“Build it and they will come” said Kevin Costner’s character in the movie ‘Field of Dreams’. Great movie, not that great advice. Just because you build a business doesn’t mean that customers will flock to you with cash in hand.
I do appreciate the emotion behind his sentiment though. But before we even get to the ‘clients running at you’ part, what does it take to ‘build’ the thing? In this case – a PT business.
Let me tell you; building a business takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. It will test the most enthusiastic of energiser bunny; regardless of whether it is the first, or tenth time building one. I’ll admit that it gets a little easier the more you do it, but it is still difficult none the less.
Todays PT landscape is different from when I built my first business 20 years ago. Some things have changed a lot; whereas others have stayed the same. So when I am asked the question ‘what would you do if you had to start from scratch’, here’s the game plan I would follow.
Where you choose to build your PT business is crucial. If you choose the wrong environment, it can prevent your business from growing. In the same way that a plant needs fertile soil and the right conditions to thrive so to does your business.
The first question to consider is this – what type of environment do you want to be in? There are many options these days:
Each of these locations have their pro’s and cons, so you need to consider the following.
Let’s start with Indoors vs Outdoors.
In an indoors location, such as a commercial gym, consider the market ‘captured’. This means all your potential clients are already a part of the the gym. They are in one place and already using services. There’s no need to find them because the gym has already done the hard work in obtaining them. Your job is to convert them into paying PT clients.
In an outdoors situation the market is ‘open’. The clients are anywhere and everywhere. It is difficult getting information on who and how many people use the location. Sourcing clients for your outdoor training requires more effort.
There are pro’s and con’s to both indoors and outdoors, but the main pro’s of being indoors include:
Some people love working outdoors and as such build businesses there. But, I am biased towards an indoor situation. So if starting from scratch I would definitely go into a commercial gym. Especially if I was looking to build my business fast (in less than 12 weeks).
But not every commercial gym is the same.
It would be prudent to do your due diligence on where you want to work. Waltzing into any old gym and expecting a great experience would be a mistake. Always investigate the gym you want to work in. Here are some basic questions to ask to help you gauge whether it will suit you.
How many ACTIVE members does the gym have (eg how many member swipes do they get per day)
What is their attrition rate (how many members do they lose each month)
How many, if any, other Personal trainers are in the club?
How successful are they, what are the business of the top trainers like?
On average how much are these top trainers charging?
When are peak times?
Is there support for new trainers building up their business? What does that look like?
Do new trainers get leads?
What is the culture of the gym/PT team like?
How many clients can take part in a small group training setting?
Are any of the trainers using SGT in their business model?
Is there a contract? What are the details of that contract?
Can I talk to some of the trainers?
The answers to these questions should help you determine the viability of the club. If the contact person can’t answer these questions confidently (and they are a PT manager) then be wary. The inability to answer these questions should signal warning bells.
A business needs an online presence. You need to be Googleable. Yes, you may think that it isn’t necessary, but this is the way of the world now. Have you ever googled a restaurant or hotel to find out ‘how good it is’ before committing to going?
Of course you have. Most people do. We like to do our homework on other people before committing to take action. Which means, if you don’t have any online presence and no one can find you, it casts doubt on your credibility.
Creating an online presence doesn’t need to be expensive or time consuming. Here’s the basics:
Start here. Start simple.
And avoid the biggest time sucking mistake of all; working out the business name, tagline and logo. Yes these things are important but not as important as you think they at the beginning. The key to building a business is to create momentum by taking purposeful action. Focussing on these types of details stalls momentum.
Use your personal name first and then you can always change it later on.
You will need various strategies depending on where you locate your business.
3 Part In Person Strategy:
A. Walk the floor (Old Fashioned But Effective)
In the times where you want to build the bulk of your business walk the gym floor. This is an old tried but true method. It has stood the test of time and it works. The whole point of floor walking is to be of service and improve visibility. It is about connecting with people and having genuine conversations with members. It is about building up the ‘Know, Like, Trust’ factor with potential clients.
Be specific with your timing though. There is no point being on the gym floor all day if you don’t have the intention of building your business all hours. Be on the floor when you would want to be delivering PT sessions.
The easiest, ‘no brainer’ method has stood the test of time. Smile, say ‘hi’, and when they are having a break in the sets, or look like they need a hand go and strike up a conversation. Who wadda thought?
If conversation scares you then you will need to get over yourself. Fast. Practice your conversation skills with as many strangers as possible. Talk to randoms. Ask them about their day, and engage in general chit chat. Become an expert on reading people.
B. Visit the local cafe’s and shops
Head to all the local cafe shops/businesses that are in the vicinity of the gym and introduce yourself. Tell them who you are, what you are doing, and how you can help people. Ask if you can leave some flyers at the counter or put some marketing on their noticeboard. You can whip up some flyers in a matter of minutes using Canva or if that’s too hard hire someone off Fiverr for five bucks.
C. Enrol your friends and family
Bring in friends and family into the gym and training them on a ‘Friends and Family’ discounted rate (not free). Do this so that you can brush up on your PT skills and give the appearance of being ‘busy’. As you start converting clients, upgrade your Friends and Family to your standard prices or dissolve the agreement.
2 Part Online Strategy:
A. Pull from your current people.
Use that Friends list of yours on FB and Instagram and let people know you are available for PT. Send out personalised emails or messages. Even if they don’t live in your area there may be people that they know who do. Your current network of friends is valuable.
As in any relationship it is important to have rapport, trust and respect. Don’t reach out to people you haven’t talked to in years and dive straight in with a ‘come buy Personal Training’ from me message. This is equal to walking up to an old friend at a bar and asking to borrow $1000. Or, the same as walking up to an acquaintance and asking for a shag. Take the time to re-connect, ask them how they are and then let them know how you are now helping people.
B Run some basic Facebook Ads
People have a love/hate relationship with FB ads. I’ve heard many trainer say ‘they don’t work’, which isn’t true. Facebook Ads need to be set up properly, tested and tweaked over time. Most PT’s don’t have the patience to see an ad through so stop it before it can be beneficial. You need to remember that Facebook Ads are a tool. And the effectiveness of any tool depends on the person using it.
There are many advantages to running Facebook Ads. In this circumstance they would support the other strategies. Start with a simple ‘promotional’ FB ad with the goal of creating brand awareness and driving people to take up an offer. Set the budget at $7 day for 1 month, tweaking the ad every week. Obviously, this is a super basic way of running a Facebook ad, but you will gain a ton of valuable information. A good Facebook ads strategy will compliment your other marketing strategies.
Straight off the bat the focus would be on converting clients into Small Group Training, not one on one PT. One on One PT is the typical model that has existed for years, and while there are some benefits from 1:1 it’s time take a new approach. I have talked about why PT’s need to move from 1:1 to 1:many here and here.
If you have an established PT business it is possible to transition the model. It takes a few months (and a whole heap of courage) to transition clients but it is well worth it. When starting with a clean slate and open schedule, SGT is the way to go.
Start with choosing your rostered session times. If offering a 3 x week SGT you may create one stream for Mon, Wed and Friday 6 am, a second stream for Mon, Wed and Friday 7 am and then a lunchtime stream at 12.30 pm.
You can offer a 2 x week SGT and again create streams for those: Tues, Thurs 6 am, 7 am and 12.30 pm.
Choose one stream to fill first and then add more clients to the next stream. To successfully create SGT streams you must be willing to see the long term gains. Yes, there may be weeks where there is only 1 person in a group, but you need to be willing to play the long game. When the groups are full the benefits outweigh the initial losses.
I would still offer one on one PT because I love it. I am a PT purist at heart. There are also people out there who are willing to pay a premium price for the exclusivity of one on one. With that in mind, private PT would come with a hefty investment.
Sell transformation not sessions.
This concept requires a massive paradigm shift. At point of sale don’t make the mistake of selling the clients X number of sessions per week. A typical (brief) sales pitch would sound like this:
Trainer: “Sarah, to recap your goals, you told me you want to achieve XYZ, is that right?”. “Great, I can certainly help you get there. In order for you to achieve your goals the best approach would be to train with me 2 x times per week with me and 2 times on your own …”. When you train with me here’s what you will get … (trainer rattles off all the features of training with them).
Ok, so this isn’t too bad, but it’s not great either. Why? Because it’s all about the training features. Most people don’t buy on the features of a product they buy on the benefit. People want to know ‘what’s in it for them’. You, the trainer need to convey the benefits of working with you. You have to show them the value and how you are the right person to help them become a better version of themselves.
When trainers rattle off what a client ‘will get’ in a session the prospective client glazes over.
This does not bode well for a money exchange. You need to convey value and emotion.
Starting a PT business from scratch comes with a very steep learning curve. One of the best ways to get through this period is by being super organised. Make sure you have the following things in order:
The previous strategies will go a long way in helping to build a business but none of it will occur without BHW. Potential trainers often have an unrealistic idea of what it takes to build a business. They only see the glamorous side of Personal Training. The exercises, hanging out and fun stuff, not the behind the scenes grind that occurs daily. Set the task of building your business to the numbers and income that you want in a specific time. For me, I would set the challenge of 8 – 12 weeks depending on my location.
In that time frame you need to go ALL IN. Show up emotionally and physically. Be persistent and relentless. Say no to distractions and get super clear and focussed on daily, weekly and monthly goals.
The take-home is be prepared to work hard and feel ‘tired and wired’ simultaneously. Do not rest until you have reached your financial targets.
These strategies seem simple but do not underestimate the power of this simplicity. There is no magic way to build a PT business; just basic key strategies coupled with old fashioned hard work. And, if I were to choose to build a business again within a commercial gym this is exactly the approach I would take.
Creating your own business from scratch is an amazing experience. Go in eyes wide open and prepared to feel ALL the feels over the first 6 months. Stay focussed, hungry and ask for as much help as possible. And at the end of the day remember to pat yourself on the back for taking the leap to back your passion.
Nardia is an Australian Institute of Fitness ‘Legend’, Fitness Network Personal Trainer of the year 2014, course creator, international presenter and part time comedian (in her lounge room).
She loves helping women in fitness create stronger businesses so they can have more money, flexibility and impact.
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