Part 4: Building a Successful Training Business (The Bigger Picture)

Earlier in this series we outlined the importance of writing out programs for your clients, the right way to do an assessment, and how to manage your time in between clients. In this fourth (and final) part of our blog series on how to save time and make more money with your training business, I’d like to give you a bigger picture understanding of how all of these parts work together to ensure that your training business is always thriving. From a high level perspective, there are essentially five stages in a member lifecycle: 1) initial assessment, 2) short term follow up, 3) reassessment, 4) renewal, and 5) long term follow up. There’s also a bonus sixth stage, the dreaded membership cancellation, but hopefully not all of your members end up here. The tools and techniques that we’ve outlined in previous posts can be used to retain clients and build up your clientele at different points in the cycle (Program Tracking, Assessment and Long Term Follow Up tools).


In one of my previous posts, I outlined the psychology of the training sale from the client perspective; essentially that they have to see the value of working with a trainer before they will purchase training. I also talked about creating more natural sales points by applying a long term approach. The following outlines those natural sales points and how best to get a potential client to a ‘yes’ without turning into this guy:

pressure sales personal trainer trainerplus

1. Initial Assessment

This is their first interaction with you, so it is key to manage their expectations, build the value of what you do (motivation, accountability and applied knowledge), and lay the groundwork for a long term support relationship. It is important you understand the different types of potential clients that walk into that assessment, in addition to being prepared for a variety of outcomes (not just the big sale you are hoping for).

The right approach will give you a better chance at that big sale now or in the future, and identifying the type of potential client you are talking to certainly helps. Information from the pre-assessment questionnaire and a couple of opening questions should help establish their level of experience in the gym, whether they have or were thinking of working with a trainer, and if they have any specific goals you can help with.

No matter which type of client you are doing an initial assessment for, the approach should be the same:

  1. background/history;

  2. measurements/testing;

  3. goal setting;

  4. weekly and long term planning and;

  5. options for training support.

Using the assessment tool (provided here) or some basic calculations, you should be able to relate their current measurements with their goals and a realistic weekly plan, in a more meaningful way. This will lay the groundwork for this support relationship, no matter the outcome from this initial assessment.

The assessment should be followed up by an introductory session in order to demonstrate equipment and what it is like to work with you; or better yet, to teach them the exercises from the first phase of the program you have given them (using this programming spreadsheet or the Trainer+ app). This allows you to build the value of your services in addition to providing a secondary sales point in the initial assessment process. This allows you to have a softer close rather than pressuring package options at the end of the assessment, or it’s a way to throw in the ‘free’ session as part of the package. Giving the first program as a part of this process provides clearer next steps regardless of the outcome of the initial sale and context for future conversations beyond sales.

Potential Outcomes

Purchase a training package

Mission accomplished, you have a new client! To make sure you get them off to the right start, schedule a couple of weeks of sessions (keeping in mind your own schedule) and give them a program that includes both the workouts they will do with you and homework for days on their own.

Purchase a programming package

So they needed some help, but could not justify the expense of regular training and went for programming support instead. Book them into their first session where you can give them the first phase of their program and show them all of the exercises in it, followed by booking them into their next session in 4-6 weeks with an idea of what the next phase will be. Over the time of the first package (I recommend 6 months) they will either realize they need more support from you to reach their goals and increase their usage rate, or they will be successful following your program on their own, and need more programming in the future. As long as you do a good job with them in their first package, you should end up with more training revenue when they upgrade, or recurring monthly revenue in the long term as a programming client. If you think about it, 8 programming clients will take you about the same amount of time as 1 regular 2x per week client, but the revenue potential from it is much higher. For instance, a programming client should only take about 15 minutes of your time per week, plus the one hour monthly session, and you may charge them anywhere from $75 to $200 per month for this service, depending on your hourly rate.

Do not buy training

Ok, so they are not ready to buy training. Whatever the reason may be, it comes down to them not seeing the value in working with you versus doing it on their own. Give them their first program and let them do just that. If you have done your job well in laying out a long term plan, they will realize that they will need to switch their program in the future to get the results they want, and you would be the best person to do it. Oftentimes, people have to fail on their own first before seeing the value of professional help for their program. If someone can be successful on their own, then the only help they really need is objective guidance for their plan. In either case, giving them a program to follow is the best reason to also set up a time to follow up for a reassessment when they should be finishing their first phase (4-6 weeks). Take this opportunity to see how they are doing and discuss their next steps. Use the follow up sheet to manage it in a timely manner and make a few notes about specific things to follow up with.

Not interested in any help

You can’t win them all...nor do you need to. There are some people that are already intrinsically motivated and have the ability to design their own program (at least they believe they do) or have some out-of-the-box one-size-fits-all solution to follow on their own. Whether this is the case or they just have no interest in training and have made it clear they do not want any help, you cannot do anything to change that in the short term. All you can do in this case is offer to follow up with them some time in the future for a check in and to let them know you are happy to help if they ever need it. Put them in your follow up sheet at an appropriate date if they do agree. It may sound a little flippant in how to deal with this outcome, but you do only have so much time in a day and need to focus it on the people that do want help, and are more likely to become future clients. This group tends to really have to fail on their own first and come back to you in the future (instead of you following up with them), so just make sure the door is open when they do. If they do succeed on their own, then they never needed your help in the first place and your time is better spent on someone else who does!

2. Short Term Follow Up

For those who purchase a training package, the short term follow up happens continuously in the sessions you do with them, and for those that are going to do it on their own, other than the times you see them in the gym, they probably want more space than anything. For the rest who have just started a program from you (paid or not), it helps to follow up in the first couple weeks in order to:

  • make sure they have started their program

  • see if they have any questions about the program or the exercises in it now that they have been doing it on their own

  • see if any exercises are too easy or hard and may need to be modified

  • talk about next steps for their program

  • confirm the next date for an in-person session (reassessment or new program session)

A quick email just to check in and open the dialogue is a good passive way to do just that, and easy to do without taking up much time. Just have a standard check-in email template set up (Snippets from Streak, a Gmail plugin is the best tool for this) and put aside one time each week to follow up with the assessed group from 2 weeks prior (using the follow up sheet of course). With at most a handful of assessments, this whole process should take only a couple minutes but goes a long way to establishing your value for ongoing support and ensuring your next in-person interaction (and potential sales point).

3. Reassessment

reassessments trainerplus personal trainer assessments

The reassessment is your first and ongoing insight into your (potential) client’s progress and what changes they may need to make in order to reach their goals. For your regular training clients it is a good idea to check in every 4-6 weeks and take whichever measurements are relevant for their goals. The more measures of progress you have the better, and if you have tracked their workouts and done an assessment, you should be able to show them things like:

  • increases in volume lifted;

  • improvements to 1RM;

  • specific improvements to particular exercises;

  • body composition and;

  • body measurement changes you are hopefully seeing.

Given the results, you should be able to make changes to the program, homework and additional areas like nutrition and lifestyle in order to correct course.

For reassessments that come from a previous assessment follow up, monthly programming client or, better yet, someone has come to you requesting it, it is also important to have a more complete picture of the (potential) client’s progress, as this makes the conversation and eventual sale/upsell more natural. If you have given them a program to follow, you should be able to get a better picture of their compliance and work level, which is often minimal when there is no oversight from a trainer. If they have not even tracked their workouts, then you are either using the wrong tracking tool, or they are not taking their program seriously. The tracking tool in conjunction with the assessment tool will give you one of a few outcomes:

  1. They are following their program and on target with their progress. 

    • Take away: Make sure they have more programming to follow.

  2. They are following their program but not seeing the right changes/progress. 

    • Take away: They need more support, whether training and/or nutrition/lifestyle coaching

  3. They are not following their program but seeing some positive changes. 

    • Take away: They may be good on their own for now, but will probably plateau. Suggest support but if they continue to make progress on their own, they do not need you.

  4. They are not following their program and not seeing changes. 

    • Take away: they need support, figure something out that fits in their budget/schedule.

I won’t tell you how to do your job in selling your services and closing potential clients into a new training package, or why it is important to offer a flexible level of services, but the combination of these tools gives you several value building propositions:

Assessment Sheet

You should have their starting point for these measurements and potentially another reassessment to compare the new measurements to. I will assume most of these potential clients had an adaptation or build phase to get started in their program as that should be the start of most long term plans, and as such, that increases in lean mass and consequently, BMR/AMR are part of the first goals. I will also assume that if there are contributing factors from diet and lifestyle (which there almost always are) you will build your value for supporting these needs accordingly. There are value propositions to be made for changes or the lack of changes to:

  • Weight, Body Fat %

Hopefully you have done a good job to manage their expectations that weight is not the most important or only measurement of progress, and that changes to body fat % are more important for their effects on metabolic rate. If they are not seeing the right changes to BF% in the first couple phases, your value proposition is that you would be able to push them harder in each workout, know when to increase the intensity accordingly and make sure they do all of the activity they need to.

  • Fat and Lean Mass

If you have managed their expectations accordingly, they should be focused on losing fat mass while building lean mass (or at least maintaining), and why increasing lean mass in the start of a program is key to achieving long term, sustainable changes. If they are not seeing the gains in lean mass, your value proposition is why a properly progressed program is key to achieving that.

  • AMR and BMR

Build value in how increases to lean mass affect the BMR and help them burn more calories at rest, and at play in the future to go along with the programming conversation above. You can relate potential increases in the AMR to your support in making sure they perform all of their workouts, and at the right effort levels.

  • Measurements

In the early phases, you can downplay the importance of body measurements as the focus of these phases is adapting and preparing the body for burn focused and body changing phases that come later. Some people may even see some increases to measurements from muscle gains. If anything, this also helps build value for the importance of a long term plan that can be adapted based on their results.

Workout Tracking

Hopefully you have at least one phase of their program, if not a couple, and they are relatively complete so calculations are somewhat accurate. Going along with the assumption above about the type of potential client, the goals should be focused on seeing increases in strength from improvements of specific exercises and increases in volume in the first phases. The tracking results will provide value propositions from:

  • Incomplete or infrequent tracking

In this case more involved support from you should help them be more accountable to their plan.

  • Uncertainty or lack of progress for weight/intensity increases

A very common outcome for those that want to do their program on their own, even if you have set their starting weight for them. Most clients do not know how to safely push themselves to their adaptive threshold and continue to change the weights accordingly. Your increased support will help them do just that.

  • Improvements to volume and time stats

This one is a little trickier since you have to be able to put some context on what these values mean. These are really important stats that are often not tracked because it is difficult to do so. The programming sheet or Trainer+ software does this for you. Enter the results and time of the workout and you get the following stats and their expected change with increases in capacity:

1. Sets completed

They should be able to complete more sets per workout over time and complete exercises they may not have been able to complete at first.

2. Total workout time

The time it takes to complete the same workout should decrease over time or else you should see more sets completed per minute.

3.Total volume lifted

This is a great stat because it takes into account both increases in weight lifted and reps completed, plus is relatively comparable across phases.

4. Minutes/set

The time to complete each set should decrease across a phase as clients gain muscle endurance, but may be different across phases due to rest time. In conjunction with workout time, you should see capacity increases from workouts getting shorter or this stat staying the same with increased sets completed.

5. Volume/set

This is a stat that should increase across a phase and over time and is a great indicator of strength increases as it take into account both increases in reps and weight lifted, but is not contingent on time or changes to the exercises performed.

6. Volume/minute

This is another stat that should increase across a phase and over time and is a great indicator of endurance increases as it takes in account both increases in reps and weight lifted, while also taking into account rest time and not being contingent on changes to the exercises performed.

You should be able to build your value just by interpreting these stats and how different changes to the program will help improve them in different ways.

  • Providing insight into the next phase in the program

The results should allow you to start framing their needs for the next couple phases or reinforcing the long term plan you have already laid out. You should be able to use this to build the value of your ongoing support for their long term goal and to adapt the program accordingly.

Executed properly, the reassessment is typically a better sales opportunity than the initial assessment, especially if you have framed the relationship correctly from the start. If the results show they are on target, then they do not need more support and you should just set up the next engagement point in your long term follow up sheet. If they are not making the right progress and you have built your value appropriately through the process, there are natural opportunities to upsell potential clients into a programming package and both them and your existing programming clients into more frequent training packages.

4. Renewal

With any of your client types there will come that time when their package is coming to an end and you have to decide on next steps. It is a good idea to broach this subject ahead of it actually coming to pass in order to manage your client’s expectations accordingly. Use the long term follow up sheet for this if you have to. A reassessment should be done around the time of renewal and you can use evidence from it and the value propositions above to frame the conversation about next steps for support.

In this long term approach model, the conversation around renewal is still about how much or how little support your client needs to keep moving towards their goal. In my opinion, every relationship should evolve into a programming relationship as clients get more educated and intrinsically motivated. If you do a good job of teaching them, they should be less reliant on you over time, but still want to maintain the oversight for their programming. If you have been the foundation of their fitness knowledge, they will keep the relationship going for as long as it works while you focus more time and energy on clients that need more help. As the math above shows, if each of your clients evolved into programming clients instead of you losing them entirely, it would only take 8 to fill the hours of a regular training client, but with more revenue potential.

The conversation should lead to one of the following outcomes:

  • They renew a similar training package

If your support has led them down the path to their goal, they will hopefully just want to keep going with the way things are. For regular training clients you should set new goals and base the package around achieving them and for programming clients I recommend another 6 month plan.

  • They decide to scale up their training

They have been following along your program or working with you more regularly but it just is not getting them the results they want; it’s time to increase the amount of support they are getting from you. The most likely case of this is with programming or less frequent clients scaling up to more regular training.

  • They decide to scale down their training

Hopefully this is because they are on their way to their goals and learning from working with you, so it is time to do more on their own and save some money. One way of selling more long term packages using these tools is to plan to scale back over time (weekly to start, scaling back to bi-weekly for months 3-4, and progamming months 5-6) but spread the payments out monthly. This makes sure they get the support they need up front while keeping the monthly costs more reasonable.

  • They want to sever the relationship or request a new trainer

Whatever you or they are doing is not working and they are ready to move on. If it is just a matter of cost or them wanting to try on their own, offer them a program and to follow up in the future (6-12 weeks), put them in the Long Term Follow Up sheet and don’t just keep the door open to them coming back in the future, but set up a natural follow up point to re-engage them.

Like the reassessment, the renewal should be a fairly easy sales opportunity if you have done your job to support the client properly and manage their expectations for their long term progress. In this model you should have several clients moving between levels of support over their lifetimes. With an easy way to manage them all (using these tools), it should mean you do not lose as many clients, meaning you do not have to find as many new ones and can maintain monthly recurring revenues from the time you do invest in the ones you take on.

5. Long Term Follow Up

For those clients that you do not end up getting into a training relationship or that leave your support to do it on their own, your follow up sheet should let you know when it is time for just that. You want to make sure that you are setting up check ins for natural points in their fitness plan and member lifecycle, like changes to the program or goal milestones. When you are talking to them, especially at each point where you do not end up selling them training after a reassessment, provide them with a next step to re-engage and put it in the follow up sheet immediately.

These conversations should still be about support, so you are checking in to see how they are doing with their progress and see if they need any more help to stay on track. Again, you can use an email tool (like Streak for GMail) to make a template for these types of follow up emails, leaving a sentence or two to personalize some details from their assessment and goals. Building this 10-15 minutes of work into your week with the appropriate information tracked from the start goes a long way to converting past assessments into current clients. Even if they never end up being your client, your ongoing support could lead to other clients from others seeing your attitude in the gym or word of mouth.

6. Cancelling Membership

Unfortunately people do not stay members or clients forever, and there is turnover in this industry. With this long term approach, your business should be set up to handle the ups and downs a lot better, with a constant pool of potential clients you are engaged with and recurring monthly revenue from programming. In the current way of doing business, it is often when a member comes to cancel their membership that any more training help is offered beyond their initial assessment, as a way of trying to save their monthly dues. With this approach, that is far less likely to happen if you are providing support throughout their membership regardless of whether they are a paying training client.

Even so, people will cancel their memberships and end training relationships. Some of these cancellations you can not prevent:

  • They are moving, retiring

This one is pretty much impossible to overcome, if the facility no longer makes geographic sense to them, they need to find a better option. However, you still may be able to keep them for programming support or online coaching.

  • Gym environment does not work for them

This is another tough one to overcome because you can not change the gym culture or their perception of it. Support them to find a better option and you can potentially keep them as a programming client.

  • Pregnancy, injury, illness

If they can’t workout, they can’t workout. Best thing here is try to have them freeze their membership/training and try to restart when they can in the future. If you have their fitness history, they have more incentive to come back to you when they are ready.

  • Have another option they think is more viable/affordable

They got a deal on another membership, bought a home gym, moved into a condo with a gym, or a number of other reasons they no longer feel your facility/support is the best route for them. You may be able to support programming, and with their fitness history saved with you, if the other option proves to be a failure, they are more likely to come back.

In some cases, you may be able to save the cancellation, especially if you have used the tools to take this long term approach:

  • They don’t feel they are getting value out of the facility

There are a number of reasons people feel they are not getting value from their membership, from not getting results and not knowing how to use equipment or programming, to unmet expectations about cleanliness, crowding and facilities. No matter the reason, you should be able to take a look at their tracking in order to see where they may have succeeded or failed. If they have not tracked, or have not had the right program for their goals, you should be able to offer them some support to get them on track and ensure they are getting the most out of their membership. If you have engaged them along the way and have seen in reassessments they are not on track, and offered support, the idea of some free support or help is a natural way to show them your first priority is them reaching their fitness goals. This is you ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ and putting their success on them. It may sound a little idealistic, but I cannot count the number of times membership cancellations turned into training clients and eventually loyal members by taking this approach.

  • They can’t find the time to go to the gym

Some people are just busy and can not find the right time or prioritize their schedule to get to the gym or training sessions. Often this means they either need someone to hold them more accountable or a more effective training solution to fit the time they do have. In either case, offering some training support to make sure they have a program that fits their schedule and availability of all facilities accessible to them is usually a better solution than giving up on their membership.

Cancellation is the last step in the member lifecycle, and even here, if you have taken this approach, they are more likely to come back in the long term once they go out on their own, or join a new facility and do not have the kind of support and results they had with you. And when they do, you will have their old assessment and workout results to compare them to and get started.


The current way of doing business, selling your time in one hour blocks and hustling or not getting paid in the unbilled time in between clients, is not just inefficient, it is untenable. Too many great trainers are leaving this industry because it is so difficult to make a good living and still be a caregiver. Moreover, there is a growing distrust between the public and the fitness industry as more money is being spent but the lack of progress remains. That is why this new approach, more focused on long term results and supported by the right tools, is necessary not just for you to make a better living, but also to help address some of the core problems with the fitness industry.

I have seen this approach work, resulting in dramatic increases in client/member retention and trainer engagement (my gym had over 35% of our members working with a trainer, 3x the industry average), but there are still limits to paper and pen, or even digital solutions, which is where new tools have emerged, especially with smartphones. This is the main motivation behind creating Trainer+, merging these tools into an easy to use solution for trainers and clients to close the feedback loop around their fitness information. I believe that technology that uses the latest UI/UX (user interface/user interaction) techniques to reduce the burden in creating workout programs on the trainer side, and tracking them on the client side, is the key to creating new ways of selling training services outside this one hour block paradigm. That way you can focus on delivering your main values through the tool, accountability/motivation and applied knowledge, and less on selling.

Self promotion aside, there is a better way to do the business of personal training. I hope this series has helped you re-evaluate the common activities you perform as a trainer, and realize that by adding some key tools and processes that there is a better way for you to manage your business. We have given you the paper and pen, digital and online tools to implement. Taking this approach, with these tools will allow you dictate your own schedule, keep your time when you are not working with clients focused on building your business and other revenue streams, and ultimately, help a lot more people. It is only through this approach that you, the personal trainer, can return to your natural state, as a caregiver and not a salesperson.

exercise ball jump squats trainerplus

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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