Health and fitness is a fantastic industry to be a part of. There’s no shortage of success stories where trainers have gone on to build multi-million pound businesses within a few years and collect highly lucrative client bases, such as Premier Training graduate Joe Wicks and many more. Unfortunately, for each of these success stories there are dozens of trainers who have failed to get a foothold and end up leaving the industry, or struggle to fill their books on a regular basis. As a new personal trainer it’s important to start as you as you mean to go on and not make the common mistakes so many trainers fall victim to. In my experience it takes a new trainer 12-18 months to hit the 20 personal training hours per week ‘sweet spot’.

Here are five of the most common mistakes I see new personal trainers make and how to avoid them:

The Problem: Not Defining Yourself In The Marketplace

Fresh out of your personal training qualification course, unless you have income from other sources, you will have to take on whatever clients you can get; after all you’ll have bills to pay. However once you have established yourself and have a reliable client base it’s important that you consider defining yourself within a given niche. At first, having a niche may seem counter intuitive, why reduce your potential client base by specialising in a small segment of fitness when you could stay general and serve everyone? That’s a great question! I struggled with the decision myself for a long time, but the answer is that you want to position yourself where you can become a world expert in your chosen field, ‘the ‘something’ guy’ and become renowned for that element of fitness.

The Solution: Chose Your Niche and OWN it!

Having a niche is the best way to stand out from the crowd, if you set out to be all things to all people, you could wind up being a master of none. Choosing your niche can be tricky, you’ll want to give it considerable thought as once you’re committed you’ll want to go full steam ahead and it can be difficult to change directions later once you’ve started. You can select your niche on any number or variables. For example, a specific type of training, a particular demographic, or even training using specialist pieces of equipment. I’ve even seen trainers build a career focusing on developing a particular body part, the options are endless! The important question to ask yourself before you commit to your niche is can you truly be world class within this niche?  If the answer is yes it may well be the path you should commit your career to.

The Problem: No Internet Presence

Typically I advise against considerable upfront investment on marketing materials for new personal trainers, I’ve seen way too much money wasted on business cards and flyers that reap a very small return, if any. The major exception is having a good website, this is absolutely essential to begin building your personal brand (with the exception of being able to showcase your skills within a busy gym setting). Potential clients are going to want to be able to learn about you and your services before investing time and money into training and working together. Remember one-on-one training is different to online purchases, and prospective clients are going to have to spend a considerable amount of physical time with you so they will want to get a feel for your experience, qualifications and personality. Your website is your reference point for any interaction with potential clients, whether that is meeting them in person or having classified listings, you will want to have an online presence as a reference point.

The Solution: Create a High Quality Website To Send Leads To

Your website is going to be your online ‘home’ so to speak, it’ll be where you direct every lead you get so that they can find out more about you, and it’s also going to be a tool for generating new leads. Having a website of your own also means you can use your domain to create a more professional email address for example john@successfulpersonaltrainer.com. You’ll have to provide the copy for your website to whoever you chose to design your site. When choosing your developer, aim to go through an individual, as design agencies have salaries to meet and rent to pay. A single operator will be able to quote you a good price. Also try to find a middle ground – you don’t want to have your pants pulled down, but you don’t want to go too cheap either, your developer has to stay motivated and good talent really is worth paying for. When coming up with the copy for your website be sure to write with the customer in mind, try to get a feel for what a potential client is going to be thinking and feeling when looking for a trainer and what questions can you pre-empt and answer for them before they have to email you. People today have a short attention span so if questions are not answered they may simply exit and visit someone else’s website.

The Problem: Wasting Money On Marketing Material

Expanding on my last point, one of the biggest mistakes trainers make straight away is wasting money on thousands of business cards, flyers and posters and a whole host of other branded marketing material. The return on these methods is notoriously low, you are looking at about a 1% return rate, and in the age of technology you are far better off building your personal brand. Remember flyers will only really be useful once you have a great website to direct people to and the ability to save contact details on a mobile phone effectively renders business cards redundant.

The Solution: Build Your Personal Brand Over Time & Evolve Into Your True Voice

In the early days of your career you are likely to keep adapting your business proposition as you define your niche. Dispense with the old world marketing material and get yourself a good website, start posting classified ads and generating great content via social media. Car wraps, personalised clothing and flags you can put up in parks can be great for branding. In the first few months of your career you should consider yourself as a startup business and so keeping costs low is important, focus on the few actions that will reap the most results. Your best option is to go out on social media and start building up a following for free!

The Problem: Wasting Down Time

In the beginning of your career you are going to have a lot of free time, your schedule simply isn’t going to be packed with clients yet. If you want to create a great business and career for yourself it is absolutely essential that you utilise your free time. Many trainers feel that it is enough to post a few classified adverts then sit back and wait for the clients to come rolling in. The reality is that for the vast majority of trainers it will start with a mild trickle and you’d be very well served to utilise your down time and study within your field, develop business skills and your ability to communicate.

If not, you may find that you’ll remain on the same level as you were when you were newly qualified, and even when you get busy you won’t have developed the requisite skills you really need to move your business forward.

The Solution: Study Business, Fitness & Success

Utilising your free time to develop yourself as a personal trainer and a businessperson is essential, and the extent to which you can harness this time effectively could make all the difference in the level you are able to grow your business to, and the speed in which you can do it.

Here are the skills I recommend you study and develop: 

  • Copywriting 
  • Understanding native content on your chosen social media channels
  • Basic literacy on your chosen web platform (typically Wordpress) 
  • Google analytics and keyword research 
  • Interpersonal Skills 
  • NLP
  • Video Editing
  • Reading within your field daily

It’s important to bear in mind that you have chosen an unconventional career path, many of your friends are going to have the benefit of holiday and sick pay and still make their monthly earnings whether they are busy at work or not, whereas you will need to work around the clock at unsociable hours, skip social events and sacrifice sleep to get your career to take off, but the difference in working for yourself is that there are no limitations to the level of success you can achieve.

The Problem: Simply, Not Working Hard Enough

I’ve seen a lot of personal trainers enter the fitness industry only to see their enthusiasm dry up, new leads stop coming in, and ultimately shut up shop within 3-6 months. This is because they simply weren’t willing to ‘hustle’ hard enough to make things work in a very competitive field. Make no mistake; early on in your career it is going to be tough to make things work financially, you are going to have to make sacrifices whilst you build your client base.

The Solution: Hustle Hard and Make It Happen!

Your initial client base may want to train at times that are pretty inconvenient for you; you may miss important social functions, or skip meals to make the session times work. Perhaps you’ll have to wake up at 4:30 am and travel for an hour just to make your first 6am client. I’ve offered other personal trainers opportunities such as training members of parliament, or people in the limelight and have had the opportunities refused because all the stars didn’t magically align. Opportunities I would have taken for free had they been offered at that stage in my career! Other trainers have told me they couldn’t do outdoor sessions because it was too cold or they don’t want to carry heavy equipment. As a freelance personal trainer you have to consider yourself an upstart entrepreneur, therefore you just have to develop the grit associated with making it on your own. Your first 12 months as a personal trainer will make you question how bad you want it, and whether all the sacrifice is going to be worth it. Needless to say it is only those that can weather this initial period that go on to achieve big things with their career.

Scott Laidler, 2017

Scott Laidler is a Premier Training graduate, and an award winning online personal trainer who specializes in training actors, Paralympians and military service personnel. Visit ScottLaidler.com for more information.