As a personal trainer, you’re faced every day with the challenge of selling yourself.

To keep your income flowing, you strive to keep your current clients, hunt for new clients and develop new program ideas. But there’s a big difference between cash flow and long-term profitability. The personal training business is increasingly competitive. Personal trainers who compete on price, train too wide a variety of needs or say that their program is “great for anyone” don’t have a good grasp of personal branding. If you’re underpaid and
undervalued, this might be you.

Increasing your earning potential—being able to raise your rates and increase your sales—starts with increasing your perceived value. Learn how your brand ties into what you charge and how you can enhance your brand.

The Power of a Brand

Did you know that pricing is less about cost or competition than it is about demand and reputation? People, especially those over age 50, are willing to pay more for a brand with higher value. The key to developing a great brand is to elevate your perceived value.

How can you move from being a commodity, with tons of competition and little differentiation, to being a celebrity, with little competition, tons of leverage and a high demand for your expertise? You do it by building your brand and your perceived value, one level at a time. Here’s how.

Level 1: Commodity

When you’re a commodity, there’s little or no perceived differentiation between you and other trainers. You’re forced to compete based on low prices and high volume. It’s common for you to discount your rates on existing packages.

As a personal trainer, in most cases you start as a commodity. You begin by competing on price. You explain exercises, sets, repetitions and breathing. Though these items are important, a lot of people offer these same basic services. At this point you say yes to almost every opportunity.

Level 2: Specialist

A specialist possesses advanced education and qualifications, particularly in one niche that customers are willing to pay an additional fee for because of its perceived value. For example, a first- time triathlete choosing between a triathlon coach and a trainer wants the coach. A 60-year-old woman newly diagnosed with osteoporosis prefers an older-adult fitness specialist—or, even better, a trainer experienced in training clients who have osteoporosis.

You can specialize by taking continuing education courses or obtaining specialty certification(s) in one topic. Read books, articles and recent research on that same topic. Use social media sites and IDEA FitnessConnect to share your developing expertise in the area. The more you post, blog and create visible content and services related to this specialty, the more you become known as a specialized trainer. Create a website where you consistently feature links to articles, videos and other blogs, and where you discuss books and expert resources that are of interest to your niche audience. You can provide links to other resources as well as your own content, so this doesn’t need to consume a lot of time. While many trainers fear a narrow focus, specialization actually creates more opportunity.

Level 3: Master Specialist

Master specialists have a niche that is both narrow and deep. They can provide case studies describing their successes with clients, and they have a history of delivering quality service. They receive more referrals, and they have more choices about how and when to deliver that service.

Note: As a master specialist you don’t lose basic skills or necessarily say no to working with a client who wants and needs the basics, but you focus on going narrower and deeper in providing service at the highest level. For example, while working with older adults is a niche, focusing on women with osteoporosis narrows the focus of that niche. As you gain knowledge and experience, you’ll deepen your niche, not only by training your clients, but also by writing for clients, speaking about osteoporosis, and developing products and services for other trainers. When you do that, you develop a loyal clientele and get great referrals from them.

You’ve already begun to spread the word through blogs, articles and public speaking, and as a master specialist you continue to do so. You increase your rates, or you request a commission increase based on attracting traffic. In many cases, you can now set your own schedule— and still find that your schedule is full, because clients are willing to fit their needs into your hours. You also progressively increase your income. You are developing new products and services. Perhaps you are hiring and training people to support your business, and you’re working less—or at least you’re taking time off without sabotaging your income.

Level 4: Celebrity

A celebrity uses prior experience and success as catalysts for serving a broader customer base. At this level, you can afford to decline more offers than you accept, and you have financial freedom and a flexible schedule.

Now it’s time to limit your availability. Raise your rates when you do say yes, and say no to discounting and to working with people who are not aligned with your brand. For example, if you develop great rapport with your golf-conditioning clients, there’s a strong chance that people will ask you to work with a relative or friend. While you can also train your clients’ children for soccer conditioning, it isn’t what you do best. It pulls you off your focus, requiring more research and preparation than it offers in rewards. You can easily say no, and refer these requesters to a trainer who will serve their needs better.

At this point, the development of products and services can depend on your name. People who have purchased from you before will be your most likely customers and your best sources of referrals. Plus, when your program is something that other professionals deliver or that can be used at a customer’s convenience, you have more flexibility regarding the time you work.

This kind of “celebrity” success is conducive to expanding your brand. You can embrace other opportunities for speaking, training and writing—not only about fitness, but about the building and marketing of the business. People want to learn about the process and hear the “If she can do it, I can do it” story.

Your Evolving Brand

A successful brand has to have customers who want it and are willing to pay for it. Consider this great success story: Chalene Johnson, a fitness, business and lifestyle coach and New York Times best-selling author of PUSH (Rodale 2011), has created, and sold, multiple brands. She began developing one strong brand at a time—as a group exercise instructor, and then as an instructor trainer to thousands of instructors hungry for her systematic approach.
She eventually took her programs to the masses and delivered them in such a way that people fell in love with her brand. Now, she has developed a brand that allows her to help a wide variety of consumers—including fitness and business professionals. She offers multiple products, such as videos, books and audio CDs, and she also provides services like business consulting, social media consulting and motivational speaking. As her work has grown and evolved, so have her brands. Now, 22 years after she first sought a job as a fitness instructor, Johnson has moved from a “commodity” to a “celebrity,” with control over her time and opportunities.


Make sure that you purchase the URL of your own name. Even if you also have a business name, you still introduce yourself by your personal name—and people may use that name to search for you. If you don’t want to maintain Web content at your name URL, you can redirect from there to your business page; or redirect to a LinkedIn® profile if your website is not yet up and running. When you have products and services to sell, you’ll want and need a name URL—and long before that, you’ll want one to capture names for your email list.


While it’s by no means all- inclusive, this list of social media sites will get you off to a good start on promoting your brand. If you’re new to these sites, tackle them one at a time. Nurture the first one, and then add the next. You may find some sites more valuable than others. YouTube, LinkedIn® and Google Profiles are probably the three sources that provide fitness pros the best return on time.

As the second most popular search engine after Google, YouTube is any professional’s best friend. But fitness pros who love to instruct and demonstrate will soar here. Create a channel with videos. Think about your future as you post; if you want to build your reputation as a personal trainer, post the videos under your own name. Include your name in tags, to increase the chance that people can find you.

Complete your profile, and review it frequently. For your professional headline, use a phrase that describes in detail what you do. For example: Debra Atkinson — Personal Trainer and Personal Training Continuing Education Provider, Speaker, Author. Think of the primary way you earn, or want to earn, revenue. Make it clear and specific.

Google Profiles and Google Maps

When you search on Google, it pulls information from its own content. Thus, using Google Profiles and Google Maps is an easy way to get quick results. If you’re working from a brick-and-mortar business, use Google Maps and add a listing. Then ask clients to post reviews.

Debra Atkinson, MS

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