How Do You Know When It's Time to Expand Your Business (Add Another Trainer, Add a New Service, Etc.)?

I started my one-woman in-home training operation in the winter of 1990. The plan was to keep my part-time waitress job for 3 months and have enough training income to be a full-time trainer. That part went exactly as planned, and I have been a trainer ever since.

One year my horse needed surgery on his annular ligament (think carpal tunnel surgery except on a horse’s rear ankle). My training business was going very well, I had new clients wanting to start, I did not have the time available that they needed, and I was going to be taking my horse out of town since the nearest equine surgery center was in San Diego. So I thought this would be the perfect time to hire trainers to train my clients and take on new ones while I was away.

I hired two trainers I thought were excellent candidates: one was a 30-year-old male, a recent graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who had a degree in physical education. He was certified by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), very athletic and married to a friend of mine. The other was a 45-year-old nurse looking to get out of nursing and into personal training. She seemed perfectly suited to be a trainer; she was a fitness enthusiast and a former client of mine. I had encouraged her to study and take the ACE exam. I thought both people were professional and that their ages would be an asset in the reliability, image and work ethic corner.

I established a fair rate per session for these two inexperienced trainers. Immediately the male went into “sumo” negotiating tactics to get me to pay him more per session than I thought was fair. We came to a new figure, and I thought it would still be worth it to have an employee out there making me money.

My decision to expand my business by hiring employees did not go as expected, and I gave up after this one attempt. The male trainer called me on his first day to tell me he had missed his 6:00 am appointment. There was some sort of screw-up at the security gate. He called the client, who was in the garage on a treadmill. The client did not answer the first ring so my employee left! Also, the trainer informed me that 6:00 am was way too early and he was going to call the client and ask if he could train in the evening at 7:00 pm, which would suit his sleep schedule. So much for an older employee equaling more stability! I told him he would not call the client and reschedule for the evening. I did not give that trainer a second chance.

The trainer who was a nurse and a former client took some of my clients while I was away. Before leaving, I had taken her with me to meet the clients she would be training. Again, I thought all was well. I returned home to find out she was not satisfied with how “long” it took to drive to and from an in-home appointment, and she felt she should be paid for “drive time.” So much for the nursing profession being a reliable indicator of a good trainer! I guess she missed the part where the self-employed do not get paid for coffee breaks, sick days or “drive time.” I told her she was welcome to train on her own and negotiate her own health benefits and vacation time with personal training clients.

Through these experiences, I learned that integrity is a rare commodity and my standards are too high to accept anything less. If I decide to expand my business by hiring a trainer again, I will probably start by looking in the university’s kinesiology department. I think an eager student would not be so arrogant. If you are interested in expanding, I think Sherri McMillan, MSc, offers helpful advice on hiring, contracting and managing facilities and employees in her books and articles.

Daria Clarke

Owner, Daria Clarke Personal Fitness Training

Las Vegas

“How do you know when it’s time to expand your business” is a question I contemplated 3 years ago this December, when the storefront next to mine went up for lease. I went back and forth between all the pros and cons of expanding, and then I did it. I expanded my 1,100-square-foot personal training facility into a 2,200-square-foot facility with an extra bathroom and shower and more office space.

Knowing when to expand is a critical question. Timing in life is everything. You must understand the market demand for the services being offered. Unfortunately, I expanded right around the same time as a large gym opened just a few miles away with everything to offer. I was extremely nervous that my large overhead might ruin my business completely, but the reverse happened. People stayed at my facility—or started coming to it—because they did not want to be involved in a large, corporate gym. They enjoyed the benefits of going to a small, private facility.

Before I expanded, I handed out a survey to my clients. I explained what I was planning to do, and I asked for their thoughts. I received excellent opinions about what to focus on (e.g., adding massage, Pilates and/or yoga classes; increasing prices). Most clients were not opposed to a modest increase in their rates if they would be getting more.

Jill Bowers-Destro

Owner, First Class Fitness

Park Ridge, New Jersey

Expanding your business is a huge step. First, you must be sure that you have not only enough business to support the expansion, but also enough time to recruit, hire, train and continue to train any incoming staff. If you do not have a surplus of business but want to expand your operation, you may want to consider hiring an independent contractor.

Independent contractors are people who run their own businesses and pay you to use your facilities. You cannot tell them what to do or how you want them to operate their businesses. However, from a cost perspective, contractors might be the best option as they will be responsible for providing their own insurance, paying their own taxes, doing their own marketing and so on. Furthermore, an independent contractor who has been in business for a while will already have an established client base and can bring his or her business together with yours.

If you have a surplus of business and want to continue to grow and provide services to more clients, you may want to consider hiring employees. Employees are part of your company, and you have every right to tell them how you want things done. However, you will be responsible for their insurance, taxes, workers’ compensation, etc. Therefore, hiring employees can take more of your time and money initially until you have brought them up to par with how you want them to train clients.

No matter whom you decide to hire, the only good time to expand your business is when you have extra time. To adapt schedules and induct even independent contractors into your business is time consuming and stressful. Remember, no one is going to be as committed to your business as you are.

The same goes for opening a new location. To ensure that your new venture succeeds, you’ll need enough time to master the setup and operating procedures. Do not open a new location or hire more trainers to make your life easier in the short term. It may help in the long term, but initially it is time consuming, money sucking and stressful!

Despite the cynical tone, having good people join your business is amazing. It can motivate you to improve your existing service and force you to make sure you really know your stuff, because teaching others to do what you do is a challenge in itself.

Justin Price, MA

Owner, The BioMechanics

San Diego

If you are at the stage in your business where you are thinking of expanding, congratulations! When to expand is a complex question, and I will try to answer it by having you think about some important personal questions.

If you want to expand, then ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to expand? (To have more time? To earn more money? To reach more people who need training?)
  • Do you believe that your current market and location will support additional trainers?
  • Do you see yourself as a good leader? Someone who will inspire other trainers to come to work with you and find satisfaction?
  • Are you prepared to do more marketing and selling to provide new trainers with clients?
  • Are you set up with the proper bookkeeping, tax status, etc., to run an expanded business?

If you answered yes to several of these questions, consider the following tips to help you start the process of expansion:

  • Ask current clients if they would be willing to provide additional referrals if you expanded your business.
  • Determine whether you will be able to have additional trainers train your current clients. You will need to spend more time on sales, marketing and some bookkeeping.
  • Look carefully at your current training load and determine where and when you can cut training hours to support the above.
  • Have a plan in place to train your new trainers so that your service is consistent.
  • Set up hiring criteria that are important to you (e.g., certification, professional liability insurance, several years’ experience with training, etc.).
  • Think through a business plan (it doesn’t have to be complicated) that will allow more growth so that new trainers can see a future career path.
  • Speak to an attorney and an accountant to determine how you should set up your business for future growth (e.g., sole proprietorship, corporation, etc.).
  • Use resources provided in IDEA Fitness Journal to get a sense if there are trainers available in your market. This will help you hire effectively.
  • Select a trusted business advisor (who might possibly be a client now) to help you think through the different issues that will arise as your business grows past a single source provider.

Expanding your business is both worthwhile and challenging. Do your homework, and good luck.

Gregory Florez

Chief Executive Officer, FitAdvisor

Sale Lake City

I love working as an independent, in-home personal trainer. My friends who struggle into suits and heels every morning envy my comfortable work attire and flexible work schedule. I don’t punch a clock or have to work overtime—and no office politics! But there is a downside to being a one-woman show: no after-work drinks with workmates, no lunch-hour baby showers, no company softball team. It can sometimes get a bit lonely. When I realized a few years ago that my days were busy with clients but still lacked real social interaction, I knew it was time to diversify and expand my business.

I first started offering group “learn to run” clinics. I knew that my neighborhood had lots of stay-at-home parents interested in exercising after dropping their children off at school in the morning. The response to these clinics was excellent. Participants loved the no-gym, fresh-air workouts, and I loved the chatting and socializing that is an important part of any good run.

A couple of years later, I realized that there was suddenly a huge interest in power walking. People in the deconditioned market appeared to be the most keen. Though I didn’t believe that those in my area would be willing to pay to join a walking group, I found that the owners of a huge downtown office tower were happy to provide a meeting room and pay me to lead free lunch-hour power walks for their building’s tenants and employees. They saw it as a great marketing strategy for their building and good for their retail tenants.

In only 1 year, the walking club has grown to 350 participants! My partner and I offer two 45-minute sessions over the lunch hour. We teach walking technique, squeeze in some quick toning exercises, and talk about appropriate shoes and apparel. But the main focus is an energizing and destressing 35-minute walk.

The walking program is a fun change of pace for me, and the sessions take less time to prepare than a personal training session. Financially, it’s very rewarding since the landlord pays a substantial “corporate presentation” fee for each session. Because people see us in action as leaders each week, my partner and I have also found private training clients and speaking engagements through the club. Today, the power walking club is the highlight of my week. It gets me out of my clients’ home gyms and into the public eye, while also satisfying my need for group interaction.

Barb Gormley

Owner, CustomFit Personal Training

Toronto

If you have a question, send it to IDEA Fitness Journal via regular mail (see “Your Membership” page); e-mail (websters @ideafit.com); or fax (858-535-8234). Include name, company, city, state/province and phone number.

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September 2005

© 2005 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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