How to Be a Successful Personal Trainer in 2023

Your comprehensive masterplan to building a personal training career, booking yourself solid with clients you love.

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

  1. Relationships are the true currency of a personal trainer.
  2. Constantly ask yourself, what would this “look like” if this were easy?
  3. Immediate Success = the quantity of imperfect actions you are willing to take everyday.
  4. Long-Term Success = the quantity and quality of actions you take everyday.

Table of Contents

  1. Your Coaching Compass
  2. Financial Foundations
  3. Getting Certified
  4. Choose a Homebase
  5. Why We Buy Anything
  6. Riches in the Niches
  7. Talk to Everyone, the Goal is “No”
  8. Presenting Your Services
  9. Be a Creator, Not a Consumer
  10. Develop Your Persona
  11. Four Kinds of Clients
  12. Objection Handling
  13. Customers You Don’t Want
  14. Invent a Referral Culture

v1.3: Added Getting Certified

Coming Soon

  • Keys to a Great Consultation
  • Creating the Ideal Apprenticeship
  • Deconstructing the Master Trainer
    • “Mastery doesn’t come from an infographic. What you know doesn’t mean shit. What do you do consistently?” – Tony Robbins
  • Client Care and You

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 to keep us pointed in the right direction.

Let’s build your coaching compass by taking out a journal and answer 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 (hopefully).
  • 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 and MLMs.)

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” tends to sort themselves out over time.

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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 near zero debt with a liquid 4+ 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.

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3. 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

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

However, in the United States, and most countries, you are not legally required to possess a certification to work as a personal trainer or within a facility. 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 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 which 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, how long?
  • 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. Never forget that certifications are a business that thrives on exploiting insecurity or fantastical future states.

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

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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4. Choose a Homebase

Why go to all the trouble of selling your services when you can have an organization do most of the work fo 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 a steady stream of clients trough marketing and membership funnels, while others with provide you functionally zero clients support systems.

Ask you 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 to you track your trainers 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 failure 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 on hiring a personal trainer for full-time hours and benefits will need to take around 40-60% of what you generate in order to turn a small profit.

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5. 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.

  1. If your customer doesn’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 their 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, 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.

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6. 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 . . .

  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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7. Talk to Everyone, the Goal is “No”

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

When starting out, filling your training schedule will largely become a numbers game.

A fast solution is to play the “no” game, seeing how many people you can get to say no to you every day 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.

  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 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 . . .

  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 : 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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8. 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 assigning you homework, we can help you feel and look awesome at your brother’s wedding as his best man like you requested. 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 your’s 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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9. 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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10. 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.

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11. Four Kinds of Clients

Personal training clients will typically fall into 4 categories . . .

  1. 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.
  2. Physique Clients – Clients who want to look great naked, primary driven by aesthetic results.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).

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12. Objection Handling

The nightmare for many a trainer is the realization that they aren’t just a trainer, but that they are indeed a salesman/saleswoman too.

In any sales job 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 get to 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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13. 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 proven 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 often be the ones who are the least likely to achieve their desired results because they have less 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 the 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 in the beginning of your career. Once you’ve established the foundation of your business, then it is encouraged to pursue creating passive income through ebooks and programs, or scaling your coaching through bootcamps, body transformation challenges, or monthly membership programs.

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 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.

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 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, it’s best in the long run 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.

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.

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!

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14. 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 fantastic mindset for creating a referral culture his 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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