Pat Rigsby is the co-owner of several businesses in the fitness industry including the Fitness Consulting Group. He also serves as an industry consultant focusing on the development of profitable personal training departments. To learn how you can improve your club's retention, referrals and profitability, sign up for his free newsletter at www.fitnessconsultinggroup.com. Pat can be reached at pat@fitnessconsultingroup.com

Personal training businesses fail because the owners fail to focus their energy on the business. Most business owners are technicians, not entrepreneurs, says Michael E. Gerber, best-selling author of The E-Myth Revisited.

Personal training is a profession; in order to succeed, trainers must act in a businesslike way. But Gerber may be right--trainers tend to be technicians who want to do what they love doing: training clients. They don't want to run a business; they don't want to spend time seeking new clients, and they don't want to do business planning.

As famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

The planning process is the personal training business owner's job, although the technical tasks may be the medium of interaction between the trainer and the client. In order to exceed the expectations of clients, trainers must plan their businesses to include service elements and procedures that will encourage consistently high standards of client interaction, such as the following:

  • Establish a return phone call policy. Return or have an assistant return clients' phone calls within four hours.
  • Prepare for each training session by reviewing the client's program and goals. Set up the equipment to be used in advance if possible.
  • Set and adhere to specific measurement and assessment dates.
  • Regularly ask clients for feedback about whether they are pleased with the business' services.

    An inability to consistently exceed clients' expectations is a sure fire recipe for trouble.

    The warning signs. Most trainers begin to realize that they are in trouble only after the money ceases to come in the door. However, cash-flow cessation is usually the last symptom of a downward spiral that started long before.

    The point when cash stops coming in the door is much too late to start wondering if you may have a problem. You do. The seeds of the problem were undoubtedly sown weeks, months or even years earlier. By being proactive, you can avoid letting your business ever reach that point. All it takes is a plan. Here are five planning steps to get you started:

    1. Prepare and agree to the plan. In a training business, it is important that all of the key players agree on the direction of the business. If the key people in the business are not clear about the overall goals as well as specific objectives and strategies, then the planning process is bound to be sabotaged and of little use. Everyone needs to buy in to the plan. Solo trainers are not immune from this requirement either. They must get a spouse or significant other to accept the general direction of the business.

    That is why the first element of any plan is to agree to make and abide by the plan. You need to gather a certain amount of historical information so that you can analyze it and start thinking about realistic modifications for the future. You will be primarily interested in marketing and financial data in the form of documents, statistics, reports, survey results, and, when there is nothing else, your best guesses. All this data will give you a snapshot of your business' marketing and economic health in the present.

    2. Identify goals. If you do not decide what type of business you want, you will wind up with one reflecting whatever walks in the door. Luck may make you successful, but it is doubtful.

    You need to decide what you want to be and what you want to do, both professionally and personally.

    3. Create the marketing plan. Since your business is dependent on clients, then getting them and keeping them is critical to your success. A marketing plan helps you see who these elusive people are and how to attract them to your door.

    4. Create the financial plan. The financial plan is the culmination of all of your earlier information gathering, thinking and planning. The financial plan is the statement, in financial or monetary terms (the language of business), of your dreams and goals.

    5. Evaluate and revise the plan. Good planning is not static; it is meant to be a guide against which you can judge actions or outcomes. If you begin to notice that a certain aspect of a plan is not working or needs some adjustment, change it. The beauty of a flexible plan is that it can be revised to better reflect the reality of your specific situation and to help you get to your desired outcome. Planning is an ongoing process.