While the economic outlook may be bleak right now, your chances of attending a fitness convention in 2009 don’t have to be. You might think you need to put off “live” continuing education, but don’t deprive yourself of this valuable opportunity. It’s crucial to diversify your skills and stay marketable as a fitness professional, especially when the economy stumbles.

Learn what factors you should plan for and how you can raise the money to attend an IDEA fitness event this year. Fitness pros from around the world share their tips on how to jump over financial or logistical hurdles.

Investing in Yourself

While attending a fitness convention does cost money, it is money well spent to further your career. “I plan for one major conference every year,” says Dana Schlossberg, MS, owner of Custom Health Concepts, In-Home Personal Training, in Arlington, Virginia. “The energy of a large fitness conference rejuvenates me and renews my commitment. Although out-of-town fitness conferences can require additional expenses such as travel, hotel and food,
I have always found that traveling enhances my experience. Being away allows me to focus completely without the distractions of home and work. Furthermore, I can earn all required CECs to
renew my certification in one long weekend.”

The networking factor alone can pay dividends on your fitness event investment. At one IDEA convention Desi Bartlett, a group fitness instructor in Los Angeles, met Petra Kolber. “Petra was
instrumental in getting me hired as the group fitness director at Equinox,” says Bartlett. “I have since left that position to pursue my dream of being an on-camera fitness and yoga talent, but
I know that the road was easier because of Petra’s generosity.”

What to Consider Budgetwise

Decide which convention you’d like to attend to enhance your career, and then budget for it. This will serve you well when you approach your boss, or will help you effectively plan for the fitness event without being unpleasantly surprised.

Take into account the following costs:

  • transportation fees, including any airline or train tickets, parking costs, gas costs, and shuttle or taxi costs before, during and after the fitness event
  • hotel room fees plus tips for service
  • food costs, including all meals, snacks and drinks throughout the day and night
  • convention registration and pre- or post-convention session costs
  • any sightseeing, entertainment or shopping costs

Who will pay for the fitness event? See if your company is willing to foot all or part of the bill. (See the sidebar “Requesting Funds for Education” for strategies on how to do this.) If not, you will need to fund the trip yourself.

Raising Money for Conventions

How can you earn additional income if you need extra funds? Consider these possibilities:

Work More. If you teach, add an extra class or two per week. Put aside this surplus in a bank account or a special place. If you train, add sessions. “Advertise a special incentive for clients to purchase an extra session or two,” says Bill Sonnemaker, MS, owner of Catalyst Fitness in Atlanta. “Inform your clients that you are trying to increase your revenue for a certain time period to help offset the cost of attending a fitness conference where you will receive cutting-edge research and information.”

Conduct Raffles. Ingrid Knight-Cohee, MSc, acting director at the YWCA Health + Fitness Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, suggests asking local businesses to donate items or services (e.g., limo service, flowers, dinner, theater tickets and a hotel stay) for a major drawing prize, such as a luxury night out. “Sell raffle tickets for a 6- to 8-week period and display a chart indicating your goal and how close you’re getting to it as tickets sell.” (Research any tax or legal considerations regarding raffles in your city or state.)

Teach Special Classes. Bartlett advises leading a class that is offered through the facility, but not held there. “For example, ask your director if you can lead a Saturday beach boot camp that will cost $15 per person,” she says. “All funds can go toward paying for your convention.” (Make sure your facility’s insurance policy covers outdoor classes.)

Run Other Events. Knight-Cohee suggests these ideas for
additional fundraisers:

  • Spa for a Day. Enlist co-workers to help you conduct a special spa day. Staff can make natural facial masks or teach self-
    massage techniques, and/or you can bring in qualified spa practitioners and split the revenues.

  • “Train the Trainer.” Promote an event where clients pay a premium session rate in order to turn the tables on the client/trainer relationship.

Solicit Money Directly From Clients. If you have a dedicated following, you may want to put out a piggy bank, says Mary Bratcher, MA, DipLC, a life coach specializing in small-
business development and co-owner of The BioMechanics in
San Diego. “Entice clients with details about a specific program that you can bring back for their benefit.”

Saving Money and Minimizing Expenses

Paring down the amount you’ll need for convention expenses means you can set less money aside. Consider these cost-cutting suggestions:

Travel Expenses:

  • Book airfares months in advance. (Check with IDEA for any special discount codes for airlines that fly to the IDEA convention location.)
  • Use frequent-flier miles to purchase airline tickets.
  • Carpool if you are driving to an event.


  • Buddy up with one to three additional roommates to save on a hotel room. (If you are looking for roommates for an IDEA fitness event, check out IDEA’s roommate list.)
  • Make hotel reservations at the official convention hotel if it offers discounted prices.


  • Bring drinks and snacks from home.
  • Once you’re at the hotel, find a nearby grocery store and buy food and drinks for meals.
  • Take advantage of free food in the expo hall or at hosted
    social events.

Convention Registration:

  • Buy your registration by the early-bird date to save money.
  • Apply to be an IDEA assistant to receive free registration for IDEA fitness events. (See the sidebar “The IDEA Assistant Work-Study Program” for more information.)

Saving Money. Be proactive about saving money. “Set aside $15 or $20 per paycheck,” says Grace DeSimone, national director of group fitness for Plus One Health Management in New York City. “This will add up quickly. Your company may also split your direct deposit so you can put part of it into a savings
account.” (Money you spend on convention expenses may be
tax-deductible; check with your accountant.)

Planning for Time Away

Once you have booked your registration and earmarked the funds to attend a fitness event, consider what you must do to cover your responsibilities when you’re gone.

Group Fitness Instructors. “When I attend a convention, my major worry is covering my weekly classes,” says Yoav Avidar, an international fitness presenter from Tel Aviv, Israel. “A trip to a U.S. event is usually not shorter than a week, so I need to cover eight to 10 classes. I start looking for substitutes at least a month before I leave.”

Personal Trainers. You must either find someone to take over your training sessions or give clients information that will help them take care of their own fitness when you are gone. If you work for a facility or training business, ask your manager what the protocol is for time away.

Managers/Directors. Succession planning is absolutely critical for managers, says Darren Jacobson, national personal training manager for Virgin Active South Africa. “This is both for your peace of mind and to safeguard your staff and systems,” he says. “Create a detailed succession document to outline who is responsible and accountable for each aspect of your portfolio in your absence.”

Debbie Bellenger, MA, director of health directions at Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia, South Carolina, says she chooses which conventions she attends based on her workload, timelines and busy months. “I avoid September conferences because that is our fiscal year-end. I know that I cannot be away in September without asking the rest of the team to incur responsibilities that may not be theirs entirely.”

Business Owners. Co-owner Bratcher advises telling clients as far in advance as possible that you will be attending a convention. “This will help your business in two ways. First, it will give you time to make sure that you can find quality subs to handle your clients and can schedule them in advance. Second, it is respectful. When you notify clients that you’re going to be away, you can ask them what they prefer: to have a temporary referral to a suitable trainer or class, or to have you design a workout plan for them. This type of customer service reduces the likelihood that clients will switch to another trainer in your absence.”

Sole Proprietor. Solo personal trainer Schlossberg understands that whenever she goes to a convention she must budget for both the expense and the loss of income. “I start planning and saving early,” she says. “Any extra income earned during the year is earmarked as savings to support my time away.”

Maximizing Your Potential

Getting recharged at a convention costs money, but you are investing in yourself and your future. It’s important to diversify your skills and stay marketable—especially during a slow economy.” n