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From the Ground Up

Seven steps to building a successful in-home training business.

We have all heard the expression, “Hindsight is 20-20.” Today, looking back 16 years at the start of my personal training career, I can see clearly how everything worked out for me—though things might not have seemed so clear at the time! By sharing the wisdom I have gained, I may be able to spare you some time and expense.

I originally created my in-home personal training business out of necessity. In 1992, after I had run a very successful training business within a health club for 4 years, the club chain was sold to a group of investors. Since those investors proceeded to eliminate all the current staff and hire their own, I was forced to find a new place to offer my services. I turned to the obvious solution: clients’ homes.

I have boiled down what I learned in the formative years of my business to seven specific steps. Working through these steps may take you as long as 12 months, but if you take the time to complete the journey, your business will sell itself, and your life will be simpler.

Define Yourself

Countless people have begun a business without ever examining their own needs, values, purpose, vision, business mission or ideal client. Some businesses make it without ever taking that first step, but many do not. To ensure your success, do your homework. Taking the time to thoughtfully define yourself prepares you to create a business that utilizes your resources, capitalizes on your strengths and reflects your values. Isn’t that worth some time and effort?

Needs. Your first task is to define your top three to five personal needs and learn specific ways to meet those needs. Needs are the things you must have in your life to be your very best. For example, if one of your needs is significant cash flow because you have no savings and are deeply in debt, you may be driven to accept clients with whom you prefer not to work. If your financial situation is more secure and a large cash flow isn’t important to you, you can feel comfortable turning away clients you perceive as negative, needy or “energy draining.”

What are your needs? Consider the following:

Do you need to communicate, control, get attention,
improve others?

Do you thrive on being needed, keeping busy, feeling loved
and acknowledged?

Do you require order, peace, power, recognition, certainty,
financial security?

Values. Defining and addressing your needs frees you to live your true values. The difference between a need and a value is similar to the difference between groceries and a gourmet meal. One is a necessity that drives you; the other is a desire or passion that pulls you forward of your own free will. What really matters to you? What makes your heart sing? For me, those top values are to lead, encourage, venture, create and relate with God.

Personal Purpose, Vision and Mission. The next task in the process of defining yourself enables you to create a wonderful map for your business. Ask yourself what you believe your personal purpose is. For example, your aim might be, “to bring quality into people’s busy lives.” With that purpose in mind, write a vision statement that puts into words what you believe is possible for you to contribute in your lifetime, for example, “to drastically reduce the incidence of heart disease and early death through regular exercise.” Now get even more specific by turning that vision into your mission statement. The mission statement for my company, Cross Coaching & Wellness, is “to guide individuals in fully developing their personal path, business dreams, character, goals and customized fitness program so that they are able to live a well life with energy!”

Ideal Client. Finally, describe your ideal client. Who is that person and what characteristics does he or she possess? Defining your ideal client gives you the clarity to focus your energy on finding the right people and making your services available to them.

Create a Professional Image

If the first impression you make on a client is not a favorable one, you may never get a chance to make a different one. Portray a professional image from the very start.

Work Attire. How does the world view you on a daily basis—both inside and outside your work environment? Your work attire should be presentable wherever you are. Skin-tight bike shorts and crop tops are not the way of the future for professional trainers—and can intimidate out-of-shape clients. Choose attire that includes long pants or professional shorts, and jackets or collared shirts that display your company logo. (You can market yourself wherever you are) I, for one, would not be excited about paying $100 per session to a trainer who conducted our sessions in bike shorts and a ratty T-shirt!

Printed Materials. How would you score the quality and professionalism of your business materials? Regardless of how small your business is, you can represent yourself like the “big guys.” Your printed materials should be produced by a professional—or a very skilled, creative person. Having a logo designed is not prohibitively expensive ($250 to $500) and will make your business stand out from the rest. My logo, which was originally created in 1988, was completely redesigned in 2003.

In today’s world you should be able to transmit all your printed materials via e-mail. My business cards, letterhead and envelopes are printed by a professional printing company, but the rest of my client forms and promotional materials are printed on my personal printer or e-mailed in the form of Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat documents. As a professional you must have up-to-date forms that are free of grammatical errors and ready to go at a minute’s notice.

Web Site. I am almost ashamed to admit I did not have a company Web site until late 2003 (www.kaycross.com). However, in spite of my procrastination, I knew a Web site was important as a professional representation and marketing tool. My advice is to take the time to create a very professional site, or invest the money to pay a site designer to create one for you. A cheap-looking Web site will degrade your business. (Editor’s note: See “Web Design That Works” in the March 2004 issue of IDEA Personal Trainer, pp. 28-32.)

Inquiry Checklist. Your first contact with a potential client offers you the opportunity to convey a professional image—or if you fail to prepare yourself in advance, drop your reputation several notches! Create a checklist of what you want to accomplish during this first contact. For example when speaking with a potential client by phone:

1. Ask for the caller’s name, address, e-mail address and telephone number.

2. Discuss the person’s goals and needs (the most important focus of all).

3. Explain how your services can meet the caller’s needs.

4. Offer to send materials via mail or e-mail, and discuss equipment that might be useful.

5. Schedule a time to follow up by phone, or schedule the first appointment and ask for a deposit.

Honor the values of honesty and integrity by selling according to the client’s needs, not yours.

Set Fair Yet Profitable Boundaries

Part of defining your business is setting boundaries that make the business work for you and your clients.

Work Schedule. Examine what you want your work week to look like. First define your ideal day. What days and hours do you want to work? (Pick the hours you are at your best.) How many hours do you want to work each week? Each month? How far are you willing to travel to a client? Write down every day and hour you want to work, scheduling daily time for your own workouts, lunches and downtime. To reduce burnout I suggest limiting yourself to a maximum of 6 client hours per workday, and 30 per week.

Here’s a hint: When taking on a new client, offer a couple of choices for training days: “John, I have openings for two new clients to start next week—Tuesday at 9:00 am or Thursday at 3:00 pm. Which session would you like?” Do this even if you have openings on other days. Although your schedule may not be full, you need to maintain a “full-practice attitude.” I have learned that clients can make themselves available to train when I am willing to work. In the early days of my business, I worked Saturdays because I thought I had to do so to get enough clients. But I dreaded that Saturday all week. After giving notice that I would no longer be available on Saturdays, I miraculously discovered that my Saturday clients could train during my other available hours. Creating your schedule the way you want it from the very beginning is much easier than altering your schedule after clients grow accustomed to it.

Scheduling and Cancellation Policies. I think it is a toss-up which topic is more difficult—cancellations or fees. Make your policies clear with each potential client from the beginning. Provide two copies, one for clients to sign and return, and the other for them to keep. Go over the policies with them verbally as well. I cannot stress enough how important this is! If you make your policies crystal clear from the beginning, you are far less likely to be arguing about them later. Some effective scheduling and cancellation policies include:

scheduling appointments only after
they are purchased

for monthly clients, booking the next appointment before they leave the current one, accepting payment immediately or providing an invoice stating the due date

for standing appointments, requesting notice of planned absences for the
following month by the 20th of the current month, with rescheduling privileges given in the same month if the proper notice is given

requiring a given amount of time to cancel a session (e.g., 24, 36 or 72 hours)

establishing fair penalties for canceling a session without sufficient notice (e.g., forfeiting the session, while paying the full fee or a partial fee)

If you are lax in your cancellation policy, you can easily lose 10 to 15 percent of your income each year. The goal is to determine what you can live with and what you believe to be fair—and then stick with it. I make sure my policies are ones I would agree to if I were the client.

At times you may want to make an exception to the rules. That’s okay! That is the great thing about being your own boss.

Payment and Pricing Policies. The smartest move I ever made in acquiring new clients was to begin requiring a 50 percent deposit when scheduling the first session. That saved me from spending time and money mailing a nice packet of materials only to hear, “I’m not going to make it for our appointment. I’ll call you when I can.” This policy weeds out the not-so-serious inquiries and lets everyone know you are running a professional business with a full-practice attitude. I send packets only after I have deposited a new client’s money. I also highly recommend accepting credit card payments. You can charge clients instantly, and they are thrilled with the added benefit of earning frequent flier miles!

Figuring out how much to charge for your services can be tricky, since the “going rate” varies with the area of the country, size of the city or town in which you live, etc. Check out the pricing in your locality and go from there. I give myself a cost-of-living increase (about 10 percent) every 2 years.

Market Personally and Inexpensively

How will people know about you and your fabulous services if you do not continually spread the word? When your schedule is full and you have a waiting list, the temptation is to be-come lazy in your marketing. However when you are in business for years, you learn that your efforts during the peak times can pay off during the lean times.

Marketing Ideas. The following 10 great but inexpensive ideas will keep your marketing engine purring:

1. Commit 10 percent of your weekly hours to marketing.

2. Prepare a clear, 10-second introduction to you and your business.

3. Define your three top strategies for not being a secret.

4. Create a 90-day marketing plan and take action on it every week.

5. List the value and benefits your services bring to clients.

6. Send 10 letters per week to local businesses or targeted clients.

7. Follow up your letters with 10 calls the next week.

8. Meet other business leaders for lunch.

9. Focus on attraction versus promotion. In other words, buff up yourself!

10. Speak to local organizations and businesses.

Attraction Vs. Self-Promotion. Concentrate on attracting the kind of client you want—by your demeanor, dress, attitude, etc.—rather than promoting yourself. The questions to ask yourself are: “What kind of clients do I want to attract?” and “Who do I need to become in order to attract them?” Potential clients are much more attracted to you when you are interested rather than interesting. Nothing turns me off more than people who try to convince me how wonderful they are. Live in complete integrity, exude confidence and in every aspect of your life—dress, communication, marketing tools—become a model of those you wish to serve.

Provide Personal Attention

Make a new client’s first taste of your attention to detail and follow-through a memorable one. Then live up to the promise of that first taste.

The First Appointment. I coined the acronym “FAST” for my “First Appointment System Technique,” which includes the following steps:

To secure a new client’s first appointment, collect a nonrefundable deposit within 24 hours of your agreement to begin training.

Allow 3 to 7 days between your receipt of the deposit and the first appointment.

Make your client packet available only after the deposit is received. (You can mail the packet or arrange for the client to pick it up.)

Receive the balance due prior to—or on the day of—the first appointment.

Follow up the first appointment with an assessment report and thank-you letter.

Follow up the letter with a “How are you doing?” call.

Attention and Acknowledgment. Constantly remind your clients that you care and that you appreciate their efforts, dedication and support. Give them weekly or monthly handouts, send them cards for their birthdays and training anniversaries, and take the time for an occasional phone call or e-mail to inquire about their progress.

Giving your clients your complete attention during training sessions is essential. I am appalled when I hear of trainers who answer their cell phones, chat with other people, yawn or look away during training sessions. Even in clients’ homes, other family members may be present or distractions may exist. Always conduct yourself as if your client were the only other person present.

Rewarding Referrals. My entire business was built on word of mouth. The clients I get this way are the best of all—especially since I did not have to spend marketing dollars to get them! In fact I have found that most potential clients who find me through random computer searches or the yellow pages do not match my definition of “ideal clients.”

To reward those who refer potential clients to me, I do two things: (1) Send an immediate thank-you note, whether or not the potential client becomes an actual client; and (2) send a small gift, or offer a complimentary session, when a new client signs on. (I usually give the referrer a free session for every 10 sessions the new client signs up for.)

Invest some time and effort in 2004 to handpick your top 10 “centers of influence” —those people who love to refer you and know the people you need as clients.

Model Financial Discipline and Wisdom

What you do with what you earn is often more important than how much you earn. You can be the brightest, most fun-loving trainer in the world, but if you can’t budget your income and expenses, you will never be successful long-term. Being disciplined with money has enabled me to thrive for 16 years as a sole proprietor.

Budget—and Save, Save, Save! Create two budgets, one for your business and one for your personal living expenses. Review these budgets monthly and do not spend money you do not have! Begin asking yourself every time you want to buy something, “Do I really need this? Is this an investment or an expense?” My budget suggestions:

Keep business expenses (excluding income taxes) to 10 to 15 percent of your gross income.

Consistently set aside 10 to 20 percent of your gross income as savings or retirement.

Build your liquid savings so you have 4 to 6 months’ emergency salary.

Take concrete actions toward becoming debt-free. (See “The 10-70-20 Plan” on page TK.)

Simplify Your Life!

This final step in
creating a professional business is critically important to your personal health and wellness. Simplify your life, and then guard that simplicity. Sometimes removing things from your life is more beneficial than adding things. Contrary to popular advice, you may want to do less in more time.

Tolerations. Draw up a list of “tolerations”—things in your life that are draining you of energy and acting as a distraction, such as the finicky cell phone, broken copier, chaotic office space, stressful client, late bills, old car, etc. To free a tremendous amount of energy, work through this list, handling one item at a time until you have no controllable tolerations left.

Simple Pleasures. List 25 things that bring a smile to your day. Include one to three of these simple pleasures in every day. Don’t get so caught up in “busy-ness” that you fail to revel in small daily pleasures.

Organization. Get your office, life, finances and home well organized. Dispose of what you do not need. Make your office an inspiring place that beckons you. Hire a professional organizer if necessary. Ask yourself, “What tools, equipment or systems do I need to make my job effortless?”

Ideal Day. How would you define your ideal day? Get as close to that definition as you can. Make client training sessions fun and be yourself. Practice what you preach, or pick another profession. Hire a professional coach to help you work toward your dream.

Vacation. Plan 4 to 6 weeks of vacation each year. This time away from work allows you to recharge and gain a new perspective on what is and is not important in life. Ask yourself, “If I were on my deathbed, what would I be wishing I had done?” Create that list and live it now.

Final Words of Wisdom

Life really is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe that money and resources are abundant, and we are limited only by our beliefs, habits, shallow visions and unreal fears. My challenge to you is to step into the world with confidence and create the life and business you want from the ground up. Always live as if you have a brand-new business the whole world needs to know about. Go forth with a well body, a sound mind and a training business that can change the world, one person at a time.

© 2004 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited. IDEA PERSONAL Trainer APRIL | 2004

© 2004 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.



Necessary Forms& Materials
  • logo
  • letterhead
  • envelopes
  • business cards
  • résumé
  • menu of services
  • brochure
  • “e-mailable” documents
  • Par-Q
  • medical historyquestionnaire
  • client goals form
  • instructions for first appointment
  • physician’s release
  • scheduling andcancellation policies
  • Becoming a Person of Influence by John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997)
  • Business of Personal Training: How to Manage Growth and Profitability (IDEA, 1988, workbook, tapes, study guide and test, 800-999-4332, ext. 7, or 619-535-8979, ext. 7)
  • Coach U’s 4-hour “Financial Independence” teleclass (www.coachu.com)
  • Debt-Free Living by Larry Burkett (Moody Publishers, 1989)
  • Entrepreneur’s Guide to Personal Training (IDEA Resource Series book, 2002, 800-999-4332, ext. 7, or 619-535-8979, ext. 7)
  • The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko (Pocket Books, 1996)
  • Policies That Work for Personal Trainers by Susan Cantwell (IDEA, 1997, 800-999-4332, ext. 7, or 619-535-8979, ext. 7)
  • Practical Business for Personal Trainers (IDEA Resource Series book, 1996, 800-999-4332, ext. 7, or 619-535-8979, ext. 7)
  • Secrets of the Richest Man Who Ever Lived by Mike Murdock (Honor Books, 1998)
  • Successful Money Management: A Guide for the Christian Family (Baptist General Convention of Texas, 1991)
  • The Successful Trainer’s Guide to Marketing: How to Get Clients and Make Money by Sherri McMillan, MSc (IDEA, 2001, 800-999-4332, ext. 7, or 619-535-8979, ext. 7)
  • The Winning Attitude by John C. Maxwell (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996)

The 10-70-20 Plan

Take Off the Top of Gross Earnings:
church and/or charity contributions
income and social security tax
business expenses

Divide Your Remaining Net Income Among:
savings and investments (10%)
living expenses (70%)
debt retirement (20%)

Source: Adapted from “Successful Money Management,” a seminar and workbook presented by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

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