If your spouse was offered a dream job in another city or if you moved simply to freshen up your life and career, do you think you could surmount the challenges of “starting over” as a personal fitness trainer (PFT) in a new environment?

A PFT’s business flourishes on a loyal client base, referrals and familiarity with surroundings. If you’ve been at the same gym for years and everyone knows you, or you’ve had the same clients privately for a decade, moving will mean leaving behind your comfort zone and solid renewal base. Although you’ll be reentering the rookie ranks and essentially starting from scratch, you can use many of the training skills and experiences you’ve amassed to arrive well prepared and with realistic expectations.

Moving can recharge your batteries and give you the opportunity to expand yourself professionally and personally. If you previously worked on another trainer’s staff, it can give you the opportunity to cultivate your own clientele and develop your own training persona. Your relocation plan doesn’t have to be dramatic, either. You may be expanding your business to a location across town or simply seeking employment at a different gym. No matter what you’re planning, know that you can make the transition smooth by doing some important homework.

Take a Personal Inventory

Start by putting all your cards on the table. What certifications do you have? What type of clientele do you want? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you like cold weather or do you prefer a warm climate? Are you a versatile trainer? Do you prefer working in a gym or going outside with a group? Knowing the answers to these questions can make your decision on where to move much easier.

You can also determine your options more accurately when you know your abilities. A good way to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses is to ask present and former clients and other trainers who have worked with you to fill out evaluation sheets (see “Sample Evaluation Questionnaire” below). Keep the process anonymous to encourage your participants to be 100 percent honest. Once you’ve collected and compiled the data, you should have a clearer picture of both your “bread and butter” strengths and the skills on which you need to improve.

Do Some Research

Once you’ve completed your personal inventory, begin researching the training and fitness environment in the location to which you’re thinking about moving. Look in the Yellow Pages, search on the Internet and contact certification institutions.

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking. The Yellow Pages often have information not found in cyberspace. For example, smaller gyms or training facilities and private trainers may opt to list services in print rather than online. Get the most recent Yellow Pages available, as businesses can close, get new phone numbers or even change ownership or locations within a year.

Look to the Internet. Go online and search for gyms, health clubs, personal trainers and any other fitness-related listings in the area. Internet search engines such as Google (www.google.com), Ask Jeeves (www.ask.com), LookSmart (search .looksmart.com) and Mamma (http:// mamma.com), can simplify this search.

Use Industry Resources. Certification bodies may be able to assist you in your research. Depending on the organization, you may be able to obtain a breakdown of the certified PFTs—and their specialties—in a particular city or state. Although you may have to pay for it, the detailed information could save you a lot of research time and help you set your sights accurately.

Put Your Research
to Work

Pick up the telephone and take your research to the next level. If you’re relocating to a new city, the phone is your most valuable tool for unearthing more information. Call and talk to receptionists on your list of gyms. Ask a lot of questions and take notes. Sample questions include: How many trainers work there? Does management allow independent training? If so, what is the fee for using the facility? Do trainers need their own fitness insurance, or does the facility cover it? What does management look for when hiring trainers, and how often do they hire? Are they hiring now? What is the client profile? When is the facility most crowded? How much are memberships?

In addition to speaking with the receptionist, make every effort to speak with trainers. Ask for the PFT director first, but if the director isn’t available, talk with any available trainer who can give you a clearer picture of the facility’s training culture. Be straightforward. Explain who you are and briefly outline your plan to relocate; ask if it would be all right to ask a few questions for your research on the area. The objective is to uncover the facility’s pricing structure for personal training. Sample questions include: Are clients sold individual sessions or packages? How are payments accepted? Are clients provided for PFTs, or are trainers expected to sell on the training floor? This information will give you some idea of how much money you can expect to make there or, alternatively, how much you can charge based on the norm for the area.

Use your phone interviews as an
opportunity to gauge how trainers feel about the facility for which they work. You may be able to ascertain this by their tone, attitude and willingness to answer questions. If you are encouraged by your phone research, make an appointment to meet with managers in select facilities. Even if you aren’t planning to visit the new location immediately, you can still either make an appointment or make a note to yourself to call the person back when you have a specific date in mind. If you do make appointments far into the future, be sure to call and confirm your meetings about a week before going.

Scope Out Your Destination

With your self-evaluation and research complete, it’s time to visit your destination. Try to book as many job search
appointments as possible prior to your visit. Spend time in the facilities you like. Watch the trainers and clients; observe the group exercise classes to see how well attended they are; make mental notes
on the attitude of the staff and the
demeanor of the clients—do they look happy? All of these details can prove valuable in your decision making.

Try to visit the area once or twice more, and at different times of the year. Spend a weekend there during summer and winter. Try to expand your perspective beyond the fitness facility by talking to people who live in the community. Watch the local news channels, read community papers and walk around neighborhoods in which you might like to buy or rent property. There is no better way to learn the nuances of a community than by immersing yourself in it.

Most of all, use good sense. By being pragmatic and cautious when deciding if and then where you want to move, you will increase your chances of making a normally stressful and expensive venture less of both.