Deciding to start a fitness business was the best thing I ever did. I own a gym with my brother Dan. We run it out of our garage. Our expenses are almost non-existent. Our start-up costs were “lean” to say the least. We take in around $3,000 a week and work about 25–30 hours.
We both maintain casual manual labour jobs. Our schedule is flexible. We get to train ourselves in the middle of the day. And we do what we love. It’s not a bad gig.
The point of this article is to help you do the same: To build a gym or personal training business from the comfort of your garage, basement, spare room, or “insert space here.”
You might be an exercise science grad like we were. Maybe you’re a PT working for someone else. Maybe you just really love fitness and you’re keen to make a little money out of it.
Here’s our little recipe to building a side hustle in the fitness industry, which you can replicate with some direction and a little effort.
Get some fitness gear
This is step number 1. I see a lot of people touting online that you can start a fitness business with nothing but a whistle and a place to move around. While that might be true… how boring! People get sick of bodyweight exercises.
Start lean: get some kettlebells, a squat rack with a pull-up bar, an adjustable bench, some gymnastics rings, a barbell with plates, and a few sets of dumbbells. That’s all you’ll need to start. You can have an amazing set-up for under $1000. We initially spent a few grand. I’d recommend you do something similar.
Depending on the clientele you’ll be training, you’ll have to adjust the size of the kettlebells, dumbbells and weight plates you buy. If you’re training strong people, err on the side of heavier weights (duh!).
There’s also cheap bits and pieces that will add layers to your service too. Things like jump ropes, resistance bands, ab wheels, yoga mats, foam rollers, parallettes, all kinds of balls and so on. Depending on the clients you’ll be training (and their goals), what you buy will differ. Powerlifters probably don’t care about doing wall balls for time. So don’t buy wall balls for them.
Get a client
Just one. That’s all you need to start a fitness business. Get them by asking a friend, family member, work colleague or teammate to come in and train. We made it really relaxed at the start. It doesn’t have to be a PT session. You could just say “I’ve got some equipment at home and I was wondering if you’d like to come round and lift some weights with me.”
Our gym started in a “train with us” style. It still is in some sense. We started with the intention of training ourselves from home. Then our mates saw we had some equipment and joined in. Next, their mates joined in. Then we had walk-ins from the street. Then we posted to social media. And then, we added a website and so on.
You don’t have to charge them either. We didn’t charge anyone at the start. Do you know how we got paid? Our mates would buy us a burger and a beer on the weekend.
It doesn’t take much. Just one client. Do a good job with them. Provide a great environment and a great experience. They’ll talk.
Like I said above, we started off getting paid in burgers and beers (not a bad paycheck if you ask me). But eventually, we had too many people. We had new clients coming in and a great retention rate. We needed a way to get paid. So we started with cash.
Some would pay in advance. Some would pay as they went. While some paid after a month of training with us. We kept it breezy, and we didn’t chase anyone down, or demand they pay each week. We got paid when we got paid, and we were stoked. Why? We were earning money doing something we loved.
On getting paid
When you start a fitness business, keep all the money in the business to begin with.
We didn’t take any money out of the business for over a year. 3 years later and 95% of the money we earn still stays in the business. The bank account is growing and we pay ourselves occasionally with things like petrol, birthday presents for our parents and other joint expenses.
The beauty of keeping the money in the business is that you can grow faster. The more we earned, the more equipment we bought, and the better the service we provided. Instead of concrete flooring, we had rubber tiles. Then we had a full set of dumbbells, then we had an assault bike. Then we had another rack and so on. The more we bought, the more our clients appreciated us spending money on them, which only grew the strength of our community.
You’re not working on this full-time (yet). Survive off your other salary. Keep all the money in a safe, or a tin. Focus on improving the environment and the service. The more you do that, the more clients will come.
It’s hard for businesses to survive without an online presence these days. When you start your fitness business, it will be essential. Word of mouth will always be king in the gym industry. But word of mouth happens online now too. Help people share and follow what you’re doing by posting it online.
Start an Instagram and a website. We started a Facebook as well. You might need to take an online course to build a website. We use WIX.com for the website design. It’s drag and drop, making it hard to stuff up. Most of your clients will come from social media and word of mouth, but a website will add a professional edge to your side hustle.
Take bulk videos and photos and get them out there. We write helpful content along with our media. You might like to do the same. But the main thing is that you just start posting. Get a little buzz around what you’re doing. Get people talking. Make sure everyone knows that you are THE guy or THE gal in the area.
When someone is injured, overweight, or simply looking to perform better, you need to be the first one they think of. A constant social media presence will help you become THE expert in the area. It’s Gary Vee’s “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” approach.
And it doesn’t take much. We don’t have many followers. We don’t do any advertising. We’re not influencers or any of that nonsense. We provide good content. We grow organically. And we’ve been building consistently for 3 years.
Make sure you’ve got your first aid and CPR certificates. Make sure you’re registered with the federal body of fitness in your country. That will differ from country to country but make sure you’re certified as a PT or exercise scientist.
Get PT insurance — again that will vary from country to country. Set-up a business bank account. You’ll need it for loans in the future (if you decide to expand). Plus it gives people an option to pay directly into your bank account. We also bought a small EFTPOS machine: “Square”. They take a tiny fee with each transaction.
No, you don’t have to get a degree. But you better be consistently learning. Utilise all kinds of resources from books and podcasts, to YouTube videos and social media. Be a sponge. We’re constantly reading research, taking seminars, online courses, and generally developing into better humans, coaches, and businessmen.
If you don’t love to read then listen to Naval Ravikant:
“Read what you love until you love to read.”
I didn’t like reading in high school. I didn’t like reading during university. To be honest, I only start reading after uni and now I can’t get enough books. It’s been the best thing for my education. And all it started with was a couple of books I loved:
- What doesn’t kill us — Scott Carney
- How to win friends and influence people — Dale Carnegie
The problem with reading in school is that you don’t get to choose what you read. When you do, it changes the dynamic and the possibilities are endless. Find something you love and start reading.
Listen to podcasts and audiobooks when you’re training, walking, taking long drives, household chores, manual labour, and any other spare second that you get.
My favourite fitness and busines related podcasts that you should start with are Chasing Excellence, the Dan John Podcast, Renegade Radio, The Joe Rogan Experience, How I Built This, Mark Bell’s Power Project, Naval, The Ready State, Strength Coach Podcast and The Tim Ferris Show.
Get a partner
My gym wouldn’t be where it’s at without having a partner involved. It makes the journey so much more enjoyable and manageable. Sure, you can do it by yourself, but I’m a big fan of getting a partner.
This will help you split the jobs. I’m more tech and content. My partner is more business and organisation. We both love training. We balance each other out. Find someone that could complement your skills or someone that you just love to work with.
One key reason is that it keeps you going. It keeps you accountable when times get tough or you lose a little inspiration. Having someone to keep you in line is important.
Get some merch
One of my favourite things is seeing our members wearing the clothes we’ve designed. They’re nothing special. Just comfy clothes with our logo on them. All black and white. Super basic.
They build the community and the atmosphere in a way that’s hard to quantify. When we first started selling clothes I wasn’t sure about it. I just wanted to train people.
But the bigger benefit is the team-like factor it plays in bringing the group closer together. When you see someone walking down the street in our shirt, you know they train in the garage.
Plus, it’s like a series of walking billboards out there in the community, and that’s always good, especially when you start your fitness business.
After you’ve done all the steps above, the next steps are just more. More clients, more equipment, more content, more followers, more innovation, and most importantly, more growth.
If you follow the tip I gave earlier about keeping all the money in the business, you’ll have decent savings starting to pile up. You’ll have the ability to expand into online coaching if you want to. Buy more equipment. Invest in more technology — app development and booking systems. You can even rent a place in the future — a bigger, warehouse-style space to grow further.
That’s our little recipe to start and build a business in the fitness industry. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. And with a little work, you’ll be turning over a profit in no time.
Just focus on doing what you think would be cool, and what you enjoy. Don’t try to be like the gym up the road. Don’t compete on prices. And, don’t do what everyone else is doing. Be authentic. Build a place where you’d happily pay to train at, and you’ll quickly find others want to pay to train there too.