Starting out as a personal trainer can be hard, we have spoken to some of our expert PTs in the industry to understand how they got hired as a personal trainer. We asked them to provide us with some of the experiences and challenges that they have faced since becoming a personal trainer. Learn some top tips and advice from our experts on how to get started in the personal training industry.
“My first job was at Virgin Active in Leeds. I worked there as a Level 2 Gym Instructor while I was studying towards my Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification. My first ever client was a lady who was a friend of a guy I worked with. He had been a PT but had just stopped training people because he had started a managerial role within the gym. He knew I had just qualified, and he liked me, so he set me up for a chat with her. She booked two sessions…and that was it haha. In her head Personal Training was just something to do a couple of times for some ideas and to steer her in the right direction…and I had no idea about anything to do sales/business, so I delivered the two sessions and then waved her off forever.
The business model at the time at Virgin Active was that all PT sessions cost the client £30, and as a newly qualified PT, I would receive £12 for delivering each session (after a certain amount of time it goes up to £15 per session, and then up to £18 per session). Knowing that they were getting £36, and I was getting £24 for the two sessions didn’t inspire me to start doing dozens of sessions per week so I wasn’t the most motivated salesperson – Also, I was one of 15/16 PTs in that same gym, and there were some really good PTs there so it was always a bit daunting as a newbie to feel that I could compete with them. However, within days I had an induction with a new member, who asked about PT during the induction.
I got the price list out, showed him it was £30 a session…he pulled out £600 in £20 notes and paid for 20 sessions without me putting in any effort at all. However, I only delivered 2-3 of these sessions before being asked to work at Fitness First as a self-employed Personal Trainer. Now there was rent to pay but I got to keep all the money – off the top of my head there was no rent for 4 weeks, half rent for 4 weeks, and then full rent from week 9 onwards. This gave me time to get a few people up and running and to have a small income before the cost of rent kicked in. I continued doing this until I was offered a salaried role for Sheffield United which took me to China.”
“Initially, the challenges were that I knew nothing about sales, nothing about business, nothing about closing deals, nothing about psychology, nothing about influence…nothing that could help me to get more clients. I was very naive, and I was under the impression that people wanted Personal Training so they would queue up to get it…but that never happened. My ‘sales’ ability was limited to being able to sell sessions to someone if they approached me and asked me if they could please buy some Personal Training sessions. I had no idea about the importance of how my actions and behaviours could influence their decisions or that some people might really want Personal Training but won’t come and ask you to take their money.
When I quickly moved to a different gym with different PTs and a different model, I had a lot more confidence. I had seen a lot of very good PTs operating at the other gym, I had seen how they operated and how they conducted/promoted themselves. I was now working in the same space as 2-3 other PTs and I could easily see that they were not as good as the PTs from my old gym. I felt a lot more confident about standing out to potential clients, and I was a lot happier knowing that I would keep all the money I earned (other than rent costs, which could be off-set by working a few gym shifts per week – which I quickly did once my ‘free rent’ period finished)…but the real challenges now were about how to get clients to re-purchase when their sessions expired, which was based on their results. I had never trained anyone for more than 2 sessions before, so I had no idea about how to train somebody to help them achieve any goals. I had to learn the hard way about planning, programming, and exercise selection. I definitely fell into the trap of making everyone do the same thing, which worked for some – but not for all.
On top of this, there were the challenges of running your own business which again (at the time) there was practically no help specifically aimed at Personal Trainers.”
“Having done it all the hard way my suggestions would be to create an image/reputation for your business (whether you choose to do that through word of mouth, social media, or print adverts in newspapers/magazines is up to you) for being able to consistently deliver results for your clients. These results could be very specifically aimed at a niche, or they could be generically aimed at a larger audience – they just need to highlight that YOU can provide a solution for a problem that your clients have. Identify a common problem experienced by your target demographic, produce a solution for their problem, and sell it to them. It isn’t quite that easy, but it is that simple. While you are figuring out this process, try to avoid listing all the features of your services, instead focus on the benefits you provide. If you are boasting about how many check-ins they get or the nutritional guidance then the only thing that differentiates you from every other PT is the price…and the cheapest will look most appealing. However, if you make people aware that your training provides people with more energy in the mornings, less lethargy in the afternoons, a better sex life, more enjoyable family days playing in the park etc etc etc then you will attract a lot more attention.”
“I got my first PT client by walking around the gym floor, up and down the rows of treadmills, speaking to every member that didn’t have headphones in or looked like they didn’t want to be disturbed. I just introduced myself as the new personal trainer and let them know they could give me a shout if they had any questions or needed any help. As it happens, literally the very first person I spoke to immediately replied “I could really do with a new programme and I’ve been meaning to speak to somebody”. She booked in for a session there and then. Being my first day I was giddy with excitement at the idea I’d just signed up my first client and I was almost in a state of disbelief – I even called the lady the night before her session to confirm she understood she’d need to pay! Afterwards, I realised I’d massively undersold myself. I charged this lady £25 for a single session in which I designed a full workout routine based on a handful of questions (I was tweaking it as we went along and it took about an hour and a half).
I then spent time writing up the programme card for her, so all in all-around two hours of my time, working out at £12.50 an hour. From then on I never sold less than a three-session package, having done a free but thorough consultation beforehand. When I left the gym and started my mobile PT business, finding clients was a whole different ball game. To begin with, I got 200 newsletters printed. These were essentially advertising flyers but contained some useful information and links to articles on my website to get people interested and build some credibility. I distributed some of these door-to-door in my local area and left some on tables in coffee shops and beauty salons where I thought my target market would be.
After a week I got a phone call from someone who’d seen the newsletter and wanted to book a consultation. We agreed a date and time, then on the day I got my newly branded folder, bag and uniform ready, and drove to his house. Imagine my horror when I sat down at his kitchen table to find that I’d forgotten to put a blank consultation form into my folder #facepalm. So after completing a screening form and doing some assessments I had to mentally recall all the questions I needed to ask and wrote the answers on a spare piece of paper. In my own mind I felt so unprofessional but fortunately, the client didn’t realise anything was amiss and to my relief duly signed up to a 12-week training package. Needless to say, I always made sure my paperwork was well prepared for every consultation after that!
In some ways, you could say I was very lucky that I signed up the very first people I spoke to as clients in both situations. It certainly gave me confidence, which was especially useful when I subsequently got the inevitable rejections and objections the more people I spoke to. Then again if I’d waded in and asked ‘would you like a PT session?’ straight away I dare say I would have been turned down. So rather than luck, maybe it was because I was interested in people, I demonstrated how I could help them, and followed a clear process. Those key principles are more important than the actual tools you use, hence forgetting a form wasn’t that significant. That approach worked really well for me from day one.
I always saw the consultation as an opportunity to show the potential client the value I could bring, with the aim of getting them excited and motivated to work with me. That way the classic ‘money question’ was also less of an obstacle. You do need to be prepared for the fact that not everybody will become a client though – you need to develop something of thick skin and not take it personally. Many people will tell you they can’t afford it or it’s too expensive, and you quickly get a feel for which of them are genuinely worried about finances and which you just haven’t quite convinced of your value.
As such, it’s worth speaking to them a bit more to find out what their real concerns are. For example, it may be they don’t believe they can commit to the time required, or they feel some of the behaviour changes you’ve proposed will be too difficult. It’s easier for people to blame money rather than admit to what they think might be perceived as a weakness or character flaw, so if you can help them see that part of your role is to support them through challenges you may still get them on board.”
“To summarise the above, it’s a percentage game – for every 10 people, you speak to in the gym or that contact you, 7 may book in for a consultation for example. Of those, 3 or 4 may sign up as clients. So in simple terms, to get 3 clients you need to speak to 10 people. To get 30 clients, you need to speak to 100 people.
If you can get comfortable being turned down by the other 70 you’ll fly.
“Rejection = success” I was once told. So “massive rejection = massive success”!”
“Every PT remembers their first paying client. Starting out there can be a lot of anxiety and stress surrounding finding clients so that a successful business in fitness can be made. Think back to my own early days there wasn’t a moment that the thought of success wasn’t going to happen because why wouldn’t someone want to hire a PT? Harbouring this attitude made all the difference.
Arrogant as it sounds, it’s actually being confident in your own ability and knowing the value you offer that will benefit peoples lives. Getting my first client was a simple process, even being a new member of the team in the gym.”
“I took several gym inductions and at the end of each, I simply asked people for their business. It was along these lines based now on what I offered at the time.
Here is essentially what I said.
“Who here want to achieve results that will make them feel great?”
“Because with PT I can give this to you.”
Yes, it was that upfront because after showing them the gym generally building rapport and chatting there was little point in just letting people go and going to hide in the staff room.
You’d be surprised that this actually lead to all 5 on the induction asking about price. It became apparent this was the initial barrier, so I was honest with the cost for 2 sessions per week (£200 for the month) and as you can imagine people said they couldn’t afford it, so I said they could simply all pay £40 and share the sessions. This had them turning their heads.
One asked what they’d get, and luckily they were all looking for weight loss as a general goal, so it made it easy to explain they’d indeed lose weight, gain fitness and also at the end have a copy of the program we followed so they could then repeat it on their own. I reiterated that for £40 each this was really a no brainer for a month of training and then a program they could follow/repeat afterwards. They all agreed and the group booked in for 6pm on Mondays & Thursdays, oh I knew they could do 6pm as that was the time of the induction I just ran (6pm Thursday), then asked about Monday, as everyone likes to start things on Monday.”
“As Wayne Gretzky famously said – “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Don’t hesitate or doubt your ability, you’ve got the ability to help people so do it.”
“My Personal Training journey started through teaching group exercises. At the time I was teaching a variety of classes to both small and large groups of gym members. I started being approached by individuals wanting personal training, but I wasn’t qualified to do so. After some careful consideration, I took the plunge and committed the time to complete a personal training diploma.
Once qualified, I reconnected with some of the individuals that had previously enquired and started to work with them 1:1. I kept delivering group exercise and advertised in the classes when I had availability – free advertising that very quickly filled spaces. Teaching classes provided a captive audience for an hour at a time, I could easily showcase my strengths and appeal to different people at varying levels. I often communicate this to students on courses now, especially when they are on their circuit’s workshops. Being able to teach to a group and teach them with confidence brings more opportunities for building a PT client base. Never underestimate the value of group exercise to show off your skills (that is a whole other story).
I would say that at the start 1:1 personal training was a daunting experience. I was so used to jumping around in front of a group of people that working 1:1 on such a personal level made me feel quite exposed. I was concerned I might not be able to bring the same level of energy to a 1:1 session as I did with groups.
It couldn’t be further from the truth, once I got over myself it wasn’t an issue. Once I switched my mindset from how ‘I’ was feeling, or how ‘I’ was going to perform or be judged, to how ‘the client’ was feeling and performing, the magic happened – I just needed to stop overthinking and relax. I became more client-focused in sessions and far more able to adapt and cater for differing needs.
Being a massive overthinker, it took a while to master stepping over the fear of failure Again, once I got over myself, explored and experimented with different methods and ideas, the confidence came and my hunger to learn more expanded. Learning has its own little wheel of life, we learn – we grow – we gain confidence – we deliver from a better place – we learn from that. I would say there is always going to be an element of trial and error at the start of your career and to a degree with every new client. Research, whenever you can, to keep current, expand your knowledge and don’t be afraid to seek the support of those around you. If you communicate well with your clients and gain their trust they will recommend you to others and become your very own walking advert, growing your business beyond expectation.”
“As cheesy as it may sound, keep your energy high and your smile infectious for every client, even if they are the 10th one that day.
Consistency in delivery is key, be professional, caring and client-focused, regardless of what is going on around you (unless of course there is a danger)!
Don’t be afraid, to be honest, and tell your client you need to do a little research, if there is something you are not sure of, they will respect you for that.
Experiment, we can learn so much from failure. There’s some saying there about growing outside of your comfort zone, I am sure you could research that one.
When researching, look at 3 credible sources then pick the best bits from each. You can ask your clients opinions of your findings, share the knowledge with them!
Remember, people, approach you because of ‘YOU’. There are so many ways to succeed in the fitness industry, no one wrote the book on the only way – well maybe someone did, but basically be authentic to yourself; if you try to be something you are not, it will be exhausting and spotted a mile off.
Never stop learning!”
“They always say you never forget your 1st; it all depends on how long ago it was!!!!!!!
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, Blog, Vlog, presence in the gym and word of mouth are the methods mainly used in the industry today, however……………………….
It has not always been that way, my 1st client was obtained by the amazing method of The Yellow Pages, this may mean nothing to you, to some it may bring back memories of J R Hartley (Google the ad)
This may not sound relevant to today’s market but stick around………
Advertising has always been around but not with the global reach we have now (a blessing or hindrance?)
Over 20 years ago I received a phone call, it went along the lines of…..
“Hello, is that Rob White, the personal trainer?”
“Yes, how can I help?”
“I have seen your advert in the yellow pages and wonder if you could help me”
From there we booked an initial consultation, I drove to their house and sat down with them for around 45 minutes discussing what they wanted, their availability and their ability.
To give you some background, my main PT operated on a mobile basis, even though I was running a private gym at the time, it was best to keep my own business separate. I would work with people in their homes using equipment they had or equipment I would take with me, some of our members would approach me for training but my main focus was outside the gym environment.
The more successful trainers had the largest ad in the Yellow Pages or Phonebook, if that does not sound familiar, how many followers do we crave on social media for the greatest impact and reach? The Yellow pages is simply online now with a different name, the ethos is the same.”
“The main challenges at that time were the fact that personal training was seen as something only wealthy people could afford to do, some people were wary due to the bad reputation a lot of PTs had on regards to lack of professionalism in their behaviour, people were embarrassed to say they needed help, the way I operated would also not be suitable for certain requirements (body building, absolute strength training to name two) as most people at that time did not have the training equipment at home they do now and it was incredibly difficult to transport.
2 of those challenges have gone with affordable fitness equipment in people’s homes, you do not even have to travel as a lot of training is now done online (thanks Covid), the stigma of having a trainer has gone.
How do we change our reputation? Simple!
Be professional in your behaviour, language, social media content”
“Visibility and content are crucial
Visibility is what it is all about, how visible are you in the market today?
What do you want to say in your advertising window? Do you want your clients to hire you because you are “ripped” or because you have the knowledge to help?
What sets you out from the rest (USP)? What can you offer that others don’t?
Do you have a story/journey to inspire others?
Affiliate yourself with an organisation, charity, sports club, something which gives you more visibility to showcase yourself.
We all love a freebie, some will be exasperated about this but perhaps offer taster sessions, lead a warm-up at a fun run, help out training a local sports club you may have played/trained/coached for, this really allows you to show what you can do to those who have the mindset of exercising/ being active
Be ethical-do not work with someone just for the sake of earning some money if you are genuinely unable to help them, they may not be suitable for you, you may not be suitable for them, short term you may receive some income but long term it may cost your reputation and future clients/customers.