My story has been an open book on this blog and in the SIX-FIGURE FORMULA free report, but with the coming release of the new SIX-FIGURE TRAINER PROGRAM I thought I’d go into some more business details about my fitness career. Below you’ll find a post I put together talking about my progression and motivations to date in the personal training industry.
(This is not all edited, grammatically correct, and not a lot of it makes sense. But I’ve spilled all the beans, so be ready for a wild ride.)
First off, don’t let the title throw you off. The idea of making money while being “lazy” smacks of a scam, but in personal training, being lazy is probably the best advice I can give you.
Being a “hard-worker” always strikes me as doing something you don’t want to do. “Hard” seems synonymous to me with “unhappy”. If you’re unhappy with what you’re doing, you’re probably doing something that you don’t want to do, or doesn’t come naturally to you. You might not always like what you’re doing, but you should never feel like you’re doing the wrong thing.
Finding the best situations to succeed in? Stacking the odds in your favor? Coming in prepared with the right tools to succeed at it? Evaluating your chances of success and taking the most likely path to succeed? That should be what you’re going for. Purists be damned, I don’t think anyone at any level in business could argue with that. That is what I mean by the words “lazy trainer”, so if your you thought this was another “lifestyle marketing” sales pitch, you can relax.
Beyond that, hard work doesn’t get you the best results. Most trainers that want to make a career out of personal training seek first to become the world’s best trainer, which is usually a big mistake. But you can’t blame them – this is the idea that 99% of the fitness industry has enforced. If you check out the major industry events, very little of it has to do with making more money (reminds me of highschool and college, where talking about making money or being a “somebody” in this world was heavily frowned upon).
Here are the facts: you don’t have to be a Super-Trainer (no pun intended) to train lots of clients, to start a training business, and for fitness to be your lifelong career that leads you to your most wild financial and lifestyle goals. Anyone can do it.
We need Super-Trainers, no doubt. They help our athletes achieve amazing accomplishments, rehab injuries in people that need the help, and do the research to hopefully one day cure the obesity epidemic.
But if your primary goals are a business that comes easy to you, delivering a high quality experience to a large group of return customers, and bringing yourself tremendous satisfaction and freedom, you’re about to find out how to do it.
By nature most trainers are lazy. That’s why I think they became trainers in the first place. They don’t want to go through the boring learning process of learning something that doesn’t interest them (if that describes you, don’t be ashamed).
The truth is you can be lazy and get big success in training. Most people want to make it sound complicated, but if a training business is doing it’s job, often times it can take on a life of it’s own. Most wildly successful trainers will tell you they started to get tremendous success almost by accident (however, I really don’t recommend leaving it to chance).
That’s how it was for me. My training success story started almost entirely by accident. In looking at my mistakes and successes, I’m a little surprised. What’s resulted is that I’ve probably operated and earned at more business models than anyone else in this business. So if you’re going through a phase of growth, reinvention, rapid expansion, or just plain getting started, I probably have something to share with you.
The bottom line of all the advice I’m about to give you is that no matter what you’re doing, try to make it as easy as possible for yourself. Try to always set the rules up in your favor. Learn from others that have done it before (programs like the SIX-FIGURE TRAINING PROGRAM are a start).
Always look for the situation that has the greatest chance for success. Don’t try to ride out something that you know to be doomed. For example, take a look at Phil Jackson, the coach of the LA Lakers who just won his 11th championship ring. He’s the best coach of all time, but he also happens to have always coached the best players. He’s made it a point to only coach a team that already has the best talent, and is mature and ready to win. Whenever he’s been without a job, which has happened a few times in his career, he’s never gone to a poor team to gut it out and try to prove himself. Why the hell would he? He knows it’s hard enough to win even when you have the best talent – it still takes massive effort and some luck. So imagine trying to win without having the odds in your favor? It’s not worth even getting started.
That’s what I mean by being lazy as a trainer. Early on when I started as a trainer and in business, as you will find out soon, I thought you had to gut it out no matter how bad things are. Now it’s true, you should never be a quitter, but you also should know when it’s time to get off a sinking ship. I guess knowing the difference is a sign of maturity. It’s something that took me a while to figure out.
I didn’t understand this at all at my first business. It was a juice bar on the upper east side of Manhattan, a very affluent area if you didn’t know already. You would think that this was the perfect place to start a business, but that wasn’t the case at all. First off, as you can imagine, me and my business partner didn’t have much money so we couldn’t be in some busy high traffic area with lots of people. But we weren’t in a terrible location either. We were all the way on York avenue, which is very close to the water on the east side. The juice bar was right under a gym, a block away from another gym, and had a lot of health conscious people living all around us. And we opened it smack dab in the middle of a hot new york summer, which should have been the best time to make money.
But unlike personal training, which I consider to be a perfect business if you know what you’re doing, selling smoothies isn’t too great of a business. Personal training is a continuity service that is personality based (allowing you to bond emotionally), and high-ticket; three factors working in your favor. But with a juice bar, especially ours, nothing was in our favor.
While the location was around gyms, there wasn’t nearly enough foot traffic in front of our spot. Our price point wasn’t great, so you had to do a lot of business to make a decent profit. You couldn’t really do delivery with a frozen drink, and we didn’t know how to cook, so we couldn’t really sell food or anything like that. And even though we were far away from the most expensive retail areas, like anywhere in Manhattan, we had a huge rent over our heads. So if you’re struggling with making a training business work, just realize things could be worse – you could own a juice bar.
With all of this stuff working against me, and overall losing money every day, I refused to quit. I thought that I should try to fight this out. We stayed open way longer then we needed to and we lost thousands of dollars at this business.
But for me, it wasn’t a total loss – something valuable did come out of this situation. You see, we had a lot of personal trainers that were coming in for juice all the time. They were basically our biggest customers, and would bring their clients in all of the time with them. Trainers making $250 bucks an hour would hang out and shoot the shit with us for hours. Now I had worked as a personal trainer for a while at a big Bally’s, which is basically a step below selling used Hyundais. However, these trainers were different, and had a different lifestyle entirely. They were lazy bastards.
Until then, I thought that trainers in Manhattan had to be like doctors – I thought that it was something very serious and buttoned up. What I learned is these guys weren’t working very hard, but were making lots of money. They were friends with their clients. They were having fun. They showed me a new type of trainer: professional but cool. And it made me realize that the relationship and the experience of training is what the clients were really paying for.
So once I closed the doors on the juice bar, I determined that if I started another business, I didn’t want to work as hard at it as I did with this business. I did not want too much overhead. I did not want to spend tons of money on advertising. I wanted to keep what I made. Personal Training was what I was going to devote myself to next.
I made a deal with a Powerhouse Gym, working out a very favorable percentage for myself. For a trainer that doesn’t want to make a website, doesn’t want to advertise, and doesn’t’ want to spend any money at all (lazy), this is something I recommend when starting out. This is the type of deal my friend Cynthia who recently got her show on VH1 started with, and still continues to use as the foundation for a training business that makes well over six figures.
No matter who you are or what area you’re in, you’re sure to find a few facilities that have the problem of an under-developed training department. These gym owners just don’t know how to market or sell training. Once I made the deal with this powerhouse, they gave me an office, I had an employee working for me, and although I still did the majority of the training through one on one sessions, at that time, this was still a thrill for me. I only worked for a big box gym for a few months so training was still new to me.
I recommend for whatever time you think necessary, to pay your dues with one on one training. You must learn what your customers consider value and high quality when it comes to training and training services.
However, I discovered a fatal flaw in this situation. The owners can become jealous, even though they’re getting a cut. Jealous when they find out someone in their gym is making more money they are, at a much younger age than them. You hear similar stories in the tales of other entrepreneurs. For example, Ross Perot was a salesman at IBM, but was forced to leave after they cut his salary by more than 90% after finding out he was making more than the CEO of the company!
The other gym employees can get jealous too when they’re working all day making as much as you are in an hour. But that’s fine. I had outgrown this place and was ready for bigger and better things.
Now that I knew how to train, I wanted to be able to expand rapidly. I wanted the ability to have employees do all of the training for me. I thought what I found was the perfect situation with what I did next, which was my deal with the Dolphin Fitness Clubs, a 42 location chain spanning all of New York’s boroughs.
I first found these guys when I was looking for a more friendly gym with less hands-on owners. What I discovered was these guys were truly clueless about how to run a training department. After they heard about what I could do for them, the kind of success I got at the Powerhouse, and saw that I was extremely hungry and looking for an opportunity, they gave me a chance.
I started off hiring two trainers and setting up shop in one of the gyms in Brooklyn. I then moved on to doing all four surrounding locations. Next, I moved into the four Manhattan locations. Once they saw that I could consistently turn each location into a personal training cash cow, they gave me free rein over all 42 locations.
And the fact that they were a 42 location chain made it unlikely the owners would be jealous of what I was making. (In fact, I’ve later found out that the owner of this place was seriously mobbed up, but that’s another story.
With an opportunity like this, I hit it hard. I was hiring an employee every week, and this went on for five months. I had a secretary to do the office work, trainers to do the training, and I was selling training from morning to night.
It was mind numbing how much business we did. I ran tons of new promotions – something new was happening somewhere nearly every day of the week. Clients got led up a funnel from prospects all the way up to long-term training contracts. I tested every type of promotion known to man. And I learned how to sell my ass off to customers from all types of income backgrounds.
This was the first time in my life I got to feel what it was like to have a lot of money, but it came with a heavy price – incredible work stress and extremely long hours. And to tell you the truth, this was all my fault.
I was doing what we’ve all been taught since we were kids – that more money means a lot more work and a lot of stress. It means long hours and giving up your social life. And you’re supposed to do this for years on end. The way motivational and sales guru Brian Tracy describes it is “we bang our heads against the wall, because it feels good when we stop”. It’s pretty ridiculous and just plain stupid when you think about it. However up to now, I hadn’t figured out there was another way. But it’s obvious, this is a situation that couldn’t carry on.
Despite having one gym on 14th street in Manhattan, the biggest business I did came out of a location in Bay Ridge. That’s where we did almost a third of our total business, and the two downtown Manhattan locations made up most of the rest. The other locations were mostly window dressing. Despite having help, I couldn’t handle too many locations yet.
Now even if you’ve ever been to Bay Ridge, you’ve probably heard about it. It is a popular location for many of your favorite mob and gangster films. Not a very friendly place. Not that it has broken windows and that type of stuff – far from it. It has a different kind of menace, boiling under the surface. Lots of tinted windows, pinky rings, and really sour looking faces. It has the appearance of being “mass affluent”, with lots of fancy cars and boutique shops. But it’s a tough neighborhood, and if you’re not tough enough to handle it, it will take you in and spit you out in a second.
This is where I had to spend most of my time, because this is where they were building their biggest sales floor for me, a mega sports club with a designated women’s gym and tons of square footage.
Unlike my first situation, the juice bar, where I wasn’t making any money, here I actually was making money. But I was burning myself out, and not looking forward to each day. In charge of nearly 20 employees, I had what I wanted – multiple locations, low overhead, and a big staff. So even though I was facing all types of crazy hours, again, I was fighting through it.
I bought my first new car, was dressing well, and had an expensive place to live, what are usually considered the signs of success to most employed people. It wasn’t til years later that I realized that these things are totally meaningless. Success is defined by what you’re putting away and investing, not by your bills. By your plan, not the fact that you are working yourself sick now without having one. And by your free time and lifestyle, not how many people you’re in charge of.
I had turned into a high-strung sales manager. I turned into the type of guy that I never wanted to become when I was a kid. It was then that I realized I had compromised my lazy trainer values. And like anyone that runs a training business that large will tell you, the profit margins are not what they seem to be. Even though personal training is a perfect business, it’s an expensive one to run. Even a million dollars in gross is far from it, once all of the expenses are considered.
But being in Bay Ridge was also a blessing in disguise. Nothing would ever be as tough for me again, and I knew I could handle anything after I had spent time there.
Here are the lessons I learned here, which would be vital for any trainer to understand:
- The size of a training business doesn’t matter – it’s about the profitability.
- When it comes to personal training, a lot of employees directly reporting to you can be a major pain in the ass.
- Even though a host beneficiary relationship, as marketing guru Jay Abraham calls it, can be great, you eventually want to run your own world.
I was finally ready to fulfill the dream that most trainers have when they first get into training – I was ready to open my own studio. After being as burnt out as I was now, I’d made a few commitments to myself. I wouldn’t have too many people working form, I wanted a location that would make it very easy for me to get clients, someplace where I wanted to go to work, and a high profit margin. And being familiar with all of the city’s boroughs now, I had a wide range of places to choose my location from.
In my search, I found a location that was everything I could have asked for. I found a gym that rented out space and outsourced all of its departments to other people. They were actually willing to rent me space to open a studio inside. Can you imagine something better than that? I had a built in, captive client base, an exclusive training agreement, but was still my own boss. I would probably have to do very little marketing outside of the gym, even to keep up with my big income goals. This was all due to the fact that I purposefull set out to find a place where all the chips would be on my side.
What I also loved about this place was the location. It was in Astoria Queens, which for anyone that knows Queens, is a very cute neighborhood to live. Before anyone thinks that anything outside of Manhattan is a joke, let me tell you about it. Astoria is a neighborhood built hugely on lifestyle, with a bar and lounge on nearly every single corner of every block (yes, literally). Although it’s not rich, you’ll see some of the most expensive cars you’ve seen in your life rolling through on a regular basis (probably suckers spending all of their money on possession, like I used to be). In general it was full of action, nightlife, cool people, and excitement. It is the most ethnically diverse area in all of New York. I’m addicted to South Beach Miami, and in a strange way, Astoria reminds of it (except it’s way less clean, and of course, there are no beaches!).
And this studio brought tons of fringe benefits. Try to imagine it – you’re the highest earner in a gym of thousands of people. You have employees you’re bossing around. Basically, you run the place.
I recommend every trainer, especially one becoming established, to feel out for a soft spot. Think like Phil Jackson,, who refuses to coach a team that isn’t loaded with super-stars. Look for that place where everything is in your favor. Because building and growing a business is still hard as hell. Even if you make it easy on yourself, it will still be tough, so you might as well make it as easy as possible.
First and foremost to my success here was the realization that I needed to take care of my clients. I knew that I wanted the highest profits possible, and that meant holding on to every single new client, getting them to send me tons of referrals, and creating an image that made every person in the gym that fit our target market want to train with us. With all of this handled, I was able to cut back my hours and let my employees do all the rest.
This is actually when I first got the idea that I should one day teach my hard earned experience to other trainers. In a short period of time, I’ve probably done the most hiring without owning a chain of gyms; sold the most training without working for a big healthclub; conducted tons of sessions hands on and have figured out what clients pay the money for, even while running my business out of working class neighborhoods.
So I felt I had a lot to share. Up to then, everything you heard about was very stuffy and old school. No one was talking about what a tremendous business opportunity training is. No one was talking about the lazy way to riches as a trainer. No one was talking about how to do it at a young age, and still enjoy your life. No one was talking about how to keep an eye on your profits (of course now, with the proliferation of internet marketing, many people are doing this).
But even though things were perfect for me, I’m a bit of a workaholic, so I couldn’t leave well enough alone.
Have you ever thought about who trains all those millionaire bankers and people in entertainment? So did I. I decided I wanted to make a return to hands on training and to Manhattan, and through public relations and networking, I attracted a very exclusive list of clientele.
I had several hedge fund owners, a SI swimsuit model, a food network host, a major magazine publisher, and many others VIPs among my clients. I trained most of these clients myself. When you’re charging the absolute highest rates in the industry to the most discerning of customers, you cannot skimp on quality.
Here I was exposed to a completely different world of clients and possibilities. That’s one of the things a great career can give you – it will expand your social circle. When you’re a kid, your social circle is whoever may happen to live in your neighborhood and be in your classes at school. Since who we become is greatly influenced by who we are around, this is an extremely reactive way to go through life.
But your career will give you the chance to proactively create your social circle. Most of the celebrities that you see constantly surrounded by cool or beautiful people are in those situations for business reasons. It’s part of their work. That should be a lesson to everyone, that your work is going to decide who you’re friends with and who you become.
However again, I found myself overworked and losing satisfaction. What I realized is that no matter what your clients are paying, doing the training yourself is a low leverage activity. A trainer should still keep his/her pulse on the fitness side of the business, and be the fitness “curator” of the training business. But training, just like any business, does not afford you the ability to socialize with your clients and supervise their training reps. To grow and be sustainable, you have to let others do the training. You’ve got to run the show.
In order to succeed at my Astoria location, I didn’t need much marketing. Like I mentioned, I had a captive market. In hindsight, I probably could have had a business making triple the money if I had known about advanced marketing back then, but you have to realize I was still very new at this business. However in the free time I had, I made studying marketing my passion.
I used marketing to branch the training business into the most affluent areas of Long Island, just east of Queens in New York City. I mastered magazine advertising, Google adwords, search engine optimization, and direct mail to get my business in front of a very specific, targeted group of affluent clientele in very particular neighborhoods.
But web and direct response marketing are like shotguns when it comes to bringing in clients. First of all, you need to know what you’re doing. Like they say, a gun is just an extension of your arm. Well, direct response marketing is just an extension of your own sales ability. Direct response without the foundation of knowing how people buy, or how to serve them once they respond, is like giving a handgun to a chimp – someone’s going to get hurt.
As a simple rule about the economics of advertising, paying for ads is not a problem as long as you know that you’re getting a return for your investment. I would happily pay $2,000 for an advertisement if I knew that in the past, that ad had the ability to bring me at least one client. Even one client makes this more than worth it. Two clients, and it’s a huge success. This is the idea that can soon make you the most well known and most dominant trainer in your area. If you know the lifetime value of your customers, the cost of acquisition, and then do the math and figure out the difference, you’ll know how much you can spend to get your name out there, and get their butts in here.
And the more you advertise a certain place, the better rates you’ll get. And with something like personal training (which is a very high ticket item), with repeated advertising you’ll probably get higher response rates. This is how it always turned out for me. The first month of trying any new medium, I would get a very weak response. The more I ran it, the better my response got. But this is a deep pockets game that I only recommend to someone that already has some cash flow, and has made a hobby of learning about and studying direct response.
Paying attention to your dollars in direct marketing will also teach you to pay attention to how much your time is worth. You will know whether that time is paying you what you want out of it. Now money isn’t everything – if you want to be an employee as a trainer that’s fine. In that case, you should probably unsubscribe from my email list and stop reading right now. Frankly most of what you read on this blog will annoy you.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe heavily in high quality training sessions – the integrity of the product. I also believe heavily in the transformative power outstanding fitness can have on every single area of your life. But there’s a definite balance to this.
On the flipside, marketing can cure a lot of problems, but so can actually knowing what you’re talking about and having integrity. In fact, in personal training, the biggest earners are actually the biggest ambassadors of high quality training, not the use of scumbag marketing tactics.
Everyone has to start with doing all of the training, but if you continue to do this longer than necessary, your business will suffer. You need to start out doing it to know what it is you’re selling, how to sell it, and why people are buying. Have you ever had a boss that was totally full of hot air? That is what you’ll sound like if you don’t know what you’re talking about – if you haven’t paid your dues. But just like you stopped wearing diapers when you were a baby, as you grow as a trainer, you need to stop counting reps and start counting dollars.
In the fitness business I’ve been largely self taught, but if you want results without the bumps, bruises, and hard time it took for me to learn it, I recommend you learn from others. It’s now a great time to be a trainer, because there are more people providing high quality information on how to succeed at a grass roots level than there’s ever been.
I’m going to put all what I’ve learned myself and from networking with nearly everyone at the absolute peak of this business into the SIX-FIGURE TRAINER PROGRAM. You will feel very near bullet proof when you know all of the tactics out there at your disposal, and how to put them together. And I remind you that all of the information is field-tested.
I hope you were able to see a little of yourself in this post. I wanted to give you some background on where I’ve come from. In the process I’ve tested, succeeded, and made more money at more methods than probably any trainer out there (as well as learned to make a few smoothies along the way).
The purpose of this story was not for you to repeat the mistakes. It was to help you avoid them. And here is what we’ve covered.
- Don’t stay in a dead relationship
- Host beneficiary relationships are a very fast way to get started and hit six-figures for the first time, but they can blow up in your face too.
- Once you’ve already established a pattern for success, it becomes very easy to replicate
- What matters is the money you take away from the business, not the number of employees or the number of locations you have.
- Training all the clients is a good way to start – it’s probably mandatory – but not where you want to end up.
- Don’t re-invent the wheel – now there are programs you can buy that teach it all to you.
- Lifestyle is what we do it all for, so make sure you’re enjoying the journey along the way.
- Make lifestyle, time management, and doing less of the dirty work while still earning maximum profits your highest priorities
And most important of all, buy THE NEW SIX-FIGURE TRAINER PROGRAM!
(Coming soon, check your email inbox for updates.)