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The Five Stage of Fitness Business Growth

By Sean Greeley

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It’s funny how time flies.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he talks about the 10,000+ hour rule.

If you haven’t read the book, I’ll break it down for you. After studying top athletes, executives, and elite performers across many fields… Gladwell analyzes the many factors involved in achieving mastery in any field.

The most important one is time.

You’ve got to put in a lot of time in your field to achieve mastery.

Malcolm proposes 10,000+ hours as the benchmark.

Since 2006, we’ve helped over 45,000+ fitness entrepreneurs in 96+ countries grow to the next level. We’ve been listed 8x on the Inc 500/5000 list of fastest growing companies, and we’re a global team with offices in Los Angeles, London, and Sydney.

And whether you’re a personal trainer just starting out looking to get your first few clients (I wish this information had been available when I first started and got qualified in the industry), or you’ve now grown to become a powerful entrepreneur with multiple locations, licensing programs, and franchises… then you will relate to the stories shared in this article.

More importantly, you’ll find….

A Roadmap to Follow

The six stages is a model we’ve innovated over the last 14 years of work in the fitness industry.

It’s a roadmap that lays out each of the stages, challenges, goals, and success factors that fitness professionals, business owners, and entrepreneurs must grow and develop through in order to take their business to the next level.

You’ll likely want to scroll through this article, find your stage, and learn more about the specific success factors needed right now to overcome the challenges you’re facing currently.

But don’t do that.

I strongly encourage you to read through this article in its entirety to learn more about each of the six stages.

And bookmark this page (you should print it off too) so you can come back and refer to it often.

Whenever you feel lost or confused (which will happen often if you’re challenging yourself to grow), pause for a time out.

Come back to this article, identify where you are now in the six stages, and follow the success factors required to continue moving forward and grow your business to the next level.

Stage 1: Just Starting Out

Revenue: 0-2,000/month

Challenge: You’re still new to the industry and you don’t know where to start or what to do to find or sign up clients. You’re scared and uncomfortable when asking people for money. And  you probably believe that more fitness certifications equals success in signing up (and delivering) client results.

Goal: You want to find and start working with your first 3-5 clients, gain experience and confidence delivering results, and take your passion for fitness (and investment in certifications) and begin a new career.

Success factors: Business Strategy, Sales

For most, getting a simple (but clear) business strategy is where your journey begins.

You love fitness, you love sports, and likely have an athletic background of sorts.

And now you’ve decided to get certified as a fitness professional.

Some choose to get qualified while still a student. For others, it’s a part-time passion project to grow their education in an area they love learning about. And still others are looking for a new career path so they can leave a job they’re not excited about.

Whatever your reasons were (or are) for getting certified, the point is you’ve done it.

But now what? What’s next after you get certified?

Well, most fitness professionals start out working for a commercial gym.

Some start working part time… for others they begin full time.

In either case, your work when starting out in a gym generally involves more than just training.

It means things like working the front desk, cleaning equipment, and other low-level work. Blah!

This can be frustrating when you’ve just studied hard to learn a professional skill set… and now you’re a glorified treadmill cleaner!

Personally, I started out just working with a few friends (helping them write programs and coach them) and my first client was referred to me – an elderly man named Bob.

Bob was recovering from an injury and just wanted to get back to being active again. Fitness was also a social time for him to get out of the house. When you’re 70-years-old, getting out of the house and being able to move without pain is really important to staying active and engaged in life.

But I had a challenge in that I wasn’t working for a gym, so I had no facility to train him in. So I had to “pretend” that Bob was my training partner while we “worked out together” at the local gym … which of course had their own trainers who were frustrated that I was taking a client into their territory as a rogue operator.

Anyway, I loved it.

And my experience working with Bob got me switched on to loving working with personal training clients and seeing how coaching and teaching could transform someone’s life in a powerful way.

I don’t believe there is anything more rewarding in life than serving others and making a difference in somebody’s life through the work you do.

And that’s what you’re trying to really figure out at this stage.

How will you grow and follow your passion in this career path, and will it be something you will truly love doing day-in-and-day-out?

The keys to success are to expand your vision… and learn the fundamentals around business strategy to move forward (like how to best price and package your services for success). Seek others who’ve been down the path you’re exploring before. Ask good questions. Listen to everything they have to say. Take it all in.

Once you decide this is something you truly love doing, you’ve seen some great examples of how others have succeeded in making it on their own in the industry, then it won’t be long before you’re on your way.

But you’ll soon be asking yourself “how can I take a job I love and turn it into a full-time career earning professional income?”

And that will lead you down the path of determining how to start working for yourself so you can keep more of the revenue you’re bringing in the door while working for someone else.

The program we offer to support growing through this stage is called NPE KICKSTART™. You’ll learn how to:

  1. Set up yourself up for success part-time
  2. Define the type of clients you want to work with
  3. Choose the business model that best fits your passion
  4. Learn how to inspire prospective clients to commit to their goals (and your programs)
  5. Find and sign up new clients
  6. Begin capturing client success stories

And much, much more…

If you’re successful at this stage, you’ll:

  • Work with your first 3-5 clients who are getting results
  • Develop confidence you can find paying clients, and
  • Turn your fitness passion into the start of a new career … as you go from newly certified to part-time fitness professional.

Stage 2: Work Full-Time

Revenue: 2,000-6,000/month

Challenge: You lack systems and tools to consistently find and sign up new clients (and deliver results). You are afraid and uncertain about your ability to have a sustainable career. And you probably still believe that you need more knowledge and experience in working with clients before you can go full time.

Goal: You want to consistently find and sign up new clients to fill your schedule. You want the confidence to go full time as an independent fitness professional. And you want (and need) to earn a professional income doing the work you love.

Success Factors: Business Strategy, Sales, Marketing

To go from part-time to full-time, you must learn how to consistently market and sell.

We have a saying here that, “Nothing makes a greater immediate impact on your bottom line than mastering Salesmanship.”

And it’s so true.

If you’re going to make anything of yourself in business … you must first learn how to sell.

Many people think sales are something sleazy.

And they have a poor image of a “used car salesman” taking advantage of people, making them buy something they don’t want, and stealing their hard earned money.

Certainly there are those kinds of characters out there, but professional salesmanship is something entirely different.

To be really good in sales you have to LOVE people. And LOVE serving people.

“Selling is Serving”

When you take the time to really understand and care for the prospect in front of you, and direct them in a positive direction to solve their problems or achieve their goals… you are serving them at the highest level.

What are their goals?

Why are their goals important to them?

How committed are they to achieving their goals/solving their problems?

Learning all the components involved in effective salesmanship makes the biggest impact on driving you forward quickly.

And when you combine that with some simple marketing strategies, you’ll find your schedule gets busy quickly.

In 2001 I stopped working a college job I had and went exclusively to working for myself as an independent personal trainer.

I still remember how scary that decision was.

Could I really find my way?

Could I really find people to buy what I had to sell?

Would I be able to keep my income consistent enough?

What if I lost a client or two… could I replace them?

What if I went on vacation, would my clients still be there when I returned?

Really… it sounds silly when I think back on all that I’ve accomplished in my life and where I am today… but I can still remember those feelings of fear and insecurity like they were yesterday!

That’s why we talk about, “Have courage, practice faith.” It starts here.

The program we deliver in this stage is called NPE FAST-TRACK™. You’ll learn how to:

  1. Set yourself up for success as a full-time profesional.
  2. Refine the type of clients you want to work with.
  3. Refine your business model to continue growing.
  4. Develop sales skills that inspire prospective clients to commit to their goals (and your programs).
  5. Create a marketing plan to find and sign up new clients.
  6. Start building a portfolio of client success stories and positive reviews.

If you’re successful at this stage, you’ll:

  • Have a full schedule of clients
  • Have consistent income and stability in your career as an independent fitness professional, and
  • Help more people transform their lives … as you go from part-time to full-time with a career in the fitness industry.

Then you’re ready for the next stage.

Stage 3: Turn Your Career Into a Business

Revenue: 6,000 – 10,000/month

Challenge: You’re trying to grow a business, but you don’t have a business plan, systems, and tools in place required to grow beyond yourself. You get tired and overwhelmed by training clients while trying to build your business. And you may be incorrectly focused on marketing tactics and not understanding the work required to grow beyond trading time for money.

Goal: You want to charge more per hour working with clients you love, create a platform to grow beyond trading time for money, and turn your fitness career into a sustainable business.

Success Factors: Business Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Operations

This is a fun, but tough stage.

Up until now, you’ve learned how to work hard and how to be successful as an independent professional by doing a better job than others out there.

You’re supporting yourself and making some money, and you want to go to the big time and start building a business that can grow beyond simply trading your time for money.

But you’re not ready to do so just yet.

You don’t have a strong business plan in place yet. You’re busy training clients all hours of the early morning and evening (split shifts!), and in your spare time you maybe trying to learn and implement marketing tactics… when you’re missing the bigger picture of the work needed to be done to grow beyond yourself.

And some people even believe they have to suffer more and don’t deserve to be successful yet.

But truth is, it’s not a question of deserving … it’s a question of developing the right systems, using the right tools, and aligning the proper resources that create success.

For example, growing a business takes a tremendous amount of re-investment.

A new facility, equipment, software, insurance, and more don’t come cheap.

You need revenue in order to continue growth.

And if you don’t have enough money to re-invest, you’re going to have to sell your way to get some more!

The program we deliver in this stage is called our NPE FAST-TRACK™. You’ll learn how to:

  1. Set yourself up for success as a business owner
  2. Define the ideal client profile for your business
  3. Refine your business model to continue growing
  4. Master sales skills and systems that inspire prospective clients to commit to their goals (and your programs)
  5. Evolve your marketing plan to consistently attract more of the best clients you love working with
  6. Establish operational systems that deliver great client experiences
  7. Continue developing a portfolio of client success stories and positive reviews”

If you’re successful at this stage, you’ll:

  • Have a full schedule of high-paying clients you love working with
  • Establish a profitable business with great systems to serve clients (and help find new ones you can help)
  • Start building a team to grow the business with you … as you grow from average to successful coach consistently earning a professional income.

It’s tough to consistently challenge yourself to put in the work, sacrifice more than others would, and push yourself towards your dream.

This is where your vision and commitment get tested for the first time.

Not every day is fun.

This is real work.

Of course your mind will try to trick you into thinking (incorrectly) that it would be so much easier to go back to working for yourself, keeping all the money you earn, not having much risk or responsibility to anyone or anything.

But there is no leverage there.

You must press forward.

By growing through the challenges, you’re preparing for a more serious level of commitment yet to come.

Stage 4: Establish Your Team

Revenue: 10,000 – 25,000/month

Challenge: You are maxed out on space or training hours (or both). You don’t know how to hire the right people and duplicate yourself to continue growing, and you’re not sure what to do next to find more prospective clients.

You’re overwhelmed and frustrated because you don’t have the skills needed to solve the problems in front of you today to continue growing. And you think if you just work harder and focus on marketing, everything will work itself out without having to invest and commit to hiring and developing people beyond the contractor level.

Goal: You want to double your revenue with great profit margins. You want to hire and develop a team that cares about serving your clients as much as you do. And you want to create a better balance between your business and personal life (so you can enjoy the journey).

Success factors: Business Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Operations, Team, Finance

OK, by this point you’ve had some business experience.

You’ve been at this for a while now, but it’s time to get committed on a whole new level in order to continue growing.

Maybe you’ve gotten married, decided to purchase a home, or have children (or a new baby on the way) dependent on you.

Regardless of the motivation, it’s time you achieved even greater financial success with your business.

And you can’t simply continue “working harder” and expect things to change.

You’ve got to put in the effort, but more important, you’ve also got to invest significantly in your business now and develop a plan for your long-term success.

You’ve got to have very clear goals, a rock-solid business plan, and show up to get after it each and every day.

Most people don’t get this far, nor progress into (or beyond) this stage.

It takes a strong commitment in order to grow your business from the early stages to the 15-25k/month mark.

You should EXPECT to meet challenges along the way and get knocked around at times.

But no matter what setbacks or challenges you meet along the way, you must continue progressing forward to grow.

The program we deliver in this stage is called the NPE ACADEMY™ program. You’ll learn how to:

  1. Get clear on what success looks like over the next 12 months.
  2. Get a clear picture of cash flow in your business and define priorities for the next 90 days
  3. Establish your team to increase capacity for continued growth
  4. Upgrade sales systems and duplicate yourself to continue growing
  5. Continue to refine your ideal client profile and upgrade marketing strategies to attract top-paying clients
  6. Refine operational systems to consistently deliver great client experiences and retain great clients for years
  7. Establish financial systems to control expenses and increase profits.

If you’re successful at this stage, you’ll:

  • Grow your fitness business to multiple 6 figures (with great profit margins).
  • Have a team in place that serves clients as well as you do
  • Have more time for looking after yourself and relationships that matter … as you grow from stressed and pressured coach to profitable business operator.

Stage 5: Develop Leaders To Scale Your Business

Revenue: 25,000 – 80,000/month

Challenge: You don’t have the marketing strategy to scale leads, and the business relies too much on you for day-to-day operations because you don’t have leaders in place who can hit the business goals. You may be scared of going backward and stressed about cash … and feel like a prisoner to the business. You may be tired and frustrated with trying hard and not making progress … and believe you just need more Facebook ads, more leads, more service offerings, and more locations (that is, more is more) to increase revenue and personal income.

Goal: You want to get out of day-to-day operations and develop leaders that grow your business with you, continue to increase cash flow and profitability to high 6 figures while scaling locations … and feel inspired by the work you’re doing, so you can continue enjoying the journey while making a bigger impact in the lives of the clients and communities you serve.

Success factors: Business Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Operations, Leadership & Team, Finance

At this stage you’re doing a lot of things right (even if it doesn’t always feel that way just yet).

You’re already hitting some great revenue goals with your business, and have grown your personal income.

But you’re working too much in the business and your business still depends too much on you to run and hit targets each month.

If you were to leave for a few weeks, then growth would stop.

And as strange as it may seem, at this point you will find yourself in a position where YOU are the limiting factor in the continued growth of your company.

You must now evolve into a leadership role and develop other leaders.  Our program at this state is our NPE PRO MASTERMIND™ PROGRAM, which includes a high-level mastermind group and training for your staff.

In this program you’ll:

  1. Get clear on what success looks like over the next 1-3 years and set goals that fulfill your personal vision
  2. Create a strategic business plan that includes quarterly priorities and annual operating objectives
  3. Grow services team and identify leaders who will grow the business with you
  4. Establish and develop a sales team to reach your conversion metrics, i.e., convert more prospects into paying clients
  5. Evolve marketing strategies to more efficiently attract top-paying clients
  6. Empower an operational leader to manage systems and people to consistently deliver great client experiences and retain clients as you scale
  7. Upgrade financial systems to consistently increase revenue while maintaining great cash profitability

When you progress through this stage, you’ll:

  • Own a business that can operate without you, with leaders in place who support continued growth while achieving the businesses’ cash flow and profitability goals.
  • Pay yourself a 6-figure salary while having time for relationships and fun
  • Do work you love fulfilling your greater mission to the clients and communities you want to serve … as you grow from overworked business operator to business owner with time and financial freedom.

At this point, you’ll have real time and money freedom to make choices.

For some that involves launching a second (or third) location.

For others, it’s about spending more time at home with a young family and children as part of a work-life balance.

Whatever that means for you, the opportunity is yours for the taking.

And celebrating the success you’ve achieved from all your hard work and efforts is awesome.

That’s the good news.

But the even better news is that for most entrepreneurs, that celebration only fulfills you for a short period of time.

You realize that what you REALLY love most is not the rewards, but facing the challenges of growth and the entrepreneurial journey.

Because that’s what makes you come alive – living up to your highest potential!

You are at your best when you’re facing tough obstacles, taking on big risks, and climbing mountains that others would never dare to face.

And you want to get “back in the game.”

When you reach this point, welcome.

You are now ready to enter the next stage.…

Stage 6: Become an Elite Entrepreneur

Revenue: 80,000+/month

Challenge: You may lack clarity with your long-term personal vision and how it’s tied to business model, company mission, team alignment, and your time frames for achievement. You may feel unfulfilled and have fallen out of love with their business. You may also feel overwhelmed if the business has become too complex.

Goal: You want to wake up on fire to work on a bigger mission that fulfills your long-term personal vision, continue to develop leaders and create new opportunities for team members to achieve their personal goals, and live your dream lifestyle while making a bigger impact on the world.

Success factors: Business Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Operations, Leadership & Team, Finance

Now if you’re in any of the previous stages, I know you’re probably thinking, “Wow! Life must be totally awesome for these folks at this point! Everything is amazing when you’ve come so far!”

That’s true.

But everyone’s got challenges they’re facing when they’re growing in new areas.

That’s what growth is all about!

You learn to love the challenges and recognize that the simple things are what matters most in life (not the money).

Business (and life) really IS about the journey and not the destination.

The keys to continued growth and success at this stage are to surround yourself with others who will inspire and challenge you to continue growing.

And you need a new dream.

We’re most alive when we’re growing. And a new dream allows us to grow and develop ourselves (and our entrepreneurial skills) in new and exciting directions.

I have the pleasure of working with MANY top folks at this level as part of our NPE PLATINUM™ PROGRAM, and it’s a real joy. In this program, you’ll:

  1. Get clear on what success looks like over the next 3-10 years (and how you’ll measure it).
  2. Revisit and evolve your personal vision, company mission, and financial targets.
  3. Define business strategy and priorities (quarterly and annually) to achieve your mission.
  4. Align and multiply leaders to consistently drive results and scale your business.

If you are successful at this stage, you’ll:

  • Be passionate, fulfilled, and confident with the alignment of personal vision, business strategy, and company mission
  • Have passionate leaders owning big areas of responsibility aligned to the business mission
  • Live the life you want while continuing to build personal wealth … as you go from successful business owner to elite entrepreneur.

In addition to having access to all the systems, tools, coaching and events we offer for you and your team, we generally support clients we work with at this stage through private coaching & consulting work with very personalized plans tailored to their goals and needs.

We love working with entrepreneurs who dream big and are committed to personal and professional growth at every stage!

Where Are You Now?

There you have it.

An overview of the 6 Stages of Fitness Business Growth.

Which of these 6 stages are you currently in?

I invite you to learn more about the various NPE Programs we offer and how you can grow your fitness business to the next level.

We look forward to hearing more about YOUR story and how we can best support you in achieving your goals and fulfilling your dreams!

Get started on your journey to growing your business and creating the life you want. Learn more about NPE’s Business Education and Coaching Programs.

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