Should You Be an Employed Personal Trainer or Go It Alone?
Note from Eamon for PTs in Australia: In Australia being employed as a PT by a business or some other form of organisation is quite rare, the industry norm in Australia is being self-employed.
There are so many things to think about when starting your career as a personal trainer:
Do you specialise in a specific area, or just coach general population clients?
What continuing education certifications should you do?
Is there any need for a mentor or business coach, or can you learn everything online and from books?
And the biggie – should you look for employed work, or start out on your own?
I’ve done both.
My first job in the fitness industry was as a gym instructor in a hotel leisure club, where I began to conduct training sessions and classes towards the end of my 15 months there. Then I started paying rent at a commercial gym, working on a self-employed basis, and finally I went out completely on my own as a mobile trainer.
Being self employed and having a job both have pros and cons, and which one you go for in your early days as a trainer depends on a number of important factors. Both can be great, but pick the wrong one and you’re setting yourself up for a tough time.
IMPORTANT: Being Employed is NOT a Failure
There’s a big push to becoming self-employed straight off the bat, and while this is great, it certainly isn’t for everyone.
In fact, if you’re not extremely confident and good at talking to people (more on this later) then it’s not the best choice. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a salaried job with hours, a boss, and extra responsibilities on top of your client work if it gives you a strong start, pays the bills and still helps you realise your dreams of working as a full-time trainer.
Self-Employed: Who’s It For?
The only people who have a very solid chance of success going for a self-employed role as their first PT gig are those who are confident and talkative.
If you’re switching from a job in another customer-based industry such as sales or retail, then chances are you’ll be a whizz at communication and building rapport with clients and potential clients. You’ll find promoting your services relatively easy.
It’s also for those who have some savings behind them, as you’re not going to build a client base overnight, so you have to be prepared for little money coming in for a while, while still being able to pay all your bills (and potentially a weekly or monthly fee to the gym or studio you’re working at as well.)
This isn’t to say that if you’re new to the world of work, or have never worked closely with people before that being self-employed is wrong. It just means that you need to have your target market in place, a thorough business plan, and a clear grasp of your target market.
Employed Role: Who’s It For?
Most personal trainers should look for paid work when starting out.
That’s purely my opinion, but based on how many trainers quit within the first couple of years of starting due to a lack of income and struggling to get clients, while it may seem like the less entrepreneurial way to go, it’s often the smarter move.
If you’ve never been a personal trainer before, you’re not that well-versed with talking to people for 8 to 10 hours a day straight, or you’re a little under-confident in your own abilities, then a job where you have security, and experienced people around you (as well as managers) to guide you through the process, you stand a higher chance of making a stellar start as a PT.
Pros and Cons:
Pros of self-employment –
- Greater say over the days and hours you work.
- More chance to take holidays or time off.
- You can dictate your own prices.
- Work with as many or as few clients as you wish.
- Much more scope for expansion.
- No rules surrounding what you can or can’t do.
- If you’re well-established and lose a client or two, you still have plenty more left.
Cons of self-employment –
- You’re entirely reliant on yourself for income.
- You don’t get paid when you take holiday.
- Have to buy your own uniform (and possibly your own equipment too.)
- When clients don’t show up, you don’t earn.
- The potential for constantly stressing over money.
- Lack of guidance and support.
Pros of employment –
- Bosses or fellow trainers can act as mentors and help you become a better trainer, faster.
- You know exactly how much money you’ll bring in every month.
- Holiday and sick pay.
- Your uniform and equipment is provided.
- Potential for paid (or at least part-funded) continuing educational development and courses.
- You’ll often have a set schedule each week, so you can easily plan your days.
- Steady income.
Cons of employment –
- Your hours, uniform and possibly rules around how you conduct your sessions are dictated to you.
- Evening and weekend work may be mandatory.
- Less chance for expansion.
- You may not like who you work with (staff AND clients.)
- You have extra roles such as cleaning, clearing equipment and reception duties.
- Less freedom
- If you lose your job, you have no income.
The Best Option Is …
It’s that age-old annoying answer – “it depends.”
There’ no right or wrong move.
If you’ve been a trainer for a while, have been well-established and know your onions when it comes to coaching and marketing, then it’s a no-brainer – go the self-employed route.
However, if you want security and safety, and the idea of knowing exactly when you’ll work and how much you’ll earn appeals to you, then look for an employed role.
By picking one though, you’re not signing up for life. You may choose to start self-employed, then decide that there are too many worries and you’d rather have job security. Likewise, if you get an employed position at a gym or a studio, there’s nothing to stop you learning the ropes, then going out on your own once you’ve made connections and have built your confidence to smash it as a self-employed PT.
Note from Eamon – another helpful article to read when trying to make a decision is “Where to Work as a Personal Trainer?”
Mike Samuels is an online coach at HLHL, writer and personal trainer from Southampton, UK. Alongside his coaching work, he loves helping other young coaches build their businesses (both in-person and online.) He has a love of lifting heavy weights, drinking coffee and eating ice cream.