How To Set Up and Run a Successful Mobile Personal Training Business by Maggie Elliott
It may be strange for someone who’s never really spent time in a commercial gym to even consider forging a career in personal training but that was me. The various different fitness challenges I’d taken on in my 30s had changed my life for the better and it was this passion for the more unconventional fitness environment, combined with my love of coaching that led to me walking away from a 15-year career in teaching into setting up my own mobile personal training business.
That was back in 2016 and since then, my business has gone from strength to strength and, if I’m honest, much quicker than I ever expected. I achieved my five-year plan in just two years and now I’m in a position where although I still work mobile, I also operate out of my own small PT studio, something that was just a dream only three years’ ago. In fact, with recent events taking all personal training out of the typical environments and into people’s homes, I’ve felt that the more unconventional development of my business prepared me well to be able to train people online during the Covid-19 lockdown; something of great benefit for me and my clients as they’ve been able to continue training for their physical and mental health.
When I’m asked about how I’ve grown the business, I often say that I was lucky because it feels that way; things moved quicker than I ever thought they would, let alone planned for, and since starting Spark Fitness it has steadily grown year on year, without fail. However, in reality, I know it wasn’t really luck and when I look back I can see the things I did that were successful and helped me to grow (as well as the things that didn’t… everything was in no way perfect and I certainly made a lot of mistakes!)
So, here are the 3 key elements I feel have contributed to the successful setup and running of my business (and, without knowing it at the time, have also enabled me to continue running a business during Covid-19.)
Connect With Your Ideal Client
One of the first books I ever read on personal training was Jon Goodman’s ‘Ignite the Fire’. In it, he discusses how to find your ideal client and it was on this that I built an avatar of who was mine. So, before I even started the business I knew that I would be training women who were on maternity leave, wanted to train, but were unable to due to childcare issues. Why? Because I knew these women, they were my friends and I understood how hard it was for them to get back into their exercise routine when they felt tied to the house not to mention the raging ‘mum guilt’ that hit if they were to leave their baby to do something for themselves.
Knowing your customer means you can connect with them.
The first place I did this was through my blog. Again, before I had even started the business, I had set up a website and was writing to my audience. Writing articles enabled me to ‘speak’ to people and for them to hear my ‘voice’; it enabled me to connect with like-minded people but also helped people who didn’t know me to feel as though they did.
In a gym, they’ll see you training others, they’ll watch how you speak to people on the floor, they may even have the opportunity to talk directly to you. Without that physical environment, my blog became one place I was able to show people who I was, what my values were and what it may be like to train with me.
This was also how social media helped me. My friends and family shared my content, I was able to advertise promotional prices and hold competitions for free training sessions.
Free sessions seem to come with a bit of controversy in the fitness community with many asserting they devalue the service you’re offering. However, I honestly believe it was one of the best strategies I used in the early days to get things moving. The free sessions which people won through Facebook competitions, or local raffle prizes, enabled me to get physically in front of people all of whom appreciated the value in training they received and all of whom gained me further business through their recommendations.
In addition to this, my consistent online and social media presence meant I was able to place myself as a local fitness ‘expert’ by answering people’s questions and offering free advice. It worked… people started to learn about my existence and over time, word of mouth took over. Now, Spark Fitness is guaranteed a mention when someone asks about personal trainers in a local Facebook group, even from people I’ve never trained!
Build a Community
If there’s one thing I took away from my first month in Lift The Bar it was Chris Burgess saying that you should make yourself so well known that you become the ‘go-to’ person in your local area. It’s fair to say this doesn’t happen quickly but over the first year, I made sure that when a local event took place, I was there; that when there was a charity raffle, I offered a prize; I set up a cheap, entry-level circuits class at a local church hall to get my name out there and I assisted a friend in setting up a local running group for women which, by the time we stepped away, had connected with around 1000 women in the local area and got many of them running (but that’s a whole other story)! All of these things took time and, at face value, offered very little (if any) monetary reward but personal fulfilment aside, it was worth it. All of these things enabled me to get in front of my ideal client and speak to them, despite the lack of physical gym space.
When I write it like that, you could read it as marketing – and it was – but it also began to help me build a community. From listening to the worries, values and desires of the women in these communities, I was able to develop an ethos that ran through both Spark and the running group which meant that not only did people start to know who I was, but they also knew what I stood for; Spark Fitness became synonymous with anti-diet culture, fitness for the sake of fun, health and performance benefits as opposed to weight loss. As a result, the business growth gained momentum as people knew exactly who to recommend me to. So, when I introduced a private Facebook group to my personal training clients, they already felt like they knew each other through their shared values around health and fitness.
The Facebook group brought people together in a virtual space and enabled them to build a camaraderie between each other, to share their successes, cheer each other on (and develop a nickname for me!!). Where training alone had potentially removed them from the fitness community, it now brought that community into their own home. And, to build that community further, we regularly have fun in the group including monthly challenges where they can compete against each other or work together to achieve a shared goal, enhancing the experience I’m able to provide to those who train 1-2-1.
Get Creative With Equipment and Programming
The one thing I’ve never done with mobile training is lug heavyweights, cumbersome bars and excessive amounts of equipment about with me – if for no other reason that I drove a Mini!! But for anyone thinking of going mobile right now, the less equipment you have to clean after a session, the better!
Kettlebells were perhaps my most useful equipment because they offer the ability to train strength and cardio using just the one tool; learning more about how to actually make proper use of these with a 3 day (StrongFirst) certification really improved my ability to coach and programme. Even then, in the early days, I had just four bells: 6kg, 8kg, 12kg and 16kg. These travelled in the boot of my car alongside a backpack containing boxing gloves + pads, skipping rope, cones, resistance bands, 2 x 2kg dumbells and an agility ladder. That was it.
Alongside that, I made use of the natural ‘equipment’ in the environment we were training in including kitchen countertops, couches, benches, steps, hills, railings and children’s play equipment. Sure, it would have been nice to have more, but I didn’t need it. In fact, as a case in point, although at the beginning of March I distributed a large number of kettlebells to my current members so they could continue Kettlebell Club online, I’ve coached a good number of personal training clients for 3 months with their bodyweight alongside adapted ‘equipment’ from around the home!
Training people this way means that programming needs to be more creative than simply adding weight as progression and as a trainer you have to be clearer to people about how they are making progress. Advancing a client with lift progressions, eccentrics, isometrics, rep numbers, single side work is not as clear to them as being able to lift 20kg more this month than they could last month so providing regular opportunities to celebrate achievement with them is perhaps even more important.
Final Top Tips
For me, going mobile was the only option.
I never even considered working out of a gym and I still wouldn’t and at the time I didn’t have the money to open my own place. But, it’s not necessarily right for everyone and this is something I’d recommend really thinking through if you’re considering moving your business out of the gym as we move into the ‘new normal’.
It’s much more isolating than working from a facility and, although you’re working with people all the time, there are no colleagues to bounce ideas off or let off steam to. You also need to be patient, organised and like driving! So, I’ll leave you with some final points that I learnt along the way but would have made my life a lot easier if I’d have known them from the beginning!
- Use a scheduling system (I use Acuity Scheduling) which enables people to book and reschedule with you without having to contact you. Make sure it automatically blocks out driving time before and after sessions and places limits on cancellations so you’re not already driving there only to find they’ve cancelled!
- Be prepared for people to cancel last minute. This happens anyway in personal training but can feel more frustrating when you’ve driven there. More than once, I’ve been sat outside someone’s house as they’ve rung me to cancel! A clear cancellation policy and payment in advance (I charge monthly) will ensure you’re not out of pocket for this.
- Use MileIQ on your mobile to automatically record your mileage. It even starts to recognise frequent drives and calculates everything you need for tax purposes into a handy spreadsheet at the end of the year!
- Don’t keep kettlebells in the car overnight during winter unless you want frostbite from freezing iron!
- Carry a change of clothes – especially socks and shoes.
- And, building on this, be prepared to train in ALL weathers, to change your plan if adverse weather rolls in, and to be overwhelmingly positive about it! If you just expect you’ll both embrace training as storm Mildred rages around you, then they’ll expect it too and cancelled sessions become a thing of the past!