How to Be a Self Employed Personal Trainer

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Many personal trainers start out by working for gyms, which provide training facilities, equipment and other support. In return, trainers typically agree to give the company a portion of their earnings and to abide by the company’s management rules. Some trainers go on to start their own businesses to increase their income and professional independence “Going solo” can be financially risky and requires mastery of business management and marketing concepts, but there are simple ways to attract and train a lucrative stable of clients in the startup phase of your new business, without spending much on facilities or equipment.

Starting Out

Spend some time working for gyms or other fitness companies rather than independently if you are new to the industry. Trainers may sign on as salaried employees; as such they may be entitled to receive benefits and may have work responsibilities in addition to conducting training sessions. But, many are classified as independent contractors who are free to determine how to train their clients. In such cases, the company typically provides training space and equipment and does billing and payroll—the business end of the business--which lets trainers focus on training. In return, the company takes a hefty cut—which can be up to 60 percent—of trainers’ earnings and imposes policies that they may find restrictive or onerous. On the other hand, as contractors, trainers can attract and train their own private clients elsewhere without sharing these fees with the company.

Building a private client base can be a useful first step in learning what it takes to become truly “self-employed” because the trainer has to figure out how to attract and retain clients on her own. Eventually, the logical next step seems to be to cut out the middle man and begin making some real money. But, before burning any bridges, it’s a good idea to learn from those who have already learned how to turn this sideline into a successful, thriving business and position it to reflect and even shape emerging industry trends.

Keep it simple and cheap. Zach Even Esh, who started his own gym in Edison, N.J. bought used equipment on eBay and Craigslist. He also made his own, using rocks, bags full of sand and tires for resistance training and had clients pushing vehicles across parking lots. He explained that, by selling three-month memberships rather than charging by the session he was able to maintain some steady cash flow while the business was in startup mode.

Training sessions and bootcamps can be conducted at a park, in a garage or basement or in a backyard. Some trainers arrange to lease warehouses on a short-term basis to build the business without incurring a lot of overhead.

Grow the business fast with group training sessions. Doing one-on-one training puts a lot of potential clients, who can’t afford to pay high fees, out of reach. But, by training three or four people together and charging each of them half of what the trainer would charge a one-on-one client, he earns an additional 50 percent or more for the session.

Encourage existing clients to refer friends, family and co-workers and make sure that clients who do are rewarded. Also, try to become part of a client’s wellness team. Seek out doctors and nutritionists whose patients or clients need exercise and work with them to customize client workouts and address nutrition, health and injury issues. This could lead to client/patient referrals between "team members."

Do targeted outreach to specific groups to find, or create, a niche by:

Hitting the highrises. Call managers at luxury condos and apartment complexes that have gyms and offer to run low-cost group classes for residents or tenants, which could lead to more one-on-one clients.

Contact corporate. Offer to contract with large corporations and nonprofits to offer training classes at their onsite gyms.


Set up a website to promote the business and learn how to “seed” it with key words that potential clients are likely to use when searching online for personal training services. This helps the site to come up early and often through the most-used search engines. Make sure one or more of those keywords are included in the title as well.

Starting a fitness blog on the site also lures search engine hits, because, says independent trainer and entrepreneur Kaiser Serajuddin, search engines "list or ‘index’ blog content faster than any other form of Web content and simultaneously give them more weight in their search results.”

Wave at current clients and introduce yourself to potential recruits by posting a training video on YouTube and building a network on Facebook.

Consider publishing a newsletter filled with fitness and nutrition tips on your website or sending one to clients by email.


Stay in touch with any gyms you used to work for and former colleagues. They can be good sources of information and advice. You may be able to learn from and even cooperate or collaborate with them in developing new classes assessing/introducing new techniques and on marketing or other projects.

Don't neglect the "certs." The more skills you learn and credentials you acquire, the more versatile and marketable you'll be as a trainer. Attending seminars and training courses is also, of course, a good way to network.

Consider mastering new specialties or bringing on board other fitness professionals with particular specialties such as kickboxing, ballet, pilates zumba, etc. "Fusion training"--a mix of several distinct categories of fitness training and other healthy practices such as yoga--is gaining in popularity.

Look into the feasibility of providing fitness coaching to existing and potential clients online or by phone. This can forge new client relationships, help forge new ones and can add to your revenue stream. As of 2009, some trainers charge $50 per hour for consultations.


Don't spend too much too fast. Make sure you have a steady stable of clients who are committed to training with you regularly and over time, before you start upgrading equipment, facilities or adding staff, overhead or too many new classes that may be unsustainable. Grow the business slowly at first, or it may outgrow you.