Gym vs freelance: What’s the best option for a new personal trainer?

Man at gym

To become employed or go freelance. That is the question for personal trainers across the country.

Getting hired by a gym brings a sense of ease and security, but a global pandemic and accelerated digital revolution have blown convention out the water, perhaps making the pull of independence more appealing than ever. So, in this new climate, which is better for those working in the fitness sector? Of course, it depends on several factors, and these are some of the key aspects you need to consider before you start life as a personal trainer.

Financial benefits

Salaried is safer

Being an employed personal trainer in a gym means you get a guaranteed salary since you’ll be contracted to work a set number of hours. This arrangement means you’ll have a secure income as a freshly qualified personal trainer while you develop new skills and confidence in the profession. You are also entitled to annual leave, sick pay, and perhaps bonuses depending on your employer. Sounds rosy, right?

Self-employed PTs have no salary cap

There is more financial certainty when you’re an employed trainer and new PTs, in particular, are most likely to benefit from this arrangement. However, earnings are capped according to your salary. This is often frustrating for fitness professionals who have grander ambitions in terms of earnings.

From this perspective, becoming a self-employed personal trainer certainly has a higher ceiling. In fact, there is basically no ceiling. Take personal trainer and entrepreneur Mike Thurston, who recently uploaded a video casually explaining how he made an extra £15,000 per month for his online fitness business. There are no limits to how much you can earn when self-employed.

But, of course, it’s not that simple. The time and effort required before you achieve a healthy income is not to be underestimated. And when you’re at the genesis of your career, not knowing if you’ll be able to pay the bills can be stressful. You have to be up to the challenge, be prepared financially, and have patience, persistence and passion in abundance to follow this path.


Employment means less paperwork

When employed at a gym, there’s little admin for you to worry about. You’ll have to fill out some paperwork to become an employee but nothing more than that. The gym should insure you in case there are any accidents while you’re training a client (though always double-check you’re covered by their policy), and you don’t have to dabble with tax because the gym’s accountant will sort this for you too.

Self-employment means business admin

However, as a self-employed PT, there’s a lot of business paperwork to sort out. This includes an insurance package. This isn’t something you need by law, so maybe you don’t think it matters. But as insurance providers at Salon Gold explain: “A client may sustain an injury while following advice you gave them for their fitness routine. This may lead to a claim for malpractice and spell bad news for your business.” You don’t want an unexpected event to put your business in jeopardy before it’s really got going, so make sure you’re protected by securing all the cover you need as a PT.

Another administrative aspect you need to consider is tax for self-employed personal trainers. As a business owner and personal trainer, you will need to get into the habit of recording your financial transactions. This involves registering with HMRC, creating invoices, logging clients, and obtaining evidence of your business-related purchases so that you can claim expenses on certain items.

Everyday benefits

Employed = learn from others and embrace variety

Working at a gym provides you the opportunity to work alongside and learn from more experienced trainers who have been in the industry for years. It should not be understated how valuable it is to observe how others work, whether it be the fundamental process of creating a personalised training plan programme, or the soft skill of effective communication.

However, as an employed PT, you are given a mandatory number of hours that you’ll need to work on the gym floor, which may also include other tasks or duties that you may not want to do, like cleaning the equipment or changing rooms. For salaried trainers, the number of possible clients that you can train on any given day will be determined by the membership numbers of the club. Therefore, you may be forced to train clients who do not necessarily fit your skill set or preferred demographic.

That said, this could be perceived as a benefit with the right perspective. By training a wide range of clients with different goals, you will discover what you enjoy most. Perhaps it’s training clients who want to build muscle. Alternatively, it could be those who want to lose fat. This variety will give you a broader range of skills and will also help you establish your preferences should you branch off to freelancing at a later date.

Freelance = total control and flexibility

Self-employed trainers tend to have far more autonomy. Firstly, freelancers have more fluidity with where and when they work. It means that the shackles are off and you are free to create your own path, wherever it may lead. Moreover, as a freelance trainer, you have an opportunity to select your own clients. This is not only more fun for you, but it means you have a specialism and therefore offer more value.

That said though, there comes a time in most self-employed PTs’ careers where it’s difficult to say no to prospective clients, and they then end up working 12-14 hour days. This is unsustainable and not flexible at all. The way you solve it, however, is quite simple: just start charging more. You are certain to lose some clients (which is what you want), but since the ones you keep are paying extra, you still earn the same. You just get more time and, therefore, flexibility.

Marketing efforts

The gym takes care of everything

The gym you work for will have its own team to take care of marketing, so you don’t need to worry about attracting business yourself. If you’re employed by a gym and wearing a uniform with a logo, you’re already benefiting from the brand they have created. If it wasn’t for their marketing, the clients wouldn’t have appeared. In other words, there will be a level of trust and value automatically associated with you and your training services simply because of where you work. You benefit from the reputation they have built.

Self-employed? Do it yourself

If you’re freelance, however, you’ll have to do the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing — and you alone. Now, this is not something you ought to be afraid of, since the path of learning how to market yourself is one that will benefit you for life. So be excited by the challenge. Don’t fear it.

It’s going to be your sole responsibility to tell people who you are, what you’re offering and why they should choose you over other fitness professionals. Think about your strengths: what you can offer that other personal trainers can’t. Then ponder who these strengths would benefit: what kind of people would be willing to pay you for your specific expertise.

If you decided to gain some experience as an employed personal trainer before going freelance, you’ll already have some expertise and previous clients to flaunt. And flaunt them you should. Use every scrap of experience you built up in your salaried role to demonstrate your ability. As a self-employed business owner, your reputation is your brand. Focus all of your effort on creating an amazing service for your first few clients, and you’ll soon be gathering momentum.