Steps Toward Success: Your First Year as a Personal Trainer

TAGS: SMART goals, mentorship, personal trainer, NBS Fitness, fitness industry, customer service, david allen

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I am now in my tenth year as a personal trainer and my sixth year as a gym owner. I have been very fortunate to be what most people would consider successful in terms of profession. I have been blessed with the opportunity to develop many people new to the fitness industry into successful trainers as well. At NBS Fitness we set a standard of excellence for our training staff and work towards that standard through a multi-step trainer development course and continuing education. Collectively our team has five (soon to be six) CSCS Certifications, one CPT through the NSCA, three CrossFit Level 1 Certifications, one CrossFit Level 3 Certification, five exercise science degrees, one Masters of Exercise Science degree, one Doctorate of Chiropractic Medicine, a massage therapy license, and 50 years of industry experience. Here is what we suggest you do your first year in the fitness industry. 

Find A Mentor

When you’re new to the personal training profession, you don’t have a very good idea of what to expect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone who was into fitness with a good physique tell me they’re going to become a personal trainer because all their friends are constantly asking them for workout advice. Then once they become a trainer, none of those friends want to pay for anything. A mentor will help guide you through not only the professional nuances of training like programming, coaching, evaluations, etc., but also through the nuances of the business side of things like selling, organization, time management, and communication.


RECENT: How to Make Money as a Personal Trainer


I try to give a reality check to new trainers by asking them, “You have no experience and just a little bit of education. Why they hell would anyone hire you to train them?” It’s harsh but it gets the point across. The personal training industry is not an easy industry, but working under the wing of someone who has navigated it successfully and is willing to help you out could be the difference between success and looking for a new job.

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Image via: ANTONIO BALAGUER SOLER © 123RF.com

Network

The only way to make it as a personal trainer is to develop a referral network. One way to think of it is like this: how many people view you as an expert on a particular subject? The more people who view you as an expert, the more referrals you will get. Developing a network takes time and focused effort. There are lots of different ways to develop a network. You can knock on doors, go to business networking events, host seminars, write articles and blogs, attend functions where you may bump elbows with people who would be good referrals, etc. Whatever you do, you can’t just sit on your hands with your head in an exercise science book; you’ve got to work it.

Now, something to understand about networking and relationships is that they have to be mutually beneficial. This goes for the mentorship as well. If you pursue networking or mentorship with the attitude of searching for what can this person do for you, you are quickly going to lose that relationship and that mentor. If you’re selfish—only take and never give—you will fail at networking and eventually personal training. Approach it with the attitude of searching for how you can have a positive impact on this person’s life and business. How can you help them and how will you find that the person will reciprocate those same attitudes?

Offer Free and Great Service

Going back to my question of who the hell would hire you, you have to find a way to compete. Dave Tate has said in the past that you can compete in three categories: quality, service, and price. You can usually only compete in one or two of those at best. So since you’re just starting out, you’re probably not going to have a high-quality service yet. That’s not to say you’re not qualified or can’t get clients results, but let’s be honest, if you’ve been training for three months you’re just not going to have worked with as many people and learned as much from experience as someone who’s been doing it for 15 years. So, you will need to focus your initial efforts on the other two: price and service.

Let’s focus on price first. It is a very big mistake that many trainers make to super undercut what would be considered reasonable industry standard training price, which is somewhere in the $50 per hour range. I’ve seen trainers offer training for $10 an hour in some crappy home gym. The downside of this is that you attract the type of clients who are making purchases based on price alone. It’s the difference between McDonald’s low price, low quality, terrible service, and Ruth’s Chris high price, high quality, great service. Which type of clientele do you want to attract and work with?


MORE: So You Want to Be an Online Trainer — Three Steps to Getting Started


I’m not saying you can’t lower your prices at all, but they need to be within industry standards. If the average per hour cost of training in your area is $50 an hour, you can charge $40. But, I would make it known that that price is only for the first 10 clients or for the first month. At some point, you will need to raise your prices back up to industry standard or above, and that’s a lot easier if the clients know it’s coming. So what I find as a good option is to offer someone a free trial session or period. With this, you can attract the type of clients you want while addressing their hesitancy to purchase a large package right off the bat. But in doing so you must do a great job and you must provide better customer service than anyone else can.

Let me give you an example on how you can compete through better customer service. A couple years ago, I was personal training clients and running the gym, and had about 50 online training and nutrition clients. Now, that is a lot of stuff to try to manage at one time. So, when it came to my online training and nutrition clients, it was their responsibility to send me updates and initiate communication. I didn’t have the time to keep track of who had checked in and who hadn’t. This works fine for those clients who have already developed the habits of training and nutrition and who don’t need as much accountability, but for the people who did need that, they were SOL. So, as a new trainer without many clients, you can be the trainer who calls your clients the next day to check in, sees how they feel, sees if they’ve been following their nutrition plan, etc. Now, the struggle is to figure out how to manage that as your clientele grows, but we’ll worry about that later. 

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 Image via: David Pereiras Villagrá © 123RF.com

Set Realistic SMART Goals 

It is also very important that you set realistic goals using the SMART goal framework. This states that goals must be specific, measurable, action-oriented, relevant, and time-bound. Let’s look at two examples:

  • Goal #1: I want to gain more clients
  • Goals #2: I want to gain three new clients within two months through a referral incentive I’ve developed.

Obviously, the first goal doesn’t fit the SMART goal criteria we first established. The second goal gives a specific goal (three clients) that is measurable with action steps (referral incentive), is relevant to the growth of the business, and gives a time frame (two months). The main purpose of setting smart goals is to force you to think intelligently and take action instead of sitting around waiting for clients to fall into your lap, which is never going to happen. It is also important that you set realistic goals. Unfortunately, there are a lot of false fitness business “gurus” out there trying to make it seem super simple to earn a six-figure income as a personal trainer within the first year. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is a very far stretch. Set goals that make you work but are within reason. 

Grind

I’m not a fan of all the business hype talk that goes around or the motivational Instagram memes that say shit like “rise and grind.” Look, the truth of it is that if you don’t have a high level of internal drive and motivation, you’re going to struggle to be successful in any career field. But you will get killed in any field that is sales-oriented, and that’s exactly what personal training is. Luckily you don't have to sit in a cubicle with a hands-free telephone and make 100 cold calls a day like some sales people have to, but you do have to be willing to work really hard. I have found that most people struggle pretty hard their first year as a trainer. They usually have to work a second job to cover their bills. If they stick with it, they start to break through their second year — but only if they put in the ground work their first year. Too many people become personal trainers because they believe it’s an easy profession where they can hang out at the gym all day. WRONG! It’s a tough profession that takes a lot of time, dedication, perseverance, and work, but if done correctly, you can make a good living doing something you love and positively affecting people’s lives.

If you’re a personal trainer, take my advice and follow what I have laid out in this article. It could be the difference between you getting to do a job you love and you having to do something just to get by. NBS is always open for internships and future trainers, so if you want to come and learn how to be successful as a personal trainer, you know who to call.

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