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Starting From Scratch

Creating a successful personal training business that you love.

Just recently I finished coaching Jennifer, who had been working full-time in the corporate world for years while working part-time as a group exercise instructor. The long commutes to work and overtime hours she put in were beginning to take a toll on her spirit, body and family life.

She sought me out and hired me as her coach and mentor to help her methodically and honestly delve into the possibility of quitting her job and starting her own in-home personal training business as a sole proprietor. During our 3-month coaching period, she did just that! She quit her job, earned her first personal trainer credential and officially opened her new business. I had so much fun helping a fellow fitness professional create a sound, professional business identity from scratch.

I officially opened my personal training business, known then as Body by Kay, in 1988 after finishing my master’s degree in secondary education. I initially offered my personal training services in the health club only. I went to strictly in-home training in 1992 after that fitness facility was sold. So in essence, I created my in-home training business out of necessity. But what a blessing that turned out to be! Here I am in 2011, still doing well. I’m enjoying control over my own career and still training some of the clients who started with me as far back as 1991. My company name has changed to Cross Coaching & Wellness, I still maintain a large number of personal training clients, and I began offering personal coaching and small-business coaching to new clients in 2004.

I really enjoy coaching people who are building their own personal training businesses. I like saving them from mistakes I have made through the years. That’s why I wrote this five-article series: to show all you self-motivated, disciplined, confident, go-getter fitness personalities how to build a simple and profitable in-home personal training business from scratch. So, let’s start walking you through this business-building process.

This article details all the necessary background work to starting a business. It includes answering strategic questions and spending time making calls or searching for information online.

Answer Strategic Questions

Answer the following questions on paper or in a computer document so you can review them later:

  1. What do you really want to create? If you started your own business, what do you want it to look like (e.g., I want to be able to offer in-home personal training within a 15-mile radius of my house and provide personal wellness coaching from my home; I want control over my schedule, hourly wages, time off, etc.; I want to be more in control of my life)?
  2. What services do people need, and what do you want to offer (e.g., I want to offer personalized fitness assessments/reasonable strength training programs/flexibility exercises/coaching by phone in the comfort of their home or mine)?
  3. Why do you think an in-home business in your area can succeed (e.g., we live in an affluent area where people are willing to pay for privacy and convenience and want to have some exercise equipment at home; area residents want exercise to be as convenient and stress-free as possible)?
  4. How much can you charge for your services?
  5. Where is your target area?
  6. Who is your ideal client? Who do you most enjoy working with, and who do you believe can afford your services?
  7. Why do you think you can succeed as your own boss? What qualities do you have that will ensure that you can succeed year after year and when the going gets a little tough?

These questions are important because they ground you in reality from the beginning. I started training clients in-home during a recession. I kept my full-time job as a schoolteacher until I had almost enough clients during the summer to replace my monthly salary. When I reached that point, I resigned my teaching position and began offering personal training full-time. My business grew slowly at first but made enough to pay my bills and let me survive.

However, many of you may not have the flexibility of a schoolteacher’s schedule, so you need to either work another job while you are starting your business or have a spouse who can support the two of you while you slowly grow your company to profitability. The key point here: Don’t be stupid. Never quit a well-paying job for something that has not yet panned out. You may have to suffer awhile to get your business going and creating a good cash flow, so be mentally and physically prepared for that.

Learn About Your Competitors

It is always helpful to know the services your competitors are offering and what they are charging before you make the leap to being your own boss. Google your local fitness studios and in-home personal trainers (if there are some in your desired target area) to see

  • what services they offer;
  • what they charge for those services; and
  • what the trainer’s credentials are.

Answers to these questions will give you an idea of where to start based on how your expertise and services compare to the local competition.

Take a Good Look at Your Credentials

When I began coaching Jennifer on starting her own business, she had no personal training certifications. I asked her to examine her options online with the organizations that I believe have the most national clout: NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association, www.nsca-lift.org), ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine, www.acsm.org), ACE (American Council on Exercise, www.acefitness.org) and NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine, www.nasm.org). Yes, there are many more certifying agencies out there, so feel free to check out all your options. However, finding out what local fitness studios are requiring of their trainers and interviewing other trainers will tell you a lot. The certifications they look for when hiring a trainer will be a good guide to what certification agencies you want to look into.

Once you have narrowed down the certification you want, order the study materials and plan an exam date at least 3 months away to allow plenty of study time. Then outline a study plan and a practice-exam date. You will not be able to print your business cards or officially start business until you have a credential in your hand and on a certificate. If you already have a certification or two, you may want to gain additional experience and credibility by adding another certification to your tool box and resumé.

Set Your Foundation

Every sound business starts from a good base. Before becoming your own boss, you have to ask yourself: Can I do it? Do I have the drive, ambition, discipline, personality and desire to keep myself motivated and my business organized and thriving? Lots of us have grandiose ideas, but do we have the actual character and follow-through to make them happen? Only you know the true you and whether you want to be in a business for the long haul. To train clients in-home and keep them coming back for more, you must possess the attitude and personality they want to see week after week and year after year. In essence, you have to be both a motivator and an entertainer. Training people in-home requires a special person with a special gift: a servant’s heart.

SIDEBAR: Interview Other Personal Trainers

Consider interviewing other colleagues in the industry who are not in your target training area (to avoid direct competition with them). Get their feedback on the pros and cons of owning their own in-home personal training business. For example, if you know an in-home personal trainer 40 miles or more from you, offer to pay him or her to give you valuable input during a 60- to 90-minute consult by phone. Even better, hire a coach or personal trainer who owns her own in-home personal training business who will guide you through the process of setting up your business.

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