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Your Career Roadmap as a Personal Trainer: Where Are You Now?

Your Career Roadmap as a Personal Trainer: Where Are You Now?  | Brett Klika | Expert Articles | 1/9/2017

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In my first year as a health and fitness professional, I went to the big conferences to see my favorite fit pros speak. I desperately wanted to be able to share my passion and experiences with the masses just like them one day. But how?

Having these aspirations early in my career, I was plagued with constant thoughts of:

  • "What should I being doing right now if I want to grow in this industry?"
  • "Am I doing enough?"
  • "Am I doing too much?"
  • "Am I doing the right stuff?"

This constant self-questioning added a tremendous amount of stress and created in me feelings of inadequacy. This fractured my focus, holding me back on occasion from seeking fruitful opportunities.

Now that I’ve been in the industry nearly 20 years and have seen many of my aspirations come to fruition, I'm finding that many fit pros, both young and old, are plagued with the same questions of uncertainty that weighed on me for years.

Drawing from my own experience, conversations and observations with other health and fitness professionals, I uncovered some commonalities when it comes to how successful health and fitness pros apply their time and energy at different points in their career to achieve their goals. To help alleviate the burden of constant self-doubt experienced by trainers young and old, I’ve combined what I have learned into a strategic “career roadmap” for health and fitness professionals.

This roadmap provides basic guidelines for how most successful health and fitness professionals spend their time and energy at different points in their career. These are only guidelines, as some have far outpaced the curve and some didn’t even follow the standard route. For most health and fitness professionals, however, the following roadmap provides a great framework to consider when taking steps toward a long, successful career in fitness.

Years 1-3 (90-100% of income from hourly training)

Primary goals:

  1. Master your management of time.
  2. Decide if you are in for the "long haul."
  3. Train!

The first few years in the industry can be overwhelming. The reality of "no sessions, no income" sets in quickly, making it clear to beginning trainers that a career in fitness is not a "9-to-5" endeavor. During these first few years, time is money, so mastering the use of time is paramount to success.

Because starting trainers need experience and income from training, they should spend as much time possible working with clients—evenings, weekends, early mornings, late nights and everything in between—and they should seek out diverse populations. Use of the word "no" should be used sparingly. It’s true that this is not sustainable for the long haul. However, without this period of concentrated focus on training, it becomes difficult to acquire the experience from which to grow.

Beginning trainers should learn to listen, observe, record and learn constantly while identifying the demographics that resonate with their personality and training style. As a first year fitness pro, you should learn to be honest with yourself while identifying your personal "best practices" that keep you positive, motivated and energized to help people. Pay attention to how the motivation to change works differently with different clients.

Much of the foundation for long -term success in training is built during the time when you are NOT working with clients. Right from the beginning, learn how to make time every day to:

  • Exercise (maximum of an hour, including a shower).
  • Read/learn for a minimum of 30-60 minutes every day.
    • Different points in a trainer’s career require different types of learning.
    • During years 1-3, for every two resources on exercise, find a resource on marketing/business growth.
  • Journal, blog or record your perspective, what you've learned, or anything else brought on by your experiences.
  • Establish objective goals for every 90 days and write them down.
  • Attend a minimum of one or two large conferences per year.
  • Learn, apply and assess different ways to market your services.
    • Get comfortable asking for referrals and testimonials from happy clients.
  • Reach out to mentors in the field.

These activities need to be a part of every successful trainer’s day at every point in his or her career in order to grow. Regardless of whether you are working three or 12 hours a day, it’s important to manage the time before, between or after clients to perform these activities. Your ability to grow as a professional comes from using this time effectively.

Many young trainers use this time ineffectively, which results in stagnation, frustration and eventual departure from the industry.

After the first three years, every trainer should evaluate whether or not this is the career for him or her. You’ve had a taste of the ups and downs and have a clear picture of the commitment and income. To move forward, it’s important to understand that while there are tremendous opportunities, being a fitness professional will never be a 9-to-5 job, regardless of your success.

Years 4-6 (80-90% of income from hourly training)

Primary goals:

  1. Master your application of energy.
  2. Master a niche.
  3. Share your experience.
  4. Expand your influence.

Hopefully by year 4, a health and fitness professional has made a conscious commitment to building a long-term career. While in years 1-3 the focus should merely be on training as many people as possible, now your focus should shift to expanding your influence outside of the clients you work with on a daily basis. While the focus of the first three years is training "everyone all the time," now your focus becomes deciding which "niche" you and your brand will master.

"Jack-of-all-trades" health and fitness professionals can survive in the industry, but most trainers' long-term goals don’t include merely surviving. Health and fitness professionals that spend their non-training time effectively will develop a pronounced level of mastery with a particular demographic or aspect of training. Sharing this area of mastery and establishing yourself as an expert deserve the lion’s share of your energy during these years. This pays tremendous dividends in the years to come.

This may involve taking on employees and sharing methods. It may involve applying to speak or write in the industry. To grow, your expertise must not only be shared, it must resonate with the group you intend to share it with. Creating and managing a personal brand through blogs, videos, social media and other means to educate the masses is important.

Not everyone's first attempts to share their ideas go viral. As a matter of fact, it may take years of creating excerpts for a gym newsletter, YouTube videos for clients and blogs to post on Facebook before a professional gains a larger audience. However, during this "practice" time, you can learn how to craft your message more effectively so when you do get your big opportunity, you are prepared.

Joining an industry "mastermind" group during these years is a powerful multiplier, as it connects you to other like-minded professionals with similar goals. These groups act as powerful thought councils, sounding boards and support teams.

While opportunities to reach a larger audience expand during these years, the income from these endeavors may or may not supplant the need to train a large volume of clients. An established expert is often in demand, however, allowing you to have greater control over your schedule. Due to your increased demand, you can also charge higher rates. It’s important that you take note of this and adjust your business accordingly.

Again, mastery comes from not only using non-training time effectively, but also listening and engaging with an intended audience (clients, the general public, etc.). Don’t just spout your ideas—pay attention to the questions, challenges or other feedback you receive. Learning how to answer and address these is how you learn to communicate with your audience.

Years 7-9 (50-60% of income from hourly training)

Primary goals:

  1. Solidify your fitness brand.
  2. Seek a larger platform for your brand and message.
  3. Master the relationship between time and money.

By year 7, health and fitness professionals have survived another mass attrition. This leaves those with this level of experience ahead of the curve; that is, if they have spent their time and energy sharing their expertise effectively.

In years 4-6, a unique level of mastery should not only have been developed, but also been shared. By now, a health and fitness professional should have a clearly understood audience and a well-established means by which to reach them. They should understand and make it a priority to apply their best personal and business practices to their daily routines. Charging premium rates and creating a manageable schedule should now create the time and resources to solidify and drastically grow a fitness brand.

A professional with this level of mastery and influence over the course of so many years is now a valuable asset to business entities, both in and out of the fitness industry. Seeking opportunities to consult with, speak to and teach for larger companies deserves time and energy, and places you on a larger stage with more opportunities to share ideas and insight to positively influence more people's health.

In years 7-9, health and fitness professionals should start to understand which avenues are the most important for growing their brands to reach their intended audiences. While there may be an opportunity to work with a large company, does that company match your brand? Will they help or hinder your long-term growth? Will the time spent consulting with a company take away from the time you need to grow your personal brand? It's important to spend your time away from training seeking reflection and council for these and other "big picture" questions.

Personal education should shift to two business/marketing/leadership resources for every resource on training. Now that you have more experience and, presumably, an accelerated level of success in the industry, you should expand your audience to helping other personal trainers grow their businesses. This opens up revenue sources from creating products, masterminds and consulting opportunities.

At this point in a health and fitness professional's career, you should be aiming to train a select group of clients, primarily in groups, at premium rates. While hourly training still provides income and insight, it can interfere with other opportunities to grow.

Years 10+ (Less than 10% of income from hourly training)

Primary goals:

  1. Creating you and your brand’s legacy.
  2. Building an infrastructure for long- term growth.

A fitness professional who has used his or her non-training time to build a career as an industry expert for 10 years has a unique opportunity to impact the entire fitness industry, in addition to affecting the health of society as a whole. This impact is observed in the many individuals who have changed their lives in a positive way due to your message. This could be individuals who have become healthier, or personal trainers who have experienced success.

As a health and fitness professional at this level, you should have a clear understanding of your own brand and how it grows. You should know exactly who your audience is and how you serve them most effectively. You should have a vision of where you want to drive your brand in the years to come. You should have the mentors, masterminds and other infrastructure in place to help you navigate the years ahead. Time and energy should be spent to further solidify these growth factors in the coming years.

The focus from this point on should be to continue to grow your reach and positive influence exponentially. Strategically seeking the right sponsorships, relationships and other opportunities allows you to recruit others to assist in your mission. Revenue streams created from strategically utilizing your expertise makes it possible to recruit an effective team that allows you to focus on your “big picture” vision for your brand.

Time must still be spent daily, reading, writing, journaling, learning, reflecting and teaching. You will always have much to learn and to share with the world. Your brand must continue to evolve.

More than anything else, health and fitness professionals must always be students. Success is created from learning and sharing, and using the time training clients and the time away from training clients with purpose.

This roadmap does not represent everyone's vision for success in his or her career. However, it provides some basic guidelines to continue to grow and impact more people’s lives in a positive way. The point is not to make you feel like you're "behind" or "underperforming" if you haven’t achieved certain milestones. It’s merely a step-by-step, building-block model of creating a business, lifestyle and circle of influence with constant opportunities for growth.

It’s time to grow!