6 Steps to Succeed as an Independent Fitness Professional

Are you frustrated with, or tired of, working for someone else? Do you love the idea of being your own boss?

If you had the opportunity to build your own business, as a personal trainer or nutrition coach, would you be interested? Have you already been daydreaming about doing so?

A small percentage of fitness professionals succeed on their  own.

Most do not. They are completely unprepared for what it means to be an independent business owner.

That’s not a bad thing though. It just means you need to be well-prepared, before you leave the security of being an employee, to the uncertainty of being an entrepreneur.

If you’re considering a business of your own, work through the six steps below.

If you’re already running your own fitness business, and it’s not as successful as you hoped it would be, these six steps can help you too.

As you work your way through them, you’ll come to one of two conclusions:

  1. Things aren’t as bad as you thought, where you’re at now. There’s good reasons for your company to have the practices and policies in place that they do. Doing your own thing isn’t as easy as you thought it might be.
  2. You have the skills, perspective, and tenacity to start and successfully grow an independent fitness business. Take your time to consider it before you actually do it. And if you decide to leave your current company, do it with grace and integrity.

Step 1: Build a Business Plan

If you choose to become independent, you choose to become a business owner.

Business owners have business plans. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll quickly find yourself short on clients or customers, and buried by unexpected expenses.

In my opinion, a solid business plan should take you three to 12 months to develop. You might even consider hiring someone to help you with it.

The business plan will force you to identify all of the hidden expenses you must plan for; expenses that your facility takes care of for you right now.

These include insurance, equipment purchases and upkeep, cleaning, marketing costs so you actually have leads that can become clients, rent for the facility, billing software, and credit card fees, just to name a few.

Aside from identifying all the expenses, a business plan will force you to consider your marketing plan. You’ll need to attract prospective clients to fill your schedule.

You’ll get a lot of value from creating a business plan whether you plan to stay where you are, or plan to open your own business.

You might also realize, after completing the business review, that you’ve got it pretty good, where you’re at. Or the process will help you realize the potential you have at your fingertips.

Step 2: Learn EVERYTHING You Can From Your Current Company

If I were personal training today, and had a dream of owning my own boutique gym or fitness business, I would learn everything I could from the company I worked for.

How do they market to prospective members or clients? What kind of a software and billing system do they use, and what would I need?

What do the best fitness managers do to hit their goals, and retain and inspire their team members? How do you create monthly business reviews, budgets and plans? How do you even use Excel?

If you went to your manager and said, “I’m planning to build my own business in the next couple of years, and I’d like you to mentor me,” my guess is that your manager would be eager to do so. Especially if you stepped up and became the top trainer on the staff while keeping your future plans to yourself.

He or she would know that for the next couple years, you’d have a vested interest in learning to be an awesome fitness professional, so for those two years, you’d set an example for the rest of the team.

If I were your manager, I’d also think that after two years, you’d be so successful where you’re at, you might not want to leave anyway. And if you did, and you left with integrity, I’d be really happy for you.

Step 3: Get GREAT at Marketing & Sales

Reality check: If you provide a product or service to someone, you have to sell it. That’s sales.

If you want someone to sell to, you have to get them to come to you. That’s marketing.

Most fitness professionals have no experience with marketing. And a HUGE percentage of fitness professionals don’t like to sell. They “just want to train and help people.”

In a corporate fitness role, you might have others do the selling for you, at least to get you started. You might also have hundreds of members walk by you every day, so you have some that just walk up to you and say “I need to hire someone.”

When you’re on your own, it’s all on you.

If you don’t like selling now, when you have the security of your current role, you’ll surely hate it when all of the sales falls on your shoulders.

Selling isn’t about getting people to pay for services or products they don’t need. Selling is about getting people to eagerly give you their money because they’re so excited to use what you have.

An independent fitness professional is an entrepreneur, and entrepreneurs sell. They also must learn to market.

If you completed your business plan from Step 1, it should include a marketing plan. Where are you going to get new clients from? What relationships will you build?

You may not fully appreciate the marketing opportunity your current company provides you.

In some cases, they have a huge facility people see as they drive. The facility alone is a marketing opportunity. You don’t have that if you’re going to train at a warehouse facility, strip mall, or in your clients’ homes.

4: Be Prepared to Work More Hours Than You Do Today

Fitness professionals put a LOT of hours in. They have to.

Bryant Allen, one of the fitness managers I worked with when we were in Houston, often said something like, “If you want to be successful as a fitness professional, you need to be just like the equipment. Always here, so people get used to seeing your face and know who you are.”

I loved that analogy. It’s the reality of being a fitness professional. You need to be available when other people need you. And when they need you isn’t always at the same time of day or on the same day.

Unless you are a superstar fitness professional, you won’t get to sleep in as late as you’d like, or avoid working evenings and some weekends, and make a great income.

You’ll need to hustle. You’ll need to put in the hours.

If that doesn’t sound exciting to you, you might want to stay where you’re at.

5: Develop a Unique Brand and Philosophy

With about 400,000 other personal trainers, nutritionists and nutrition coaches in the United States alone, you’re going to have some serious competition.

There is no shortage of people who need your services, since over two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese. But what will help you stand out from the crowd?

What makes you unique? Is there a special niche you can target?

When people look you up online, will they find that your lifestyle exemplifies your brand, and the health and fitness you sell?

Your brand isn’t a website and a fancy logo. It’s the message of who you are and what you believe about health and fitness. Your philosophy isn’t a catch-all for anyone looking to improve their health.

If you want to stand out, your brand will strongly draw certain people to you, and repel others. That’s okay.

How do you want other to describe you and your services? How does that compare to how they actually do, and to how others perceive you when they look you up or meet you for the first time.

To build your brand, you must have a powerful story that inspires you, and resonates with others.

6. Supplement Your Services With Other Products and Services

Your clients use health-related products every day, such as accessories, apparel, supplements, essential oils, and even meal delivery. Why not have them get those products from you?

Once you’ve created a clear personal brand, add products and services that represent your philosophy and brand, support your clients goals, and allow you to earn an income separate, of their paid sessions.

We have a number of independent fitness professionals on our direct sales team.

They earn a significant additional, passive income, while their clients LOVE the products they use.

The supplemental income can do one of two things.

First, it can allow you to earn a total income that’s much greater than what you’d be able to do by being paid only for the service hours you provide.

Second, the extra income can eventually allow you to work fewer hours.

For example, you might hate training your first client at 5 am three days a week, but feel you have to in order to make the extra $500 per month. If you earned an extra $500 per month from your supplemental income, you could drop the 5 am sessions and get more sleep.

Before you decide on the products and services, see how they fit in the business plan you created.

Will you be able to earn additional profits? Is it easy for the income to become a passive, recurring income? Is there a way to get people started without carrying inventory?

The products you promote must represent your brand and the people you’re marketing to. If your primary audience is health-conscious women between 35-55 years old, you wouldn’t want to sell bodybuilding supplements designed for college-aged males.

Should you go independent?

Building your own business sounds exciting, and can be extremely fulfilling. However, it’s not for everyone.

If you struggle to succeed with the security and opportunities a corporate fitness role provides, you might struggle even more when you have more responsibilities as an independent fitness professional.

As much as people don’t like having a boss holding them accountable, some people really struggle if they don’t have someone to answer to.

That said, if you’re among the small percentage that has the right attitude, work ethic, and personality to be an entrepreneur, you may thrive on your own. I hope the steps above lead you to even greater success.