Is Personal Training a business? I think most people would look at it that way, because most people do it for money …
Well I’m here to say it’s not a business – calling it one really misses the point. If you’ve been having trouble with long hours, a lack of money, or low satisfaction, this might be where you’re getting it twisted.
At the basic level, this industry has different rules. When it comes down to an intangible product changing hands, it’s not as easy as just calling it a business.
Believe me, I tried that and went down that road. I tried to milk every possible dollar out of being a trainer early in my career – I read the business books, went to the sales conferences, was committed to working 16 hour days, and all of that.
Didn’t work – with training you can’t think of it like that – customers can see right through it.
You can’t over business-ify this thing, at least not in the beginning. Many otherwise smart and committed trainers make this mistake and then stand around really puzzled like “what happened”?
Becoming an independent trainer doesn’t mean starting a business, it just means understanding some correct principles and implementing a few smart practices. You can’t start thinking about being a “big business” until you can attract and maintain a roster of high-level clients that you like to train for an amount of money and number of hours that works for you.
Learning to inspire people also comes first – having the confidence in yourself to tell others what’s right for them and what to do, and them having the confidence in you to listen.
If you’re already a trainer you know it’s the experience of training that we’re all selling. It’s not just the knowledge, it’s the intangibles. It’s the human element that allows you to take -off.
And achieving that initial measure of success gives you the confidence to lead others down that same road – what I mean is hiring assistants and employees. Sure you can decide to be a boss at any point, but are you the kind that your employees respect, or just roll their eyes at behind your back. We’ve all had one of those.
You don’t have to be Martin Luther King – you’ve just got to gain mastery with your work and yourself at a very basic level.
A business is only a means to an end – it’s a way to meet the financial objectives for everyone involved. But there’s a human element behind it – it never comes down to products, services, or systems – it always comes down to people.
Training is a way for you to become that person – to be more of who you really are. It’s a growth and learning process, and you learn a lot of important business lessons along the way:
- What makes a product sell?
- What are customers looking for?
- How do you sell effectively?
- What are the personal characteristics that lead to success?
Money doesn’t come until you learn and understand these things.
Most people are afraid to learn these lessons – they want to hide behind the business aspect of training. You’ve seen these trainers – you can hardly find a picture or description of them on their own websites, even though they’re the only employee!
People identify with the individual, so don’t hide behind a facade; in fitness you’re not allowed to do that.
For example …
They’re called celebrity trainers, not celebrity training businesses; even the top training studios are named after the founder.
Other professions allow you to hide, but not training.
In the medical profession, people never look forward to seeing their doctor, they only go when they need to. And the deciding factors on who they pick is who’s available locally, covered by their insurance, or has the best degree or the most experience. It’s usually not any personal characteristics of the person delivering the service.
Personal Training isn’t judged in the same way. Fitness training isn’t a necessity in the same way medicine is (or claims to be). Except for extremes where a client medically needs to lose weight, it’s a luxury. My clients all come to me for an aesthetic reason – it’s a luxury for them to pay to look outstanding and get personal attention.
They pick you for you – for what you have to offer:
– because they feel comfortable with you
– they perceive a high value for the money they’re paying
– they feel they can trust you
– they feel good around you
– you create a positive training experience
To be judged on these terms is kind of scary but liberating at the same time. It means you control your own destiny – nothing guarantees that you’ll get clients except whether you can bring all of this to the table.
Unlike getting a job, where as long as you’re a busy worker bee you’ll be able to keep it and can depend on your check every two weeks (or so you think), training is up to you.
So we just talked about how Personal Training isn’t a business –
Training can teach you to be a businessperson –
It can be an excellent way to make money – dare we say, it can even be an “easy” way to make money. I know that might have just triggered your scam radar, because all day we’re hit with every kind of crazy business start-up idea …
Things like selling books on the web, flipping real estate, or having a garage sale on ebay –
Those could very well be easy ways to make money – I know of people that do make money “easily” in each of those fields.
But everyone is “different” – no one is better or worse, just different. Learning to do anything new well, to a point where you can earn six-figures, will take time and work.
Earning six-figures in any of these businesses is difficult – the people on top selling the stuff say it’s easy. But ask the people that are really in it, and they’ll tell you that the road to that “six figure” number wasn’t as easy as advertised.
But training is something different – it has a few unique rules just by the nature of it: the type of product it is (intangible), the way you sell it, and the way you reach clients.
And what’s most interesting is that if you’re a fitness enthusiast, you’ve done most of the work already –
– If you’re already work out regularly, learning and mastering this profession is easy
– If you have a passion for it, teaching it is easy
– You only need about a dozen or so clients, so the marketing is simple
– The need for training has been built into our national (and largely international) consciousness
I’m not selling a dream here – if you’re like me, you just need a reminder of some of these facts every now and then.
Anyone can make money in training. Go independent, go hard, provide outstanding service, and tweak the process. Have fun with it, and above all live and breath fitness.
That’s as simple as the business of training needs to be in the beginning – you don’t need a business plan, marketing strategy, or any of that. Without any of that, you can get to a level of success and income in fewer hours doing easier work than most people will believe.
You don’t need to think about the business end; over time, it’ll just kind of happen to you – you’ll need to get things straightened out with how you’re set-up, you’ll need to get and maintain a website, you’ll need to learn a lot of little marketing things.
And just as human nature dictates, you’ll get the hunger for more – it’s natural – and this should all happen faster than any business school or planning process would ever be able to prepare you for. It’s real world schooling, which is the most valuable type.
That’s why training is so great – it’s a small business, but that business is just you for the most part. It’s like playing with house money …
It’s about customer service, but there are just a few customers.
It’s a job, but it’s an easy one.
It’s a career, but it’s flexible – you control it’s course.
So don’t get too caught up with the business part right now – you’ve got much more important stuff to handle first!
Because until you understand yourself and your strengths and interests, what customers consider value, the personal skills that lead to success, or the critical factors that makes a product or service succeed, you’re going to have a hard time starting a business that serves you. I just hope you don’t lose a lot of good years of your life and money before you figure this out.
I usually save rambling like this for the newsletter, but I’ve been getting this type of question from readers lately, and I think it was important to revisit the motivation behind Top-Level Training. It’s simple, once you’ve got the mindset down.
And I’m also getting you ready for a new post I have coming up with a person big on the business end of Personal Training – Kelli Calbrese. With her we’ll really look at and learn about the business end of it.
Look out for that one – and if you’re a solo trainer, stop thinking big business for a minute – get the basics handled, and that’ll come soon enough!
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Very well written! Are you sure your last name is not Hemingway?
I agree, that better defining your strengths, while really enjoying the beginning years of this fantastic career is super important. As your and your business rises in popularity, the hobby/joy perspective of being a personal trainer begins to disintegrate, and staying focused on customer satisfaction and retention can be very tricky.
When the six figure income begins to roll in, the addiction to more money becomes deeply etched in your mind. Before you know it, your wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, vacationless, and have too many needy clients controlling your life. I knew there was a BIG problem with the way my business was developing, when I began to develop an aversion to training myself. There was a 1 year window in my career when I actually needed the help and accountability of a pro personal trainer to get me to the gym and kick my ass. Thank God I made some wise business decisions, and am now working intelligently. Best of all, I am am back to working out on my own, Crossfitting 6 days per week and really digging it!
Hey Kaiser! I agree with this post 100%! I wasted most of the past two years trying to learn more and more about starting my own training business. I’ve been reading a lot of business books just like you said. But your site has made me realize that training isn’t so complicated – now I’ve got a real plan where I’m learning from other people and starting to get things set-up. I’ve made more progress in the past two months than the last two years! You’re right, just keep it simple and take it from there – thanks man!
Hey Rivak – I can completely relate to every aspect of your story, and every emerging trainer needs to head this warning and keep it in mind – the aversion to training, addiction to money, endless hours, and being a slave to your clients –
The lesson here is THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT IT MEANS NOT TO BE A PERSONAL TRAINER –
We’re creating a new definition here and a new job description so I hope everyone takes notice –
Yeah Manny, you’re on the right path – it’s not about big business – it’s being yourself and letting customers know it –
I love your articles. I’m working on my certification right now, but I’m already in the tutoring business and a lot of the same principles apply. Every time I read your articles the one thing you remind me of is that the difference between premium trainers and regular trainers is premium trainers think and know they are premium.
Bravo, Kaiser hits the nail on the head again, finding the “happy medium” is important, BUT working hard is needed to really pay off !!
Yeah Dave, there are parallels – what I love about Personal Training though is that it has some unique dynamics that you won’t find in any other field of consulting – I talk about this in the first set of bullet point in THE WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT –
Yeah Bill, hard work is the recipe no doubt – it takes on different forms – IN your business, ON your business, and ON yourself –
I like that so many of you had comments and got something out of this post – this balance between fitness as a job and as an extension of your own passions is what this blog is all about –
Biggest thing I got out of this article and Kaiser is that you need to focus on YOU and not your company. YOU are the product first. I actually got sidetracked and started to focus too much on the biz end of it while Kaiser has been helping me set up my website. Always great to read these articles and get refocused.
Yeah Gaby – it’s not just me – that’s what all the top research says – you’ll notice every single top trainer market themselves first – you’ll even see this with major companies – big companies that don’t have a face will hire someone to portray it – that “Mac” kid from the apple commercials, and Mr “Can you hear me now?” come to mind!
Thanks for the post. It’s definately useful since I’m planning to start a business after finishing the PhD– I need all the help I can get ;-)
Dang! Everything you’ve said about personal training is how I feel in my heart but have put aside because all the “experts” emphasize business, business, business as the focus. I almost feel moved to tears because that’s what I want! I want to train people one on one and make a difference in their lives. A big difference! I’ve been in the fitness business for over 20 years working in gyms and in group fitness. I still teach group fitness (cycling, bootcamp, yoga, pilates, weightlifting classes…) at a local gym and it’s just that, “group fitness”. I have tried small group training and hated it. It is too much to keep up with and I feel the quality of my attention suffers. It’s hard to stay organized and keep things moving. I tried the fitness bootcamp thing too. It’s fun and all, but I already teach group fitness and this is just more of the same. It’s NOT personal training. Thanks for letting me know that it’s o.k. to want to train my clients myself, have only a handful of clients and keep it all simple, personal and small. I only need to train 4 – 6 people a day to make the kind of money I’d like to see from it and still be available to my kids (5). Things are really dead right now because of the holidays, but I have a renewed sense of enthusiasm after reading your posts. Thanks for the reassurance!