Building a Successful Personal Training Career in 2024

Hard-won lessons from over a decade of experience living the life of the professional trainer. Learn the principles and trade secrets that will earn you success, and avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that will show you the door.

Rules for Reading : While reading, think on the following key principles . . .

  1. Relationships, not tactics, are the fundamental currency of a personal trainer.
  2. Your immediate success is equal to the quantity of imperfect actions you take every day.
  3. Your long-term success is equal to the quantity and quality of actions you take every day.
  4. Mastery does not come from a guide or infographic. What you know and intend to do is worthless currency. What do you truthfully do consistently?

Table of Contents

  1. Getting Started
  2. Certifications & Education
  3. Mastering Sales
  4. Client Care
    • Building Rapport
    • Keys to a Great Consultation
    • Structuring Your Sessions
    • Delivering Programs
    • Tracking Progress
  5. Structuring Your Business
    • Insurance, Waivers, PARQs, and You
  6. Going the Distance

Reality Check

Creating a successful career in the health and fitness industry is no easy accomplishment in 2024. Roughly 80% of trainers will find themselves exiting this industry before their two-year mark and those who last longer often find themselves in a constant struggle to maintain a flow of business that supports their desired lifestyle.

While you can certainly create a successful career with a high income, it’s important to enter this industry knowing the hard truths upfront.

Here are just some of the difficulties you will predictably need to overcome to build a thriving career in this competitive industry.

Skill takes time to develop. Maybe you’ve experienced an awesome body transformation of your own, and with a freshly minted personal training certification, you are ready to help others do the same. Even the most rigorous certification or exercise science degree will leave you with numerous skill gaps, and filling those gaps may require years of additional resources and practical experience. Expect that it can take up to two additional years of practical experience and education to close the gaps against your peers, and to competently meet your client’s needs.

Zero clients equals zero income. Perhaps you will start your career in a large corporate gym and be paid a smaller stipend until you establish your clientele, but most often you will be paid primarily on commission. When you begin, expect to have zero clients, and zero clients means zero income. As a general rule, if you work in a facility that reliably feeds you clients to work with, expect to be paid significantly less than your peers who source their own clientele.

You may have to work two jobs, in the short-term or indefinitely. Related to the above point, expect your income during your first year of training to be sporadic. Your income will be low during your initial months, and will likely require supplemental income until you establish yourself. Income in your area will likely fluctuate during the seasons as well, expect income to drop during certain seasons as clients take vacations, or choose to do more outdoor activities versus spending time in the gym. Don’t quit your day job until you’re financially ready.

You are first and foremost, a salesperson. Every day you will be required to sell people on your services, their goals, and continuing their relationship with you. Trainers who fail to become skilled in the psychology of sales, are the first to exit the industry.

When turning your passion into a career, the motivation reward for your passion will change. The best job you’ll ever have is still a job. When turning your passion into your job, you’ve altered the intrinsic reward you receive from it. No passion remains one for long when you find yourself working long hours, with difficult clients, and unable to pay the bills. Trainers who rely on their passion, rather than mastery of craft, will be the ones who are the most cynical and bitter when forced to exit the industry for failing to make a living wage.

Your schedule is no longer your own. At the beginning of your career, you will not have the luxury of turning away clients. You will have to train people around their schedule, not yours. It is not unusual for a trainer in their first years to train 6am-9am, 11am-1pm, and 5-8pm, Monday through Friday, and then weekend mornings with significant unpaid time between sessions. Only later in your career as you’ve established your reputation and clientele, will you be you be able to become more selective in who you train and when.

You work in the people business, and people can be very difficult to work with. You may have the best theories, strategies, and knowledge base in the industry, but you will quickly find that people are by and large, emotional and irrational creatures. We as humans constantly act against our own best interests, fail to adopt even the simplest of new habits, and prioritize our short-term desires over our long-term needs. To help your clients reach their goals, your expertise will have to be combined with a deep understanding of human nature.

Personal trainers serve the role of a friend, confidante, and amateur therapist. Your clients will bring the harsh realities of their lives to your sessions. As you become skilled in rapport and human nature, it will be your job to listen, understand, empathize, and under certain circumstances offer your advice. Life can be harsh, your job will be to make it less so.

It is difficult to be a personal trainer, and even more difficult to be a strength coach or tactical trainer. Many personal trainers begin with a background in athletics and soon discover that the market for athletic or military-style training is only a fraction of the overall market, and typically pays far less than working with what we call the general population. Strength coaches, athletic trainers, and first responder training is a difficult business to make work in that it is a smaller demographic, that is oversaturated with trainers who are passionate about working with these populations.

Your primary certification will not adequately prepare you for the difficulties you’ll face in coaching clients. In America, none of the major certification bodies will require you to demonstrate your competency to another experienced professional in person, rather they rely on self-study of their textbook with a long multiple-choice test. At best, your certification will educate you on how to not harm the people you work with. You’ll need mentors or models, time in the trenches, and fostering a love for reading books to shore up your skills.

Supplemental certifications and “coaching for personal trainers” are a profitable industry that sells to your ignorance and insecurity; there is no magic formula to success. You will be bombarded with certifications and coaching programs to increase your sales and training skills by providing you with “the right answers.” Be selective with the ones you choose to invest in, as most will fail to generate a positive return on investment. Trainers who fail to grasp this reality all too often find themselves exiting the industry with multiple certifications under their belt, with little to show for it.

It is unlikely you will be provided healthcare, paid time off, or a retirement vehicle. Plan accordingly. And if you are provided these, expect that they will not be great. While some facilities offer the above, gyms have tremendous overhead due to their real estate and staffing costs, and very few can offer competitive benefits that you would find elsewhere in the private sector. The majority of personal trainers are categorized as part-time employees or independent contractors to reduce labor costs. Full-time positions with competitive benefits do exist in the wealthiest metropolitan cities, which come at the expense of now having to pay their high cost of living.

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Your Coaching Compass

Recommended Watching: Start With Why, Simon Sinek (

To create a lasting and thriving career in this difficult industry, we must have a compass that we can rely on to keep us pointed in the right direction to achieve career success in this harsh and often unforgiving industry.

Regardless of how passionate you are, no passion remains one for long when you find yourself working split twelve-hour days and unable to fund your retirement.

Let’s build that compass, your coaching compass, by taking out a journal and answering the following in writing . . .

  1. What actual problems do you help your customers (clients) solve?
  2. Why do you want to help them solve those problems? Go deep on this one.
  3. What products and services would you like to sell to solve these problems?
  4. 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.
  5. Determine a rough estimate for your desired annual income to support your desired life.
    1. 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)
    2. 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.
    3. 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 know what products and services you can 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, MLMs, or the new trendy grift.)

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” tend to sort themselves out over time.

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Financial Foundations

Short-Term Financial Considerations

Personal training lives in the gig and hustle economy. Expect that your income with fluctuate with the seasons, especially if you decide to focus your career through a gym or club.

In a perfect world, an aspiring personal trainer would have near zero debt with a liquid 3+ month emergency fund before relying on personal training as their primary revenue source.

Why specifically three months? In my experience with over 10 years in this field, is that those with ability and talent generally find their footing within 1-3 months, while those without ability or talent can take as long as a year or more.

Three months would provide the naturally gifted trainer a safe cushion while they develop their skills in selling personal training, building a clientele, and developing their coaching style that keeps clients engaged and coming back for more.

Familiar with “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 or dream remains one for long when you’re financially struggling to make rent, can’t afford healthcare, and fail to fund your retirement.

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 the health and fitness 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.

Examples of this can include programs, courses, media, opening a training facility, or hiring coaches to work with you.

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Getting Certified

“Investing in yourself is the most important investment you’ll ever make in your life… There’s no financial investment that’ll ever match it because if you develop more skill, more reliability, more insight, more capacity, that’s what’s going to really provide economic freedom… It’s those skill sets that really make that happen.”

Warren Buffett

Throughout your career, you’ll likely gather many certifications, and you’ll find an industry all too eager to sell them to you.

In the United States, and most countries, you are not legally required to possess a certification to work as a personal trainer or call yourself one. However, most reputable facilities will require you to obtain a certification for insurance and liability purposes.

It’s recommended for your first certification to begin with a nationally recognized organization that will open the most doors for you to ply your training, and provide the greatest level of ongoing education aligned with your interests.

In the United States, the “big 3” personal training certification bodies that are requested for higher-end facilities are NASM, NSCA, and ACSM.

NASM, National Academy of Sports Medicine: For-profit certification body with a broad selection of specialty certificates with a strong focus on training everyday people (general population). Offers very accessible study materials and textbooks for those who don’t possess an academic background in exercise science and anatomy.

NSCA, National Strength and Conditioning Association: Non-profit certification body with a primary focus on athletics, as well as first responders and the general population. Study materials tend to be more clinical, and less accessible to those who do not have an underlying academic background in exercise science and anatomy.

ACSM, American College of Sports Medicine: Non-profit certification body with a focus on clinical settings and applications, as well as special populations requiring specific care protocols. Study materials are extremely clinical, and difficult for those who do not possess an academic background in anatomy and physiology.

Pro-Tip: Learn anatomy and anatomical terms first. The more competent you are with terms, the easier the study process will be.

So which certification should you acquire?

  • Look at the facilities you’d like to work in. Which certifications do most of their staff have? Why?
  • Which certifications do the coaches you follow and respect on social media hold? When they reference other industry leaders, what certifications do they hold too?
  • Choose an appropriate certification for the community you are working in. If you want to work in CrossFit gyms, best to have a CrossFit certification. If you want to work in college athletics, you’ll get more mileage from the NSCA, rather than the ACSM.
  • NASM, NSCA, and ACSM have taken part in their share of “scandals” over the last decade, from how they publish research, who they take money from, how they lobby Congress, and more. Be sure to research the history of the organizations you are considering.
  • Each of these organizations offer entry-level “Certified Personal Trainer” course, in addition to “elite” courses including NSCA’s CSCS, NASM’s CES, and ACSM’s EP. Which of their additional certifications interest you the most if you were to pursue them in the future?

Consider that neither NSAM, NSCA, or ACSM require you to ever demonstrate your competency in person to a trained professional, with each only requiring completion of an extensive multiple choice test in a controlled testing area.

Specialty Certifications

Once you’ve obtained your personal trainer certification, it’s recommended you consider adding a nutritional and mobility certification next.

Most find once they’ve completed the “big 3”, they have large gaps when it comes to helping educate clients on nutrition and helping them overcome mobility limitations that prevent them from safe exercise.

When evaluating any specialty certification, ask yourself the following . . .

  • Does this solve a pain point in my coaching?
  • Will this make me a better coach?
  • Will this certification pay for itself? If so, by when?
  • If I have to maintain the certification through ongoing education or recertification, how much time and money will that require?

In my experience, expensive specialty certifications without in-person components can largely be obtained from books, although there is a benefit in that these courses have organized the information for you already.

In-person certifications however are often fantastic investments, which allow for give and take with instructors and networking with other professionals.

Never forget that certifications are an industry unto themselves that thrives on exploiting your insecurity, your desire to help others, and promising you a fantastical future.

Beyond personal training certifications, you’ll quickly discover your real education begins with finding mentors, internships, and communities with other disciplined professionals to participate in.

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Choose a Homebase

Why go to all the trouble of selling your services when you can have an organization do most of the work for you? That’s the primary benefit of working in a facility.

Working in a fitness facility such as a small boutique gym, big box facility or private health club is perhaps the fastest way to establish your clientele quickly for the new trainer to the industry. Even more importantly, it allows you a wide variety of possible clients to gain experience from training.

Benefits include having established trainers to learn from and model, and these facilities will have managers with a vested interest in seeing you succeed and generally provide you support and advice in being successful.

Before working in these facilities, you’ll want to have already identified your target demographic and ideal customer and see if they align with facility.

You’ll also want to ask your employer some key questions on the kind of role you will have the amount of support you can expect. Some gyms will provide you with a steady stream of clients through marketing and membership funnels, while others will provide you with functionally zero client support systems.

Ask your employer questions like . . .

  • What are the main demographics for this facility?
  • Will I be an independent contractor or hired as a full-time employer? (critical if you want healthcare, paid time off, and accrued sick time)
  • How will sales fit into my role, such as quotas?
  • How will you market me and my skills?
  • How many trainers do you currently have?
  • How long do trainers on average stay with your facility?
  • What programs do you have to retain your trainers for the long term?
  • How do you track your trainer’s growth and development?
  • Do you offer support systems for trainers such as scheduling and accountability?
  • Do you have education programs available to trainers?
  • What does your facility do better than the competition?
  • What long-term plans do you have for your business?

It’s important to have the appropriate expectations of what is expected of you in your role in these facilities and the actual support you will receive in the form of referred clients.

Pro-Tip: Always do the math.

Let’s use an example with direct referrals from say, a club’s membership director who helps onboard new club members. If your facility adds 30 members per month, and has 15 trainers, with a complimentary new member session, which only half of those 30 members will actually use, then you could expect 1 client referral per month from your facility for a complimentary session which you may or may not be compensated for. That’s 12 clients per year, on average, assuming you have a 100% attendance and conversion rate. In this scenario, the actual converted clients would more realistically be 6-9 per year referred by your facility.

Helpful questions to ask your employer when doing the math . . .

  • How many members on average do you gain per month?
  • How long does a member typically stay with your facility?
  • How many members on average do you lose to attrition per month?
  • How many of your trainers are currently working at their full client loads?
  • How many trainers would I be working along side?
  • How many members generally reach out to the training director or membership asking to be linked with a personal trainer?

When accepting positions in these facilities, you want to ensure you don’t get bamboozled, so be sure to ask the right questions. Bamboozled could mean expecting support and not receiving it, not receiving the pay you expect, working more hours than you expect, engaging in unpaid work, and failing to receive state-mandated benefits for full-time employment because of how you are categorized as an employee.

Hours : It’s important to know the hours you are expected to work and what is specifically compensated and at what rate as this dramatically affects your income and ability to generate clientele. Take into account travel time, preparation, and the unpaid work you’ll be doing outside of client sessions to support their success such as check-in and writing programs.

Health Benefits : Medical, dental, vision and other insurance benefits. Many trainers with families that qualify for extended benefits will choose working in a big box gym for this reason.

Pay System : When working in big box gyms or clubs, trainers tend to take home 20-60% of their hourly rate. Typically the more benefits you have and hours paid when not working with a client, the lower your hourly training payout. Working in franchise gyms can be a great way to establish your reputation, online presence, business practices, and clientele, but most trainers exit the industry after 2 years because of meager pay and the inability to transition to self-employment from such facilities. A good rule of thumb is that an employer looking to turn a profit by hiring a personal trainer for full-time hours and benefits will need to take around 40-60% of what you generate to turn a small profit.

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The Psychology of Buying and Selling

The nightmare for many a trainer is the realization that they aren’t just a trainer, but that they have become first and foremost a salesman/saleswoman too.

Every day you will be required to sell people on their own goals, the effort required to reach them, on your methods, and their continued relationship with your business.

You don’t need clever tricks or elaborate tactics to create a lasting career as a personal trainer, but you will need a fundamental understanding of human psychology of why people buy the things they buy.

Why do we buy the things we buy? We buy solutions to solve our problems. It’s that simple.

So consider that you are now in the business of selling solutions to people’s problems.

In Gap Selling, Jim Keenan (amazon) lays out the essential considerations you need to take into account with everyone you may wish to work with.

  1. If your customers don’t have a problem they want or need to solve, no sale is going to take place.
  2. All sales are about change.
  3. People generally don’t like change.
  4. People are emotional, not logical. You are selling to people’s emotions, not logic.
  5. 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?)
  6. However! People WILL change when the need (or pain) is great enough and it’s worth the effort and cost.
  7. People tend to share (or know) only the surface reason for why they want to change. Asking “why” consistently will uncover the deep, intrinsic motivation that drives their need for change.
  8. No one cares about why we do what we do, origin stories or the alphabet soup of acronyms after a name, customers care about their problems. Always stay focused on solving the customers’ problems with your communication and coaching.

Your task as a coach during your first meeting with a potential client is to 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, if you or your services can’t effectively solve their problem, then refer them to someone who can.

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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 be required 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 based on rock-hard 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 . . .

  1. Look = Losing bodyfat, gaining muscle, improving posture.
  2. Feel = Confidence, self-belief, energy, stamina, mental sharpness.
  3. Perform = Strength, stamina, speed, agility, sport specific skills and drills.
  4. Lifestyle = Reinforce a desired habit, identity, or lifestyle.

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. It’s important to consider that these needs are distinct from the intrinsic motivation that has these clients taking action on them, so not only will you need to categorize their needs but the motivations on why they are working towards them.

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.

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Filling Your Schedule

Playing the “No” Game, Lose so You Can Win

From your first day on the job to your last, filling your training schedule will be a numbers game of talking to people, in-person and virtually.

A time-tested tool to booking your schedule solid is to play the “no” game, seeing how many people you can get to say “no thanks” to you every day for personal training.

If you can accomplish five “no thanks” 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 is to be harshly and brutally rejected by at least 5 people.”

In civilized society, people are generally nice and averse to conflict, almost never will anyone be harsh or brutal in their rejection of your services without a clear indication of why on your part.

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. Soon you will realize the harsh and brutal rejections we fear almost never come, and never will.

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.

  1. Why are you talking to me?
  2. 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 are 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 . . .

  1. What’s the problem you want to solve?
  2. What do you offer?
  3. 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 (Wikipedia) : 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.

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Presenting Your Services

When presenting your services, focus on the transformation that is taking place. When suggesting that every session is $100, many will balk at such a price. However, by framing a package of sessions as a complete product designed to produce their desired transformation, often price becomes of little concern.


  1. You: We can train twice a week for $100 an hour, learning the fundamental movements needed to reach your fat loss goals, how do you feel about that? Client: Hm, let me think about it and get back to you. (They won’t.)
  2. You: So based on your goals of losing 30 pounds, I think meeting twice a week for 3 months along with some homework, we can help you feel and look awesome at your brother’s wedding as his best man like you said earlier. That will come to $2,400, over the next 3 months, ready to get started? Client: Yea, let’s do this, that wedding is getting closer and closer.

When enrolling a new client in your services, you’ll want to immediately answer two questions for them, or you run the risk of them falling off the wagon.

  1. What do they do right now? (Give them homework, such as a food log, or basic fitness program. Less is more here.)
  2. Who do I contact when I need help, and how? (Exchange contact information with them, make sure they have yours saved, and know how and when to message you.)

These first steps begin to set the tone for your coach-client relationship. The better you meet your client’s needs, both spoken and unspoken during this phase, the more trust you build.

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Objection Handling

When selling your services, you’ll invariably encounter objections. Fortunately for us the list is quite short, and you won’t need any clever tactics to help your clients reach their desired goals.

  1. I don’t have time.
    • “I’d like to, but I’m really busy the next few months. I’ll reach back out to you when I’m ready.”
    • People don’t “have” time, they “make” time. Often “I don’t have time” is a cover story for uncertainty around engaging in your service, such as a fear of failure, a distrust that your service will work, or that their investment will lead to buyer’s remorse.
  2. It’s too expensive, I can’t afford it.
    • “I’d like to but, we’re looking at getting a house and etc.”
    • Rarely will people explicitly state a service product is too expensive, it’s embarrassing to say you either can’t afford a service or can’t budget for a service. Generally this will be expressed as “I’d like to, but I have this other thing I have to pay for.”
  3. Let me think about it, I need to 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.”

Clever sales tactics to overcome objections may work in the short term, but rarely will they work for a service such as coaching. Perhaps you’ll successfully sell a coaching package, but your new client will 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.

When handling a potential client’s objections, be tactful yet direct. Refer back to their original goal, their internal motivations for achieving them, their desired future state, and then gently ask what’s changed that would lead them to feel differently now.

During your consultation, you did discover their true internal motivations for change and the true drivers for wanting their future state, right?

Potential Client: “I’d like to, but I’m really busy the next few months. I’ll reach back out to you when I’m ready.”

Trainer: Totally, but I’m a bit confused, you said that you wanted to lose 30 pounds over the next 3 months so that you can feel awesome taking your shirt off this summer in Mexico, and feel confident with around the office as you push for a promotion. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s changed?

Often sharing the phrase “I’m a bit confused, you said” and then referring back to their original goal, motivations, and desired outcomes will uncover another layer that needs addressing, whatever that may be.

It may also be that you uncovered your service is not the correct service for them, in which case you can now to refer them to one that is appropriate for them.

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Building Rapport

Rapport (rah-POR) is a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned are “in sync” with each other, understand each other’s feelings or ideas, and communicate smoothly.[1]


A personal trainer is more than a strength or skill coach. In addition to exercise prescriptions and body transformations, you will be expected to be part motivational speaker, part trusted confidante, and part valued friend.

Developing your ability to build rapport with anyone and everyone will become a fundamental skill to serving your clients well and ensuring you maintain a smooth and stable business.

Perhaps you are a believer that “just being yourself” is the best advice and that anything to the contrary is inauthentic. Just be yourself is great advice, when you’re already successful and skilled in human nature. But if you are authentically boring, complaining, criticizing, negative, insecure, projecting, annoying, and whiny then you will find a very difficult road ahead of you.

These aren’t clever tools or tactics to manipulate people. You aren’t altering or betraying your core character by using the concepts or tools covered below. These are genuine, empathic tools for you to present your best self and to be the best trainer, friend, parent, spouse, etc for the people in your life.

Master your body language. Appear open, attentive, and at ease with your standing and sitting posture. Your body language should project confidence and competence, even if you are not. 

Mirroring body language puts people at ease, and builds trust. Be aware and responsible for your unconscious facial expressions and facial responses. Be able to understand the micro-expressions of the face to uncover how people truly feel.

Being attractive is better than being unattractive. Examples include grooming, clothing fit and style, body weight, and body odor. People will have polarized opinions on some items, such as tattoos and piercings, so present accordingly to the location and community you are engaging with. 

Be curious. Few people take a curious approach to the lives of others. If you show genuine curiosity to your clients, you may be the only person in their life that does. People crave to be seen, heard and understood.

Being popular is better than being unpopular. If you are known within your gym and community, you can easily introduce clients to other people when training, which helps them feel popular by extension and integrate into the community. “Hey Jim, this is Carl who I also train, Carl this is Jim.”

Being a positive influence is better than being a negative one. Avoid politics and divisive issues, unless the client wants to vent about them, and if so, be selective in the politics you choose to mirror. Avoid complaining about your personal life. Always make sure your session ends on a positive note. If you do choose to complain, be selective and tailor it to being empathetic to what your client is dealing with.

Being reliable is better than being unreliable. Your clients have enough people in their lives who run late, feed them excuses, and are unreliable with emails or texts. Being stable and reliable for the people around you is a rare and valued trait.

Discretion is rare and is highly valued by all. When you speak of other clients, it should be praising them. A trainer turned confidante becomes a lifelong service provider.

Allow others to educate you even if you are an expert. People love to display their knowledge, it’s incredibly flattering to our egos. Few people love a know-it-all. If you wish to flatter someone immensely and earn their respect, take a stance on a topic and allow the other to move your position.

Broad and varied knowledge allows you to converse with anyone. Cultivate hobbies, read books, engage with pop culture, and begin to learn about topics your clients deal with. What topics excite them? Learn more about it so you can ask questions, people love to educate others about their interests. You catch fish with worms, not whatever your favorite food is. Talk about what they enjoy, not just what you enjoy.

Discover people’s insecurities so you may treat and soothe them. Everyone is insecure about something. Being able to understand, empathize, and soothe is a skill that few possess the competence and curiosity to perform. What childhood trauma is being recreated in adulthood? Be aware of your own insecurities, so you are not projecting them onto clients.

Let people talk. Don’t interrupt and if you do, apologize. “Sorry, I just talked over you there. What did you say?” You can politely direct a client to their next exercise non-verbally by pointing to the piece of equipment.

Become nonjudgemental. It’s not your place to fix or save people, being nonjudgemental is a gift few honestly offer.

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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.

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Owning Your Stereotype

As a trainer you will be stereotyped by others based on your sex, physique, grooming, style, and so on. Unfortunately, humans are judgmental and make lazy assumptions based on appearances.

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 “enter-trainer” – 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 “what others won’t.”
  • The “spiritual” trainer – Perhaps it’s energy work, yoga, meditation, truth-seeking, or awakening your third eye of truth. The spiritual trainer blends mysticism or spirituality with their health and wellness practices. This trainer will help you “discover your 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.

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Customers You Don’t Want

Once or less a month, versus once or more a week.

When running a professional personal training business, it’s important to distinguish between serving clients who will sustain and grow your business, versus the ones who could be better served with a different product such as a subscription to an online training program.

Far better to focus your time and attention on the clients who will train with you once or more per week, than those who ask for once or less per month.

My experience has shown that the client who trains once a month as a “touch base” will most often be the ones to cancel or reschedule their sessions, as they tend to have little personal investment in such a service.

Consider the following customers you could serve with coaching, and which ones would be the best to focus on having as the foundation of your business.

  • 5 high-yield customers who pay $400 a month or more for coaching = $24,000 or more a year in revenue.
    • These clients will be the ones who tend to achieve amazing results, and will have the greatest level of buy-in for their transformation.
  • 20 low-yield customers who pay you $100 a month or less for a single coaching session = $24,000 or less a year in revenue.
    • These clients will tend to be the ones who are the least likely to achieve their desired results, have the least buy-in, and will be among the highest rates of cancellations and rescheduling.
    • In serving these clients, consider the impact on your schedule of creating irregular recurring sessions that interfere with your weekly clients, and the additional time they require outside of sessions in support and outreach to keep on track, versus those you see weekly.

The most successful personal training businesses rarely cater to everyone and every need, instead they focus on working with individuals and demographics that they can serve extraordinarily well and that will allow their business to thrive. A lion can hunt mice or antelope, but he can’t live on mice for long.

You should always be striving for customers who are ready, willing and able to do the work, who you can genuinely help reach their goals, and will appreciate you and your service. Everything else is a distraction and a disservice, and you would better serve them by offering them a different service or recommending them a different product.

*Caveat 1: For clients who have already attained their goals and are transitioning to maintenance and would like less frequent training, I consider a once-a-month touch base session a fine solution should you like to extend your coaching with them. However, I’d like to stress that after 10 years of coaching, these clients were always the ones with the highest level of buy-in and training frequency before they transitioned to less frequency once successful.

*Caveat 2: Please note this chapter is focused on building the foundation of your business with one-to-one coaching clients at the beginning of your career. Once you’ve established the foundation of your business, then it is encouraged to pursue creating passive income through media, programs, or scaling your coaching through bootcamps, body transformation challenges, or monthly membership programs.

People who make a habit of missing 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 make a habit of missing 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 upset when you don’t.

I’ve had customers no show their first appointment, and when I reach out they respond over a year later saying they are ready. They rarely are, and the process repeats.

People looking for the quick, easy fix.

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill outside of gradually changing our habits with work and persistence. People who are looking for a quick fix won’t be customers for long when they learn that body transformation requires time and hard work.

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, best to simply refer them elsewhere rather than try to convince them otherwise.

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.

Motivated customers who can’t afford your services will use the free recommendations you provide them, such as books or online videos, and return when they are financially ready to invest in coaching.

Bargain hunters looking for the lowest price may reluctantly buy your service but will rarely follow through on using it. Should you decide to devalue your offerings and hand out discounts, you can reliably expect clients who consume excessive amounts of your time in the form of extraneous “support.”

Much to my chagrin, whenever I’ve recommended free or near-free resources to a price-sensitive customer, I’ve consistently found during follow-ups that they “never got around” to getting them. Surprise.

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 about 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?

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Invent a Referral Culture

No matter how successful you are at training or at selling training, you will experience churn. Clients will inevitably leave your business. Perhaps they’ve outgrown your expertise, grown bored with your methods, moving away, or no longer trust you.

The solution to churn is not to eliminate churn, but to embrace it with inventing a culture of referrals among your clients and community.

Effective referral systems accomplish 3 major tasks.

  1. Makes your existing clients feel important.
  2. Help your clients show off their superiority, that they are more “in the know” than their friends.
  3. Make it easy and natural for your clients by fitting it into their natural habits with little to no risk to them.

There’s a big difference between have a referral culture, versus having a system such as just handing out gift cards and asking every now and then.

Keep in mind what your referral request is really asking as well, “can you refer me to a friend or family member while adequately explaining what I do in a way they’ll buy and in return you’ll receive a small amount of compensation you probably won’t care about? By the way, I hope it doesn’t go south and ruin your relationship and feel super weird.”

So instead, empower your clients to feel confident about referring you business and invent a culture in your business around referring.

Dan Kennedy shares his mindset for creating a referral culture in his book No B.S Guide to Maximum Referrals and Customer Retention which I list below. These aren’t things that are necessarily verbalized to your clients, it would be weird to say “we expect you to refer us people.” But based on your leadership and actions as a coach, your clients should naturally feel comfortable and eager to refer to you.

  1. Our customers refer.
  2. Our good customers refer often.
  3. Our best customers refer often and a lot.
  4. Referrals are expected from you.
  5. Referrals are genuinely appreciated.
  6. The people you refer are well taken care of. You’ll only get happy reports and thanks from your referrals.
  7. Not referring is weird and inappropriate. You should feel bad about it.
  8. There are lots of reasons people do business with us, not just the reason that brought you in. Keep all these reasons in mind when you talk about us with your friends.
  9. Most people don’t really know how to find a good, trustworthy provider of what we do, so you’re doing others a great service by telling them about us.
  10. There are easy ways to introduce people to us and to get our information into the hands of the people you think can be of service to.
  11. So, here’s how to refer someone to us . . .

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