Aug. 22 2022

How to define and demand your value as a personal trainer


Let’s start with a little-known sales secret: all value is perceived value. While one prospective client may value a complimentary session, another may prefer to purchase your paid trial that includes body composition testing. Would you say there is a greater perceived value if you charged a $99 registration fee that includes a free Fit Bit and gym bag, or simply charging no registration fee at all? The answer will almost always be, it depends.

You may already know that most personal trainers will set their session rates and packages based on their local competitors. Maybe they will create some version of a “market map” and determine that they want to come in just above the average. Secret number two, can you guess how your competitors set their prices in the first place? They just made it up — just pulled something out of the air based some preconceived idea of what value is to them. Maybe it was inspired by a previous employer’s rate or perhaps some fictitious belief on a fair margin that simply feels right. So, your next question should be, “If I don’t base my rates off competitors, then what should I base it?” To best answer that, let’s look at four general buckets of a personal trainer’s professional development and elevating expertise.

The Generalist
The vast majority of personal trainers will start at this level and stay at this level. If I were to ask a generalist trainer, “Who do you feel you can best support on their fitness journey?” and they reply with some version of, “everyone” then I know that they haven’t yet quantified their own value just yet. If you can’t tell me why you are special or different than trainer Jane Doe, then your competition is everyone.

The vast majority generalist personal trainers you meet in this bucket either compete with each other by offering the lowest possible pricing (usually a $1 a minute or even lower) and/or are struggling to stay in our field for longer than only a few years.

Pro Tip: If you need help quantifying your area of expertise, go to your favorite search engine and search for “The Specific Edge Pyramid.”

The Specialist
At this level, the specialist trainer is much more focused on a narrower niche or very specific subset of training clients. Perhaps it is sport-specific training, mindfulness and meditation, post-partum jump starts, a fit-to-fight boxing class for those clients who are currently receiving chemotherapy, etc.

Specialist trainers will typically demand anywhere from 1.5x to 3x as much as their generalist peers.

The Authority
These are the personal trainers that are known across the industry as trusted experts within their specific scopes of specialization. Generally, they are your bloggers, speakers, podcast hosts, etc. They typically have many years of experience, tons of social proof and a great many lessons to share with our others.

The training authority can typically charge 3x to 5x what the generalist may charge. Additionally, they may also be supplementing their income with paid speaking roles and/or paid blogs.

Pro Tip: Please note I highlighted that the “Authority” will be a trusted expert. Not some bro on YouTube who’s promising to 50x ROI your business with this one simple trick.

The Celebrity
Almost none of us will get here. If a personal trainer does make it to this level, they are very well-known both inside and outside our industry. Think Bob Harper, Jillian Michaels, Richard Simmons, etc. Celebrity trainers have no cap on their income potential. These professionals can generate more income in a single keynote speech than the generalist could make in a year. Let me know if you figure out how to be a celebrity.

Now with that all being said, the first thing you should consider before evaluating and/or adjusting your rates is to figure out where you fall on this four-level scale of professional expertise.

If you are a generalist, start defining your value. Who is your ideal client and what is your “signature session?" Your signature session should be something that very few, or even better only you, can offer clients in your area. If you are already a specialist, start getting your name out there by offering to write for online fitness platforms and submitting speaker applications for industry podcasts, local, national, conferences, etc. You will almost certainly have to provide all of these services pro-bono in the beginning, but once other fitness professionals from around the industry start recognizing your name without having yet met you, rest assured bigger paydays are on your horizon.

So now that you have a general structure to build your session rates off of, you likely are asking, “Well, how do I ask prospective clients to pay what may be 5x more than other trainers in my area even if I am 10x better than they are?” As mentioned earlier… all value is perceived value. If you can market to me that you are the very best trainer in my area who has tons of social proof to share, written trade articles and can reference examples of when you have spoken professionally at industry conferences, then you won’t have any trouble getting me to buy into your value.

However, marketing and selling your value is a lot more complicated than simply building a resume. There are many nuances when it comes to impression formation, establishing professional rapport (not just rapport… very different things, mind you) and needless to say, the art of the “ask.” There is absolutely a book’s worth of content that simply can’t be covered in a single article.

Let me at least leave you with this: the first step of getting others to buy into your value, is for you to believe in your own value. Success isn’t a happy accident, my friends.