If you want to earn a full-time income as a freelance personal trainer in London, you need to deliver outstanding professional client service, as you’ll be up against fierce competition. Here’s a run-down of the competition you’ll face:
Big-chain commercial gyms in London
The biggest players are Fitness First, Virgin Active, GymBox, and LA Fitness. All these gyms offer memberships ranging from £30.00/month – £120/month, with a few high-end gyms like Equinox in South Kensington charging around £170.00/month.
So a great many fitness-minded Londoners will train on their own at one of these gyms for an average of £50.00 a month, which is the same figure you’ll charge for 1 hour’s personal training. In order to attract these people to you, it follows that you need to offer things which these gyms don’t.
In addition, all these gyms have personal trainers who charge around the same as you would charge as a freelance personal trainer, sometimes a little less if you buy 10 sessions with further discounts if you buy them all in one up-front payment. The advantage for the client is the range of equipment. The advantage for the personal trainer is the ability to train lots of clients per day in one location, so no travelling all over London from client to client. However, the personal trainer often has to pay a rental fee to the gym, typically around £200 per week.
The disadvantages for the client are the need to travel to the gym, the embarrassment of training in front of other people if for instance the client is morbidly obese, and being locked into a 12 month or 18 month contract. And of course, having to pay monthly memberships whether or not the client is ill/on holiday/too busy to attend. And if the client trains alone, the risk of injury is far greater than if the client hired a personal trainer, as is the risk of doing ineffective workouts month in month out, and not seeing results.
The three budget gyms in London are Pure Gym, EasyGym, and The Gym. They’re all expanding fast, a sign of the times in recession-ravaged London where more and more people are price-sensitive in their choice of fitness venue.
Pure Gym is £22.99/month, a 24/7 no-frills gym with streamlined membership all processed online. There are 12 in London, including the recent addition of Holloway. Three more opening soon: Bermondsey, Greenwich, and Putney.
EasyGym, founded by the tycoon Stelios, is a no-frills no contract deal for £19.99/month. There are 8 EasyGyms in London: Fulham, Oxford Street, Ilford, East Ham, Tottenham, Wandsworth, West Croydon, and Wood Green.
The Gym (owned by The Gym Group) was founded by former national squash player John Treharne in 2008, with the first gym opening in Hounslow. There are now 20 in London, including Vauxhall, Angel, Barking, Ealing, Ilford, and Waterloo. Memberships start at £10.99/month.
The disadvantage for the client is that these gyms can get very busy at peak times, which can be intimidating for anyone new to exercise.
Other freelance personal trainers
The effect of the global recession is that there are many more freelance personal trainers in London than there were back in 2008. It’s a business opportunity with a much lower barrier to entry than most other business options, and for any fitness-minded Londoner who is made redundant, or fresh out of the army, it’s an obvious career-move.
With the opening of the EU borders, there has also been a big influx of people from Poland, and the Balkan countries, all hungry to work hard and earn more than they ever could back home. For the freelance personal trainer in London this represents a competitive threat to price-sensitive clients looking for a personal trainer, as this new breed of trainer will under cut you by around £20 per session. Add to that the influx of personal trainers from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, although they’ll be charging roughly the same as you.
At the high-end, you’ll face competition from high-profile former athletes and sportspeople who now offer bespoke personal training, and their obvious selling-point is their expertise at the elite level of their sport, which can be very attractive to wealthy clients in London prepared to pay anything between £80.00 – £150.00 per session.
As mentioned in part 2, you’ll also face competition from the many luxury personal training studios in London, but for the client there’s still the disadvantage of travelling to the studio, which for cash-rich time-poor clients can be a pain.
And every year that passes, a new wave of fresh-faced personal trainers will burst onto the London market in their hundreds, armed with their new personal training qualifications, and hungry for a slice of the cake.
So in the face of all this competition, it should be clear that you need to offer the highest level of service to your target market, and fulfill your client’s expectations when you’ve got them on-board. Here’s how:
OUTSTANDING PERSONAL TRAINER SERVICE
To stand out from all the competition in London, you need to be outstanding in the level of service you provide. I’ve already touched on this in part 1.
Well turned out and well equipped
As a freelance personal trainer turning up at a client’s home, you need to look the part: well groomed, clean and fresh-smelling, wearing clean and good-quality kit, and appear full of energy and enthusiasm even though you’ve been up since 5am.
You also need to be punctual, as you’re client is paying good money for a full-hour’s session, so ensure you turn up on time. The only way I’ve found to guarantee that I arrive on time at all my personal training clients in London is to leave a 20 minute margin of error at all times. So arrive within close walking distance of the client with 20 minutes to spare, as public transport can never be relied on.
The freelance personal trainer in London who travels to the client’s home has to master the art of getting from A to B to C on time. If you can build up a good client-base in just one part of London, for instance Highgate or Chelsea, you’re doing very well. But as a newly qualified personal trainer just starting out and you live near Highgate, are you going to turn down new clients in Cheslea? Before you know it, you may have clients scattered all over London.
Good personal training sessions
Every session should be fun, focused, intensive yet safe, and drive the client towards their goals. This takes skill, and it’s a skill you’ll build on over time.
Keep refreshing your skills
You need to keep refreshing your existing knowledge, and building on your skills too. The best personal trainers in London keep adding to their knowledge of exercise techniques and the ability to deliver them in future sessions. The same goes for nutrition knowledge and advice.
Manage client expectations
In order to retain clients, you need to manage their expectations. Most new clients have a whole range of misconceptions about how much effort they need to put into the session, how focused they need to be, and how much exercise they need to do between sessions. To an even greater extent they underestimate the importance of good nutrition if they’re to stand a chance of reaching their fitness goals.
I had one personal training client in north London who was unhappy with her rate of weight-loss after 10 sessions, but admitted that she had done no exercise between sessions. 1 hour of exercise a week, however good the session, is not enough. It’s right that the client should expect a return on their investment, but you need to explain to the client that their investment is not just the money they pay you, but the time and effort they need to devote to exercise and good nutrition between sessions, putting into practice what you’ve taught them.
Some personal training clients think that having a personal trainer for one hour a week absolves them of all effort for the other 167 hours of the week, as if that one hour with you will transform them. One of your most important and challenging jobs as a personal trainer is to get them to realize how much they need to do between PT sessions, in order to reach their goals. The client is paying you not just for that hour, but for teaching them what they must do in the other 167 hours.
With this in mind, be prepared to give the client exercise homework, nutrition plans, and regular text/email reminders between sessions, to help keep them on track. This is the hallmark of an outstanding personal trainer. The client will get better results, you’ll retain the client for longer, and the client will recommend you to their friends.
Finally, a word on realistic earning potential, in the light of one major problem which has killed off many a personal training business: cancellations.
WHY PERSONAL TRAINING CLIENTS CANCEL
You should have in place a cancellation policy: full fee due if the client cancels with less than 24 hours notice.
But what about all the cancellations outside this 24 hour period? As you progress as a personal trainer, you’ll find that this is the single biggest obstacle to earning a good income. Most London personal trainers I talk to tell me that their cancellation rate outside the 24 hour period, ie sessions that cancel and they don’t get paid for, is anything between 25% and 50% of the scheduled sessions for the week.
So if you were expecting 14 sessions in a particular week, all scheduled into your diary, at £50.00 a session, that’s an expected gross revenue of £700.00. Even if all these clients cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice, you still earn your £700.00, which is only fair as you’ve made a commitment to the client and probably turned away other clients who wanted those times.
But if 50% of your clients cancel two or three days before their session, your income that week is cut in half. It’s hard to get new clients for those times, because your existing clients have regular weekly slots with you (say Tuesdays at 7am, so you can hardly offer this time to new clients). So you’re in a position where all your peak times are booked up with existing clients, you’re turning away those new clients who can only train at the times you’re already booked up for, and yet your existing clients cancel before the cancellation fee kicks in. It’s a real catch 22.
You’re probably thinking that it’s highly unlikely that 50% of your clients will cancel in any given week. Think again.
Here are just some of the reasons clients cancel: illness (a really bad cold can last a fortnight), medical conditions (many of your clients will have medical issues), holidays (wealthy clients go away on holiday a lot, and some live abroad half the year for tax reasons), family illness and funerals (many clients will be at the age when their parents are very elderly and close to death), work commitments ( clients have to go into the office early or work late that week), child commitments (taking kids to school if the other parent can’t for any of the above reasons), the list goes on…….
So you need to find a way of hedging against this inevitable series of events over the course of your personal training year. And that doesn’t even take into account your own illness (tip: if you’re a freelance personal trainer in London you can’t afford to get ill or injured), holidays, family commitments, dealing with tube strikes and other transport delays.
In order to hedge against potentially high cancellation rates, you have to be prepared to train clients very early in the morning, throughout the day, and in the evenings too. And at least part of the weekend, ideally Saturday mornings. You need a sufficiently large number of booked sessions to ensure that even a 50% cancellation rate leaves you with enough money to live on.
Bear in mind that as a self-employed personal trainer you get no paid holidays, no sick pay, no fringe-benefits. And you have to bear a whole range of business costs, as mentioned in Parts 1 & 2. So when the money pours in during good weeks, don’t be deceived that it’s all yours to spend on luxuries and treats. This is one of the disciplines that a self-employed personal trainer has to learn very quickly.
If you know anyone who is thinking of becoming a personal trainer in London, please pass this on to them. It’s always best to know what you’re up against, and be forewarned of the challenges, before taking the plunge into this profession. But before I end this blog post, here’s the most important thing of all: the rewards.
THE REWARDS OF BEING A SELF-EMPLOYED PERSONAL TRAINER
You’re in a profession you love: health and fitness. You have no boss breathing down your neck. You are your own boss, with all the exciting challenges and choices and opportunities that come with this position. You help change peoples’ lives, even save peoples’ lives. You give an obese person a new body that’s fit and healthy and full of energy, and their whole life is transformed, their confidence and self-esteem and entire outlook on life. They may even find a life partner they would never otherwise have met. You helped do all that.
You may take on a new client who is a burnt-out chief executive or lawyer or banker. You have the power to get them fit and strong and full of energy and vitality so they can fulfill their career goals and still have the energy for a fully-engaged family life.
You may take on a young guy in his 20’s who’s been skinny all his life and he’s desperate to bulk up and build a physique he can be proud of. You have to power to help him do that.
In a profession where there is no bonus at the end of the year, unlike investment banking for example, it is particularly rewarding to receive a small bonus or gift from a client, but the best reward is to see the client fitter and stronger and happier than the day your took them on. This also makes good business sense, as they become walking advertisements for your personal training services, and referrals flow from this.
So if you manage to overcome all the challenges and pitfalls of being a personal trainer in London, and continually improve your skills to transform your clients’ health and fitness for the better, you’ll have a long and rewarding career.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London.