Should I Make the Switch to the Fitness Industry? By: Cori DiDonato, C.S.C.S.
I get asked a lot by potential fitness business owners if they should make the career switch. This is such a huge question that could take hours to just even dissect. I have always been “in” the fitness business whether as an athlete, volunteer coach, fitness instructor, and even the past 10 years as a strength and conditioning facility owner that licensed CrossFit, Spinning, and Catalyst Athletics. I did, however, make the “switch” from pulling most of my income from a corporate job to relying solely on my fitness business income 8 years ago. This is really what most people are asking- can you live off being a “gym” owner or personal trainer and will I be happy in that lifestyle?
My answer is that depends. For me, the change was abrupt. I had started my fitness business as a passion hobby which had started to make actual real money. I was then laid off from my corporate world job in my early 30s and had to make a life changing decision. Do I really want to continue on in the corporate world or do I want to do what I really love and expand my current fitness business beyond just me training folks in their homes, as a 1099er at other people’s gyms, and in parks? Having experienced both worlds simultaneously, I knew that I would not be making as much money in the fitness industry- not right away and perhaps not ever. I was single then though and really didn’t have anyone depending on me or me having a stable income. No kids. No husband. I thought why not- it is now or never. Even after having made the decision, it was still an entire year later that I actually pulled the trigger and signed a lease for a physical space and hired my first employee which turned my hobby company into a real actual business with overhead.
There are many personal trainers, coaches, and managers out there that work for others and have a very successful and stable income with hours that although may be early, late, or on the weekends, are in general flexible. They are doing something they love, helping people improve their own lives, and making money doing it. This is a very doable lifestyle and I still know coaches and personal trainers that make more than the people they are working for. This is a choice- do you take the chance on entrepreneurship or do you work for someone else?
From experience, I can say whole heartedly –work for someone else first AT LEAST two years. You don’t want to be experimenting and figuring out what works on your own dime or with your own credit. It is simply too risky. Knowing this it continues to amaze me how many people skip this step and jump right from the corporate world into gym ownership. Trust me, it is a totally different animal. This right here is really the decision point that most people should be asking. If you are passionate about coaching, working out yourself, and sharing knowledge with others, you may just be happier and more financially successful coaching and training for someone else’s company. Here is the reason- once you jump into ownership, most of your time is NOT spent doing these three things. Most of your time is actually spent running the business. Those that make the mistake of doing their passion without spending the majority of their time running their business find themselves often broke, stressed out, and unable to physically and mentally cope with the demands of running a fitness business.
To make the jump from working in the fitness industry to owning a fitness business, you must amass not only the skills needed to train others to deliver the same level of class, coaching, etc. that you do, but you must also know how to hire a bookkeeper, fix a rower, read a balance sheet, manage cash flow, determine ROI on equipment leases and advertising, know how to negotiate contracts as well as a myriad other tasks that may actually seem like drudgery to you.
If you are ok with giving up some of what may have attracted you to the industry in the first place in exchange for ownership, then by all means start working for someone else first and figure out if what it looks like behind the scenes is actually what you thought it looked like going in.
Cori DiDonato, C.S.C.S.; USA Weightlifting Club Coach, CrossFit Level 1 Training, owner of CrossFit Silver Tiger and former owner of Avalon CrossFit. http://crossfitsilvertiger.com