I opened my personal training studio in January of 2013. I had no experience owning a business. Even after doing online and local research, I had few examples and little advice to go on.
But I did it anyway.
Looking back, I can’t say what it was that drove me to take such a risk. I did research to figure out what local trainers were charging, how they were training, how they were tracking. There was no consistency — and, in fact, not much tracking going on. Trainers tended to be gym buddies or else work with sports teams. I wanted a boutique studio, with privacy and quality equipment, where I could motivate and educate.
I wasn’t sure about my niche at first. I tried a lot of things. I worked with athletes and many ages. I hired a contract trainer to do some work for me. I even got certified to teach big cardio classes — Les Mills Grit and Born to Move. I found what worked best for me was focusing on getting deconditioned adults excited about exercise! I wasn’t really interested in helping athletes perform better. I wasn’t interested in running large cardio classes. I wasn’t interested in managing other trainers.
Pursuing my own business had never been an ambition. It certainly wasn’t a best choice for income, considering how much I had been making as a programmer. But it was definitely an adventure, one I was ready for, and one that my husband could join me in.
Together we remodeled the entire first floor of our house and hired a contractor for the office. Through the first two years, we made changes to the layout and added equipment, including two racks bolted to the floor. My goal was always to make enough money to equip the studio well and maybe have a little extra income. It turned out to be more successful than that.
Yet, I never grew it into a full-time endeavor. It’s terribly hard to work as a full-time trainer, unless you become a manager of other trainers and/or work plenty of nights that prevent family time. At one point, I was training one-on-one clients every evening and doing small group trainings, too. Some nights, I didn’t see my kids.
I scaled my hours to weekends only and quit the small group training. That limited clients a lot, yet I kept busy most weekend mornings. I was happy to keep training clients, some of whom had become friends. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most.
What I discovered was that a fitness trainer is a customer service job. I got into it with a love for fitness and for gym culture, but I soon found the skills that helped me succeed were more about managing relationships and communication.
I learned a lot about advertising: despite what I spent on print and online, it was my website that brought me clients. I designed work outs with paper and then digital vendors and settled on Pump One Fitnessbuilder for creating work outs and tracking clients. I tried various diet and menu services before deciding I didn’t enjoy health coaching. I had fun creating the logo, t-shirts, pencils, and paper and digital ads. I had a challenging few years sorting through tax penalties caused by an accountant who didn’t understand LLCs.
What a ride!
I had my last monthly client this morning. I’ll have a few sessions to finish up in January. I had many successes and a few spectacular failures, and I have some good stories to tell. But now it’s time to move on. I’m ready for new challenges.