You’ve had your personal trainer certification for a couple of months now. Your website is up and you’ve staked your claim to all the social media channels. Your post workout selfie is on point and you’ve got some great workout ideas you can’t wait to pass on to your clients.

You’re ready to become a full-time personal trainer but …you don’t have any clients. Unless you count your cousin that pays you when she can for a new workout. Your friends said they would totally hire you once you got your certification but when you tell them the rate for your six-week boot camp you get ghosted. You’ve got plenty of likes but not a lot of follows. What’s the deal?

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The deal is that you are a new personal trainer in a world of free fitness advice with zero business experience. All the influencers you follow have convinced you that making money is as easy as a couple of well-timed posts and an “inspirational” look. To go from side hustle to full time personal trainer you need more than hearts on your selfie to start a personal training business

I’m here to tell you that what may work for a beauty vlogger plugging eye cream does not work for a personal trainer. Having a relationship-based business goes beyond being skin deep. You’ve started a business; it’s time to get real and make sure you are treating it like one. It doesn’t matter if you have zero clients or 100, you need to treat personal training like a profession from day one.

The basics of a personal training business.

In an era where anyone can give fitness advice on Instagram, your certification is an essential item. However, it isn’t the only thing you need to start a personal training business. There are three things you need before you take on your first client: a business license, a business bank account and insurance. The license and the bank account shouldn’t be hard to set up and don’t cost a lot to get started. Insurance can vary, but a basic policy shouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars a year.

I also recommend a business address other than your home. You may have your website registered to your home but for your safety, change it to a business address. When you’re in the public eye in any way you run the risk of unwanted attention. You don’t want a disgruntled client or misguided fan showing up on your door step. A P.O. box is fine if you don’t have a gym home yet.

Speaking of location, try to get one as early as you can. Online training is an option but you need some hands-on experience to get better at your craft. Going to clients’ homes can be a starting place (that’s what I did) but that can bring its own set of safety concerns. Outdoor workouts can be unpredictable and you may need permits from your park system.  I rented space from a martial arts studio for a couple of years. It wasn’t ideal but it worked until I could find the studio I now call home. It won’t be perfect to start but something is better than nothing. Get creative and find a place to claim as yours while you grow.

You also have to show up. Even if this is your side hustle, designate time specifically for training clients and don’t let that anything keep you from your work hours unless it is absolutely necessary. If you don’t have clients yet, that time can be used to work on the other elements of your business.

Once you know your hours and your location, set up your listings on search engines like Google and places like Yelp. If you want to be found, this will be how many of your clients do it. Don’t worry about SEO right now, just get yourself out there so if people look you up specifically they can find you.

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Marketing is your new normal

Here’s an important truth you need to know if you are going to have a personal training business. You are also in sales. If you’re not ready to do any marketing (or hire someone to do most of it for you) you’re not ready to start a personal training business; you have a hobby. I’m not judging; it’s just a reality. Sales and marketing are a part of any business.

Do not start buying online courses on Facebook ads or paying for Instagram followers. Instead, start your marketing efforts with the basic concept of CLARITY.

  • What’s your value proposition? –  This is your unique gift. What is it about you or your training that stands out? What specifically do you do that makes you difference?
  • Who do you serve? – If you try to talk to everyone, you talk to know one. Decide who you enjoy working with early and speak to them.
  • What do you want? – You have to have goals. Get specific on what you want to achieve in your business in 12-18 months and keep everything you do focused on that one thing.

With clarity you can invest in building relationships. This is the secret to my success. From day one, I wanted to put the personal back in personal training. I never wanted hundreds of people coming through my door or to hire a team of trainers. I wanted to provide a personal touch and do something more than just a workout.

Once you understand these things, you can start to work on social media posts and retooling your website to start building relationships with potential new clients.

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Never stop learning

Getting your personal training certification is like graduating grade school. You’ve got some basics but you really need more information to figure out what you really want you to do with your life. I recommend getting an advanced certification within the first year or two of your personal training career. Getting real world experience helps you grow, but to be more than a rep counter you need additional knowledge. Find a certification that fits who you serve and set a deadline to get that certification. In the meantime, start taking those CEC classes and find a mentor as well.

You are also going to need to spend time learning about marketing and business. You don’t have to get an MBA but you need to learn a little about copy editing, web site design, social media tools, strategic planning and entrepreneurship. There are plenty of free resources but you MUST invest the time. If you are not willing to spend time everyday learning then I’ll say it again – you have a hobby.

The same goes with personal development education. Learning about behavior change, time management, motivational interviewing, interpersonal relationships and money management are crucial to understanding your clients’ and your own success.

You will spend more time running and building your business than you will with your clients. That’s the thing that makes most small business owners give up. Someone becomes a personal trainer (or a cupcake baker or a soap maker) because they love doing the thing. But then the reality of running a business becomes overwhelming and they start to hate the thing they love. There’s nothing wrong with that. It just means your fitness business is now a hobby not a business. Don’t quit your day job but keep doing the thing you love just because you love it.

But if you’re ready to invest the time, energy and heart in starting a personal training business and being a full-time personal trainer, I’m happy to provide some mentorship. Start here with my We Thrive Together – Pro Tips for Fitness Professionals free Facebook group. You’ll find live trainings and tips from me plus support from your peers. You can do this alone but the big wins always come when we work together.

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