Here’s the challenge for many personal trainers trying to make their own way instead of hiring on at the nearest big-box gym: business management. You know all about muscle building, weight loss, nutrition, metabolism, physiology and sports psychology. They were part of the certification course—and a big part of your life before you went pro with your fitness. What your training and experience don’t always teach you is how to manage your business.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that you already know the most important part of business success: setting and achieving specific goals. It’s how you succeeded with your own fitness, and it’s what you teach your clients every day. All that’s left between you and building success is applying your goal-setting knowledge to the business side of what you do.
Here’s a six-step breakdown on how to take what you know and apply it to growing your business:
Step 1: Broadly Define Your Desired Result
New clients come to you every week and set themselves broad goals like developing bigger muscles or losing weight. You know how to turn their requests into processes for positive change. You even know how to translate what clients say into what they actually want. It’s part of your job.
Approach your business goal process the same way. What change do you want to see in your business? Do you want more clients, your own location or more evenings off to be with your family? Write down what you want at the top of a sheet of paper. Just as you do with your clients, you might have to translate what you write into what you really mean. “Get more clients” can mean just that. Or perhaps it means you want more money, which can be accomplished by raising your rates, reducing overhead or expanding your client base.
Step 2: Set Precise Goals
Oftentimes, clients who set specific goals—like losing 40 pounds before a wedding—make better progress than those who stick with the broad definition from Step 1.
Precise goals are specific and measurable, and they have a time limit. In the gym, it’s the difference between a broad goal like “getting ripped” and something more specific, like “losing 2% body fat while adding 5 inches to my chest in 3 months.” One is nebulous; the other is clearly defined. With that first one, it’s impossible to know when you’ve finished or how much progress you’ve made. The precise one lets you know exactly where you stand on the road to success.
Turn your broad definition into a specific goal to accomplish in the next 6–12 months. Examples might be taking on a new client every week from now until your birthday or finding a better gym to contract out of when your current contract ends in 3 months. Be ready to define a new goal once you accomplish what you’ve set out to do. This will happen sooner than you expect.
Step 3: Create a Schedule
No goal gets met if you don’t work on it regularly. With clients, this means scheduling sessions each week and setting goals for eating and activity between those sessions. You hold your clients accountable for those assignments by checking on them during your sessions.
The scheduling part of this step is easy. Just book time to work on your business goal every week. You might set aside Monday mornings to give free assessments at a local sporting goods store and Thursday evenings to go over your finances. Treat this time as seriously as you would an appointment with your highest-paying client. The hard part of this step is the accountability; nobody will give you grief if you skip the stuff you don’t like.
The best solution to the accountability issue is to find a partner who can meet with you and check your progress. Another personal trainer or business owner is a great choice, since that person knows what you’re going through and you can return the favor. Parents and siblings also work pretty well. However, I don’t recommend using your spouse or romantic partner. Those relationships bring too many emotions and other personal elements with them to work well.
Step 4: Build the Routine
When working with clients, you develop programs that address their goals. Knowing ahead of time what each session will involve helps your clients get the most out of each workout. Give the same treatment to building your business.
Clearly define what you need to accomplish during each designated time block, and dive in with the same gusto you expect from your clients. The more you hate the task you’ve scheduled, the more clearly and precisely you should define the routine. It’s easier to procrastinate when you have something vague like “marketing” on your agenda than it is when your list is more specific: Make six 10-minute phone calls to leads, for example.
Step 5: Work and Check
This step is identical for both your workout sessions and your business goals. Work your routine whenever it shows up on your agenda—day in, day out, week after week. Once a month, check your progress toward your goal. If necessary, tweak the routine to improve productivity. As a trainer and an athlete, you’ll find this to be the easiest step in the process. It’s what you do, and what you coach others to do.
Step 6: Increase the Weight
Sure, your client made significant gains during 2 weeks of bench pressing 150 pounds. He’s even feeling strong because of how much easier the sets are now than they were when he started. But as his body adapts to the stimulus, he’s getting less out of the routine. At this stage, you would likely add some weight to encourage continued progress.
Once you’ve worked your goals systematically for a business quarter or two, you might find tasks that once were hard have become easy. You’ve exercised your business, communication and organizational “muscles.” Now is the time to review your routines. Pump up the duties you’re finding easy—make 10 phone calls a week instead of six, for example—or use the extra time to focus on other tasks you still find difficult.
Build It Strong and Lean
Using these six steps will make your business stronger and leaner than you imagined. Just take the work ethic and processes you already have in place with your clients and apply those tools to growing your business.
SIDEBAR: Rest Period for Best Business Gains
You already tell your clients to rest between workouts. It gives their bodies time to recover and rebuild. You tell them that not taking a rest means fewer gains, not more. Many trainers fill their schedules with clients, then work on their business in the hours that should be reserved for rest, recreation and time with family. Here are a few hints about following your own advice when it comes to building your business.
- Set small, short-term goals, to keep you from overcommitting when you’re excited.
- Also have big, long-term goals, so those small, daily goals build up into impressive final results.
- Schedule your key “you tasks” in the morning, so you won’t cancel them as the day gets hectic.
- Learn to say no to favors that cut into family time or hobby time.
- Every day, schedule free time that’s not for business or exercise, and treat it just as you would an appointment with a client.
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