Personal training may seem like a glamorous profession, but success is based on hard work: the actual sweat you and your clients put in at the gym and the behind-the-scenes work it takes to start a personal training business. To run a successful business, you not only have to have passion and be a great trainer, but you also need to be a good business manager.
Unless you have a degree in exercise science or kinesiology, you will need to pursue a personal training certification. Look for a nationally recognized program accredited through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, or NCCA. Expect to dedicate at least two months, often more, to a program of study. As of publication, the cost of study materials and a certification exam averages $600 or more.
If you intend to work with specialized populations, such as pregnant women, morbidly obese individuals or elderly clients, you might need additional training beyond your personal trainer certification. Consult with your certifying organization to determine whether additional training is necessary. NCCA-accredited institutions like the American Council on Exercise offer seminars and workshops to educate you about working with special populations.
Read more: Pros & Cons of Being a Personal Trainer
Get Registered and Licensed
Register your business name through your state government. If you're operating as a sole proprietorship, you can use your own social security number. If you hire employees, obtaining an Employer Identification Number, or EIN, is obligatory. Register your business name with your state's department of revenue, too. Note that tax and registration requirements vary from state to state.
Next, obtain a business license. Although no licensing regulations exist for personal trainers, you still need a business license to legally operate as an independent business. If you are operating out of your home, check your city's zoning regulations.
Choose Where to Work
Approach a gym about working as an independent contractor. Starting at a gym gives you access to plentiful equipment and a wide potential client base. You might be allowed to promote yourself by teaching seminars or making yourself available on the floor to answer questions. Other places you might find employment -- or contractor work -- as a personal trainer include physical therapists' offices, hospitals, sports teams, spas and community health centers.
If you work independently of a gym in your own studio or clients' homes, you will have to be more creative about your marketing strategies. Word-of-mouth promotion is one of your best tools, but before you can have satisfied clients you have to have clients, period.
If you decide to work out of clients' homes, you can reasonably expect them to provide some fitness equipment -- for example, either a cardio machine or a willingness to do laps around the block to warm up. But you might have to invest in some basic items of equipment including weights, exercise mats, medicine balls, jump ropes, and more.
Purchase Liability Insurance
The organization that certified you may offer good prices on liability certification for personal trainers. If you train out of an established gym, it may offer some liability coverage. Check your contract terms carefully. Carrying your own liability insurance is a good idea, even if the gym insures you, because the gym's insurance won't cover you during your work outside the gym. If you decide to open your own personal training studio, you'll need to insure the premises and equipment as well.
Pay careful attention to the training materials that dictate the scope of your practice. Your liability insurance typically won't cover you if you step beyond that scope. For example, you could be liable for giving medical advice -- and worse, something tragic might happen to a client because of it -- because such advice is beyond the scope of your training and certification.
Market Your Business
Most new personal trainers won't have the budget for expensive marketing campaigns. You can drum up clients by offering your services as a public speaker on fitness-related topics, distributing business cards and flyers on bulletin boards, connecting with fitness-minded social networks in your area, and contacting businesses about establishing or supporting a corporate wellness program.
Network with health providers such as doctors and physical therapists. Offer promotions to new clients and reward existing clients for referrals. And if you've opened your own studio, don't underestimate the usefulness of simply putting a sign out on the street.
Read more: How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer
Lisa Maloney is a travel and outdoors writer based in Anchorage, Alaska. She's written four outdoors and travel guidebooks, including the award-winning "Moon Alaska," and regularly contributes to local and national publications. She also has a background in personal training, with more than 6,000 hours of hands-on experience.