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Hiring a Business Manager

How to choose the person who can best work with you to propel your business to the next level.

At some point many personal training entrepreneurs decide they need assistance running their business. Are you trying to balance everything—training sessions, employee issues, business and financial matters, building and supplies, etc.? If so, it may be time to make a change. If you are at a juncture in your business life where you are feeling overwhelmed, stagnant, disorganized, frustrated or simply unable to get everything accomplished, it may be time to hire a business manager.

If you are trying to keep balance in your life and avoid the trap of working 70, 80 or even 90+ hours per week, I recommend that you make some strategic decisions to optimally benefit your business and personal life. When you reach a stage where you can no longer physically work any more hours or sessions, it is time to ask yourself a few questions:

1. Do I often yearn for “someone” to help me with daily operations?

2. Do I often have too little time to take care of all the details that are so important in running my business?

3. Do I often wish I had more time to do what I love?

4. Do I need to improve various areas of the business, such as systems development, customer service and administrative details?

5. Am I looking to grow my business, drive revenues and increase profitability?

6. Do I keep working 40+ sessions per week and work on the business only “when I have time”?

7. If I cut back my hours, do I increase my session rate, form semiprivate groups of 2–4 people or spend my time getting my other trainers busy?

8. Do I become the business manager and step away from training all together?

9. Do I hire a business manager and work with her to create a harmonious team that can catapult revenues?

Several years ago, it was not uncommon for me to do absolutely everything in my business. I was working 40+ sessions per week, handling most of the business’s challenges and opportunities and becoming overwhelmed by its growth. I conferred with a business mentor who recommended I hire a business manager. It was the best advice I ever heeded, as I ended up hiring a manager who changed the way my company was run and helped me form one of my strongest philosophies: Do what you do best, and hire the rest.

The Best Solution

Although I actually love running my business, my passion lies in dealing with clients. Nothing pleases me more. That being said, I cut my sessions back considerably so I could do something else I enjoy: lead my staff. There isn’t anything more important than my team, which has grown to over 33 employees. My company’s business manager helped make this growth possible.

Julie Wilcox became the business manager of Fitness Quest 10 in June 2005; she was one of the best things to happen to my company. Although I had worries about “not being able to afford a manager,” I soon discovered that I couldn’t afford not to hire Julie. Her 10 years of retail experience and 15 years in the restaurant industry brought a culture to Fitness Quest 10 that enhanced an already positive, friendly and energetic atmosphere. She augmented this by stressing ownership, customer service and a “can do” attitude.

There are many details that a business manager can assist you with. They include developing systems; creating a team playbook; organizing client files, e-mails and messages; ordering and stocking retail sales products; updating your website (through a content management system or communication with your Web master); handling bills, payroll and benefits; overseeing the client-tracking and check-in procedures; and doing monthly advertising and marketing.

These day-to-day details can add up to a very well organized big picture and a smoothly run operation. In addition to these important things, a business manager can deal with overall culture and service issues, such as improving and maintaining customer service (with thank-you and birthday cards and direct client contact); bringing in new business through consultations with potential new clients; managing (including hiring and firing) staff; communicating with employees and clients; and handling special projects that come up and need “just the right person” to take charge.

Hiring the Right Manager

Before you start searching and interviewing for a manager, you must define what it is you need, in both the business and the team sense. It is usually fairly easy during an interview to decide whether you can work with a person, based on that person’s style and personality, but it is important to make decisions about your business needs prior to the interview. You should hire a person who is strong in “must-have” areas, such as customer service, organization, computer skills, communication skills, ethics and honesty, leadership abilities, friendliness, positive outlook and ability to adopt a sense of ownership in the business. In addition to that, look for a candidate who is strong where you are weak. For example, if you aren’t comfortable or skilled in talking about financial issues with clients, look for that skill in your potential manager. If you are a “big-picture” person, hire someone who is very detail oriented and organized. You want someone who complements you, not someone who reflects you.

Once you have decided that you need a business manager for your personal training studio, there are several avenues you can take to fill that position. You can

  • advertise in trade publications
  • attend conferences and network
  • promote staff members who are looking to move into the business side of training
  • recruit from your client base. (This is actually how I found Julie. She was a client for several years and already had business and customer service skills. Despite doing a national search, I bucked tradition and went with someone who was right before my eyes, because I knew her.)


Having a full-time business manager has clearly changed my life. I now spend my time doing the things I love to do. By relinquishing some duties to a manager, I am able to offer about 25 training sessions per week, spend more time leading my staff, teach and motivate others at worldwide conferences and meetings, accept writing and speaking opportunities, facilitate “Mastermind Groups” (groups of like-minded business professionals), work toward the vision I have for the company (which includes completing a 5,000-square-foot expansion) and pursue other opportunities that fit within the corporate strategy. And when I’m away, I don’t worry about my business, as I know it’s in good hands, which is a very satisfying feeling!

Although I’m still intimately involved in all aspects of my company, it’s nice to have a manager who handles many of the details and operations. I know what is going on, yet I don’t have to be the one doing everything, all the time, anymore. It took faith and courage, but once I made the move to bring in a manager, I saw how critical it was to be surrounded by great people. Now I rely on my team to assist in realizing our mission and vision.

The life of a small-business entrepreneur is challenging and competitive. With a great team of people helping to augment your business, you can create a thriving enterprise that fulfills the drive that got you into this profession—making a difference in people’s lives and having some fun while fueling that passion.

Looking for a job in the fitness industry? Use the IDEA Job Board to find the perfect job for you. Want to post a job? Click here.

Compensating a Business Manager

Once you find the right person, you must compensate accordingly, based on experience, education and performance. Other issues, such as geographical location, facility size and company revenue, will also influence salary. A full-time business manager is likely to earn between $25,000 and $60,000 per year at a small studio. The demands of a larger facility may warrant a higher income. There are several ways to compensate your business manager, even on a shoestring budget. Here are four possible pay structures:

  • straight salary, regardless of revenue or growth
  • base salary plus commission based on revenue stream (e.g., $25,000 + 10% of gross revenues above a certain acceptable baseline level)
  • base salary plus commission based on growth (e.g., 10%–20% growth: $30,000 + 5% of growth; 21%–30% growth: $30,000 + 8% of growth; 31%–40% growth: $30,000 + 10% of growth; or ≥ 41% growth: $30,000 + 12% of growth)
  • base salary plus bonuses based on profitability of company

Regardless of how you compensate your business manager, it is important that both owner and manager communicate about expectations and have ongoing meetings to review all aspects of business and performance. When you find the right person and you compensate fairly and competitively, you both can help drive the business to record levels.

Is It Time to Hire a Business Manager?

How do you know if you need a business manager? You should seriously consider hiring a manager when

  • you often find yourself in “organized chaos”
  • you are working full-time in the business and not spending time working on the business
  • revenues are flat because you aren’t putting time into growing and developing the business
  • the business is growing and has become “unmanageable”
  • clients and customers are often frustrated at the breakdown of systems in your business (communication, phone calls, client tracking, financial discrepancies, etc.)


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Todd Durkin, MA

Todd Durkin, MA, owns Fitness Quest 10 and Todd Durkin Enterprises. He is a human performance specialist who trains dozens of elite, high-profile NFL and MLB athletes and is the head of the Under Armour® Performance Training Council. Todd is also the recipient of the 2004 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and the 2005 ACE Personal Trainer of the Year awards. Certifications: ACE, NSCA

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