This Business Owner Helps Fitness Trainers Go From Hourly Wages to 6-Figure Salaries Training Grounds founder Eddie Zhang has the goods on how to differentiate yourself from the wellness pack.

By Chinwe Onyeagoro

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Lindzy Annis
Training Grounds founder Eddie Zhang

Even before the onslaught of COVID-19, the fitness industry was going through a fairly dramatic transformation. Traditional gyms full of bulky equipment and machines were losing their appeal as people began to embrace smaller, niche fitness studios, personal trainers and even virtual experiences.

While the shift may mean trouble for large brands, it is great news for independent fitness instructors who are now not only finding more freedom to work directly with clients, but also to build their own thriving, profitable businesses without the overhead of a corporation.

After his own experience with a personal trainer, Eddie Zhang saw this firsthand. He also noticed that the options for instructors to find a good location to train clients outside of a large gym were lacking. So, in 2009, he decided to leave his role as a tax consultant at the IRS and set out to create spaces for instructors to meet and train their clients. And come 2014, Traing Grounds Gym was born.

The model he created operates like a salon for trainers. He currently has a set of training pods that trainers rent to use with clients. Each pod has a set of equipment that trainers can use for their sessions so they benefit from the materials a typical gym would provide, but with a fraction of the overhead to use them. "I rent them out to trainers, they run their own gym," says Zhang.

Related: #7 on the Franchise 500: Planet Fitness Knows You Don't Want to Go to the Gym

But Zhang is more than just a landlord. He spends a lot of time coaching and mentoring his trainers to help them be successful, providing them with marketing insights, advice and other tips to help grow and manage their business.

"It doesn't matter if you're making six figures or two, you want to start off running your business the right way," he explains. "Number one, I show them the right business model that's not going to soak up all their time, and that way they don't have to change it later on down the road," said Zhang.

So when new trainers come to use his space, he talks to them about their business model, specifically encouraging them to follow these four critical steps to growing their income to six figures.

1. Specialize

How do you stand out in a sea of fit, experienced trainers and attract new clients? You offer a specialized service. Either a type of training, addressing problem areas, preparing for milestone events from marathons to a wedding or even specializing by age groups and gender.

One of the coaches who runs his business out of Training Grounds branded himself as "Doctor Glutes." His business is no different than any other coach; he works with a variety of clients who have different goals, including men, but his marketing around stronger and bigger glutes would first get potential prospect's attention.

2. Market Results, Not Processes

Another piece of advice Zhang provides trainers he meets with is to focus on the end result. He notes that so often when trainers first start their businesses, they focus too much on the process and the technique or the physical location where training is going to happen.

"If you focus too much on the process, then you don't give yourself any room to adapt to changing needs or circumstances," he says. "But if you focus on selling the end result, you can adapt to fit whatever changes and still end up with a happy client."

3. Find Your Tools

Most trainers aren't spending much time sitting at a desk in an office every day. They are out on the floor working with their clients. But, as independent business owners, they need to create systems to make sure they don't double book themselves and to ensure that all of the work they are putting in results in payment. So often, new business owners — not just trainers — realize this too late, perhaps after they've gone weeks without payment or forgotten to track which clients have paid and which haven't.

Fortunately, there are now some phenomenal tools on the market, including mobile apps, that make it easier to run a business than ever before. The trick is just to find the right one for you.

4. Build Community

Trainer Kaylin Pyles decided to focus on working with women in the 25-35 age range, and what she offers is more than just fitness; she provides her clients with an entire community to support their goals.

When a new client signs up, Pyles adds them to the online community, encouraging other members to welcome the new person. The online community provides her clients with extra accountability and friendship within the community. But it also helps Kaylin run her business more efficiently. Members often answer each other's own questions in the channel so they don't necessarily have to be online all day, answering questions or providing extra words of encouragement. In just a few months, Pyles has moved from making an hourly wage at a gym to pulling in a healthy, six-figure salary, all while doing what she loves and working for herself.

Related: 5 of the Best Fitness Franchises You Can Buy

Zhang's final piece of advice applies to anyone starting or running a business: "We are always in control over our own destiny. The one thing that we can control is what we do. Even though the economy might be a little on the downward trend, there are still people out there looking for things. There are 330 million people in the United States, which means a lot of potential clients."

Wavy Line
Chinwe Onyeagoro

CEO of PocketSuite

Chinwe Onyeagoro is the CEO of PocketSuite where she is responsible for strategy, customer success and growth. She served as president of Great Place to Work, and previously worked for McKinsey & Company, The Monitor Group and Pritzker Realty Group (under former Secretary of Commerce).

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