If you work in the fitness industry, I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, “You don’t go into the fitness industry to get rich.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports personal trainers in the US earn $36k/year. That’s not too shabby, but it’s far from rich. Typically income follows value in the market. If a trade is overly valuable to consumers, prices will increase and the laborers in that industry will make more money as a result.
Looking at today’s world, with obesity at an all-time high and preventative health care’s increased awareness, personal training should be booming. And while business is booming for some personal trainers, the $36k/year statistic isn’t coming from thin air. So what’s the difference between the high earners and the mean? And how can you up your income and move your business forward? It all starts with your focus.
This article will look at four areas of personal training and fitness business where many trainers become lost in weeds and lose focus – or in other words, where they focus on dumb shit instead of making money.
Knowledge is a powerful thing to possess, and every personal trainer should spend several years learning anatomy and physiology, exercise science, behavioral psychology, and other coaching skills before taking on clients. Take Bret Contreras, Brad Schoenfeld, or Layne Norton for example, who’ve taken their passion for training to the PhD level. Most leaders in our industry have a long list of credentials, higher education, and practical experience in the trenches. Knowledge and an infinite learning process are almost prerequisites for being a thought leader in the fitness industry.
All that being said, do you really care about being a thought leader? If you do, that’s cool, skip to the next point and keep on keepin’ on. But here’s a little nugget: for every thought leader or titan of the fitness industry, there are ten other guys/girls running six and seven-figure personal training businesses. I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say most of these high-earning fitness professionals don’t hold certifications, either. Some of them may have even skipped out on college or if they did go to college, they studied something unrelated to fitness *gasp* like accounting or liberal arts.
Let’s backtrack for a second. I’ll admit, educations and certifications are important barriers to entry for most. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take pride in mine (BS, CSCS, Pn1), but I know plenty of folks without them who are superior coaches and trainers with successful businesses. The point is, knowledge and credentials only get you so far. What really matters to your business is your bottom line and how much revenue you can generate.
Once you have a baseline level of fitness/training knowledge and can get results for people, you need to shift your focus to growing your business and personal brand. Ask yourself: Can you sell your services face-to-face or through sales pages? Can you generate leads through the internet or locally? What’s your strategy to grow your business over the next three, six, twelve months? Is your business set up for success in terms of legality and tax efficiency? Are you making any money? Are you making enough money for your time? Is your business profitable?
If you can’t answer any of the questions above, don’t read another thing about fitness or training (assuming you’ve reached the getting results for clients level) until you can. Continuing education will be important to your long-term success but if your business isn’t making money, all will be for naught.
Final note: Nobody cares how much you know. They care about what you can do for them.
“Worrying about your followers, you need to get your dollars up.” As an avid hip hop listener, I have mixed feelings about Drake, but I couldn’t agree more with him on this one. While social media followers are important and can definitely be monetized in one way or another, they should be a product of your business success – not the other way around. Put in the work and create a product or business worth following and they will come. Don’t waste time hacking your way to 10k followers or other spammy tactics only to build a following of people who could care less what you’re posting about.
You should be focusing on one platform, and this platform should be where your target demographic hangs out. (I.e., middle-aged women are likely to be on Facebook/Pinterest and 18-35-year-olds are likely to be on Snapchat/Instagram) A quick Google will tell you the demographic breakdown of all the major sites and where you should focus your efforts. Like Joe Dirt said, “It’s not what you like, it’s the consumer.”
This doesn’t mean you should completely abandon other platforms. Go crazy, use ‘em all. Just remember the Pareto Principle – or the 20% of work that yields 80% of your results. It’s also worth noting that if you have a particular skill set (think video or cinematography for long-form video on YouTube or Facebook) that will set you apart on any platform, you should double down on that.
Final note: email marketing conversion > social media conversion. Start building an email list and write regularly without selling anything. Give, give, give, give, take.
Total Client Ceiling
This may sound counterintuitive to the ABC (Always Be Closing) mindset I subscribe to, but I think it’s important to know your client limit. For a new business, sales cure all and more clients is exactly what the doctor ordered. But at some point, you’re going to need to cap it off to avoid quality control issues, burnout, and to maximize client retention and referrals.
If you’re a personal trainer with an already stacked client roster you may be thinking, “Mason, my goal is to make more money and to do that I need more clients.” And you’re right. There’s very little to do other than acquiring more clients. You may be able to tip-toe the line of too many clients, but it’s very likely you won’t know you’ve reached critical mass until you’re there. The best piece of advice I can give you, and this is super important, is to raise your prices. Raise prices today. Actually, raise prices yesterday.
Raising the price of your service allows you to make more money on all clients from this point forward, meaning you could eventually work less for the same money you make now. Prices are a tough thing to adjust retroactively with current clients, so I’d suggest leaving them alone unless they’re set up with a long-term agreement that’s up for renewal. (Think leasing agreements that slightly increase year over year.)
Your Own Training
Growing up, I thought I was destined to play in the NBA. I played basketball year-round and actually turned out to be a great player, especially for a slow white guy. Spoiler alert: I didn’t make it to the NBA. Fast forward to after my basketball career ended and I was still playing every day for hours at a time in city leagues and pick up games. All the while, my career and college studies were falling by the wayside and it was beginning to look like I’d be following the footsteps of Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump.
Fast forward again to one of the most pivotal discussions of my life. My dad, one of the most awesome dudes you’ll come across in this world, decided to finally intervene and let me know that I would undoubtedly be a loser if I didn’t shift my priorities and give up the hoop dreams. You know the scene in Step Brothers where Dale’s dad tells the story about his dad telling him to stop being a dinosaur and get a job? It was a bit like that, handled with precision and just the right amount of honesty. Shortly after that, I got my shit together and the rest is history.
The moral of the story being, at some point you will have to shift the focus from your personal fitness and training to your business or career. There are certainly exceptions to this rule. If you’re an elite-level fitness-er and make money from your fitness level, by all means, do you. This thought applies to the 90% of fitness professionals who are in great shape but haven’t achieved full “Instagram Model” status.
Final note: You should be fit as a personal trainer and practice what you preach, within reason. However, it’s important to realize that the largest pool of potential personal training clients is comprised of complete beginners. While this group may find motivation in the extremely fit person, most want to work with someone who can simply get them off the couch and drop a bit of body fat, not prep them for a contest. Relatability goes a long way with client acquisition and retention.
- Once you have a solid base of PT knowledge and can consistently get results for clients, it’s time to shift your focus to your business.
- Nobody cares how much you know. They care about what you can do for them.
- Becoming an industry leader takes years and years. You’ve gotta pay the bills until that happens.
- Unless your personal fitness level pays the bills, shift your focus to your business.
- Raise prices yesterday.
- Determine who your target demographic is and where they’re hanging out on social. Go wherever their attention is directed. Forget about everything else until that’s working.
- Sales hierarchy for most personal trainers – In-person or video conference calls > phone > email marketing > social media
- The bigger your email list is, the more sales you can generate at any given moment.