It’s been 18 months since I qualified as a fitness instructor. It was a complete career overhaul and one I know lots of people consider when they really get into fitness as a hobby. That jump from passion to profession was as scary as it was exhilarating, and I’ve decided to share my journey so you can learn a thing or two if you’re planning on making a similar career change.
Here are the hard bits. And the amazing bits. And the bits where you have to pinch yourself when you realise you’re getting paid to do what you love. And finally, the bits which make you want to cry and give up.
Let’s start with paying for studio rental and no one turning up (so, yep, basically paying to work and for other people to exercise). It’s pretty disheartening. It will happen though. Some people I know cancel a class if there’s less than a certain number, but I’ve never ever done this. If I’ve got one person booked into a 10 person studio, I put my game face on and I give them an absolutely brilliant experience, because they deserve it, and they will hopefully come back next week with a friend in tow. It’s been a sometimes scary but definitely good strategy for building an engaged and loyal community.
Do check in with your classes regularly though to make sure they’re worth your time, effort and expertise (which you MUST value!). If you’re running at a loss, but genuinely don’t mind, and you’re enjoying it, then that’s not a problem. But if you’re running at a loss and struggling to pay your rent, then you’ve got to be sensible. Renting a space to run your own classes is a calculated risk.
To reduce this risk, I do a little audit on every class I run, every 12 weeks – average out what my hourly pay has been for that period and if it’s not enough, I change something (time of the class/location/type of class) or I cancel it all together. It’s worked pretty well so far. The method of trying something, learning, evaluating, and continue that cycle.
Profit isn’t everything to everyone, so make sure you know what your purpose is. If it’s to make profit only, then I’m not sure going into a job like this – where you have to offer up so much physically – is the way to go. But it’s also not shameful to want to make a profit. Conversely, it’s not shameful to want to make people happy, over a profit. All you’ve got to do is decide what makes YOU feel right about how – and why – you work. Keep true to that. Try not to get swayed by someone else’s vision for you or dream for themselves.
For me? My goal was to make as much money per month from my own business, as I make from my 30 hour/wk office job. I have myself two years to achieve this. I’m almost doing that now, and July 2018 was my best month yet in terms of profit. I’m bloody proud of myself that I’m on track to hit my goal…. now if I can only stop myself spending my profits on new fitness kit and leggings, I should hit target!
This has been a tricky one for me for two reasons – firstly, I am a proper grafter. And when you are doing something you love, spending a couple of hours planning classes in the evening won’t feel like work. But it’s so important to switch off and stop thinking about work.
Planning your week on a Sunday afternoon helps with this, like, LOADS. It means you’re not panicking about the next class or client, and you’re able to switch off and fully immerse yourself in non-work activities. I have a little list up in our spare room with the day, class and kit I need every day that week, so I can have 5 extra minutes in bed and know I’m prepared for each day.
I guess my advice here would be – be prepared to graft hard, because laziness isn’t going to get you to where you want to be. There is no “quick route” to success, and even if you achieve it, you have to work to maintain it. But… try not to become so obsessed that you let your own health, relationships and other responsibilities flounder. I’ve managed to get a handle on this finally – it’s been HARD! I have had some frank chats with my partner who can gently let me know when I’m becoming too obsessive and need a break from work.
And I’ve steadied my workload by building up slowly. I started with one class, and now sometimes teach 10 a week. That’s my absolute limit. And I know 7 is about the comfortable number for me, so I can still have a social life, rest, meals and exercise regime. I’ve been careful to under-promise and over-deliver when taking on new classes, so I can keep myself sane and healthy.
You’ll deal with all sorts of people. Be prepared with some regression and progression exercise options for people who need an easier or more challenging workout to what you were planning. Don’t be afraid to take guidance from people who are working around injuries on what works for them, either. They’ll often have experience on what to do, so work with them. A quick chat before class usually makes you aware and them feel secure.
I hate to say this but, someone at some point in one of your classes will challenge you and tell you you’re doing things wrong in front of everyone. There’s nothing quite like that experience of public humiliation! It’s important not to react defensively in the moment if you can help it. Take it on the chin and brush it off. Don’t take it home with you. You’ve got to remember that you’re putting yourself, your passion and your creativity out in front of the public. It says more about that person that they’re spending their time trying to bring someone down, rather than being brave and putting themselves up for potential public criticism. You get to choose how you react.
Oh and yes, someone WILL fart in class at some point. They’ll either do loudly or in a way which makes you consider evacuating everyone from the building. Completely ignore it if you can. It’s just the human body being it’s gloriously inappropriate self, and that person will be dying inside so be kind to them by staying silent!
Marketing can be hard for a LOT of reasons! Knowing where to start is a hard one, and finding your brand voice is also tough when you’re looking at others around you and almost adapting your style to mimic them, because you feel like they’re doing it “right”.
Couple of things here. It’s not easy, and YOU MUST prepare to be your own champion. It might feel uncomfortable to toot your own horn, but you can do so with humour and authenticity. Don’t worry about friends and family getting sick of it – they can always politely mute or unfollow you, and you’ll never know :)
Be creative and consistent with your content, and remember things like making someone feel amazing in class (so they bring their friends next week!) is probably more powerful marketing than sinking £100 on facebook advertising. I feel positively itchy with discomfort sometimes as I post my millionth advert for a class across my social media. But I use original content each time, and I know no one else is going to do it for me, so it’s my job to get it out there and hold my head high with it, if I want potential clients to know about what I’m doing.
Finding your brand voice will come. I can only stress authenticity here. Don’t get swayed by what those around you are doing – people will be looking at you too! Create who you want to be regarded as and recognised for. Get your head down and just keep at it, as often as you can.
Also – if you try not to see those around you as competitors, you will put all of your efforts into building up your brand rather than copying, being influenced by, or trying to tear down others. You do you, betch.
Just remember to bang your damn drum – loudly and consistently – and those who speak the same rhythm will find you. It usually takes ages to get traction but then happens quite quickly. That’s because you stayed focused on that tipping point, and carried on pushing when others would have thrown in the towel.
Oh and final thing on marketing (I could write a whole post on this alone!) be careful of this trap: amazing marketing but light-on-content class. Make sure you’re practicing those moves and creating a great class playlist if you’re going to get all fancy with your marketing! You will improve in your teaching style and also how you market yourself ad time goes on, but it never hurts to make sure both have been given your heart and soul because these things shine through any nerves or lack-of-experience. Experience just enhances a great attitude and plenty of hard work, in my humble opinion.
YOU CAN DO IT!
I’ve got about a million other things I could say in this post and I might write a second, because I didn’t even cover issues like continued learning (DO IT!! Books, articles, courses), safety (a first-aid course really does come in handy and you will use it), what to invest in (your kit and your own health – including insurance, and a trainer/masseuse), how to manage your finances (apps, admin and accounts) and maintaining clients (don’t guilt them, it’s not nice – if they leave, that’s normal and OK!). Let me know if this would be helpful and I can write another article!
HUGE LUCK to you if you’re about to embark on this journey! I offer fitness business consultancy too, so if you’d like some tailored assistance, have a look at my “Work with Me” page, get in touch, and let’s discuss your needs.