There are several paths to becoming an entrepreneur in the fitness industry. While most discussion is centered around opening a studio and capitalizing on what your current clients believe to be your unique skills and talents, this represents only one path forward. You can choose to have a roof over your head, or you can go to your clients. You can stick with profiting from your intellectual property, or you can “borrow” an idea from someone else.
Whatever you choose, owning your own business has never been easier. You just need to figure out which route makes the most sense for you!
What’s Your Business Home Base?
Where would you like to offer your fitness services? You can deliver them in an adaptive environment, where you go to your clients. Adaptive options are the best way to venture out on your own with little overhead and less formal planning. Choosing this path can speed up your timeline and reduce risk. You can select mobile training or digital training or both as adaptive choices. Or you can rent or buy a brick-and-mortar location.
Option #1: Mobile Training
Training clients in their homes, at their places of work or in a gym of their choosing (if permitted) means that you may be able to begin your business right away. As long as you have a reliable mode of transportation, access to equipment, proper insurance and a way to book and collect money from clients, you’ll be able to get started quickly with minimal startup cash.
When you’re training on the go, you or your client can supply the equipment or you can each provide some. Consider researching options for earning residuals on client equipment purchases, which can help you maximize your earning potential without much additional work. Companies such as Power Systems, Perform Better® and Spri provide robust affiliate programs.
While your overhead will be low with mobile training, you’ll need to factor in the time you will spend traveling from client to client. When clients come to you, it’s possible to train in back-to-back hours. With mobile training you’ll incur transit time that can lessen the number of hours you’re available to bill. Be sure to set your rates to accommodate the wear and tear on your car, as well as gas costs.
Option #2: Digital Training
Digital personal training is exploding! While it may take a bit more time to organize than mobile training, digital training offers flexibility that will provide you greater reach and the ability to make money in your sleep, if you play it right!
Digital training comes in many different shapes and sizes. Some examples:
- using specially designed apps such as Trainerize or FitnessBuilder® (from PumpOne) that allow you to create, deliver and monitor workouts
- using less-tech-heavy options, such as spreadsheets (Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel) or word processing software (Google Sheets or Microsoft Word), to produce and provide workouts
- offering workouts using video sharing services such as YouTube or Vimeo
- training clients virtually with Skype, Facetime, GoTo Meeting or Zoom
Digital tools vary in price, but they will be considerably cheaper than renting space or buying a facility. However, you’ll need to consider your technical ability and how well your current or potential clients could adapt to technology.
Equipment investment will be minimal; you will need equipment only to demonstrate exercises. But you might consider taking advantage of affiliate programs (like those mentioned in Option #1) to offer purchase opportunities for your clients and to earn extra money.
Digital training can also be an upsell for other training options. Whether you provide digital as a supplement for your face-to-face training or as a stand-alone offering, being able to make money without physically being present with a client can significantly increase your earning potential.
Option #3: Training at Your Facility
If you want clients to come to you as they did at your previous location, consider renting space or securing a storefront of your own.
Some facilities offer you the opportunity to run your own business inside of theirs. Instead of operating as an employee, you would function as an independent contractor and be responsible for generating and managing your own clientele. The benefit would be the ability to set your own prices and hours while using someone else’s space and equipment. You would pay a negotiated monthly rate or, in some cases, a percentage of revenue for the permanent location.
Your dream may include securing your own address and investing in bricks and mortar. Opening a location, regardless of how big or small, comes with additional considerations.
First, the amount of capital it will take to open a storefront and, subsequently, keep the doors open is significantly more than is required of the other options presented in this article.
According to Entrepreneur magazine, the cost to open a fitness center can vary widely, with estimates of between $10,000 and $50,000 (Entrepreneur 2019). The costs of location, equipment, licenses/permits, legal fees, employee salaries and gym management software can add up. Of course, you can scale back expenses, depending on what you’re hoping to create, but bricks and mortar will always be more expensive and operationally challenging than other options.
You will need a solid business plan to be able to secure funding. This means quickly determining how you will scale your talents. It will be challenging to cover the costs of a facility of your own without additional employees and offerings. In other words, personally training individual clients or even small groups from sunup to sundown on most days may generate enough income to keep the lights on. To grow, however, you will need additional staff to multiply your earnings. Scaling a concept is challenging; this is where you will need to carefully consider the products you deliver.
The programs you provide to clients are considered your “product.” You’ll need to ensure that your product has a unique selling proposition (USP) you can market. Most likely, you were your USP when working inside of a club—the types of workouts you offered, your personality and the results you achieved became your claim to fame. While this may continue to be your USP as you branch out on your own, it could limit your growth. You may want to consider additional options to cut down on preparation time and as a way to more easily scale your business.
SCALING YOUR SERVICES
The way you create and deliver training programs to your clients may be your unique selling proposition. If so, you’ll need to determine exactly what it is that you do differently than others, so you can then amplify it to market and grow your business.
To scale, consider either of these options:
- teaching other fitness pros your methods (which will require education, training and oversight)
- packaging your programs and delivering them via digital options (discussed above)
CONSIDERING PREPARED PROGRAMMING
You could also offer professionally prepared programming rather than using your own. Why? Doing so provides a quicker path toward growing your team, and it can significantly increase your return on investment by cutting down on your own design time.
Two prepared options to consider are licensed programs and franchise opportunities.
Licensed Programs. CrossFit® is an example of a popular licensed program. After obtaining the CrossFit Level 1 certification, you can apply to become an affiliate. Upon acceptance, you pay an annual fee in exchange for ongoing access to professionally prepared programming, plus placement on the official CrossFit affiliate-finder map and affiliate list. Beyond the benefit of having programming delivered to you, know that companies that provide licensed options typically help promote your business via their websites and allow you to leverage the brand in your own marketing.
Franchise Opportunities. Orangetheory Fitness® is an example of a franchise. Becoming a franchisee is a bit more complicated than offering a licensed program, and the amount of money needed to get started is considerably more. In most instances, you also remit a royalty payment (percentage of revenue) each month. Plus, with a franchise there are much stricter guidelines regarding location, build-out, equipment, software and the overall running of your business. Typically, the brand recognition, national marketing efforts and awareness driven by the franchisor, as well as the support provided for both business and programming, are worth the investment and work required to run a franchise.
The Best Business for You
The information in this article provides an overview for the options that are available when you are ready to step out on your own. You will need to dig much deeper before making a choice! Use the resources provided by the Association of Fitness Studios, industry magazines and podcasts. Plus, do some research outside of the fitness industry by reading magazines like Entrepreneur and Forbes. And connect with other industry veterans who have successfully made the leap from staff or contractor to business owner.
Entrepreneur. 2019. Fitness center. Accessed Sep. 3, 2019: entrepreneur.com/businessideas/fitness-center.
With the pandemic, many fit pros rose to the occasion by providing online fitness platforms that offered business tools to improve training.
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