PT on the Net Research

Pounding the Pavement: Making It as a Private Trainer


“The club takes all the money. I would make so much more if I go out on my own and do private training.”

This is what many trainers tell me when I ask them how work is going. Unfortunately, some of these same trainers could no longer continue in this profession one year later because they didn’t fully anticipate the challenges. Also, it’s not just about the money. The difference between working in a health club or as a private trainer is much more than that. It is also not a matter of one being right or wrong. We just need to take a serious look at the differences between working for a health club versus going out on our own before making this monumental change.

Learning Objectives:

In this article, I will discuss three of the many important considerations when deciding to “go private”:


Know Your Numbers

How much money do you make in one year working in a health club? How many training sessions did you need to do in order to make that money? This can be a starting point when figuring out your private training goals. As a private trainer, you will be able to do fewer training sessions, but you may need more travel time and that needs to be factored in. A trainer in a traditional health club setting can do 4 or more sessions in a row. Compare that with private training, where it could take at least 30 minutes to get to the next client. Depending on where you live and how you travel, there might also be expenses such as parking, gas, etc. It is surprising to me how many trainers have not considered this when we talk numbers.

Also, when factoring time, it is necessary to plan extra minutes to get to private sessions, whereas in a club you can literally go from one client to the next. One of my clients was surprised at how prompt I am. I said, “It’s easy to be on time because I am early!” Sometimes I do 3 laps around the block, waiting for the moment I can go into someone’s building!

As a private trainer, I plan a 50-week work year, as opposed to 52 when projecting income. This takes into account the fact that most clients are not in town the entire year, and I also take some time off. This is similar to a health club setting, except that in a club your manager can potentially help fill in gaps with one-time sessions or working for a colleague while they are gone, for example.

When working in a club, your employer pays items such as social security that you need to pay on your own if you go private. Health and professional insurance is also up to you. As a private trainer, will you be lucky enough to work for someone (you!) who pays performance bonuses and vacation pay too?
These considerations are just some of the necessary number crunching you should do before making this decision.

Building and Being Your Brand Identity

When I underwent a branding interview to help me determine my slogan and logo, it was a chore of honest self-evaluation. I was asked to think about the promises I make to potential and current clients. What would a current client say about me? I had to determine exactly who I am as a trainer, and a person, and then to think about what it takes to get that message across in a business name, slogan, and logo. Then it is necessary to get rid of the stuff that takes away from your brand – the things that seem inconsistent. Basically, your lifestyle and your persona is your brand. You live your brand.

Sometimes I read that we as trainers should decide on a specialty, a niche if you will. I personally have never wanted to do that. I enjoy working with different clients, various age groups and medical conditions. If you, however, want to work with a specific group of people, you can then determine any qualifications, education or contacts you need to procure.

Do you want to be seen as the clinical trainer? The sports trainer? The serious, strict trainer? I pride myself on being real - a regular person who likes to have a beer with friends, a trainer who is ready to accept a client at whichever point they are at in terms of motivation to change behaviors relative to fitness and life. Once you are clear on your identity and brand, you will shine from within!

Marketing is 24/7

When you work in a club, the entire membership base is your potential client.
Each person in every corner of the facility is part of a captive audience and they have already expressed an interest in fitness by the sheer fact they purchased a membership.

This is much different from being a private trainer, where the whole world is your potential client. The challenge is having everyone recognize you are a trainer!

I strongly believe that if you are currently training in a health club and find it difficult to pick up clients where you work, or rely on your manager to give you clients, then you are not ready to go private. It is more difficult to gain clients out on your own when you’re the only one responsible for finding clients.

It starts with how you look. We all make judgments and form opinions about whom we see all day long. This is a crucial consideration as a private personal trainer. The person standing in line waiting for coffee can be your next client. What they see when they look at you is the first point of connection. What do you want them to think when they see you?

When starting as a private trainer, I thought about how I might not need to wear workout clothes as I did in the gym. After all, I’d seen physical therapists wearing “normal” clothes. That idea didn’t last long as I realized that how I look is my real life business card. Now I often carry a band and when people ask if I am going to workout, I say “No, I just make others exercise!” And then a conversation starts about me being a personal trainer.

One of the most creative marketing ideas I heard was from a trainer who wanted more clients in a particular neighborhood. She went to a high-end bar in the late afternoon, sat with body fat calipers, and jotted down client workouts in her notebook. As happy hour started, she spoke to people about her job, and yes, she was a trainer and could help them too. Now that’s sales!

Finally, it is also important to think about your lifestyle as a private trainer versus a trainer in a club environment. I truly miss the camaraderie I had with other trainers when working in the gym. As a private trainer, one has to be self-motivated and organized. If you work in a gym, think about how much the management does for you, e.g. paperwork, marketing, giving you potential clients, an organized work environment with a support and education system. Again, it is not a matter of right or wrong. We just need to take an honest look at ourselves and then decide what we want in life right now.