So you’ve got your certification … now what?? Personal trainers have so many options to choose from when getting started in the fitness business. It’s important to have a broad view of what opportunities exist, the pros and cons of each and a clear picture of what position will best suit your talents, your passion and your expectations for the fitness industry. Let’s take a look at some of the common options+ you’ll want to weigh when looking for and accepting your first job.
There are many ways you can approach being a personal trainer: independent contractor or employee; inside a health club, private studio or in a home; full time or part time; exclusive or multiple positions. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, but it truly comes down to what environment suits you best.
Full Time or Part Time
This is the ultimate question and a personal one, for sure. I had a great mentor back in my early 20s that was frank with me and said if you want to make it in this business, you have to need it. Doing it part time will give you part-time results while doing it full time will give you full-time results. Because of where I was in my life (stable, had a bit of savings and no children depending on my money), I took the leap and the net appeared. He was right: I worked SO hard and did my homework to make sure being a trainer was going to be sustainable and profitable enough to maintain (or increase) my lifestyle.
Understandably, money is a consideration. Depending on where you are in your life, the decision to go full time or part time can be dramatically different than mine. One important thing to consider, regardless of the hours you want to work, is that you have to be 100% committed to the position and all the extra WORK you’ll need to do to get started (setting up business practices, prospecting, marketing, practicing, planning). Be prepared to work longer hours in the beginning and know that, eventually, the return on your investment will be there. Save some money before you get started, set aside extra time, get a support system and DO IT!
Contained or Not Contained
As a new personal trainer, I am a big believer that the health club setting is usually the best place to get started. Depending on the club, you may be part of a team of trainers working as employees or you could simply be paying rent or a percentage of what you bring to the table. Regardless of the employment type, in a health club you are surrounded by other fitness pros to learn from and there is typically some type of structure and motivation because they need you to be effective. The club has a vested interest in your success is already an established business, which allows you to concentrate on being effective by using their built-in support. There are prospects waiting for you to turn into clients. The pay scale, however, may be a bit lower compared to other options as they have to take a percentage for their side of the business to cover administrative costs and overhead. Check out the percentages and remember, what they take may be worth helping you to get a start.
Of course, working in a private studio is also an option. Private studios are dedicated to training, for the most part, and can operate in several different ways. They usually ask for rent or take a percentage of each client you train. Depending on how the studio is set up, they may funnel you leads or (in most cases) you’re responsible for generating your own business. The upside is a more private space, less ‘competition’ and the potential to (usually) make a bit more money. The downsides are isolation, at times, from co-workers and the extra work you have to do to build a client base. If you’re great at working solo and love the marketing and business side, this may be a great fit! But, build in extra time for getting your name out there and factor in costs associated with marketing.
Keep it at Home
In-home training has some of the same upsides as private training … you make your hours, you choose your clients, you answer to yourself and you set the rates! However, those same upsides can also be downsides. Your hours tend to be dictated by when people can have you in their homes (typically early morning or evening) and you have to factor in travel time from place to place. You may want to consider setting an area for your clients, but be aware that may limit your income in the beginning. Choosing your clients is great … but you’ll have to be creative with your campaigns to find clients. An individual must trust you WAY more to bring you into their home, so the sales cycle may be slower. Most in-home training stems from a strong relationship built initially at a club or private studio where you can establish trust. You’ll also need to consider equipment; your workouts will change based on what your clients have at their homes or you’ll need to supplement and purchase your own small equipment to take with you.
Employee or Your Own Business
I’m no tax attorney, so we’ll keep this conversation on the surface. There are many upsides to being an employee, but several bonuses to being independent. As an employee of a health club you’ll make commission on sales; and have a ‘floor rate’ or base rate when you’re doing comps, working the floor or cleaning. Before you commit to an employer, find out how the pay works. Are you incentivized for reaching production goals? How does your pay rate increase? Do you ever top the scale and quit growing? And, most importantly, what should you realistically expect when you’re getting started and don’t have any clients?
In some clubs, you may start with some type of a ‘draw’ that allows you to receive a steady income, and then you ‘pay it back’ over time once your client list grows. It’s great to work for a club that has a bonus structure and the most important perk, BENEFITS. Benefits are extremely hard to come by in the fitness world. If you can find a club that does this for you, it may be worth exploring.
The flip side is the independent contractor route. Paying a percentage to a club or studio or, better yet, a fixed rent rate, always seems like the best option since the money you retain is higher. However, you’ll need to research the tax implications of collecting all the money you make with no taxes withheld by an employer. It’s important to understand this RIGHT away so it doesn’t come back to haunt you at the end of the year. You can probably charge higher rates, but make sure the taxes you’ll pay in the end will not reduce that rate considerably. You’ll need to get savvy with your business expense tracking and work with an accountant to help you understand the ins and outs of being a 1099 contractor for a company or how you should set up your own business with a TAX ID number. A huge downside is the lack of benefits that typically come with being a contractor, including factoring in paying for insurance and setting up retirement.
If fitness is your passion, you can certainly make a living as a personal trainer. There are just so many things to consider so that you come into the career with a clear picture of what makes you happy, how much you need to earn to be comfortable and the time you are willing to invest. Do the math and make it work. Seek out mentors in the field to help you explore each of these ideas a bit deeper. Based on our history, we all have our opinions about what works and what doesn’t. It’s best to get as many viewpoints as possible and walk into this career armed with a strategy to stay a long time. WE NEED YOU! Good luck.