An Instagram account with “fitness” somewhere in the handle, a few solid gym selifes, and “online trainer” in the bio and you’ve gotten yourself an online coaching business destined to bring in serious cash and set you up for the gym rat’s dream life- a few emails, endless time to yourself for workouts, and social media popularity, right?! Wrong…so very wrong. As online training has gained enormous popularity in the last 8-10 years, the idea that becoming an online coach fills nearly everyone that steps into the gym. The reality is, now more than ever; becoming an established coach in an already saturated market is going to be anything but easy. The bright side is, if you’re willing to take the necessary steps, it can be done.
Below are the harsh realities that any aspiring online coach should come to grips with if deciding to pursue is as a career. It’s not for everyone, but for the coaches and trainers that are willing to do it right; it can be one of the most rewarding ventures, both personally and for some- financially, in the fitness industry.
1. NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOU….at first
The industry is full of coaches, legit and phony, all posting content and pictures constantly in order to establish a foothold in the industry. Starting out, nobody is going to care about what you post. This isn’t because you don’t matter (at the least, your mom knows your special), but because of the sheer volume of information floating around the Internet every day. This can be discouraging for any new coach, how can these people NOT take notice of the hard work and quality content you’ve created?!
The thing is, every well-known coach once had nobody care about his or her services and opinion. Another commonality among the present day successes is that they never once let the early struggles stop them. They each remained confident in their strategies and knowledge, and continued producing consistent, quality, captivating content. Eventually, between the content they provided, and the results they helped clients achieve- people had no choice but to take notice.
The same attitude that applied to them, applies to you now. Just because Coach X has 100,000+ social media followers and constant new client inquiries doesn’t mean it started out that way. It’s your choice to let the start-up phase stop you and your ego in its tracks, or remind you of all the hard work the pioneers in online coaching also faced. Be consistent with your efforts, even when it seems pointless, and watch your coaching business progressively grow.
2. The Work is NEVER Over
More often than not, aspiring coaches approach their business by earning a certification or two, then focusing only on adding new clients and increasing monthly income. In reality, gaining and consulting new clients is only a portion of the workload required for a successful online coach.
Other professional fields may require very little continuing education efforts. You learn the trade and basic processes and then repeat over and over until you retire. This couldn’t be farther form the truth in the fitness industry, especially when working directly with clients. The science of exercise and nutrition is constantly evolving. New research emerges, competitive organizations undergo changes, marketing and outreach efforts remain non-stop- once you’re finished with client check-ins for the day, doesn’t mean you’re finished working for the day; far from it actually.
To be a truly successful coach, it’s imperative that you maintain a continual focus on learning how to continue improving your knowledge of diet, exercise physiology, recovery techniques, and the various processes and adaptions of the body in order to be the best possible resource you can be for your client base.
If you aren’t one to spend hours in the books studying, putting yourself out there to gain exposure for your services, and stay up to date on the multiple organizations your competitive athletes compete in, prepare for your coaching career to be short-lived. If that does sounds like your style, then you’re well on your way to surpassing many online coaching services in the industry, and being capable of making substantial changes in your clients’ lives.
A few great options for continuing education as an online coach are:
- Science based podcasts by credible coaches and sources in the industry such as Physique Science Radio
- Certifications and the accompanying education through organizations including the NSCA, ISSN, and NASM
- Emerging Research Studies through sites like PubMed or directly from organization publications (i. e The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Strength and Conditioning Journal, Journal of Nutrition)
- Annual Conferences like BioLayne VIP Camps or The Physique Summit
3. Forget Clocking Out
To go along with #2, by being an online coach, you accept the fact that you’re always going to be “on the clock.” Too many aspiring trainers and coaches have the idea that they can simply create a training program or diet- send it to the client, and be completely hands off until the next week’s check in. Worse yet, a lot of coaches surprisingly don’t even consistently hold check-ins with their clients.
To be truly successful as an online coach, being on the clock is essential. Clients are going to be excited to get started with the new programming, they’re going to have questions, and they’re going to have life issues pop up that they’ll need you to help adjust the programming and help talk them through. Any successful online coach will attest to the countless late night, early morning and weekend emails completely unassociated with check-ins. If you’re going to coach full time, be ready to respond to an ongoing stream of emails prompt and often- not just when you feel like getting around to it.
Athletes are paying hard earned money to receive help in performing and looking their absolute best. Not to mention for anyone working with general population athletes, it’s not just about looking good, but also about their very health and wellbeing. If you’re not a fan on constant emails every day of the week, coaching isn’t for you.
4. Be You Own Boss, Pay Your Own Taxes… and Insurance… and Expenses
Being your own boss is great… set your own hours, see direct results from your efforts, operate the business based on your vision- but don’t fool yourself by thinking it’s all rainbows and no rain.
Owning an online training and coaching business is just like owning any other personal business, it comes with a price. By paving your own path, you take on the responsibility of paying your own taxes, covering your own health insurance, covering insurance for the business, in addition to also setting up your own savings and retirement plans without the help of what many businesses offer their employees.
Generally, salaries given by employers will be handed out after already having had federal taxes, Medicare, and social security taxes withheld- leaving employees with far less to worry about come tax time. As a business owner yourself, that responsibility falls on you, and those taxes must be paid from your gross profit (profit before expenses, taxes, cost of goods sold) each year. In addition, as the current health insurance plan stands, paying for personal health insurance generally costs quite a bit more than if it were covered by a large company.
Some will read this and wonder why in the hell anyone in their right mind would take on that extra stress without any concrete knowledge of the final profit in the early years of the new business? Well for one, you’re exactly right- there’s no set figures. To the entrepreneur, that’s not scary- that’s empowering! In exchange for extra financial responsibilities, you have a nearly unlimited growth potential as you develop your business. You decide the amount of growth the businesses sees through your efforts only, not the kindness of an employer’s heart (often lack thereof), not the downsizing status of corporate- only your effort and sweat equity.
In the early years this may mean that you have to find additional streams of income to compensate for the increased business expenses and to support your relatively small client base. It may mean working even longer hours than you would in a normal 9-5 corporate gig (okay, it DOES mean you’ll work longer hours). It also means you might just have to put off that new house or car you’ve been eyeing in order to ensure the business remains profitable and has the opportunity to grow.
By becoming your own boss, you have to be willing to take care of the admin work bosses do. The reward, financial and otherwise, comes at a cost, but with the right strategy and a bit extra planning; it will allow you to achieve a level of freedom that few people ever get to experience.
5. Their Health is in Your Hands
It seems like a cushy job on social media. Train as long as you want each day, respond to a few emails, create a few generic programs, and viola- the job is done without ever breaking a sweat outside of the gym. That mindset is the illness that has infected too much of this industry already.
In actuality, the health of each and every one of your trusting clients is very much in your hands as their coach. As your coaching business develops, clients will grow to believe in you and trust your programming. To them, they can relax and not fact-check everything you say, because they trust your judgment and intentions. To take that trust any less than very seriously isn’t just unappreciative, it’s unethical. Every diet change, every training cycle, every recommendation on food choices and how to mentally approach dieting can accumulate to create lasting effects on both physical and mental health.
We’ve all seen and worked with clients whom have had previous coaches completely wreck their hormones and metabolisms through haphazard dieting practices, cause injuries from carelessly constructed training programs, and leave nothing short of mental scars by providing false information and fear mongering the restriction and elimination of foods of even entire food groups.
By becoming an online coach, you take on the responsibility of directly affecting the health and progress of every client you work with. There’s no short of people offering programming, but an extreme drought of coaches that truly care about the clients they consult. Make sure that you’re approaching this business with the mindset of making responsible, healthy differences in each person you work with…if you aren’t, don’t quit your day job- leave coaching to the professionals.
Real Recognize Real
A lot of fitness enthusiasts get into coaching to make a quick buck, many jump right in without realizing just how much the job involves, others have amazing potential only to quickly fade into the background after not being willing to put in the long hours required to build a successful business. All of these people neglect to recognize and prepare for the realizations that must be made before beginning the journey. For a select few though, they take the time to build their knowledge base, work out the logistics to make the start-up phase realistically work, and embrace all of the effort and attention to detail this trade entails.
Those few grow to become the very coaches this industry needs to continue counteracting and eliminating the seemingly endless fear mongering and blatant disregard for wellbeing that fills the fitness industry. The coaches that grow an honest business, help athletes reach their potential, improve the health of general populations, and create a darn good living doing it.