In this article we’re going to explore some common themes of why personal trainers fail. Personal training is becoming an increasingly popular career choice, and for good reason. If done right you can earn good money, work when you want and enjoy your work…what more could you want?! With that in mind, why do so many personal trainers quit within the first year after qualifying? In this article I’ll go through some of the reasons why personal trainers fail, and what we can do to help improve this.
Why become a personal trainer?
There are a number of reasons people become personal trainers:
- They like training themselves so they think they’ll be good at training other people
- They’ve achieved a fitness/health goal & want to help others in the same way
- They have a background in sport and want to leverage that experience to continue their career
- They’re fed up of their job and want to try something new
- They think it’ll be easy to earn loads of money when you can charge £40+ per hour
- It’s flexible, so they’ll be able to fit it around other jobs
There are plenty more, but these are some of the common reasons, all of which are justified and understandable. However it is important to set realistic expectations at the outset or you’re setting yourself up to fail, which leads me onto my first point…
Why personal trainers fail
- Unrealistic expectations
The fitness industry is littered with unrealistic expectations. A quick scroll through Instagram will reveal physiques and lifting PB’s that are unobtainable without performance enhancing drugs or insane genetics, and online coaches supposedly earning 6 figures from a beach in Dubai. It’s easy to get tempted in by these things but it’s important to remember that probably less than 0.001% actually achieve these levels of success, and a lot of the others you see on social media are just making it look like they’ve achieved it.
Instead set some realistic goals that are broken down into short term achievable targets. For example, you want to be earning £40k a year as a PT, so after 6 months your target could be to hit £2k per month from 10 clients, by the end of month 1 to earn £600 and generate 4 new leads a week, and your weekly goal could be to do 6 inductions, 4 free tasters and try to convert 1 paying client from them. This may not sound as glamorous as the beach in Dubai, but it’s the reality of what is required to start earning good money as a personal trainer.
2. Bad relationship with your employer or landlord
Another reason why personal trainers fail is they do not value the facility they work in. They’re (hopefully) providing great equipment, access to thousands of members, and a constant opportunity to earn. In return for this, you’ll be required to pay rent, or take a split of your personal training income. A lot of PT’s become quite quickly disillusioned with this deal feeling that it is unfair, however it is important to remember that you need access to all those members and a place to train them, and that comes at a cost.
In my experience there is a lot more that facilities and PT’s could do for each other, there tends to be an “us and them” mentality in a lot of clubs. As a PT you should try to build good relationships with sales and reception staff as they’re much more likely to send potential clients your way. Help the club out by offering free sessions to new and disengaged members, and if inductions are part of your role then give them 100% and make sure the member leaves the session with a great impression of you and the club, they’re also likely to be one of your best sources of new clients if done right.
The clubs could also do a lot more to support their fitness staff, a lot of them just leave their new PT’s to hit the ground running and expect them to know everything they need to know. Instead they should be offering a structured training program to onboard new staff. Helping their PT’s generate new clients is the number one way to retain them and keep them happy. Giving them fitness classes to teach, inductions, free taster sessions, onboarding programs, nutrition consultations, the list goes on. All of these add value to the members, and give the PT’s an opportunity to pick up new paying clients.
3. Focus on retention
This point may miss the mark slightly for newly qualified PT’s because you obviously need to pick some clients up in the first place before you can shift your focus to retention. However, in my opinion a common reason why personal trainers fail is they do not focus enough on just doing a good job!
Gradually over time your reputation will improve and people will start referring their friends and family to you, and without trying to sell you’ll be picking up new clients and not losing the existing ones. If you have to focus a lot of your time on selling, that tells me that you’re losing too many clients.
Retention is an entire topic of its own but a few things to focus on include:
- Results – almost definitely the reason your clients came to you in the first place
- Remember things about them such as Birthdays, kids names, pets, favourite football team etc. If you struggle to remember then make a document to log these types of details for your clients
- Communicate regularly – make them feel like you’re not just there for them for the 1 hour per week that they pay for
- Add value – provide some extra resources such as a meal plan or training program.
4. Ineffective programming
As I said above, results are almost invariably what your clients will be coming to you for. In order to achieve those goals you’ll need to know how to write an effective program for them to follow. PT clients failing to achieve their goals is another reason why personal trainers fail, after all why would they stay with you if they’re not getting what they came for?
A lot of trainers take quite a lazy approach to programming, especially with beginner clients. It is true that a beginner is likely to see progress regardless of what they’re doing, because they’re going from doing nothing to something. However, they could probably see better results with a properly structured program designed for them.
It may feel like a ton of extra unnecessary work planning each session individually, however it will be worth it down the line when you have a load of happy clients and great transformations to shout about.
5. Poor management
It is kind of the industry norm that most management positions are filled by ex-personal trainers. The same happens in most industries, you start with an entry level position and if you do a good job you climb the ladder. Take chefs for example, you might be an excellent chef so you get promoted to chef de partie, then sous chef, then head chef, and before you know it you’re not actually doing any cooking any more, just management that doesn’t require your original skillset and what you were passionate about.
The same often happens in the fitness industry but also the other way round. Rather than a personal trainer excelling at their job and progressing into a management position, the management roles are often filled by underperforming PT’s. They are not earning enough from their clients so they pursue an employed role, a role that may involve managing the other PT’s at the club. So now we end up with a bunch of people that couldn’t succeed as trainers themselves, responsible for the rest of the trainers.
This is obviously not the case everywhere but I have seen a lot of it in my years in the industry. As a PT, the best thing you can do is to embrace whatever training and development the club offer, but also to go above and beyond and seek out your own ways to develop as a coach. This may be improving your sales and business skills, or honing your expertise in a fitness niche, anything that will help you develop.
6. Burn out
Another reason why personal trainers fail is they become a victim of their own success. This also ties into my first point of setting realistic expectations. For most people to succeed as personal trainers you need to put in a lot of work. You need to work early mornings and evenings (when your loved ones and friends have finished work), you’ll likely offer 10 free sessions in order to pick up one paying client, when you’re not training people you’ll want to be seen around the gym to become a friendly recognisable face, your clients will text you at weekends wanting to know whether they can eat that tub of Ben and Jerrys.
All this can lead to you working crazy unsociable hours, not sleeping enough, not practising what you preach when it comes to nutrition, and after a while you’ll burn yourself out. There is an interesting article on Burnout and it’s 5 stages here.
I’ve found one of the best ways to deal with this is to make sure you’re not saying “yes” to every client request. They will want you to be available whenever suits them but you need to set clear boundaries. Maybe give yourself one day for a lie in and a couple of evenings off to spend with your partner, all you have to do to achieve this is tell your clients when you are available and book them in at those times, don’t even make your off-time available to them.
7. Fail to plan, plan to fail
It’s a cliché but it’s true. Your personal training career is like any business, it requires careful planning an goal setting to succeed. Any normal business would have a detailed business plan with a carefully structured marketing plan, pricing strategy, target audience breakdowns, demographic reports and more. Yet most personal trainers just get their qualification then start trying to pick up some clients without any real planning.
Our courses include a business planning module to help you prepare for starting your own business as a personal trainer. If you’re already qualified and looking for help you can join our free membership here where we have a ton of resources to help fitness professionals succeed.