by Tyler Valencia, PhD(c)
In 2017, I wrote about the importance of a fitness instructor knowing the difference between being an employee and contractor. To this day, I still come across fitness instructors that don’t know the difference. It’s important for fitness professionals to know that both have positive attributes. I must note that it’s not just newcomers to the fitness industry that I’ve come across that aren’t familiar with these distinctions but veterans that have been working in the industry for 10+ years. Understanding each distinction prior to signing your contract is important. In this updated blog post, we want to make sure fitness professionals know the basics of each employment status to help make their decision.
Since this blog post was originally published, fitness professionals across the industry are realizing the importance of business fundamentals. Over the last two years, fit pros have had to turn their business virtual, improve (or learn) social media strategy, and maneuver their way through video production and the equipment that goes with it. Becoming an employee or contractor has now evolved into instructing both in-person at gyms and online for virtual gyms. Either one of these employment statuses is viable, and it just depends on your current situation as a fitness instructor and how much effort you are willing to put into your decision. Being a contractor (independent contractor) for a gym or studio means that you are not an employee, and therefore the way you are legally treated by the gym and how you approach growing your business will vary. As a contractor you are typically paying a percentage of your session rate to the gym, and are essentially a small business within a gym. Some contractors run their own training business and use one or several gyms to train their clients. On the other hand, being an employee typically means you filed a W-4 with the company and are bound to the policies and procedures of that company. There are many benefits to each option, and in this article we will discuss the positives and negatives of each and how you can leverage your opportunity to grow your career.
Access to the gym’s membership base.
One of the biggest benefits of being an employee is your access to a gym’s membership base. When working for a gym, generating leads often come from the sales staff or the fitness manager, and your job is to sell yourself once given the opportunity. Also, don’t forget that you can always freely walk around the gym to speak with members and create your own leads. If you don’t have a strong marketing background or are still learning to sell yourself as a fitness instructor, being an employee allows you to learn these skills and make a respectable income. At one point in my career I worked as a personal trainer at a pretty popular gym chain, which had their fitness managers do all the selling. While I didn’t agree with the pay structure of this gym chain, I was able to train a variety of clients and get a lot of experience training a variety of populations.
If you’re a group fitness instructor, teaching for a gym typically means they are the ones helping fill the classes with members. As any independent instructor will share, finding new members to fill a class is a struggle. While it is always good practice to help promote your class as an employee, this arrangement allows you to put a good amount of your attention towards improving your class and not as much time on admin duties. Just like with learning a new exercise, being a well-balanced instructor takes repetition. Developing your teaching style and improving your ability to program a variety of exercises takes time. This time is afforded to you at a gym because you don’t have to worry about getting a business license, paying for insurance, creating marketing materials or many of the business aspects associated with running a business.
Legally you’re covered.
This benefit is often overlooked but can play a major role if a member is ever injured. When you work as an employee, the gym that you work for will most likely have an insurance policy that covers your instruction. Most gyms have protocols in place that safeguard each instructor (health history questionnaire, release of liability forms, assessments, etc.), and as long as you work within your scope of practice you will be protected. Working as a contractor, you have to provide your own insurance (typically ranges from $115-150 per year), and also make your own liability forms to ensure you are covered appropriately. Fitness instructor insurance and liability forms are not as hard to come by and searching Google will net you several options to choose from.
As an entrepreneur, it’s hard for me to not say that freedom isn’t a benefit of being a contractor. Freedom can come in the form of marketing, how you set up your schedule, and even how much you charge your clients. With being your own business, you live and die with your business, but you make the rules. You can create your own business name, how many hours a week you want to work, and what type of niche market you want to attract. Along with these benefits comes great responsibility as well. The business side of being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, but can be very profitable when done correctly.
Tax write offs.
A major benefit of running your own business is the increase in the tax write offs associated. The money you invest in equipment, marketing, gas, and even food contributed to the running of your business can help save you money come tax season. I must warn that this takes considerably more time than when you’re an employee, but there are a great amount of resources online and virtual tax services that help you gather all the information needed to maximize your return.
Create your own name.
We all have egos within the fitness industry. With some people, their ego can drive them to do amazing things. Many individuals that go the contractor route or run their own business typically do it because they don’t want to build someone else’s business. With social media and new business tools available online, people can start their business and market themselves with their phone. Many popular instructors or even business owners that I know started at a corporate gym and then took their talents elsewhere. What’s important is that you learn what you can and then jump when an opportunity presents itself.
Back in 2013 when I was training interns, I always recommended that they start at a corporate gym to gain experience. At a 24-Hour Fitness, Equinox or EOS Fitness, an instructor can grow their mental list of exercises, sharpen their teaching skills and also get access to a steady flow of leads. If a fitness professional feels ready and already has a good understanding of running a business, there is also nothing wrong with going the contractor or small business route.
As I mentioned in the introduction, increasing your business fundamentals knowledge is never a bad thing. Just like being a contractor is not a bad thing and has many benefits while being a fitness professional. Make sure you stay professional and cross all your T’s and dot all your I’s with your paperwork.
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