DPT-704- Business Management: Plan, Market & Sell

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Finding a Starting Point

How much money does a personal trainer (PT) have to earn in order to hit their targets?

A quick exercise:

  1. How much does the PT need to earn in one year? = (answer A)
  2. How many days per year will the PT work? = (answer B)
  3. How many sessions will the PT do per day (between 4-6 is realistic) = (answer C)

Enter the figures into the following equation:

4.   A/(BxC) = the profit required per session

Once a trainer has a target per session rate and a target number of sessions per week, it is important that they plan to achieve these.  Many of the PTs who fail to stay in the industry do so only because they have no plan.  In order to generate the required amount of clients the trainer needs to have a marketing plan.

Benefits of a plan:

  • day-by-day targets
  • seasonal differences planned in
  • recovery time planned in
  • emergency plans for tough business times
  • management of spending


When putting together a full business plan, the PT will initially need to know about their surrounding market and competition.

Successful marketing – the rules:

  • Rule 1 – what ever a PT intends to spend on marketing they need to add it to their yearly income figure (Answer A)
  • Rule 2 – high volume marketing does not necessarily mean a large prospect list in return
  • Rule 3 – the marketing has to portray the PT’s message and company values to the right people
  • Rule 4 – if the marketing is designed to increase the PT’s prospecting list then it has to feature a compelling reason to contact the trainer and instructions on how to do it
  • Rule 5 – unless the PT tracks the results of their marketing, they will not be able to find their most successful marketing medium

Market Segments:

Capitalising on the Market

Maintain price and become affordable:

In order for the PT to appeal to a large group of income levels without dropping their hourly rate they will require a number of alternative products:

  • group training
  • ½ hour training sessions
  • stretch only session
  • monthly PT lessons

How a PT uses these products to price match is discussed later.

Assessing potential competition:

In order to allow the PT to build a product they need to be able to assess their market competition.   A common tool used for this is a SWOT analysis. 

“A SWOT analysis gives a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the company together with the opportunities and threats it faces.” (Kotler, 2005)

S – Strengths

W – Weaknesses

O – Opportunities

T – Threats

Example SWOT analysis for a home-based PT:

Niche marketing:

If a company decides to focus on only one segment of the market this would be called their niche.  For example, the PT may choose to specialise in the older age group market and turn down clients that do not fit that category.  This has been highlighted as an effective way of increasing the number of clients that take an interest in the product.

 “To broaden your appeal, narrow your position.” (Beckwith, 2002)

Before the PT settles on their niche market it is important that they conduct a comprehensive review of the current market. They will need to work through the niche markets that are already catered for by their competition in order to highlight any that have been missed. 

Once the PT has identified a niche market, they must research the skills they will require to become an expert in that field. This is a key point, since the PT will need to be regarded as an expert in order to capture their niche.

Finally, it is important that once a niche is identified, the trainer builds their marketing plan around attracting those clients.

Niche market process:

  • SWOT all competition
  • identify groups that are not catered for
  • identify the skills required to become an expert in that field
  • plan marketing and promotions appropriately

Building, Testing and Pricing a Product

PTs make a common mistake of entering the market without having an idea of their product or their results.  This can make it difficult for them to grow their product list and to maximise sales.

When initially getting in to any business it is important to trial the product first and then launch it when a successful product has been formulated.  When a PT is starting out their first few months should be spent perfecting an initial product with a trial group.  Once this product is finalised then the next product should go to trial, with the initial product being delivered at full price.

Taking a product from conception to completion:

  • highlight initial niche market want
  • design a system that provides a solution to that need
  • decide how to measure the success of the product
  • recruit a trial group
  • measure the group
  • test the system
  • measure the group
  • initiate a launch campaign

Finding a niche market ‘want’ is the first important step for the PT to consider.  It will shape the first product to be designed.  For example, the PT who is aiming at middle-aged men may want to approach the weight loss market.  This would reflect the media driven pressure on middle-aged men to look lean and be healthy.

Shaping the product – example:

A solution, to the above example, could be an 18 visit programme that if followed will guarantee weight loss.  This programme will have certain rules, for example, a set time frame, nutrition and activity of daily life guidelines.  The 18 visits will be split in to three, six-week periodised programmes.  After the initial 18 visits the client will be advised to see the PT regularly and follow a non-linear program that will maintain their weight.  This could be named the PT’s ‘fat melt’ programme, which will differentiate it from future personal training programmes.

Measuring product success:

Once the PT has developed a product, then a set of measurements need to be designed in order to evaluate the success of the product.  This will need to include information on each individual programme, the delivery of the product, the success of the product and suggestions for improvement on each section.  Pictures, thoughts, apprehensions and relevant physical results should be measured and reviewed regularly.  

All this information will help the PT collect evidence about the route to the client’s goals and can be used to improve the experience of the next set of clients.  If the experience cannot be improved and it is just something the client needs to do to achieve their result then this information can be used for retention of future clients on the programme. For example, it will allow the PT to predict times when the client is at the greatest risk of leaving the programme and thereby ensure that this does not happen.

Recruiting a trial group:

Recruiting a trial group that matches the niche market you will eventually sell the product to will require some marketing.  It may be a good idea for a PT to go to a company and offer its staff the opportunity to be exclusively involved in the trial.  This may also be used as a way in to a business or a group of clients.

Developing a product portfolio: 

After a product has been proven and the trainer has a set of positive results from their trial group, then they can start to price the product, plan its launch and develop a new product.  It is important that the trainer involves the trial group in all aspects of the pricing and launch.

To get a balanced range of products, it is important for the PT to have a plan of trials that covers a number of different potential income streams toward protecting and ensuring hourly profit.  The following is an example of a year of trials:

Financial Planning for the Year

In order for the PT to develop a financial plan they need to take in to account:

  • seasonal influences
  • marketing
  • holidays
  • expenses

Yearly plan for a £30K a year home-based PT – example:

Once the trainer has a yearly plan it is important that they can break their monthly targets down in to daily targets.

For example:

January Week 3:

In order to make the model realistic, it is important for the PT to factor in the peaks and troughs of weekly demand.  This will allow the trainer to try and book in an extra client or spend less that week in order to stay on target.

Utilising Off Peak Periods

During the year the industry has peaks and troughs in business. Similarly, during the week there are also peaks and troughs in business.  It is important for the PT to plan time off around these peaks and troughs in order to minimise the financial impact of this non-earning time. According to Plummer (2003) peak months in the industry include the first two months of the year, just prior to summer holidays and the beginning of the new school year.  This pattern follows a trend of ‘need’. People ‘need’ to get fit, after the excess of Christmas and New Year, prior to their summer holidays and after their summer holidays.

Off peak times that become too quiet will require additional planning in order to reduce their effects on the business.  These times should be used to set-up the trainers business ready for the next peak period.  Tasks during this time could include accounts, marketing, mail shot work and networking with local businesses. This will all assist in building the future client base.

Selling Services Directly to Clients and the Follow Up

“ Success = sales success! Everywhere, period. We are all in sales. All of the time.” (Peters, 2003)

This statement sums up the importance of selling in today’s society. PTs will be continually required to sell. In fact, the importance of selling takes on a greater significance as the PT industry moves from an unsaturated to a saturated market where competition for clients is becoming increasingly fierce.

There are two main selling techniques – hard selling and soft selling. These techniques come from other industries and have been adopted by PTs.  

The Hard Sell 

The intent of this form of selling is to get the sales as quickly as possible.  It has its roots in volume and pressure selling. 

The hard sell process

Develop and contact the prospect list

Convert prospects to demonstrations

Demonstrate product to prospect

Tackle objections to product

Use closing techniques to complete the sale

In order to develop or find a prospect list, it is common in the fitness industry for PTs to use the new members and lapsed members list.  This is useful in getting appointments for demonstrations. 

The demonstration itself has a drive towards getting a sale on that day.  It will feature many plus points about the product and focus on unique selling points.  Throughout this process, the focus will be on how great the product is and how much the potential client needs it.

Following the demonstration the PT will ask the potential client if they are interested in purchasing a block of sessions.  At this point, the PT will be fully prepared for the list of objections that may come their way.  

The list of objections will be the reason why the potential client cannot purchase on the day or does not want to purchase at all.  Item by item the PT will work through this list in order to counter these reasons in favour of making the purchase straight away.  Often the PT will already have a long list of possible objections and a set of standard answers to answer them.

Finally, the PT will attempt to close the sale. At this point, it is usual for the PT to have a number of different options, or reasons why the client should purchase on the day.  These ‘closes’ often change monthly.  They require the PT to add value if the potential client makes the purchase there and then.  For example, the PT may say,

“We have a deal at the moment where if you sign up today, you will receive 12 sessions for the price of 10 as well as a T-shirt and a water bottle”.

From this the client is intended to feel that they have negotiated a great deal and so must sign up straight away or risk having to pay more.

The Soft Sell

The intent of this form of selling is to match the client to the exact right product to fill a want or a need.  It is based around the quality of the experience and the results of the product.  Some of the best sales people in the world have managed to sell high volumes of product using a soft selling approach.

The soft sell process

Create a desirable product

Market kudos, results and experience

Provide opportunities to experience product

Provide many options for purchase

Provide great before, after and during care!

The most important aspect of soft selling is to have a product that the person selling totally believes in.  The first stage of the soft sell process identifies this product. A salesperson may be required to find this product and then sell it; however, PTs would be required to design the product themselves.  As the PT product is a service, the delivery and content of the service, combined with the PT’s style and personality is what is for sale.

Once the product is of an acceptable standard, the kudos, experience and results that the potential client would gain from this product has use when making the sale.  This makes the performance and presence of the PT on the gym floor, combined with positive word-of-mouth, vital in getting potential clients in front of the trainer. As potential clients start to see other clients experience the product and see results the PT will start to get enquiries.  As these enquiries come in the skill for the PT will be to get these potential clients to commit to a trial of some kind. 

The trial will rely on the same principle as the ‘puppy dog sale’.  According to Ziglar (1982), the ‘puppy dog sale’ is a way of selling that relies on the experience and emotional value of the product.  This is done by allowing the potential client to get used to the experience of the product before deciding to buy it; in the hope that they will become attached to this product and feel they have to make the purchase. 

Once the potential client has experienced the personal training session and decided that they cannot live without it, the list of options available to purchase the sessions has to be extensive.  When targeting the experience as the main reason for making the sale, it is important for the PT to consider how it feels to purchase something,

“When I want to remember how to sell, I simply recall how I – and other people – like to buy.” (Johnson, 1994) 

The best feeling people tend to have from making a purchase is when they feel that they have a bargain that falls within their budget.  Having a number of options available for purchase will allow the client more chance to match their budget and time allowance with the product.  This is why it is important for the PT to have a good plan for product development.  It is here where the soft sell PT will make their deal, without having to apply the pressure required during a hard sell, and without having to compromise their price.

When the PT makes the soft sell, the work really starts after the sale. At this time, the PT is responsible for the client experiencing all of the promises made during the sale.  Whereas the hard sell focuses the PT on finding their next client from prospect lists, the soft selling PT will be working on the new client’s experience in order to get a referral.

Performing a Needs Analysis

“Questions breed sales.  Using power questions to find facts is critical to creating an atmosphere in which a sale can be made.” Gitomer (2003)

It is important for a PT to use open-ended questions in a way that will help them identify the needs of a potential client.  According to Moine (1990), direct open-ended questions will only be answered well and fully if a rapport has been established.

Building a rapport with somebody requires the PT to be interested in the potential client and to try to find an area of common ground.  

Methods of building rapport:

  • mirroring
    • posture
    • tone of voice
    • pace of speech
    • use of words
  • summarising comments
  • physically showing that you are listening with nods at the appropriate times
  • smiling
  • looking softly at the potential client

After a rapport is built, the PT needs to start asking more specific and direct open-ended questions such as:

  • what benefits are you looking to gain from personal training?
  • what other ways have you looked at in order to achieve your goal?
  • who else are you talking to about achieving this goal?
  • do you fully know what makes my personal training product unique?
  • is someone else involved in making this decision with you?
  • is their anything that prevents you from signing up today?

(adapted from Moine, 1990)

Using these questions will allow the potential client to build a case to purchase training from the PT.  It will also make the potential client feel like they are running the conversation.

Once the PT has the full picture in terms of the client’s requirements, they need to match the client to one of their products.  It is important that the PT has an idea of the client’s price range and goals, so that these can be matched to the PT’s portfolio of products.  These products should have gone through the trial stage and so should have a good set of testimonials associated with them.  As a PT develops their offering, it is likely that they will have several products that can deliver the goal.  Each of these products will take different times, have a different training focus and suit different budgets.

When the PT reaches the point of needs matching, it is vital that they have all the correct documents in their sales pack.  This is because some clients will not sign up straight away without a full demonstration and explanation of the product.  Such individuals normally rely on the slickness of the presentation and the testimonials that they see in making their decision to purchase or not.  A sales pack should contain:

  • client testimonials
  • product list
  • price list
  • contract
  • health questionnaire
  • disclaimer
  • first session information leaflet
  • appointment cards
  • business cards
  • health and safety policy
  • self/company information sheet
  • legal document check sheet 

Practical demonstrations/trials:

If the PT has asked the relevant open-ended questions, matched the client’s needs with several products and still the client has not signed up, then the PT needs to make the product live. This can be done by allowing the client to participate in the programme. 

In order to get the client fully aware of the journey the product represents, let them try exercises from the initial programme and exercises from a more advanced programme. This will allow them to see the progress they will make and the level of physical performance they will attain.  

Negotiating the Sale

After the testimonials and the practical demonstration, the client will now be at a point where they are considering purchasing the personal training product.  This is the point where the PT has to negotiate the product that is being sold and the deal that will follow this sale.

Initially, it is important to know that most PTs find taking the money the hardest part of the sale.  This is especially true of individuals who work in the service industry. Furthermore, it is particularly difficult to take money for a service when the service is the individual themselves. 

Negotiating is a difficult skill and so the following procedure/rules are a loose guide for the PT:

  • create room for negotiation by having many options
  • get them to commit to a time and financial position first
  • if they want to compromise and move through the packages, explain the potential compromise in the service
  • use objections as requests for more information (a sign of interest) 
  • match the product to your client’s final commitment on price and time
  • have your relevant testimonials ready
  • ask for the cash up front and sell a time slot not a group of sessions

(adapted from Dawson 2001)

Having this system to follow should prevent the PT from making big concessions that devalue their training, as they panic to make the deal.

If they say no!

Sometimes the PT will find themselves in a position where the potential client has said no.  It is these potential clients that hold most benefit to the PT in terms of sales skill development.  Spending fifteen minutes with the client after they have said no to get feedback on the whole sales process may uncover an issue that when addressed will help the PT to sell to the next client.  

A famous Lombardi quote sums up the attitude that carries over to any situation that can be deemed as win or lose,

“What is defeat? Nothing but education, nothing but the first step to getting better.” Lombardi (2001)

When a PT starts to sell they will encounter times when the potential client says no, it is how they adapt to this refusal that will shape future sales.

If they say yes!

When a potential client says yes, the PT will have to get the client to fill in all of the relevant paperwork in order to get them started as a new client.  This will require the client signing a contract, a disclaimer and a PAR-Q.  Also they will need to see the health and safety procedure the PT has in place.

To make sure that the first session runs smoothly, the PT should produce a handout telling the client exactly what to expect, what to do when they arrive and what will happen in the first session.  It would also be good practice for the PT to read through this with the client so that they feel at ease for the first session.  After going through the details, the PT should write down the date and time of the first session on a booking card.

Managing a Prospect List

When a potential client says no, or a current client stops training with the PT they should move on to the prospect list.  These people should then receive regular information in the form of a newsletter or e-shot in order to keep the PT’s service in their mind. 

By sharing information in a newsletter, it will prove to the client that the PT cares about their health and is not only interested in getting their money.  This trust, combined with repeated marketing hits will ensure that the PT is still visible to the potential client should they change their mind and want to start training again.

Consistent Service

Once the PT has a client base they need to make sure that they offer a consistent product.  Initially, the PT will need to identify their good service standards.  Once these are highlighted they will need to write a checklist of these standards, similar to a charter, and ensure that they stick to them.

This charter should be shared with the clients with regular questionnaires conducted. This makes sure the charter is still relevant with the delivery of personal training always meeting or exceeding these standards.

Data Protection

It is important to know that all of the rules of data protection apply to the personal trainer’s paper work and information collection.


Dawson, R. (2001) Secrets of Power Negotiating Carter Press, New Jersey, US

Gitomer, J (2003) The Sales Bible Wiley, New Jersey, US.

Johnson, S. & Wilson, L (1994) The One Minute Sales Person Harper Collins 

Business, London, UK

Lombardi, JR (2001) What it takes to be #1 McGraw-Hill, New York, US

Moin, D. & Lloyd, K Unlimited Selling Power Prentice Hall, New York, US

Peters, T (2003) Re-imagine Doring Kindersley Limited, London, UK

Zigler, Z (1982) Zig Ziglars Secrets of Closing the Sale Berkley, New York, US

Beckwith, H (2002) Selling the invisible Texere London, UK

Kotler, P. Wong, V. Saunders, J. and Armstrong, G (2005) Principles of Marketing Prentice Hall, Harlow, UK

Pilzner, P (1995) God wants you to be rich Johnson, Whiley and Sons, New Jersey, US

Plummer, T (2003) The Business of Fitness Healthy Learning, Monterey, US

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