We’ve seen the claims from the business ‘gurus’ – 5 figure months, 6 or 7 figure years. But how much do online personal trainers make? What proportion of online PT’s actually take home 6 figures after tax? And how long does it actually take them to get to that number? In this article, I dive into the stats.
You are probably reading this because you’re thinking of transitioning into the online fitness industry after a rough year for in-person PT (if you’re reading this in early 2021)/ trying to set financial targets for the year/ doing a term paper on the fitness industry. In all categories I know you probably want to get straight to the juicy stuff so the TLDR; is
- The revenues vary wildly from 10’000 per year to 1’000’000+ – the definition of the job is loose in itself and a lot of ‘stat padding’ is done to make the numbers seem bigger than they are. i.e running cost isn’t taken into account.
- A PT coaching 30 recurring online clients can expect to make between 1500 and 6000 per month depending on their pricing and the market they serve. However, there is the ability to scale to hundreds, even thousands of concurrent clients which is where the 6 and 7 figure stuff comes in.
- Scale is mostly achieved through ad spend, which increases overhead cost, meaning that you need more clients than organic methods to reap the same profit. 30 organically acquired clients and 30 ad spend clients don’t produce the same net profit.
- With more scale there comes a point where you need to outsource your labor to deal with the volume. This can be done through automation or through hiring. Automation is less expensive and infinitely scaleable, but it needs to be done properly in order to avoid delivery problems and client retention issues.
- Matching offline PT income is a much more realistic target than thinking the internet is going to unlock the pathway to millions – and for most people’s job satisfaction this is absolutely fine.
Now to dive into the reasons behind these bullet points.
Why is there so much variation in online coaching salaries?
The first port of call when unpicking this question is to actually define what an online personal trainer is. Or more importantly for anyone reading this – what kind of online personal trainer do you want to be?
There is the Full time, Self-employed online PT, the Hybrid Online/offline PT, the Online PT Employed by a larger company. The bulk of this article is going to cover the earnings prospects for the first two options, but I want to get the Online PT Employed by a larger company out the way.
A quick google will show that, according to Ziprecruiter.com, the average American Online Personal Trainer makes $49’645 per year. Out of these jobs 16% of them paid under $30’000. 20% between $30’000 and $40’000. 24% between $40’000 and $50’ooo. 21% between $ 50’000 and $60’000.
This means that a whopping 81% of Online personal trainers have salaries below $60’000. So where are all these 6 figure Sammy’s? The answer is, there are very few non self-employed coaches who earn that much. Less than 2% of listed jobs carried salaries of over $100’000. The prospects for six-figure stardom get even bleaker when you dive into what those job titles actually were. If you self-identify as a Personal Trainer you probably imagine fitness coaching, or sports performance or injury prevention as the central tenet of your offering. Ziprecruiter lists the highest paid ‘Personal Trainer’ jobs as:
None of these are particularly barbell or treadmill oriented – so realistically that average salary is even lower. Basically – if you want to earn 6 figures as an Online PT Employed by a larger company you’ll be looking at 30-40k (dollars) entry level with a cap around 75k as you advance. That is great – it means you can earn a decent living doing what you love. If you start entry level when you’re young the living costs are manageable. As you age, and family commitments, and larger financial targets come along, your salary should rise in relation to that. The big issue with being employed is that your time is not within your own control. You have to clock in and clock out and there is still someone telling you what to do . To a general population this may seem like normal life, but most personal trainers and fitness coaches get into the industry, in part, to claim the independence that comes with being self-employed. So do these same salary limits hold true for the self-employed online PTs?
Higher ceiling, lower floor.
The limits in either direction become more extreme as you wade into the waters of self-employed online fitness. At the low end there are people that make $0 in an entire year from all the efforts they put into trying to attract an online client base and deliver them a fitness result. This may be the offline PT who wants to transition online and has heard that social media is the way to go – so they post consistently each day and nothing comes of it. There are even people that make a loss, paying to build a website and get fancy software and never actually managing to make a sale because their focus was in the wrong place, and their actual fitness offer isn’t appealing to the market.
These people don’t technically count in the average salary calculations because they usually leave the industry after a year of failing. However, it is an eventuality you have to consider when deciding to do online PT. Unlike being ‘self-employed’ in a gym setting where there is a membership base to get your clients from, you have to get every single lead, every click, every sign-up etc off your own back, which exposes yourself to the risk that it might not work at all. (at least initially, those who stick around and do their research tend to figure it out eventually).
Just as there is a chance that your salary will be 10x smaller if you opt to go self-employed online, it also opens up the possibility that it could be 10x larger. There are certainly fitness coaching companies out there that are doing million dollar years in revenue (Renaissance Periodisation, Joe Wicks, Athlean-x, Jen Selter). But setting a million as your benchmark for an expected salary is like slipping on a pair of running shoes and hoping that you’ll run a sub 10-second 100m because you’ve seen Usain Bolt do it.
On top of this – most of the trainers/fitness brands raking in that volume of cash have significant overheads in terms of ad spend and employees. They also reinvest a large chunk of the revenue into the business so their take-home pay is much more likely to be in the $150 – 300k category, which is a huge amount of money to most people on the planet. You offered me that salary to coach people and i’d take your hand off.
This is not to diminish the potential of self-employed online coaching – there is a chance that, given the right strategy, over the course of a decade, you could take yourself into that kind of stratosphere. However, you aren’t going to get there in the first year, and even long term you will likely fall somewhere between the two extremes. So what does it look like to be in that middle-ground?
The middle-ground, the numbers.
The reason I am so sure of the numbers on this is because there is a certain limit to how much you can reasonably charge to 99.9% of the population for online fitness coaching. The only people who will happily pay over $500 per month are athletes, celebrities and the military – basically people who’s success/funding relies on their ability to perform physically or look a certain way.
These people will also more than likely seek in-person coaching – because they are happy to pay that premium. If not they will seek the BEST in the world at what they do and pay whatever they charge for online guidance. If you aren’t a world-leader then it is incredibly hard to justify the money for online guidance. On top of this, you normally have to give away a ton of your time to justify the value. This prevents scalability, which puts a cap on your total earnings.
From our experience trying every single price point (from $10 a month to $997) and coaching hundreds of other fitness coaches on how to position their offer, we have found the sweet spot to be between $50 and $200 per month as a price point. A price point within this range is usually the upper limit that most markets are willing to pay as a recurring fee, for scalable-level coaching.
By scalable-level – I mean a method of coaching delivery that is largely automated so that you can deal with a large volume of clients (over 30). Read about this more in this article
This gives the average client an expected monthly value of $125 ppm. From that point the simple calculation is: No. of clients x 125 x 12.
So 10 clients is $15’000
20 is $30’000
And 30 is $45’000
And so on…
Therefore your ability to earn online comes solely down to your ability to attract clients, retain them over time and manage them at scale.
The most dependable way to attract online clients is through getting a converting ads funnel set up – we go into why that is in this article but I mention it here because it means that most of your clients aren’t acquired for free. If your funnel is working well you should reasonably be acquiring clients at breakeven and above.
By breakeven I mean the money you spend on ads to acquire a single client matches what they pay you for the first program/offer. The reason a PT business can sustain itself on breakeven is that the lifetime value of a client is usually much higher than that initial payment. If they spend 6 months with you and the first month of coaching was that break-even price then you actually get 6x value on your ad investment (which is how most of the bigger PT businesses make their profit and scale).
I only put that here because there are certainly businesses that will spend 50’000 on ads a year and have revenue of 100’000. That’s still awesome – but in terms of estimating your take home pay it works out a little differently than simply saying ‘we have a 6-figure online business’.
The same calculations need to be applied to overhead costs of having staff. If you are trying to go it alone – or with a business partner then realistically your ability to manage clients, even in a perfectly constructed and automated system, stops at around 100-150 before you need to bring on extra staff. It’s a good problem to have, but just be aware that alongside tax, staff and ad spend can turn a 7-figure fit pro into someone taking home something much closer to 200’000 instead of the million in revenue (oh no boohoo).
Most people don’t even want that size of a business – they would just be happy to match their offline pt income and make it full-time online to reap all the rewards and independence that come with it. They want to hit their freedom number. To find out what that number is for you click here.