10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Personal Trainer

Since I became officially certified last May (how has a year already passed??), I wanted to reflect on my journey and share with you some of the things I wish I knew before becoming a personal trainer.

Interested in becoming a personal trainer? After a year of personal training, I'm sharing the top 10 things that I wish I knew before I started!

After I got certified, I knew that I did not want to work in a large chain gym. I’m not good at selling myself and when I try, everything comes out sounding super fake and contrived. I have mad respect for (good) trainers who do this well, I’m just not one of them.

Because I was planning on working for myself, I needed to put in a LOT more work. Luckily I had my teaching job at Sweat and some other side projects that helped pay the bills during that time. Also, if we didn’t have Neil’s income, I probably would have had to hustle even more and I may have started in a chain because they are more predictable.

These tips are all based on my experience and other trainers may have different points based on how their business is set up and how they are seeing clients. Trainers — if you have other thoughts to add, please share them in the comments!

1. People are unpredictable

I went into personal training thinking that if someone spends money for a workout, the likelihood is pretty high that they will show up and stick to that commitment. Wrong.

I’ve been surprised at how many people late cancel their appointments, even though they know they will get charged. You need to be prepared to have your schedule altered and for certain clients to be more wishy-washy than others.

2. Taxes & Benefits

Working for yourself means that there is no one taking out taxes from your income. It’s awesome to get paid for sessions and think THIS IS AMAZING I’M RICH AND MAKING SO MUCH MONEY and then maybe cash it out and throw it on the bed to roll around in.

After you’re done making it rain, set aside anywhere from 20-30% of it for taxes. Ouch. My income from training wasn’t terribly substantial last year, so I’m just getting into actual tax stuff this time around. You can either file quarterly self-employment taxes or wait to do it all at the end of the year, but then you might cry a little bit.

If you are single, you will also have to look into providing your own health insurance. Luckily, I am on Neil’s through his work, but if you need to sign up on your own, that’s another expense to consider.

3. It could take up to a year to build your client base

After I got certified, other trainers told me that it would take at least a year for me to build a regular client base. I couldn’t fathom that amount of time, so I smiled politely and disregarded it. Lo and behold, one year later and my schedule is finally almost maxed out.

The first couple clients are the hardest to get, but if you do a good job, clients will be more likely to refer you to their friends and then it kind of grows from there. Word of mouth is BIG in personal training.

4. You need to be accommodating

Along with understanding that people can be unpredictable, you will have to learn to be flexible in order to accommodate rescheduled sessions and client requests. Sometimes clients who cancel early in the morning want to reschedule later in the day. Other times someone may need to move to a different time/date because of a scheduling conflict. I can’t tell you how many times my schedule changes in a week!

Another way you will need to be accommodating is in the spur of the moment. You may show up to an appointment with a workout planned out only to find that your client isn’t feeling well or has injured something. During these times you need to be prepared to alter the workout on the fly to make sure they are getting the most out of their time with you.

5. Taking a vacation = extra work

Since you don’t accumulate paid time off (wouldn’t that be great?), you’ll need to be prepared to put in extra hours before or after a vacation in order to make up lost income. In preparation for our trips to CA, for example, I saw clients on the weekend (which I don’t normally do), and packed my schedule so that I didn’t miss many sessions.

6. You will make mistakes (but learn from them)

One thing to understand about personal training is that you can pass an exam, get a certificate, and still be a horrible personal trainer. Regurgitating facts out of a book is great, but it’s how you UNDERSTAND and USE those facts that makes or breaks you. You need to be able to read each client and understand what he or she is trying to get out of your sessions. You need to know when to slow it down or when those clients need to be pushed a little bit harder.

Right after I got certified, I shadowed a couple trainers that to see their approach to training. I also asked a million questions about administrative things, how to charge, and a lot of “what-if” scenarios. My very first two clients I saw for about 6 months, and looking back I probably would have changed a few things in my approach to training them. I would have spent more time emphasizing the importance of nutrition in conjunction with exercise and really I would have just gotten more involved in what we were doing.

7. Not everyone will like you

My first sessions is always free. I meet with clients, ask them about their goals, history, what they are looking to get out of personal training, etc. and then take them through a shortened workout.  I’ve done a number of free sessions that didn’t convert into paying clients. That’s OK.

Just like in life, not everyone is going to like you. You may have a training style or philosophy that doesn’t mesh well with what a client is looking for. You may be too expensive. You may not make a great first impression. You may have brown hair or remind them of an ex. Whatever the reason, not everyone will fawn at your feet after meeting you. And that’s fine. Plenty will.

8. Be prepared to WORK to build your client base 

If you are heading out absolutely solo, you need to know that there is going to be A LOT of work involved in building up your client list. You need to market yourself like you have never marketed before, making sure to think outside the box for ways to advertise without spending a lot of money. You’re going to have to talk yourself up. It’s going to be uncomfortable at times. The more you do it, the easier it will get. Remember, it only takes one or two to start a chain reaction.

9. Sometimes it’s better to let someone else do the heavy lifting 

Because I have this blog, some freelancing, and also teach group classes, I’m always looking around for more hours in the day. I wasn’t doing a very good job getting a lot of clients on my own, so I finally realized that it may be better to get some help.

I listed a profile on Right Fit Personal Training, which is basically like a dating service for trainers. If you want a trainer but don’t know where to look, all you have to do is hop on and read through hundreds of trainer profiles. The owner of the site is essentially like an acting agent who the prospective clients make first contact with and then he screens them and matches them with an appropriate trainer. He also handles all the payments and negotiations (another thing I don’t love), and once a client signs up with me, I communicate with them for scheduling, questions, etc.

From these clients, I only make about 80% of what I actually charge, but to have someone else do all the things I hate to do, it’s definitely worth it. Check out similar sites where you live to see if they can help jump start your client lists.

10. It’s wonderfully rewarding

OK, you all knew this was probably coming, but it’s true. Seeing people week after week and watching how they improve is really amazing. Knowing that you are partly responsible for their success is greatly rewarding and makes all of these other things worth it. I had heard people say things to this effect, but actually experiencing it was a whole other thing. #allthefeels

If you’re interested in becoming a personal trainer, make sure to check out some of my other helpful posts:

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29 Comments

  1. May 3, 2016 / 5:36 am

    I think I would also add that, like any business path, there is an insane amount of competition and territorialness. But there are also some people who will go out of their way to help you. Also? Not as easy as it looks to come up with plans and such.
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…The Beauty of Starting Over (ish)My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 3, 2016 / 8:28 pm

      Totes magotes.

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 3, 2016 / 8:29 pm

      I waited until the last possible moment to sign up so I’m right there with you haha. You got this!

  2. May 3, 2016 / 7:49 am

    Love these Erin! I’d also add don’t feel inadequate if you don’t know everything right away. There’s only so much you can learn from books, and it can take years to really feel comfortable with what you’re doing. Also, look for a mentor! I found that super helpful.
    Bri recently posted…Tone It Up Bikini Series 2016: Week 1 ReviewMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 3, 2016 / 8:30 pm

      Totally! I got so much help by reaching out to people who had been in the business longer.

  3. May 3, 2016 / 10:04 pm

    Hi Erin! Great thoughts! So true! I started my personal training career at Equinox and got some amazing experience that way. However, it definitely was very demanding. Ultimately, working for yourself (as a trainer or other) will always have its ups and downs, and if you do it right, it’s so worth it. Keep up the awesome job, lady!
    Ashley @ A Lady Goes West recently posted…Walnut Creek weekend fun and my weekly workout recapMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 5, 2016 / 9:58 pm

      Thanks girl! Equinox? You fancy huh 🙂

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 5, 2016 / 9:58 pm

      Haha right?

  4. May 4, 2016 / 10:47 am

    My mom is an LMT who works for herself and most of these apply to her too. But, like you said, it’s really rewarding to work for yourself. She could have worked at a large massage chain but instead she built up her own client base and gets to work in a way that is meaningful to her.
    Pragati // Simple Medicine recently posted…Change without FearMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 5, 2016 / 9:59 pm

      Aw that’s so great! Tell her I need a massage. I don’t think I’ve ever had a real one!

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 5, 2016 / 9:59 pm

      Anytime! I’m glad you found it helpful!

  5. May 4, 2016 / 4:43 pm

    You’re making me want to be a personal trainer. This seems pretty honest. It is hard to remember to account for taxes, but it sounds like you have a really logical, level headed way of looking at it. Sometimes, the idea of taxes stresses me out. I also love that you ended it with the fact that it is really rewarding. Every job has its challenges, but in the end, if you are using your God given talents, you will love it.
    Emily recently posted…WIAW: Caring Not ComparingMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 5, 2016 / 10:00 pm

      Yeah taxes are never fun haha

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 5, 2016 / 10:00 pm

      Of course! If you have any questions feel free to shoot me an email!

    • Sam S.
      December 5, 2016 / 12:29 pm

      Ditto! I’m about to sign up this week and I took notes on your suggestions! Thanks alot!!!

  6. May 5, 2016 / 10:39 am

    great post Erin! Hahah my favorite part ‘after you’re done making it rain…’ YEA taxes are a pain in the ass for sure. especially when you feel like you have all this extra income coming in!
    Beverley @ Born to Sweat recently posted…Mexican Shrimp Quinoa BowlMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 5, 2016 / 10:08 pm

      Hahaha I was in a witty mood that day

    • erinsinsidejob
      May 7, 2016 / 6:57 pm

      Oh man you had to start over again? That’s so tough!

  7. November 26, 2016 / 3:07 am

    It’s great to have that cert. The best trainers are passionate about what they do so I know you will be excellent. Make the workouts half way enjoyable for the clients or they won’t do it. That’s my best advice.

  8. Hannah
    January 9, 2017 / 1:05 pm

    Hi, Erin! I’ve been reading up on personal training and was wondering if you think it’s worth the money to re-certify every few years and pay for CEU’s, or if the money and experiences you earn make up for it. Thanks! ❤️

    • erinsinsidejob
      January 9, 2017 / 8:22 pm

      Hey Hannah! So it’s mandatory that you get recertified or else you won’t be legally able to train people anymore. I’m earning mine by getting a specialization but I’m also going to a conference next month where you can get a lot of CEUs in one place. Shoot me an email if you have any other questions I can help with!

      • Hannah
        January 11, 2017 / 12:09 pm

        Thank you! ❤️

  9. Ashton Scott
    January 11, 2017 / 12:15 pm

    I have just recently gotten certified and amworking at the rec center at my college until graduation, and will start training next week. I am looking for insight into how working free lance works and compares to working for a gym.

    • erinsinsidejob
      January 26, 2017 / 3:54 pm

      Freelancing takes a lot longer to build up bc you have to do all the work to find clients. I think if you’re relying on the income it might be best to start in a gym just so you know what to expect. From there you can think about going independent but keep in mind it can take some time to build up a client base!

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