love fitness | want to make it your CAREER?
How to make your Passion your new Profession & become a personal trainer with confidence: 6 Steps to Success
If you are currently considering changing careers or identifying a first career you can truly get your teeth into, you are in the right place. If you are currently feeling stuck in a job, you just don’t like and want to make your passion for health and fitness, your new profession – you are most definitely in the right place!
Maybe you feel excited to learn more about fitness, nutrition and behavioural psychology and become an expert in the field? Or perhaps you feel a little nervous right now about whether you are fit enough, or whether the industry can pay enough or even whether it is going to be satisfying enough, for you to fully commit?
There is lots more to personal training than just making people sweat. And, I should share with you, lots of people love fitness. But making it your profession where you make good money doing something you love that genuinely transforms people’s lives, is no mean feat.
This article will help by clarifying six important steps to enable you to enjoy life as a successful fitness professional.
Do you see the goal or the barriers?
There are, of course, many barriers. I mean, some people fear starting all over again after enjoying a great deal of success in their current career. Others can feel trapped by the income their current job provides, unsure whether they will be able to afford to do what it is they really want to do with their life. And still others who feel totally confused about what qualifications they require or how much investment will be required to successfully change careers.
Some people feel too old, others not fit enough and some people, of course, never do for a living what they are passionate about. There are others who attempt to change, but only make a half-hearted effort to do so and so under-train and struggle thereafter, eventually returning to their old job.
But then there are others who find a way to be courageously decisive and find the confidence to chase their dreams of making a difference in people’s lives as their own boss, loving what they do as a self-employed, highly sought-after fitness professional for a living. These people rock!
I am passionate about helping people do exactly this. I gave up my own academic career to be able to do this and I love what I do. I love seeing our graduates prosper and I love inspiring others. And I hope you will love inspiring others, too.
In order to help, this guide shares six steps to successful career change to assist you in making fitness, currently your passion, your new profession. I hope you find them useful. The six steps are not designed to try and convince you to buy any particular course but, instead, to help you to make a truly informed decision about your future.
About the Author.
My name is Darren Tebbenham and I am the founder of the European Institute of Fitness. I have been a personal trainer, lived and worked in Australia as a personal trainer and have previously run my own fitness studio and mobile personal training business in Spain. I have also worked at the Hilton in Regent Street, London and, before all of this, was a university lecturer.
Indeed, I was half way through my PhD when I found personal training and changed careers myself. Like you, perhaps, I was initially unsure since a career in academia paid well, my master’s degree had opened many doors for me and I did like elements of the work I was involved in. But, for some time I had thought about the merits of working for myself, away from my desk and I really wanted to do something much more hands-on. And, so I did it. I became a personal trainer in 1999, long before the profession became popular. And, by doing so, it enabled me to be my own boss (which was, and still is, absolutely amazing) doing something for a living that genuinely made me tick, where I woke up every morning excited to do what I did and, more than I realised to begin with, earn great money!
I guess, if you are currently feeling nervous and unsure what to do or whether to change – I really do get it.
When I quit my university career there was no way I wanted to just become an average gym instructor and maybe one day regret it.
Since then, I have opened my own School of Personal Training to help others do the same and currently have graduates in six continents and more than 30 countries around the world. We offer upgrade training for trainers who didn't do their initial training with ourselves, business retreats to help trainers accelerate their business growth, coaching and mentoring options to work with people one-on-one and, of course, a residential school for people to gain their qualifications in the UK and overseas.
I have learned lots about the mistakes I see trainers make, but also the ways in which trainers can be highly effective since we began back in late 2005. Our success rate when success is measured in terms of lasting careers in fitness (not total numbers qualified or number of sites throughout the country) is second to none. And finally, it is the teaching team here at the European Institute of Fitness that I think makes all the difference since everyone is not only incredibly supportive, but also highly experienced having worked in the industry for many years, still owning their own fitness businesses.
I share my background only to assure you this is not a theory-based article with ideals and arbitrary steps to take, but one based not only on my own career change, but those of the 3000 personal trainers I have helped change, too.
So, if you’re sick of making money for someone else. If you currently “live” your life at the weekends and just can’t see yourself doing what you are currently doing forever, or now is simply the right time for you to seriously consider this, I hope by the end you feel inspired and suitably informed to make a sound decision about your future.
Decide what you really want.
As simple as this sounds, people usually don’t start off with this kind of thinking. Instead, they start off by seeking what is on offer. This is a very different process. As a trainer, you will likely want to be self-employed and, at some point, running your own successful fitness business. Getting clear about this outcome right from the start is important. This section helps you explore what you might want from a new career in fitness.
The idea of getting clear first applies to your future clients, too. They must avoid jumping into the next diet program or gym membership deal or even training with a personal trainer without first getting clear about what it is they really want. This is simple goal-orientated behaviour, but you know most people don’t know what they really want.
Successful people in all walks of life, first get crystal clear about their intended outcomes. The late and great Dr Stephen Covey talks about this in his bestselling book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit one, he teaches, is “to start with an end in mind”. The reason for this is that the journey to becoming highly successful takes a great deal of effort. Whether this relates to you and your desire to become a great trainer or your clients to finally figure out why they keep falling short and overcome what seems to hold them back - fuelling this journey by making sure it’s the one you truly want to take, is key. It focuses your mind, directs attention and makes the journey incredibly exciting.
Let me ask you, when you close your eyes and imagine your ideal life, what are you doing? I get it’s not what you are currently doing. But just how amazing could a career in fitness be? Let me outline a few avenues our graduates have pursued to try and help a little.
We have people offering –
Fitness retreats, online transformation programs, group fitness challenges, lifestyle coaching-orientated businesses; we have people opening their own boutique PT studios, running larger fitness studios and even gyms. Some have specialised to create a niche for themselves such as corporate females, dads, couples, new mums, bridal fitness, accelerated fat loss, athletic performance, event-specialist training….
There are plenty of avenues to pursue.
Here’s a few examples -
Now don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying you need to know exactly who you want to work with right now. This is part of the process of defining a business model and creating a robust business plan – an essential aspect of any retraining program. What is important is that you know within yourself what you are aspiring to and whether it is a future where you are running something special that connects with you and leaves you feeling fulfilled, or just working in a traditional club environment as an ordinary PT? These are two very different career directions. The former requires far more training and guidance than the latter.
The question is critical – what do YOU really want?
Be aware but NOT limited by the pitfalls.
There are many pitfalls. But this mustn’t put you off. Become aware of them, know how to avoid or manage them and move on. It is true many qualified personal trainers struggle. But, please don’t worry – plenty are highly successful. Knowing the difference is the key! This section will explore the 4 main reasons many trainers struggle and what to do about it.
No 1. The first pitfall I want to share with you is that of low self-confidence.
It is a tough ask to retrain and then command a high price and assure clients of great results without years and years of experience, but this you MUST do.
Clients will only buy from confident trainers. They have enough issues themselves and often fear fitness and so they look to you for some certainty. Now, they also need to feel you care and understand their situation. This is empathy. If you can demonstrate how much you care and understand as well as be 100% confident in your ability to help them, you will attract clients.
So, where does such confidence come from? It comes from your training. It comes from experience. And it comes from good mentoring in the first place.
If you want to be successful, find a way to not only qualify but develop real confidence in your new profession. Look to complete training that isn’t just designed to qualify the masses but exists to empower a few to achieve great things. Look for opportunity to build confidence, not just competence well before you even meet your first paying client.
No 2. Another critical pitfall is trying to sell personal training by the hour and, therefore, operating to be competitive versus effective in ensuring clients achieve great results.
Simply, if you wish to thrive not just survive as a serious fitness professional you must understand personal training is NOT your product. Personal training is a commodity. How it fixes your prospective clients’ problems is your product.
If you try and sell personal training by the hour, you will constantly be lowing your prices to the lowest common denominator amongst your competitors. Since many trainers are young, living with parents and quite prepared to offer a low price per hour, it is absolutely essential that you set your stall out right from the very start.
Figure out what people struggle with. Things this is not. It is not having someone to shout at them and it is not having someone to tell them what to eat. And it is not having the “perfect” program or the “best-looking” trainer by their side.
So, what is it? For the vast majority of people, and more on this later in this article, it is accountability. People need a simple but effective program to follow. They need some dietary guidance and they need this personalised to their particular situation, ability and preferences. But mostly, they need help to be more accountable; to see through what it is they say they want once and for all. Your role as a motivation and accountability coach should not be underestimated.
To be straight with you. Fit people today can access just about everything they need to get even fitter without your help. They have access to YouTube and Instagram and can Google what they need in an instant. But what they can’t Google and doesn’t come with Facebook, Instagram or YouTube is inner motivation to change, accountability and genuine personal support to ensure this time is the last time they will struggle with their weight, health or fitness!
To avoid this pitfall, you will need to stand out as a “problem solver” offering a solution not a package of personal training sessions, which leads me into pitfall number three.
No 3. The third pitfall is really common and is about a mindset of fitting in, being ordinary and playing safe. Reality check. It has never been easier to get qualified and start a business. Qualifications have never been cheaper, easier to pass, or more flexible to complete and, therefore, many thousands “get qualified” every year. With 2 billion Facebook users and an array of digital technology to market yourself easily and cheaply, it has never been easier start a business either. However, because of all the above it has never been more difficult to get people to listen. People today live in a very noisy world. There are many trainers and options for people to get fit.
Your job is to stand out, not fit it. To distinguish yourself not hide yourself in the masses. But this takes courage and hence step one - first decide you want to be the best and act in accordance with this intention. Trust me on this one, notice what the masses are doing and move quickly in the opposite direction!
No 4. Finally, the fourth pitfall is believing in a module-by-module approach to establishing yourself as the go-to fitness professional in your area. What I mean by this is to warn against starting by getting a gym instructor award. Then beginning working in a gym, cleaning equipment and doing inductions, to then later add a personal trainer module, offer introductory discounted PT and assume one day you will be able to charge what you’re worth and love your job.
This approach just doesn’t work. And it doesn’t work for a few reasons.
Firstly, the role of gym instructor and that of personal trainer / personal fitness coach are not that similar and certainly not progressive just as learning Swedish massage isn’t a progression towards being a physiotherapist.
An instructor, for example, maintains a safe and clean gym environment and teaches members how to use the equipment properly. A trainer or coach keeps clients accountable, guiding them in nutrition and supporting them to make better lifestyle choices. It is old-school thinking to think of personal training as a natural progression from gym instructor!
Secondly, it is a hard convince if you previously were wiping sweat of the treadmill and greasing the leg press to then argue you can transform a person’s life and charge a good fee to do so.
Your “message” of being an authority and expert to achieve this is just unconvincing. People who take this route nearly always end up trading their time for money i.e. offering one-on-one training at discounted rates in order to be a cheaper option for clients. And this is no way to go!
Finally, the more you charge, the better clients’ results. Seriously, this is true. When a client pays more, YOU commit more and both parties feel more accountable. When a client pays more THEY are more committed, too. And this is why you should package your service properly from the start!
I am not saying be expensive for the sake of being expensive. I am saying, to make the biggest difference in people’s lives, you need both parties to be optimally committed.
The way you package and price what you do is important. And the pitfall I am sharing now is that most trainers just don’t do this well. But, I know you will and so will avoid this potential pitfall. One last thing. It is difficult to start off poorly and recover. You are much better getting this right from the start.
Know how to make money as an independent or self-employed trainer.
It’s not good enough to be good. Not anymore. It is important to understand marketing and sales as a personal trainer today, too. This section explores 5 simple ways you can market and sell personal training.
It is, however, essential you are highly competent first. By this I refer, properly trained in the technical side of personal training, i.e. the practical delivery of one-on-one and small group training, how to correct poor posture and technique and ensure clients don’t get injured. I mean knowing how to guide people appropriately in nutrition and deal with common medical problems and conditions. I mean knowing how to motivate and goal-set properly and progress programs so that clients achieve great results. I mean knowing how to facilitate behaviour change and coach new habits.
Once highly skilled (which of course builds confidence too) the job is then to build a clientele and build a consistent income. Here’s 5 ways to get clients:
Way 1. Offer a complimentary coaching call, trial, training session or assessment for people to try before they buy. Use this session to primarily assess their needs and encourage discussion about what they want and what stops them getting it (not what you do or why you are so great). Invite people to progress to the next stage by outlining your different packages, explicitly outlining the benefits of each to the challenges that came up during your discussion.
When people find what they have been looking for, guess what? They STOP looking! You most certainly do not have to adopt any cringey sales tactics. Helping others identify what they want and how you might help is key. Sell a SOLUTION, and people will buy!
Way 2. Encourage referral. As soon as you do have your first clients, ensure they say wow. Call them to ensure they feel OK after their first session – they might feel a little sore. Be 100% present when you are with them. Value them and appreciate their situation, building strong rapport and trust. Do everything in your power to help them achieve a great result. That is give them a reason to refer first, i.e. because you are, indeed, great.
Then introduce a referral system. Perhaps offer gift certificates for them to offer family, friends and work colleagues to enjoy a complimentary session with you. Thank people when they do. Be proactive here, offer an incentive perhaps: a free branded water bottle and towel when they do, maybe a £100 Amazon gift voucher if they refer three or more; a month’s free training if they refer 5; their entire personal training fees back if they refer 10!
Way 3. Focus your marketing language on outcomes not your training, and definitely not you. Talk about the results you can help them attain. Don’t bore people with terms like functional training, core stability… they don’t care. Don’t you be the focus either, pictures and videos of you doing fitness doesn’t sell. Focus everything on them. Feature your clients in your advertising, their journey and the results and outcomes your clients accomplish! That’s it. Simple, but rarely done well. I look forward to perhaps talking to you more about this if you decide to pursue this career option further.
Way 4. Plan. Seriously plan. Let me explain. Start off with an awareness as to how much money you wish to earn as a fitness professional. Let’s just say for the sake of arguments it is £50,000 annually to begin. This can be achieved in various ways.
For example, you could focus on small group PT and by selling 8-week challenge programs at £300 per person for twice a week training (very good value) with 6 people per group you will be right on track. Running 5 programs per year i.e. 40 weeks a year and 6 programs at any one time (i.e. a Monday and Thursday morning program with 7am and 9.30am sessions, a Tuesday and Friday morning program at the same times and a Tuesday and Friday evening program with 6pm and 7pm sessions) will be enough. This yields £300 x 6 people per group x 6 groups at once x 5 repeats per year = £54,000. Now this requires 3 hours of delivery per day, 4 days a week (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday free, maybe for one-on-one training), so plenty of time to enjoy life and work on the marketing to make this happen. But this is what I mean by having a plan.
A different plan might be to offer a 2x, 3x and 4x per week ½ hr one-on-one PT sessions at £195, £279 and £319 on a monthly subscription. This will help create a consistent and predictable income. Working 24 hours a week (4 hours-a-day, say mornings only, six days-a-week) in terms of delivery, and let’s just pick the middle option, this is 16 clients per week (24 hours, i.e. 1 ½ hrs each) and £279 x 16 per month i.e. £4500 per month or £55,000 annually.
Alternatively, you could offer 4 fitness retreats per year for 10 people each time at £1500 per client to generate £60,000.
My point right now is to plan your approach. And really, with some sound business acumen and help, all the above are easily achievable. I mean in the case of the monthly subscription example, ½ hr sessions are time-efficient making accessing personal training more cost-effective for the client. With 16 clients needed to make the plan work and a strategy of offering a complimentary session as above, and a sign-up rate of just 2 new clients per week (very achievable) we are talking 8 weeks to being fully booked!
The pitfall is mindlessly falling into a PT role and getting lost. The strategy to avoid the pitfall is to ensure there is plenty of business training in your retraining program.
Create authority to earn what you are worth by selling a result or outcome NOT personal training. People will wade through generalist after generalist to get to the specialist who can help them. And then when they reach them, will pay whatever their rates, to get the result they seek!
If you are going to do this (change careers and become a fitness professional and love life doing what you love as a profession, waking up every morning excited to go to work, earning good money, enjoying a flexible lifestyle) do it right!
To become this authority, being technically competent and practically confident is a must. Feeling comfortable in business and having a plan is the icing on the cake.
To actually then create authority in the mind of your clients is easier than you think. Teach someone something they didn’t previously know that is of value to them, and you instantly adopt the role of expert. Correct something they were previously mis-informed about and, again, you create authority.
Lastly, simplify something otherwise potentially confusing or make clear something that previously wasn’t, and you establish expertise in an instant. This is education-based marketing. Like anyone who previously taught you something of value you will be held in high regard thereafter. All you need, is to know your stuff well! Train right in the first place! You will likely only retrain once – make it count!
Focus on behaviour change NOT “beasting” people.
There is a phrase and a mentality amongst poor amateur trainers, by poor I refer both financially and technically, that a personal trainer beasts people; that their primary role is to inflict pain and torture on people who love fitness. And this is far from what is needed to succeed.
Personal training in the 21st Century is much more than just making people sweat. This section outlines how to help people change habits to achieve results and outcomes they previously were unable to achieve.
First up, we need to know how to motivate people, and people’s WHY is even more important than their what. That is to say, we need to ask, not only about what people want, but why achieving this is so important.
We need to assess people’s readiness to change and ease people through change rather than forcing it upon them. And goal setting is a key tool along this journey, but not the only one. This psychology of change is critical.
We also need to know how to respond when things go wrong, and setbacks do happen. We need to help people become more accountable, better manage their priorities and consistently replace one habit with another.
Often this means ensuring we include space within our programs to “coach”. And that’s why so many of our graduates LOVE the combined coaching and personal training approach we offer.
Coaching is about influencing behaviours when we are not around (and this is most of the time). Coaching is about empowering people to change and skilfully guiding people along their journey. Coaching, therefore, is KEY to assure results and, we already established, we sell results not personal training!
Often people associate personal training with the wrong things. Prospective clients can be put off by the stereotypical personal trainer. Indeed, “training” people is only one part of the job. This “coaching” element is the other. For this reason, relatively few of our graduates call themselves a personal trainer. Of course, they are certified personal trainers. But they announce themselves as a Fitness and Motivation Coach or Transformation Coach or Exercise and Nutrition Coach, you get the idea. And this evokes, “oh right, and what’s that exactly?” and then they are into a conversation with a prospect explaining they help people become more accountable and feel more confident with a personal approach to fitness and nutrition they can fit into their busy lifestyles, for example. This is good.
Unfortunately, often as we network and meet people by introducing ourselves as a personal trainer, we get “oh, right?!?”. And this isn’t so good.
Become a Coach not just Trainer.
“Qualify” right in the first place.
There are two ingredients when it comes to “qualifying” right as a personal trainer and neither of them are about holding a piece of paper saying qualified.
The first is confidence. People ONLY buy from confident trainers. Confidence is truly key when it comes to success. The other is competence. At the end of the day, you need to be the real deal!
This section outlines how to build confidence before your first paying client and what practical competence you need in today’s marketplace.
Working with real-life clients (as is the case in our PT clinic included within our programs) builds genuine confidence. Personal training is hands-on and so you need to experience lots of practical training as you retrain. And by practical training, I don’t mean weekend assessment days, but an immersive experience to master your new discipline. I mean getting to grips with mobile and outdoor PT, not just gym training; I mean practising how to correct posture, use a foam roller, write and progress personalised programs and learn by “doing” more than learning by reading!
Any other reputable profession cost thousands of pounds to qualify and takes hundreds of hours of training. For some reason becoming a personal trainer has been devalued and trainers are often under-trained. But you don’t have to follow suit.
The level for entry into this profession is LOW. But the level for success in this profession is HIGH. This is why we don’t compare with “other” training providers.
Our courses offer hundreds of hours of tuition to ensure competence and a practical approach to assure confidence. We believe immersive training is the best way to master anything, especially a new career. And, of course, you can read more about it by visiting our website www.eifbemore.com.
To conclude, I hope this guide helps and I hope you choose to follow your dreams and fall in love with your new career. What we choose to do for a living is a significant part of our lives. It can offer a sense of purpose to our lives. And ultimately contribute to our happiness and contentment in life. We offer a residential school to get away and immerse yourself in a retraining program to ensure the career you aspire to. We would love you to check it out.
We ignite passion, inspire success and help people imagine a future they can get excited about - www.eifbemore.com
PS It’s never to late to be what you might have been. People all around the world are struggling with their weight, health and fitness – the industry needs you!