phone, clothes, internet, and anything related to Kitsonopt is run through the business. Now that I am 4 years in I can predict how much money I should be grossing each month and I can see if there is growth in the business.
I know how many personal training sessions I did this time last year and I can see what my targets should be. Same with group training packs and any other endeavours I may have. Each month money is put aside for tax, and I have separate bank accounts for my own money and money for the business. I even have separate credit cards, one is for myself and one is for any expenses for the business.
You have to have a finger on the pulse when you are running your own business. If you don’t you’ll never get to where you want to go. If you are not doing bookkeeping then you are not taking your business seriously.
Remember being a personal trainer is just like owning a coffee shop or a hair studio. You have to run it accordingly behind the scenes.
Don’t get complacent in your personal training tasks
It’s not like you have a salary paycheck that comes in every fortnight. You have to be on your game all the time and be prepared to do the work.
I’m forever thinking about what to do next. Whether it is to start an 8 week challenge, start another boot camp, start a mobile personal training service or run promotions for winter etc.
If you don’t work you don’t get paid, yet the bills don’t stop coming in.
It is countless mornings of getting up before 6 am, grinding away at the business, and trying to get ahead. One week your groups are full and then next week it’s quiet again. People cancel their sessions and you are down for the month. Every time I’ve thought I’ve made it, everything is running smoothly something always happens and sets me back. If you are not willing to put in the work, do the long hours then working for yourself isn’t for you.
I work 6 days a week but my mind never turns off. It is not like you clock out of work on Friday and walk out and forget about everything. Your life revolves around the business. If you didn’t love what you do you’d simply give up as it is way too hard to stick with it otherwise.
You have to believe in your brand, believe in what you’re doing, and keep going forward regardless of the set backs and failures. If I gave up when things when wrong I wouldn’t have got past the first week. Still, in that being said, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Social media is crucial in a personal training business
Social media is an important factor with any small business but I feel more so with a personal training business.
Each week I set up and work out what post I need to put up. It may be to do with personal training, group trainings, my training, healthy eating, or my lifestyle.
It is important to keep and have that community going through your social media.
Yet my following is quiet small. I see some PTs that have 20,000 followers but struggle to be fully booked in the gym. Just because you have a lot of people following you doesn’t mean it is going to get you business.
It’s not the number of people following you but who’s engaged with you and what you’re trying to do.
A lot of my social media is set up for my clients. I have an Instagram page, a private Facebook page, and also a business page. On top of that I have a Kitsonpt clients page which is just for post about clients and their training. Once again this all keeps the culture and community strong.
In my opinion you can’t be successful in the fitness industry without social media. It’s another element that connects all the pieces of the the puzzle together.
Your clients are the business so you have to keep them happy and together. Sure the owner directs and manages it but essentially it’s the people of the group that are what make it. Their personalities and their attendance is what creates the culture.
Social media is just as much about them as you. It seems some personal trainers think it is more about them, it’s not, it’s about everyone else. You are just the guide.
The relationships and friendships in personal training
The relationships and friendships I’ve built through Kitsonpt is the most rewarding asset of all. I have been surprised by the energy that has been created with Kitsonpt. Basically, my best friends are now clients.
I’ve been to clients’ 21sts, 30ths, engagements and weddings. This year I’m going to Bali with 3 of my best friends yet they are are all clients. I’ve had clients train with me for over 4 years.
It’s a strange dynamic but I now make a living basically from my closest friends. It shows a lot of trust between me and my clients as friends. Not like I’m a concreter and do a drive way and then leave the job regardless of the quality.
I can’t rip anyone off. I need to provide a service to people that I see socially. There is mutual trust. Some of my best friends I deal with money between each other through Kitsonpt every week and have done for years.
Running a personal training business takes a lot of responsibility.
You have to be honest with every aspect of your business as you are earning your living through people that you see every week and may eventually become very close friends.
I had my 32nd birthday party last year and I would say 95 percent of the people there I have met through Kitsonpt. One of my closest friends in which I employ to help me with my social media is still a client and pays me $50 each week to train her. Regardless of who paid for dinner and drinks the night before or who paid for the last round of golf you still have to be professional and run the show above board.
When I was diagnosed with cancer (read other blog) I actually had 3 of my older clients offer me money while I couldn’t work, and I’m not talking about a few hundred bucks but significant money to help me through.
It shows the loyalty and care that is within the group and which I’m proud off.
Enjoy the personal training ride
Creating and running Kitsonpt has been one of the most rewarding and amazing experiences I’ve ever had. It has created an energy within itself that even I had not expected. Yet I don’t feel anything I have done is impossible for any other PT starting out. Just keep ticking those boxes and throwing darts at the board, eventually something will hit.
Never give up and don’t stop believing in yourself.
Be better then everyone else and you’ll eliminate the competition. Put all the elements together, work your ass off, and lastly leave your ego at the door because you’ve never made it.
It’s all a journey with an unknown destination. Just enjoy the ride.