Ten years ago I started in the fitness industry with zero percent experience and a hundred percent ambition. At 36, I now look back on my career over the past decade and can’t help but laugh at the mistakes I made getting to where I am now.
As it’s said, experience is the best teacher. I’ve made tons of mistakes throughout my career and have finally gotten to a place in my business where I can feel good about what I’ve learned and accomplished throughout the process. I felt it was fitting to share a few of the biggest lessons I learned if I had to start over again as a personal trainer. Had I known some of these things 10 years prior, I would have been a force to be reckoned with, right out of the gate.
Jump right in and embrace mistakes
There’s a bit of a catch 22 that comes along with being a new trainer. You don’t have the experience, so you can’t get the clients - and because you don’t have the clients you can’t get experience. While I hear you, and this was my limiting belief when I started as a trainer, I no longer agree with this thought process.
Mistakes are inevitable. The sooner you realize you have to try things out (as long as no clients get hurt in the process. Safety should always be top priority. An injured client isn’t paying you and you aren’t getting experience training them either), the sooner you’re going to make mistakes, learn, adapt and grow. You’re not supposed to know how to perfectly cue a client when you’ve got no experience with it. You have to take hours to program for a client in the beginning to realize there are more efficient ways to systematize your training processes and get better and faster at it.
Don’t try to wait until everything looks perfect. Client’s likely don’t even know you’re screwing anything up. What they’ll see is you getting better and better session over session because you’re making the mistakes that help you grow as a fitness professional. I had client’s grow with me at Equinox from Tier 1 through Tier 3 and they all pointed out the progression and value I was able to give them as I made mistakes and learned from them. Just like we need to apply stress on a muscle for it to grow, we have to apply stress to our learning process to grow and develop as a trainer. Don’t be afraid to stress test yourself often.
Reinvest more income into sales training
This is a big one for me. There’s a lot out there in fitness education about how to periodize your programming, correct this hip and that shoulder issue. But there’s a big lack of sales training in the personal training world. After talking to other personal trainers and multiple managers all around the country, the sales training you receive in the gym as a new trainer is hit or miss at best, depending on leadership at your gym. Some managers are great and really teach interpersonal skills as well as how to market yourself in a sea of similar training styles.
The fact is, if you became a trainer because you didn’t want to do sales and you “just want to train”, then you won’t last very long at all. Any successful trainer will tell you that you have to market yourself in a competitive environment like an Equinox Fitness Club. You need to be able to answer the question “Why should someone train with me vs. [insert top trainer here], or not even train at all?” If you don’t have an answer for that, you’ll likely struggle to reach your potential as a trainer who can market themselves and differentiate from the rest of the pack.
Take some money you earn from training and seek out sales training on your own. My suggestion? Find someone who you know is a great salesperson and pay them to be your mentor. You’ll gain so much perspective and knowledge that the money you spend will pay you back 10 times.
You can spend tons of money on your craft and be the best practitioner on the planet, but if you can’t sell people on your services or what you can do for them, your talents will go to waste.
Prepare more between sessions
Personal trainers typically see clients early morning before the work day, and immediately after work. This leaves most of you with a huge gap in the middle of the day. Definitely make sure you’re taking care of yourself and spending time to workout and keep yourself in top shape, but the rest of the time needs to be better planned towards constant growth.
I remember sitting in the break room between sessions and shooting the shit with my fellow trainers a lot. It was fun, and I definitely had a lot of laughs, but I wasted countless hours programming and complaining about how so and so got more leads than me. How the floor is dead and it’s always the same people during my shift. How it’s school vacation week and everyone is out of town so the gym is dead.
There’s too many things wrong with all my excuses. I could have spent that time writing an eBook with a 4 week program to give to some of the regulars I see everyday and actually help them workout on a quality routine. I could have built programming templates to use for new and old clients that would have cut my programming time in half. I could have read books about sales and tried putting some of the strategies I learned into practice to get more clients.
Instead, I sat in the break room and complained like all the other trainers who didn’t have a steady business. The preparation you do in your down time is the fuel that runs the engine. When you stop working and start thinking about things out of your control, you’ve already lost. Keep the engine burning during down time. Taking small actions to do something that moves you towards what you want has a compounding effect. Standing still and complaining kills all momentum.
Build relationships for the long haul and not the quick sale
“Personal” is in the term personal training. If your clients aren’t your friends you’re doing it wrong. Others may say, you shouldn’t cross the line from client into friendship, but I disagree. Some of my clients are my most trusted friends and mentors.
As trainers, we’re delivering a service that our clients deem valuable to them. If we’re only transactional with them and never get to know them on a deeper level, we’ll never be able to really help them to the level would could. Understanding a client’s most difficult challenges and biggest insecurities is information we can use as coaches to make the path easier for them to succeed. It’s investing in a long term relationship. I still have former clients now that no longer work with me because they’ve moved or I’ve graduated them to be more self-sustainable. Some have even referred me current clients even through I no longer train them.
Turning and burning client’s is not advisable. I’ve made quick sales to just get the income and those client’s never worked out long. They saw right through it. It taught me a valuable lesson though. The client’s that I put the most time into developing a personal relationship with, feel the most cared for and I’ve gotten the most referrals from. This most definitely has been the best way for me to have a sustainable business model with a constant flow of “pre-sold” clients falling into my lap, simply because I showed how much I cared for them long term and not just for the quick fix.
Which leads directly into my last point.
Do more for them as a client then what you did to get them as a client
This one was a game changer for me when I figured it out. I used to work so hard to go through the complimentary assessment process. Over communicate with them. Give them tons of value up front to convince them I was worth the price tag. Then when they because a full time client, my attention dissipated. I was working hard training them. But I stopped over communicating. Stopped providing more and more value over time, and although clients stayed with me, I didn’t really start multiplying my business until I learned the importance of delivering even more to them once I had them as a client.
Under-promise and over deliver. We’ve all heard that quote. But I believe we should be saying - keep the promises you make and add a little extra. Nothing says unreliable to a client more than saying you’re going to do something and you don’t follow through. I can remember numerous times where I told a client I’d send them a travel program and I didn’t. Although they never called me out on it, I knew it tarnished the trust we had once had. When this happens it takes a long time to build back and they’re less likely to refer you someone at the fear you may not follow through and it reflects onto them.
After you on-board your client, the real work begins. Reach out constantly throughout the week. See how they’re doing. Don’t tell them you’ll send them an article or a workout. Just do it. When they’re not expecting to see “Thought you might enjoy this since we talked about it” in their inbox, your stock will rise quickly. You’re showing you are thinking about them.
I have a client who loves playing tennis on the weekends. Recently, he got a new Apple Watch. When I found this out, II went on the App Store and found an app you can use with your watch that tells you the hitting speed on each shot and reads the type of shot you took, mapping it onto a cool graph and allowing you to have great data to improve your tennis game. I messaged him a link to the app and told him a little about it and he was over the moon! The next session he started asking me how I usually get new clients (“referrals”) and he said there’s this friend he has that he thinks would be great for me to work with. This is how it happens.
Keep the promises you make and add a little extra. Out of all the mistakes and lessons I’ve learned, none of them have been as valuable and rewarding to developing a sustainable business as this one. There’s not much more insulting to a long standing client than giving a new client precedence over your long term, loyal customers. If you find ways to do more for the people you already work with, you not only show them their worth, but also how much you value them as a client, and they won’t be able to help talking about you in their circle of friends.