When you decided you wanted to make a career out of your hobby and become a fitness professional, you probably had daydreams of working with off-season professional athletes and celebrities. While there are a few trainers out there who work with those populations, the reality is you can make a good living by helping normal, everyday people improve their health and fitness.
But the question is, where will you work? Will you be your own boss as an “in-home trainer” and travel to meet your clients in their homes? Will you do your market research, create your business plan and risk your life savings to open your own personal training studio? Or will you go to work for someone else? If you do decide to be a trainer for someone else, will it be in a studio setting or in a health club? You enjoy the fitness lifestyle, you have the knowledge and you want to help others to enjoy the benefits of exercise, so the only question is what type of trainer will you be?
While the different forms of personal training share the trait of helping others through exercise, you will need to decide which environment you want to focus on. The different forms of personal training are independent, personal training studio or health club, and they each offer completely different career paths. When you decided to become a personal fitness professional, you probably did the research to find out how to become a certified trainer, but have you done the research to compare training in these different environments?
When making the decision, keep in mind the following factors: How will you get your clients? What types of marketing campaigns will you create, and how will you pay for them? If you do in-home training, will your clients have equipment or will you need to provide it? Do you have a reliable mode of transportation that can take you from client to client? Do you live in an area where traffic might affect your ability to travel between clients in a time-efficient manner? If you are working for a studio or planning on owning one, what will you do about benefits? Many studios hire trainers as contractors and do not provide any benefits such as health insurance (even if you live a healthy lifestyle, you will get sick sometimes), vacation and retirement planning (it is never too early to start!). If you are a new personal trainer, it might be a great idea to start your career by working in a health club.
You might be thinking: “I am a fitness professional because I want to be my own boss! There is no way I want to be someone else’s employee.” Before you cross health clubs off your list, visit the ones in your area and ask to meet with or do informational interviews with the fitness managers. Ask the following questions:
- What type of training do they provide to prepare you for success? Some club companies have comprehensive programs that cover everything from the planes of motion to business planning.
- How many hours will they require you to work, and will you be able to train clients while on a scheduled shift? Some fitness companies require trainers to be responsible for the floor during a shift and to see clients while off shift.
- What kind of equipment do they have? Is the equipment well maintained and in good shape? Some companies purchase new equipment on a regular schedule, while others try to get everything they can out of a piece before upgrading.
Of course, there is also the issue of a compensation plan. This includes everything from the hourly wage for working the floor, how much you are paid for each session you train, whether or not you receive a commission on the training you sell, health insurance and the retirement plan. (With a 401k plan, any money you save for your future is not taxed. If you put 10 percent of your income into the retirement plan, you will only be taxed on the remaining 90 percent. This is a major benefit in the long run).
Different companies offer different compensation plans that cover everything from the hourly pay to vacation to re-imbursement for continuing education seminars. Sometimes these benefits are not widely advertised to staff, so be sure to ask any potential employers about all of the benefits available. Generally health club trainers make between 40 to 60 percent of the hourly training session rate that members pay to the health club. Can you live with making only 50 percent of each hourly session? It does not seem like that much money, does it? If you do the proper research and homework prior to starting your training business, you will find that it is not a bad deal at all.
Now that you have met with the health clubs in your area, sit down with a pen and a sheet of paper and do a little math. While working for a health club might mean you are not technically your own boss, there are many benefits to being employed by a major company. The fact is that once you establish yourself as a competent, reliable fitness professional, most health clubs will allow you the freedom to operate your own business as long as you adhere to their policies and wear the appropriate uniform.
Think about the clubs you have visited. Are they national, regional or local? Are they well known by people in your area? Are they an established brand? Think about the major health club companies. They have spent years and hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions!) of dollars to strategically place themselves and their services in front of potential customers. If you do in-home training or work in a studio, will you be able to get your name out as successfully as these established companies? What will your price point be for visiting people in their homes or for hosting them in a private studio setting? Will your price be enough to cover your costs and provide a profit? Assuming that people will pay what you want to charge, how many sessions will you need to train a day to make the annual income you want?
To answer that question, write down your desired yearly income, then divide by 52. This is the amount of income you will need to generate each week. Divide that by five (assuming a five-day work week), and that is how much you will have to generate each day to earn your desired income level. If you want to take a vacation, you will need to factor that into the equation. If you want one week of vacation, divide your yearly income goal by 51. This is how much you will need to earn each week so that you can take that vacation without affecting your desired income level.
How much advertising will you have to do to generate that amount of business if you set out on your own? How much equipment will you need to purchase? If you want to own a studio, how much will rent, insurance, equipment and advertising cost each month? In order to make the most use of the studio and to get a proper return for your investment in the rent and equipment, you will need to hire other trainers. There are expenses and management issues related to having employees. Use the pen and paper to develop some estimates. Even if you are very conservative with your estimates, pretty soon you will see that it costs a lot of money to be in business for yourself. All of a sudden, making 50 percent of the session price for each session seems like a fair deal!
Most major health clubs create advertising campaigns to bring new members through the door every month. Working for a well-known club with an established brand identity means you will have a major advertising juggernaut that is bringing new members into the clubs, and these new members are your potential clients.
Getting established as a health club trainer is not an easy task. In most cases, you will be provided with a uniform and a schedule of when to work before being turned loose on the floor and expected to develop your own clients. However, if you have done the proper research, you can go to work for a health club company that will provide you with paid training on how to successfully work the floor so that you can build a successful training business with a strong client base. One of the benefits of being a club trainer is that you are already in front of a population of people who are motivated to see results from their exercise efforts. When someone makes the decision to join a health club, they are making a commitment to their health and an investment in their fitness. In a club setting, these are your potential clients. You need to make them believe that hiring a trainer will help them to see results in a timely manner.
Now being a successful club trainer DOES NOT mean idly standing around waiting for people to come up to you to ask for your advice. After all, some of the club members have probably been there for years and have seen many “fitness trainers” come and go.
To be a successful club trainer, you DO need to do some of the following things:
- Take the initiative to introduce yourself to as many people as you can during a shift. Simply introduce yourself, ask for the member’s name, say the name back to them and let them know you are there in case they have any questions. This works well to create the foundation for a professional relationship.
- Do not be afraid of rejection. You will not get a training client every time you help a member. It takes time for a member to learn to trust you and to believe you can help them to achieve their goals. Once a member knows you are an established professional, he will feel more comfortable approaching you.
- Are there group exercise classes? If so, then speak with the group exercise director to find out how you can become an instructor. In many cases, the director would love to have a trainer’s assistance in case a last minute subbing situation should arise. If a step instructor can’t make it, it looks much better to have a body shaping class taught by a trainer instead of having an empty studio. Often, the group exercise classes are the best way to develop new clients. People who go to classes are already dedicated to working hard to see results. At the very least, get to know the instructors who teach at your club. They get asked about personal training all of the time, and you want your name to be on the tip of their tongues! If it means doing a couple of complementary sessions with an instructor to create that relationship, do it. Group ex instructors are a great source of referrals in a club setting that often go untapped.
- Get over the fear of being in front of a group, because when you teach a group exercise class, you get paid and you are establishing yourself as more of a fitness expert. Who do you think a member wants to purchase personal training from, someone who wipes down equipment and stands around, or the fun trainer who leads the butt-kicking conditioning class? You get paid for teaching the class (many health club companies count the classes as training sessions when determining hours worked), and the class won’t call in sick or go on vacation, so it is a reliable source of income. Plus if you announce you also do training, you will be surprised at the response you'll get. If you played sports, teach a sports conditioning class. If you enjoy cycling, get certified to teach studio cycling. Check with the group exercise director to find out what their needs are and what they would like to offer. Maybe you can develop your own class.
- Get to know the membership staff. The membership consultants are the first people who meet with prospective members. If you see a consultant touring a prospect around the club, take the time to introduce yourself to the prospect and ask if he has any questions. If the club offers sessions with a trainer to new members, you want to do as many of these as possible (even if you are not paid your full session rate for them). By working with as many people as you can, you will gain needed experience, and you will be more visible than the trainer standing around watching television.
- Get to know the front desk staff. If the front desk gets busy at a certain period, pitch in to provide assistance. The front desk is the nerve center of a club, and the front desk workers are constantly asked questions about personal training and who the good trainers are.
- Think of the club environment as your home when you are throwing a party. You want everyone to have fun and feel comfortable. You want to create a positive atmosphere where the members will have fun while seeing results.
While many people might enjoy exercising in the comfort of their own home, the reality is there can be too many distractions in that setting that keep them from reaching their full potential, so they decide to join a health club. While you might have become a personal trainer with the goal of developing your own business, if you take the right attitude, you can make the health club a successful environment for everyone, for the members to enjoy exercise while seeing results and for you to create a fun and rewarding career.