With the growing number of personal trainersand gym facilities, establishing your services as superior and more unique than your competitors' is a vital need. This is especially true for the single trainer and small training facility businesses. It is no longer enough to just say you are the best trainer in your area. Your potential customer is judging you on your equipment, hours of operation, location, services, staff experience, pricing and so on.

    Simply providing a one-on-one training session or a spin class may not be enough these days. Consumers are shopping smarter and want to know more and more about why you are superior to the other place down the street, especially if all other factors are close. What are they getting? After the fitness assessment, are they just told they are in good shape or bad shape, or do they get clear, detailed reports on the areas they need to work on? Do you only discuss generalized fitness goals?

    Goals should be achievable and measurable by time and numbers and should provide the specific means to reach them. Are customers provided with clear exercise instruction and parameters? Are nutritional needs analyzed and provided in reports? Are clients provided with concise receipts and payment histories?

    And it doesn't just stop at what the client sees. Personal training is also a business, and the reality is that if you don't run it like one, chances are you will likely not be maximizing your profits. Do you keep track of payment fees on scratch paper, hoping to not miss when a client owes you money? If things get busy, how do you remember when a client's attendance slows down or drops off entirely? How do you ensure client retention? How do you market?

    Positioning your training services at the top of the list and running your business correctly so you can remain in business should be two of your primary goals. Choosing the right personal training software can be a major tool to obtaining these goals.


    The First Step: Assess Your Software Requirements
    There are many software programs on the market for the personal trainer. With so many choices, the task of finding the right one can, at first, be daunting, confusing and intimidating — it doesn't have to be. Making a simple list of your needs will simplify the job in the long run. Some programs may not have the features you need, some may have more than you need, and this in itself can narrow down your choices.
    First, are you a large, multi-trainer facility with thousands of clients and hundreds of trainers, a small gym with two to five trainers or a one-person operation? It may help to keep a footnote here on how you see your anticipated or desired future growth as well and try to buy into a program that will not outgrow your future needs or find one that will grow with your needs (more on that later).
    Some software companies' programs cater to the large corporate structures, while others may tend to make programs for the small business. And the pricing usually reflects that scope. Obviously, maintaining software to handle large multi-location fitness chains with thousands of clients requires more staff (meaning salaries), infrastructure, software support personnel, etc., and as such, the software price will reflect that need with higher pricing structures.
    This, of course, brings up the second item, which is the budget and amount of investment. How much can you afford without jeopardizing your assets and business capital? A small, single-owner operation or two- to five-trainer business will likely not be buying the $10,000 platform with $500/month support fees. The good news is, just because it costs $10,000 doesn't necessarily mean it is better than the $500 product (for the reasons mentioned above). A company that caters to smaller facilities has overall less overhead, and they can offer a good quality product for less.
    Third, make a list of the services you provide or may want to provide in the future. Do you want to provide fitness assessment reports? Do you want or can you afford expensive, complex testing computer-linked equipment, or will you go with low-tech?
    For instance, VO2 with a box step test is low-tech, and a computer-linked bicycle ergonometric system is high-tech. Do you want to be able to create and track goals? Do you want to provide exercise or informational handouts and facility forms? Do you want to provide nutrition consults? How detailed do you want them to be? Do you simply want guidelines for calorie requirements with some basic meal plans, or do you want to provide a full diet analysis with a host of meal plans?
    Fourth is billing, scheduling and retention. Do you need to schedule on a computer, or will a simple notebook work? A one- or two-person operation doing only one-on-one sessions may be able to get by just fine with a paper schedule, but a facility with three or more trainers offering multiple services, such as group classes, may be better with a computer schedule program. What about billing?
    Again, a small operation might be just fine with a paper ledger system, while larger facilities will require proper tracking and payment management. And one thing to consider is that the personal training business, while it does have a considerable population, it is still a "niche" population to most software companies. What this means in terms of finance software such as payroll taxes and accounting is that you may find better solutions in the one or two major finance software products available at your local retail outlet. For retention and marketing, will it track client attendance, perform mail-outs or email blasts?
    The Second Step: Assess the Software Choices and the Companies
    With the list you just made, you can now narrow your choices down to two or maybe three options. You should be able to obtain a fully working demo or trial version of each of the programs. This is crucial. It is important to make sure the program you buy will meet your needs, both in features and in ease of use. A demo may be limited in some manner; printing or time date expiration are both common methods.
    First, load them up, and try each program one at a time. Keep notes on your likes and dislikes and ease of use and intuitiveness. Take your time! Business software will be with you every day, and the demo is free. You need to be secure in your choice. If it is hard or frustrating to use, you will loathe it, or you will just stop using it. Either is bad, as most software is not returnable. And typically, transferring data from one manufacturer's program to another is not possible.
    Second, look for things like customizing it to your needs. Does it have a manual, tutorial or other training available? Is the software limited in its scope? In other words, will it handle fitness assessment but not nutrition, or is it in all-in-one program that has more than you want? Can the program be expanded as you grow? For instance, can you start with fitness assessments and add nutrition later? Not all software companies offer total solutions, meaning that you have to buy different programs from different companies. In the long run, this can waste your time by having to re-enter the same client information over and over again as well as having data that does not link or reports that are not consistent.
    Third, how much does it cost, and what is the cost based on, such as number of computers, networking, number of clients or trainers? Are there annual fees? Are upgrades created periodically, and how much do they cost? Is technical support included, or does it cost extra? Does the billing system have a way of limiting sensitive financial information to specific users? If you have read the manual and watched the training tutorials and still have questions, do not hesitate to call the company and ask questions.
    Fourth, check out the company. Go to the company's website, and see if they offer common technical problem solutions on their website. Call them. Are they friendly, helpful and professional? You may be working with them for many years to come, so it helps if you get a good feeling about them. How long have they been around? Granted, even a company that has been around for 10 years can't guarantee they will be around in another 10, but it's a better chance than one that just opened its doors yesterday.
    Fifth, compare your results, and buy your winner.
    The right personal training software streamlines services and improves your odds to make it in the business of personal training. Finding the right program for you doesn't have to be impossible. Just assess your needs, narrow down your choices, and examine the programs.
    Douglas Feick is the President of BioEx Systems Inc. He has been a licensed physical therapist since 1994 and certified personal trainer since 1998, and he specializes in orthopedics and wellness programs. He began BioEx Systems in 1996 primarily to provide affordable and easy-to-use software for both the physical therapy and personal training professions. Visit www.bioexsystems.com for more information.