In the first four articles of this five-part series, I introduced the success ingredients integral to quality growth. In this final Best Practices article I will discuss ways you can increase your income, whether you wish to remain strictly a trainer or prefer to expand into management/ownership.

Moving Up the Income Ladder

A common question I receive from trainers around the world is what to do once they succeed in attracting and retaining a loyal following. At that stage their schedule is full. They are coaching hands-on, hour by hour, all day, with no time left over. These trainers wish to parlay their success into something greater, yet there is no more time available to take on the extra clients that would lead to additional income.

I first remind trainers to carefully assess their current situation, compensation and lifestyle—more is not always better—and if considering a business growth strategy, to ensure they know what they are getting into. Operating as an independent trainer can be very different from running a business. Those who love to train, and have the physicality and motivation to deliver this service day after day with quality and enthusiasm, may do best to cap their growth here. It is a simple formula that necessitates little “business time.” Just be careful to leave enough hours open to deal with marketing, basic bookkeeping and attention to customer service so you can maintain your following.

Most personal trainers do not come from a business background and as such do not yet know if they have an affinity for the business side of training, in terms of either acumen or enjoyment. The good news is that there are growth options that allow you to continue to spend a substantial amount of time training clients, while other models require you to become immersed in the business functions that are necessary if you wish to significantly grow your business. Do your homework so you select a path that meets the training–business blend you seek.

I Don’t Like Business; I Just Want to Train

If you are the kind of person who excels at training and wants to spend your working hours doing just that, there are still ways to increase your income. By simply leveraging your existing training skills, you can graduate from one-on-one to one-on-two training or even to small-group training. In this way you can offer your services in a format that creates more revenue per hour. This progression may require an investment in additional equipment and space, depending on your training environment.

You might even consider teaming up with other specialty instructors. For example, offer physical conditioning programs in tandem with a dance instructor, or work with a population such as triathletes (on injury pre/postrehab), alongside a physical therapist. Two different specialists together can attract a group of participants and gain more business per hour through clinic-style intake, small-group intake or camp formats.

Being a Businessperson Sounds Good to Me

A massive step for an in-demand trainer is to hire additional trainers in order to take on more clients. Before you add new staff, you need to define your exercise paradigm, coaching style and communication methods. To grow your business, hire personal trainers who can “replicate” your methods, rather than randomly applying training in a variety of styles. This way, loyal clients will know they will enjoy a consistent exercise experience, whether they are with you or with one of your trainers.

Pay attention to your business environment. Hire people who prefer to work as a team and who want to make the business successful. Constructive leadership and a positive environment go a long way toward staff retention. The more continuity in staff you enjoy, the more you are able to focus on growing your business. It can be expensive and frustrating to teach your business model to your trainers, only to have them jump to another facility, so be proactive and anticipate this by structuring employee contracts in a way that encourages your trainers to stay with you. Also, at this stage, unless you plan to operate outdoors or make arrangements with locations such as recreation centers, you need to think of a bricks and mortar facility. Additional trainers and clientele require space to train.

When beginning a traditional training business from scratch, something will suffer. If you continue to train hands-on for much of the day, your learning curve, which is extremely steep, will be drawn out over a longer period. You must also leave time in your day to deal with both constructive business opportunities and fires that need putting out. Immersing yourself in the business side takes hours away from training and reduces the revenue that training draws in, so you need to factor in the “lost” personal income during this critically important, capital-intensive business setup stage.

The business process required to leverage your training knowledge and experience into business growth is well addressed in Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It (HarperCollins 1995). Gerber suggests that you cannot build a successful business around stars (top trainers); rather, the system of the business has to be the “star.” Add excellent trainers to a top business system and you have a winning combination.

There are three levels of contributors to your business—the entrepreneur, who invents, creates, builds and drives the business; the manager, who designs and runs the system that will organize, fulfill and track the business captured from the entrepreneurial level; and the technician, who in our industry is the trainer who knows and follows the system. All three contributor types need to buy into your system if your business is to grow and thrive.

Consider a Franchise

As it is a huge challenge to transition from doing straightforward training to running a business, many trainers choose to align themselves with an established franchise that has a proven business model. This format creates a partnership between yourself and the parent company. The franchiser can teach you exactly what works on the business side, provide a results-oriented infrastructure and give you the mechanics for all processes—bookkeeping, Web marketing, registrations, customer service, staff orientations and so on—to help you step into your new role more easily. Essentially, the parent company has already learned what does and doesn’t work, and your adoption of its model can save you many steps and allow you to ramp up your business right out of the gate.


Stepping up to present in front of groups has two advantages—it can create new revenue sources for you and market your expertise to prospective clients. Choose a subject that is in your realm of expertise and will interest your audience, whether that be weight loss, core strength, balance, sport-specific training, injury prevention, nutrition or some other timely topic. You can speak to parents, active adults or other groups who will benefit from your services. A mix of information and practical exercise tips is often well received. You may decide to speak for free to gain listeners you can later service once you have captured their attention. Remember, it takes time to prepare for a presentation, travel
to the location, set up, give the talk,
then answer questions and communicate with attendees about your training services. Do you have the hours available to do this well?


There are several levels of involvement in the product game. They range from investing low amounts of time and capital in a few products to establishing a full-fledged product distribution arm of your business (see the sidebar “Marketing and Selling Products” on page 7). If you desire to establish a product distribution company (offering education and/or exercise products), you will require minimally a six-figure investment for inventory, warehousing, website design and maintenance, collateral materials like catalogs, trade show representation, sales and customer service representatives, marketing, advertising, warranty fulfillment, legal and financial services, accounting, shipping and the high cost of insurance for first points of entry. Expect to travel to buyer shows and deal with manufacturers, overseas suppliers and container-load buying. One other important point to keep in mind as you ramp up is that most top products are tied up in exclusive distribution contracts with companies who do this very well and commit massive expenditures to generate market demand for products. There is no way to cut corners and be successful, so going “big” requires a lot of consideration.

No matter which path you take, be prepared for new challenges, opportunities and experiences. Use your time and resources to grow your business in a way that resonates for you, and you will always consider your time well spent. n

Add excellent
trainers to a top business system
and you have
a winning