Twelve Things You Need (and Need to Know) When You Start Your Personal Training Business

As you’re reading this, RevFit (Revolution Fitness & Therapy) will be celebrating 12 years of business. We opened officially at the beginning of May 2009. It’s been amazing, enthralling, frightening, frustrating and every possible feeling in between in the last 12 years.

Due to the events which occurred in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many gyms were forced to close their doors and many trainers either had to pick up additional jobs for income or leave the industry altogether. As a result, a new surge of coaches decided they could strike out on their own and forge a path with their own training styles and philosophies and try to make a better career for themselves.

So, after you’ve incorporated your name and you’ve told the world who you are, where you are and what you do, here’s a list (not exhaustive) of 12 things you’ll need to make your business the best it can be.

  1. Develop a banking relationship. From your first dollar on, you need a business checking account. In addition, you’ll need a go-to point of contact for all of your banking needs. This could be if you get in financial difficulty or if you need advice on how to start up credit card processing with minimal fees for your business. Some day, you might need a line of credit for your business or you might need a business credit card for unforeseen expenses (which will come up more frequently than you’d expect). I have one person I have used almost exclusively for nearly a decade. Any banking concern I have and Laura is an email/phone call away and she can get most anything I need or problem solved faster than I can often do it on my own. This, ultimately, saves you time that could be better spent coaching or trying to attract new business.
  2. Hire an accountant. Like you, I know how to add and subtract. However, I do not have the time, patience or insight to know all the inner workings of tax law and how things change as my business grows over time. Find an accountant, someone you trust, who understands and works with small businesses. I have had my current accountant, Deb, for about five years. She and her firm are AMAZING and they have done nothing but look out for my best interest since I hired them. A good accountant won’t be cheap and, to be honest, they shouldn’t be. They just need to care about your business almost as much as you do.
  3. Start small. Expand later. This was one of the best pieces of advice I received before starting my business. It was given to me by my Uncle Bruce who had a ridiculously successful niche-business for several decades. In his words: “It’s better to start small and be in position to expand than to start big and have to downsize.” This also matters when it comes to the amount and type of equipment you purchase to train your clients. Start with as little as humanly possible (some of which is dependent on how many people you expect to train at one time) and add pieces as you grow. One of my biggest mistakes in starting was that I bought WAY too much equipment, brand new, and ended up selling off many of those pieces because they were not worth the space they took up in my first location. My first spot was roughly 1000 sq. ft. We have since expanded not once, but twice, and now have a location that is well over 3000 sq. ft. We don’t have significantly more equipment than we did when I started. What we DO have is more space for clients to spread out for their sessions which has been a godsend in light of social distancing protocols with the coronavirus.
  4. Have an online presence. Want to know how I built my business with online exposure? Speaking only for RevFit, it goes: Facebook, Website, Instagram. I know other personal trainers who may change that order respective of their businesses but this is the order that works for me. I started my website first but it was only to be accessible through Google searches. I know things like meta-tags matter when it comes to searches and other businesses may have better looking/functioning websites than mine but all I needed and wanted was visibility. Facebook is my biggest driver of new and referred business leads. I do NOT pay for any Facebook ads nor do I pay for more followers on Instagram or pay for SEO rankings. However, I do market this business very aggressively (see Point #5) and I cannot possibly oversell how good this has worked for us.
  5. Brag like your career depends on it (because it does). What you market is what you attract. If you run group exercise, post pictures and videos online about it. Do it as often as you can. If you help clients with weight loss, find fun and creative ways to show that off. Whatever it is that you feel you do and coach best, is what you need to put out into the world. I wrote a fairly lengthy article about this for the Lift The Bar community and if you’d like some inspiration to get your gears turning, feel free to read the evolution of my social media strategies and how this works for us.
  6. Time Matters. If you’re just starting out, you may have to take any and all business that comes your way. This may mean a huge span of time in a given day to train clients. When I started, I took every person on that I could. I learned quickly which areas of nutrition and training I felt most comfortable with and I learned the areas where I did not feel I could do my best work. I am now in a position (and have been this way for several years now) where I can kindly decline business and/or refer out to others if I feel that our services are not a good fit. The busier we’ve gotten over time (and we are busier now than we have ever been), the more I need downtime in a given day to take care of all the things related to this business that aren’t directly related to training on the gym floor. One of the best things I did for my own sanity and to keep operations running as smoothly as possible, was to split the day into essentially two training blocks: 530a-10a and 230p-530/6p. The time we are closed is when I am writing client programs, getting in my own training or a meal, running essential errands for the business, handling client consults/coaching calls, or simply recharging my batteries. Due to the demands (both physical and mental), during the training blocks, some downtime is needed each day so that we as coaches can be our best for our clients when they arrive. When you’re just getting started, you may not be in the position to close off part of your day the way that we do. However, once you get to that point, you’ll understand how important it is to segment time to focus on the business that happens behind-the-scenes. I should also add to this point that how you prioritize your time is how you get your own training in as well. While I don’t believe that every successful trainer should be stage-lean or batter themselves with workouts, I do know that you have to “walk the talk” when it comes to prioritizing your own training. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it does need to be done, if for no other reason than because the type of work is very demanding on your body and you need to be physically prepared for it.
  7. Build a community. Not that it took a pandemic to illustrate how incredible our community is, but I’ll be damned if our RevFit family didn’t show up and prove their mettle in light of a global concern. In my wildest dreams, I could have never imagined a more fun, engaged, caring and supportive group of people than folks like who we have now. The bigger we get, the more it seems that our core collective shows up and embraces the whole. We have two closed communities on Facebook and the one comprised of our current clients is what I remain most proud of. As the coach, you need a place where not only can you share your wisdom, insight and experience to help others but you need a place where those who are on the journey can give a hand to lift others up as well. We have, since 2009, been a fully inclusive business so we have always welcomed, with open arms, any individual regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, political/religious affiliation, you name it. If you’re ready to improve your health and you like the way we approach training/nutrition, you’re welcome here. The best thing about an online community is that you give exposure to people in the group who might not normally see each other face-to-face because of when their training is scheduled. There is also a greater potential of clients baring more of themselves without fear of reprise because they know that the culture supports them. Not everyone will engage but many will lurk in the background and can benefit from the actions and words of others.
  8. Get great results. No matter what segment of the population you look to serve, results speak volumes. So, whether you train clients for endurance, aesthetics, strength, etc. make sure that you have documentation and proof of the results. Your business won’t grow if you don’t have what it takes to attract new people to your door and to retain what you currently have. There is a natural state of attrition that happens with personal training because it is, by nature, a luxury service. However, if you are consistent, caring, and understanding of the fact that life has a tendency to ebb and flow with the stresses of work, family, emotional status and social impact, you can provide a place where people find you are an integral part of their health and livelihood. As someone probably far smarter than me has said: give people the tools they need to survive without you but give them an environment that makes them never want to leave. I’ll add one component to that by saying: If they leave, keep the door (and your arms) open and ready for their return should they elect to come back at a future time. Some of my best client success stories have been from clients who left for a period of time and came back when they were “ready”.
  9. Evolve or die. It’s hard to talk about this point and not have the year 2020 as a point of reflection. However, beyond that, your business and business model should always have areas to improve on. The business will never be perfect and sometimes little nagging details will slip through the cracks but treat your business the way we ask our clients to treat their bodies: ever-evolving, ever improving. Learn how to operate in both a physical and virtual landscape, learn how to automate certain parts of the business to make your life easier and never stop asking yourself (or your clients) how you can improve the business. You may not be able to please every person but you can continue to strive for smoother operations, a better customer experience and a place that, each day when you wake up, you feel excited to go to.
  10. Never stop learning. Unlike a lot of trainers in the industry, I did not go to school for exercise physiology or anything of the sort. My degree is in business management and prior to starting RevFit, nearly all of my work experience was running retail facilities. While I do believe that experience has helped me from a customer service standpoint, much of what I have had to learn to make this business what it is today has been from a nearly insatiable desire to learn more. I read constantly, nearly everything I can get my hands on. I read books on psychology, nutrition, exercise and I sprinkle in a healthy dose of fiction (to be a better writer) and books about music (for sheer entertainment value). In the last 12 years, I’ve picked up no fewer than ten different certifications all applicable to the work I do as a trainer. As someone in his mid-40s who is continuing to see the rise in younger, hungry trainers move into the industry to make their mark, I know I can’t rest on my laurels. If I’m not growing, that’s a problem. So, I spend as much time as I can trying to figure out not only how to be better for my clients but how to be better for myself and my family too.
  11. Have a voice, have a platform. The longer you’re in the industry, the more you stand to learn about the best ways to help your demographic. However, it’s one thing to “know” what it takes and it’s another to be able to spread the word to others. I use both this blog and my podcast as ways to carve a message and a methodology to help as many people as possible. I know that not every person who reads my blogs or tunes in to the podcast will become a client of mine. I am okay with that. What’s more important to me is that someone digests those forms of media and finds inspiration to improve themselves. Just knowing that I provided a little ripple of change to someone is worth all the time and effort it takes to put a blog out into the world or a podcast on the air. I know these things will have posterity and, if I keep improving the work I do, I have a better chance of reaching others. I wrote more about that platform awhile back and you can read some of those thoughts here. What I will say is that you should find the medium of your choice. One of my favorite coaches in the industry, Meghan Callaway, is excellent at providing videos of exercises including progressions, regressions and explanations of why she performs things in the manner she does. As a result, she’s gained a huge following of loyal, buying customers because she has found the method that works best for her. Be willing to experiment, be willing to fail and be willing to study and learn ways to improve your method of reaching as many people as possible.
  12. There Is No Competition. I Repeat, There Is NO Competition. I think I have to credit Alwyn Cosgrove for this sentiment and I will have to paraphrase his words. I heard him once on a podcast and he was expressing the fact that even if a coach left his facility and tried to open up a gym to compete with him within geographic proximity, they would not be able to match his success. At first, I thought it was kind of a boastful expression. That is, until I saw what happened with RevFit over time. Shortly after I started this business, a CrossFit box opened up down the road from me. I kept hearing people talk about this style of training and I thought that maybe my business model was the wrong approach. I started looking into certifications for CrossFit because I didn’t want to miss the boat on something that was about to blow up. Instead, by just continuing to refine the work that we do, I saw that it attracted the type of clientele I wanted, the type of clientele that, perhaps, would not have been suited for CrossFit. Shortly after that, a franchise boot camp came to the area and I heard even more people talk about training there and how much they enjoyed it. Yet again, I had that FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling that maybe I picked the wrong area of fitness to put my focus into. Turns out, that business didn’t last long due to some shady financial practices. Over the years, one curious thing of note, is that the more fitness facilities I have within a 5-mile radius of my studio, the better RevFit seems to do. I wish I could give you an explanation for why but, to be honest, I don’t know. All I know is that once upon a time, every fitness place that I saw close to me felt like a threat. Not anymore. I welcome them, because whether they do great or they go belly-up, RevFit keeps growing. To mirror Cosgrove’s sentiment, we have no competition. We are who we are, we train who and how we train and, in consideration of all the points you read above, we our on our own little island. I think the more fitness facilities are around, the better it is for the public as a whole. If we are growing, it’s for one main reason and one alone: our community simply kicks ass and that is more credit to them than to me.

As I try to mentally wrap my head around the fantastic successes we’ve had and some of the colossal failures I’ve seen this business through, I still marvel that we are where we are today. If you’re local to us, we’d love to serve you, your friends, and your family. If not, we’d love to inspire your journey from afar. The beauty of things like social media is that you can find inspiration from so many places and every day I come to work, I remain inspired by the people who have chosen us. A big thank you not only goes out to them but to the coaches who have been a part of this journey as well. My love goes out to Coach Megan, Coach David and Coach Mike who keep me grounded and help RevFit cement its status in this little corner of the world.

Thank you to everyone who made the path to 12 years a possibility.

“We Make Great People Greater”