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Strategic Saving for a Fitness Convention

Discover how to get the money you need to attend an IDEA event.

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

Requesting Funds for Education

Ask savvy fitness pros how to sell their boss on the idea of paying for a staff member’s attendance at a fitness convention, and they all answer in three words: return on investment.

“Conferences offer the opportunity to enhance your skills, but owners don’t get jazzed about that. Owners get jazzed about numbers,” says Grace DeSimone, national director of group fitness for Plus One Health Management in New York City. “If you’ve been tracking your programs, you should have a good idea of how new programs affect your membership penetration, new business and retention. Use existing data to forecast what new programs will bring in, and then show that by attending the conference, you can attract more new members, etc. Include information on market research—do any of your competitors have these programs or new equipment? Is there a new class that will bring in new members?”

Sabra Gardner, MS, associate executive director of the Palomar Family YMCA in Escondido, California, adds that it is also helpful if you include outcome goals. “For example, one might be ‘After attending the personal training clinics provided at the convention, I will increase my client base by 10% a month for the next 6 months, yielding x additional revenue dollars for our club.”

In many cases, you can get all or most of the continuing education credits you need for certification renewal at one convention. This provides further return on investment for companies that value staff staying current with certifications.

One-Stop Shopping. Talk to your boss about everything you can gain from the event. “You can achieve many different objectives in one place, such as continuing education credits, new ideas, new business connections, and equipment and services,” explains Don Bahneman, MS, fitness director of John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Florida.

Team-Building Opportunity. Bill Sonnemaker, MS, owner of Catalyst Fitness in Atlanta, advises playing up the fact that “a greater team unity is fostered when a company sends its training team to an event. Not only do [team members] have a presence at the event, but they develop a greater sense of pride.”

Take a Risk. You can also pay for the event yourself and propose that “if you do x, y and z by a certain date, the company will refund half or part of your fees,” says DeSimone.

The IDEA Assistant Work-Study Program

One way to defray the costs of an IDEA convention is to volunteer during the event. “The IDEA Assistant Program is a great way for IDEA members to attend an event,” says Dana Rucci, manager of the program. “Assistants work assigned shifts during an event and, in exchange, can attend sessions and functions for free when not working. In most cases, assistants get to go to at least half of the sessions.”

The application to become an IDEA assistant, along with information on the program, is available year-round at www.ideafit.com. In the last 2 years, the program was at capacity at least 4–6 weeks before the event.

What is Rucci looking for when choosing assistants? “Current IDEA members are always given priority over nonmembers,” she says. “A certain percentage of returning assistants is ideal, because their experience really helps. I also choose a combination of applicants new to the fitness industry and veteran fitness professionals.”

Is getting accepted as an assistant difficult? “Some events are more popular than others,” explains Rucci. “For example, I think the World event this year will be competitive, as it is in Southern California. My best advice? Apply early and, if accepted, follow through with returning the assistant agreement as soon as possible. Also, keep in touch with me via e-mail.”

Traveling Internationally

Before planing to attend an event in the United States, research the travel requirements that you must meet, says Cori Parks, a fitness professional who has lived in several counties and now owns Open Palm Studio in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. “You’ll need a valid passport and visa and possibly vaccination records,” she says.

Passport. Do you need to obtain a new passport or renew your current one? Do the paperwork several months in advance.

Visa. “Apply for your visa at least 3 months in advance,” says Darren Jacobson, national personal training manager for Virgin Active South Africa. “The American consulate websites detail the step-by-step process to follow. Not only will you have to gather a fair bit of supporting information, but you may also have to book a face-to-face interview and still allow time for the visa to be delivered back to you.” To assist you in the visa application process, IDEA will provide you with a Visa Invitation letter. To request the letter, call (800) 999-4332, ext. 7, or (858) 535-8979, ext. 7.

Airfare. Yoav Avidar, an international fitness presenter from Tel Aviv, Israel, says “the first thing to take care of after you plan your trip is a flight reservation. The earlier you make flight reservations, the better your chances are of getting specific times and dates. You may be able to get a cheaper last-minute deal, but this can be very stressful, so I prefer buying tickets 4–6 months before the event.” Parks says allow yourself time to recover from the effects of jet lag before the convention starts. “Plan to arrive in the time zone you’re going to at least 2 days before the event,” she recommends.

Security Situations. Parks also advises being aware of situational changes in your own country, the countries you’re passing through and the U.S. state to which you are headed. “Security incidents can flip your plans upside down,” she says. “There is always a plan B, but you may need time to figure out what it is. That’s why planning to arrive early may just get you there in time!”

Timeline for Attending the IDEA World Fitness Convention

Goal: Attending IDEA World Fitness Convention, August 12–16, 2009, in Anaheim, California

February 11, 2009 – 6 MonthsOut!

  • Check registration pricing (for early-bird discounts, accommodation and/or airline costs, etc.)
  • Figure the total expected cost of the event/trip. Add 10%–20% on top of that figure to give yourself some leeway.
  • Divide the cost of the trip by the number of months remaining before the event, to set a monthly savings goal.
  • Start putting the monthly savings amount aside.
  • Prepare a detailed document showing how attending the convention will offer a big return on investment for your company.

March 11, 2009 – 5 MonthsOut!

  • See if you can find additional ways to save or raise money or to cut expenses (like rooming with someone and booking flights early) and take advantage of those.
  • Talk to your boss to see if she will pay for your convention experience. Show her the paperwork you’ve prepared.
  • Ask for the needed days off from work.
  • Discover what travel documents you need.

April 15, 2009 – 4 MonthsOut!

  • Buy airline tickets if you have not done so.
  • Book hotel reservations.
  • Register for the convention, includiing pre- or post-convention events.
  • Sign up for session selection as soon as you register. (IDEA offers real-time session selection online.)
  • Research a rental car.
  • Obtain or renew your passport.
  • Apply for a visa.

May 13, 2009 – 3 monthsOut!

  • Make arrangements for someone to cover your work while away, or notify clients that you will be away so they can prepare.

June 10, 2009 – 2 Months Out!

  • Arrange for childcare, pet care, spouse care (e.g., book baby sitter, in-laws, dog walker, etc.).
  • Book your convention registration if you haven’t already, to ensure you get the discounted early-bird price. (Select your sessions.)

July 29, 2009 – 2 Weeks Out!

  • Prepare a list of what you’ll need to bring to the convention.
  • Create a list of what you want to do at the event.
  • Print important event documents like confirmations and session handouts. 
  • Check your sessions to make sure you do not want to make any changes based on your needs or continuing education credit requirements.

August 5, 2009 – 1 weekOut!

  • Gather all clothes, paperwork and materials you’ll need to pack. Carry an empty bag to bring home products from the event. Don’t forget to bring a notepad and pen—and also a sweatshirt, as event rooms are sometimes cold.
  • Buy drinks or snacks to take with you.
  • Arrange transportation to the airport.
  • Sleep well so you’ll arrive at the convention refreshed.

August 10, 2009 – 2 Days Out!

  • Check the weather. You may need to adjust your packing based on the weather.
  • Pack!

August 12, 2009 – Day of Departure!

  • Arrive at the airport early so you have plenty of time to check in and go through security.
  • Relax and get ready for an educational adventure!

Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

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