Who is it suited to?
Linda Grave, a fitness fanatic who ran a successful personal training business before recently changing careers, was surprised at the role counselling plays in the health and fitness industry. She qualified at the YMCA, and worked in a number of gyms for more than ten years before striking out on her own in 2002. “I was shocked at the number of clients who look upon you as a confidante. A bit like a doctor or dentist, people look to their trainers almost as a counsellor for problems in other areas of their life. You have to be very confidential, particularly as many clients know each other.”
Being a good listener and able to relate to a lot of different people is almost as important as your ability as a fitness trainer. Grave estimates the balance is about 50/50. This is backed up by renowned industry thought leader Robert Cappuccio, who says that, “as well as the importance of a specialism, one emerging trend is the role of the ‘wellness coach’," whereby a trainer plays a more holistic role in their clients' well-being. With this in mind, FitPro editor Andy Brown says that, "for anyone wanting to be a PT, I’d say – make sure you develop your ‘soft’ (customer) skills as much as your technical knowledge."
The need to work all hours is also more pronounced as a self-employed fitness trainer than in other start-ups. While you can work as much or as little as you like because you are your own boss, the success of your business depends on your being available at times when it suits clients.
Nick Page, a self-employed fitness trainer based near Windsor, Berkshire explained, “If I decided to work 9-5 I would be out of a job. You have to be flexible. Of course you can decide to work only three days a week or whatever, but on the whole you have to be willing to work as early as 5am and as late as 8pm because that’s when people want to do their training.” Page will often do a 16-hour day, and will sometimes work seven days a week.
Your reasons for becoming a personal trainer will dictate the hours you make yourself available. If maximising your income is a priority then working hard, especially at the beginning while you build a reputation, is essential.
If you have other priorities and want to become a trainer to supplement your household income and remain flexible, being part-time is also a feasible option. During her time as a personal trainer, Grave worked four days a week and her hours were fitted around her children, who were at school. She built up a client base of women in a similar position, ensuring their hours were complementary and that she could relate to their lifestyle.