Excel at being self-employed in the fitness industry

School Of Personal Training Posted Feb 26, 2013 Future Fit Training


To succeed as a fitness professional you need to see yourself as a business from the start. Heather Smith explains how to excel at being a personal trainer

Excel at being self-employed in the fitness industry

I’ve been self employed all my working life and made many mistakes along the way. I found these things out the hard way. Over the years I have spent money on advertising that didn’t work, lost clients through general poor admin and have worked much harder than I needed to for the rewards I got. You can’t just be good at the ‘fitness’ bit to succeed as a personal trainer/freelance instructor. You need to see yourself as a business from the beginning.

Step 1 - Get an accountant

You could do it yourself.... but that’s time you could be personal training or teaching a class - and why bother stressing yourself out with it?  There are people who enjoy looking at numbers and working out ways to save money on your tax bill. Let them do what they're good at, while you do what you’re good at. You will need to have an initial meeting so they can explain what receipts you will need to keep. My accountant saves me more than he costs me every year. You’ll be surprised at how cheap they can be (and of course, they are a tax deductable expense).

Step 2 - Creative marketing

You need as much free publicity as you can get. You could post flyers through people's doors or post adverts in local magazines, but this can be expensive - and delivering leaflets in the cold is just not fun! The best way to ‘accidentally’ advertise is to get in your local paper or on the radio and it’s free! Hound your local paper with ideas for articles on ‘New Year, New You’ and team up with a local beautician offering tips between you to tone up, lose weight, feel great and look great. Train the breakfast show DJ on your local station for free – he/she will definitely talk about their sessions on air and may even invite you to the studio to talk about it. Offer to do the warm-up for the Santa Dash/local 5 Km run/Race for Life. You’ll probably get a mention or a photo in the local paper. Do a charity or sporting event and let your local paper know. Get on the telly – I did Total Wipeout in 2009 and was referred to as ‘Strong Heather’ by Richard Hammond! Hardly a day went by for about 2 years without people talking about it, and it did wonders for my clients and their motivation!

Step 3 - Block sessions

Be strong about this one. I run my classes as 6-week blocks.  Clients pay up front for their 6 weeks and if they don’t come, it’s their loss. You’ll be amazed at the commitment people suddenly have when they have already paid! If you were running an evening class at college, people would pay up front. If they go to a gym they're tied into a contract for up to 18 months. So 6 weeks isn’t a large commitment from anyone. Don’t let anyone off though. If they are away for 2 weeks out of the 6, they still need to pay for 6. If you let one person off, then gradually you'll see less commitment, which means less benefit and your number one marketing tool (word of mouth) suffer. You are a business. You aren’t running classes or training people as a hobby. Wherever possible, if people are away on holiday, I try to let them attend another class or change their PT session to a different day or time.  However, when they join you, the agreed goal should be 6 consecutive sessions in 6 weeks as a minimum.

Step 4 - Create an email list

Take your clients' email addresses as standard at the start of the first session. Start to build your fitness empire by letting everyone know you care. Send a group newsletter once a week to everyone, so they always have some contact from you. You could include a tip of the week, details about your classes and their focus for that week, any clients who have achieved a goal or made an improvement (with their permission) and what future plans you have for classes/outdoor sessions. Retention is a fantastic tool to grow your business. If you keep the people you already have and gain new ones as well, you’re onto a winner! I was particularly slow to do this as admin wasn’t my strong point but having done it, I can tell you it’s brilliant!

Step 5 - Think big

You can only work so many hours in a day and, as we all know, in the fitness industry the best hours are usually at 6:30am and 5:30-8:30pm. That gives you 15 easy hours a week when you will be busy. The rest of the time, depending on where you live, can be a struggle. So you need to set up classes, bootcamps and gain clients ready to pass on to your ‘staff’. When you reach a point where you can’t fit anyone else in, take on a newly qualified personal trainer or Pilates instructor. If you have a class that's so big you can’t safely teach the people in it, split it and pay the other instructor a set fee (usually much larger than the gym would pay but much smaller than you are earning for running it). Alternatively, teach a group of clients to a good level and then pass them on to another personal trainer (again taking a percentage for yourself) while you pick up and train new clients. So for every hour your staff are working, you are earning. This has worked fantastically for me over the past few years. Clients and class members will still remain loyal as they still receive their weekly newsletter by email, so still feel you care.

Step 6 - Never stop learning

Fitness is ever changing.  New research, new ideas and new trends means we can easily get left behind. Try to continue your own learning with specialist and refresher CPD courses. Make time for at least one course a year. Keep fresh, gain new ideas and learn more to pass your knowledge on to your clients. Don’t forget your courses are tax deductable (see your accountant from Step 1 for more info!)

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