Comparison of working as an employed personal trainer versus an independent personal trainer

Comparison of Independent Personal Training vs. Employed Personal Training

Independent or employed?

One of the most important decisions a personal trainer has to make is whether or not to be an independent (self-employed) or employed personal trainer.

Both options have their own set of pros and cons.

Independent trainers are generally self-employed meaning that they have higher liability and are wholly responsible for their success (or failure).

Employed trainers work for a gym or studio and have less liability, however their success can be dependent on that of the gym or studio.

Before jumping the gun and making a quick decision as to what course you might want to take your personal training business, we advise you to read on to get a more holistic view of the pros and cons of independent and employed personal training.

Benefits of Independent Personal Training

Independent personal trainers have significantly more responsibility in their businesses.

However, with the increased amount of responsibility, independent trainers may receive many benefits such as:

  • Determine their own schedule.
  • Determine their own pay-scale. (Time to give myself a raise)
  • Generally make significantly more money per session.
  • Decide who to work with.
  • Ability to take time off or have flexible schedule.
  • Can work with a specific time of clientele (specialized or niche).
  • Scale business much more effectively than employed training.
  • Freedom in program design and exercise routines.

Negative Aspects of Independent Personal Training

The aforementioned benefits don’t come without a serious cost.

Independent personal trainers should see themselves as small business owners, and therefore have many more variables they have to consider and roadblocks they must overcome, such as:

  • Responsible for all client acquisition, customer service, and marketing.
  • Responsible for accounting, filing taxes, etc.
  • Injuries or accidents can put them out of business.
  • Usually required to pay rent to a gym facility or portion of proceeds from training sessions.
  • No mentor/manager to provide guidance.
  • No client or deal flow from facility.
  • Must provide own benefits (such as health insurance).
  • Must hold professional and general liability insurance.

It can’t really be understated how much more responsibility you will have if you wish to run a successful independent personal training business.

Keep in mind, however, that independent personal trainers can charge whatever they please (as long as someone is willing to pay for it) and keep the entire cut of their charge.

Employed personal trainers tend to have much less stress and get to spend more time actually training clients rather than doing client acquisition, communication, and marketing.

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Benefits of Employed Personal Training

While working as an employed personal trainer you may find that your sole job is relegated to training, and training only.

Depending on the gym or studio you are employed by, your role could be a hybrid of sales and training or just training.

These are the largest benefits for employed personal trainers:

  • Employer responsible for general and professional liability insurance (would be beneficial to hold your own as well).
  • Taxes taken out of check (versus filing every quarter or year).
  • Receive client flow from gym or studio.
  • Gym or studio handles administrative tasks (billing, customer service, etc.).
  • Gym or studio handles business development tasks (marketing, client acquisition, partnerships, etc.).
  • No rent or training fees. (Also generally a free membership)
  • Easy to market to gym member base.
  • Easier to start and grow.
  • Network with potential future clients & build rapport if going independent in the future.

Negative Aspects of Employed Personal Training

As an employed personal trainer there will be various glass ceilings or limitations placed on your ability to conduct business.

Again, highly dependent on the gym or studio that employs you, your role in the gym may be limited to part time positions and/or may pay a lower hourly rate altogether.

Employed personal trainers are generally at the control of their manager/facility owners and may be required to employ certain protocol or training regiments.

Lack of freedom in personal training programming may not always be the best experience for your client.

These are some of the other negative aspects of working as an employed personal trainer:

  • Receive payment for work only at payroll dates. (Independent can collect and keep cash upfront.
  • Gym or studio dependent: Must adhere to scheduled hours.
  • Gym or studio dependent: Must acquire own clients and work around their schedules.
  • Building business of employer, not your own brand.
  • Session length limited by employer (30 mins to 1 hour generally).
  • May be required to fulfill duties outside of personal training (janitorial, administrative, etc.)
  • Bureaucracy. You are the bottom of the totem pole.
  • Specific uniforms may or may not be required.

Generally speaking, most personal trainers will start their personal training careers as employed personal trainers.

Starting off employed allows you to learn and make mistakes at the expense of your employer.

This does not mean you SHOULD make mistakes because you are employed but rather you WILL make mistakes such as losing clients (and sales) or learn the ins and outs of the industry while retaining a stable source of income.

As a newly certified trainer we would advise to start by seeking employment.

Your best bet at getting a job as an employed personal trainer with no previous experience is at a national commercial gym such as 24 Hour Fitness, LA Fitness, Lifetime, and others.

While it is possible to make a fantastic living as an employed personal trainer, we see a trend that more established and veteran trainers eventually go on to be independent trainers or open their own studio or gym.

The benefits of being able to scale your pay rate, and in the case of opening a gym or studio, scaling the amount of client paying your by hiring other trainers can far outweigh creature comforts you have as an employed personal trainer.

At the end of the day you should be able to reflect back on your personal training business and determine whether the current structure or environment is able to support you dream or vision for the business in the future.

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Are you a personal trainer? If so, are you independent or employed? Comment below.