The Personal Trainer’s Business Plan

The Personal Trainer's Business Plan | Owner Magazine“You don’t understand what it takes to be a successful personal trainer.”

The words hurt every time they leave my mouth because it feels wrong.

The person on the other end of the line is smart, talented, and understands the human body much better than I do. And has trained many more clients in his gym than I ever will. And yet, I need to deliver the message again.

It doesn’t matter who is on the other end of the line; I’ve watched too many trainers struggle for every reason outside of training anatomy. The problem is a need for business physiology 101. Those vital organs that realistically separate the successes from the failures. In this line of work, it’s not all about training X’s and O’s. It’s the P&L, CAC, and definitely the LTV.

If you’re a trainer, your first step (after you become educated and are ready to help people) isn’t to shell out training answers. Before that, you must ask  a series of questions to put you in a position to succeed. Here’s how you can instantly grow some business muscle and flex your way to a more successful career.

Question 1: What Are You Doing?

You’re a trainer. But what is your goal? When I meet with trainers it’s the first question I ask, and it’s amazing how many don’t have a very concrete vision that goes beyond “help people” or “get into the magazines.”

Write out your plan and include the step-by-step vision. You should know the goal tomorrow as well as where you want to be 5 years from now. The vision can change, but creating one is essential. What do you want to do differently and what problems do you solve? If you only do one thing, this will be a game changer.

Question 2: What’s Your Name?

Not your actual name, but your brand’s name. And yes, most times there should be a difference. For many trainers the goal is helping many and expanding reach and pushing forward best practices. That means building a brand —whether small and local or big and national— that people recognize for a particular service.

This process starts with your name. Make it intuitive and (despite what I did with my own brand) don’t just assume using your  name in the title makes the most sense. Unless you have a household name, “Smith Fitness” doesn’t exactly jump off the page and stand out from the competition.

Question 3: What’s Your Lifetime Value?

You’re a businessperson. So run your training like a business. You should know the lifetime value of your customers, understand your demographics, referrals, and retention rate. You can have all the training books in the world (part of the equation) but if you don’t equally invest in business, customer service, and finance, you are likely to struggle.

Here are a few basics to know:

  • Operating expenses (AKA your bills)
  • Cash flow
  • Profit
  • Renewal rate
  • Conversion rate

Question 4: What Are You Best At?

Too many trainers try to be good at everything. While it’s good to be well versed, in an age of specialization you will be bypassed for the “expert” in the field. This ties back to points 1, 2, 3, and 4. Your area of specialty will be determined by your plan, your mission, should hopefully play a role in your name, and will impact your ability to retain customers and grow.

Question 5: Have You Started Yet?

Once you answer question 1-4 you should get started. The truth is, great businesses don’t wait forever to succeed. They know that their success depends on feedback. That means customers, sales, returns, complaints, and compliments. You must learn to value your customer and learn everything about them. Know your ideal customer inside and out, and it’ll become much easier to target them.

Question 6: Are You Using Technology?

You should be tracking your finances and business, but also your clients. What programs worked? What programs didn’t work? Boil them down to specifics so you understand differences in genders, ages, jobs, and any other common details. Every client is different, but the best trainers use their clients as a living lab that builds a foundation for better programs.

Question 7: Did You Create Your Own Contracts?

You need contracts. No one likes paperwork, but invest in it once and you have it forever. My company provides legal help as part of its consulting services. You are providing health services. You need legal protection. End of story.

Question 8: Are You Practicing Selling?

You want clients? You have to sell your services. Remember, you’re here to benefit them, which means you’re selling something they need. You are not going to convert 100% of the people who know about your business, but you will convert a higher percentage of people who work with you at least once. So do what it takes to get them to work with you, even if it means providing added value.

Question 9: Are You Still Learning?

Trainers learn on the gym floor, but they also learn from other trainers. Exercise science is just that… a science. Which means it’s always changing and growing and you don’t want to stop providing the best service for your clients.

Reach out to respected trainers and ask to do an in-service. Go to speaking events like Perform Better or Changing the Game to learn from some of the industry leaders. You’ll not only build on your knowledge, you’ll be able to network and meet people who might be able to help you expand your business.

Question 10: What Are You Doing to Grow?

You need to market so that people know what you’re doing. Become active on social media. Start a blog. Pitch story ideas to fitness outlets. In some cases, even do work for free if it means your name will show up in a publication so that you can add credibility.

Building your brand is like building your body: The changes don’t happen immediately, but if you keep chipping away the effort put in becomes very apparent over time.

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  • Mitch Jackson

    Adam- Outstanding. So I wonder how many business owners have answers to these questions when starting their business or, after the first couple of years of business. Powerful questions and approach to helping us focus on what’s important for the long-term. Thanks!

  • Tom T

    Great piece Adam. So many trainers out there are missing an extraordinary opportunity to serve at a much greater lever and thrive as a result simply because they are more concerned with the number of CECs or certifications they have and not on creating a real business. Asking ourselves the right questions are the key to finding the empowering answers… thanks for the Qs that should be asked. Rock on!

  • Richard Santos

    Great article Adam! A common mistake I see people make all the time (I’m guilty, too, I did it when I started my first business) is that we only pay attention to what we do. In other words, we tend to forget that we are running a business,which means that we need to do our own marketing, sales and finances. We tend to focus more on what we do because is the part we enjoy the most and it’s “easy”.

  • socialmediawave

    Starting out as a new trainer can also be difficult. Getting a job at a gym is the first stop for many. In order to be noticed, think of how you can improve the Gym’s overall service brand and drive new revenue. From floor level marketing to online community building and new periodization concepts you can add lots of value to many gyms.

    Thinking value forward gives you the edge over the heads down trainers. A friend of mine built his in home training business and eventually had a team of trainers under him. He sold the whole business to a gym looking for a turn key operation. He ended up owning 2 of the best gyms in town.