15 Confessions of a Self-employed Personal Trainer

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15 Confessions of a Self-employed Personal Trainer

Self-employed personal trainer? Or want to be one? This is for you. And it’s written in total respect. I know most of these because I’ve lived most of these and or coached someone through them. Somewhere in this list is one or two sore spots that you deal with or need to in order to grow.

Now is the time. I’ve said it a hundred times in the last five years: there’s never been a better time to be in the fitness industry. Ha, my own parents didn’t even flip out back in 1984 when I said I was changing my major to Physical Education/Kinesiology. They couldn’t because they had no clue what it was! But today, it’s a totally respectable profession. Yet, it still has pitfalls. Some of them are listed below.

If you want to be a profitable self-employed personal trainer some day even if you’re not right now, do a gut check with these as you read them. I usually find the ones I hate the most or don’t want to be true are the ones I need to deal with!

#1 I work “all the time” but I don’t make much money.

If this is you, those sessions are early, late, and you’re feeling constantly “on.” Even if you tell yourself or others you have lots of free time during the day, it ends up not being time you enjoy. You have that overarching feeling of needing to go back to work or do one more thing.

When you factor in the hours you’re training, planning the sessions, responding to emails, voice mails, and texts or commuting to sessions, your hourly wage is actually a lot closer to minimum wage than that glamorous number that once sounded so good.

Solution: Raise your rates. That’s usually first! If you travel to a client, raise them not based on whether you’re with them but for time to travel to and from them as well. Stop charging per session and start focusing on the transformation. YOU decide and set the options for clients. How do you get the best results? Do you have to be with them physically for each session? Can you skype or facetime or call? Create the business model you want, then charge more – as much more as it would take to make another option attractive to you – for anything else.

#2 I don’t save money to pay taxes.

If you work for someone else, you can skip this one. If you have any revenue from your own business endeavors however, unless you’re making so little and losing money in the first few years of business, this one can hurt. In some cases it can cause painful debt.

By the way, if you lose more money than you make when you add up your continuing ed. and expenses, you have a hobby not a career.

Solution: Wherever you collect money, collect taxes. Pay quarterly tax estimates. Find an accountant that is proactive and understands your business and industry.

Listen to this podcast about accountants and bookkeepers.

#3 I mix my personal and business finances.

If that’s you and you’ve started a business of your own, really your own, not partnering with someone else in an actual corporation, this is an easy trap to fall into.

When you do this taxes, business decisions, and budgeting and calculated risks are hard. There’s no line. You don’t actually write a business plan or pro-forma for anyone and that’s dangerous. When you can see Profit and Loss and you plan for taxes, pay yourself, separate taxes becomes natural.

Self-employed trainers who are single probably have this pitfall more than those who are married with joint incomes. If you’re testing the waters, keep good books, and when you decide this is a yes for you and it’s working, you’ll be ready to make it a business.

Solution: If you want to grow and build a business that is sustainable, even some day when you are not the business, just the visionary of it, start separating your household and your business finances now.

#4 I live paycheck to paycheck: if a client doesn’t pay me, I can’t pay my bills.

If you’re living with a pretend lifestyle you tell people is “nice” and you’re following that “fake it ‘til you make it” advice you’ve got to stop.

Solution: Recurring revenue is best. Find a way to have monthly payments for clients whether it’s memberships, individual or group training relationships. If you don’t have money, stop going to Starbucks for $7 coffees and buying “superfoods.” Make decisions that directly influence your bottom line. Make more offers. Ask more people to work with you. Acquire more leads – but only once you have something that you know converts. 

#5 I have no idea how I’ll get ahead of debt I’m creating.

If you’re taking risks using credit cards with high interest rates, make a point of paying it off, or getting a low interest loan for that purpose, then find a better option for calculated debt that makes sense.

If you know investing in certain equipment will bring you a specific amount of revenue because you have demand for a service, then a debt would be worth it. If it’s just a nice-to-have prop you like, but that can be solved some other way and you would be uncomfortable without more revenue, you can make decisions better.

If you can pay someone to do a task for $10 or $15 and you make $85 when you’re with a client, or only you can create a program that will bring in another revenue stream, should you really be doing a task?

Solution: Do the math. Get creative and know that you might want to hire someone part time (virtually or not) to do some of those tasks that you can have someone else do for less than your hourly rate. 

#6 I don’t have professional liability insurance and let certifications expire.

You’ve got to have them. Period. You may think, what difference does it make? Out of the mouth of a now –personal training director. Great influence on a team, huh? Like you’d go to a doctor who failed board certification or a lawyer who just did a couple years and then dropped out. You’re only contributing to the negative fitness industry impressions. Find a certification you’re proud to have that is tough and do it. You’re not better than your industry. You’re the weakest link if you’re not trying to better it.

Get them. This is a bad time to get caught without liability insurance. For a savvy customer it’s a question they’ll ask. If you were employed an employer should recommend you get your own even though they carry some on you.

In litigation, someone suing will sue everyone. The business, you personally, and anyone else remotely involved.

Solution: In every employment instance, you should have it. It should be a part of your cost of doing business.

#7 I don’t have a marketing/advertising budget.

Grassroots and gorilla marketing will take you a few steps. Referrals will take you a couple more. But at some point you have to regularly be creating more leads and putting them into your funnel.

Get good at organic marketing (it’s not dead). You’re listening to responses on images, copy, videos, and topics with organic social media. Then you begin to test ads. When you make a small ad that converts at a ratio that’s gets you more than you paid for the lead increase the spend. If it doesn’t, change a variable and keep testing.

Solution:  Come up with an assortment of no cost, low cost, and other marketing investments each month. Go with things that put you out in front of people regularly and have a lasting impact. If you’re not a marketing expert, high someone who is, because without getting the word out, it’s difficult to have a business.

#8 I really don’t know how to monetize social media even though I’m on it constantly.

See above. If you don’t know marketing hire someone who does. That said, the most important details in marketing are 1) knowing the customer you want to serve is actively looking for a solution 2) knowing the words they use to describe their problem 3) knowing where they are already looking and being there with 4) valuable advice and something no one else has

Solution: Start where your customer is and master that platform. You don’t choose where you are, they do. Then be there consistently. Add value for them. When you strike a topic that gets a lot of interest and you open it up wide with conversation, articles, blogs, videos, then when you have something that solves the problem they’ve been talking about to you, you can make an offer.

#9 I don’t know how to share an idea that inspires an inactive individual to take action.

This one is tough for a lot of personal trainers and health coaches who sell directly to the customer themselves. If someone else sells it, no problem, you’ll service them, but when it’s you actively selling so that you can help someone, how do you feel?

Part of the problem for many trainers is they get stuck on the idea they’re selling. They think selling is bad. Selling is pushy, or sleazy, or greedy. Trainers somehow want people to already know what they can do for them and be ready to buy. That’s limited thinking.

Solution: Resolve your own issue with selling and making money first. If you think it’s dirty, sleazy, or that’s what you learned about people who had money when you were a kid, that will creep into everything you do. 

#10 I hate to sell.

This is your sh**. You have to get over your sh**. You’ve bought things you’re entire life. Some of them have made you very happy. Some have not. Your goal is to be the former. Learn how to let people buy when you give them the right advice and the best choices. If you haven’t asked at least 3 people to become a customer in the last 3 days and you say you want to make more money and help more people, what are you doing?

Solution: Learn how to make an offer in a way that it feels good to you and your buyer.

#11 If I had to be the primary breadwinner for my family I would have to get a “real job.”

Your language is everything. If you’re sending that message to yourself you’re going to believe it. You can do it and you can juggle a family even as a single parent, even with a regular “other” job. I know. I’ve been there too. If this is really what you want you can make it work. If you’re telling yourself you can’t be a good parent and have a successful business, why? That’s your own limiting belief, not anyone else’s.

Be honest about whether you really want to be a self-employed personal trainer with a business or you have a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with either answer. But they should each take you down a very different path.

Solution: Put yourself in a position that you had to succeed. There’s no choice. You’ve first got to believe that you can be a self-employed personal trainer who makes good money. Do you?

#12 I don’t seek education [continuing ed. credits or not] that reflects the primary needs of the people I work with or want to.

If you’re searching online for information (that your customer can find too) and not checking primary research, you’re only a step ahead of your clients. It is so easy to take shortcuts and just do the easy thing. Especially when things get busy. Remember if you lie to yourself though and hide behind a certification and a specialty without the continual updates are you really the trainer you want to be?

Solution: Choose the area you want to be the expert in and then choose course that will help you do that.

#13 I’m following the example others have more than I’m creating something unique.

Challenge yourself to stand out. To stand out in this noisy world of trainers and health coaches you need to be unique. What is your formula, your method? And what backs it up? What science or how have you proven it?

Solution: Research your competition thoroughly. Find out what your ideal customers say is missing when they go looking for help or try other programs. That is your niche. That’s the way to make what you do unique, even if other people are serving the same niche. (and you don’t want to be totally out on a limb serving people no one else is- you do want to know there’s demand for your services!)

#14 I’m afraid to admit I need help.

This one is big. Put it in perspective with all of your clients. They too think they should already know how to do it right? They beat themselves up, feel guilty for not getting in shape or being able to motivate themselves. That’s baloney when you hear it from them, right?

This is really “imposter syndrome” of sorts. We all think on some level, if they really knew me they wouldn’t like me.  We think we have to portray this sunshine and unicorn existence that we know it all and it’s always been smooth.

The opposite is true. Everyone struggles with something worthwhile. People want to know you’re a little like them. And everyone needs support. A self-employed personal trainer can feel really isolated! Sure you’re with people all day but not talking it out with peers. Instead you’re handling all the things solo. Whether you were a self-employed personal trainer, plumber, or chef, you were trained in a specific area and it most likely didn’t include a lot of business.

My Aha

I still struggle with this. I just did a TEDx talk (more on that when the video is up!) and a fellow speaker at the event did a fundraiser on Facebook for his travel expenses. But, in reality, that expense wasn’t in my marketing budget this month. When TEDx invites you, I think you go. But even now, I don’t think I would have done this with family, friends, or my community. This was a great lesson for me. I could have thought of a creative way to ask for funding in exchange for a free talk (and waived my speaker fee), for instance. But if we put on a fake, “everything’s fine,” exterior, we limit ourselves.

If you really want to make a difference you’ll have to have a team. Start with just one person you trust. Get a coach. Hey, I’ve been there. Asking for help is the hardest thing in my life. Personally, and still professionally both to a point. It’s easier professionally, but it only got easier because I have flexed that muscle – a LOT – in the last 6 years.

Solution: Realize if you’ve never been here you can know what to do when you get here. Ask for help from someone who has done it, is not just saying they’re a coach and asking for money but who is truly making a living doing exactly what you want to be doing. That’s not the biggest Instagram or Facebook account. It’s not even the people who got on Oprah. If they didn’t have a call-to-action and a way to monetize the busy activity they’re doing, they may not be the right coach.

#15 I’ve painted myself into a corner.  

If you’re a self-employed personal trainer that’s so busy and in demand training from early to late that you have no time to do anything else. You have no time to create a style guide so someone else can do your marketing. You have no time to train other trainers to use your methods and systems. You have no time to train a virtual assistant who answers calls and customer support. This will hurt – it’s more ego than fear.

I know that fear of thinking no one will do it like you do, that it’s your name and your personality they love – and that this is your bread and butter.  However, you have been doing it for a certain way for a long time. If that’s true and it’s working, you have a system.

Solution: Write it down, talk it and get it transcribed so it’s a training tool for anyone you hire. Let them know that you know that some day they will move on, and that many of them want to cut their teeth and be you. If you hire good people, there’s a chance they’re ambitious! Be OK with it. You started under someone else’s wing or with a mentor even if from afar. That’s not a loss. It’s a win if you help someone else in life. Add a revenue stream. Free up your own time, and energy, and you’ll find you free up creativity that then results in more money.

And… Bonus:

#16 I Don’t Have a Lawyer

Legal fees are something you’ll want and need to consider. If you form an LLC or other entity, if you trademark your name or a system you’ll want one. But most importantly, there will come a time when you can’t just copy the template used by someone else for your Terms of Service, your Disclaimers, or your Waivers. As a self-employed personal trainer you need to have an attorney look those things over.

Anything resonate? Comment here or contact me.

Want to build your business fast? Stay tuned for 10 ways to make more money fast to save for equipment, a certification, or to get rid of debt. Step one, look at the largest market in fitness today and for the next 30 years.

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