7 Ways for Trainers to make more money and keep their sanity
Being a personal trainer feels like the coolest job ever. You get paid to literally change people lives for the better. You have time each day to keep your own body in top shape. You get to meet and associate with other incredible coaches. Your schedule is yours to set. Oh, and you get to wear comfy athletic wear every day - a dream existence for our suit-wearing, office-having, punch-the-clock friends and family.
The fact that we have so much power to change someone's life couldn't be cooler. Your words, your skills, and your passion can be the conduit between someone's goals and someone's success. That's so cool.
You know what else is cool?
You can be paid pretty well for your time. Unlike many people who are on salary - personal trainers don't really have a "cap" to their earnings. If you want to train fifty sessions a week - do it. If you only want to do a few to supplement your lifestyle and be better connected with the fitness community around you, then you have the freedom to do that too. It's important to acknowledge that not all PTs have the same earning opportunities though. Those located in major cities like New York, Paris, or Los Angeles can charge much more per hour (and take more home) than someone who is training in a small town well away from the bright lights and noise. Some trainers can charge two or three hundred dollars an hour because their market can support it while others can only charge fifty to sixty dollars an hour. A trainer's earning potential is certainly tied to their geographical location - just as it is tied to their actual skill set, professionalism, and reputation.
One caveat to the previous paragraph is the importance of factoring in "cost-of-living", which is the summation of total costs someone would incur living in a given area. While a trainer in Manhattan can charge more than someone in Topeka, Kansas: their cost of living is also significantly higher. ***NOTE***
Regardless of what you charge or what you make there comes a point in any trainers career when an unavoidable question comes to the surface. You've stacked session-after-session for year-after-year. The early mornings and the late nights have taken their toll. You've invested thousands in your education and helped hundreds of people improve their lives. Still though, late at night you'll find yourself lying in bed, probably on a Sunday, and you'll ask yourself...
Is this all there is?
There isn't a personal trainer (who has made a dedicated effort at full-time personal training for at least three years) that hasn't contemplated their own career. Suddenly, your morning oatmeal begins tasting like chalk, the coffee doesn't seem to work for shit, and your client is always ten minutes late but swears they'll be on-time, next-time, every-time.
You've heard every question ten times ten:
Do carbs make me fat?
How do I turn my fat into muscle (and will my muscles turn into fat if I stop?)
How do I lose this (flaps arms in your face)
You've been there for your client's break-ups, their new flames, their personal records, and their emotional breakdowns after a weekend of booze and cake. You've explained that weights won't make them bulky, that cardio won't ruin their gains, and that eating vegetables is really important. You've been canceled on, no-showed, and probably missed a session yourself.
After a while you can feel your passion begin to wain. How many times can you coach a goblet squat before you start to feel like a broken record? Sometimes you skip your own workouts, or cut them short, because you just want to get out of the gym. And don't your friends dare ask you about fitness when you are out for a few drinks after dinner...you are off the clock!
It is important to diversify yourself before this moment - to give yourself other opportunities to make your money as a fitness professional. Doing one-on-one sessions isn't all there is. Your earning potential doesn't have to be tied directly to how many hours you want to work, or how many clients you can fit in your schedule. There are other things that you can do...
If you haven't begun doing any of the things that we'll talk about in the section below, then have no fear. Tomorrow is a new day and you begin it with the intent to diversify your income sources. If you put the effort in to spread out your efforts, then you'll soon realize that you can make more money, enjoy your career a bit more, help more people, and keep your sanity. All of these things are important!
Why you need to listen
It is financially savvy to have more than one income stream. Look at any successful entrepreneur - they have companies that own many other companies in a variety of sectors, they get paid for speaking appearances, get paid for media hits, and have their own private investments. When you lock yourself into a singular paycheck source - you lock yourself into the illusion of safety. So long as your making the amount of money you need...you are fine. But, any emergency or change-of-heart could leave your yearning for more but with little or no options for change. This is especially important for fitness professionals: a career field that doesn't tend to offer benefits such as paid vacation, extended leave, or education assistance.
Thus, the typical trainer must train a lot of sessions if they are to make the living that they want or need. If your clients travel, then you better find fill-ins. If you can't find fill-ins, then you better have budgeted for these sort of weeks when things were going well. This sort of stress is unfair to the people in a profession in which they are doing so much good.
Which is why EVERY trainer should have multiple income streams for purely financial reasons. Add in the boredom and burnout that comes from repeating yourself everyday and the exhausting hours and you should see by now that you REALLY need to pay attention.
These are the 7 best ways to earn a living without having to do any additional 1-1 sessions:
EARN MORE PER HOUR OF YOUR DAY
Charge more Per Hour - Jon Goodman details this in his latest Fitness Marketing Monthly swipe, but this little-used tactic is one of the best ways to increase your earnings or decrease your workload. If you do an incredible job at delivering your service, then you should have no worries about increasing your rates $5 or even $10 dollars an hour. Your clients already adore you and will gladly pay your increased rate if you express to them that this new rate reflects where you are NOW as a coach (your education/experience/resources).
Clients don't like switching coaches, nor do they like feeling like they are "not able to keep up". The same attitude that drives them to buy a new car when their neighbor does is the same one that will convince them to pay your increased premium.
Charging more per hour can obviously help you increase your total earnings. A trainer who does 100 sessions a month at $100.00 will make 10k before taxes, but they could easily earn 11k a month if they added $10.00 to their hourly rate. That's an extra twelve-thousand dollars a year....
You can also back down your workload too. A trainer who does 100 sessions, but only wants to 85-90, could increase their rates by the very same $10.00 and cover the difference. This is tremendously useful for busy parents, people with passion projects, or those who just need a little time off.
While not a novel idea, charging more for your services is always the best way to increase your earnings as a personal trainer.
There are a bunch of models out there for small-group and large-group training sessions. We could write an entire article exploring the costs and benefits of doing semi-private training and doing group sessions. It would take up a lot of room. In observance of brevity let us cut to the chase:
If you are the personal trainer from the above example who is charging $100.00 per hour for an individual sessions, then your earnings per hour are limited to whatever you may charge. You can only "stack" earnings by working long hours. However, semi-private (3 to 5 people) training, provides an opportunity to double, and even triple, your hourly earnings, while helping more people. Set a rate that is flat, regardless of how many people show up, and you'll soon find that charging each individual less per session can help you increase your earnings.
I highly recommend getting people to purchase packages or "months" of this pricing model to prevent them from skipping out on workouts that they don't "feel like doing". You have a business to run after-all.
5 people at 60 per session is $300.00. Do this two or three times a day and you've worked REALLY HARD for 3 hours, instead of working hard for nine. This gives you more time to take individual clients, pursue a passion project, or tap into one of the next market opportunities.
Once you begin getting into larger groups, your rates will have to drop significantly. Many popular outdoor boot camps charge $20.00 a head with no real cap on attendance. While you may only have ten people show up ($200.00 for your time) - the true benefit here is the ability to market your skills to so many people at once. Many of these individuals might consider your semi-private or private options.
Regardless of how you go about it - being able to increase the amount of money you earn PER HOUR is the backbone of any successful business-person. For those who may not want to increase their rates - increasing the amount of people you help per hour is your best bet.
It is all the rage right now. Again, Jon Goodman leads this market with his incredible certification - The Online Trainer Academy.
Becoming an online trainer requires a tremendous amount of discipline, a series of systems that help automate busy work, and a dedication to your craft that must be shown through screens and marketing.
Online trainers typically charge clients on a month by month basis, although others to do offer weekly models. This sort of structure can be applied to individual online clients and groups that are centered around a given goal and lifestyle (i.e. I'm a mom who can't get to the gym but would love a weight loss program for my living room).
Now, many people think that online training must be easier than offline training since you don't have to go anywhere and you could, in theory, do your job in your underwear from your bed. That isn't wrong. However, a great online trainer must stay in contact with their clients, must develop great programs and provide resources to clients that make up for lack of in-person coaching, and must constantly create connection points with a client to make them feel appreciated.
It's hard work. But, experienced online trainers can utilize templates for their programs that fit into certain goal sets. Every program they write begins as a template, but is quickly morphed into a unique and successful program for the person who is purchasing it. Experienced online coaches have rolling payment systems, well thought-out FAQs, exercise libraries that explain movements in great detail, and assistants who handle the small things. But they could make twenty to thirty thousand dollars a month easily. Your ability to reach people is so much greater. You could, in theory, help a hundred people in one day. That sort of magnitude can do wonders for your bottom line. Be wise though. It's a jungle out there...
DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT BUT "SAME"
All of the following tips deal with expanding your horizons and doing something OTHER than training.
Intellectual property is one of the best ways to improve your earnings as a personal trainer. Writing articles (for outlets that pay) is usually the best place to start. Lots of places are always looking for content, especially unique spins on well-known topics, and are willing to pay. Scouring the internet and following the footsteps of those who came before you is one of the best ways to get involved. Maintaining your own blog can help increase your visibility - like this - which in turn can help get you paid gigs from the right vendors. All of this has a sort of snowball-like effect too. The more you write (and write well), the more people want to see your writing (and pay you for it).
Eventually, you can begin developing your own books, products, and PDFs that you can sell online and in-print. Most people don't want to do this much writing and that is fine, but realize that a very well-written PDF book could net you thousands of dollars in sales.
My book Elite Program Design Concepts has earned me far more money than I'd have imagined when I wrote it last year - almost a thousand downloads to date...
Writing takes a lot of time and many people won't find it to be worth their time. That is normal - just as not everyone likes candy corn or roller coasters. There is something for everyone though.
The first "non-fitness" recommendation has come. Listen, we could dive so far down the rabbit hole on this one that two books, a podcast, and a made-for-TV movie could come from it. So let's keep it light...
Investing, even in a so-so market, is one of the best methods for improving one's financial wealth. The key word here is "WEALTH". We are talking about building a future for you and your family that allows for you to live your best life into your latest years.
See, the cash in your wallet isn't wealth, nor is the money in your checking account. What you have saved and invested though...is your wealth. It is money that grows over time (thanks to compounding interest).
As a personal trainer you should be dedicated AT LEAST 10% of your income each month to a 401K or Roth/Traditional IRA program. While it may be hard to let go of "NOW" money - it is imperative to understand that you will have much more money year-after-year if you keep your contributions. Compounding interest is your best friend - it allows you to put away $1000.00 right now at 8%, which gives you $1080 at the end of the year. Do this for twenty years (even with fluctuating interest) and you'll be amazed at home money you accrue.
The stock market, real estate, and small-company private investments are another route you could go too, although they require much more diligence, research, and interaction.
You can never be truly wealthy under your future is secure.
This is a very lucrative business that so many trainers don't realize exists. The job is simple really...
Establish yourself as the go-to authority for designing and setting up home gyms. A lot of people are interested in having equipment in their home, but don't know what to buy, how to arrange it, and where to look for certain things.
Mostly a word-of-mouth job, this is akin to being a person who paints homes - a job that can pay well if you consistently deliver great results. What are those results exactly?
Help your customers build the best home gym possible within their budget while giving them more than they need in terms of equipment - again honor the budget - and ensuring it is set up in a way that is functional and aesthetically pleasing. Go the extra mile and demonstrate how to use everything for your customers, potentially doing a movement assessment and designing an initial program.
Your rate would be set as:
Full reimbursement of equipment cost (charge your own cards to get airline miles)
Hourly pay equal to your training rate for shopping time, transport, and set-up.
Hourly fee for assessments, developing programs, and teaching customers how to exercise
This sort of side-job is an excellent way to extend your professional network, gain more exposure, and get-out-of-the-gym.
*My business partners and I have been doing this for years: If you are interested check us out at FITTER Consulting Group
Many companies are trying to improve their relationship with their employees. After decades of "work and die" culture many corporations are trying to improve the amount of health care they offer their staff. One of those "features" includes hiring health and wellness professionals to come and give monthly, or even weekly, talks to anyone who wants to attend.
These companies: hospitals, law-firms, consulting agencies, large business operations, and even local small-businesses are looking to improve the quality of their employees life, and thus improve their profitability per person - a win-win for everyone. Connect yourself with the right people and soon enough you can be giving presentations on the importance of eating leafy greens, or why deadlifts don't hurt your back, or seven strategies for staying loose at your desk. You'll be paid well for your time, build a network of interested leads, and potentially set yourself up for a change of career if a company ever decides to hire a full-time wellness coordinator.
These jobs aren't consistent usually, nor could you live off of them uniquely, but you can greatly supplement your income by a few thousand dollars a year while enjoying yourself in a new atmosphere. You are still helping people too - just in a different format and context.
Trust Me: I'm a Professional
So there you have it - the 7 best ways to diversify your income as a personal trainer. Here is the thing: I'm not just giving you lip service... I've done everything and more...
Like you I've trained hundreds of sessions a month for years on end. In fact, this year I trained my fourteen-THOUSANDTH session in my career - a large, but not nearly astronomical number for a guy who has spent nine years working for leading fitness brands in the health club space. These sessions are the backbone of my work ethic, the experience that drives me forward, and the foundation of my character. But like you I needed more. Which is why I branched out an explored all of these options and more. All of them are possible - I'm still doing them. You just have to leap out the gym doors and into a new mindset of "I deserve to be rewarded for my time more than just a single session".
You deserve to be health and happy just like your clients.