Fitness Business Necessities
Owning a business is a huge undertaking, even if the business is small. It is important to make sure you cover your bases and ensure all moving parts of your business are in sync. These are non-negotiable training business essentials you need to have in place from the beginning to be most successful.
A Paper Trail
Running a personal trainer business is a lot like trying to improve your fitness. Without the right “equipment” in place at the start, you won’t be setting yourself up for sustainable success. Here is a list of the essential paper “equipment” needed to start your business.
Up-to-date Certifications: Most fitness/coaching certifications require current first aid, CPR and AED. Consider doing a live cert instead of online, the practical (hands-on) portion is invaluable.
Your training or coaching certification is the first step in your career. The main goal of a fitness certification is to teach you the basics of science, techniques, professionalism, and safety. Many personal trainers obtain several different certifications during their careers, as they advance in specialized areas.
Business Tax License: A business tax license is needed before you begin collecting money from clients.
Liability Insurance: This type of coverage used to be simple for our industry, but now there are different ways to train clients. This is a good problem to have because it means you can expand your reach and impact more clients; however, this also means you must take extra care in securing the right coverage. For example, if you are going to train clients in their homes, you will need to check if their homeowner’s insurance covers anything related to potential injuries should they occur, and if your insurance will cover you if anything happens.
Cancellation Policy, Liability Waivers, and Health History form: Forms help you cover yourself legally and make you appear more professional. They help you gather information in a strategic fashion and keep you organized. Having a liability waiver and health history form are smart legal moves to make when starting your own fitness business.
You should also include a health screening questionnaire (HHQ) for fitness assessment records. Insuring that you have a proper and thorough HHQ ensures that you are not only protecting yourself but your client as well. A general HHQ should include questions relating to demographic, medical diagnosis (cardiovascular, pulmonary, musculoskeletal disorders, metabolic), health habits (stress, alcohol usage, diet, etc.), exercise history, pregnancy status, family history (immediate family: mother, father, sisters, brothers), and current/past symptoms for disease (chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc.). This information is then used to first decide if your client needs medical clearance to participate in an exercise program, and then used to create a well-balanced exercise program based off your client’s current fitness level.
Cancellations are going to happen. You can safeguard your time (and income) by having a specific cancellation policy in place that is communicated in your contracts. As cancellation policies go, there is no specific “rule” to follow. Clearly outline what you require for cancellation (24 hours in advance in non-emergent cases, for example). Include in this policy a consequence for no-shows. This might look like charging the client for half the session or the full rate. It really depends on what you need to have a healthy bottom line. Whatever you decide, spell it out, and verbally explain it to your clients.
A “Watertight” Schedule
It is impossible to plan every single aspect of the week’s activities or events and that’s ok, but the benefits of creating and maintaining a repeatable weekly schedule for yourself and your business cannot be overstated. In fact, a schedule or routine has been linked to lower levels of stress, better sleep, and better eating habits.
Sit down and look at your week. What are the hours that the majority of your clients like to train at? This will give you a sense of the key times when you’ll allow clients to book in-person sessions. For many people, this is in the morning or the evening (before and after standard work hours). Next, create a “training hours” schedule for yourself based on how many clients you want to train per week and how many days per week you want to train.
Clients are always going to tell you the times that work best for them to train, but if they really want to train with you they will accommodate your schedule and are often willing to nudge their workout a few hours or even a day or two to make it happen.
Apart from in-person training hours, you should also set out other times of the week to work on your online personal training clients, business development, social media scheduling, blogging, emails, professional development, and then of course personal time. Scheduling personal time for sleep, personal workouts, and time with friends and family is just as important as work.
At the end of each week, block out an hour or two of time to create a weekly plan. Note when your clients are scheduled, any upcoming personal appointments you have, any educational activities you will be engaging in, etc. Don’t pack your schedule so tightly that you do not have room to move and practice self-care. In fact, scheduling personal time for sleep, personal workouts, and time with friends and family is just as important as work.
Assessment and Check-in Process
Most fitness clients have loosely defined, but well-intended, fitness goals that they hope to reach by working with a personal trainer or nutrition coach. Oftentimes, these goals are focused on losing weight, building muscle, increasing energy, or improving eating habits.
Client check-ins are part of this process, but to make these valuable to both you and your client, you need a system or process for checking in with all your clients. You may decide that an in-person, number-centric approach works best for you and your clients. In this case, you would check on client progress by weighing them in, doing measurements, asking about pant sizes, etc. This is a great opportunity to get a written testimonial, video testimonial, or before and after pic.
One thing you can do is tell your brand-new clients that referrals of friends and family are appreciated even on their very first session. This way, your new client knows from the very beginning that this is part of the process. There’s no reason to wait a month to ask a client for a referral. In fact, they will probably be so excited when they first start your program, they will be more likely to share with people they know anyways. So, ask them when it’s new, fresh, exciting, and top of mind for them.
Also related to referrals is having a system in place for when one of your clients would benefit from additional help that may be outside your scope of practice. You know that the work you do in the industry can sometimes require a team approach. A personal trainer’s scope of practice is limited and it’s necessary to have complementary professionals in your network so that you can connect clients with an appropriate provider when necessary. Evaluate who you have in your referral network and fill in any gaps as necessary.
Savings Account for Your Taxes
For self-employed trainers, the two most prevalent reasons for failure are mismanagement and money. Mismanagement is generally a result of poor planning, not realistically evaluating strengths and weaknesses, failing to anticipate obstacles, improper budgeting, and lacking the necessary business skills to prevent failures.
Having to pay taxes out of your hard-earned money from your personal training business does not feel pleasant. An amount as significant as 20% of your annual income can feel like a big dent in your pocket.
Self-employment taxes are pricey and can feel annoying or overwhelming to manage throughout the year. We always recommend working with an accountant or financial advisor to ensure that you are getting the most out of your money, but to get started you can open a specific account for these financial obligations and plan to set aside 25-30%.
You also have the option to pay quarterly instead of once a year. Keeping track of your income in a spreadsheet is a good way to know how much to pay every 3 months, so you don’t get caught at the end of the year owing money.
If you’re a self-employed personal trainer or nutritionist and NOT an employee, you can also claim tax deductions for business expenses incurred on your tax return. The greater the number of legal tax deductions, the lesser your taxable income will be.
Your annual income is $40,000, and the tax rate for the year is 20%. Your tax bill would amount to up to $8,000. However, if you managed to claim tax deductions of, let’s say, $5,000, your taxable income would reduce to $35,000. Now, you will be saving $1,000 by paying a tax bill of $7,000 instead of $8,000.
Need to know more? We have a list of common standard deductions you may be able to claim as a self-employed trainer or coach.
How to Become a Certified Personal Trainer
Check out what it takes to start a career in personal fitness training. NESTA is your most affordable and fastest way to become a highly qualified personal trainer.
There is always something exciting about earning a new training or coaching certification and applying that new knowledge of how you train your clients. This also helps you hit the reset button.
NESTA and Spencer Institute coaching programs are open to anyone with a desire to learn and help others. There are no prerequisites.
That’s it for now.