by Tyler Valencia, MS, PFT, PES
At any point in a personal trainer’s career the idea of being a contractor or employee will come up. When you start as a personal trainer and are looking at surrounding gyms, some of the studios and specialization gyms will afford you the option of being a contractor. I will state it right now that both are viable options, and it just depends on your current situation as a personal trainer 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 sell personal training will vary. As a contractor you are typically paying a percentage of your personal training session rate to the gym, and are essentially a small business within a gym. Some contractors run their own personal 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 polices 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.
- Endless supply of potential clients.
One of the biggest benefits of being a personal trainer as an employee is your access to their membership base. Creating and generating leads often come from the sales staff and fitness manager, and your job is to sell yourself once given the opportunity. Also, while working as an employee at a gym you can 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 personal training, being an employee allows you to learn these skills and make a respectable income. At one point in my career I worked as 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 built a solid repetition of being a personal trainer.
- Legally you’re covered.
This benefit is often overlooked but can play a major role if a client 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 personal training. Most gyms have protocols in place that safeguard each personal trainer (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. Personal trainer insurance and liability forms are not as hard to come by and searching Google will net you several options to choose from.
- You can focus just on training.
Just like with learning a new exercise, being a well-balanced personal trainer takes repetition. Developing your style of selling personal training and even how you train your clients takes practice. 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 gym. While working for a gym you can often get paid to develop your personal training skills, even when getting more education. Many of the best-run gyms have entry-level training programs that help develop personal trainers, and even teach them how to sell personal training to their client base.
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.
(If running your own personal training business interests you, I highly recommend checking out the online KIPS course Business & Sales: The Guide to Success as a Personal Trainer.)
- 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 you that this takes considerably more time than when you’re an employee, but there are great resources through online tax services that help you track on a daily basis.
- Create your own name.
We all have egos. In 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 famous personal trainers 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. When I graduated with my undergraduate degree and had a steady pay check from working for an online education company, I decided to start a bootcamp business with an old classmate. Since I already had a consistent income, I was able to navigate my way through the slow months of starting a new company.
Back in 2013 when I first started training interns, I always recommended that they start at a corporate gym. At a 24-Hour Fitness, Equinox or EOS Fitness a personal trainer can grow their mental list of exercises, sharpen their instruction skills and also get access to a steady flow of leads. If a personal trainer 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 last point of being a contractor, jumping at an opportunity when it arises can help grow a business. When a gym closes or a personal trainer retires, individuals will be looking for a new personal trainer to help them achieve their goals. If you’re already in a situation where you have people who want to train and you just need to create a business outline, this could also give you a strong jumping point. Just make sure you stay professional and cross all your T’s and dot all your I’s with your legal papers.
Tyler Valencia is the President of KIPS. While working for a Southern California online education company he started his first business, Time 2 Train Fitness which specialized in bootcamp and personal training. Time 2 Train Fitness went on to receive the distinction of 3X Best Bootcamp and 2X Best Personal Trainer with the Long Beach Press Telegram. Before founding KIPS, Tyler was the Vice President of the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers (NCCPT) & Smart Fitness.