There are 69,000 personal trainers in the UK, according to Statista – that’s an increase of 12,000 in just two years. Clearly, more and more people are following their dreams of becoming a personal trainer and changing people’s lives for the better.
However, getting into the fitness industry is one thing, but surviving and being successful is completely another – particularly with the market as saturated as it is today.
Scott Laidler, an Insure4Sport policyholder, knows this as well as anyone.
During his career, Scott has trained film and music personalities in the UK and US, high net worth executives – and even royalty. He’s also the personal trainer to the Fantastic Beasts film series.
He’s been featured on Men’s Health, The BBC and the Daily Mail among others and is a columnist for The Telegraph. On top of all this, he coaches newly qualified personal trainers on business success.
However, behind Scott’s success are years of hard work, endeavour and perseverance – something he’s keen to impart to others.
Here’s Scott’s list of 7 things every newly qualified personal trainer needs to know…
1. You’ll need an online presence
You need some online real estate. Even if you’re meeting people in person, the days of having business cards are gone. You need to point them towards your social media platforms and website, because these demonstrate your experience and credibility.
Having a good website is also essential if you’re running classified and pay-per-click ads. They need to go to somewhere and the most logical place is your website.
Thanks to content management systems like Wix and Squarespace, you can create your own website in a few clicks. It doesn’t need to be too complex; you can do it yourself in a couple of days by working to a template. Often, you can just drag and drop.
Having a good website is an area that some personal trainers overlook or don’t dedicate as much time to as they should. If you work in a chain gym, you can get quite busy through interacting with people and you might lose sight of the importance of improving your website. But you shouldn’t, because in the long run this will help you progress, charge more per hour and build up your own business.
Lead generation is one of the main key performance indicators (KPIs) I look for when measuring the success of my website. I might offer a free gift in exchange for an email address or provide an option to subscribe to my newsletter on my homepage.
I also use my website to offer free consultations, which are very powerful for personal trainers. If you believe in your interactional skills, you should be able to convert around 90% of these consultations.
2. You’ll need to practise what you preach
Arriving on time for every session and leading a healthy lifestyle are the obvious fundamentals. You have to consider that people are usually paying you for an hour of your time, so if you’re five minutes late that’s nearly 10% of your time someone isn’t getting back. Every minute counts – you cannot be late if you want to be taken seriously.
As far as lifestyle goes, if you’re recommending certain foods and workouts to clients, you ought to be following some of these yourself. You don’t have to always be in photoshoot shape, but you should be the embodiment of what you’re prescribing to people.
Being healthy nowadays is about much more than just being in good shape. We’re moving towards a holistic idea of what health is, which isn’t just aesthetics. Health today incorporates practices like yoga and meditation and is generally more encompassing than it used to be.
I’ve come across some personal trainers who don’t seem to take the idea of health all that seriously. Some aesthetically focused trainers put up posts on their social media accounts showing them eating foods like chips and chocolate. In my opinion, this sends out the wrong message to those who train with them.
Of course, there is variance in genetics and some of our clients are going to find it much harder to get to a certain level of body fat than others. Someone openly eating unhealthy foods creates a massive disconnect with clients and isn’t empathetic behaviour for a gym setting.
3. You’ll need a solid work ethic
I worked 16-hour days seven days a week for years when I was starting out. I said ‘Yes’ to every opportunity.
As I started to build a team, some trainers said they didn’t want to be out at 6am when it was cold, others said they didn’t want to travel too far. I didn’t really understand this mindset, because when you’re establishing yourself you need to take every opportunity. You never know where these opportunities could take you.
If, for example, you’re based in London and you take on a client in Surrey, this client may refer three people to you. Suddenly, your earnings are looking totally different.
There’s a point where you’ll transition away from this mindset and start saying ‘No’ to people in order to move forward in other ways, but in the very early stages you need to take on almost everything that’s offered to you.
For the first 18 months, your primary goal should be to fill your schedule. If that means putting yourself out there and being inconvenienced at times, so be it. Once you’re doing 25 to 30 sessions a week, you can start to assess whether you want to take on certain jobs.
It’s also not just about the sessions, it’s what you do in between sessions too. For example, if you’re driving fairly long distances to appointments, you could listen to audiobooks and lectures. You might have quite a lot of downtime between sessions and some days you might only have two or three sessions, so you should use this time effectively.
This all feeds into your work ethic – you should never stop wanting to learn and better yourself. If you have this attitude, your clients will follow your example.
4. You’ll be more than just a personal trainer to your clients
You need to cultivate your understanding of client psychology if you want to be a good personal trainer and build connections.
The personal trainer/client relationship is fascinating at times, because you can be extremely close to them and talk about every aspect of their life without being connected to anything else in their life. They invest a lot of trust in you and you have very honest conversations, so you need to be able to read their emotions as they come to your sessions.
Sometimes, you’ll change the session depending on your client’s energy. Sometimes, they just need a hug. Sometimes, I’ve said to clients ‘You’re not in a position to train today’ and we’ve gone for a walk in the local area to clear their mind.
When I’ve trained with film stars, I’ve tailored the sessions to the emotions they’ve felt when accessing emotions for a scene. So, if I can tell that they’re stressed, I’ll get them to hit the boxing pads instead of doing weights so they can destress, because I feel that tension when they come in.
Examples like these show that personal training isn’t just about anatomy, muscular function and business – it’s also about client psychology and emotional intelligence. A newly qualified personal trainer needs to spend time studying these areas before taking on clients, because if you can’t put yourself in someone’s shoes and feel what they’re feeling, you’ve got no chance of building a rapport with people.
5. Your own health can suffer as you get busy
None of the personal trainers I’ve spoken to who have achieved high levels of success work 40 hours a week. I would imagine most of them work closer to 80 to 100 hours. However, everyone needs some time to themselves and it can be tough trying to strike the balance between your personal and professional life when you’re a newly qualified personal trainer.
The unfortunate reality of personal training is that most people want to train early in the morning and late at night to fit around their 9 to 5 jobs. The more clients you get, the more you realise this, and it can often mean lack of sleep. In fact, sleep deprivation is one of the toughest challenges a newly qualified personal trainer will face.
Therefore, you need to ensure that your sleeping environment is good and that you’re maximising every opportunity to get rest. If you have a partner, make sure they know you’re going to start going to bed earlier. If you’re not getting the right amount of sleep, it’s harder to stay lean, have a libido and remain focused, so taking these steps could go a long way.
Whilst there’s a big emphasis on work ethic, you shouldn’t be blindly working all the time. You’ve got to allow yourself time to recover, whether this is through having a nap or jumping in the sauna to prevent inflammation. Your recovery process is a key part of your work, as if you can’t help yourself you can’t help anyone else.
The last thing you want is to be sleeping four hours a night, missing meals and relying on training to stay in shape. I’ve done this – it will catch up with you and you can’t train your way out of a bad routine.
6. You need to consider yourself an entrepreneur
You could be the best personal trainer in the world but if you don’t have a system in place to generate leads, or a marketing strategy, or any kind of sales process, it’s not going to work.
You have to do all these jobs yourself. Your business may get to the point where you can outsource some work, but initially you’ll wear multiple hats.
You’re more than just a personal trainer to begin with. You’re a marketer, copywriter, bookkeeper, admin assistant and customer service representative rolled into one. You’re also effectively a student, because you’re learning new things. You have to be all of these things all of the time until you grow your business to a certain level.
Going back to lead generation, this is arguably the most important aspect of being an entrepreneurial personal trainer. This doesn’t just mean having regular consultations, it means having referral and renewal systems. Otherwise, no one is going to find out about your services.
When you’re trying to generate leads, there are lots of cost-effective channels you can use to your advantage. Classified ads are a good start point, then there’s your website – publishing high-quality written content on there will boost your credibility. You can also promote this content via pay-per-click advertising and paid social media posts.
A newly qualified personal trainer might be unfamiliar with these areas, but you can learn about them in a couple of days if you dedicate ample time to them. Once you’ve mastered Google, Facebook and LinkedIn advertising, you’re in a strong position to build your client base quickly.
7. Finding a niche is vital
Let’s say, for instance, you live in Torquay in Devon. You could focus your Search Engine Optimisation efforts on ranking number 1 for ‘personal trainers in Torquay’ on Google. If you wanted to do remote coaching and become the expert in a certain niche, you could do that as well. Whatever it is, you need something that makes you stand out. In a place Like London, ranking for ‘personal trainer London’ isn’t going to work, you’ll need a smaller area or a niche.
My niche is health coaching, which is now my main area of expertise. I subsequently spend less time training with clients than I used to. I also run online personal training sessions, offering a range of bespoke coaching packages. I ventured into this area as I got more contracts for films and had to re-prioritise my schedule – I never knew what days I’d be working and online personal training gave me this flexibility.
I enjoy being an online personal trainer because it allows me to work with more people and on my own terms. If you’re not in a densely populated place, online personal training is a great idea. It also gives you a better lifestyle, particularly in terms of sleep.
Podcasting is another area I’ve ventured into and something I’ve really enjoyed. It allows people who are considering using your service to get to know you.
It also allows me to really get inside the psychology of high performers and opens up conversations that might not otherwise have been possible.
Having said that, I would advise a newly qualified personal trainer to spend the first couple of years working in person with clients and really cultivating their work ethic and personal training knowledge base before exploring more niches.