For many fitness professionals, their career choice is driven mainly by their passion for the industry, rather than the earning potential it offers.
But for those who excel at their job, it is possible to create a lucrative business, says Robert Walker, an HFPA graduate and founder of Walker Strength, an online and personal training business based in Sandton.
Hitting a ceiling
Robert explains that many trainers tend to hit a ceiling with regard to their earning potential at about R20,000-25,000 per month. “The average rate for a one-on-one personal training session varies between R350-500. This depends on various factors, such as the trainer’s experience and qualifications, where they’re based and the type of training they offer.”
According to Robert, most trainers hit this ceiling in earning potential based on how many active paying clients they can secure, rather than any limit in terms of billable hours each day.
“While you need to be good at what you do, in these instances it is often less about your abilities as a personal trainer and more about your business acumen,” he adds. “For those who understand how to market and sell their offering, and constantly deliver exceptional service and results, the potential is there to exceed R100,000+ a month in revenue.”
Consider overhead costs
Of course, there are various overheads associated with running a personal training business, the most significant of which is normally gym rental. “Depending on where you’re based and the type of gym you work in, monthly rentals can vary from R6,000-R8000 a month, up to R17,000 or more at flagship locations within the big chains.”
If trainers hope to establish a sustainable career with consistent revenue streams to support their lifestyles and meet their monthly financial needs, they must first establish a solid client base. In terms of one-on-one training, this requires a large pool of potential clients to market to. A small gym with many trainers will obviously make competition for business more intense.
“So select your location wisely. Trainers also need to have a clearly defined offering that clients can understand, and support this with suitable marketing initiatives that effectively sell you and your services. And don’t forget to make it easy for potential new clients to contact you, either via a phone number, email, on social media, instant messaging or via a website,” adds Robert.
Once a trainer finds new business and attracts clients, it’s imperative that what they offer and how they offer it, works.
“Fitness professionals need to be good at what they do and understand human physiology and exercise science beyond the fundamentals taught during certification and diploma courses. You need to educate yourself however you can to make sure you can deliver. This is also vitally important because clients need to trust you if you want to build long-term relationships and retainer-based business.”
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Robert adds that a trainer’s offering also extends beyond their ability to effectively programme exercise routines. “You also need to be personable and engaging during sessions. The time a client spends with you needs to be enjoyable, otherwise they’ll be less likely to come back, or even to recommend you to others.”
And with referrals a major source of new business for trainers, failing to meet these requirements will curtail your earning potential. Those that get the formula right can quickly build a core base of long-term clients who they see on a monthly basis, and supplement available hours with ad-hoc sessions.
“Trainers that are taking 10 one-on-one sessions a day are doing good business. This type of client base also offers opportunities to leverage the network and up-sell clients to any other services a trainer may offer,” continues Robert, but he cautions fitness professionals against diversifying their offering too much.
While broadening your service offering with additional qualifications such as massage therapy, for example, can help to supplement income during periods when personal training clients aren’t as active, Robert believes too many fit pros get carried away with these extra services.
“Too many side hustles can dilute your offering and many trainers soon become a jack of all trades but a master of none. While continued education is important, I believe the greatest success comes from the mastery of one or two core services. When you become an expert in a field, people will naturally prefer to hire you over someone who less experienced or capable.”
He adds that there is also the opportunity costs to consider. “How can you expect to grow your personal training business if your time is taken up providing other services? This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for ways to diversify, though. But when you do it’s best to stick to your core offering.”
Looking online for growth
In this regard, online training has become a popular avenue for trainers to boost their earning power. It is also something that Robert has added to his offering.
“Many trainers today take a blended approach, mixing online coaching with personal training. There are so many good white label app-based systems out there that trainers can rebrand, which offer opportunities to scale a business.”
Through online training a fit pro is not constrained by the number of hours in a day. “When you sell programmes online you’re no longer billing per hour, but rather selling your intellectual property. This can grow your earning potential by 10x rather than just 10%.”
Roberts adds that an end-to-end digital solution also aids online lead generation, expands your potential client base, and can assist with admin, which frees up more time for a trainer to work on income-generating activities. Trainers can also fill gaps between clients with online training work to boost their daily earning potential.
“Ultimately, though, the same principles apply. The industry is already full of online trainers and coaches. You need to distinguish your offering, be it PT sessions or online consultations or programmes by delivering results and exceptional service. Be honest with your clients, be confident in the offering, set realistic goals, manage expectations and always overdeliver on what you promise. When you get these fundamentals right then your health and fitness-focused business will flourish,” he concludes.
Earning potential as a PT at a glance:
Be a businessman and a personal trainer. Acquire the skills and tools to succeed in both roles.
Define your offering and understand how to market and sell it.
Establish your business in an area that offers a large pool of potential clients.
Make it easy for potential new clients to contact you.
Constantly deliver exceptional service and results, and be personable and engaging during sessions. This will drive referral business.
If you diversify, stick to your core offering, like online coaching.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.