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Tricks of the Trade

Sep 01, 2007

How do you increase your income once your client base is full?

Reaching a full client training schedule can be a mixed blessing for a personal trainer. It's great that you are full, but if you can't physically work any more client hours, how do you continue to boost your bottom line?

I struggled with this concept for a time. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I looked at what successful colleagues were doing, to see whether any of their strategies could fit my business. Happily I found a handful of strategies that have worked.

Strategy A. In my schedule I save room for group training classes and seminars. The group classes not only draw in new people who cannot afford personalized fitness coaching; they also can be an extra workout for my existing clientele. The monthly seminars are driven by information requests from my regulars. Besides earning me extra income, these seminars are in a sense timesavers, as I can answer everyone's questions on a popular topic in one fell swoop. As the topics have a broad appeal, I also have an opportunity to meet and educate the new people who attend.

Strategy B. This past year I added a group online training program to my schedule. It was born out of a need to reenergize a running program designed to get people ready for a local 10K fun run. The new format proved to be a huge success! Besides being able to access all the necessary training information and tools on a secure website, runners could also participate in monthly teleseminars and additional live runs when the snow melted. Clients enjoyed the convenience of everything being online, while I relished the ease of administering the program and the ability to deliver quality information from my home office. Admittedly, I did a lot of startup work on the website, but I didn't find it any more time-consuming than preparing for weekly live training sessions. Now that the groundwork is done, the program will be even easier to manage next year.

Strategy C. I created and sold informational CDs and DVDs from seminars and classes. These products are proving to be better-than-expected moneymakers. Participants registered in any seminar of mine automatically receive a CD that includes the presentation plus bonus resources. Many people also buy additional CDs as gifts for friends and family. As news of the products has spread, I have received numerous purchase requests.

Strategy D. While some fitness professionals earn extra money by selling supplements or other nutrition programs, I have chosen a different approach. As a member of the Slow Food organization, I encourage my clients to eat locally. We are fortunate in Whistler to live close to farming communities that provide quality vegetables, fruits, grains, honey, meat, wild salmon and eggs. I work with a local farm to provide a co-op opportunity for clients and others to purchase these local food products. At the beginning of each week, people place their orders for delivery at the end of the week. The farm makes extra money with this service, and I make a commission for my organizational and promotional work. While this approach may not rake in the same dollars as selling traditional supplements, I like connecting people to an important institution in our community and providing them with an additional opportunity to support healthy-lifestyle concepts.

Diana Rochon, CSCS
Director, Dynamic Core Fitness
Whistler, British Columbia

Most trainers dream of having a full client load. However, being in this situation can be stifling if you are trying to expand your business. When you spend all of your day seeing clients, you do not have enough time for yourself, let alone have time to expand your business and create extra revenue streams.

I suggest that raising your rates should be your first strategy for increasing your income. However, as your rates go up, you should reduce the number of clients you train each week, to create time to work on future revenue possibilities. For example, if you currently charge $60 per hour and train 35 clients per week, this equals $2,100 per week. Now, if you raise rates to $75 per session and reduce the number of sessions to 28 per week, you still make the same amount of money. However, you now have an additional 7 hours per week to develop additional revenue sources.

Once you have this extra time, perhaps you can work on hiring a trainer to take care of the extra client hours that you have dropped. If you make a commission from each client that the new employee or independent contractor trains, then this will increase your income.

Moreover, with your additional time each week you can also educate yourself further to improve your skills. This will enable you to raise your rates again and create even more time to work on other projects. Other projects that will increase your income in the long run are writing articles, presenting, developing products (like your own DVDs or equipment) or expanding your facility size to hire more trainers (so you receive a commission off many client sessions).

The possibilities are limitless. The key is to find time to focus on creating new revenue streams. As a personal trainer you control your schedule; nobody else does. So plan your time accordingly and you will be able to focus on strategies that can increase your income.

Justin Price, MA
Owner, The BioMechanics
2006 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year
San Diego, California

To increase your income without increasing your work hours, you can use one of these methods:

Group Training. Some clients prefer training in groups. Many times a group consists of people who know each other, and it becomes a great support network for the participants. The cost to clients is less than a one-on-one training session, but you actually make more money per hour than if you were training only one client. You can either convert some of your current clients to group training or suggest the group format to new clients in your overflow.

Additional Staff. Hiring an extra trainer will let you earn more income without increasing your hours. Spend the time to find a trainer who will represent your business the way you want it represented.

Phone Coaching. Bring on new clients for phone coaching. A phone session could be a 15-minute call with a client each week to keep him or her on track. You can fit four client calls in 1 hour and make slightly more than your hourly rate because each client is paying for only 15 minutes' worth each time. I suggest you get paid in advance for a minimum of four calls.

Internet Coaching. Coaching existing or new clients through e-mail is an easy way to connect with people, no matter what time of day it is. You can fit these client communications into slow times when you are not seeing clients. E-mail coaching helps fill up the early-afternoon hours, which tend to be hard to fill with training sessions. This service should also be prepaid on a monthly basis. Ideally you want to be able to accept payment on your website.

Writing Articles. Pitch article ideas to editors of fitness industry magazines or websites that publish fitness information. An article pitch should outline what the article will contain and what the readers will learn from it. Have several pitches ready and start e-mailing them to editors. You may be able to get a writing opportunity on a regular basis.

Passive Income. Passive income is money you make without active participation. For example, you might choose to sell products or equipment either in your studio or on your website. It is best to stick to products related to your business. You could also make your own products (e.g., create your own exercise DVD, videotape one of your lectures or write a book or e-book). Sell only products you believe in. The items you sell reflect on you and your business. Make sure they represent your business well.

Pick a plan you feel comfortable with, and go for it!

Holly Kouvo
President, Fitting Fitness In and Holly
Kouvo Publishing
Stow, Massachusetts

I was once one of those "50-sessions-a-week-and-still-happy" trainers.

When my first daughter was born, however, I chose to work from 9:00 to 5:00 (not even), like "normal" people. I realized that the only way to make the same, or even more, money in less time was to figure out how I could leverage my time and make money when I wasn't working. "Trading dollars for time" will take you only so far.

You know your clients' medical histories, eating habits, exercise routines, family issues, even their personal goals. They're constantly telling you—directly or indirectly—what their needs and wants are. They mention how they are planning to build a home gym (translation: they need consulting and equipment), how much they like myofascial release with foam rollers (translation: they need rollers at home), how their hands hurt when they lift (translation: they need gloves) or how their old workout clothes don't fit any more (translation: you've done a great job and they need new athletic clothing).

Help them—and get paid for it. If you offer a product that a client is going to buy anyway from some faceless stranger, you have a duty to tell the client. Creating multiple streams of income by offering a wide variety of products and services to your clients is your duty. And not helping your clients to the full extent of your capabilities is irresponsible.

Marketing expert Jay Abraham helped popularize the "Three Ways to Grow a Business":
• Increase the number of clients you serve.
• Increase the size of each transaction.
• Increase the frequency of transactions. If your sole source of revenue is one-on-one training, increasing the number of clients you serve means increasing your hours at work. No thanks. Increasing the size of transaction means increasing your rates and implies you'll work at least the same amount of hours. Okay, but not optimal. Increasing the frequency of transactions means, again, increasing the number of hours you work. Again, no thanks. But consider this business model:
• Increase the number of customers you serve by selling tips booklets, e-books or equipment to people who would never pay for personal training.
• Increase the size of transactions by offering heart rate monitors, T-shirts or other one-time purchases to your existing customers.
• Increase the frequency of transactions with a continuity program like a membership website, supplements with automatic shipment, or even skin care products.

You can increase all three factors with little to no additional investment of your time after the initial setup.

Fitness marketing expert Eric Ruth once told me the most profitable change he made in his business was changing from having services as his front end and products as his back end, to the reverse. If you truly want to maximize both your income and your market reach, you should consider a similar model. Focus on selling products and other ways to generate revenue with little to no additional input of your time.

Your clients are counting on you to be the expert on everything even remotely related to fitness. Make sure you remain their main source of reliable information and recommendations. Above all, focus on giving the greatest quality of service to the greatest number of people, and you can't go wrong.

Stephen Holt
Lutherville, Maryland

This great industry offers so many ethical ways to increase your livelihood, and I certainly don't claim to know them all. My advice is, first develop your niche and determine where your passion lies in personal training. Once you have determined your niche, gain as much knowledge and experience as you can in that arena. Many opportunities can arise within your given area of expertise. For example, we offer many in-home personal training services and have focused a lot of time and energy on making them the best they can be. Recently, 2nd Wind Fitness Equipment opened in St. Louis, and we developed a referral relationship with them that has increased our personal training revenues by 30% in only 5 months.

In addition, one of our conditioning specialists, Tim Bradley, CSCS, is an avid distance runner who possesses tremendous passion and knowledge and has many contacts in the running community. Together we have started an endurance coaching company offering Web-based endurance coaching and VO2 testing. We have developed relationships with a local running store that gives their higher-end purchasers a free month of endurance coaching with Tim. We are able to showcase our talents to great potential clients, and Tim earns additional income doing what he loves!

I believe that increasing your income lies in managing your brand, having the motivation and desire to seek out opportunities for yourself and knowing where you can be successful and feel good about what you are doing. If you are doing something just to make more money and don't believe in what you are doing, you won't succeed and you will probably tarnish your reputation.

A commitment to continuous learning and being active in our industry has also opened many doors for us. By attending conventions, my business partner and wife, Ellie, has been able to write for IDEA, lecture nationally for IDEA and Life Fitness and learn about new products or services. While at an American Dietetic Association conference on sports nutrition, we learned about a new service (at the time) analyzing resting metabolic rates. This has become the core of the nutrition services we offer through our registered dietitians.

Last, I suggest learning the best ways to sell yourself—and potentially other services. Many personal trainers are fearful of the word sell. To succeed, we need to learn how to sell ourselves every day. A book that I review about once a year is Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing by Harry Beckwith. It teaches you how to get comfortable selling. I believe if you can sell, refine and develop your niche, manage your brand and possess the motivation and desire to succeed, then our awesome industry gives you unlimited opportunities for advanced income and professional gratification.

Dale Huff, CSCS
Co-owner, NutriFormance Fitness, Therapy and Performance
St. Louis, Missouri

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