Category Archives: Accounting

The CEO Trainer

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Yes, I happen to be training CEOs, as in personal training them. In fitness, yes.

I don’t have the pretension to train people to become CEOs. And yes, I have been one, at some point: I was chairman of an LLC I founded, and later even took over CEO duties after the person who had that title and I disagreed on how the corporation ought to be run. I eventually resigned, having reached a communication impasse, despite having positioned all the elements necessary for the company to operate from thereon. Life is too short (#YOLO, right?), and the combination of growing debt, loss of income and personal savings, at the expense of my marriage and children’s present AND future was PTSD enough to make the only logical choice that I needed to make. Here, the “CEO Trainer” concept is mix of analogies of being the CEO of a training session as well as a training business (the latter obvious, therefore less expanded upon today).

Success can be measured a variety of ways. The most common one is through one’s material wealth (no need to elaborate), another is through the resilience one shows at rebuilding oneself from scratch, rising from the ashes. Having had to do the latter several times, not necessarily through failure, rather circumstances (health can be one, on two occasions for me, the most recent tied to the LLC experience, which helped make the choice in favor of my family).

Then there’s success that can be measured in the value you bring to others. It does not get quantified by your bank account, the mansion or many supercars in your “stable”. I received an email from an aspiring fitness trainer that simply stated “You are dropping a lot of bombs to think about (…) You are changing the way I think about fitness!!! Thanks, man”. That right there, is value. Another example was an ex-client thanking me for sending them on an improved professional path by inspiring them to take a specific course/certification, which increased their value as a job seeker. I also offered a third client a revenue sharing opportunity in a project that I spent nearly two years developing, using my platform, my database and captive audience to get professional exposure, in exchange of some sweat equity and services, in the hopes of creating a launchpad for that client’s business, with a barter of services in return (the client’s value).

This isn’t a post where I seek a pat on the back or a medal for recognition. It’s a way to run your business, any business, and if it happens to be a fitness business, of which you are the CEO, even if you are your own unique employee, you need to understand that your greatest asset is also your greatest liability (you). To reduce that liability, you need to increase the value you provide. Not your material wealth (as it can become a target, another form of liability for greedy ambulance chasers), not your resilience and ability to stand back up after a setback (like an economic recession for instance), but the intangible value you provide to others, which is reciprocated in how others perceive you and the services your deliver.

Seth Godin, in his book Linchpin, refers to “delivering” as “shipping”. “You must ship”. If it’s a book, publish it! If it’s a good, manufacture it! If it’s a meal, cook it! If it’s a photo, develop it! (Yes, even digital photography needs developing, in the “digital dark room” that is Photoshop).

It all sounds easy when it’s written. And simply stated, right? Any CEO will tell you, however, that it’s a complicated process that relies on the synchronicity, alignment and understanding of people and external factors ranging from having charged batteries for your equipment, a trusted & verified vendor (not someone who tells you they “can” do something, which you find out later “can” doesn’t mean “should” or “can do it proficiently”) to a clearly defined, understood and acknowledged process you can hold someone accountable to, because inevitably, someone at some point will drop the ball, and in order to recover from that setback, you need to know exactly where and why the ball got dropped.

The CEO needs to have a working understanding of what the CFO, CMO, COO, CTO or any other C-level position is doing, both in function and timeline (function being what the position entails, and timeline being where in the “shipping” process is the individual involved and are they doing their job properly).

When I was learning how to ride a motorcycle, I learned two acronyms to make sure that my bike was safe to ride. T-CLOCS was the first, inspecting the bike itself: Tires, Controls (hoses, handlebar, cables…), Lights (and electric), Oil (and other fluids), Stand (side or center). If you’re a trainer, make sure your gear is safe: rubber bands not worn (snapped those once, cut the top of my hands, bled profusely), rack (someone once left a cable running through my kettlebells. I picked one up and started walking away, the whole rack came down in an avalanche of iron), cables, chains on the heavy bag etc.

The second thing you do as you are about to ride is FINE-C. These are the various things you turn on to start the motorcycle. Fuel (toggle switch, although most new rides these days are fuel injected), Ignition (turn the key), Neutral (that’s your transmission) and Choke (again, lesser concern these days on modern bikes, though I like my bikes vintage, and with a little maintenance, they can outlast the lifespan of a car). Overseeing that aspect makes you knowledgeable as the CTO, or Chief Technical Officer. As the CEO, a working knowledge suffices (you don’t need to know how to build the treadmill or how to cast the iron in the kettlebell’s mold).

For the trainer, that’s your client’s body, form, alignment, understanding of what to do for any given exercise. “Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure…”, you see where I’m going. You’re the CEO of the session, the workout, your client becomes the product that you ship, resulting from the services you provide, you oversee everything in that LLC, the limited liability corporation that lasts for the duration of the session, or the training package (i.e. commitment the client made to train with you).

As the CEO, you are responsible for overseeing the (metaphorical) “finances” and be an acting CFO: you manage the budget, allocate funds here based on the needs, make projections. That’s how you manage your client’s efforts, routine, sets, reps and project potential outcomes. You have to know your numbers, adjust them if needed, course correct (after all, they are just projections, sometimes based on previously proven strategies with a certain product/client, sometimes a wishful best case scenario with a new product you’re testing/new client you’ve started, and it doesn’t come out quite as expected, as it’s not an exact science, no matter what the Gurus try to tell you).

You also need to have marketing and sales down (otherwise, you won’t be in business very long if you can’t turn a profit). Your CFO duties overlap to a point with those of the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), and your marketing starts as simply as having other people see you train clients and how you treat them, how they progress (Advertising). It’s also how you approach a non-client, or how a non-client approaches you and how you handle their query (Glengarry Glenn Ross’ ABC -Alway Be Closing- comes to mind, though today’s approach is more subtle, less aggressive and more rapport oriented). This falls into your Inbound marketing approach. You reading this is an example of this. We’re building a rapport, I am not selling you on my services, not pitching you, rather discussing a problem, or offering a solution. The pitch comes later and the prospect is more willing and trusting to convert into a buyer.

Fitness is a business. Just like Show Business. And it’s not the richest actors you always remember, it’s the ones that make the greatest positive impact, that use their fame to do good, to promote causes, to make you think, tickle your brain, offer a new perspective, and not just entertain.

Don’t just train for the sake of training, going through the motions. I already covered the concept of having a training session, a workout, tell a story. A goal gives you a direction, whereas a program gives you one of many suggested paths to that goal. Value will give you a lasting business.

How Much Does A Trainer Make (part 3)?

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4 years ago in March, I wrote a blog where I broke down the pay scale of trainers at various gyms, and helping the buying side understand what it’s like to be a trainer, showing what the trainer’s take-home is and the struggle behind it. While the information is most likely no longer accurate (some of these gyms no longer exist and have been either bought out or have gone bankrupt, while others ended up making their pay structure more attractive to trainers), the points remain the same for the most part.

What I wanted to do now is provide an update and because I am on vacation as I write this, I will ask that you simply trust me, and for those who know the information already, back me up. If you open up a fitness magazine, you will find ads that say something along the lines of “work your dream job”, “get paid doing what you love” or “get paid to work out” (the latter is bad for the client, btw) and then offering some kind of online personal training certification (accredited by NRGB, or Not Recognized Governing Body. That’s a joke, btw). These ads a few years ago use to say “make up to $50/hr” and now are down to only advertising $30/hr. Last I checked, that’s going in the wrong direction in relation to inflation.

The health and fitness industry is one of the fastest growing industries. Attend any fit expo (LA Fit Expo, IDEA FIT, IHRSA) and you will see more gear, apparel, supplements, programs than you can imagine. And (very much like myself), the trainers that have been around for a long time try to branch out (to make passive income, independent of the one hour/one client model, or running a small studio which is running 2 jobs). What’s also happening is that the average yearly income of a trainer is under $32k, with a workload of over 60 hours of clients trained per week. The road to burning out is paved with well intended workouts… The career-span of a trainer is 18-36 months. For some organizations, that’s awesome: it’s a constantly renewable source of customers to whom you can sell the same stuff over and over and never need to update your content. The more seasoned of us still, in some cases, buy into those “memberships” to keep active, but with little ROI, honestly, other than being in a community of friends which can sometimes make you lose sight of the forest for the trees.

So, there you have it. The average trainer makes under $32k/year. Works their butt off, burns out and then looks for a way out. I’ve said it before: a true trainer doesn’t enter this field for the money. Some get lucky, some take risks which don’t pay off, while some treat it like a gig better than waiting tables until something better comes along. I once recall some young kid coming up to me when I was working in a corporate box to “be a trainer as a Summer job” (no comment).

If you’re an aspiring trainer: this doesn’t have to be you, but you gotta be sure you’re willing to sacrifice a lot to get a little in the beginning, and if you stick it out, you’ll make something of yourself (read on, so you can be in the category I am about to mention). If you’re a potential customer, you HAVE to vet your potential trainer: ask what’s their skin in the game, do they have another job, how long have they been doing it, what’s their retention rate etc? If the answers satisfy your needs and you feel that the trainer has a commitment to their craft, which translates into a commitment to their clients, you will also realize that that trainer makes more than $32k/year. If you’re going to trust your body to a millionaire doctor, trust your body and your money to a seasoned, dedicated, educated trainer.

So, trainers, the odds are not in your favor starting out. I see a revolving door at the gym of trainers who don’t last. Fastest growing industry with the highest amount of turnover. Corporate gyms grow, studios struggle. But those who stick around are the gems you want to train with. And in that case, the pay per hour is worth it (and still understand that from that, you deduct: gym fees, Uncle Sam, insurance, accreditations, equipment, permits etc, so it takes a significant amount of time and volume). True labor of love!

Tips to make it as a trainer

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So, you just received your shiny, new certificate from __________.

Yay! Clients are about to flock and you’re gonna make this career successful!

If you recall the article about the career span of the average trainer, the hours worked weekly vs the income, this fast growing industry also carries a high rate of turn-over. Trainers don’t last, because while that may be the meat of the sandwich, you still need the trimmings to make sure it doesn’t fall apart! I recently polled some of my peers also to get their input as to what made their own careers as trainers last: passion, overdelivering, servicing all populations, continuing education were at the top of their lists.

Compiled is a non-exhaustive list of tips to keep your training successful, with bullet points you ought to explore. More practical than idealistic, business oriented tips for newbies. Feel free to add and comment!

1) ABC: Always Be Closing.

While this one sounds like a car salesman’s approach to training, cold, sneaky, it really isn’t. You can’t make a living without getting paid for your services. Now, I have never “sold” a client by promising things I cannot deliver. Reputation is key, it’s a results-oriented business. But my passion and knowledge, as well as rapport-building makes the prospect comfortable with investing in themselves and my services. Don’t be shy about offering the training pack, the transaction, because you are entitled to pay your bills, it’s not a favor.

2) Retention is the new acquisition.

Don’t be like those cell phone companies that only offer a good deal to their new clients, or those gym membership salespeople who only see you on your first day, then forget about you once they have you in a contract. Keeping a client is better than constantly getting new ones. What are you doing that they’re not staying with you, by the way? As a trainer, you keep extending yourself to your clients and make them feel appreciated, genuinely, and your focus is on them, their goals, and you’re here to support them no matter what. Don’t think of it for sales purposes. You’re doing this also because you love your job and you want to make this enjoyable and beneficial mutually, with reciprocity.

3) Know your boundaries.

As a trainer, our duty is to provide a service. It’s an invitation to an exclusive club (your brain, your knowledge, your skills). You’re there to give your clients your honest best so they can achieve theirs. But you’re not there “at their service”. Clients come to you because you’re supposed to be an expert and have some authority in how to best provide for them. Why is it that a doctor’s office can charge a cancelation fee and it’s not argued but too many trainers still are afraid of that? Last minute changes affect not just you, but other clients as well. Help your clients with some homework if they miss a session, so you are still keeping them accountable, even if last minute, but have confidence that you are just as important, if not more, than a doctor’s appointment, a car service or a tax audit!

4) Know your numbers.

This is one of the most important aspects of training. You can’t sustain a business if you don’t know your numbers. What are those numbers? It’s about your nut: to pay your bills, home or gym rental, paying off equipment, your overhead, your profit. How many sessions do you need to cover your overhead, then to be profitable, then to allocate for slow times vs busy times, for expansion, education, marketing, etc? You’re dead in the water if you avoid those. Also, know your prices, offering sliding scales and rewards. There will always be a trainer that charges less, one that charges more. Know where you stand, what you’re comfortable with and be confident in your skills. Otherwise, your prospective client will not be confident that you’re the right person for the job. They come to you with trust.

5) Marketing.

You can be the best trainer in town, but if no one knows about you, you’re not going to be sustainable. There are many ways to get one client, not one way to get many clients. Some work, some don’t and you won’t know until you try them. Word of mouth, referral incentives, free sessions or intro classes… Working for a box gym vs independent also has its pros and cons (built-in foot traffic vs giving up a larger cut of your earnings, or higher risk & higher reward).

6) Differentiate.

What makes you the better choice than Trainer X? Know your competition. Research the best in a non-competing geographical location, ask, learn, implement. Observe the direct competition and offer something different. It’s called a Unique Selling Proposition.

7) Listen.

Don’t be the trainers that knows everything better than the client. I once learned an acronym when I was doing some security work: LEAP. Listen, Empathize, Anticipate, Proceed. Listen to your clients’ needs, Empathize by relating to their goals or problems (empathy by using examples among your clients, not always sympathy unless you have experienced the same), Anticipate by having a flexible but goal-driven plan of action (which can include anticipating concerns, clients do come to you for help) and Proceed (ask for the business, transact and put the plan in effect by setting up the session).


There are of course other aspects to building a successful business, and this is merely an overview. However, operating a training business without any of these in place will not lead to success, and unless you’re independently wealthy or just doing this as a hobby, pure passion doesn’t last without a solid foundation, like any relationship.