Over the course of my career in the fitness industry, I have personally hired, trained, developed, and managed hundreds of personal trainers. I have managed fitness departments, entire gyms, and I have been a gym owner and a personal training studio owner. Throughout the years a few trends became crystal clear. It became obvious which trainers would find success and which trainers would struggle or even fail.
A successful trainer is someone who can earn enough money training people that they are financially secure and comfortable, but who also brings their clients tremendous value and is able to get their clients to make long lasting or permanent healthy lifestyle changes. This is no easy task. It’s hard enough building a client base that is stable, creating a fitness business that brings in a constant stream of referrals. But when you combine this with having the skill to bring clients permanent fitness and health results, it becomes very difficult. Truth be told, in my decades of experience I can confidently say that only 1 out of 10 trainers have ever met these criteria. That is the bad news. The good news is that ALL trainers who have found real success had two distinct things in common, and anyone can build these skills. These skills are great sales aptitudes and not being afraid of rejection.
Before you roll your eyes at the sales skills part keep reading. Sure, sales aptitudes do help a lot when a trainer is talking to a new potential client, but that is only a small fraction of the true success benefit. One thing that most new trainers (and some veteran trainers) fail to understand, is that personal training is 90% SALES. No joke. Training clients has more to do with SELLING than it does with workouts. How so? Let me explain…
To help people lose weight, build strength, get fit or get healthy LONG TERM, your clients must make huge changes in their lives. Every time you meet with a client your goal is to get THEM to understand and implement new healthy habits. You think the 2-4 hours a week that they meet with you is going to do the trick? WRONG. Throughout most of the time your client is awake and making lifestyle choices like what to eat, sleep, how to be active daily etc., you are not there. They are MOSTLY on their own making those choices.
It’s also not as easy as just giving them a meal plan and telling them what to do every single day. That may work in the short term, but ultimately it always fails. They must change, and they must change in real ways. Consider diet for example. Food represents so many things for people. People eat because they are sad, happy, stressed, or bored. Food is used to connect with people or to celebrate special events. Every culture has its own foods as well. We eat certain foods based on context, like birthday cake at a birthday, or popcorn at the movies. Your job as a trainer is to teach and coach your clients on how to live their daily lives and navigate the world in healthy ways, without having to count calories, macros or follow a rigid meal plan. This takes LOTS of effective and subtle sales skills.
You are literally selling your clients on a healthy lifestyle every single time you meet with them. Push too hard and you lose them. Push too little and they change nothing. Trainers who are masters of effective sales skills can get their clients to not only change their lives, but also to do so because they WANT to.
This process also requires another skill. The ability to be rejected and not be phased by it. Do you think your client is going to just snap into a healthy lifestyle right out of the gate? Of course not. They will fail and fail and fail repeatedly, and you can NOT take it personally. It’s all part of the process.
The other side of this is the ability to get over the fear of talking to new people about working with you. I know it is intimidating to walk up to people in the gym, or even worse, out on the street. It’s scary for sure, but what is the worst that will happen? They say no to you. Great, move on to someone else. If you do not get over the fear of approaching people, and especially over the fear of rejection, you will not survive as a trainer.
Here are some tips to help with the fear of approaching new people. Create situations in which people approach you. One of my favorite ways to talk to new people was to park myself at the front desk of the gym and check people in. I would then simply greet people and ask them what they had planned for their workout, after which I would offer to take them through a warmup, or the whole workout. “Hey John thanks for coming! What is your workout going to be today? Oh, cool you are working legs, do you mind if I take you through a 15-minute pre-workout priming session to get your body ready for an amazing workout?”
Another strategy was to make announcements on the gym intercom. “Attention members and guests, we are giving away 5 free personal training sessions at the front desk on a first come first serve basis. Come up to the front to claim your free session.” This would usually result in 5 goal assessments in less than 15 minutes.
What about outside of the gym? This is harder, but not impossible. One strategy is to set up a free body fat test table outside of an active business. This would usually get me around 3-5 goal assessments in a few hours. If you want to be bold and approach people, do NOT ask them if they are interested in personal training or a workout right off the bat. That is a terrible opener. Instead, ask the following question, “Hey, what gym do you work out at?” People usually take that as a compliment. Then it is relatively easy to transition into talking about fitness, asking them if they have any injuries or pain, and then offering some free time with you.
Of course, it’s important to know what you are doing as a trainer and to be qualified, but without the skills I listed above you will likely not be successful. Become the greatest fitness and health sales person in your gym, embrace rejection, and your chances of success will skyrocket.