How to Bridge the Gap From Day Job to Fitness Entrepreneur

An artist's rendering of a man with a backpack jumping over a large gap in a bridge in the mountains.

You’re tired of your day job and excited by the prospect of owning a gym.

But you’re caught: The leap to entrepreneurship is very risky. Not everyone makes it to the other side. And if you have a family, that risk is dramatically higher because you don’t want to impoverish them if you don’t land where you want.

I’m sure your social feed is full of messages like “just go for it!” and “leap and build your wings on the way down!”

Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a chasm. On the far side is the successful life you want. But the gap between your side and the far side is pretty big.

To actually “make the leap,” don’t jump at all. Build a bridge.

Here are the steps:

1. Look Down

If you take a minute to observe the chasm, you’ll see the failed gym owners who didn’t make it. These people were just as passionate as you are, just as hardworking and just as dedicated to the craft of coaching.

Sadly—and it is sad—they didn’t make it. They’re out of the industry because they didn’t understand that owning a successful gym means learning how to run a business.

It doesn’t matter what method you like—there are thousands of failed CrossFit boxes, 9Round franchises, boot camps, martial-arts studios, yoga studios and personal-training practices down there.

I very nearly found myself among the wreckage. Now, keeping others from hitting the bottom gets me up every morning.

I’m not telling you to look down to discourage you. I just want you to remain optimistic while understanding the real risk you’re taking.

2. Measure the Gap

Let’s start with your current income.

Based on your current household expenses, how much of your current income do you actually need? Could you live on 70 percent of your current salary for six months? What about 50 percent?

You might want to talk this number over with your spouse.

The number you land on is your first earnings target for your coaching career: the absolute bare minimum.

For example, if your current job pays you $100,000 per year, but you could survive (barely) on $50,000, then $50,000 is your first target as an entrepreneur.

3. Narrow the Gap

Start coaching people on the side, at night and on weekends. Before you have revenue, time is your only point of leverage. Build toward your target number in your spare time.

Let’s face it: The fitness industry isn’t 9-5 anyway. You’re going to have to work 5-9 a.m. and 5-9 p.m.—for a few years anyway. You might as well start now and use the first year to build a client base without taking any risks.

Focus on building toward your first target number. For me, this was $45,000 per year with about 40 clients. When I opened my gym, I knew I’d start with at least some income.

4. Build a Bridge

Don’t try to make a huge leap. Plan a series of calculated jumps.

Follow my instructions from the first post in this series. If things work out, then commit to a space—but minimize your long-term commitments. Do not sign a long-term lease.

And don’t hire anyone on a salary or take out a five-year equipment loan.

Investment: Under $10,000 (plus space)

Your total investment at this stage should be less than the price of a used car, your clients should be doing small-group or semi-private training, and you should have a maximum of two part-time staff members to manage.

You should be able to make $50,000 per year with 50-70 clients. That should max out your space without totally crushing your weekends and evenings.

This was how I spent my first year in my own studio. If I’d skipped this step, I probably wouldn’t have survived.

5. Scale Down Your Day Job

When you’re almost to your minimum income goal, you can scale down “at the office.” Try to go part time or move to asynchronous work (you complete projects but don’t clock in).

Do your day job between clients if you can. This will mean you’re not really giving 100 percent to that job, but let’s face it: If you’re dreaming about entrepreneurship, you’re probably not giving 100 percent to the day job anyway.

6. Take the Final Leap

Your gym will grow faster if you’re working in it all the time. That’s a fact. Even hiring a manager won’t produce the results you will produce as owner.

At startup, though, you can’t always control the speed of growth. We can get you set up for success and profitability in our StartUp Program—the new record is 115 clients paid up front on opening day—but if you can buffer your risk for a while first, you’ll be safer long term.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t follow my own advice here. I made the decision to open a gym, and, two weeks later, I was there full time. I was the sole earner in my family with a new baby and a new mortgage. But I had some advantages that others don’t. I had:

A. A client base ready to come with me (I predicted 30, but it wound up being closer to 50).

B. A solid acquisition plan for more clients (I was already getting clients through a local blog).

C. Partners who would lend me the money ($16,000—even though I wasted most of it on stuff I didn’t need).

D. The ability to work 14-hour days.

E. A very supportive partner who was also all in on the entrepreneurial opportunity (and understood the risk).

F. The possibility of starvation as a very real and imminent threat. I was terrified to fail, and that helped me make some hard decisions that others avoid.

Get in the Right Way to Stay There

I started writing this series because a good friend asked how she could do some personal training in the evenings. She’s good at her current job and wants to help local people get fit. Her story is the same as thousands of others: A great person is looking to help other people live healthier, happier lives.

But, as with many of us, she didn’t see the real cost: time away from her kids, commitment to another schedule, conversations about money. I asked, “What would make this worthwhile for you instead of just buying yourself a second, lower-paying job?”

Her choice was to take three to five clients to try it.

Don’t get me wrong: I want to 10X the number of gyms, coaches and trainers in the world. But I want them to get into fitness and stay in fitness instead of pulling the ripcord a year into their $5 boot-camp side hustle.

Starting with your eyes open wide will help you successfully leap over that chasm instead of plummeting to the bottom like so many others do.


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.