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Session #019 - Top 5 Reasons Why Personal Trainers Quit and How to Avoid Them

Show notes:

In the last session I had given some pro’s and con’s about being a personal trainer as a part of helping potential trainers with a few things to think about before making the jump from being a corporate employee into the fitness industry.

Check that session out, it is number 18, and it takes you through a process on how to make that switch…how to make that jump.

Now, about some of the con’s that I gave, some trainers have been DM'ing me asking about this list and other issues that they might run into when starting as a personal trainer.

So, in this session I thought it would be good to talk about some more but in the context of why trainers quit. This is because these are the main issues to overcome but also consider and plan for if you are starting out, or even if you are already a trainer but feel maybe something is holding you back.

So I’ll be talking about the top 5 reasons I see personal trainers quit and hopefully give you a couple of suggestions to help avoid them.

So if you’re thinking about becoming a personal trainer or already are one, you can think these pitfalls that do cause many, many trainers to quit.

On the homepage of my website the first thing you will see is a statistic.

And that is that 90% of personal trainers have quit their new role within the first year after being certified.

Now, that is massive!

And many of the following reasons are a very large part of that.

I’m going to talk quite a bit today. It’s a slightly longer session than normal and to be honest there are still a lot of other reasons that didn’t make the cut.

So let’s go through some of the most common ones and try to give some solutions to these issues so you can do as much as possible to make sure you don't fall into that really shitty 90% in the first year statistics.

Let’s kick things off, and these are in no particular order, with number one. The first one is that many trainers just do not earn enough money to sustain themselves as a personal trainer.

Now, there are a lot of potential reasons for this. So I brain dump a few here.

Firstly, many trainers don’t have the right approach. They think of themselves as a trainer, when really they should think of themselves as a business owner.

But at the same time, you are never really taught anything about business or told that having this type of mindset would really help.

And this even applies to trainers if you are a gym based, employed trainer. MAybe you’re sitting there thinking you’re based in a gym so it doesn't apply to you. But it does!

It’s best for you to have the mindset that you are running a business within a business, the second business being the gym, so you can help grow your client base and fill your calendar.

By changing your mindset to one of a business owner, you’ll approach your work in a different way and open it up to the things that are needed. It especially helps with getting out of the mindset of sessions, sessions and sessions, which will help you realise the kinds of action you need to build a business.

Another reason for this is that many trainers use gyms as a starting point and a stepping stone to something different in future where they may have their own business, so it’s best to start learning and practising right now.

Another reason trainers don't earn enough money is that they are undercharging. And this is something I have done a ton of throughout my career.

As a new trainer you think it’s maybe a good idea to charge less at the start to help get your foot in the door and get things going. Then in time you can increase your prices. But then trainers get scared to increase their prices in case they lose all their clients.

So don’t do that, and don’t get in a race to be the cheapest, which we’ll talk about more in a minute.

I guess we can have a separate session about increasing prices and a great way to do it soon, maybe the next session.

So anyway pricing is a big issue for many.

Many trainers also look at the price they have to pay for being in a gym as an issue.

They think that rents are way too high, or the gym takes too much of a percentage so they leave blaming that reason on why they never earned enough and ultimately failed.

The fact is that the gym should take most of the cut considering all the work, effort and leverage they have.

Keep in mind that most commercial gyms can survive without trainers, but a lot of trainers won’t survive without a gym.

But the real reason is that the gyms pay for everything you need in terms of equipment as well as the maintenance. They give you an instant market which takes away a lot of headache for you to find clients. Any amount of members they have in their membership is a massive asset that they can leverage.

So you as a trainer should see that they provide and maintain equipment, pay all the bills, perform all the marketing to get member leads.

The sales team are there to convert those leads and they congregate all these people already interested in fitness, health or wellness into a single place for you to take business from.

They are putting everything on a plate for you.

So make sure you see this as an amazing opportunity and take advantage of it instead of thinking they owe you something extra. The potential is there for you to earn well and be successful, if you’re good at what you do.

So to get the pricing right, one thing is for sure, you do not want to get in a race to the bottom. That means try to avoid discounting the price you want to charge so that you undercut other trainers with the aim of getting more clients.

This way you will need volume to work and that is a lot of work as a personal trainer.

Remember, it is the money you make, not the number of clients that matters.

Would you prefer to work 5 hours a day or 10 hours a day for the same money?

So, you need to be comfortable with what you are being paid, else you will start to resent what you are doing, working hard for so little and then you definitely won’t last long.

If you’re in a gym, some gyms will tell you what to charge as they will have a structure you need to follow.

But if not, you may need to do some research as to what rates are common in your area and in your gym.

But there is no solid rule for what you can charge. Ultimately, the market will decide if it is willing to pay your prices.

You can charge what you like so long as you can deliver on value that is more than what you charge in the eyes of your clients.

Even if you are charging a lower amount, if you can't deliver value that a client thinks is more than what they are paying, then even that low price is too much.

So whatever you charge, make sure to deliver value. Look at ways you can add value to your service or product that can wow your clients. Find ways that make them think that what they are paying for is a great bargain for them.

Then, in time you can look to increase your prices in a structured way. And, like I said, I’ll do a session on this soon, if not in the next session.

Next up, the second reason why many trainers quit within the first year is because they lack people skills.

Now, I am a huge believer in the opinion that personal training is a business and an industry built on relationships.

The vast majority of good trainers are good with people.

They have a passion to help people, they build rapport easily, they have no issues talking to strangers and are confident when they speak.

And something that is very underrated is that basically, you need to be a likeable person.

And it is pretty much impossible to teach personality!

That is just the way it is. Clients need to have confidence in you that you can help them, and if you are not speaking, or can’t speak with confidence, then it can become an obstacle.

Very shy or timid trainers tend not to last long especially in a freelance gym environment.

You need the ability to sell and that is partly a game of confidence. Without that, no matter how good a trainer you might be, you are going to struggle because you can’t get clients to show you awesome training abilities.

Now, there are a lot of introverted trainers that do not have this issue. But it’s like a continuum or sliding scale, where the ones at the lower end will struggle.

I was like this when I first started, especially as a tennis coach and then as a personal trainer.

It kind of came back when I started as a PT in a new environment and having to go out and get clients.

But, I just stuck at it and grew my confidence over the years.

So what to do if you’re a bit too shy and feel uncomfortable going up to strangers?

First, I would suggest looking for an employed position if you want a gym based job.

That will take the pressure off and give you a bit more time to build your confidence up and improve your people skills.

But you do have to have the mindset that you will at least try putting yourself out there and be willing to put yourself in slightly uncomfortable situations.

See it as a challenge.

But also see it as your duty. You have knowledge and experience that can help people, so you are doing them a disservice if you don’t.

They need you!

And if all that sounds a bit too much for you, then you can try something online, again, employed if you can.

That way you will have a different approach to getting clients because there is always that barrier from being online. Communication can also be asynchronous, meaning that there is a delay, it isn’t live or in real time.

You can take a bit more time to craft a message, an email or even a video. And if you mess up you can delete it and start again until it is right.

You can’t do that on the gym floor!

Number 3 on this list is that many trainers are worried about career progression. How can they develop and grow as a personal trainer, what comes next?

I literally had this conversation with one of our trainers at Invictus this morning.

I’m pretty sure that most trainers do not want to be on the gym floor at 60 years old doing the same thing that they are doing at 25.

And I don't blame them!

We had a very good and promising trainer quit earlier this year for this exact reason.

He had been a trainer for just over a year and he and his family didn’t really know what would come next.

Everyone wants some kind of professional growth, so what is there for trainers?

Well, there are a ton of options out there. So let go through some of the most common.

Now, assuming you start off as an employed trainer in a gym, which is most trainers. It is also probably the best way for most trainers to start off too.

Actually, as a small side note, and someone that employs trainers at a gym as well, at Invictus, we are not stupid. We realise that we are a stepping stone for trainers that will move on within a few years to go onto something that for them is bigger and sometimes better for them and their situation and career growth.

We are really good at taking relatively new trainers and developing them so that whatever they go to next, they will excel at.

So what do they do next?

Most will start to make a career as a freelance trainer, either in a gym or going mobile to people’s houses or societies.

This starts to give them more control over their time and more choice and flexibility of who they get to work with.

Although many trainers will keep working with fat loss and transformations, some will start to specialise in areas such as strength and conditioning or even pre and post-natal.

From there, a good idea is to start filling your calendar and when things get too busy for you, you can start building a team of trainers. A mini empire with a brand that services a particular area.

Now you’re a real business owner! Congrats!

Other trainers have gone on to open their own studio. Again, in addition to their own revenue from personal training, they earn from other freelance trainers that pay them to use their facility or they build and employ their own team to work there with clients.

Some trainers will go into management, either for a personal trainer agency or a gym, while many others will run their own gym.

One of the most popular these days is to become an online trainer.

There are pro’s and con’s to this as there is with anything else, but some of the most popular reasons are that you can really scale a business online.

You are no longer trading time for money which can allow you to earn more through being able to scale to a bigger level.

And there are a lot of different ways to be an online trainer. Since covid, virtual training is more popular, then there are also newer ways such as memberships that are picking up as well.

As training isn’t in real time, you can be far more flexible with your work hours giving you a new kind of freedom.

One last area trainers progress into, and it's one for more experienced personal trainers is to move to the education and training of new and aspiring trainers.

Helping the new guys get started and running courses or workshops can be a lot of fun and you are helping to shape and improve the levels of trainers that you come into contact with.

Any of these options are a great pathway to a career in the fitness industry that starts off with gym based personal training.

And they are all options that allow for plenty of growth in terms of professional development, satisfaction and of course money!!

Now, we are up to number 4 on the list.

And number 4 is going to be that many trainers go into the industry with the wrong expectation of what being a personal trainer is, and this is a multi-layered issue.

So first off, if I'm being honest, this isn’t the most popular fact, because trainers don’t like doing it. But the quickest way to build a client list is to work a split shift, or break shift.

So this is a working day that looks like 6am to 10am and then around 5pm to 9pm.

This means that you are training people in the two most popular times that people like to train in each day.

Just Google any specific gym you know and scroll down a little. On the right hand side you will see a small bar graph titled ‘Popular Times’ that shows you how busy the gym typically is over the course of that day.

For 99% of gyms you will see a peak in the morning and a peak in the evening.

While this work schedule is optional for most personal trainers, the fact is that these hours generally suck!

They are antisocial and annoying as you are starting early and finishing late.

If you want to optimise your week, then a 6 day working week is also great, but leaves little time for you.

Most trainers don’t realise this, and working at a gym, things are normally set up this way, which is one reason why a lot of trainers move on after a few years.

But, if you want to get busy as a trainer, and you want to do it fast. This is the quickest and easiest way to do it.

But most new trainers don't know this when they get into it.

But no matter what you do, the hours you work are almost always when other people are not at work. So early in the morning and/or late in the evening is the norm, even when you have flexibility.

It is possible to run a 9-5 business or whatever hours you choose, but you’ll need to accept the fact that you might take longer to build up.

This is unless your target market is a little different, where they also have more flexible times and pre and post-natal is one of those.

Another thing, which I always find surprising, is that probably 90% of trainers have never ever hired a trainer themselves before they became a trainer.

Having one would really help with forming the right expectations before you become a trainer.

Add to this that almost zero courses have a case study or opportunity to work with a real client, this means most trainers are going into their first job totally blind as to what a personal training session looks like.

With zero experience of any of this, how can quality sessions happen?

Other warped expectations are that many trainers think they will be working with beautiful people, super fit clients, athletes or celebrities.

The fact is that most clients are middle aged or at least approaching it. They are overweight and difficult to work with due to their work and family commitments that they will always prioritise over their personal training sessions and even their health.

So just from these couple of examples, and trust me, there are more. You can see that there can be more than a slight difference between what a new personal trainer might think the job looks like and the actual reality of it.

So how to fix this?

Well, first off, hire a trainer if you want to become a trainer. Even online is a great idea.

Now, don’t get all ego on me! Everyone, and I mean everyone can benefit from hiring the right trainer. And that includes you.

These days pretty much any top performer has a coach. The top bodybuilders in the world have a coach, the top tennis players and the top footballers.

The right coach can elevate your standard a whole lot.

But you also need to watch and learn.

How do they organise things? How do they talk to you, what type of language do they use?

How do they structure their business? Their programs? Their sessions?

Talk to them about the industry, how they got started and how they progressed.

And even better, if you have the ability to…sign up for an internship that will train you up and show you from day 1 how things really work.

An internship is probably the best way to go if you can find a good one and are able to afford it and spend the time doing it.

This is because while you're on an internship, you probably won't just be not earning money, but you will in fact be paying to be there.

But internships will quickly help you learn more in a month that most courses can manage, and it is all extremely relevant to you and your future.

Finally! Number five, the last on the list and one of the biggest and most common problems and why many trainers quit is that most CPT courses just do not prepare you properly for the day to day reality of being a personal trainer.

You could argue that what they do, they do really well. But there are a couple of issues that mean there are too many trainers who are almost being set up to fail once they get their first job.

At Invictus we spend the best part of a month training trainers that are already certified, filling in these big knowledge gaps.

There are really important things missing from most CPT such as how to do consultations properly, how to sell themselves, communication skills, and how to actually teach an exercise.

Even if they are in the syllabus, it isn’t in depth or detailed enough. It isn’t given enough importance so basically, may as well not be included at all.

They don’t teach real communication skills, how to talk to clients, how to set boundaries to kind of ‘condition’ clients to help stick to processes which in turn helps them build habits and routine.

When I was learning at university, we had to work with a client for 12 weeks as a case study as just one part of the course.

There are some courses out there that think they can train you within a week and have you ready to take on clients.

C’mon, that’s just a hyperbolic marketing tool to get more new business.

Any good trainers coming from these will already be experienced and good to begin with.

No week long course will take a fresher and make them good in a week…it’s just not long enough.

The quality of trainers coming from these different courses are going to be night and day.

And while there are obviously some really good courses, the majority are just too easy to pass. The bar for trainers is set so low that anyone can become a trainer just with very basic knowledge and understanding.

Now, until some authority steps in and changes things, it’s up to us as trainers and the employers to set the standards.

But as a trainer, you need to have the right mindset. A learners mindset, a curiosity mindset. And realise that getting your CPT award isn’t the last piece of the puzzle. It’s actually the first piece to help you get going on the right path.

There is so much more to learn in this profession, you will never know it all. But, that is one reasons why being a personal trainer is so good.

With the right mindset you will never get stale, you can always progress and you can make yourself a little bit better every single day.

Internships are another great way to overcome this issue with CPT courses. Also hiring a trainer which I also mentioned before.

Working in a gym with a good team of trainers that you can learn from is also a great thing to help, but at the same time hard to find.

Another way to avoid this is what started with Epic Personal Trainer.

I wanted to create another way for trainers to learn, to be a part of a community and come together to support each other in a new and effective way.

And in a way that won't cost a serious amount of money.

And I want it to be complimentary to your CPT courses, to help build on what you learn there, fill some knowledge gaps, and also provide continuing support after all the great work that they do with this courses.

With many courses, once you are done, you are done.

There isn’t a whole lot of interaction, help or support after in the areas you are going to need it most.

And you can get all of this in the Epic Personal Trainer community.

Courses to learn, like minded trainers to connect with and get the help and support that can make a difference.

You know, trainers don’t work together nearly as much as they should, but by working together with trainers that have the right mindset, I truly believe that you will become more successful. And in the long run you will definitely avoid being in the 90% of all trainers that quit within the first year.


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