Thinking of Becoming a Personal Trainer in London? (part 2)

In part one I discussed the qualifications, personal qualities, and off-line marketing strategy you need in order to stand a chance of making a living as a freelance personal trainer in London.

Now for the online marketing part:

Personal Trainer Website

When I finally established my personal training website, and worked out how to get some of my key search terms on page 1 of Google search results, new client enquiries started to come in more regularly – without the need for flyers, direct mail, or advertising.

I thought I’d grow my website into all things sports & fitness in London, as a way of building the Fitness4London brand, and also to get closer to other fitness professionals in London so we could start swapping leads.

Then the website grew another element: a social networking hub called Fitness Buddy, totally free to sign-up and use, so that Londoners could find a sports or fitness buddy in their part of the capital. At the time of writing there are just under 1,200 fitness buddies signed up, most of which chose the option ‘gym buddy in London’.

If you’re a personal trainer looking to build a website, make sure you’re really clear what you want the website to look like and what you want it to do, before you even approach a web designer. Don’t fall into the trap of paying good money for a website which turns out to be less than you would have chosen had you really thought about what you wanted in advance.

As a London personal trainer facing stiff competition from hundreds of really good PT websites, I wanted something that would stand out. It had to have a good online contact form, it had to be Google-friendly, and it had to be media-rich.

What do I mean by media-rich? I mean the ability to have a combination of text, images, and video clips. Most importantly, I wanted a user-friendly (and secure) content management system, so I could make amendments myself. Never rely on a web designer to make amendments for you, or you’ll end up spending a fortune over the years, either that or be stuck with a static website which is never refreshed with new content, and consequently sinks down the Google rankings like a stone.

And whatever you do, don’t choose the first web designer you come across. Draw up a shortlist, and do some due-diligence to make sure they did a good job for other clients.

One huge advantage of being able to amend your website with fresh content is that it forces you to keep up to date with everything that’s of interest to potential personal training clients, and to deliver interesting blog posts and page content on a regular basis. It’s a form of continuing professional education, as you keep your knowledge refreshed and updated. Recently I wrote blog posts on vitamins & minerals, weight loss techniques, and gym training techniques for muscle growth, to name just three.

Income Potential

Now I want to turn to an issue which any prospective personal trainer must be asking themselves: “How much can I expect to earn as a self-employed personal trainer in London?” There are two sides to this equation: revenue and costs. The bottom line is profit, so a big revenue is no good if it’s eclipsed by even bigger costs. Even if your costs are less than your revenue – a good start – you might be left with too little profit to live on.

The revenue/costs balance is a tricky one. It’s tempting to focus just on the revenue, but the danger is that your costs spiral out of control. An opposite temptation is to keep your costs to a bare minimum: cheapest possible personal training course, as little fitness equipment as possible, as little marketing as possible. But the result will be that you’re poorly qualified, poorly equipped, and generate hardly any clients. So you need to find the right balance.

There are several high-profile personal training studios in London with celebrity trainers in Mayfair, Islington, The City, Notting Hill, and Holland Park. The studios are incredible, with gleaming chrome dumbbells and the latest gym machines and wall-to-wall mirrors.

The revenues these personal training studios are probably high, but here’s the catch. If you own a studio like this, your costs will be high too: premises refurbishing, rent, gym equipment, business rates, VAT, insurance, payroll, interest on business loans, legal costs, accounting costs, heating, lighting, maintenance, repairs…… the list is endless. I don’t recommend you take the plunge into setting up a 5 star personal training studio until you’ve acquired several years of fitness-industry-specific business acumen first, as the potential risks are huge. At best, you’ll generate a five figure revenue, with slightly lower five-figure costs. At worst, you’ll make a big loss. Be very careful.

What I’m going to focus on here is the scenario of a single personal trainer operation, who trains clients in their own homes throughout London, without the expense of a PT studio.

Your biggest initial cost will be your personal training qualification. Mine was with Premier Training International, and cost £3,000, but that was over a decade ago. Your biggest ongoing cost will be transport. If you choose to rely on public transport, a zone 1-3 Travelcard is just under £1,500. If you drive, your transport costs will be much higher. Your biggest set-up costs will be equipment and marketing.

If you’re starting out as a new personal trainer in London, I recommend you buy the following equipment: body fat monitor, blood pressure monitor, tape measure, large sports bag, yoga mat, resistance bands, boxing mitts and pads, ankle weights. Get the client to buy their own dumbbells. Believe me, you don’t want to be lugging weights around on the tube.

Your biggest marketing cost will be your website. To kick-start your business, I recommend you also order business cards, flyers, and distribute them around your target area, as your website is going to take time to get off the ground and even longer to get on page 1 of the Google search results for search terms like “personal trainer in London”.

Now for the revenue side of the equation. Say you want to make a gross revenue of  £30,000 a year from personal training, and you charge £50 per session. That means you need to do 600 personal training sessions a year, which breaks down to about 12 sessions a week. That’s assuming of course that you train 52 weeks of the year, which I don’t recommend, or you’ll burn out. To factor in time off, you need to aim for around 14 sessions a week. Sounds realistic, yes? More about this in part 3, coming soon.

London is a city full of wealthy people with lots of disposable income, so it should be easy to get new clients, right? That would be true if it wasn’t for the thousands of other personal trainers in London all fighting for clients. Do not expect personal training clients to fall into your lap, or you’re in for a rude awakening. You need the skills to attract new clients, but more importantly you need to retain them. And that means giving your clients an outstanding level of service, which is a big topic in itself, one I’ll explore in part 3.

Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London, and the author of this blog.