How Can You Separate Yourself From The Crowd as a Personal Trainer? By Stuart Aitken.
Personal training feels more saturated today than it ever has before. A combination of ease of entry through short certifications, the promise of flexible working hours and a high salary plus the rise in social media drawing attention to individual personal trainers have made it feel like an industry where it is tough to stick out.
But, there is one big thing you often forget as a personal trainer that nobody else can compete with: there is only one of you. Nobody else can copy the exact same business model that you create as the nuances of how you run it will be different. This individual element is a huge advantage in a career like personal training which is so people focussed.
As Jonathan Goodman of the PTDC says, “people buy trainers, not training” and thankfully, you can use this to your advantage.
Another thing that’s positive from there being more trainers is that the belief that personal trainers are just for celebrities and athletes is a thing of the past.
The other bit of good news is that just because there are a lot more trainers does not necessarily mean that its harder to get leads and turn them into clients. If you’re good at what you do, and know how to make exercise feel enjoyable and have a genuine care for the people you work with, you’ll stick out and be able to make a great living in this industry. There are some things you can do to help this along, so what specific steps will help you stick out amongst a sea of PTs?
Run a Professional Service
It’s common in personal training to run your business in a casual manner. You wear shorts and a sports t-shirt to work every day. But this doesn’t mean you should allow unprofessional behaviours to come into your service.
Make an extra effort to provide a professional service to your clients.
Be the trainer who arrives 5 minutes early to every session to prepare.
Be the trainer who keeps coffee, protein shakes and their phone away from sessions.
Be the trainer who follows up swiftly with their clients, and sends them things they say they are going send.
Be the trainer who asks for feedback, takes it on board and aims to make consistent small improvements to how they run their business.
Be the trainer who is confident enough to know they can help their clients, but humble enough to know they still have a lot to learn.
Make it About Your Clients
There is a high chance a lot of your competitors are out there using themselves as their branding. They may occasionally talk about their clients, but for the most part, trainers tend to talk about their own journeys more than they do their own.
Think about one of the first things you do when you go to buy something on Amazon, you check reviews. We want other people’s opinions. And if they are good, we’ll be much more likely to buy.
Try to keep in mind that it is not about you, it’s about your clients.
Make yourself stand out by making your personal training business the one that highlights their client achievements, and uses their client’s journeys, to show other people you’re the trainer for them.
Making it about your clients also applies when it comes to how you work with them. You want to ensure the experience your clients have is centred upon what they want to achieve, not you. It’s easy to think every single one of your clients must be interested in getting strong in the big three or doing a handstand, but have you sat down and asked them?
People Buy People
I know, you’ve heard this before, but it is one of the things that will pay off tenfold if you work on it and use it to your advantage.
Personal training is a person focussed industry. You spend more time in person with your clients than you probably do with 90% of your family members. The connection that you have with your clients will be one of the main things that will keep them coming back or quickly pushes them out the door.
Clients really are buying you over the training.
Take the time to learn about effective communication. Listening and conversation skills, the things that will help make you the kind of trainer your clients talk about and will happily refer, do not come naturally to many of us.
Take the time to understand what elements of communication you lack. Maybe you speak incredibly quickly and people have a hard time understanding you. Maybe you interrupt people because you come from a family who do that all the time and it’s normal for you or maybe you struggle with putting across your social side because you’ve always felt more introverted (Susan Cain’s work will help). All of us have some communication flaws that get in our way when it comes to connecting with clients.
There are books like Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and the work of motivational interviewing you will help you gain a better understanding of communication.
Course: Conversation Skills From Cathy MacDonald
Make Your Sessions as Good as They Can be
Every single time the money comes out a clients bank account they weigh up whether it’s worth sticking with you. It might only be for a hint of a second, but the question of whether this thing they are paying for is worth it is one they’ll be considering.
Because of this, it’s essential that you make your training sessions (online or in-person) as good as they possibly can be.
It’s also well worth mentioning that word of mouth marketing is still your best friend. What’s the best way to get more referrals? Run sessions that your clients want to talk about.
If only we could boil a personal training session down to the sets, reps and exercises you pick. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is important to get right (it’s rare a client should walk in on day one and start back squatting for heavy singles as an example), but if you spend any length of time training people you’ll realise there is more to it.
The environment you create matters. Is it an environment that shows your clients it’s ok to fail and that they’ll be accepted for doing things wrong? Is it an environment that helps them succeed and makes them feel welcome?
What you say matters. The words you choose to coach a client to get into a particular position have an effect on achieving technical competency and learning. The words you choose when you’re in the midst of a conversation about changing a client’s behaviours play a key role in whether or not they’ll make a change.
How you listen to your client’s matters. Last week they told you they had an important job interview this coming Friday. Do you remember what it was and why it was important?
Shadowing other accomplished personal trainers can be a helpful exercise. Taking the time to reflect on what went well, what could be improved upon and what you need to research or learn more about will also be a useful step towards making your sessions top quality.
Download: Reflective Practice
Do Good Work, For a Long Time
I recently interviewed Girls Gone Strong (GGS) founder Molly Galbraith. We discussed success and how easy it is to look at other people and compare where you are to them. The step that Molly identified that we often forget to consider is the length of time it’s taken for that person to get there. GGS have an incredible looking website, a team of employees producing excellent work and hundreds of students from around the world, and yet Molly only started taking a wage from the company a few years ago.
Success, whichever way you define it, takes time. The key is to do good work for your clients and followers for a sustained period of time (usually years) and to make sure everyone knows about it.
It’s cliche but true that you want to aim to “be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Last week I was looking for insurance for my home. I went on to three different sites and got a few quotes. The standard thing happened where I’d get a templated email telling me I had to complete the quote and that I hadn’t completed the form, but one company did things differently.
They had one of their sales representatives email me a personal email saying they had an office a 10-minute drive away and that they understood how many choices I was likely thinking about just now. They wanted to make it easier. I didn’t reply to that email, but later that week I received a phone call from the lady who had emailed me. 5 minutes later, I had home insurance.
The point to this story is that you have to follow up with people who fill out your application forms, contact you for consultations and come to consultations but don’t sign up. There are a few reasons why.
Firstly, one of the main questions that is running through a prospect’s mind when they are thinking about paying you or someone else money is “can I trust this person?”. Can I trust you to take good care of me and help me to goals? Can I trust that the money I’ll pay you will be worth it? Following up, to reinforce points you discussed, to see if they have any questions, to send them some relevant articles, recipes or the like and to sometimes just see how they are doing shows that you can be trusted.
Secondly, you just never know what’s going on in someone’s life. They may have contacted you on a whim but never really intended on signing up because they’ve just got a new job, had a kid or found out they’ve got a health condition. This may not be the best time for them, but it may well be the perfect time three months from now.
Lastly, it’s just good sales practice to follow up with leads.
After every consultation, I have at least two more touchpoints that week with the lead and then I touch base every week for a month. After that, it’s down to once a month.
Try tracking your contacts in a simple excel spreadsheet. One column for name, one for date contacted and one for the result of the contact.
Read: 7 Things Personal Trainers Need to Know About Sales
Think Outside of the Box When Considering Your Marketing
It’s easy to think of marketing as creating content for social media, running adverts and creating funnels, but this misses a whole other aspect to it. For most of you, your business will function face-to-face, but how many personal trainers can honestly say they are having 3-5 conversations per day with new people? The more people who know who you are and what you do the better. This could also be as simple as messaging people who like or follow your stuff and seeing how they are doing and if you can help.
Another way that can work incredibly well if done correctly is to run a seminar or webinar. Talk about a topic you know well and that your target client needs help with, invite your current clients and all their friends and family. Make it free or charge a small price that is given to a local charity. At the end, say you’ve got a promotion on for everyone who attends this seminar that expires in an hour and get them to email you.
Share Your Struggles
A few years ago, we surveyed over 100 personal training clients to ask about their experiences as clients. One of the questions we asked was whether or not they had had a personal trainer before their current one. Over 90% answered yes and when we asked why they’d left, over 50% said it was because they had felt judged and that they couldn’t connect with the trainer.
One of the ways to get around this is by sharing your struggles. It’s normal to miss your own exercise sessions and have days where you press snooze 10 times. It’s also normal to have days where you eat more food than you had planned or end up drinking 5 more beers than you had factored in. Write about these experiences, tell your clients how you’ve barely exercised for the past month, tell them how you struggle with getting enough sleep and maintaining a calorie deficit on weekends.
It’ll show them your human and help you build a connection.
The other side of sharing your struggle is that you don’t want to overshare or show yourself to be unprofessional. Show that you’re human, but be mindful about sharing things you’re still working through or that paint you in a bad light.
Confidence in Your Ability to Deliver
One of the traits that successful personal trainers possess is confidence in their ability to get clients results and to deliver enjoyable training. Sometimes this confidence can come across as arrogance and we see this in trainers who only have one way to do things. But this does not you mean shouldn’t work on becoming a more confident trainer. Confidence is very different from arrogance.
You only need to know a tiny bit more than the people you help. A lot of the time you don’t even need to know more as clients need accountability, a plan and direction, not knowledge.
You can and should have faith in your abilities to get clients results and if you feel there are aspects you need to know more about (like nutrition or programming), find mentors and education resources that will help you address those gaps.
Read: You’re Better Than You Think You Are
It Isn’t Just About Lead Gen, Retention Deserves Attention
Having a relentless focus on the client experience will pay off.
Generating leads isn’t the most challenging aspect of building a successful personal training business. It’s the ability to manage to get those leads to buy and then finding ways to encourage them to stay that’s the hard part. I can offer you 100 ways to generate leads that will work, but it’ll take much more time and energy to get them to purchase and stay with you.
Don’t just put all of your focus and time on generating more leads, you must put time (like actual time into your calendar) each week to do things that will help you retain your current clients.
Here are a few suggestions that will help retention:
- Create an onboarding experience that helps the client feel comfortable and welcomed when they sign up with your business.
- Send a thank you card when they sign up and a birthday card.
- At the end of each quarter or block of training, ask the client for feedback. A simple method to begin with is to use start, stop, keep. What should I start doing? What should I stop doing? And what should I keep doing?
- Show you care by listening to what’s important to your clients. Make a point of asking about those things. If one of your clients love to knit, ask about that. If one of your clients is incredibly passionate about Basketball, take note of the scores one weekend. Little things add up.
- Hold community events where you bring your clients together.
Read: The Personal Trainers Guide to Client Retention
Sticking out as a personal trainer does take time and patience. It’s rare to meet a first-year PT who has a fully booked schedule but using some of the suggestions above, you can fast track your way to being the trainer more people choose. Try to highlight one or two of them and spend some time thinking about how you can integrate it into your business. You could try some of the retention strategies, following up more often or taking some simple steps to up your professionalism game.