How to start a personal trainer business

Not just for bodybuilders or yoga enthusiasts, the fitness market is exploding and that means big business; here's our guide to becoming a personal trainer

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Despite the turbulence of the economic downturn, the health industry has remained relatively stable; in fact, market research firm TGI claims the number of gym members in Britain has increased by one million since 2000. Yet the gym culture is being transformed, as more and more people turn to tailored, one-on-one support from a personal trainer.

According to renowned trainer Vicky Mahony, “personal training in now the norm in most health clubs and gyms. More and more people are using trainers to get fit and healthy compared to 10-15 years ago. With more focus on health and well being than ever before, people are willing to invest in their health by getting a personal trainer.”

Britain’s leading gyms are rushing to cash in on this trend. According to fitness industry leader FitPro, David Lloyd reaches 5% of its membership through personal training and delivered approximately 400,000 personal training sessions in 2013 – that’s 7,600 a month. At Virgin Active, the figures are even higher and the industry continues to grow every year.

There is also an ever-increasing number of people looking to make it on their own, by creating their own personal training business. Many are specialising in outdoor training, following the lead of British Military Fitness, the park-based exercise club which now boasts 130 venues across the UK.

Andy Brown, editor of FitPro Network magazine, says you simply need to “look around your local park, or witness the popularity of shows like The Biggest Loser” to see the new-found popularity of outdoor exercise, which plays into the hands of independent personal trainers.” Furthermore, many people now believe that getting fit outdoors offers more flexibility, and satisfaction, than the sweaty, harshly lit confines of a gymnasium.

A report in the Daily Telegraph found that exercising outdoors provided greater physical and mental health benefits, and greater enjoyment, than a conventional gym workout. This can only be good news for personal trainers, who have the freedom to hold their classes in parks and other public spaces.

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There’s no doubt that as the government gears itself up for the battle against obesity that sporting activity is only going to increase – so the rise of the personal trainer is perfectly timed.

What is a personal training business?

As FitPro’s Andy Brown says, personal training is all about specialism – you need to identify an area suited to your skill and expertise and stick with it. Once you have decided which area you want to specialise in, (helping people lose weight, working with pre-natal women or even training elite athletes), you need to find a suitable course which will give you the training and qualifications you need. While there’s no singular qualification for fitness instructors, some are more respected than others.

Other than the cost of training, which can be anything from £300 to £6,000, depending on your specialty and prior knowledge, other overheads are limited. Insurance is a must, and will usually cost at least £100 per year, and transport is also vital, but other costs depend on you.

Investment in the necessary equipment, such as free weights or a blood pressure machine, is usually an early outgoing, with equipment being replaced or updated perhaps every couple of years. You also need to be clear on what devices and instruments you need, because the choices are endless. Jane Walker, co-founder of FitPro, says that “the equipment we used in the early 90s was limited to bands, weights and steps, but now there is a plethora of tools to train with in classes or with clients.”

In terms of marketing yourself, most trainers agree word of mouth is the most effective – and cheapest – way of raising awareness. Roger Bradley, a fitness trainer based in Witney, Oxfordshire whose clients include famous writers and even an indie rock star, claims that one client will often lead to another. “I have a number of fairly affluent clients and I started off by going to their houses and working with them. I once secured work with both the head chef and the nanny of one client purely as a result of my work with their boss.”

To build his business, publicise his services and give his business a more professional look, Bradley spent in the region of £7,000 on a van that would accommodate all his equipment and an additional £450 on having his name and logo painted on the side – a cheap way of getting his name known wherever he travels.

Many personal fitness trainers have also set up a website to give themselves a broader reach, but generally find it isn’t as effective as it can be for selling other products and services, because the nature of the job traditionally requires close geographical proximity. But there does appear to be a growing market for training people virtually. You can also use the internet to market your business; social media is a great way for any business to reach potential customers, and you can make some fitness videos to show of your skill – plus followers can then easily recommend you via social networks.

“I have about ten clients who I deal with mainly by email, sending them workouts, receiving their feedback and adapting the programme accordingly,” comments Bradley, who spent £500 setting up his site. “I then meet up with them once every two months.” This often suits busy but motivated people who require the expertise to achieve a particular goal but are happy to carry out the training themselves.

However, while being a personal fitness trainer might sound attractive because of its limited overheads, hungry market and opportunity to earn, the job will not suit everybody.

Ready to get started? Find out everything you need to know about how to start your own business here.