Pete McCall by Pete McCall

Congratulations! You’ve studied hard, passed the exam to become an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and are now ready to start helping others change their lives through fitness. After figuring out how to get new clients, the next question you need to answer is how much to charge for your services.

This is a common challenge for all new fitness professionals. After all, you probably got into fitness because you enjoy helping others—it can be hard to set a price for your services and then ask for that money. If you are working in a facility as an employee, your employer will set the rate for your services and you will earn a percentage of that rate for providing the training session. However, if you are working for yourself as an in-home trainer or as a contractor leasing space in a facility, you will need to determine a price that is a fair value for your services.

First, by earning the ACE Certified Personal Trainer credential you have demonstrated that you have the professional skills to create and deliver exercise programs. You should feel comfortable being compensated for your services. Second, make sure that you deliver a high level of service so your clients feel like they are getting a good value for their money.

When setting a price for your services it is important to know what others in your area are charging. Shop other studios and trainers to see their rates and what types of packages or programs they offer. You don’t need to identify yourself as a trainer—you can look at their websites or call to ask questions about the types of services they offer and what fees they charge for those services.

In larger metropolitan areas where the cost of living is high, it is not uncommon for trainers with years of experience to charge $100 to $200 an hour for their services. However, in suburban and rural areas, where the cost of living and average income are a little lower, it might be more common for trainers to charge $40 and $60 per session.

There are various models for delivering the service. The traditional model is to set a price for a single, one-hour session and then offer discounting for packages of sessions. For example, the price for a single session might be $70 per hour, but a package of 10 sessions is $600, which creates a $100 discount that allows the client to save $10 per session.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the discounting model. How many professionals do you know actually charge you less the more often you see them? You don’t take your car to a mechanic for a major repair and he says, “This is really messed up and it’s going to take me a while to fix, so let me give you a discount.” Likewise you don’t call a plumber for a major repair like a burst pipe and receive a discount because it’s going to take a long time to fix. As professionals, we should not sell our services based on price, but on the specific benefits of working with an experienced fitness expert. Other than offering a price break for purchasing multiple sessions what purpose does a package of sessions serve? When you sell a package or series of sessions, there is not a specific expectation of how often those sessions are delivered and whether or not there is an expiration date. (In some states it is illegal to have an expiration on pre-paid services, so be sure to know your local laws if going this route.) The only thing a package communicates to a prospective client is that the more your service is used, the less valuable it is.

Another challenge with selling session packages is that you’re marketing the process of exercise and not the outcome. Here’s a dirty little secret: Not many people like to exercise, yet a lot of people want the physical outcomes that exercise provides. Rather than offering a series of sessions, why not market a specific program to achieve an outcome like weight loss or preparing for a wedding? If we look at the example of cooking or tennis lessons, we can see that classes or lessons are offered a specific time of week for an established number of weeks. Selling packages of individual sessions simply means that someone is buying a series of one-hour workouts and who really wants to do that? Marketing a series of training sessions as a specific program results in progressively challenging workouts delivered over the established timeframe. For example, you can offer a weight-loss or wedding-ready program that requires a client to meet a specific number of times per week over a specific period of time. By setting an end-date and frequency for meeting, you set the expectation of what the client needs to do to achieve the results that he or she wants.

For example, instead of charging $70 for a one-hour session and $600 for 10 sessions, you can offer a weight-loss program that requires the client to see you for two one-hour strength-training and one 30-minute cardio-training sessions a week for six weeks. This is a total of 15 hours (12 one-hour sessions and six 30-minute sessions). If you charge $996 for the program, that’s a total of $66 per hour. By keeping the price point below $1000, you create the perception that the price point is not that expensive and is, in fact, very reasonable.

There is a very specific psychology involved with setting a price point. The next time you’re in a big box store look at the prices—you’ll see numbers like $5.87, $8.83 or $9.79. Your brain will see the first number and think, “It’s only $5, $8 or $9; therefore, it’s not that expensive.” The $996 price point is almost $1,000, but does not cross that barrier which could be a point of resistance.

Another consideration is a famous experiment that involved wine. A group of people were asked to taste two different wines; they were told that one cost $10 a bottle while the other was over $50 a bottle. When asked which one tasted better, most people chose the more expensive wine based on the perception was that a higher price reflected a better product. The truth was that the same wine was served for both. If you price your services too low it might attract customers who buy only the lowest-priced item or service. If you establish a higher price, you might be able to attract customers who don’t mind paying more for higher-quality goods or services. It is incumbent on you, of course, to deliver the highest quality of service possible to help justify the price point.

If you’re interested in delivering boot-camp or small group workouts, you can follow the same process. Find out what others are charging in your area and set your rates to be competitive. Identify a price point that reflects the value of an instructor-led workout in your area and build off that. In general, a good price for small-group programs is approximately $12 to $25 per person, per workout. The primary variables are your costs: marketing expenses, the amount of equipment involved and whether or not you need a permit to hold an outdoor workout class. If you can determine your costs, it will help you identify the revenue you need to earn per class to make it a profitable venture.

There is no 100 percent right or wrong way to determine a price for your services. If you set your prices too high, you might have to adjust to meet the needs of your market. Likewise, if you price too low you might not create a perceived value for your service. One book I found very helpful was the Buying Brain by Dr. Pradeep, which reviews the psychology of buying and how people make decisions based on price. No matter what price you decide, it’s your ability to make exercise fun, engaging and effective that will keep your clients coming back for more.