Business Advice for Personal Trainers
Katie Bulmer-Cooke is a highly experienced personal trainer, business consultant, blogger and former star of BBC’s The Apprentice. Amongst her numerous accolades, Katie was crowned FitPro UK Fitness Professional of the Year 2013 and IFS UK Personal Trainer of the Year 2012. You can find out more about Katie by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.
What brought you to the world of fitness in the first place?
As a kid I used to sit in the corner of my mum’s classes. She’s been teaching for 30 years this year, so when my dad was working away, I used to go and sit in my oversized leotard and watch her teach classes with all the best songs from the 80s and 90s and thought, ‘this is exactly what I want to do’. I was very lucky because I’ve always known what I wanted to do and it’s not been something that I’ve just discovered later in life. Not everyone’s as fortune enough as I’ve been to always know what I wanted to do, but that’s what did it for me – seeing everybody exercising together, great atmosphere, great music, how happy it made everyone and that’s definitely why I got into it.
As someone who’s leading the way online, how important is it for a personal trainer to have a substantial online process?
You have to have a big online presence. Now people aren’t scrolling through the Yellow Pages to find you, they’re going online and they’re not always looking for you on Google first. They’re often looking for you on Facebook, so not only is it important that you have a presence, it has to be a really good presence, so whatever messages you’re putting out there on Facebook, whether that’s in the form of pictures, videos or status updates and on other channels as well – Twitter, Instagram etc – they all to scream your brand.
So it sounds simple, but so many people don’t do it. You can have pictures and status updates about getting mortal drunk at the weekend, eating bad food, but whatever you’re putting online, you will be judged for. So when a potential client looks you up on Facebook, whatever they see at the top of the News Feed, that’s what they’re going to judge you on. So while it’s important that you have a presence, it has to be a good one.
Would you say new personal trainers have to go into the fitness industry with an online presence in mind first?
Yes, 100%. I was speaking with a group of Level 3 PT students yesterday and this came up. They’re at the stage where they’re not advertising their business yet because they’ve not finished their education, but at this stage they should be starting to think about cleaning up their Facebook and cleaning up their online presence. You can’t just go from one person to another online, it’s got to be a gradual transition.
What makes a successful personal trainer?
That is an excellent question. What makes a great personal trainer? Firstly, it’s someone that looks at the bigger picture. To me there’s no skill required to deliver an hour’s session every week where you order your client about. There’s no skill in that at all, my five year old can do that. A successful personal trainer will look at the bigger picture, almost that the session becomes the smallest part of it. Every week they’ll be looking at the client’s food diary, writing amazing programmes to do outside of the session that are very suited to the client, they’ll be looking at lifestyle changes, sleep patterns, they’ll be doing all of the things around the session that will get a good result.
The second thing is a good personality. I’ve met trainers in the past that could recite every word from a textbook, but they’ve no banter! Unless you can build good rapport with people and be a good listener and truly take on board what people are saying and be excited to see your client every week then I’m not certain there’s any longevity there unless you’ve got those skills. Those skills that wrap around the technicalities of being a trainer.
And then, finally, you have to understand that you have to be a bit of a hybrid these days. To have a really successful personal training career, to get lots of clients and generate a good income, you need good business skills. You have to become a bit of a marketeer, an accountant, a business owner – sometimes it’s best to look outside of the fitness industry for inspiration. We’re not the best industry necessarily for those things, so maybe look at the hospitality industry or the technology industry as to how we can run our business better.
A lot of people will know you from series 10 of The Apprentice, so with that in mind, how important is it for a fitness professional to be business savvy?
Massively. I mean you can have a very nice time training a few people, getting great results, generating yourself a bit of a steady income, but if you really want to make it more than just a part-time job or a bit of a hobby on the side, the business skills are so important. Again, you don’t have to learn those from within the fitness industry, but if you want to make it a full time career that has good progression opportunity then the business skills are massively important.
What lessons, business or otherwise, did you take away from your time on The Apprentice?
I think I learnt a lot about myself because everyone who listens to this who’s a PT will know that it’s a lonely job. If you work on your own or you’re not in a gym environment, which I’m not at the moment because I’m a mobile PT, so you don’t really know much about your strengths and weaknesses because you haven’t got anyone to compare yourself to. So in The Apprentice I did have people to compare myself to and I learned that I was a good leader and that you don’t have to be a shouty type of person to be a good leader, sometimes you’re better off being a cheerleader, sometimes it gets you that little bit further. I learnt a lot about sales and negotiations, they were my biggest takeaways and I learnt that you don’t have to be pushy, you don’t have to be aggressive, what you have to do is listen to what the customer wants first before you verbally vomit on them regarding what you can do for them. You have to listen, listen, listen. So those are the biggest things that I took away.
Do you have any practical advice for new and aspiring personal trainers?
People get quite hung up on how many followers or how many friends, or how many likes you’ve got on social media. Social media is a great way to generate new business but for me it’s about quality. So if you wanted to make sure you have the right following and you’re building the right sort of audience then I would recommend having a look at Facebook ads.
As everybody knows now it’s really targeted and you can really filter out the people that aren’t relevant to your business. So if there’s one thing I would say for people to do once they’ve cleaned up their Facebook profile is to take a look at using Facebook ads to make sure you’re getting the right type and right quality of follower.
What advice would you give to fitness professionals to stop them trading time for money?
First of all: stop doing pay as your train. I would like to think that doesn’t happen as much now, but I know it still does. So rather than just saying here’s £40 for an hour’s session, build a package, build a really valuable package that includes sessions, but it should be a block of sessions rather than a single session. It should also include tools that your clients can use so maybe it’s a food diary/journal, you do their measurements, skin fold assessments, you’re looking at their food diary every week. You’re doing lots of different things that create a big, valuable package.
That’s the first thing you can do, the second thing would be to have a go at delivering small group PT sessions so either 2-1, anything up to 5-1 which I think constitutes small groups. That allows you to train more people in less time and I have to say that I’ve done a lot of work with small groups over the last few years and it’s great for accountability because nobody wants to be the person that hasn’t achieved at the end. So having other people involved almost helps do your job for you, it gives extra motivation and accountability. You can also look at the online avenue: can you create some products, some programmes that you could sell online? Those three things create a nice mix. You’re not going to be capped on your income based on the number of hours you can work.
What can be done to encourage more women to become personal trainers?
That’s a good question. I’ve heard a lot people say: ‘Oh it’s hard being a female personal trainer, it’s much harder being a female than a male’… and I completely disagree. I think if anything, we’re definitely on a level playing field, if anything we’re at an advantage because there’s not that many of us. So already if there are female potential clients out there that are looking for a female PT, already they’re looking for you. So there’s an audience there already.
I work with pre and postnatal clients, really busy women, it’s incredibly rewarding. Yes, you get a great buzz from standing at the front of an exercise to music class, I totally get that because I have it every week as well, but you get equally the same amount of job satisfaction from helping people who you understand. so if you work with other women you know their challenges, their pains, their issues, their barriers, you can understand them so you’re in a much better position to help them overcome them, more so than a man is in my opinion. You can really tune into them and, as a result, get a lot of job satisfaction out of helping them.
What does the rest of 2016 hold for you?
I’ve started hosting my own TV show on our regional channel called Chatty Lasses so more of that to come. This year I’ve got a lot more consultation work so I’m going into big chains, and even smaller fitness businesses and helping them with things like social media, customer service, specifically with their PTs on programming, and client retention. I’m also doing a lot of speaking so I’m at FitPro, but then I’ve got something even more exciting than that that I can’t tell you about yet. April time you can hear about this new business venture.