Invest in Your People and Watch Your Business Thrive

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc., has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 20 years and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, the 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, and the 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year. Her million-dollar training studios in Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA, have received Better Business Bureau Business of the Year recognition. McMillan is a fitness trainer, a fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals (including “Go For Fit—The Winning Way to Fat Loss,” “Fit over Forty” and “The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing”), a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, an international fitness presenter, and a spokesperson for Nike, Nautilus, Twist Conditioning and PowerBar.She can be reached at or

Regardless of the industry, the most important asset that business owners have is their people. And this is especially true in the health club industry where the strength of a personal training department is directly related to the skills and expertise of the trainers. So if you want to grow your personal training business or department, you must invest in your team.

These initiatives demonstrate to your trainers that you value and appreciate them:

1. Continuing education. When trainers stop learning and growing, they start looking elsewhere for opportunities. To ensure your trainers remain mentally stimulated, subscribe to various trade journals for trainers, such as CanFitPro and IDEA, or to website resources, such as Purchase videotapes, audiotapes, DVDs, CDs and books so your trainers have numerous resource tools. Set aside an educational allowance so trainers can attend conferences. We give our trainers $200 a year for continuing education. We view the expenditure as an investment in them and in our company. In addition, they have access to more than $2,000 worth of continuing education courses free of charge through events that we host in our area.

2. Team meetings and outings. Many personal trainers don’t feel a strong connection with the other trainers at their club because of competition, feelings of resentment and hierarchical struggles. To create a unified entity, take the time to foster friendships among your team members. Host monthly team meetings and make attendance mandatory. We pay our trainers minimum wage for meetings so it’s legal to make them mandatory, and we provide food and refreshments. Allow time in the meeting schedule for social interaction. We also regularly host team outings, such as hiking, indoor rock-climbing and snowshoeing, or parties where we get to know each other. We have created an environment where trainers contemplating going elsewhere would not only be leaving a job but a number of great friendships as well.

3. Healthy compensation package. This is always a challenging topic because as a personal training manager or business owner you need to balance the desire to pay your trainers well so that they stay with you, but not sacrifice your business. So what should you pay them? A lot depends on how you operate your business. The general rule of thumb is that if you provide a lot for your team and absorb a lot of the overhead costs (marketing materials, constant influx of clients, equipment, uniforms, guaranteed shifts, etc.), then your trainers are employees and you can expect to take a larger cut of the personal training fee. You don’t want to pay your trainers too little or you risk losing them, but keep in mind that you need to present the entire compensation package to your trainers. The training wage at our business is often lower than at other businesses, but when you look at the entire package, we take better care of our team. Here’s what our package includes:

  • Training wage: $17-$25 per hour
  • Administrative wage: $8-$10 per hour (Our trainers work on shifts so that even if they don’t have clients, they can still count on a certain amount of income. This gives our trainers some stability to their income.)
  • Meeting wage: $8 per hour (This is minimum wage in Washington state.)
  • Health allowance: Up to $200 per month
  • Educational allowance: $200 per year
  • Complimentary attendance at all our in-house continuing education events (value = $2,000 per year)
  • Complimentary group personal training membership to themselves ($1,200 value)
  • We provide everything they’ll need to perform their job well: workout and office space, workout and office equipment, marketing materials, client forms, etc.
  • Thirty percent discount on all training services and products for themselves and their family
  • Eligibility for various performance bonuses equating to about $400 per month

Review the IDEA or International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association personal training compensation surveys to see how your trainer wages match with other clubs. You can also benchmark against what other businesses pay in your community to ensure your wages are fair and competitive.

We have graduated many of our veteran trainers into a salary package, which provides financial security and stability for our team.

4. Clear expectations. Managers often express disappointment that their trainers are not meeting expectations, but trainers often say that they are not clear about what is expected of them. You must share with your trainers a comprehensive agreement that clearly outlines your expectations so your trainers know how to meet and exceed your expectations. To take this a step further, a monthly evaluation system that includes practical on-floor reviews, video analysis, role playing, administrative reviews and informal meetings allows managers to tell trainers where they are performing exceptionally well and where they could improve. This continual process will help trainers grow and develop throughout the year instead of just waiting for the year-end performance review.

5. Incentives and recognition. Our team receives monthly bonuses if they hit their individual revenue goals, if the personal training department hits its revenue goals, if the entire company hits its revenue goals and if we hit our client retention goals (up to $400 per month in additional bonuses). We also arrange team challenges for additional perks. For example, if we hit xyz goal, we’re all going to dinner on a yacht or we’ll go skiing. We also make it a point to purchase small gifts, gift certificates or take a deserving trainer out to lunch when he or she has exceeded our expectations. Praise and recognition—immediate and warranted—also goes a long way in fostering a wonderful work environment. We regularly write thank-you notes, letters or recognize trainers at team meetings. We also post all letters and notes that we receive from clients in a scrapbook that we proudly display in our front reception area. In contrast, if a trainer has disappointed us in some manner, we inform them immediately of our thoughts. These open lines of communication and the fact that our trainers know that we love them, care for them and want only the best for them allows us to reprimand them with kindness and without judgment.

6. Personal trainer survey and manager’s evaluation. My managers and I evaluate our staff so much throughout the year that it seems only fair that they get to evaluate us. Once a year, we distribute a form on which they candidly remark about our managing and leadership skills, our ability to motivate them to perform, how we communicate with them, our professionalism, and our organizational, business and time management skills. This tool has helped us to become much better managers. In addition, we request their feedback and ideas before we start budgeting, forecasting and planning for the upcoming fiscal year. We survey them about what equipment we should budget for, what types of programs we should implement, which new systems would work best, which lectures we should offer, and how we should market and advertise our program. Before we make any major changes, we get our staff’s feedback. This feedback has saved us from making costly mistakes and has contributed to the success of all of our programs.

If you implement some or all of the above systems, you’ll find that you’ll create an environment that enables your training team to perform at their very best. And when each person on your team excels, your business will grow to heights you never thought possible.

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