The Top Ten Business Mistakes Personal Trainers Make (And How To Avoid Them)

November 15, 2016

About the Author: Daniel Freedman

By Eric Bach, CSCS is a personal trainer, author, and fitness business coach in Denver, Colorado. Eric’s passion is on simplifying the process of building an online fitness business and helping trainers overcome information overload to a build a successful fitness brand. For free marketing, sales, and content tips join the Bach Performance Hybrid Fitness Business Community here

If only I knew then, what I know now….

…well, my journey as a personal trainer might have been a lot easier. Hell, this script (get it here free) alone would have helped me convert 10x as many clients.

Coming up on ten years and <10,000 cups of coffee in the industry, I decided to share my “lessons learned” and combine them with additional insights from colleagues.

I asked on my Facebook page:
“What’s the one thing you wish you knew before you started a fitness business?”

Responses came from personal trainers in commercial and specialty gyms, sports performance coaches, PhD’s, and nutrition experts. This extended blog post summarizes the responses. I don’t agree with everything, but thought the responses interesting enough to present to you so can judge for yourself. I’ve interspersed my own comments.

Ten years is a long time. Functional training, powerlifting, and Bosu balls came and went as “the next big thing.”

CrossFit went mainstream.

The Red Sox won a World Series, we went through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and Donald Trump was elected President.

Ten years ago MySpace (Hey Tom!) was a leading social network. Now you can broadcast live TV on Facebook.

What hasn’t changed as much are the business fundamentals for personal trainers.

How To Read This Article

Personal Trainers:
Consider the business and coaching insights offered. What is the ONE tip you can act on immediately? Also, make sure you download my high-converting sales script to convert prospects into awesome clients. Get the script here.

If you’re considering a career in the fitness industry:
Note how many people mention how important psychological and business skills are. Yet both are often neglected by those who want to pursue fitness careers. Your clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. At the same time, you are running a business and need to make money.

If you clicked this link by accident:
Well, welcome! Here’s a video of Golden Retriever puppies playing with ice cubes. Enjoy the video, then dive into the insights below The parallels in fitness expand to all areas of life.

Lesson #1 Your business isn’t about you. It’s about your clients. Be client-centered at all times.

Brad Dieter

“It took me a long time to realize that the entire point of a fitness business is to serve clients, not yourself. Programs, nutrition plans, seminars, books, etc. should all be geared toward improving the lives of, and serving, your clients, not pushing your own agenda.”

Lesson #2 Patience and perseverance trump everything else.

Jeremy Bell

“Patience and consistency is the key to long-term success in any profession. The fitness industry is no different. You must have patience within your own professional development and consistency in your mission to self-educate. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your sweet exercise science brain. So be patient. You’re not going to be an expert year one. So stick to what you know and understand. Relentlessly pursue mastering the basics. Understand that you’re going to constantly remodel your procedures and practices. Accept that as growth, not failure. Being wrong is part of becoming right. 1% better every day is something I tell my athletes Your professional development is no different.”

Nick Sorrell

“There is something really strange about putting yourself out there, leaving yourself open and vulnerable. In the beginning, you’re not going to be very good. You’re trying to be good, but you just won’t be. And that fact can leave you fearful of trying, afraid of judgment (or whatever). Everyone goes through this. And the only way to get past these fears is to try… and suck. And then try again, and suck a little less. Keep doing this. Not only will you grow as a coach and a business owner, but you’ll also lose the fears that had previously been so crippling. “

Lesson # 3: Give away your best information for free.

Jason Helmes

“The best way to attract potential clients and make sales is to give away all of your information for free. Free content is what drives the fitness industry. There are no secret workouts or magical dietary protocols. People don’t hire coaches and trainers for a workout, they hire coaches and trainers because they have provided them immense value FIRST. You must use “pull” tactics. Be the best and give the most away, and your revenue will increase as a result.”

Eric Bach

“Create every day. You can create content in many forms, such as podcasts, videos, and written content. Find a medium that fits your skill set, create content that solves your clients’ problems, and share it with them. Define the problem, find the solution, and present it to your audience so they can take action.”

Lesson #4: Read for an hour a day.

Eric Bach

“According to business expert Brian Tracy, ‘If you read one book per month, that will put you into the top 1% of income earners in our society. But if you read one book per week, 50 books per year, that will make you one of the best educated, smartest, most capable, and highest paid people in your field. Regular reading will transform your life completely. ’Whatever you do, you’re constantly learning from experts and are improving your knowledge.”

Lesson #5: You can do anything, but not everything. You’ll have to make personal sacrifices if you want to run a successful business.

Robbie Farlow

“You will strain your relationships. You will forget to call people on their birthdays. If you have a significant other, you will, more than likely, take precious time away from them for your business. Yes, we all have to hustle and grind. But if you’re married, have kids, or there are people in your life that are truly important to you, don’t forget them. The journey is thrilling. It’s exciting. But remember to come up for air every once in awhile. Call a friend, go to lunch, take a walk with your friend/wife/lover. These are the people silently supporting you and time with them can reinvigorate you on this lonely journey of entrepreneurship.”

Lesson # 6: Meet your clients where they are. Understand what motivates them and how to  create lasting change.

Daniel Tapia @2dannytapia5 on Twitter

“The brightest among us can be the dumbest. I was trying to wooooo clients with my knowledge at first and how great it was to train with me. I wish I would have known that none of the certifications or degrees can trump a personality and ability to connect with people.”

Debbie Reichert
Debbie Reichert Fitness

“I learned that it doesn’t matter how good f a trainer I am..If my clients aren’t completely ready for change, change won’t occur. I can’t want it for them more than they want it for themselves.”

Nate Hinebaugh and Solomeia Kojin:

“Personal training requires an understanding of psychology and behavioral change. They sure don’t cover that in the books. Make sure you understand the deep underlying goals of your clients, how they learn, and how you can best help.”

Dave Henry
“Learn the “why” behind people’s goals. There is something deeper than wanting to lose fat, find out what truly motivates clients if you want them to get great results. “

Eric adds:

Your clients’ goals are rarely a “six pack” or a  flat stomach. The true goal is the way this change makes them feel. Dig deep and find the “why” behind client goals. When you find out what really matters, you’ll be well prepared to build a long-term trusting relationship. This is one of the key tenents in our high converting sales script, available here

“Methods are many, principles are few. Methods may change, but principles never do.” (Dr. Suess, right??) Stick to sound principles as the foundation of your training.

YOUR goals are not your clients’ goals. Factor in their willingness to change, ability to train, age, and injury history when programming. Don’t blindly try to fit clients into a template.

Build a world-class network. Become well-versed in multiple areas, then refer clients to true experts for best results and future referrals.

Lesson #7: Be humble and get help when needed

Stew Smith

“Don’t blindly apply what works for you with your clients. For example, in my late 20’s, I told clients they can outwork a bad diet. Now in my 40’s, it’s a different story.”

Galen Lundin
“Coaching is a vastly unregulated industry, especially if you’re working with a general population. You need to be well versed with areas of psychology, injury prevention, and physical therapy. If any of these lie outside your scope, the network you build becomes that much more important.”

Related: How to build a world-class network:

Lesson #8: Success lies in the ruthless execution of the basics.

Anna Larsen

“Keep it simple. Information is more accessible than ever before and unfortunately, that means both good and bad info. Focus on the basic habits that will create a long-term, sustainable environment for your clients.”

Robin Mungall

“Having a clear measurable mission statement and four or less core values is not only easy to focus on, but incredibly powerful. Keep it simple.”

Here’s a simple article to get you started on your first mission statement.

Lesson #9: Recognize that you’re running a business.

Kristine Kvistberg Becker

“Taking more than one business class in college would have been a great idea.”

Dean Somerset

“I wish I knew that I was ACTUALLY starting a business.”

Dave Szymkowicz

“Set your rates as applicable to your skill set, and stick to them. Clients who haggle over price are the most likely to undervalue your services, skip sessions, and not take the action necessary for change. “

Nicholas Hoerrmann

“I wish I would have known about finding my niche earlier on. Focusing on a specific “client type/goal”. This way I have a clear vision for my business and I am able to devote my knowledge base, instead of trying to please everyone. I am grateful though to have worked with many client types, so that I was able to find what I am passionate about training wise.”

Igor Klibanov
“Clearly define a niche instead of being a jack of all trades. Actively seek business. Wishing and praying won’t cut it. You need consistent, reliable, and repeatable systems for lead generation.”

Eric adds:

I agree with Nicholas and Igor. Find your niche. If you market to everyone, you market to no one. Picture one ideal client and frame your business and solving their biggest problem.

Lesson #10: Integrity is everything. And try to get better every day by looking backward, not only forward.

Chas Cook:

“Watch out for Charlatans. There are too many people looking to make a quick buck rather than helping you or your clients. Learn to research and vet people and products before spending your hard-earned money. Instead, build your business on a foundation of science and integrity. Beware of scams and empty promises. They’re as prominent on the business development front as they are scammy supplement sales.”

Eric adds:

Take five minutes each day before you head home to reflect on your work day. A good practice is asking these three questions in a journal or something similar:

  • What went well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What problems can you solve better?

It’s easy to charge straight through the day, wearing your “busyness” as a badge of honor, rather than reflecting on areas for improvement. Sit back and take a serious look at where you are and where you can grow from each day.

Our experiences speak volumes, but it’s up to us to listen to them and consistently improve on them each day.

Final Thoughts From Eric

Here’s one key lesson I’ve learned as I reflect on nearly ten years in the fitness industry.

You need to create excitement.

You may be the one person your clients see during a day who can put a smile on their face.
And why not? After all, you’re changing lives.

Stay positive.

Don’t bring your baggage and “issues” to the gym.

Never make a training session a bitch session.

Greet clients with their first name and a smile.

Slug down another coffee if you’re tired.

But stand tall, and create excitement with your body language, voice, and actions.Clients will absorb your positive energy.

If you become a constant source of positive light for a client, there’s no doubt they’ll speak highly of your services and send you clients.

Take action now.

You and I both know that knowledge is only as good as the action you put behind it. Review this list and answer this question:

What is the one tip you can take action on today?

Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Get started. Today.

None of us is perfect or has all the answers. But that’s no excuse for inaction.

My colleague, Daniel Freedman, is fond of quoting the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen (who died the week this blog post was compiled):

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

Again: none of us is perfect. Just do your best to become the best possible version of you.

Every day. In every way.

“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
– Aristotle

P.S. Need help? Want to build an online fitness business that gives you back your freedom, lets you help more clients, and make more money in less time? 
 Let’s chat via phone or Skype. <<<===click here

One Comment

  1. Chris baiata December 23, 2016 at 9:37 am - Reply

    Some great things in here. Especially the reading part that most people overlook. Always look to increase your value. Fantastic read man!

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