Fitness business success:
From personal trainer to business leader.

By Nate Green

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You can help people improve their lives and make a great living at the same time!

In this article, Nate Green (together with Precision Nutrition’s Dr. John Berardi and Net Profit Explosion’s Sean Greeley) outlines the key stages in a successful fitness business. Then he helps you figure out what to do to make your business grow and thrive.

[Note: we’ve also prepared an audio recording of this article for you to listen to. So, if you’d rather listen to the piece, click here.]

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If you’re a fitness pro near the start of your career, you have a simple dream. You want to help people improve their health. And you want to make good money at the same time. Easy.

So why don’t most personal trainers and coaches turn their love of fitness into anything other than a glorified part-time job?

Here’s one answer: Until now, it’s been fairly easy to improve your skills as a trainer. But it hasn’t been easy to get good instruction in nutrition, in coaching, or in business systems for the fitness professional.

No wonder so many well-meaning fitness pros flounder within a year or two of striking out on their own.

I know I did.

As a cocky 22-year-old, I was a decent trainer. I had a good client base. And I had a big dream. But I wasn’t all that clear on the particulars.

Within a year, I was ready to quit. I was working harder but making less money than I’d made at the big box gym. Plus, I was so stressed out that I probably wasn’t meeting my clients’ needs.

Now, my story has a happy ending. I started writing for fitness magazines and went on to work for Precision Nutrition. For me, that’s a better fit.

But sometimes I wonder: What would have happened to my business if I’d known more about what to expect, or where to turn for help?

And my business is hardly the first to falter for want of better systems. How many others have crashed because their owners lacked some basic knowledge or a plan?

Meanwhile, how many clients have missed out on getting the help they need?

Luckily, there’s hope.

Get the help that I didn’t when starting out.

Need to know the science of nutrition and the art of coaching? No problem, that exists nowadays. (In fact, Precision Nutrition’s Certification programs fill that gap quite well).

Business coaching? No problem either.

Sean Greeley’s Net Profit Explosion (NPE) has already helped thousands of fitness pros turn their dreams into practical realities instead of sad statistics. (And with Sean’s expert guidance and advice, it’s easy to prime your business for continued stability and growth).

Not long ago, I talked with him and very our own Dr. Berardi — who has, after all, built the thriving Precision Nutrition from the ground up — for the inside scoop on how to build a better fitness business. Read on for the details.

The 6 phases of a successful fitness business

Like all businesses, says Sean, fitness businesses go through several predictable developmental stages.

If you know the stage that your business is at, you can make smart decisions now, and plan more intelligently for the future.

  • Phase 1: Just starting out.
  • Phase 2: Want to work for yourself.
  • Phase 3: Ready to open and grow a business.
  • Phase 4: Committed to long-term business success. 
  • Phase 5: Want to lead a team that runs your business without you. 
  • Phase 6: Achieving your goals and ready for the next challenge. 

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that you’re relatively new to the field, so your business probably falls into one of the first three categories.

Let’s take a closer look at what you can do to for continued success.

Brand new to the fitness industry?

Start with Phase 1: Just starting out. 

The focus in this stage is to start getting clients and making money.

Oh, sure, you’re probably thinking. If only it were that easy!

But in fact, it is reasonably easy, if you’re good at what you do and you keep a few key pointers in mind:

  • Don’t quit your day job. Get your first 10 clients before even thinking about quitting. You need to know that you even like doing this before you think of making it your life’s work.
  • Commit to becoming a “complete” fitness professional. Before you focus on growing your business, you must be absolutely confident that you can get great results with every client you work with. Get the training and experience you need to do just that. (Here’s an outline of the fitness curriculum we recommend.)
  • Brainstorm your dream lifestyle and write it down. Why are you thinking of joining the fitness industry anyway? What kinds of things do you want your business to allow you to do? Knowing this will guide your decisions going forward.
  • Determine the kind of clients you want to work with. Athletes? Kids? Overweight or medically fragile people? When you get clear on who exactly your ideal client is, you’ll know where to find them, how to talk with them, and how to actually help them.
  • Create your “primary offer”. This is how you get people in the door and turn them into clients. It might be a complimentary consultation, a 21-day offer, or a kick-start program. But whatever it is, it will get people in the door so you can start building genuine relationships.

Working in a gym or fitness center?

It may be time for Phase 2: Want to work for yourself.

If you’re working for a gym or fitness center and you enjoy it, you’ve built a decent client base, and your clients regularly get great results, high five!

But while you probably feel pretty good about your clients’ success, you might also be starting to feel a bit bored and ready for a new challenge.

In that case, it may be time to consider setting up your own studio. But before you sign that lease, consider these tips:

  • Ask: Do I really want to work for myself? Owning a small business is great, but it’s not for everybody. There’s no shame in that. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it also means doing a lot of grunt work. Make sure you’re willing and able to do that work, or come up with an alternate plan.
  • Focus on increasing net profit. Remember the equation: Gross revenue – gross expenses = net profit. And net profit is the only number that matters. Always run the numbers before you make any major purchases. Is this going to improve your situation, or add to your debt load (and headaches)?
  • Don’t quit your training job yet. Wait until you have the time, money, and concrete plans before jumping ship.

Already own a studio or gym?

It’s time for Phase 3:Ready to open and grow a business.

Once you’ve taken the leap and set out on your own, you still need ongoing planning and management to ensure that your business doesn’t stagnate, or — worse yet — collapse under the weight of your unmet expectations.

To ensure continued success:

  • Realize that you need to turn your “job” into an actual business.  Start thinking about the next stage of your business and what it’ll take to grow into something that lasts. You need to ensure you can maintain service, improve marketing, and hire somebody to help you or you won’t have the freedom to work on the business versus in the business.
  • Develop systems for how you do everything. First, make sure you’re doing the right things. Then make sure they’re written down somewhere and repeatable. Otherwise, you’ll just be re-inventing the wheel — again, and again, and again. That leads to stagnation, boredom for you, and frustration for your clients.

Want to dig deeper into all 6 phases? Click here for an outline of The 6 Stages of Fitness Business Growth and Development.

A final note: The world needs you

Working in the fitness industry is your opportunity to do work that matters.

It’s your chance to make a great living doing something you love, and helping people change their lives in the process.

But for every 100 fitness professionals out there, only a couple have thriving businesses.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Just like you can become a better trainer and coach, you can also learn how to build a business that serves you, your family, your clients, and your community.

Start by asking yourself one question:  

“What phase am I in?”

Then, do the opposite of what I did:

Get the help you need.

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Special thanks to Sean Greeley from NPE for contributing to this article. If you’re a trainer who’d like to build a successful business but don’t know where to start, we recommend requesting NPE’s free diagnostic consultation.

Also, check out this free mini-course, exclusively for Precision Nutrition readers: 9 referral marketing systems to get more clients now. If you want consistent and predictable referrals that’ll help keep your business growing steadily throughout the year, don’t miss it.