I often get asked how I went from being a trainer in a corporate gym to opening my own studio in less than two years. After recounting my story quite a few times and talking about things like “time management,” “hard work,” and “proper positioning,” I realized something.

The question people really wanted to ask was “How can I do that?”

If you’ve been wondering how to break free from working at a gym and start training for yourself, here are the most important steps to get started.

Define Your Business and Training Philosophy

In another article I wrote, I discussed developing your training philosophy. Here’s an excerpt:

“Having a training philosophy is the foundation of everything you do and is of critical importance.

It is basically a group of principles and concepts that govern what you believe about fitness and how you approach helping your clients reach their goals.

Your philosophy will also act as your compass when furthering your education by allowing you to determine which methods and information line up with your beliefs and which ones you should pass on. That’s not to say that your beliefs can’t or won’t change, because that is a natural part of your progression as a professional and it is important to continually evaluate your processes, but your philosophy will provide the lens through which to view them objectively.”

Basically, you need to have a reason (or reasons) for training clients the way that you do and make sure you understand that reason (or reasons) to drive your business philosophy.

While your training philosophy should speak to you, your business philosophy should speak to your customers.

In “The Power of Why“, Richard Weyl talks about developing your Unique Value Promise (UVP), which is a succinct message to your target customer about what your business stands for and how you’re different from your competitors. This is ultimately the core of your business philosophy.

Make sure when formulating your UVP to consider what your target customer’s specific needs and challenges are in order to convey why your business is the solution. Also, keep the bigger picture in mind — right now your business may just be you, but someday it may be large and your future employees will have to be able to deliver on this promise.

Find a Location

Now that you have defined your philosophies, you can search for a location that will allow you to operate according to your beliefs.

There are many possibilities when it comes to training locations:

  • Private full-service gyms
  • Personal training studios
  • Sports training facilities
  • Boxing/martial arts studios
  • Community/apartment gyms
  • Public parks

Your goal is to find a location that will allow your business to grow and operate in a manner that’s consistent with your UVP. Start by determining what your needs are in relation to equipment, cost, proximity (for your clients and yourself), access hours, and atmosphere.

If I were going to rate these in levels of importance to me, it would look like this:

  1. Equipment
  2. Atmosphere
  3. Cost
  4. Proximity
  5. Access Hours

Implement Your Documents and Systems

Upon finding the right home for your business, you’ll now have to start making the business decisions that will determine your profitability and sustainability in the marketplace. The first step is designing the proper documents and getting yourself or your business insured.

At this point it would be foolish for me not to mention that getting help from a quality legal professional is critical to be in accordance with all local and state laws since they tend to vary. There are some great legal services available online that are more cost effective, however, there’s no better piece of mind than being able to contact someone you trust directly concerning these matters.

At the very minimum, I’d recommend obtaining personal liability insurance to cover any possible injuries that your clients may sustain in your presence and having liability waivers and PAR-Q forms for all your clients to fill out.

After getting your legal documents out of the way you should begin developing internal documents that will support your business systems. By business systems, I’m referring to the multiple processes that happen on a regular basis that you should be standardizing.

For example, if a client comes in for a consultation you should have a set procedure that you follow (perhaps you begin by getting background information, then you check their current body composition, and follow up with a fitness assessment). This particular process could be supported and improved by documents such as a client questionnaire, body composition tracking sheet, and fitness evaluation form.

Here’s a bit more about the five document that I use daily:

Client Intake Form.

Used to gather basic information for your records. Fields to include are address, phone number, email, employer/position (in order to possibly network them with other clients), as well as birth date so you can send them something special. I also have a box at the bottom of the sheet that I record any additional notes I feel may be pertinent to that client.

Client Evaluation Form.

This is the form I use when conducting a consultation. There are questions on this form that I usually ask to understand the client’s goals, past exercise history, level of motivation etc. These are the questions that really help me to understand the real reason each client wants to participate in personal training (their underlying motivation). Make sure to leave blanks in between questions so you can take notes.

Measurement Sheet.

Regardless of what methods you use to determine progress, it is important to have a sheet where data is recorded. The sheet I use records changes in weight, girth measurements, and body composition. Since this is something I check every 30 days with clients, I set my sheet up to hold 90 days of data.

PT Agreement.

It is important to have a hard copy of your policies that the client can read and agree to in order to set the appropriate expectations. By setting the standard from the beginning, you are able to present your business in a professional way and help clients get the most out of your service. Policies to include are your cancellation notice expectation and refund policy. I actually integrate this form with a receipt so it is signed and explained on day 1 to eliminate any confusion.

Session Tracking Log.

After the client has purchased training from you, you will need a way to record when each training session is used. The best way to do this is to have a table with session number, date, and signature. The client will sign for each session at the completion of said session and both parties will always be aware of how many sessions remain. This process also makes it easier when it comes time for the client to renew.

The goal is to have a system in place for most common situations and daily practices. This will not only streamline your business, but will also position it for successful growth as you’ll already have the framework for an employee manual when it comes time to add to your team.

Get Clients

Countless articles and books have been written on the single subject of how to get clients, so a full write up of the processes to get business is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I’m going cover a couple key elements to allow people to find you.

Most personal trainers are lacking a strong online presence, but that’s a big problem because that’s exactly where most consumers are looking for a personal trainer to work with. With that being said, there are a couple places online worth investing in to get some exposure:

Your Website

Having a website these days is a must. Not only does it add a professional appearance to you and your business, but it can serve as a means for you build a voice in the industry through a blog. You could think of your website as a home base. It can give potential clients a chance to view your qualifications, read your testimonials and UVP, and of course, a method to contact you.

Facebook and Social Media

Everyone is using social media these days and it’s likely that your current network is already large enough for you to get the amount of clients you need to succeed. By tagging clients, sharing statuses, and giving fitness info you can substantially increase your influence. There is no need for me to re-invent the wheel so I would advise reading “The Race to the Top“ by Jon Goodman or downloading a free copy of Facebook Marketing for Personal Trainers from thePTDC.

Yelp and Other Review Sites

Your reputation is critical to your success as a business, but if people can’t find your testimonials they may as well not exist. Many people searching online for trainers will view multiple sites and compare reviews between them. Take the time to setup a free page with nice pictures, a good description of your business, and testimonials that really demonstrate your quality. Also, don’t forget to link it to your website.


The best way to have someone make their way to you is through a referral from a friend/family member. Make sure you’re doing a great job with your clients and you can feel comfortable asking them to refer others your way. It’s likely they will have no problem recommending you, but you have to make sure to ask.

Continually Refine Your Vision

As your business grows and matures it will be necessary to continually evaluate your systems and direction. You’ll have successes and failures, but it will be important to learn from them and use them to guide your next moves. There’s a good chance that you’ll take your business in a different direction from what you originally pictured and it’s important to resist the urge to be stagnant. Spend a lot of time reading, sharing, and always ask for help when you need it.

The previous article was originally written for and featured at The Personal Trainer Development Center.