by Tyler Valencia, MS
This is an updated version of a post originally published in 2017. The concepts are the same but the information has been updated to reflect the current trends. Hopefully keeping this information up-to-date can help trainers entering the industry get a head start. Feel free to add to the conversation in the comments.
When we all start our first personal training job we are bright-eyed and ready to train clients. We just got our personal training certification and think we are going to start training people 9am-5pm. Building a client list might come easy to some, but typically getting your first client and learning the tricks of the trade come with experience. Don’t get me wrong, personal training can be a great career, but it’s a grind. Waking up at 4:30am to train morning clients and/or coming back to hit the evening crowd is not for everyone. BUT with consistent hard work, your client list will grow and you can make upwards of $60,000+.
In this article we will focus on the knowledge that many experienced personal trainers have attained and practiced for years. The hope is that you take these suggestions and apply them to your work environment in your own way. It’s important to realize that every gym has a different environment and the clientele that sign-up will vary depending on neighborhood demographics. Avoiding these five common mistakes entry-level trainers make, you will surely get a head start on your first day.
- Trying to create a separation between work and home life.
I will admit that this was one of the mistakes that I made when I first started working as a personal trainer. This often happens when an individuals transitions from one industry into the fitness industry. The fitness industry is an ever-changing beast, and consumers always want to know more about those who work inside of the industry. Despite sounding like good advice in general, you have to have a steady stream of income to be able to create any type of home barrier. If you try to create barriers between you and potential clients before you even have your first client, you can turn away future business or even hurt your status at the gym.
To get a better idea of why I fell into this trap, I had to look at where this advice had come from. The trainer who had given me this advice was a seasoned veteran, and was considered the top trainer at the gym. Her client list was full and she easily made over 100k (at the time), but what I didn’t realize was how her full-time status was achieved. This trainer after years of grinding out 8-10 hour days, teaching group exercise, and staying consistent, grew her client list to a point where she had the luxury of being selective. Even though I didn’t immediately see the advice that I could apply to my business, the lesson learned is one that can be passed on to new fitness professionals.
This tip is a perfect example of how social media has changed the barriers and acceptable posts made viewable on social media. Consumers will typically research a company or individual on their favorite social media platform and want to see if their investment is worth the time. In no way am I saying this is the right way to purchase a product, but it’s one of the many facts of the world that we live in. Ways to keep a separation between your work posts and friends posts is to create a “business” account where you post fitness related items. At the same time, putting your profile to private can help keep any unwanted posts being viewed by potential clients.
- Not working out at your gym.
Before jumping into this tip, it’s important to note that this is not a debate on whether a personal trainer should “look the part.” That is an age-old debate that has been a part of the fitness industry since it’s inception, and even to a degree how the industry started. This tip is rather an idea to get your consumer audience more familiar with you, and hopefully spark up conversations with potential customers.
When you work at a gym, staying at the gym any longer than needed often feels like you live there, but by making this mistake you are missing the chance to advertise yourself. Don’t forget you are always on display at the gym. When you put on the company shirt, gym members remember your face, your routines, and how you interact with other members. Potential clients want to see that you know how to use the gym equipment and that your style of training is something that would help them reach their goals.
To my knowledge, some gyms might even pay their trainers to workout in their down time because it will increase their exposure. The hardest part of starting out as a personal trainer is making a new client believe in your training philosophy, but showcasing these first-hand can potentially eliminate the awkward first sales pitch and expedite you to selling your first personal training package.
- Not teaching group exercise.
This tip is one that I can’t stress enough. You have to eliminate any negative stigma you might have about group exercise and realize that it is the fast track to more clients and a bigger paycheck. First of all, you will get paid to teach a class. Starting as a new trainer, income is not as consistent or available as you would imagine. An opportunity for consistent income is something hard to pass up when starting in the fitness industry. Second, with all the different formats available these days you can find one that caters to your skillset. You don’t have to know how to choreograph or cue in order to teach group exercise. As a matter of fact, I typically train Olympic lifts and powerlifts, but can teach bootcamp style classes because there is great crossover.
Teaching group exercise is an opportunity to showcase your skills in front of regular gym members, and also a way to get to know more members. People who attend group exercise classes and want further help with their goals will most likely come to you first.
- To play gym politics or not.
There is no denying that every gym has a culture, and there are current employees that can help you grow your client list. For starters, befriending the membership sales counselors is an easy first step that gives you a direct link to new members within your gym.
This might sound like an obvious one, but being friends (professional friends) with your fitness manager is a must. If your fitness manager believes that you have what it takes to be a successful personal trainer, you will be one of the first trainers that he/she comes to with future leads or pre-bought session clients. Also, in gyms that have 25-30 personal trainers there is only so much business to go around. Make sure that you are available to your fitness manager, and make sure that he/she knows you want to grow within your role. The fitness manager most likely is a seasoned personal trainer and can be a great source for knowledge.
- Thinking your personal trainer certification is enough education.
Having worked on three different accreditation applications for two different personal training certification agencies, I can tell you from experience that each exam is entry level. In fact, the purpose statement written into each exam application is that the exam is expected to test the knowledge to become an entry-level personal trainer. With that said, it’s important that you continually build on your education and improve your skillset. Finding online courses, certifications, workshops or even internships that interest you will help you build your knowledge level and help you build the “product” that you sell (yourself!).
Having the educational background in one area doesn’t mean you can’t crossover into different niche clientele. Despite having a Master’s degree focused in Sport Performance, I find myself training women because of the consistency that it affords. I do train athletes because that is a passion of mine, but there is always the option to train others. Starting out you don’t want to limit yourself to just special populations or just athletes, ideally you will be able to train several populations and get the experience of working and talking with them. It’s no secret that personal training is not just about being educated. There is a large component that revolves around social interactions and creating a connection. At the end of the day, clients purchase packages because of YOU and not because of the gym.
Getting your first client as an entry-level trainer is a major milestone and can sometimes be stressful. Doing floor shifts to meet gym members can be a great start to growing your list of clients, but make sure to follow the five tips stated above. Entry-level personal trainers typically have a lifespan of 2 years, but grinding through the beginning stages can help you turn it into a long, fruitful and rewarding career.
At the same time, don’t forget to celebrate the little milestones associated with your first position within the industry. Getting your first client should be celebrated and built upon. Looking at the time spent to get that client, and steps associated so that they can be replicated and learnt from. Analyzing the process you took can help you learn about what works for you and how to save time.
If you are an experienced personal trainer, please share your recommendations for future entry-level trainers!
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.