The Coaching Sweet Spot

A coach in a face mask assisting a client with a lift - the coaching sweet spot

The most valuable thing you have to sell is your attention.

The highest-value service you can provide is your full attention to the exclusion of anyone else. That means a one-to-one service is the highest-value (and highest-priced) use of your time.

The problem? It doesn’t scale. If you train one client at a time, you’ll always be trading time for money. The only way to give yourself a raise is to cut your lunch break.

Over the years, trainers have tried to scale up their one-on-one personal training practices. There are two ways to scale: You can leverage your time by splitting attention or you can leverage your attention by splitting up your time.

Scaling Option 1: Split Your Attention

Leveraging time by splitting attention: Train more people in the same hour-long session. Move from 1:1 training to 2:1, small-group sessions or group classes. Value decreases in proportion to how many ways the coach’s attention is split.

Examples: training people 2:1 or 4:1, training sports teams, teaching a CrossFit class, leading a spin class, coaching with videos in a bricks-and-mortar facility (like F45).

Shortfalls: The larger the group, the less valuable it is. Your attention is finite.

Strengths: In some cases (like CrossFit), groups can actually increase the value of the workout. But not as much as 1:1 coaching does, according to retention data. And the value of the group tends to fall after it reaches 12 or 13 members, according to the same data.

Scaling Option 2: Split Your Time

Leverage attention by splitting time: Train more people by coaching in very short increments. Focus on adherence and accountability.

Examples: training people 1:1 with overlapping appointments, training people online with frequent check-ins. Listen to an example here: “Two-Brain Radio: An Economist Walks Into a Brothel.”

Shortfalls: Most of us signed up to coach people in person. We want to experience successes with clients. Switching between clients quickly can become exhausting. And coaching 100 people online isn’t what we signed up for.

Strengths: During COVID shutdowns, many coaches found that customizing their programming for their clients and delivering it online was actually pretty easy. They followed a model used by online coaches, and many were done coaching by mid-morning. Some loved it.

What’s the Sweet Spot?

As we dig through more and more data, a model for a successful gym business is emerging.

The numbers aren’t set in stone, but in general:

1. Plan for 150 members.

2. Assume 20 percent of your members will pay twice what the rest pay (these are your PT clients, your “hybrid” members and your new on-ramp clients).

3. Train the rest of your clients in a group setting. Adherence rates are best with 1:1 appointments but are second-best in groups of 7-13. In groups larger than 13, client adherence rates actually drop.

4. Build a service that you can charge over $200 per month to provide (average revenue per member per month of $200 or above).

5. Use a Prescriptive Model.

6. Keep people for at least 14 months (length of engagement of 14+ months).

7. Assume that 60 percent of your group clients will attend on a given day.

8. Require registration for group classes from the start.

There’s more, and we share it in our mentorship programs. But these are the general targets to start with if you want to own a gym focused on group coaching.

If you want to own a smaller space with higher profit, or if you want to deliver all the coaching yourself, or if you want to focus on a niche, then those decisions change the model. But your mentor will help you find the numbers that work for you.

Some gym owners in Two-Brain are happiest with 50 clients. Some have over 500 and multiple locations. After 20 years as a coach, my sweet spot is fewer clients with higher average revenue per member, but you might prefer to work with large groups.

Other Media in This Series

“The Fitness Business Spectrum”
“How to Sell Programming”
“Selling Access: The Fragile Path”


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.