5 Keys to a Profitable Personal Training Program

For Gym Operators

5 Keys to a Profitable Personal Training Program

Make your personal training department or studio more profitable by developing five key areas: premium staffing, inspired marketing approaches, effective sales methods, innovative specialty programs, and efficient operations. Gym operators can apply these five solutions to build a robust, sustainable personal training program.

The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2016 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at ihrsastore.com.

About the Speaker

Sherri McMillan, Owner, Northwest Personal Training

1) Build a Dream Team

Your personal training department or business is only as good as your personal trainers. They are the outward expression of your club or business culture. Your staff’s professionalism, attitude, commitment, and sincerity for an individual’s fitness reflect upon your business and can directly influence a member’s perception of quality service. 

The way you treat your team is the way they treat your customers.

It’s not necessary to hire people with extensive backgrounds in personal training. You do, however, need to have a cultural environment and the capabilities to attract and retain the right people. It requires systems that will develop your new hires into world-class trainers. With proper techniques, a club can cultivate the skills of a trainer to generate $6,000 to $8,000 in monthly personal training revenues.

Where to Find Good Candidates

Look within your community to align with local colleges and universities. Most higher learning institutions have physical education, physiology, or sports training programs. Connect with the directors of these programs to discuss co-op or internship programs. Many of these programs seek external organizations where students can get on-the-job training and real-life experiences.

An internship program offers the tremendous benefit of judging firsthand the potential to develop a new trainer to join your staff. Through their work as an intern, shadowing your trainers, assisting with administrative tasks, and helping with events or special activities, you’ll witness their character, skills, and capabilities. They’ll be tested and vetted!

Hosting continuing education workshops provides another opportunity to attract potential candidates. Bring in top personal trainers to lead a workshop or mini conference. Interested to learn from the best in the field, you’ll attract new trainers who may be curious about what your club or business can offer.

Trainers Are an Asset, Not an Expense

What’s the balance between paying fair and adequate compensation and maintaining profitability to sustain a personal training department or studio? The typical rule of thumb is to allocate 40-50% of total revenues towards payroll. Research industry compensation surveys from IHRSA and IDEA to get a sense of trainer salaries. Don’t just look at the hourly rate, but evaluate the entire compensation package. For example, does it include health benefits, paid time off, or professional development?

Clubs may have other revenue centers, principally membership, which can offset personal training payroll costs. Rates for personal training should align with costs of personal trainers. If personal training rates are $50/hour for example, then the hourly staff rate should be $20-$25/hour.

Get the Most from Your Trainers

Many personal trainers will have certificates, degrees, or special certifications. Regardless of their level of education and training, you’ll want to communicate your expectations of them. Develop systems that clearly set out your studio’s or club’s training methodology, how to perform services, and how to conduct themselves with members and co-workers.

Before sending trainers out onto the floor, have them read the company’s manual and watch any new hire training videos. Following the on-boarding process, have trainers complete a quiz on the company’s core principles.

Continually revisit expectations with staff on a regular basis during weekly and monthly meetings. If team members are not meeting expectations, then it’s likely they haven’t understood them, or need reinforcement. A monthly evaluation system will ensure staff and managers have the tools to excel in their roles. Create a checklist or protocols for how a good training session is conducted. During evaluations arrange peer and video reviews of trainers. Feedback from co-workers is generally seen as more encouraging and visual feedback offers objectivity.

Any good business model uses these training and evaluation systems to ensure a member’s experience is consistent no matter which trainer they work with.

Arrange “secret shoppers” to critique service quality and offer real feedback on the customer experience. This can include calling to make an appointment and/or a personal training session. It’s an excellent method to learn what actually happens in your club and if there is consistent quality service.

Praise, Recognize, Support  

How can you keep your staff for 10 or 15+ years?  The hiring, training, and building of an awesome cohesive team takes dedicated commitment and is an exhaustive process – one you would rather not have to do over and over again.

Foster an environment and culture that encourages and nurtures a team approach. One that lessens competitiveness among your training staff. Your leadership and management team’s style is essential to teamwork and growth. The best marketing is a personal training team that has fun and enjoys their work.

Studies have shown that recognition and authority are strongly linked to longevity and job satisfaction.

So, remember to praise staff and thank them. Call out good work and recognize staff contributions.

Set up a weekly reminder system that alerts you to send an email, letter, or give a gift to someone who has gone above and beyond.

Give staff ownership to encourage loyalty. Assign different titles for staff such as: personal training director, assistant personal training director, front desk manager, and group fitness manager. Create specific titles to recognize a trainer’s unique expertise or contribution, e.g. CFO, chief fun officer or CEO, chief education officer.  

Team Meetings

Make team meetings mandatory. To ensure 100% attendance pay staff for meetings. And, always have food! Schedule them a year in advance so staff can plan ahead. This is also a great format to invite a guest speaker to talk with your team on a variety of topics. Include time during the meeting to highlight successes and talk about issues.

Professional Development

Offer continuing education opportunities for your staff. A great way to support staff and gain exposure for the club or studio is to host a professional conference. Bring in key presenters. Sell registration to other fitness trainers. This can offset staff professional development costs.

Team Play

Socialize together outside of work. Organize a fun run or social event with staff and their family members every few months. Show support of the team by acknowledging significant personal milestones, competitive sport achievements, birthdays, and educational accomplishments.

2)  Great Personal Training Isn’t Great If No One Knows About It!

Key goals of any marketing effort are to generate awareness, exposure, and recognition within the community and the marketplace. Look at ways to connect within your community and to fortify a message of involvement and commitment. Support local events. Build strategic alliances with other local companies that serve like-minded people, e.g. running stores, chiropractors, spas, and others  who would invest as well in personal training. Find ways to work together to co-promote each other’s business. Are you a member of the Chamber of Commerce or other business associations?

A strong community presence results in recognition and loyal members.

Start within the Gym to Promote Personal Training

Designate places within the club or studio to highlight trainers and a personal training program. This creates an excellent visual marketing tool to attract members. Make sure there is adequate floor space amongst the equipment to showcase personal training. Take every opportunity to demonstrate your team’s service and commitment.

  • Wall of Fame:  Hang bios and credentials of each of your trainers and staff. Include their philosophy and a professional photo. Personalize your staff with photos of them pursuing their passions.
  • Display monitors, bulletin boards, locker rooms and equipment:  Use these to communicate programs, promotions, events, member success stories, or endeavors by trainers.  Consider a well-placed plaque or floor mat with your personal training program’s mission statement, such as “home of the greatest trainers.” This will motivate and provide daily purpose for staff. Likewise, it will continually instill the perception among members.
  • Mini sessions: Trainers should approach members to offer help to assist with their workout. They could say to the member, “I’m between sessions and have 15 minutes. I see you’re starting work on your abs. May I show you some core conditioning techniques?” This showcases member engagement. It allows members to become comfortable with the idea of personal training. They’ll likely ask more questions.
  • Class spotting: Have trainers assist in group classes. A personal trainer can pop into large group classes to help members with form and technique tips. Group instructors in large classes are often not able to get around to every individual. Class spotting demonstrates personal service and is a subtle introduction of your personal training staff and services to members.
  • Complimentary sessions: Get personal training staff in front of new members with two to three complimentary sessions. Typically, those complimentary sessions will transfer into additional paid sessions and help build a stronger personal training client base.

Workshops, Events, and Special Programs

Host health fairs, fashion shows, and weight loss challenges for members and open them to the community for wider exposure of your personal training department.

Quick Fix Program: Draw in people with reasonable prices that accommodate everyone’s budget. A short 6-week special that runs continually is an easy introductory option for potential members. Change up the message monthly; repackage to reflect the season or annual celebration. Offer one – 1 hour session (30-minutes of self-directed cardio and 30 minutes with a trainer) per week at a low-cost entry point with higher cost options for multiple sessions.

Challenges: These programs are a viable source for additional revenues. Offer the program with multiple pricing options. Start with a base option for once a week sessions with a trainer over the course of six weeks. Add additional services such as a jump start feature that provides an additional 30 minutes at the start and end of the six-week program. Or an additional 12 sessions to work with a trainer twice a week throughout the challenge.  Features of a challenge program include:

  • Measurements at the beginning and at the end
  • A manual with the educational component of the training program
  • Designated trainer for each team
  • Competition among teams 
  • Challenge goals/accomplishments, e.g. weight loss, body fat, etc.
  • Weekly weigh-ins
  • Regular communications with challenge team members
  • Celebration party at the end of the program.

Encourage Referrals

If your members are getting results, they’re likely to tell their friends and co-workers. Or co-workers and friends are certain to notice! Take advantage of tried and true word-of-mouth marketing. Create systems that encourage members to share their personal training results. Reward members with extra sessions when they refer a friend and a bonus incentive when their referral buys a training package.

Design a Yearly Marketing Plan

Establish goals for each month in relation to your internal and external promotions. Examine each month for holidays and traditions, the seasons, and local events. Model promotions after large retailers. What’s trending?

Develop a plan for each month:                                                                                            

  • Identify a campaign or focus.
  • Define external promotions.
  • Define internal promotions.
  • Choose topics for the workshop – invite guest speaker.
  • Strategize specialty or group programs.
  • Design special clinics.
  • Determine local events to promote or be involved with.
  • Focus on team accountability -- evaluations, education, and incentives.
  • Celebrate birthdays, commemorations, holidays, etc.

Keep a detailed record of which promotions work and which ones don’t.

Schedule regular media outreach to lifestyle editors, business editors, and TV producers. Become the fitness resource for the media, providing articles on newsworthy subject matter. 

3)  Sales and Accountability                                                                                               

After you’ve spent energy putting together a great team of trainers, alongside effort and money to market your services, you’ll want to make sure you’ve taught your team how to sell. You’ll need to help trainers understand that selling is encouraging and motivating people to care about their health and fitness. Trainers need support and feedback to learn how to comfortably engage with prospective clients.

Conduct weekly individual and monthly team sales training sessions. During these sessions set up a role play environment. Pretend you’re the client and present different types of objections a trainer might encounter. Listen to your trainer’s response and coach them until they’re able to overcome obstacles. Work with your trainers on ways to increase client frequency, how to ask for referrals, and the effective use of complimentary sessions. Performed on a regular basis, role playing keeps trainers sharp and tuned in to their clients’ needs. In a team setting, the team collectively offers critiques of a trainer’s responses. This provides objective feedback for trainers and builds unity among the team.

Track the progress of your trainers. Know how well they’re retaining clients. What are their closing and productivity ratios? Monitoring this data provides owners the tools to work with a trainer in areas where they could improve and to evaluate a trainer’s success.

4) Team Training and Sport-Driven Programs

Approximately 30-35% of personal training revenues are generated by small group training. Small group training offers a cost-effective way for members to experience the benefits of one-on-one personal training in achieving their fitness goals.

Implement reserved scheduling and encourage private sessions. Offer packages with a set number of sessions. For larger groups such as running clubs, triathlon clubs, or hiking clubs, lower session fees to $10-$15.

Part of the popularity of group training is working out with people of similar interests. Build group training around your staff’s interests and passions. Identify different sports and segments, for example kid/teen programs, women on weights, ballet, pre/post-natal clinics, ski and boarding camps, tennis and golf conditioning etc. The list is endless.

5) Effective Business Operations

Using systems to centralize and automate your operations will help reduce errors and maximize efficiencies. Automated scheduling will cut down on double bookings, people showing up on the wrong day, or at the wrong time. Operational systems and functional software will translate into higher quality service for your members. They’ll appreciate the convenience it offers them in their busy lives. And, you’ll add time back into your schedule to focus attention on your members.

Don’t try to take on all of these approaches at once. Start with something you feel most passionate about then build brick by brick. Establish a yearly organizational plan. Add elements to the framework as you grow. Measure and track your success.

Give people an experience they can’t get anywhere else and they won’t go anywhere else.