Personal Trainer Profile: Bill Sonnemaker’s emphasis on science and education is a catalyst for success.
Subject: Bill Sonnemaker, MS
Company: Catalyst Fitness
Location: Kennesaw, Georgia
Scientific American. Bill Sonnemaker, MS, the 2007 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of Catalyst Fitness, did not intend to have a career in fitness. Though a definite fitness enthusiast, Sonnemaker was more interested in pursuing work in the fields of molecular genetics and biochemistry. “I did work as a personal trainer to make money during college,” he recalls. “I was good at it, but it wasn’t something I intended to continue doing.” After graduation, Sonnemaker worked as an analytical research chemist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but he could not ignore the little voice that told him he was meant for something different. “For some reason, something kept bringing me back into fitness,” he says. “So I finally realized that this was what I was supposed to do.” He does not consider his time at the CDC misspent, because his scientific background and CDC work eventually came into play as he molded his career in fitness.
Knowledge Is Power. Since he had worked as a personal trainer in college, Sonnemaker knew that if he wanted to make it in the fitness business, he had to find a way to set himself apart from the competition. “I gave a lot of thought to what I needed to do to become successful. The main goal was to help people, but I also had to ensure longevity and financial prosperity.” He realized that he could use his experience to his advantage. “To differentiate myself from other trainers, I decided to apply science to everything I did. The only drawback I saw was that my education was not inclusive of exercise science.” He knew that at the time a lot of trainers didn’t have accreditation, so he hit the books and obtained four certifications and advanced specializations from highly regarded certification agencies. Sonnemaker would later use his credentials as a marketing tool to attract clients.
Breaking Ground. In 2004, Sonnemaker decided to put down roots and opened Catalyst Fitness, a state-of-the-art facility that caters to clients of all ages and abilities. Before cutting the red ribbon, he recruited a top-notch team to assist him in meeting the needs of potential clients. “When hiring trainers, I require that they start with at least two certifications and eventually add two more,” he says. “I also insist that they obtain an IDEA membership to ensure they continue their education.” New trainers are also required to go through an internship program to help prepare them for work. “Internships can last for months or a few days,” he adds. “It all depends on current education level and experience.”
Smooth Operator. Education and certifications aside, Sonnemaker believes that what also sets Catalyst Fitness apart from other facilities are the procedures for handling each client. “I think it stems from my work at the CDC,” he says. “They had systems for streamlining every process. I apply similar systems to Catalyst Fitness to help things run more smoothly. We have forms for everything to make sure that we have all of our bases covered. Creating this paperwork is what made me successful. Clients are oftentimes surprised by the paperwork we require.” But this surprise also leads to a decision to work with Catalyst Fitness trainers, he adds. “We are the only facility in the area that requires a physician release form for all clients.” It is this standard that helped Catalyst Fitness become the only medically recognized personal training facility in Georgia.
Service-Oriented. The bottom line at Catalyst Fitness is that Sonnemaker and his staff make every effort to provide the best possible service to clients. “We focus on educating and empowering people,” he says. “We impart great information, and if the client reaches her goals and doesn’t need us anymore, then we’ve done our job. Some trainers hold back for fear that a client will leave, but I’ve never lost anyone because of giving them too much information.
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