Personal trainers often start their careers as employees at a commercial facility. The gym provides the trainer with clients while the trainer “learns the ropes” of the profession and hopefully builds a loyal following.
Over time, a busy trainer may find that long gym hours, lack of control over their own schedule and relatively low compensation leads them to consider either becoming an independent contractor at a facility, or even opening their own facility.
Some wonder, “If I was self-employed, I’d make ALL THE MONEY, why shouldn’t I go out on my own?” While this can be the start of a long and lucrative career, the change from employee to entrepreneur shouldn’t be done blindly.
Even with existing clients willing to follow the trainer, remember the cyclical nature of the profession… clients get sick, go on vacation and have other personal issues that may keep them out of the gym. And when training revenue suffers, a self-employed fitness professional needs will no longer get paid sick days, vacation days, work breaks, etc.
Also, many fitness professionals find it difficult to generate new business without their former employer sending prospects their way.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle a new fitness entrepreneur faces is understanding how to budget properly and save money to cover the taxes associated with self-employment. First, there are Federal and State income taxes. The trainer must now save these taxes themselves and submit them to the IRS and their State tax authority on a quarterly basis. (Called “quarterly estimate taxes”). There can also be local income taxes at the city and/or county level.
There is also a “self-employment tax” of 7.65% to cover the “employer” part of payroll FICA taxes (Social Security and Medicare) as well as the 7.65% “employee” portion they were already having deducted from their check. Put simply, self-employed persons must pay the entire 15.3% FICA tax, as they are both the “employer and employee.”
Other employment taxes typically paid on behalf of an employee include Federal and State unemployment tax (FUTA & SUTA) and Worker’s Compensation Insurance (to benefit the employee should they get injured on the job).
In most states, self-employed individuals do not pay FUTA, SUTA or Worker’s Compensation, so they will receive no financial benefits should they become unemployed or injured on the job. Entrepreneurs should consider additional savings in an “emergency fund” and disability insurance.
So yes, a trainer with a loyal following that can generate new clients should consider becoming an entrepreneur, but with the understanding that budgeting, saving and accounting will be as critical to their success as exercise selection and client programming.
Chad Landers is a graduate of the University of Illinois with a BS in Kinesiology. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and in 2018 was named their “Personal Trainer of the Year.” He also has a Graduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Chad has been a personal trainer in Los Angeles for 27 years, and has owned his own gym, Push Private Fitness, for 17 years.