Recently I told you My Story on how I made it as an Independent Trainer. I’m enjoying a busy schedule and making a decent living doing what I love. Not too many people can say that, so I’m blessed.

Maybe I’ve convinced you to go out on your own. Try the “lone wolf” lifestyle. Are you ready for what it takes to “make it?” Here are some Pros and Cons to the Independent Lifestyle:

Cons:

1.) Expect Windshield time (more than you think)

Unless you’re settled into one spot, expect to spend a good deal of time behind the wheel driving to and from. Since Time = Money, it’s imperative that you reduce this time as much as possible. This also means that you’re unable to schedule as many sessions as you might like in one day, and factor in the cost of gas. Traffic can also throw you off, so always be on alert with time of day and traffic patterns.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER:

Use this windshield time to your advantage: download podcasts and audiobooks and use this time to invest in your continuing education. Block time for one location; for example, “I’m at the community center only from 6-11 am on MWF” and start filling your schedule with clients who want to meet there.

2.) Everything is on You

Billing. Scheduling. Management. Social Media. Marketing. Accounting. Continuing Education. Equipment purchases, etc. This can be a heavy burden to anyone, so be ready to take on the responsibility.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

In my experience, start small and keep things simple. Everyone has a smartphone these days: schedule clients using the calendar in your phone. Text clients the night before and confirm sessions. Use social media to celebrate client PR’s, but be savvy about how and when to post pictures and send tweets. Your job is to coach! Never forget why your client hired you in the first place. Manage social media posts after your session is over.

For billing, accounting, and other management services, there’s lots of fitness-business software available. Expect to pay fees for these services however. I keep all my books up to date on Excel and Google Sheets (both are free). I write all my clients’ programs using Google Docs (again, free). If you’re interested, I’ll send you my templates that I use to manage the books. Just email and ask!

Set up additional accounts at your bank and be sure to put away a percentage every month into a separate Savings or Checking account. NEVER TOUCH IT unless you’re paying taxes (quarterly) or buying equipment/going to a conference. Save roughly 20% for taxes and anything from 5-10% for equipment purchases/continuing education.

3.) “Hustle”

Early on in your career expect to work sessions you might not want. I’m talking about 5 am and 7 pm. The independent trainer lifestyle can be really rewarding, but it takes TIME, loads of energy, and plenty of Coffee (hold the butter, please)

Finding new clients can be a hassle, especially if you’re training in several locations: you have to make sure both parties can meet at a mutual time and mutual place. Figure out a good marketing strategy (referrals are KING) and keep at it until you fill open slots in your schedule.

When you become more established and “busy,” you can turn away the sessions you would prefer not to work, including early mornings and weekends. Network with other trainers and develop a cross-referral system and direct a client to another trainer trying to fill a spot.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

Every new client is an opportunity. Their network is vast. Do a great job with them and you’ll be booking clients right and left.

Pros:

1.) FREEDOM

Like traveling? Go whenever you want. Need to take a day off? Give your clients a heads up and take a day off. Likely you’ll have the middle of the day free, so you can run errands, read, take a nap, or get a workout in.

If you want a spring break, summer vacation, fall break, Christmas break, and want to travel for New Year’s..no problem. Go.

You’re going to develop great relationships with your clients who will be happy to hear that you’re taking time off to refresh. But you know what? You don’t have to ask management’s approval. You answer to your clients and your clients only.

The freedom is incredible; it’s also why I’m likely never going back to working for someone else.

HOW TO MAKE IT (even) BETTER

If you’re still learning, reach out and find a mentor. Shadow and learn as much as possible. In the first 3 years I worked as an independent trainer, I shadowed three different high school strength coaches. These guys have a ton of experience and wisdom, and most are happy to have you help them out.

CAUTION: until you find a way to make a passive income, days off = no pay. Keep this in mind when planning to take days or weeks off at a time.

2.) More $$$

When you work for a commercial gym, typically a large percentage goes to the house. They have to keep the lights on and equipment in working order after all. This can be a real drag for you though, as you might see anywhere from 40-60% of session prices go back to the house.

As an independent trainer, you owe a relatively small amount to the gym. What you will owe depends on the gym: sometimes it’s a percentage, sometimes it’s a flat monthly rent, and others are dollars per session; either way, you always come out on top. Find a gym that suits you and your clients’ needs but also doesn’t dig into your income. Be honest with the gym owners and always pay your dues. Technically you’re a guest, so don’t mess up this relationship.

Speaking from experience, the most I’ve ever had to part with as an independent trainer is 23% of what I charged. Sometimes it’s as little as 5%. You can’t top that when most gyms in town will take 40%.

HOW TO MAKE IT (even) BETTER

Depending on the gym, you might owe anything from $3/session to $15/session. If you charge $65 per hour, your take home can be $50/session. Most gyms around town aren’t going to pay you that much, so there’s money to be made working independently. Even if you only train 20 hours per week, this is an annual gross income of $48,000. At 30 hours per week, that number jumps to $72,000 annually. I mean, come on, that’s a pretty light schedule and pretty easy lifestyle to make that kind of money.

3.) No “Ceiling”

As a member of a commercial gym, you might be looking at making anywhere from $20-30 per session when you first start out. It might be 6 months to a year (or more) before you get a raise, dictated by management. As an independent trainer, however, the earning potential is seemingly limitless.

HOW TO MAKE IT (even) BETTER

As an independent, not only do I take more home, but I dictate prices (and price changes) and there is no “ceiling” except the one I set for myself. Once you get busy, maybe you only want to train 25 hours per week to make a comfortable living. Maybe that number is 30 hrs/week. In essence, your “annual income” can grow at a steady rate with no end in site, at least until you want to cap it off.

Not only can your income be limitless, but you don’t have to deal with bureaucracy or management. You call the shots. You can schedule, reschedule, market, work the hours you want, and track workouts and clients as you see fit. You don’t have to play by anyone’s rules but your own (so long as you have rules of your own).

SUMMARY:

Whether your just starting out or considering making “the leap” into an independent trainer lifestyle, heavily consider the pros and cons. It’s not all peaches and cream every day, and initially things will be really hard. Make sure you keep your eyes on the prize and set yourself up for success (as well as failure). Not every week is going to be great, so be able to roll with the punches and make adjustments as you go.

If you have any questions that I didn’t answer here, please reach out and ask!

Andy Van Grinsven

About Andy Van Grinsven

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