Part 3: The Most Effective Ways to Spend Your Downtime as a Personal Trainer

Workout? Write fitness programs? Work toward your latest CEC? Or is it more like: Nap? Shop? Facebook? There are many ways to spend the downtime in between clients, and depending on how you manage your business as a trainer overall, there may be more of it than you would like. Similarly to how you encourage your clients to take a long term perspective instead of a short sighted approach with their fitness goals; our aim at Trainer+ is to encourage you to adopt new solutions that allow you to take a more effective and long term approach on how you manage your business.

As part of our 4-part series on how you can save time and make more money by taking a long term approach to managing and executing your business, let’s explore the best ways to use your time productively. We’ve already looked at making the most of your time when you’re with your clients (how to do a proper assessment), and the importance of presentation and preparedness when it comes to fitness programming. However, using your time productively also means maximizing your downtime in between clients in order to make that downtime more profitable. This may seem counterintuitive since you usually only get paid when you are in a training session, but there are very viable ways to minimize your downtime and also make the unavoidable downtime more worthwhile.

There are two phases of having free time in between clients, depending on where you are in your career:

  1. Phase 1 happens before you have a full client base and are just starting out. In this phase, there tends to be a lot of downtime and new trainers tend to take on whichever clients they can find, at whatever times are best for those clients. It is common to have a 7:00 am client and a 6:00 pm client on the same day just to start filling up your schedule.
  2. Phase 2 occurs after having a regular or consistent client base. There may be less downtime, but there are still natural gaps in between peak training hours (7:00 - 9:00 am,11:00 - 2:00 pm, 5:00 - 9:00 pm). Experienced trainers will try to fit clients into their downtime or do their own workouts, but there often remains a lot of untapped potential.

When I was managing a gym with multiple locations, I had an experienced trainer working for me (let’s call him Joe). He was a perfect example of how schedules can get mismanaged even with the best of intentions. He had clients and classes in three of the different facility locations across the city. He also had private clients of his own. It was common for his day to start at 6:00am and end at 9:00pm. He would put in 16 hour days of which he only actually got paid for 6 of them. Everyday he travelled for a total of 5 hours, had only 6 hours of training with clients, and 5 hours of downtime in between (not including travel). Don’t get me wrong, Joe is a fantastic trainer, he simply fell into a common time trap that we all should be more cognisant of and avoid at all costs.

So what could have been done to prevent this? How do you build a viable business that fits within your schedule?

make good choices trainer plus

Choose Your Clients Wisely

First of all, you have to choose your clients wisely. A large part of the reason you may end up with long days and big gaps in between clients is because you let your clients choose their schedules. There are some best practices that will help you with choosing clients that are the right fit for you.

Always try to fill the gap hours first

Look to fill obvious holes in your schedule around existing clients or classes that you already teach.

In the example given above, Joe should have tried to fill spots that are directly before or after existing clients or classes at a given locationWhen he got a new client, the first question he should have asked is whether they could do a time slot immediately before or after something that is already scheduled at that location as opposed to first asking what time is best for them.

To maximize downtime, offer the times that you want to fill before asking the client what times work best for their schedule. You may be surprised at what time slots you can fill by simply recommending an off-peak hour.

Pay attention to travel time

Travel time is often overlooked, but it can certainly add up over the course of a day. Choose clients that work with your schedule and location so that you are not wasting time on a subway or in your car. You must be smart about the clients you choose otherwise you may end up spending more time travelling than working.

Give up clients that don't fit

If clients do not fit into your schedule or travel plans, don’t be afraid to give them up. Time spent on travelling is always going to be better filled with something closer to home. Be smart about how you choose your clients and don’t be afraid to say no to people. Choosing clients more effectively leads to less downtime as well as more time for you to efficiently expand your client base. As much as keeping old clients was easy for trainer Joe, it also limited his ability to build a steady business and make a consistent living.

Build Follow Up Into Your Day

So now that you’re being ‘choosier’ of which clients you take on, how do you grow/maintain a client base? Instead of taking in any clients that come your way, build in follow up to make the most of your downtime. Following up with potential clients in a supportive manner, builds a healthy and trusting relationship, so when they are ready to pay for some fitness help, they will come to you first. A few simple calls, texts, or emails can go a long way in growing your business and expanding your client reach.

In the last post, I spoke about treating the assessment as a 3 to 6 month sales cycle. Essentially, the assessment process needs to be spread out into more than just an hour by taking the time needed to understand the client's goals instead of rushing to make a sale. If you approach the assessment as a tool for long term follow up, you may not close people during your first conversation; however, potential clients are more likely to talk to you again in two months time if the initial conversation is about how to support their long term goals and not you pushing them into a high-priced sale.

You can use your downtime to check in with past clients/assessments, book reassessments, and build relationships with everyone that you talk to instead of just focusing on coaching the person in front of you. If it is part of your common practice, then all of these interactions in your downtime actually contribute to future sales instead of just being ways to pass the time shooting the shit with people in the gym.

Offer Lower Involvement Services

One of the biggest reasons there is downtime at all is because we often continue to look at our time in one hour blocks; this is the way it has been sold by large companies since the days of Nautilus equipment. “Downtime” should be looked at as non client-facing time used to deliver other aspects of your service that don’t require face-to-face interaction. When you look at it this way, a whole world of opportunities opens up, including offering different services.

One of the best ways to make your downtime more productive is to offer services that are less involved than the regular one hour sessions. The ability to offer flexible services to meet a range of client needs not only turns your downtime into paid time, but it also allows you to have more clients. These services include online training and monthly programming. The nice thing about offering these services is that they are not contingent on scheduling and you can do the work for a programming client when you have downtime in between your regular in person clients.

For example, a client may start by working with you everyday and graduate to just needing a program with one monthly training session. The more services you offer with different reengagement points, the more likely a client can stay on with you even when their fitness needs, budget, or schedule change.

The key to offering lower involvement services is to develop a system that allows clients to have ongoing accountability and motivation, as well as continuous customization to their program. This can be provided through spreadsheets and emails/text, or it can be provided far more efficiently on the Trainer+ platform, where you can deliver these services through sleek and seamless technology (absolutely a shameless plug, but we have been working really hard on this problem :)).

One of the benefits of lower involvement services is that you can charge more for them.  For instance, with monthly programming, you meet with your client for an hour once a month to show them all the exercises in their program and then have short weekly virtual checkins. By offering monthly programming as a service, you can earn up to $200 for about two hours of work every month. If you’re interested in online training, check out this article about building online services at the PTDC for a great guide on how to succeed in that realm.

By choosing your clients, building in follow up and offering flexible services, your downtime will become a tool that leads to growth in your business. For some more analog tools (i.e. spreadsheets) you can check out our Trainer Tools on this page. If you prefer digital, download our iPhone and Android apps and start delivering a service outside of the usual business model.

In the conclusion to this series, we will put all of these tools together to discuss how they can be used to retain clients, build a strong business, and turn the focus back to caregiving and less on sales.


About the Author: Nick Corneil is the founder of Trainer+, a company that builds software that makes it easy for fitness professionals to create, share, track and analyze fitness programs for their clients. For more information, sign up here or check out our homepage.

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