Maybe you find that after carefully
mapping out your career path, you actually want to travel in a different
direction. Maybe you discover that a career milestone you thought would take
years to achieve is now within your grasp. Or maybe you are still blissfully
happy in your job but find that outside forces dictate a change.

As the old saying goes, “There is nothing constant but change
itself.” Sometimes you find change; sometimes it finds you. While shifting
careers within the fitness industry can be extremely exciting, it can also be
challenging. Discover how other fitness pros have directed their career
changes, and learn how you can best make your own changes when you’re ready or
when life throws you a curve.

Earning a Doctorate Degree

At the time her marriage dissolved, Wendy
Williamson, PhD, ACE-CES, ACE- and NASM-CPT, was working as a personal trainer
and as an adjunct faculty member at a university in Wichita, Kansas. She had
long dreamed of going back to school for her doctoral degree and decided to go
for it after the divorce. She recently completed her doctorate in philosophy,
health and human performance: exercise science at Oklahoma State University.

What
Motivated the Change?
“I knew that I would never be able to
teach at the university level full-time without a PhD,” explains Williamson. “I
wanted to improve my knowledge and skill sets and see if I could succeed.”

Challenges.
Her degree program took 41/2 years, during which she continued to work
full-time. While attending classes at Oklahoma State University, Williamson
encountered several challenges. “I commuted 2 hours each way at least once a
week for several years,” she says. “I would leave work at noon after training
since 5:30 am and arrive home
about 11:30 pm. The chair of my
PhD committee changed three times during my school tenure, due to retirement
and resignations. Emotionally, I learned not to react but to problem-solve.”

Support/Resources
That Helped Her.
Wil­liam­­son credits her flexible work
schedule as key to completing her doctorate. “Also, having clients who were
supportive was wonderful,” she says.

Effect
on Personal Life.
Her personal life was basically put on hold
during her doctoral course work. “Every available minute that I was not working
seemed to be spent studying or working on papers, projects, research, etc.,”
she says. “I tried to focus on the task at hand and pace myself. I did not skip
exercise but often neglected sleep.”

Joys
of Working Toward Her Doctorate.
Williamson wrote her thesis
on how supervised and directed forms of exercise affect low-back pain and
functional activity. “There was a great deal of satisfaction to ‘getting into
the books’ and getting credit for the work,” she says. “Another joy was sharing
my knowledge with the respective faculty of my discipline who were not aware of
the opportunities that are available to fitness professionals.”

Tips
for Other Fitness Pros.
What advice does Williamson have for
anyone who wants to pursue an advanced degree? “Be focused [and] serious, plan
for the financial impact, pace yourself but don’t
take any semesters off, if at all possible. Know that relationships take a
beating, and there must be commitments from everyone involved [in order to]
survive.”

Impact
on Career Satisfaction.
She now runs Williamson Fitness
Consulting and serves as a senior personal trainer/post­-rehabilitation
specialist at Genesis Health Clubs in Wichita. And the future looks bright:
“The degree will advance my career options and allow me to apply my academic
accomplishments,” she says. “The opportunities, though fewer, are tremendous.
Few fitness professionals in the ‘active’ career phase have [this] advanced
degree.”

Going From Part-Time to Full-Time Personal Trainer

When John
Goldsmith attended the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute™ in October 2007, he was
working as a residential real estate appraiser and training clients part-time
at a gym. Little did he know how this conference would impact his life. Since
that pivotal week, he has started his own personal training business—On Fire
Fitness Inc., in Miramar, Florida—and now trains clients in their homes.

What
Motivated the Change?
“A business class taught by Bob
Esquerre and a boot camp class led by Todd Durkin at the IDEA conference really
inspired me,” says Goldsmith.

Challenges.
The biggest challenge for Goldsmith has been promoting his
business. “Some days have been rough,” he says. “I invested money in
advertising (for magnetic car signs, T-shirts and online ads) and saw no
immediate response, but I kept believing that the fitness field was my calling.
My current clients have spread the word about me by sharing their experiences,
and their referrals have brought me the most business.”

Support/Resources
That Helped Him.
To start his business he used credit cards,
a small loan and some funds from his bank account. “I wish I had known then not
to run up credit cards as the primary source of income for my business
start-up,” he says. “I now know that a better alternative would have been to
get a small-business loan or a home equity line of credit, or to refinance.”

Effect
on Personal Life.
Starting his own business means that
Goldsmith has less of a social life these days. “For example, now I don’t stay
out as late on Friday nights so I can be refreshed for running my Saturday
morning boot camps. I also confirm [appointments] with my clients during the
week and make wake-up calls Saturday morning.”

Joys
of Working on His New Business.
Goldsmith is excited that he
no longer has to “change so many hats” during the day. “I loved creating my
company website,” he says. “Would-be clients trust a business with a website
more than just a name and number on a card.”

Tips
for Other Fitness Pros.
Want to start your own personal
training business? “Stay determined and focused, and persevere through tough
times,” Goldsmith advises.

Impact
on Career Satisfaction.
While he liked doing real estate
appraisals, it doesn’t compare to working full-time in the industry. “I’m now
in trainer mode all day, and I love it,” Goldsmith says.

Going From Fitness Director to Studio Owner

Donna Baia started her fitness career at
the Lakeland Hills Family YMCA in New Jersey as a personal trainer and was
later promoted to fitness director. Although she enjoyed that position for many
years, she always wanted to open a small business. Today she has achieved that
goal and is president of Fitness 4 Fun LLC, a personal training studio in
Pompton Plains, New Jersey.

What
Motivated the Change?
Baia has joint custody of her daughter
and wanted more control of her work hours. “Having a teenage daughter also
motivated me to follow my dream, because I could spend more time with her and
stay close to her school,” she says. “I wanted the flexibility to attend to
family matters at a moment’s notice without the frustration of [answering to] a
higher authority.”

Challenges.
One of Baia’s biggest challenges was finding start-up
financing. “I also had to get permits and find out what was required to
construct the business,” she says. “I had to attend a town council planning
board meeting and represent myself. Working closely with contractors,
negotiating pricing with contractors and learning how to spend my money wisely
were other challenges.”

Support/Resources
That Helped Her.
Baia says she wouldn’t have been able to
handle those challenges without the support of close friends and family
members. She also worked with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and
secured an SBA-backed loan.

Effect
on Personal Life.
On the days Baia’s daughter is not living
with her, she works about 14 hours a day. “I am the janitor, maintenance crew,
president, personal trainer and decision maker,” she notes.

Joys
of Creating Her Own Business.
Baia loves getting back to
where she discovered her passion for fitness—personal training. “When I was the
fitness director, I spent so much time with budgets, meetings, scheduling,
employees, member concerns and compliments,” she says. “Now I’m able to apply
the management skills I learned and practiced as a director. I can also give
personal attention to my customers.”

Tips
for Other Fitness Pros.
Develop a business plan, Baia
advises. “Take the time to prepare and ‘run the numbers’ to see if they will
work for you. Hire an experienced accountant! Become a better business person,
pick a good location and know your competition.”

Impact
on Career Satisfaction.
Ask Baia how she likes running her
own business and she says, “I just love the spirit we are creating at Fitness 4
Fun.”

Starting Your Own Training Studio

After being a successful fitness pro in
the 1980s, Nancy L. Jerominski was fired from her job because of out-of-control
drinking and drug use. After getting and staying sober (for going on 10 years
now), she asked her previous employer for a second chance. When she was
reinstated, she felt grateful and had every intention of staying. However, she
left that job to become a traveling trainer and now operates a training
business out of her home and converted garage. Jerominski, an IDEA Elite
Personal Trainer, an ACE-certified personal trainer and a C.H.E.K. Institute
lifestyle and exercise coach, is the owner of NLJ Fitness & Wellness
Consulting in SeaTac, Washington.

What
Motivated the Change?
Although Jerominski liked her old job,
she was dismayed when some staff claimed certifications they didn’t have.
“After sending letters to the managers and owners asking them to address the
situation and not having it happen, I felt like I had no choice but to inform
[the certification company],” she explains. After this, she found her work
environment increasingly stressful, and several months later, she terminated
her training agreement.

Challenges.
Because Jerominski suddenly left the gym where she’d been working, her
challenge was finding new clients. “However, when I ultimately stopped
traveling [to train people in their homes], a decent base of clients was
willing to come to my home studio,” she says.

Support/Resources
That Helped Her.
Jerominski used her personal credit cards
judiciously to buy new equipment for her home studio, but she hasn’t had to
take out a huge business loan. She also credits the managers at her last job
for their initial support. “Were it not for their willingness to let me redeem
myself, the journey back to coaching and training would have been considerably
more difficult.”

Effect
on Personal Life.
The impact of moving her business to a home
studio has been positive. “I’m
home with my dogs more, I don’t spend money on gas, and I can actually manage
running the house in-between clients,” she says. “I ask potential clients how
they feel about dogs, but I’ve yet to have someone not be totally enchanted
with our two rat terriers.”

Joys
of Creating a Home Studio.
Working out of her home and
watching her training space evolve is very rewarding to Jerominski. “The only
one responsible for where I go now is me,” she says. “I find I prefer to live
my life this way; it keeps me sharp.”

Tips
for Other Fitness Pros.
For fitness pros thinking about
opening a home studio, Jerominski advises checking with your family/significant
other. “My domestic partner and I agreed on some ground rules so she would feel
comfortable while I conduct my business in our home,” she explains.

Impact
on Career Satisfaction.
“When I started training in 2003, I
charged $25 an hour,” she says. “In just a few years, my rates have more than
tripled, and my horizons are limitless. Every one of my clients teaches me to
become a better person.”

Going From Full-Time to Part-Time

From 2000 to mid 2004, certified fitness
trainer Gretchen M. Ashton owned a studio called The Fitness Coach in Carlsbad,
California. She loved her studio, her clients and the top-notch team she had
assembled. Although Ashton hoped to run the studio for several years, that’s
not what happened. She now works in a fitness center part-time and is exploring
entrepreneurial opportunities.

What
Motivated the Change?
When the property owner sold the
building that housed the studio to the nearby grocery store, Ashton could not
relocate her business within the same shopping center. “Other space in my area
was hard to find and expensive,” she says.

As it turned out, not having the responsibility of the storefront
for the next couple of years was a good thing. “During this time, I experienced
and supported my immediate family members through the death of a spouse,
cancer, surgery due to orthopedic complications from arthritis, the birth of a
grandchild and my son being injured in military combat,” Ashton
explains.

Challenges.
Upon closing the studio, she moved The Fitness Coach into two
different facilities to accommodate her clients. Although her clients did
follow her, factors such as higher fees and different membership requirements
ultimately made the situation less than ideal. Ashton now works at a large
facility, and some longtime clients still train with her. “After 2 years of
trying to make inroads at this facility, I am disappointed to learn that it
lacks many industry standards and ethics,” she says. “I have gradually cut my
hours from 30 to 10 or less and have begun to train clients in their homes.”

Support/Resources
That Helped Her.
Ashton credits her husband for providing
incredible support. “Also, keeping my credentials up-to-date has been the best
resource for maintaining my identity and self-worth in the industry,” she says.

Effect
on Personal Life.
Going part-time had a significant impact on
Ashton’s financial contribution to her family. However, “the potential income
for an in-home personal trainer is much greater than other jobs,” she says.
“I’m grateful that when the family events occurred, I had this career to rely
on.”

Joys
of Working Part-Time.
A flexible schedule has allowed Ashton
to spend quality time with her loved ones. “Family has always been my first
priority,” she says. “To be able to work at something I love and still be there
for my family is ideal.”

Tips
for Other Fitness Pros.
What advice does Ashton have for
trainers who go part-time for family reasons? “Maintain your certifications and
gain as much knowledge and experience as possible through continuing education
and practical application,” she urges. “Go to fitness events and keep [learning
from] others in the industry.”

Impact
on Career Satisfaction.
Ashton says that, career-wise, owning
her own studio was highly satisfying. “However, even the good things in life
have their price,” she explains. “As the owner, I worked about 60 hours a
week.” And she feels she is settling well into her new arrangement: “I’ve come
to realize that in my area, with my current options, I’m happier and more
equipped to manage my family’s needs when working privately with clients [than
I am when working a lot of hours at a gym]. I’ve developed a blossoming writing
career and plan to bring fitness to life in the scuba diving community.”

SIDEBAR: Tips for Creating Change

Do you want to make changes in
your fitness career? Kate Larsen, PCC, executive coach of Winning LifeStyles
Inc., in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and author of
Progress Not Perfection
(Expert Publishing Inc. 2007) offers these suggestions:

Before
You Change.
How do you know if you are ready to make a change in
your career? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What else have I seen that
    looks interesting, would enhance my current experience and is something I could
    do?
  • What are the financial
    implications of my change? What do I need to monitor, save, raise and budget
    for to make this change?
  • What about this decision
    might I regret? What would lead to the least amount of regret?
  • What is the best thing that
    could happen if I stayed with what I’m doing? What is the best thing that could
    happen if I made the change?

Lessening
Downsides to Change.
Have you decided that you want to make a
change? These strategies may alleviate any potential negatives you may
encounter.

  1. Make a step-by-step plan. You may want to
    hire a business coach to help you articulate your vision and hold you
    accountable.
  2. Align yourself with others who are also
    eager to try something new. They don’t have to be in the fitness industry.
    Attend networking lunches. Contact other people you know who have taken a risk
    in their careers. List 3–4 questions, and ask if you can interview them over a
    cup of coffee.
  3. Keep your dream alive with something
    tangible to re-energize you. Suggestions include a picture, a logo posted where
    you can see it or a photo collage of possibilities.
  4. Practice healthy habits, such as smart
    eating, exercise and sleep. It’s easy to go on overdrive and burn out when you
    are trying to make something happen.
  5. Be
    realistic, and manage your expectations.

SIDEBAR: When You Need to Move

Sometimes you make changes in your career because your
significant other wants to change. This is often the case when one partner is
offered a new job in another town and the family has to relocate. For example,
Teri Bladen, MS, ACSM-certified health/fitness instructor and ACE-certified
personal trainer, has lived in four cities in the past 10 years. Her husband,
who works in higher-education administration, has been offered great job
opportunities that meant moving every few years. Here’s how Bladen navigates
the ups and downs of changing and relocating.

Biggest
Challenges.
Starting over in each new area is a challenge. “To get a
head start, I let my colleagues know when I’m on the move and ask if they have
any contacts in the new area,” Bladen says. “In one case, an equipment vendor
gave me a contact at a university that led to a job interview. I also check a
list of employment websites on a regular basis, including local university and
community colleges, corporate wellness sites and the fitness industry. While
finding management positions might be a challenge, I’ve never had trouble
finding employment in general. When I move, I look for instructor positions. I
love to teach and want to get to know the local community and discover what
other opportunities might exist.”

Joys
of Moving.
Although starting all over can be a challenge, Bladen has
found it invigorating as well. “Moving to a new place has given me the
opportunity to continue to evaluate what I love about our industry and what
direction I may want to go in next,” she says. “I’ve broadened my experiences
greatly, getting to do fitness programming at four different large
universities, working in corporate fitness and teaching academically. I love
that we’ve lived in many beautiful places: south-central Indiana, Colorado,
Arizona and now gorgeous Mountain Green, Utah. It’s a privilege to experience
so many interesting environments.”

Tips
for Fitness Pros Who Need to Move.
Bladen’s advice? “Stay current
with trends, knowledge and skill sets. Research new areas of interest to see if
they’re something you want to pursue. See what insights colleagues can share.
Keep an open mind . . . what new ways can you use your skill set that will
bring you joy and income?”

April
Durrett, an IDEA contributing editor, is an award-winning health, fitness and
lifestyle writer and editor. She can be reached at [email protected]