// Be a PT rock star – not a one-hit wonder

Like aspiring rock stars, many personal trainers have the passion and motivation to explode onto the training scene and make a name for themselves – before burning out all too soon. Donna Hutchinson explains how to avoid this pitfall in favour of a long and successful career.

The career of the typical rock star is extremely short. Unless they produce a lot of hits fast, they disappear into obscurity. If a musician is lucky he or she may have five or six good years. And then there are the music industry stalwarts such as U2, Bon Jovi and The Rolling Stones who have enjoyed exceptionally long – and lucrative – careers. Making a career out of personal training can be just as challenging as carving a career as a bona fide rock star. It takes a lot of time, dedication and perseverance to make it happen, and then stamina, business acumen and planning to maintain it. Many trainers struggle with one or more of these, and as a result have short careers – the ‘one hit wonders’ of personal training.

Since it burst onto the fitness scene in the early 1990s, personal training has grown steadily. In the early days the overwhelming majority of trainers sought employment at fitness facilities, recreation centres or private studios. While this is still true of many, an increasing number of PTs now start their own businesses in a bid to have greater control over the direction of their career. Where the potential gains are greater however, so are the risks.

By identifying the challenging areas of this business from the outset, you can prevent yourself from disappointment and burnout – and realistically pave the way for a rock star career.

Earning potential

While the prospect of earning $100 an hour lures many people into the industry, the truth is that not everyone makes this kind of money – and certainly not straight away. Typically, the trainers who make this hourly rate have more experience, commit to an ongoing investment in their education and qualifications, or focus on a specialty market, making them an expert or a ‘celebrity’ of the PT scene. You cannot expect to make this money until you have truly earnt the right to charge it.


The nature of our work means that trainers don’t – and shouldn’t – work a typical forty-hour week, instead averaging twenty to twenty-five hours. This is because working with people one-on-one or even in groups can be extremely draining, with every client requiring a trainer’s full attention and focus (assuming you behave professionally). Most trainers find it difficult to be on top of their game for forty hours a week, and attempting to work every hour of the day – a temptation for new trainers – can be detrimental to your career, and your clients, in the long-term. Any seasoned professional will tell you that packing your schedule with clients will lead to certain burn-out.

Inconsistency of work

Another issue that arises for trainers is the ebb and flow of work, which has a definite impact on income. Hours can fluctuate from week to week due to client cancellations, illness or holidays. It’s not uncommon to have five or sometimes even ten cancellations out of twenty or thirty sessions booked. There can also be monthly fluctuations such as during school holidays or in December, when end of year commitments and preparations for the holidays pushes training sessions lower on people’s priority lists. Income can drop hugely during these times – a savvy and experienced trainer knows how to budget for these times of business famine.

Building clientele

Independent trainers often find it difficult to build a client base. Friends of friends or family members are typically among their first clients, and they rely strongly on word of mouth to build their businesses. For a short time this strategy seems to work, but referrals can dry up quickly and unless trainers have some marketing experience they often struggle to find new clients. Without a supply of new prospects, the departure of an existing client – particularly a regular one – will have a tremendous impact on a trainer’s finances. Long hours spent training and unpaid time applied to building the business add to the stress of income fluctuations and the difficulty in building a clientele.

No benefits package

One disadvantage of self-employment is that you have no benefits package, so getting sick or injured could be costly. Some trainers don’t take holidays because they either can’t afford to lose the income, or they cannot justify the loss of revenue to themselves even if they can actually ‘afford’ the time off. And more important than the lack of paid Annual Leave, is the absence of compulsory Superannuation. Unless the trainer contributes to a retirement savings plan there won’t be any money put aside to retire on.

To get a successful personal training business off the ground takes effort – and to keep it on an upward trajectory takes even more. Even with a plan in place, the career of a good personal trainer may only last two or three years. After this, many realise it’s harder than they thought and decide to do it part-time – or simply leave the industry altogether.

This is the reality of the personal training business: a distinct lack of direction and little if any support. Like a rock star you are left to your own talents to make it work.

But what if I told you there was a way to increase your chances of being successful? It’s not a guarantee of success, but it can increase your odds, give you a shot at the stage and an opportunity to rock. Successful rock stars have great managers: someone who knows the music business, is well connected and believes enough in the musicians’ ability to help them succeed in the competitive music scene. A good manager is familiar with the pitfalls of the industry and helps stars avoid situations that could lead to disaster. If a star’s enthusiasm or direction start to waver, the manager swiftly gets them back on track. The power of strong direction is evident in legendary music industry managers such as the ‘fifth Beatle’ Brian Epstein or Elvis’s manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker.

If you want to attain (and retain!) rock star status as a personal trainer, it might be wise to consider the services of a business coach. Clients hire you as a personal trainer for the same reasons you should consider a coach. Your clients could learn to become fit by themselves, but they are more likely to be successful with a trainer coaching them. You help your clients avoid unsafe exercises, demonstrate correct technique and provide results-oriented programs. Business coaches do the same for your business.

Business coaches have served other industries with great success for a long time. It’s only in recent times that a handful of fitness professionals has moved into business coaching. These business coaches know the industry and are helping trainers based on their own experience.

While hiring a business coach can’t guarantee success – you still have to do the work – it will certainly prevent you from making costly mistakes or heading down the wrong path. If you are serious about a long-term career as a personal trainer, the right business coach will understand all the challenges you face and help you think about ways to get around each one.

The right business coach;

  • Knows where the untapped markets are in the industry and how you can penetrate niche markets that other trainers don’t know about.
  • Shortens your learning curve so you don’t fall victim to common mistakes, like writing content for your website that actually drives business away.
  • Shares tips and strategies that let you make the most of every marketing opportunity, in print, in person and online. For instance, there are trigger words you can use in your marketing that actually stimulate people to buy.
  • Helps you understand the personal training business cycle and how to keep your income consistent.
  • Shows you ways to earn more money per hour. Instead of earning $65 an hour, you could potentially earn $75, $125 or even $250 an hour.
  • Teaches you how to manage your schedule to create a demand for your services and avoid burn-out at the same time.
  • Gives you the organisational tools you need to plan for your financial future, take holidays and weather the occasional illness.

The investment you make in hiring a business coach can be one of the best decisions you make for your business. Why not use all the advantages you can get to earn rock star status? And the best part is that what you learn from a business coach will ensure you stay a personal training rock star for years to come.

Donna Hutchinson
Donna is owner of On The Edge Fitness, a business and marketing coach for fitness industry professionals and author of the How to Guide: Starting a Personal Training Business. For a F.R.E.E report on 25 words to avoid on your website, send a blank email to edgefit@shaw.ca and write in the subject line ‘send me your F.R.E.E. report on the 25 words to avoid when writing web copy’ – and be sure to include those full stops between the letters!