Today, many personal trainers invest their time in several complementary work roles rather than holding a single job. Employment experts call this strategy “slashing,” because people who do it often describe their work roles with slashes in between.
Personal trainer Ashley Pettit of Chicago calls herself a personal trainer/nutritionist/gym manager. “I spend most of my time performing the operational duties of a gym manager,” she says, “but the most income comes from personal training and nutrition combination packages.” Hybrid careers energize slashers like Pettit, even if they find it a challenge to keep everything in balance. “I feel more fulfilled and efficient with numerous roles,” she says. Pettit’s clients have also told her they believe her interrelated roles make her a better fitness professional.
Is slashing a good choice for your career? Discover how slashing works for different fitness pros and learn some pros and cons to the slashing work life.
Slashing is not the same as dabbling or moonlighting. “People who set up slash lives usually give a lot of thought to whether their particular combination jibes well,” says Marci Alboher, author of One Person, Multiple Careers (Heymarci.com 2012). Most pair a traditional career with other more flexible roles. Alboher calls these the anchor and orbiters, respectively.
Anchor jobs often require you to be at a specific place during fixed work hours. Orbiters may allow you to set your own work pace and schedule, and they are often performed online, over the phone or from a home office. “[An] orbiter isn’t necessarily less of a priority, but often it’s the thing that can be more flexibly done,” says Alboher.
Personal training can be an anchor or an orbiter, depending on how you do it. If you work a set schedule for a large gym or corporation, training may be an anchor role, and you fit other roles into your off-hours. If your personal training consists of freelance sessions with individual clients, you may be able to add a job with fixed hours. It’s important to pay attention to the time and energy you’ll invest in each slash, and to the money you’ll earn. Different roles will likely have different financial and personal payoffs.
You can find many ways to diversify your career within the fitness industry. Some personal trainers sell training plans or fitness videos. Others teach physical education classes or write health-related blogs or articles. Intermittent fitness modeling might provide extra income and enhance your professional image. Group sessions can supplement individual training.
If you are drawn to many opportunities, establish priorities based on your personal experiences and goals. Los Angeles personal trainer and clinical nutritionist Jennifer Cassetta is passionate about martial arts and has a third-degree black belt in hapkido. After fending off an attacker on the streets of New York City, Cassetta created her workshops for women, called “Stilettos and Self-Defense™.” Teaching the workshops allowed her to refine her program, and she recently launched online sales of a related DVD series. Slashes that reflect who you are and who you want to become can be extremely rewarding.
Slashes can grow from your work in several ways. You might add services to better meet clients’ needs or find ways to extend your services to new clientele. A trainer who works primarily with obese, middle-aged women might seek a job teaching weight loss skills to teens at the local youth center or to seniors in a nearby retirement community. Programs you create can be tailored to suit different audiences. Extending yourself professionally keeps your skills sharp and adds depth to your resumé.
Of course, some trainers do completely unrelated jobs when they aren’t in the gym. Working outside the fitness industry—for instance, as an accountant, a personal chef or a Web designer—can provide an energizing change of context and content. Hobbies can also become exciting and profitable slashes. But turning a passion into a paying role may be more difficult than you think. It can also take the joy out of a favorite pastime. You may love to play piano but dislike teaching lessons to neighborhood kids. Consider the practical requirements of a potential slash before you decide.
Slash careers offer physical, emotional and practical benefits as well as career benefits. “Personal training is hard on your body,” says instructor and life coach Gretchen Sunderland of Queensbury, New York. “You’re on your feet, demonstrating exercises, dragging equipment around.” Twelve years ago, Sunderland decided to become a life coach, a role that allows her to work from home, with clients all over the world. Life coaching is less physically demanding, and it has been a smart move financially for Sunderland. “Few people living in my area have the income to afford personal training services,” she says. Life coaching draws on a larger pool of potential clients because it is done over the phone, and the hourly pay is higher.
Slashing is also a great way to combat boredom. Personal trainers see different people each day, but they often do the same tasks over and over, Sunderland says. Adding work roles allows you to learn and grow in new directions without giving up your primary source of income. You may also build skills that enable you to pursue other career paths in the future.
Perhaps the best personal benefit of a slash career is the adaptability it affords. Slashers can put as much time and effort into each area as they choose, and they can shift their focus to fit with the economic climate and their own life stage. Roles that work when you are young and single may not fit so well when you are putting two kids through college. A blended career gives you more control over how you work and live.
Diversifying your career can be challenging. Time is in short supply for people who juggle several roles. Although you may be attracted to slashing because it offers added flexibility, it’s wise to keep a calendar of commitments so you don’t lose track. Create checklists of required tasks, and systems for getting things done. And dedicate time to each role so you can focus.
If you are a slash entrepreneur, you’ll have to do the work of running a business, including product development and planning, basic bookkeeping and marketing. Even passive income strategies aren’t completely hands-off; you’ll need to make potential customers aware of what you’re selling. Certified strength and conditioning specialist and USAW sport performance coach Adam Kessler of Columbus, Ohio, initially designed his own websites, but eventually he found that upgrading them needed more programming skills than he had. Rather than learning Web development, he hired help.
Kessler advises other business owners to “identify what you are extremely good at, what you do that directly brings money into your business, and then try to outsource the rest.” It may be difficult to accept the idea of spending money to hire another person to do work you could do yourself. Cassetta acknowledges, “It’s hard to think of your personal income as business capital,” but says, “it’s the only way to hire help.” She reinvests her extra paychecks into her business, and she says someday she’ll hire an assistant.
Your roles will likely change over time as you add new slashes and cut back on others. Cassetta recently took 4 months away from her home base to travel with a fitness training client full-time. The job required her to shift other priorities, and she disbanded her boot camp and handed off paying clients to other trainers. You may need to make similar trade-offs to create room for a new slash. Trying to do it all can lead to lower work quality and eventual burnout.
Slash careers require thoughtful planning and periodic review. List your short- and long-term goals on paper on a quarterly basis, and break large projects into smaller action steps. Assign deadlines to hold yourself accountable. Also share your goals with a mastermind group or mentor who can follow up on your progress. As a personal trainer, you know how valuable it is to have someone else invested in your success.
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