1. Know what your clients know. Beyond keeping up with your own professional education, pay attention to what your clients are learning. Reading professional journals is important, but it's not enough. You also need to be reading popular publications both online and offline. They're constantly reporting on new trends in fitness, exercise and nutrition, and it’s not uncommon for their credibility to be questionable. When your clients are exposed to misinformation, they'll likely look to you to confirm or refute what they’ve learned.
2. Stay flexible. We don’t mean physically flexible--although certainly that’s important, too--but flexible in terms of how you operate and relate to your clients. “This is such a personal business and you’re dealing with people one-on-one,” says trainer Jennifer Brilliant. “Things come up and you need to remain flexible.”
Lynne Wells, a personal trainer in New York City, advises that if you're bending a policy, make sure your client knows it. For example, if someone cancels with less than a 24-hour notice because they’re sick and you decide not to charge them, make it clear by saying something like, “You know I have a 24-hour cancellation policy, and technically you should have paid for this session. But I understand that you’re sick, so I’m not going to charge you this time.”
3. Assign homework. Make your sessions last longer than the actual time you’re together by giving your clients things to do between sessions. “I always give them homework,” says Wells. “Usually it’s just a little exercise or two to do on their own. It might even be simpler than that, like the [client] whose homework assignment was to practice standing with her feet underneath her more instead of having them wider than her hips, and to keep her toes straight instead of turned out--because that’s biomechanically better for her body. It might be some basic breathing exercises. I’ve had [clients] do food diaries or workout journals, then we talk through what they wrote down in a future session or by email.”
4. Invest in education. Knowledge builds confidence, so invest in education--even after you’ve obtained your initial certifications. What the professional associations offer and require varies depending on the particular certification you have. The organization that issues your certification will let you know what you need to do to keep it current. Beyond that, you need to be reading and studying to stay up to date on fitness trends and news. Studying current literature, attending classes and going to conventions and conferences are all investments in your business, not expenses.
5. You are not your client. A very minuscule percentage of your clients will think and act like you do. Don’t develop exercise programs that would be effective for you; put together programs that will work for your clients. “The majority of trainers train their clients like they train themselves, and they don’t really listen to the client,” says one trainer we consulted. “They're quite possibly not doing the best for that particular client.”
6. Maintain a client base. One of the most common reasons personal training businesses fail is simply the inability to establish and maintain a steady client base. High client turnover and low client retention rates make it hard to run a profitable business. But be aware that trying to have clients become dependent on you so they’ll stick around actually can produce the opposite result. “It sounds strange, but I noticed that the trainers who try to retain their clients by withholding instruction tend to anger clients and lose them quickly,” says trainer Annette Hudson.
Other causes of losing clients are:
- Lack of results When clients don’t see the results they want or that they believed they'd get, they lose interest and drop out. If this develops into a pattern, your business won't build the clientele necessary to sustain it.
- Failing to establish goals. It’s a huge mistake when a trainer doesn’t find out what a client’s goals are and confirm whether they're realistic and achievable. Clients with unrealistic goals are likely to drop out when they realize they aren’t going to accomplish what they want.
- Failing to maintain a sense of commitment. Certainly clients have more in their lives than their personal fitness goals, but when the trainer allows clients to miss sessions regularly, those clients won't make any progress and will eventually drop out.
7. Don’t throw it away. Make sure to maintain a database of contact information on former clients and prospects who went through an initial consultation and didn’t sign up. In the future, you very well may want to send them a direct-mail piece and let them know about new services or special packages you’re offering, as well as the addition to your staff of new trainers they may be interested in working with.
8. Decide how much you’re willing to work. When you own the company, you can’t bill every hour you work because you need to spend time running the operation, as well as training. To ward off burnout, decide in advance how many hours per week you want to work, then create a schedule and stick to it. You may work 12- to 14-hour days, plus weekends in the beginning, but that will get old fast, so don’t try to do that for an extended period of time.
9. Be your own advertisement. Advertise yourself as a personal trainer whenever you're in public by wearing clothing with your company name or logo, or some other indication of what you do. Turning yourself into a walking billboard is an easy, inexpensive way to identify yourself as a personal trainer to everyone you come in contact with. T-shirts are OK, but a sharp polo-style shirt is better.