A self-employed personal trainer working with a client on TRX suspension straps
A self-employed personal trainer working with a client on TRX suspension straps
A self-employed personal trainer working with a client on TRX suspension straps

Personal Training: Employed vs Self-Employed

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Most newly qualified personal trainers will naturally want to explore ways in which they can apply their newfound knowledge, skills and qualifications with real clients, in real life, and in a paid capacity.

At this junction, they are often faced with the following two questions: do I work for myself on a self-employed basis, or, do I find a job and work as an employee?

To give a very broad definition, being employed means you’ll be paid a set wage for a defined amount of work and that you’ll be an employee of your chosen place of work, whether that’s a gym, health club, leisure centre or a similar type of facility.

Being self-employed however means that you’ll work for yourself, you’re the boss and your earning potential is, in theory, uncapped. As we’ll explore in greater detail later on in this article, being self-employed doesn’t limit you from being able to work in a mainstream gym by any means but it will differ in terms of your employment terms and conditions.

The beautiful thing with the fitness industry is that there is no one size fits all approach and there are many routes to success. Whether you are an employed personal trainer or a self-employed personal trainer, there will be pros and cons in both cases. As we dive into these, it’ll hopefully give you the confidence to make an informed decision as to which option is right for you. With either option, how you ultimately apply yourself to the role will determine your level of success and what you will get out of it.

Personal training on an employed basis

If you are working as an employed personal trainer you will be a salaried employee and as such you will be contracted to work a set number of hours. From a legal standpoint, you will be entitled to a guaranteed salary, annual leave and depending on the employer’s policy, you may also be paid in the event that you are sick and unable to attend work. Your employer will be responsible for paying all of the necessary insurance and they will deduct your tax and National Insurance from your salary when they pay you.

Employed personal trainer working at a Village Gym

This arrangement is often seen as a safer option for newly qualified personal trainers because it provides a guaranteed source of income while they further develop their skills and confidence. It also provides the opportunity to work alongside more experienced trainers, where they can learn alternative ways to apply the knowledge and skills they have developed.

However, even as an employed trainer, it’s likely that you will still have to actively sell your training services to members, so it’s not a free ride by any means!

There are however a few potential drawbacks to being an employee and so this route won’t be for everyone. While there is more financial certainty with being an employed trainer, the earnings are usually capped and as such you would need to share much more of your income with your employer. This can be off-putting for those PTs who have very lofty ambitions, particularly in terms of salary.

As an employed trainer, the number of possible clients that you can train in any given day will be determined by the membership base of the club and the demographics of these members. For example, if you are employed in a club with a low membership base, then your target audience is much lower and so your earning potential may be capped.

Similarly, if you are a young and athletic trainer looking to work with a similar group of clients, then you may struggle to attract clients in a gym or health club that has more of an ageing membership base. While this concern could also apply to self-employed trainers, they do generally have more fluidity with where they can physically work.

Another thing to consider is that you might not have the autonomy that you really feel like you need as a trainer. As a salaried PT, you’ll likely be given a mandatory number of hours that you’ll need to work on the gym floor and this will likely include other tasks or duties also (e.g. cleaning, teaching group classes, supervising a pool).

Employer personal trainers performing a range of roles including membership sales

Being an employee generally provides a more obvious and direct route to progression and promotion within the workplace. For example, you may start in an entry-level position like gym instructor or personal trainer, but in time you may also get the opportunity to take on more managerial responsibilities (e.g. Fitness manager, General manager). In time, and assuming this aligns with any long-term career goals that you have, you may find yourself spending less time training clients on the gym floor and more time being involved with broader and more strategic aspects of the business.

In summary, if you are keen to secure employment as a personal trainer but are risk-averse, this route is likely to be most suited to you. After all, you will still have the satisfaction that you are helping others to change their health and fitness status, but you’ll also have the certainty of a guaranteed income, regular hours, paid time off and depending on the employer, the opportunity to progress within the role and business.

Being a self-employed personal trainer

An important statistic to be aware of is that 62% of personal trainers are self-employed. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first being that it is simply the favoured model for many big-name gym chains like The Gym Group, Pure Gym and DW Sports Fitness. Secondly, many PTs simply prefer this arrangement and the freedom it affords them.

Being self-employed means that the reins are off and you are free to forge your own path. It is by no means for every trainer but there are countless examples of personal trainers who have taken their destiny in their own hands and propelled themselves to exciting and inspiring heights.

Self-employed personal trainer assisting a client with a squat

Here are a few critical things that you need to be aware of if you want to know how to become a self-employed personal trainer:

Location – You’ll need to find a place to work and most likely you’ll be renting a space in an existing gym – this doesn’t always have to be a national gym chain either, it’s common for independent gyms to allow other PTs to rent space also. If you’re thinking several moves ahead and you’re planning to open your own facilities, allowing other PTs to rent your space could become a valuable second or even third stream of income (depending on your offering).

Tax – If you want to be considered as self-employed then you must register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). For new traders, this can easily be done online and if you’ve been previously self-employed then you will be required to submit a CWF1 form. You also need to be mindful of filling in your tax returns in a timely manner (this is normally done annually). As a self-employed personal trainer, you will need to get into the habit of recording your financial transactions, which will most likely involve creating invoices to capture your sales and logging and providing evidence of your purchases, with receipts and purchase invoices.

Marketing and branding – If you’re employed by a national chain gym and wearing a uniform, and clients see you in that uniform on a day-to-day basis, a lot of heavy lifting with regards to marketing and branding has likely already been done for you. There will be a level of trust and value automatically associated (rightfully or not) with you and your training services simply because of where you work. Now, if you’re newly qualified and you’re renting space in an independent gym, it’s going to be your sole responsibility to tell people firstly who you are, secondly what you’re offering and thirdly, why choose you over other PTs both on the gym floor and online.

Insurance – As a self-employed PT, you will be responsible for securing your own personal trainer insurance packages. If you’re new to the whole self-employed set-up then you will probably find the subject of insurance somewhat complex and daunting. Do you need public liability, professional indemnity, sickness cover? To help you with these questions and more, we’ve created a separate article on insurance for personal trainers.

Data protection – In 2018, the Government revised the Data Protection Act in order to implement the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The Data Protection Act 2018 controls how personal information is collected, processed and stored. In order to understand the principles of data protection and how they relate to being a self-employed personal trainer, we’ve produced an article to explain things in more detail.

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Personal Training: Employed vs Self-Employed

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