When you qualify as a personal trainer, you get your exam results and then you’re pretty much just set loose on the world. They tell you that you’ll be making good money QUICKLY but they don’t tell you how isolating being self employed can be. So when I took my first role as a personal trainer in a local gym, paying monthly rent more expensive than my flat - I was in for a bit of a shock. Thankfully I had a really fantastic job in a coffee shop to fall back on (shout out to Harlequin Coffee and Tea House in York, best coffee in the city) and I could cushion myself with that income as I built my client base.
Despite my best efforts I was naive and didn’t see the real value in my coaching ability. I didn’t back myself to charge enough, not did I feel confident talking to people in the gym pushing my business. I discovered that I am more extroverted than I had thought and I found working solo quite difficult. So I sought out a job with an employed position, hoping to join a team that I can learn from. I worked at that job before the pandemic, was furloughed for the longest time - but still didn’t find what I was looking for. I wasn’t strict enough with my own boundaries and of course, they were crossed. I handed in my notice about 11 months ago, stressed and unhappy with my day to day schedule.
After that I started putting in place plans for being self employed. A space came up near my home that I could rent at a good price, with a much shorter commute. I could run my business from this private gym space and I took on some classes to get involved with the CycleBeats community. The CycleBeats community is absolutely fantastic and a real joy to be part of. I maintain my stance that people who do classes are INSANE, but credit to you - you all work really fucking hard in those sessions and keep coming back for more!
Around the same time I was starting to think about handing in my notice at my old job I was also taking part in the Sam Portland mentorship, which really changed the way I see myself as a coach and the value I placed on myself and my own personal life. I learnt a lot of really valuable lessons which opened my eyes as to why I was unhappy - for that I am very, very grateful.
Fast forward a couple of months, the gyms opened back up after the January lockdown and off I went. I started off with three 1-2-1 clients and my first group of women for the semi private personal training sessions and it has steadily built from there. I have just opened up my fifth women’s training group and eight months in, I’m about where I wanted to be in terms of business growth!
I continue to learn about myself, marketing, coaching and running a business - I’m not posting this to say that I’m some kind of expert - but here are the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in the last twelve months. And I know that I was in a fairly privileged position to quit my job and go solo. But maybe there’s something here that’ll help you as well.
1. Scarcity Mindset - it always backfires.
This one caught me a few times previously and if I’m specifically talking about my role as a coach, it meant feeling like I have to take on any work that is offered to me because I’m worried that it’s all I’ll get. Even if I can’t provide the best possible service. It makes you resent the work that you’ve taken on and ultimately, means you’re not enjoying it. When you’re self-employed, that’s a pretty big problem.
*Before any clients read this and worry I resent doing their sessions or anything like that, don’t. I’ve been clear (with myself and clients) about my boundaries on working hours, locations, services etc and I’m very content with the work I’m doing.*
So the first time I turned down a client was terrifying! But it immediately removed the stress surrounding that client, the service I was able to provide and removed any resentment I may have had about working late or early, working outdoors or at someone’s home etc. Someone else will be able to cater for their needs and I’ll find other potential clients in good time. There are MILLIONS of people out there.
That also brings me to the less pleasant side of a scarcity mindset within my industry - and that is that every other coach is COMPETITION and they’re out to steal your clients. Each coach brings something different to the table (or the good ones will anyway) and ultimately, if a client wants to change gyms or trainers - they’re well within their rights to. You don’t OWN a client or their custom and if they’ve left you to go elsewhere then you simply weren’t catering to their needs effectively.
So switch yourself from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance. There are plenty of potential clients or customers out there. You’ve just got to keep turning up for yourself and looking after your current clients.
2. Charge enough money for the service you’re providing.
It’s all too common in my industry for coaches to work 7am-10pm every day doing classes, 1-2-1 sessions and admin. Lots of personal trainers don’t last more than two years - often because they’ve worked themselves to pure exhaustion and they burn out, or fall out of love with coaching. And fine, short term perhaps those hours might be manageable but where do you find the time for family, friends or yourself? The short answer is that you don’t. Further to this, if you’re having to work those hours to make ends meet - you’re not charging enough for your time.
I learnt to put real value to the time I spend with my clients, time spent planning their sessions, time spent programming, time spent doing CPD and further learning, time spent doing all my admin. And the same goes for anyone who’s self-employed. Obviously you can’t just inflate your prices to 10x the average but if you think your time (with all other factors considered) is worth more than £10 an hour, charge more!
This has also influenced the way I view other people’s businesses and time. Previously I didn’t spend money on haircuts because I thought they were just too expensive - but now I appreciate the time spent and skills learnt by my hairdresser so I’m happy to spend £40 on an hour at the salon! If you provide a good service, people will respect your prices and you’ll get greater buy in too.
3. Nobody cares if you’re ‘grinding 24/7’.
In fact, if you’re bragging about being at work 24/7 you’re either exaggerating or I’m concerned for your welfare. Yes you need to work hard when you have your own business - but downtime is important too. I’d much rather hear about the interesting shit you did at the weekend than how you’re up at stupid oclock every morning and not home till super late. It’s unsustainable and unrealistic to expect to work ridiculous hours and not burn out eventually. So set yourself some boundaries for your time. And if you’re employed by someone else, set some boundaries on when it’s appropriate to be contacted outside of your working hours. It’s a wider societal issue and perhaps one of the very few positives that came out of the pandemic. People realised that life is more than just work.
This is also why I don’t offer 24/7 support on my online or in person coaching. I don’t want to reply to texts at 1am from clients - nor do I want clients to think I don’t care if I’m not replying at that time. So I make sure I manage expectations effectively and people respect my time outside of sessions.
I’ve really loved the first few months of Ruth Ellen Coaching and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for my little business. I don’t currently have any specific plans in mind but I’m ready to keep learning, growing and helping others towards their own goals. I know that the lessons I’ve learnt (through a lot of my own mistakes) will probably be the most valuable ones I’ll learn during my career. Wherever it may take me!
I wonder if any of these have resonated with you or if there’s anyone you know who might benefit from reading these. Please share any other lessons you’ve learnt during your career (old or new) with me on social media!
As always, thanks for reading. Have a fab evening and if you finished work at five but you’re still looking at emails - TURN YOUR NOTIFICATIONS OFF! You can check them tomorrow morning when you’re back in. Value your personal time. You’re welcome!