Reinventing Your Personal Training Career

by Ronale Tucker Rhodes, MS on May 27, 2009

Personal Trainer Entrepreneur

Laid off or lost work from the recession? Discover how to make a positive change.

When Lindsay Del Rossi, a personal trainer in Pomona, California, lost her job this past year in the economic downturn, she didn’t look at it as a defeat. Instead, she saw it as an opportunity. With two degrees, a history of being a top performer in her job classification, experience as a senior director and almost a decade of fitness industry experience, she knew that this time was her opportunity to make a positive change.

Lindsay Del Rossi’s scenario is not so unusual these days; in fact, many personal trainers are being laid off in these lean times. And, while losing work may not be such a dire situation in greener times, today jobs are scarce. If you find yourself, or you think you may find yourself in the near future, in a similar position, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to reinvent yourself in your career.

The First Steps of Reinvention

Tom Stern, a professional coach in Los Angeles, works with people who are trying to reinvent themselves in business. He believes that when people are laid off after having been in the comfort of their jobs—with the underpinnings of a salary and the structure of a company—they suddenly realize their loss and feel low. So, “on a professional level, a lot [depends on] how you maintain your attitude and avoid going into a depression or a panic,” said Stern, in an interview on Bill Handel on the News, a radio talk show in Los Angeles.

In effect, if you are a personal trainer in this position, you need to think positively. Start with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, recommends Sean Del Rossi, Lindsay’s husband and a trainer and a program manager for the Bronco Fitness Center at Cal Poly State University, in Pomona, California. A great deal of information about how to go through a step-by-step SWOT analysis is available online. However, what it means is that you are going to evaluate what you’re really good at and determine how you’re going to use those strengths to accomplish your professional goals.

The key, says Sean Del Rossi, is not to become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none: “Instead, identify your strengths and work with and develop them, so that you are the best at what you do,” he says. “Then, surround yourself with people in your life or business who [complement] your weaknesses.”

Typically, personal trainers are strong technically and weak in selling and marketing themselves and their services, says Laurie Cingle, MEd, president of Laurie Cingle Consulting and Coaching in Grants Pass, Oregon. Her advice for learning to market yourself is to “first, think about a time when you were most successful as a trainer, and write down the activities and tasks you performed consistently to build your clientele and retain your existing clients.” For instance, she says, how much time did you dedicate to networking with potential clients at your fitness facility or within your community? How much time did you dedicate to your own education by attending seminars and/or webinars to bring new energy and techniques to your clients’ programs?

Your next step, says Cingle, is to pinpoint your specific niche clientele, rather than attempting to be all things to all people. “For example, your niche may be working with female executives between the ages of 35 and 45 who earn over $60,000 a year and have school-aged children,” she says. Once you identify the niche, you need to “analyze the issues your niche market faces every day (lack of time, weight gain, stress, finances, etc.) and outline solutions for these issues that will help you formulate the message that you want to convey to [would-be clients],” adds Cingle.

Of course, a niche market has to be widespread enough to support you in your career, says Cingle. If you find that your niche market is not prevalent enough, you might want to broaden your skill set. In this case, Sean Del Rossi recommends identifying those niches in the market that are doing well, despite the market decline.

Offering Services to Meet Community Needs

In this ailing economy, you shouldn’t expect that your opportunities for employment will always take place within a facility. Instead, you need to think outside of the box. Cingle suggests offering 45-minute educational seminars on health, fitness and wellness. Or, you could offer small-group training in homes, businesses or outdoor areas like a high-school track or a park. “Boot camp is the hottest thing going today,” adds Cingle. “Or, you might want to consider neighborhood walking groups.”

Identifying all of the different possible locations where you could provide training is helpful. Sean Del Rossi suggests going to people’s homes (provided they have personal liability insurance), community centers, local city festivals, fundraisers, supermarkets, sporting goods stores and so on.

Pricing Your Services Competitively

When selling services, try to get your potential clients to focus on the bottom line and how you can affect it. When selling to companies, know that “their number-one concern is profitability and productivity,” says Stern. “This goal is more important now than when [companies] had excess and margin for error; right now, there is no margin for error.”

So, you need to focus on the nuances and skills you have developed over the years. Stern suggests beginning by offering your services as a consultant. For instance, go to an organization where you have worked, or even to your competitors, and just ask for the opportunity to work in a capacity other than full-time. Offer tiny service segments, just to get your foot in the door. For instance, offer to do something free for the first day. The business gains a third-party perspective by hiring you as an independent contractor or freelancer, without the financial burden of paying benefits.

As Sean Del Rossi points out, “This is definitely not a good time for the big-box commercial businesses; however, it is definitely the season for the ‘niche’ business.” Niche pricing and business models are extremely important, he adds, so you need to perform a local market analysis on pricing to make sure you are competitive.

Cingle suggests finding out the going rate for training services in your area. She recommends that you price yourself closer to the high end (not the most expensive, though), rather than trying to compete by being the lowest-priced trainer in the market. “You do not want to price yourself out of the market, [nor do you want to] price yourself below the current market value,” adds Sean Del Rossi.

Selling Yourself to the Community

“We are selling ourselves all the time,” says Stern. “If you don’t think so, you’re kidding yourself. It’s all about communication, networking and selling yourself.”

To sell yourself, you need to possess certain skills. Cingle says that as a trainer, you have to have the ability to confidently approach people; listen to what potential clients are saying, so that you understand what they most want to accomplish; empathize with them and what they are going through; and explain to them how you are going to help them accomplish their goals. In addition, she says, you need basic business skills: time management, payment collection and follow-up.

Creativity is also essential. “There are scientific bookends in our industry that we need to adhere to (such as the ACSM guidelines), but within those guidelines, there is the art of training,” says Sean Del Rossi. “No qualified and certified trainers approach training in the same way. This area can separate you from your competitor.”

All of this selling requires experience. “At this point in our careers,” says Sean Del Rossi, “my wife and I have discovered that quality experience is worth its weight in gold.”

Marketing Yourself With Online Tools

Are you promoting yourself online? Most businesses today, notes Cingle, have some sort of online presence, such as an online blog for clients and potential clients or a “tip of the month” e-mail or text message.

Utilizing online resources is the best way to find clientele, says Sean Del Rossi. “If you are going to work on a grass-roots level, begin with Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter.” To find work in a more formalized fashion, he suggests you get listed with certification websites as a qualified fitness professional (such as in “find a trainer” sections). If clients want to find you, a simple Google search should quickly provide your contact information.

Some Closing Advice

When reinventing yourself, focus on performance. According to Stern, you need to present yourself with tremendous confidence in what you have achieved, who you are and what you have to offer.

You also need to focus on your goal. Stern cites the example of Steve Carlton, a former pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, as an example: “When he pitched, he never saw the batter and he never saw the bat; he had a catch with the guy behind the plate. He wasn’t focused on the obstacle, or in this case, the bat; he was focused on who he was and where he wanted to go.”

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About the Author

Ronale Tucker Rhodes, MS IDEA Author/Presenter