My personal training business has been somewhat impacted by the challenging times our economy has seen this past year. A few of my one-on-one clients have had to cut back on their sessions because either they or their spouses lost their jobs. I always give our clients the option of spreading out their sessions over a longer period of time if they so desire. If they need weekly accountability, we offer them our Virtual Fitness™ option of a 15-minute phone call once a week. Since most of our clients want to lose weight, they need to fill out food and exercise logs weekly. With our Virtual Fitness option they e-mail or fax us their logs prior to our phone call. Then we address any issues they had during the week and advise and motivate them to stay with the program through the next week. We e-mail them exercises to do and utilize e-mail extensively to maintain contact with clients. Another thing I have done to help clients who are stressed about finances is increase the number of group training classes we offer. This option is a more affordable solution for clients. They may not receive one-on-one attention, but they do get educated and have a chance to exercise at a lower cost. Because of space issues, I limit class size to 6–8 people. In addition, my 4-week jump-start classes have been full each session. Clients pay less for their exercise program, and I actually earn more per hour. What advice do I have for fellow trainers on this issue? Price your programs to sell. Figure out at what price your class or program can sell. Marketing psychology says that people are more prone to buy something if the price ends in an odd number. For instance, people are more likely to purchase a service priced at $197 than one priced at $200. I have always found this to be true. Sometimes you need to get creative and put together a variety of programs that cater to clients’ different needs and abilities to pay. When clients see that you are working to make your services affordable for them, they become loyal during both the good times and the bad times.
I talked to other smaller-sized fitness companies in my town to see how the economy has affected their business. So far none of us have been impacted. I believe that since the weight loss industry is a multibillion-dollar business, people will still find the money to work out or lose weight. However, they may bargain-hunt or look for how they can get more bang for their buck, so we must provide excellent service. For me, that means going the extra mile. If someone misses a couple of our boot camp classes, I will contact him. If I know someone is struggling with a certain issue, I will listen, offer support, refer the client out or just let her know that we care about her as a person and not as a number. I did include a $10-off coupon in my clients’ Christmas cards this year, but I also did that last year. If one of my clients is struggling financially, and I see that he is serious about his fitness and consistently attends classes, then I will offer him either free or greatly discounted classes. I have done that since I started my business over 3 years ago. I have been blessed with huge success in what I do, and I feel it is important for me to “pass it on.” I think that if you love what you do and provide a great service, you will survive and thrive in 2009.
The downturn in the economy has had a negative effect on us, as it probably has on everyone. The effect seems to be mitigated by the fact that all our clients are long term, have developed tight bonds with us and seem to see their personal training sessions as a necessary part of their lifestyles. Still, we do see some people cutting back a bit. In response to this, we’re resisting the temptation to lower prices. Price reductions for new clients would compromise the trust of our current clients and create resentment. Price cuts across the board for everyone would eat into our existing revenue base more than it would bring in new revenue. Furthermore, price cuts don’t mean anything to prospects if they don’t know about them, and when you start talking about your price cuts, it undermines confidence. So, we stick to our guns.
Based on the forecasting by the hotel industry and tourist operators in the mountain resort town in which I live, it became apparent in early 2008 that tough economic times were coming. Many of my clients looking ahead to the end of 2008 and into 2009 were rightfully concerned. In response to their forecasts and needs, I began to modify my business to focus on providing more value to my clients. I also opened myself up to other career opportunities that could provide a sound financial footing for me. I accepted part-time work, replacing someone on maternity leave, with the Canadian Sport Centre Pacific (CSC Pacific) as an athlete/coach services coordinator for our provincial and national teams training in the Whistler region. The position allowed me to branch out with an employer who was willing to let me continue with my personal training business. With the safety of the CSC Pacific position in hand, I decided to work only with my longtime regulars and then offer a couple of group training classes per week. I took on no new one-on-one clients. This decision allowed me to narrow my focus, giving my loyal clients even more attention and greater value. The shift increased their commitment to my business and made them feel special. New clients were welcome to attend my group training classes, and clients who could no longer afford one-on-one sessions could work with me in these classes too. Overall, my plan worked well. I stayed busy with my personal training clients and also used my knowledge and experience part-time at CSC Pacific. Late in 2008, CSC Pacific offered me a full-time position combining my athlete/coach services role with work as a strength coach. The contract would run through the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. After a lengthy discussion with my husband and colleagues, I decided to walk away from my personal training business. That decision was based partly on the continuing downward spiral of the economy and partly on the opportunity I’d have to expand my knowledge and abilities via the many projects on tap at CSC Pacific. It was difficult to break the news to my clients, but they all have been supportive and interested in my new role helping our athletes vie for an appearance at the Olympic Winter Games. Also, I still teach public workshops and one or two group fitness classes per week that my clients can attend. While I can certainly appreciate that not every personal trainer has the ability to leave his or her business behind, my advice to fellow fitness pros is to be open to new opportunities. Look at the economic downturn as a chance to consider different ideas on how to service your clientele and new career opportunities that might not have piqued your interest in a strong economic environment.
The downturn in the economy has had a definite negative financial impact for me, however, I see this as an opportunity to grow and expand my horizons. I am now involved in a group adjunct program at a local hospital. I am also persuing other areas of fitness, discovering potential opportunities in youth services programs, non-profit programs, or managerial positions. I am passionate about workplace wellness programs, and will continue to seek that business and donate time to NCPPA to build the workplace health sector. I am back in school learning about different ways to help people live better lives, and perusing fitness related employment weekly to keep abreast. I see change as inevitable life adjustments, acceptance of what is, allows me to serve best myself, and others.
I may be a rare case but the down turn actually helped my business. I was able to compete in a saturated market with ethical standards while others were stooping very low indeed to secure the almighty dollar. I had many new clients when the stimulus packages hit.