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How to run a successful self-employed personal trainer business

As a self-employed personal trainer, Rogan Allport shares a few home truths about the realities of running your own business and growing a client base.

Rogan Allport, self-employed personal trainer

Hey, I get it. Who wouldn’t want to be their own boss!?

As a self-employed personal trainer, I’ve had my fair share of people thinking that I live the dream. Defining my own schedule, charging a fabulous hourly rate, all while staying in peak physical condition, living in the gym and training beautiful people – it’s easy to make it look like I’m #blessed with an amazing business and work-life balance.

But this couldn’t be further from reality. And if that’s what people think being a sole trader working with multiple clients on a personal level every day is like, they’re in for a rude awakening.

Let me make something very clear. I love being my own boss and working in my industry.

I love working for myself and I wake up feeling proud and fortunate to be in a career that allows me to help change lives on a daily basis. But I also know that I have to deal with an industry that is flooded with charlatans, wannabe Instagram influencers, and snake oil salesman.

While there are con-artists in every industry, the fitness industry seems to be full of them. Largely this is due to the unregulated nature of the business, but more than anything else it’s due to the false bill of goods many are sold on what being self-employed is really like. But those same sector pitfalls have taught me valuable lessons that I believe translate across industries, no matter what that might be.

So, let’s dive into the three most important things I have learnt during my time as a self-employed personal trainer.

Culture is everything

“Culture provides the value to the price tag and value over price is everything.“

One of the first decisions that most self-employed personal trainers have to make is where they are actually going to work.

When you’re a self-employed personal trainer, you can run your business at a gym, outside, out of your clients living room if home visits are your jam (it wasn’t mine – but we’ll get to that in a minute).

Most people will, therefore, tell you that the first consideration when making this important decision is going to be your monthly rental agreement – and while I completely agree that cost is an important consideration when looking to set up shop in someone else’s space, the number one thing I would encourage you to base your decision on is the culture. Not the cost.

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For me, my considerations were, are the coaches cool? Do they know their stuff? Do they run successful business’ themselves? Were they willing to share knowledge with me? What is the gym floor environment like? What added value would choosing this location bring?

Essentially, I was asking myself whether it was a good cultural fit for me and my business. And these are some of the fundamental questions you should be asking before you start making decisions.

Something you will come to realise during your early starts and late finishes (5 am – 9 pm in my case – but these are an inevitable fact of being a small business owner) is that while the carousel of clients throughout your week will spin madly on, your colleagues and work environment will be there as long as you are.

Compete with value, not price tags

“... stop haggling or making deals. Your price isn’t the problem, it's the value that is associated with it.”

The majority of businesses trade time and expertise for money, whether that is a product that you create and sell or advice and expertise that you dispense, or like in my case how I train others to improve their fitness. But no matter what your business model, you need to be able to sell, and that includes selling yourself. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, then you might be better off in a 9-to-5.

The fitness industry is probably one of the strongest examples of the value of first impressions. Out of shape personal trainers don’t last, but ripped fitness models who dress like scruffs don’t last either. In other words – from the outfit you wear to your first consultation or meeting, to how you handle your client’s exit interview – everything is about presenting high value (and good value) at all touchpoints.

Moreover, in a landscape where everyone is looking for ‘the next big thing,’ it’s easy to lose clients to “shiny object syndrome”, or worst of all to other businesses that are trying to undercut you on price.

In other words, while it might be tempting to compete on price, fundamentally all that leads to is a race to the bottom – and once you’ve bottomed out in your market, where do you go from there?

Instead, I challenge you to give as much value to your clients as possible by giving them more than what they are paying for (without compromising your time doing things that are out-of-scope for your contract). I do simple things such as:

  • Have a welcome pack
  • A nutrition guide
  • A private community group
  • A systematised check-in procedure etc.

It’s all about touchpoints and customer experience. So whilst the above is tailored for a self-employed personal trainer, you can ask yourself questions such as, what can I provide that goes that extra mile and gives that personal touch? What other value-add elements can I provide, a network of other like-minded individuals or something to supplement their wider lifestyle? How can I maintain relationships with my clients and customers?

You get the idea.

Remember that the key first objection in any business transaction will be on price. But the truth is the price has nothing to do with it. It’s the fact they don’t see the value in what you are offering. The best thing I ever did for my business was to stop haggling or making deals. Your price isn’t the problem, the value that is associated with it.

Finally, know who you are...

"Put out the content that would excite you and you will attract people who are just as excited about the same stuff as you."

Ok, admittedly this sounds a bit ‘woo woo’ but stick with me on this one.

The methods by which my clients can get in shape these days are endless. You only need to look at a class list at any commercial gym to see that. But if you try to be a jack of all trades you’re going to fail.

I made this mistake. I tried to curate my social media presence and the content to appeal to everyone in the hopes that if I cast the widest net possible I would get the greatest return.

It didn’t work for a number of reasons, but fundamentally it didn’t work because by speaking to everyone, I spoke to no one.

I’m a barbell PT. I love strength and seeing what all the tools of strength can do for my clients.

I’m not a Spin instructor. I don’t do Orange Theory. I don’t care about Barry’s Bootcamp.

There is nothing wrong with these things, but they just aren’t me.

If you want to make your small business your full-time career, then stay true to what you love. Put out the content that would excite you and you will attract people who are just as excited about the same stuff as you. The world is a huge place, and we’ve never been more connected than right now, so stop thinking of your niche as just your demographic.

It’s your brand. It’s your philosophy. It’s you.


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