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When I first left the collegiate strength and conditioning field, I worked at a private sports development facility where I worked on a commission basis. I won't give any specifics, but let's just say that my pay was laughable. I worked a ton of unpaid hours, and if you actually calculated the hours that I spent at the facility and compared it to my pay, it was under minimum wage. I didn't have any sales experience and I didn't have any idea what I was doing, but it was probably the best first job I could've had because I learned many valuable lessons that set me up for success later down the road.

Eight years later, I may not be a business genius, but I've managed to develop what many would consider a successful business. We’ve shown tremendous growth and profits every year that we’ve been open. We've gone from a one-man operation to a business with seven employees, and we purchased a new building so that we can expand in 2016. We continue to provide the Memphis area with the best equipment, atmosphere and knowledge that there is to offer, and we continue to grow every quarter.

Since I opened the business, I've been open to and have received tons of advice from mentors, clients, family, friends, business owners and others. “You know what you should do...”is the most common phrase I hear as a business owner. I wouldn't be here if it wasn’t for the advice given to me by those with better experience than me, but I've also received a lot of poor advice. Interestingly enough, much of the poor advice has come from fitness and business “gurus.” I see terrible advice being marketed all the time, so let me save you some trouble and tell you what advice you can ignore.

Poor advice: Get rid of clients who don’t make you look good.

This advice is given to personal trainers trying to “make a name” for themselves. I can’t remember when I first heard or read this advice, but the principal behind it is what drives me crazy. As a personal trainer, you are a service-based profession. The key word here is service. You are there to serve your clients, not the other way around. If you're so focused on your own success that you're willing to negatively impact the success of your clients, you're in the wrong field.

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As a personal trainer, the type of people you will typically work with are those who are struggling to implement healthy habits into their lives like exercise, quality nutrition and stress management. They hire you to help them navigate this new goal. They won't be perfect, they will fail and they will fall. It's your job to help them get back up and keep going.


It's unrealistic to expect all your clients to immediately adhere to a strict nutrition plan, excessive exercise and a total lifestyle change. You need to temper your expectations of your clients' abilities and build them up, not set a super high standard and demand that they meet it or get fired. This is the method for developing a niche, setting yourself apart and attracting a certain client, but I don't believe that it's the best method.

Beyond this, clients are the ones who pay your bills. Firing them is cutting your monthly income and potentially making a bad name for yourself. If you want to make a good name for yourself, learn to serve your clients.

Poor advice: Develop your brand by creating blogs, podcasts and videos.

When someone Googles your name, it helps to have articles you’ve written and videos you’ve made pop up so that you are perceived as an expert. However, if you don’t have the experience, your content will suck. Anyone you happen to get as a client will quickly realize that you suck because you don’t have any experience. In the field of training, experience is king. Everyone is trying to make themselves look like an expert before they really are. The problem is the vast majority of people don’t make any money from the content they create. Sure, there are plenty of people who do, and while some of them lack experience, most make money from creating content because it's of a higher quality and they have the experience to back it up.

When I worked at a commercial gym, there was a period of time when I worked two months of sixty billed hours of training a week. I had so many clients I could barely find time to train myself. I actually had to turn clients away because I just couldn’t take on any more. I can tell you that during this period I produced absolutely zero content. When I see new trainers popping out videos or blogs on a daily basis, I know there isn't any way that they're working with very many people.

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Build your clients first and gain experience. Then use that experience to create higher quality content that will help drive higher quality clients, not the other way around.

Poor advice: Constantly seek higher level training knowledge.

You should be constantly sharpening your skills, but those skills will more likely be applied to beginners and intermediates than to advanced athletes. As the level of skill increases in sports, the number of participants decreases. Therefore, the number of experts required decreases as well. How many NFL head strength coaches are there? I'm not saying that you shouldn't seek the level of clientele you want to work with, but Joe DeFranco didn’t start out by only training people for the NFL combine. He worked with tons of high school athletes first. I'm also not saying that you shouldn’t expand your knowledge. You absolutely should. But you need to learn to apply the principles of training at all levels. You aren't likely to start your career working with elite level athletes, so learn to be the best at working with beginners and intermediates and they will eventually become elite level athletes.


Poor advice: Open your own business.

The commercial for the NASM Personal Trainer certification goes, “I basically get paid really well to work out all day.” This couldn't be further from the truth. The average personal trainer earns on average $35,000 a year, and they don’t get paid to work out. They get paid to help other people work out. The number of people who get their personal training licenses and then immediately think that clients will knock down their doors is staggering. The turnover in this field is huge because most people get into it and realize that they don’t have any of the necessary skills to succeed like sales, marketing, organization and people skills. This is why we have a personal trainer development program at our facility.

However, there are those who do have the skills. They eventually develop a pretty big clientele base and make good money. The next obvious step is to start their own business, maybe open up a gym, right? I'll tell you that owning a business is the single most rewarding and best decision I ever made. It's also an incredibly stressful and nerve wracking endeavor at the same time. Some people are just made to work for themselves and others aren’t. I work with many other business owners and there is something in their personalities that makes them perfect for the task. I don’t think I could ever not own my own business to tell you the truth. I love every bit of it. But it isn't for everyone.

The worst reason you could open your own business is for money, especially when it comes to training. Owning your own business gives you the potential to make more money, but you have to know what you’re doing and be willing to do what it takes. The overhead for a giant gym is much more than the percentage that any trainer pays the gym where he or she works. The amount of unpaid time that you have to put in to make it work on the front end is very high. If you want to own your own business so you can buy more things, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Owning a business is about filling a void and meeting the needs of your customers. It’s about creating something bigger and more important than you. If you want to own one for those reasons, do so. Do it with everything you have and you will be successful. Otherwise, stick to being the best technician you can be and work for someone else. You’ll be happier and make more money in the end.

Try not to take too much business advice from people whose only business has been giving business advice. Take it from people with experience. Take it from people who have been down the road you want to travel. Take all advice with a grain of salt, and when you’ve found success and gained experience of your own, be sure to share that advice with someone else.