How to start a personal trainer business in 8 steps

A personal trainer with a client in a busy gym

Deciding to start your own business is a big and exciting decision, particularly when you’ve decided to become a personal trainer.

But before you dive straight into finding clients, it’s important to establish your business first. Below, you can find our eight steps that will get you well on your way to setting up a successful personal training business.

1. Get your qualifications

The first step involves becoming a fully qualified trainer. Qualifications are important, as they demonstrate to potential clients that you’re knowledgeable in your area and that you have the capability to provide them with the right training. But what qualifications do you need in order to train other people?

What qualifications does a personal trainer need?

As a minimum, you will need Level 2 diplomas in health, fitness and exercise instruction and instructing exercise and fitness to become a personal trainer (PT). You can also get Level 3 diplomas in personal training or fitness instructing.

From here, you could choose a specific niche and opt for further training. For instance, you might decide to take an accredited course in yoga instruction so you can teach yoga classes or offer one-on-one sessions. Or, as another example, you could gain a qualification in sports massage so you can offer this as an additional service.

2. Join a professional body

Joining a professional body is another way you can demonstrate competence to your potential clients, and it shows you’re a trustworthy person, too. There are two main bodies that you can (and should) join. These are the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) and the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs). If you were to apply for a job in a gym, it’s likely that being a part of these bodies would be essential.

To register for either of these bodies, you will need proof of your Level 2 and 3 qualifications and a copy of your existing personal trainer insurance. These can be scanned in and uploaded along with your registration form.

3. Register your business with HMRC

Registering your business with HMRC is really important, as you will need to pay tax on any earnings you gain as a self-employed person. There are two ways you can operate your business.

Firstly, you can set up as a sole trader. This means that you are solely responsible for the running/ownership of your business and you will need to register for and subsequently complete a self-assessment tax return each year for tax purposes.

Alternatively, you can set up a limited company. This is where you register a company which means your business is a separate legal entity to you. There are some benefits to this, as it means your personal assets are protected and no one else can use your company name. You may also pay slightly less tax, as you would pay corporation tax on your profits and not income tax.

It’s important to weigh up which type you wish to register your business as, though it’s common for people to start as a sole trader and switch to a limited company as their business develops.

4. Choose a location

Once you have the formalities out of the way, like qualifications and professional bodies, it’s time to think about where you will run your personal training business from.

Will you be a mobile PT, driving to people’s homes or local parks to run sessions and classes? Will you rent out a space from a gym so you can train your own customers using the gym’s equipment? Or maybe you can rent your own space, such as a small warehouse or commercial unit, that you can fill with your own equipment.

When you’re starting out, it may be easier to hire the space from a gym, and this is also known as freelancing. There are a lot of pros and cons to doing this. While the equipment and the space is instantly available to you, you may not be able to make as much money or train as many people as you’d like. Should you choose to start your own gym or rent your own space, you have more freedom to train as many people as you like and when you’d like. You will, however, need to provide your own equipment, which can be an expensive initial investment.

When deciding on how you will operate, you may need to consider what you can afford, particularly as you get started, but also the location. Will your gym be easily accessible for your customers? If you’re thinking of setting up a mobile business, consider what your operational area will be, and how far you’re willing to travel to your clients.

5. Invest in the necessary equipment

Equipment is a necessity for a gym space, but it’s important to think about what you do and don’t need. There’s no point investing in lots of free weights and weight machines if you’re planning to open a yoga studio, for example.

Therefore, before wasting money on unnecessary equipment, you should have a think about what your gym will offer. A typical gym will likely need basics such as treadmills, bike machines, dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells, rowing machines and training benches. However, if you’re advertising yourself as a boxing gym, a boxing ring will be an essential, but treadmills may not be needed.

When you’re just starting out, it might be best to purchase a few basic items and see what is being used the most before buying more.

6. Take out the right insurance

Insurance is a must for any personal trainer to ensure that both you and your clients are protected should an accident happen. There are several types of insurance you could take out, each of which have been summarised below.

The first type of insurance is professional indemnity insurance. This will cover any legal fees and potential claims costs should a client complain that you have provided incorrect guidance or advice. It is particularly important for PTs, as you will be providing lots of training and fitness advice.

The next type is public liability insurance, which will cover you against any slips, trips or falls that may happen on your premises. It may still be a good idea to have this cover even if you rent a space from a gym.

It’s not just your clients you want to protect, but yourself as well, so it’s important to take out occupational personal accident cover. This means, should you suffer from an injury that prevents you from working, the insurance will provide you with an income while you recover.

Finally, should you have lots of your own equipment, it may be a good idea to take out equipment insurance. This will cover any machines, weights, sound systems and more in the event of theft, a fire, water damage and more.

7. Find new clients

In order to run a successful business, it’s important to find new clients, but where on earth to start?

You need to tell people about your new business, so it’s a good idea to set up social media profiles if you haven’t already. These should contain your company name, a good profile picture (a photo of the gym itself, a picture of you or an image of your logo), and basic information like your address and opening hours. You should then post regular updates to increase your follower count, and therefore your visibility. Facebook and Instagram are the two more popular platforms, but you may also wish to consider Twitter and TikTok. Invite people to like your Facebook page and post regularly to Instagram stories and on your grid to gain followers.

Once your profiles are set up, you can start to post in local groups advertising your new business and perhaps encouraging people to visit by giving them a discount or freebie.

Other forms of marketing include email marketing (which involves gaining email subscribers and posting newsletters and other updates via email) and offline marketing, such as flyers and leaflets.

Word of mouth is one of the best ways a PT can get new business. To start out, you may wish to offer highly discounted sessions to friends and family, and ask them to leave reviews on your Facebook page. By offering good customer service and a positive experience, you’ll find your client list slowly builds.

8. Build up recurring customers

While it’s important to consistently bring in new business, it’s as important that you have some recurring customers. These will be people that come back to you or your business premises multiple times, and will help to bring in a more regular income than one-off customers.

Your clients are likely to come back if you offer a friendly experience, your gym has all the equipment they need and a good atmosphere, and you can give them the results they want. Customer satisfaction plays a huge part in retention, so ensure you’re doing all you can to keep them happy.

Discounts or offers can play a role in customer retention, too. For instance, when someone signs up for five PT sessions, you may offer them a 10% discount, but when they sign up for 10 sessions, they get a 15% discount. People may be more likely to book the 10 sessions in advance than the five sessions, which will be more beneficial for you when starting out.

There are certainly a few steps involved when starting a personal trainer business, but the rewards will make all of your efforts worthwhile when you can do what you love and have your own gym space in which to train people.


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