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Personal trainers have two main choices when it comes to work:
employment in a gym or running a personal PT business.
So how do you decide which path to follow?
One of the simplest methods is to look at the pros and cons offered
by each option. Then you can weigh up which path best fits with your
lifestyle and vision for the future.
To help analyse this, we've enlisted TAFE NSW Northern Beaches' Head
Teacher Sport, Fitness and Outdoor Recreation, Liam Daley.
Together with Liam, we'll pro/con five important areas of PT practice.
Obviously, working for yourself you get a lot of flexibility. You
chose when, where and who you train. You dictate your hours and you
dictate your breaks.
‘It's very flexible,' Daley said, adding ‘you don't have the
frustrations associated with working for someone else-you set the
rules in your own PT business.
‘It's also great for people who want to earn extra cash on top of
their day job. We're seeing a lot of that at the moment (with Sydney
mortgages only getting more expensive). You can work a 9-5 job and
still run a number of PT clients, because most people want to exercise
before or after they work,' he added.
The downside to this flexibility is that you can overwork yourself,
take on too many clients and not take breaks. Your working hours also
tend to be weighted in the mornings before your clients go to work,
and in the evenings after they finish work, as well as weekends.
Having structured work hours in a gym means that you can spread your
work throughout the day in a more balanced way, rather than weighted
towards mornings/evenings/weekends. You generally also know in advance
where and when you'll be working.
Because you're working for someone else, you have much less control
over your hours and what you'll be doing during those working hours.
Because you choose your hours, you have the ability to fit work
around your lifestyle.
‘I know one PT at the moment, he's been able to structure his life so
that he works about 25 hours a week, earning $120 an hour for each
client. He was approached at one stage to build a more structured
business with a partner and he said "why would I do that, I'm not
chasing money" and he's not. He wants an amount of cash that will
sustain his lifestyle of living on the Northern Beaches, going down to
Nippers with his kids, and having a good life. And his PT business can
provide that,' said Daley.
You will work mornings, nights and weekends (particularly in the
early stages of your business), and if this does not fit with your
lifestyle, then a PT business may not be for you. Also, the temptation
of extra cash can push you to work seven days a week-never good for a
great lifestyle! You may also find it hard to go away on holidays for
fear of losing clients. ‘It is hard to take breaks,' Daley said.
Having fixed hours can help you to organise your time, particularly
if you need your mornings and evenings. You'll also be able to
schedule holidays without the worry of disappointing/losing clients
and missing out on money while you're away.
‘You'll have work that can be spread over a whole day, rather than
just clients being weighted morning and afternoon,' said Daley.
Fixed working hours' means that you can't just decide to pop home,
down to the beach or to the shops. You have to be at the gym for your
shift. Working in someone else's business you have a lot less
flexibility around what you do day-to-day.
If you're good, and you build up a regular roster of repeat clients,
then you can earn a fairly decent income. You can have more control on
how much you earn, and you're not dependent on an employer for a pay check.
How much you earn is up to your ability to get and keep clients. In
the beginning, you may struggle to get enough clients to cover your
rent, bills and entertainment. You won't get paid when you take
holidays, so you really have to budget for that.
In a gym you will get a regular pay check, along with holiday pay and
sick leave. Someone else is also taking care of all the paperwork.
Your pay is restricted to the shifts that you work or the wage that
the owner is prepared to pay you. There's less flexibility as to your
You may be eligible for small business tax benefits, depending on
your business model. In terms of insurance, as long as you are
registered with Fitness Australia or Physical Activity Australia, and
have your full qualifications, getting insured is a pretty simple process.
‘Once you get the qualification it's quite easy to put yourself
through registration and to gain insurance,' said Daley.
You have to do all your own financial paperwork, filing and business
tax returns. This requires constant vigilance and meticulous record keeping.
You don't generally have to worry about invoicing, receipts, tax
paperwork and insurance, as someone else does that for you.
‘You have the financial side of it sorted for you, and you can avoid
some of that headache,' Daley said.
You won't get small business tax breaks.
The great benefit here is that you get to work with a wide variety of
people from all walks of life. You'll gain experience from watching
other PTs in action. This means that you can build up a great toolbox
of training and motivational skills that you can use to inspire your
clients for years to come.
‘You'll start to work out how to push each client's buttons to
motivate them. Being able to work with lots of different clients will
refine your exercise prescription and client relation skills. You'll
start working out all the tricks that work for different clients and
be able to match your personality as a trainer accordingly.' said Daley.
Particularly in the beginning stages of your business, you will have
to find and secure clients. This can be time consuming, and you may
have some financially lean times.
Working in a gym, the clients come to you or you are assigned to
them. You don't have to chase business. What's also great in a gym is
your ability to learn from other trainers, how they work and how they
deal with clients. Some gyms will also have mentoring programs, and
you get to understand how your PT skills fit into the broader fitness business.
‘You get a better understanding about what other personal trainers
are doing. Just being in an environment where you see what other
trainers are doing, you'll learn how you can adapt some of the
techniques they're using,' said Daley.
‘You don't have to focus as much on trying to get those first initial
clients, which makes it a lot easier. You'll also end up with more
security around holidays,' he added.
The downside is that you are limited in your practice to the way that
the gym operates, and the type of training that they value. You also
don't get to pick and choose your clients, you have to work with the
ones the gym sends your way.
‘You'll be working for somebody else, under someone else's rules and
having less flexibility around what you can actually do,' said Daley.
If you're considering a career in personal training, or learning more
about fitness for your own health journey, then come along to the TAFE
NSW Northern Beaches' Fitness, Sport and Outdoor Recreation day on
Saturday 24 June.
Here you'll be able to talk to teachers like Liam Daley about your
study and career options, check out the facilities, participate in
workshops (like strength and conditioning), and listen to
presentations including one by expert sports nutritionist Tamara
For more details, visit our website.
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