This guide is your masterplan to gain the attention of your dream clients and successfully sell them on your services, booking yourself solid while transforming the lives of others.
Rules for Reading : While reading, think on the following . . .
- Relationships are the true currency of a personal trainer.
- Constantly ask yourself, what would this look like if this were easy?
- Immediate Success = the quantity of imperfect actions you are willing to take everyday.
- Long-Term Success = the quantity and quality of actions you take everyday.
Table of Contents
- Your Coaching Compass
- Financial Foundations
- Why We Buy Anything
- Riches in the Niches
- Talk to Everyone, the Goal is “No”
- Be a Creator, Not a Consumer
- Develop Your Persona
- Four Kinds of Clients
- Objection Handling
- Five Customers You Don’t Want
- Tell a Story, Use the Hero’s Journey
- Keys to a Great Consultation
- Presenting Your Services
- Inventing a Referral Culture
1. Your Coaching Compass
Recommended Watching : Start With Why, Simon Sinek
Did you know that on average a trainer lasts for about 2 years in the health and fitness industry?
Very few trainers will make it past 5 years as a sustainable way of life. With the margins for success so slim, it’s critical we have a compass that we can rely on.
Let’s build your coaching compass by taking out a journal and answer the following in writing . . .
- What actual problems do you help your customers (clients) solve?
- Why do you want to help them solve those problems? Go deep on this one.
- What products and services would you like to sell to solve these problems?
- Read 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly and speculate how many true fans (clients) you require. Do this for all your imagined products and services.
- Determine a rough estimate for your desired annual income to support your desired life.
- First you’ll need to have a rough idea of your current monthly budget and expenses. I use and love YNAB, You Need a Budget (affiliate link)
- Second, write out your life goals including the things you’d like to experience and have. Then put a rough price tag on those items.
- Playing with your monthly budget and goal price tags should give you a rough target goal for monthly and yearly income.
Having completed the above, you’ll have accomplished . . .
- You know what problems your potential customers have.
- You know why you want to solve those problems.
- You know how to solve those problems.
- You have real world experience having solved those problems.
- You know what products and services you will offer to solve those problems.
- You know how many true fans (clients) you need with problems that need solving.
- You know what rough price points you should be charging for your services and programs to solve those problems.
- You know if being a personal trainer is a reasonable career path to fulfill your desired lifestyle. (There’s a reason many trainers exit the industry after 1-2 years to sell real estate, etc)
The answers to these questions are your coaching compass. When you get lost or bogged down in the details, referring back to this information will point you back in the right direction.
Once you know the “why”, the “how” and “what” we should do tends to answer itself.
2. Financial Foundations
Short-Term Financial Considerations
Personal training lives in the gig and hustle economy. Your income will likely be sporadic, especially if you are training through a facility that experiences seasonal swings in memberships.
In my opinion, it’s best that aspiring personal trainers have ZERO debt and a LIQUID 6-12 month emergency fund before relying on personal training as their primary revenue source.
This will provide a safe cushion while you develop your skills in selling personal training and building a clientele.
Ever heard of “salesman’s breath?” You’ve certainly experienced it when being sold something by someone who desperately needs your money. If you need money from personal training, it’s going to infect your communication and confidence and people will know.
No passion remains fun for long when you’re financially struggling at it. You’ll quickly come to resent training if you find yourself being pressured, internally and externally, to sell training to fund your desired lifestyle.
Work a second or third job if you have to, or pursue a higher yield career first then move into training later, but my advice is don’t get involved with this industry on bad financial footing.
Long-Term Financial Considerations
Less than 1% of trainers earn 100k or more per year. Most will earn 30-60k, and in the beginning of your career you will be trading your time for money, which places a hard cap on your income potential.
However, as personal trainer Aja Cortes explains, anyone can become hypothetically wealthy in any line of work.
“No one becomes wealthy exchanging dollars for hours, no matter how highly paid you are per hour. If you want to become wealthy, you start a business/company and create a system. Consequently, any field can be a “good” line of work if you are seriously interested in it and can systemize it at an eventual point in the future.”
As you work your way through your career in personal training, keep in the back of your mind that to experience real freedom in this industry, you’ll want to move towards breaking the cycle of exchanging your time for money by producing a body of work that will be scalable and independent of your time.
3. Why We Buy Anything
Customers buy solutions to solve their problems. It’s that simple.
In Gap Selling, Keenan lays out the critical considerations you need to take into account with everyone you may wish to work with.
- If your customer doesn’t have a problem they want or need to solve, no sale is going to take place.
- All sales are about change.
- People generally don’t like change.
- People are emotional, not logical. You are selling to people’s emotions, not logic.
- People crave a future state where their lives are better. Creating a new future state requires undergoing a change. (Remember how people don’t like change?)
- However! People WILL change when the need (or pain) is great enough and it’s worth the effort and cost.
- People tend to share (or know) only the surface reason for why they want to change. Asking “why” consistently will uncover their deep, intrinsic motivation that drives their need for change.
- No one cares about why we do what we do, origin stories or the alphabet soup of acronyms after a name, they care about their problems. Always stay focused on solving the customers’ problem with your communication and coaching.
Your task as a coach during your first meeting with a potential client is stay oriented on their problem, gently uncover their deep intrinsic motivation for change, and help guide them through the initial stages of change for their desired future state.
And while it may seem obvious to hear it, if you or your services can’t effectively solve their problem, then refer them to someone who can.
4. Riches in the Niches
Personal training is a highly competitive and saturated field since the barrier to entry is extremely low. To simply call yourself a personal trainer and begin working with people requires no credential or test.
“Certified” personal trainers are created every week with simple weekend certifications and online quizzes, and the biggest trainer certification bodies in the United States (NSCA, NASM, ACSM and ACE) only require that you purchase their textbook and sit for a test comprised of reacting to videos and multiple choice.
Trainers who pursue “certified personal trainer” status with the most reputable bodies will do so in about 1-6 months of diligent reading, and at no point will they have to physically demonstrate their knowledge to a peer and be graded upon their demonstration of the material.
With all of the above in mind, you can reliably expect to face an immense amount of competition as a career trainer out of the gate. There are newly minted trainers every week “chasing their passion” who will perform the job on the cheap, and it’s already difficult enough for the general public to discern the quality of a trainer other than on the basis of their abs.
The easiest way to differentiate yourself from your competition is to have a niche, and pursue being an expert in it. Often such a specialization will not be one speciality such as fat loss, but the combination of 2-4 niches to form one ultra-niche. An example could be specializing in training for fat loss for male tech workers on visas looking to date beautiful women in America.
Rather than choosing to compete in the most crowded channels, choose the least populated ones and dominate them. It’s far easier to succeed in a new category or niche than trying to edge in on one that is already extremely crowded.
To find this new category, consider the primary needs your desired clients are likely to have, and determine who else is serving those needs online and in your facility.
Generally, clients will have four needs that require the use of a personal trainer.
Clients are seeking how to improve how they . . .
- Look = Losing bodyfat, gaining muscle, improving posture.
- Feel = Confidence, self-belief, energy, stamina, mental sharpness.
- Perform = Strength, stamina, speed, agility, sport specific skills and drills.
- Lifestyle = Reinforce a desired identity, cultivate a lifestyle, attract a partner, start a family, appear better than their peers.
Use these four general needs as a starting point for working on your niche, and then consider the tools and ways you help satisfy these needs.
Ask your peers, mentors and supervisors what you do better than everyone else. Ask them to be brutally honest as most people will not be completely forthcoming, especially family and friends.
Speculate on what unique factors in life led you to become a trainer, your “origin story” leaves clues to your possible ultra-niche.
Do some research on the existing competition in your possible niches and then apply the R&D principle. Replicate and Duplicate. Success leaves clues so steal like an artist and improve and modify upon the existing heaps of content if it exists, giving credit where credit is due of course, while adding your own unique spin. There’s nothing new under the sun in the world of health and fitness. The longer you spend in this industry, the more you’ll realize everything is just a remix of a remix.
5. Talk to Everyone, the Goal is “No”
Playing the “No” Game
When starting out, filling your training schedule will largely be a numbers game.
A fast solution is to play the “no”” game, seeing how many people you can get to say no to you everyday for personal training. If you can garner 5 “no’s” per day from potential clients when asking them if they’d like to engage in your services, and review each no and learn from it, your success compounds exponentially as each no brings you closer to the next yes.
However, rejection can be scary, so let’s reorient our mindset on rejection. Tell yourself, “the most important thing I can do today for myself and the future of my business to be brutally rejected by at least 5 people!”
Take pride in rejection for the courage it took, and the fact that it brought you closer to receiving a yes from your next interaction.
The 2 Questions Everyone Is Asking
As soon as you start talking face-to-face with another human being, they are immediately asking themselves two questions, and the longer you talk to them without answering those two questions, the more uncomfortable the interaction becomes.
- Why are you talking to me?
- What do you want from me?
The sooner you can answer these questions the better.
For a trainer in a gym, this can be as simple as “Hi, I’m Greg a personal trainer here, I’m trying to get to know people and see if there is any health and fitness things I can help with. Would you happen to have a movement or question I could help with for the next few minutes?“
Give people an easy out with a short time constraint, such as above where I said “for the next few minutes.” It gives people a clear idea of what you are asking from them and the social obligation they are agreeing to.
Create an Elevator Pitch
The more people you casually speak with in life, the more you’ll encounter the question “what do you do?”
By using a simple elevator pitch people will clearly understand what you do and what you offer, and can lead to some great conversations and referrals.
Create your elevator pitch with these questions . . .
- What’s the problem you want to solve?
- What do you offer?
- How does that help?
Them: Nice to meet you, so what do you do?
Me: Well you know how fitness can be confusing, time consuming and lead to painful injuries. As a personal trainer and nutritionist I help busy people get fit, healthy and confident with their body.
Everyone is a Client or a Referral
Talk to everyone, you never know who is a local “influencer.”
Some people you speak with everyday have a massive power of referral based on their character, hobbies, and careers. Think doctors, or any individual who interacts with a lot of people and more importantly, is a trusted authority inside that community or field.
Establish Authority and Credibility
People look to social proof to confirm they are making the right purchase decision, so train the employees and local influencers as often as you can, and do so publicly and complimentary.
Ben Franklin Effect : a person who has already performed a favor for another person is more likely to do another favor for the other than if they had received a favor from that person.
The Ben Franklin effect comes into play during these complimentary training sessions as the people you train are significantly more likely to help you in the future if you position the session as helping YOU the trainer, not them.
An example of this in action, “Hi, I’m looking to establish myself in this community, could I train you? It would be a huge help to me and the session would be complimentary.”
Further build your credibility online by asking your existing clients, friends, and family to write testimonials on Google reviews and Yelp in the businesses you are involved with for you. This helps the businesses you are a part of, and these review sites are already optimized for internet searches so they are far more likely to be seen when people Google your name.
6. Be a Creator, Not a Consumer
On the path to mastery of your craft you will find that as you move past your apprenticeship you will be tasked with producing a body of work. This body of work could be your writing, speaking, videos, products and more.
As competition increases through the internet, you can no longer be a passive consumer of content, but must now instead become an active creator of it if this is to be a serious career choice. By being a creator of content, you’ll be more intimately skilled with your craft and be actively working on being an authority within your niche.
This in turn develops your social skills, both online and offline. The modern trainer now requires the ability to write, speak clearly, lead a conversation, present yourself in an attractive manner through all your social profiles, and generally be charming.
In this new interconnected and attention based economy you no longer have the luxury of using the internet as a time sink to entertain yourself. Reputations are made online and offline and you want to sharpen and protect both, because you will be assessed by both.
Start with thinking about the kind of work you’d like to initially create, and start by being apart of where the attention is already concentrating. If you like to write, you could certainly start a blog on a self-hosted website, but you’d likely find far greater success by in forums or websites that already have a dedicated audience first. If you enjoy video based content, this could be created short-form videos on TikTok or long-form videos on YouTube.
Start a Newsletter
Creating and maintaining an email list is digital gold. It gives you the ability to create content focused for the people who care about you already, and to be apart of one the places that people spend their attention everyday, their email inbox.
It’s also an easy ask. If someone says no to training with you, ask if they’d like to stay in contact by joining your newsletter, but make it safe and easy for them to say no. “I bet you get a lot of emails, so please don’t feel obligated.”
I personally like to use Mailchimp for my newsletter, and made a habit to always ask potential clients during our complimentary sessions if they’d like to join. After years, the list now has hundreds of people I know well or have worked with.
7. Developing Your Persona
Do People Like, Trust and Respect You
People generally (but not always) buy from people they like, trust and respect.
Personal training and coaching can best be described as the art of giving advice.
And if people don’t like or respect you as a foundation, they will rarely follow through on your advice.
I’m consistently amazed by trainers with poor attitudes, victimhood mentalities, and are general assholes going about trying to make a career in our industry.
However, Steve Jobs by many accounts in his biography was an asshole, and yet people loved and followed him to the ends of the earth. His employees liked him because they respected his undying commitment to the craft to which he dedicated himself and the passion with which he spoke. You can’t help but admire and respect such a man. Customers trusted and liked the products he created, and the media generally ignored the leadership methods he used in their development.
So let’s ask ourselves some questions. Are you personable, do people generally seek out your company, do you find you make friends easily?
Perhaps you’d argue it is inauthentic to “change” your persona. Perhaps it is, but we are trying to develop ourselves into effective trainers. Authenticity is one component of effectiveness, and if you are authentically boring, complaining, criticizing, negative, and whiny then it might be time for a change.
Recommended Reading : How to Win Friends and Influence People (amazon)
Lean Into Your Stereotype
As a trainer you will be stereotyped by others based on your sex, physique, style and so on.
You can lean into perceived stereotypes so that they become your advantage.
In general, we can distill “trainer stereotypes” into a few categories.
- The “clinical” trainer – These trainers often espouse “movement is medicine” mantras, love medical jargon, live by assessments, and when adept at their craft will be compared favorably with other medical professionals such as physical therapists. This trainer will “fix and heal” you.
- The entertainer, or “entertrainer” – You’ve seen these trainers yelling at the front of a spin class pumping up the room with energy or displaying their gift of the gab during sessions. They use spectacle to their advantage and command the attention of those around them. This trainer will keep you “inspired” and coming back every week.
- The “performance” trainer – Whether it’s bodybuilding, athletic training, or CrossFit, these trainers are focused on performance. They will pursue strength, speed, power, endurance, agility and more. This trainer will get you “measurable performance.”
- The “counter-culture” trainer – The counter-culture trainer offers a new paradigm of fitness often paired with insular communities to join. “You’ve been lied to by X” they might say, “the secret the INDUSTRY doesn’t want you to know is Y.” They use unique and novel methods, often new and exciting to achieve their goals. This trainer will show you the “truth.”
In the end, it’s best to have a style that works for you and is easy for your clients to understand. If you can’t be easily categorized, potential clients will have difficulty understanding how you fit into their lives.
As a counter argument, people who can’t be easily categorized will command the interest and attention of those around them, if only for being so “different.” This can be a strong advantage in garnering a unique and dedicated following.
Be Your Own Advertisement
Humans judge a book by its cover. If you are a personal trainer, you will be judged on your physique and appearance. This judgement will be magnified online with the competition being only a click away.
Walk the walk by being healthy and fit within your circumstances. Would you trust a financial planner who is broke and doesn’t keep a budget? You don’t have to look like a fitness model, but if a trainer or nutritionist isn’t visually healthy and fit, and doesn’t visually practice the behaviors necessary to achieve or remain that way, they are going to have an uphill battle convincing potential clients to work with them.
As a counter example, some highly successful trainers market their health or weight circumstances as a brand identity to their advantage specifically because it is appealing to certain customers.
One of the most popular trainers I met when entering this industry was more than 50 pounds overweight, and his classes were always packed and his schedule booked solid. He marketed his weight front and center as his brand, and it made him relatable. It made him less threatening for people looking to improve their health, and he provided a safe, positive, and happy space to do that.
Learn How to Ramble & Listen
Knowing how to engage in quality small talk, or “rambling”, is critical in the business of personal training. Everyone benefits from having a reputation for having “the gift of the gab.”
By and large, personal trainers exist in the hospitality industry as much as the health and fitness industry. Knowing how to hold a conversation during a long session with clients who desire such will appreciate you all the more for it.
One of the best ways to work on the ability to engage in small talk is to watch one episode of Seinfeld per day. There’s a reason it was called “the show about nothing” and yet it was one of the most watched and beloved sitcoms in the history of television. My recommendation is to skip to season 2 and watch an episode a day, noting the topics, flow and body language of the characters as they interact with each other.
8. Four Kinds of Clients
Personal training clients will typically fall into 4 categories . . .
- Performance Clients – Clients who want to perform well. These clients are driven by their participation in sport and the desire to compete at increasingly higher levels. This can be professional or recreational.
- Physique Clients – Clients who want to look great naked, primary driven by aesthetic results.
- Fitness Clients – Clients who want to feel great. This could be driven by alleviating stress, avoiding a painful future, or healing a current injury point which could be physical or emotional, such as a divorce. They either don’t currently feel great and want to bridge that gap, or feel great and want to continue their investment.
- Luxury Clients – Clients who enjoy the relationship and luxury of a trainer. These clients are driven by the joy of your company, personality and luxury you offer.
For the personal trainer, most clients will be a blend of physique, fitness and luxury. They want to look and feel great. If you work in athletics, then a majority of your clients will be performance based.
First, define what clients you would enjoy working with the most, as this will serve as a guide for what communities you should be involved in, and how you should further direct your career. It’s not enough to be knowledgable in physiology, anatomy, and biomechanics, but you must be passionate about what you do and be able to community that passion to others. People buy your why, and your why will instill passion in your clients.
Typically you job as a trainer will fall into the daily action of making your clients excited to do the work before them. The better you become as inspiring people to do the work, the more effective a coach you will become regardless of clientele you choose to serve.
Measure your success by the ability to empower your clients to do the work needed when you are not there standing over their shoulders. A great trainer should eventually become unnecessary (although always appreciated).
9. Objection Handling
In sales, you’ll encounter 3 primary objections.
- I don’t have time right now.
- “I’d like to but, I’m really busy the next few months.”
- I don’t have the money, or it’s too expensive.
- “I’d like to but, it’s just not in the budget.”
- Let me think about it or talk to my spouse. (This isn’t an objection, but rather a stall.)
- “I’d like to but, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”
The most common you’ll encounter in selling personal training is the client who says they don’t have time “right now” and “let me think about it.”
Rarely will clients vocally state your product is too expensive, it’s embarrassing to engage with a luxury service and then haggle on price.
Remember, personal training is a premium and luxury based service that requires an investment of time, money, and most importantly, hard work on the part of the client.
The reality is, if you encounter significant objections during your sales process, it’s simply best to refer the client to another service that may fit their needs such as free training apps or YouTube videos.
While you can certainly sell a client into a package or subscription service using clever tactics, they’ll likely stall out after a few sessions and seek a refund. If a refund isn’t available, they’ll likely resent you and your business while begrudgingly using the remaining product they’ve purchased.
For the above reasons, I’m not a fan of engaging in the common objection handling “tactics” you find in most sales books.
However, when engaging resistance, I do like to ask a thoughtful question or two to see if I do have a product or service that will better fit their needs.
10. Five Customers You Don’t Want
The following is my spin on Ramit Sethi’s article the 8 type of people who will never buy your product which is so true for selling personal training.
For selling personal training however, it’s important we distinguish between clients who will train 1 session a month and quit after a month or two versus training 1-3 times a week until they reach their goal.
While you can certainly sell the below customers a handful of sessions, these aren’t going to be the customers who fuel your business and allow it to thrive. A lion can hunt mice or antelope, but he can’t live on mice for long.
You should always be striving for the customers who are ready, willing and able to do the work, who you can genuinely help, and will appreciate you and your service. Everything else is a distraction and a disservice.
- People who miss appointments and deadlines.
People are always on their best behavior when they go on a first date and a first session is the same. People who miss deadlines to enroll in courses or no-show appointments will always be the ones to fall behind and ask for refunds.
Even if you do convert these people into clients, they will be the ones who beg for you to break your cancelation policy and became offended and upset when you don’t.
In fact, I’ve had customers no show their first appointment, and when I reach out they respond over a year later saying they are ready! Spoiler alert, they aren’t, and the process repeats.
2. People who ask endless questions.
It’s totally understandable to ask questions about a premium product like coaching. However, there are customers who will ask question after question after question as those questions become increasingly esoteric and obscure. The clients who ask only a few questions are serious buyers, they often have specific questions with simple answers.
Often when you engage with this type of behavior you are dealing with confirmation bias. The potential client has already made a judgement, and is continuing to seek out information why your product and service won’t work.
Ever research a product but only look at the positive or negative reviews? I know you have because we all have.
That’s confirmation bias, and the reality is when a customer is only looking for negative reviews, they won’t buy, and if somehow they do, they won’t stay with the service for long since they’ll be dealing with the cognitive dissonence of buyer’s remorse.
People who actively seek examples of failure are looking to validate reasons not to purchase. These are not the customers you want.
You can also add to this customers who have a laundry list of goals and want exact, detailed line items of your plan to achieve them.
3. People looking for the quick, easy fix.
The reality in training is that there is no magic pill outside of gradually changing our habits with work and persistence. People who are looking for the quick fix won’t be customers for long if you do decide to take them on.
This relates to the customer who comes to you with a lot of qualifiers on what they won’t do or what is off limits. They’ll say “I’ll do everything, but not X, Y or Z.”
People with unrealistic time frames for their success, paired with unrealistic expectations of you and biology will all too often punish you for being the messenger of the truth that there is no easy or quick fix.
Results are directly tied to the sacrifices you are willing to make, and when customers have unrealistic expectations or extreme qualifiers on what they are unwilling to do, it’s best in the long run to simply refer them elsewhere rather than try to convince them otherwise.
4. People who argue or beg on price.
Health and fitness advice is functionally free with online programs, apps, ebooks and articles that espouse 7 simple tips for blasting belly fat.
High quality customers who can’t afford your services will use the information and recommendations you provide and return when they are ready to invest in coaching. Customers looking for the lowest cost service may indeed buy your service but will rarely follow through on using it. And if they do, you can rest assured they will consume excessive amounts of your time in the process in the form of “support.”
Much to my chagrin, whenever I’ve recommended free or near free resources to a price sensitive customer, I’ve always found out later during the follow-up that they “never got around” to getting them. Surprise.
5. People who aren’t coachable.
The client who isn’t coachable will be consistently argumentative and resistant to any solution you have for their goal. You’ll ask them to keep a simple food log and they will come up with every excuse why not!
Now, there’s a big difference between forcing your ideas on your clients without their input or consent (don’t do this), and the customers who simply aren’t ready to hear what you have to say.
Often seen as “I’ll train with you 3 days a week to lose 30 pounds, but I’m not giving up alcohol or changing my nutrition so don’t bring it up please.”
The reality is, these customers have already made up their minds what coaching “should” look like, and if your coaching doesn’t match that preconception, they aren’t going to engage with you for long. Perhaps they have a control complex, and submitting themselves to coaching is simply too uncomfortable if they aren’t 100% in the driver’s seat.
Also why would you, as a coach, want to sell coaching to someone who isn’t going to be coachable!