So, You Want to Be a Personal Trainer? Learn Your Business
After reading part one of my series on becoming a personal trainer you should hopefully be feeling a bit more secure in how to tackle the big wide world of PT. I gave you two simple rules. Rule #2 was to specialize (and actually builds onto the continuous improvement theme of Rule #1). The reason for this is simple – do you want to be able to charge specialist rates or GP rates? Do you want to be known as the source for a particular item or method or just a jack-of-all-trades type trainer? It is thoughts like this that get you to start thinking about yourself as a business, and that’s what I want to focus on in this article.
Probably the biggest problem many new trainers face is they don’t think of themselves the right way. You are not a personal trainer. You are a small business that sells personal training (or group training, boot camps, or whatever your thing is). And just like any successful small business there are things you need to come to grips with quickly or you are going to fail.
One of my very good friends isn’t a career trainer. She is now, but she was originally a real estate agent. Over time she got more and more out of shape and more and more dissatisfied with her life. As she gained back the fitness and strength she had as a college athlete, she started to gravitate towards training people. Unlike most trainers she came into training with an exceptional business background that included running her own real estate agency. Now, her studio, Kettlebility, is a great, thriving personal training business in Seattle, led by her and her team of trainers. There is no doubt when you walk in the door that you are in a professional, well-run business and I imagine if I had gone into her real estate office I would have found exactly the same thing.
The skills that make you successful running one business are transferrable to any other. Sure, there are little things particular to a given field, but the big things remain the same – knowing how to market your business, how to sell your product, how to find and keep good staff, and, of course, how to do all that dreaded paperwork the tax department loves so much.
Most new trainers come into the game with some knowledge about what constitutes a decent workout. They probably know enough to train the average person, but might not know enough to get that person as a client in the first place. Here are some things to think about as a new trainer:
You Are On Display
Whether you realize it or not, every time you are working you are on view. Along with obviously being constantly scrutinized by your client, you are also being watched by others. These people are prospective clients. When you turn up late they see that. They also see it when you use the exact same session with your second client of the day as you did with the first. They’ll recognize there’s not much “personal” training going on there, but a random workout of the day you’ve decided to do with all your clients.
And don’t forget your phone. There is simply no reason ever to have your phone out when training a client. (At this point many will say something about how they have an interval timer on their phone. Well, your likely clients are in my age group and I will tell you now that a person in their late thirties or forties assumes when you have your phone in your hand you are calling or texting on it. Buy a timer like a Gymboss. It will make you look far more professional and you don’t run the risk of having your phone go off in the middle of a session).
Get Comfortable Talking About Money
Once a prospective client is interested in your services you are going to need to speak with them about money. As my father used to say to me – there is nothing sordid about money. One of the best suggestions I have ever been given was to “pre-qualify” people. What this means is that you speak with them quickly about what they want and what you offer to see if that fits, then segue straight into a quick talk about costs. A simple question like, “I charge $150 an hour for personal training and expect my clients to train twice per week. Is that in your budget?” will sort out whether or not that client is one you should be chasing. Trust me when I say that there is nothing worse than spending an hour getting to know someone, or giving them a trial workout, and then finding out at the end of that hour that despite you two starting a new bromance they simply can’t afford you.
Don’t Succumb to Discounts
It’s a harsh commercial reality but you have to be able to accept it. Just like not everyone can afford a Mercedes not everyone can afford training. I know this is hard when you’re starting out. Money will be tight and you’ll be desperate to add more clients to your list, but offering a discount on training at this point will come back to bite you. You must stick to your guns about what your price is. If you do offer a discount at this point, out of desperation, here’s what will happen – when you decide to raise that price, everyone who bought that product from you based on the price (personal training in this case) will likely go to the next cheap thing they can find, because they never bought on quality, only on the price offered.
While it may feel good in the short term to get people training at a cut rate, sooner or later you’re still going to have to have that conversation with them about whether or not they can afford the real price. And instead of wasting your time training them for next to nothing for a month or two, just spend fifteen minutes now to figure it out. It doesn’t make anyone a good or bad person if they can’t afford you. What it does is save you the time of chasing them for months in the hopes they’ll end up as a paying customer. That is time you could better spend on chasing a real prospect who can afford you.
My friend who owns Kettlebility has no problem asking for money. When you’re used to closing houses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, asking for a hundred or so each week just rolls off the tongue. But she also understands that as much as some people may want to buy a house that is out of their price range, the same thing happens with personal training – some people can’t afford you no matter how much they want to.
Starting out as a personal trainer is difficult – for the first five years you’ll think you know everything and you won’t even know how bad you are at your job. You’ll be overconfident in your abilities and that makes you dangerous. But when it comes to your business succeeding or failing in those first years, the difference will come in your business skills, not your training skills. Your level of professionalism and the way you look after your affairs – from accounting to your presentation and punctuality – will be the things that keep you afloat until you can make a name for yourself.