5 mistakes trainers will definitely make as they start their career

Mistakes are a part of the learning process, and you’re guaranteed to make them at some point. I know I have, as have many legendary coaches and trainers. What sets you apart is your ability to reflect upon what happened, reassess, and make changes in the future. 

In an effort to jump ahead of the curve, I’ve put together a few common mistakes trainers make in their early years. If you’ve made them, that’s perfectly normal.  Consider this an opportunity to grow. If you haven’t, maybe you can learn something from others that’ll guide you toward your ideal career path. Let’s dive in.

Mistake # 1- Not giving anything away for free

“Why would I give away free stuff? This is my career, and I need to get paid!”

Trust me – they’ll get their free information somewhere. By giving away free stuff, you can make sure they’re getting the right information while also building a connection. The time you give away on a consult will pay for itself when they purchase a long-term package.

After you’ve gotten their contact info (see above!), ask to set up an appointment for a completely free consultation on their schedule. Give them a taste of what a difference you can make, and show you’re not just a sleazy salesperson. Sit down with them and ask real questions. Learn their schedule, their goals, their lifestyle, injury history, and what they like and don’t like to do for exercise. Explain to them in detail how you’ll meet each and every need they have. Be direct and say “I think a 3-day-per-week semi-private group session will work best for your needs because…” They want you to make the decision for them. 

Giving away free stuff can help set you apart as the go-to trainer for something. For example, maybe you’ve positioned yourself as someone who knows all about golf. Every day you share tips for rotational power and hip mobility. You develop an e-book about mental endurance through 18 holes. You even provide a free strength seminar for golfers at the local country club. Eventually, people will understand your value and show up at your door for personal training. 

Mistake #2 – Narrowing your focus too early 

Lots of people start out wanting to work with athletes or train the stars. It’s possible, but you’ve got to spend years setting yourself apart, doing internships, and learning from the best. There are tons of other populations that want and need your expertise. Don’t count them out too early. You might end up working with them more than you think.

By zeroing in on a single population early, you’ve completely negated anyone who doesn’t fit that exact profile. Sure, you might get one or two aspiring athletes or some social media clout, but that’s still a VERY small window. 

Instead, use the start of your career to connect with a wider audience. Young athletes might want to get in better shape and need a nutrition plan. They can still come to you, as can adults searching for weight loss and improved quality of life. Remember – you’re growing a business, and it helps to train everyone at the start while developing your brand.

Mistake #3 – Never narrowing your focus at all

During your first few years, you have to train everyone to figure out your niche. But after you’ve gained some experience, you can start to specialize. 

By then, you should have a grasp around which group fits your style. Who do you most often work with? In which population can you make the biggest difference? Narrowing the focus after you have a long list of success allows you to rise above the crowd. Now, you can truly say you’re the expert in X, and you have the social and experiential proof to back it.

As a trainer, you’re selling a service in a saturated market. There comes a point where being a “Jack of all trades, master of none” offers diminishing returns. 

In order to last, you’ve got to find ways to stand out. Think about your competitors and who they’re already going to get. How can you redirect potential clients toward your services? Unless you plan to be the Wal-Mart of trainers, narrowing your focus provides a superior product for attracting your niche clientele.

Mistake # 4 – Missing opportunities to network

Never stop learning! Get out to live events and connect with other people in our field. You’re on the right track by reading this article, but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation. Pick their brain about anything from dealing with tough clients to starting a business. The day-to-day grind of training clients leaves little time for business development, but you owe it to yourself to take that time. 

Which brings me to my next point – What gym are you working at? Are you settled in to a gym that aligns with your goals? Do they regularly support your growth and provide continuing education opportunities? Or are you stuck in a gym that’s just using you as a cog in the wheel?

If all else fails, get a mentor. Conferences and other live events are great places to meet like-minded people. But it can also just be your boss, if you admire their drive and career path.

Success is a hustle and grind, but there’s always a little bit of luck and who you know involved. Outworking everyone for a long time will help you beat them, but let’s not kid ourselves and think a little networking can’t help. 

Mistake # 5 – Believing the online coaching myth

In my opinion, you shouldn’t be training people online within your first year. There’s so much nuance that goes into being physically present with a client – how they move, their temperament, what motivates them, and so much more. Plus, by truly connecting with clients in person, you build trust and social capital that will take you far down the line. 

That being said – do you know how hard it is to get people’s attention now on Facebook and Instagram? Competing in that saturated market during year one is more than an uphill battle. 

The biggest mistake I see social media trainers make is confusing likes with real relationships. Online coaching with meaningful connection is possible, but it all goes back to providing value. If and when you do migrate to virtual training, make sure you have invested fans and followers. 

Detric Smith, CSCS, ACSM EP-C, PN1