Updated on 09.04.07

Taking The Leap Into Entrepreneurship: Where Is That Financial Safety Net?

Trent Hamm

I’m a big advocate of entrepreneurship and I truly admire people who take the plunge. Here’s a question from a brave reader who went forward with his dream. I’ll call him Walt, for fun, after a character in one of my favorite books:

I’m starting a personal training business, and I’ve been marketing for about two weeks now. I’m waiting for the clients to roll in, but in the meantime, I’m spending all my savings.

At what point do I staunch the flow and get a part-time job to pay the bills? Keep in mind that I would make $10-15 an hour in a part-time job and $75 an hour training. I break even with 5 training sessions a week.

I have about a month before I can’t rely on my savings and HAVE to have some kind of money coming in.

If I were in Walt’s situation, here are the tactics I would use:

I would spend every single day for the next month, from sun up to sun down, marketing my business. I would have a huge pile of pamphlets describing my business and hit every single gym and health food store in the area looking for clients (depending on solicitation rules, of course).

I’d offer a big introductory discount. The one thing you need right now is customers that might become regular paying customers, so offer some ridiculously huge discounts right off the bat. “75% off your first session” or “Buy one session now, get one free later” might be good initiatives. Even better, if you know people who are trendsetters, give them a completely free session in exchange for spreading the word a bit for you.

I’d call every person I know that might be connected to the area of the business. If you’re doing personal training, likely you know people who are physically inclined. Hit up that list of people and let them know that you’re now doing personal training and ask if they know anyone who might be interested.

I’d invest the money in professional-looking promotional materials. Seriously, materials that look professionally designed and printed may be very pricey, but they create an image that your business is serious and that it is of quality reputation, whether it’s true or not.

What about the personal financial situation? Here are some tactics I’d use:

Get a night job. If you’re a personal trainer, you’re probably in good shape. Look especially hard for a job as a night watchman. That way, you can do that job at night, promote your business in the morning to people who might be potential customers, sleep during the day when you don’t have clients, promote a bit more in the evening, then work again. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’ll really pay off if you’re committed to the business. Then, when the business takes off, quit the night job and you’ll have renewed focus on your business.

Get a job where you can cross-promote. How about a job at a GNC or a health food store or a sporting goods place? These jobs might not pay well, but they’ll give you golden opportunities to promote your own business. Most of the time at businesses like these where the business itself is in alignment with what your side business is but they’re not in competition with each other, it’s completely acceptable to promote a side business in this way. If you can just convince one person a month, it won’t be long before you can go back to focusing on the business full time.

These tactics are all things I would use in your position, trying to get a small business off the ground.

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  1. eROCK says:

    In my opinion, I would maintain a part-time job until the business starts flowing and you build a good steady client list.

    Also, make sure you have a website and perhaps put the URL on the rear window of your vehicle. Try placing an add in the yellow book that’s in color so it stands out (yes, people still look there!). Use professional organizations as an opportunity to network and possibly obtain clients or get referrals. If you’re really cut and in-shape, get some t-shirts made and wear them when you workout at the local gym.

    *Question for Trent – Tangent*

    Hey Trent … still waiting on a response regarding your consulting side-job dealing with computers. Specifically, what disclaimer do you offer your clients (perhaps consider posting it?) and did you have a lawyer review the disclaimer?


  2. Amy says:

    Yellow page advertising is ridiculously expensive…you’d be shocked.

    Craigslist is free…advertise there. Newspaper classified, especially in alternative weeklies, are cheap, however, and surprisingly effective. The big keys to marketing yourself – in any business really – are 1) Build your referral base because no advertising you can buy or do yourself is as effective as the referral of an enthusiastic, satisfied customer and 2) Explain why you’re unique. There are tons of personal trainers out there…you need to really explain what qualifications or what approach you have makes you special.

  3. PF says:

    I would never hire someone fresh out of the gate for that kind of money when I can hire a seasoned trainer for the same price. I would need a deep discount to hire someone who is new.

    As Amy said, explain why you are unique. Maybe you need to create a program that people can do at home to get started and make house calls. Maybe you need to do some volunteer work with seniors or new moms and to build the referral base mentioned above and/or to find a niche. For those people, housecalls might REALLY set you apart. I think that you can probably wait a long time for the clients to roll in unless you offer something new.

  4. FIRE Finance says:

    In addition to the traditional ways of marketing, use the presence of the internet for promoting yourself. Have a professional looking website which explains your business like other successful ones in your area of expertise. Submit the site to main search engines, list in web directories and other relevant social exchange websites. All these listings are free, all they require is your time. Think of some nice phrases which explains your site’s aim in a few words for your busy online customers.
    Our best wishes are with you for success in your business.
    FIRE Finance

  5. MK says:

    I like the idea of working at GNC (or other health-related area), but why not do the training part-time at an established gym like 24-Hour Fitness or Bally’s, then branch off when you have enough established clientele. Hairdressers do this all the time — establish a reputation/clientele at a salon, then go independent or open your own salon when you have enough of a dedicated following.

    I’m with the poster who would hesitate to pay so much for an untried Trainer who had no gym affiliation. Good luck.


  6. sfgal says:

    How about starting your own blog or blogging on your professional website to cross-promote? A blog or even leaving thoughtful comments can draw people to your site and bring in some leads.

    Working at a gym or GNC center is also a good way to start. One of my friends worked at the gym building clients for personal training before he started his own fitness bootcamp. Once his bootcamp launched he was able to use the clientele he built to expand his business.

  7. lorax says:

    Having done this myself, I’d suggest that you give it a few months, using Trent’s suggestions. After that, you might think about getting some professional counseling from an ad agency.

    (I didn’t get outside help, and ultimately failed.)

  8. Soni says:

    Today’s market wants to taste it before they buy it.

    I’d go straight to the nearest park that gets decent foot traffic and start doing free mini-sessions for whoever looks interested. Really, just set out a folding sign that says “Free 15 Minute [Strength/Flexibility/Yoga/Whatever] Training Session – Next Session Starts X:00” and just do a little 15 minute “taster” training for whoever shows up. If no one shows up, do your own little routine yourself in case someone decides to join in as you go.

    So a couple of lunch sessions, a few morning ones for the early birds and a few afternoon/evening sessions for the after work crowd. Make the sessions quick, effective and complete, but enough to leave them wanting more.

    After each session, hand out business cards with discounts or “Buy Two Get One Free” type incentives. Everyone gets a card for themselves and a few for their friends.

  9. Soni says:

    Now that I think about it, consider doing free sessions for Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts, Little League and so on. Get the kids moving, get the parent’s attention. Again, business cards go out the door with the parents.

  10. Rita says:

    Contact local groups in your community ie Junior Women’s, Rotary, Lion’s Club, to see if you can speak at one of their meetings to explain the benefits of your services. Perhaps raffle off free or discounted session. This way each person who enters has voluntarily given his/her name and telephone number and you can follow up with a telephone call.

  11. Joel Quile says:

    I’d follow all of Trent’s advice and read the 4 Hour Work Week and go to http://www.fourhourworkweek.com
    and see what Timothy says. Trust me.

  12. Margaret says:

    Definitely consider marketing to seniors. My aunt and uncle started working out with a personal trainer after they retired and moved to a condo. They love it.

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