Coaching Without a Gym: How to Make Money Without Buying or Leasing a Space

Picture of Chris Cooper with title text reading "Coaching Without a Gym: How to Make Money Without Buying or Leasing a Space"

Andrew (00:02):

Do you need a physical space to be a coach? Absolutely not. In fact, some gym owners ditched physical spaces and made a better living coaching in other places. Where and how? Chris Cooper will tell you in this edition of Two-Brain Radio.

Chris (00:15):

Hi guys, Chris Cooper here. Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by Forever Fierce. Reach out to them to sell more apparel or retail items. Matt Albrizio and his team will save you time with templates. They’ll provide ideas and tell you what’s selling best. And they’ll supply marketing material and preorder sheets. If you want to get serious about apparel and retail, visit Your gym is a tool. It’s part of your coaching practice, but it’s not your entire practice. Not even close. Many gym owners are wrestling with tough decisions about their bricks-and-mortar locations. Right now, most of our expenses as owners are tied up in our physical spaces, the rent equipment loan, the staff.

Chris (00:56):

But what if you didn’t need that space at all? What if you could operate your coaching practice without the millstone of a lease around your neck? This week, I’m going to share three proven strategies for running a coaching business without owning a physical space at all. Even if you have a physical space now, these are all viable options for your future or options that you can add to your current business to create opportunities for your coaches and grow your revenue. If you’re in a holding pattern waiting for your gym to reopen, or you’ve been shut down again, these are strategies that you can use to bridge the gap until you’re back in your bricks and mortar business. So we’re going to start with the option that we’ve been talking about a lot over the last three months, which is coaching online. I’m going to give you a step by step plan.

Chris (01:40):

So to move your business entirely online, to swing to that extreme, here are the steps. Number one, start with your perfect day. Write that down. What does it look like? How much time would you spend coaching? And then second, how much money do you need to achieve that lifestyle? OK. How much take home net income do you need? This was an exercise that I think we wish we had all done before we’d opened our gyms, but it’s good to do it every six months anyway. And if you’ve never done it before, it’s a great time to start. Third, run the numbers. How many clients at your current gym rates would you need to keep if you had zero expenses to make that target perfect day number? Fourth, measure your commitments. Can you get out of your current commitments? What are your expenses, like your lease and your loans.

Chris (02:32):

If you had to get out of them today, you had no choice, how would you do it? If you can’t get out of them today, just use them as a decision point. I will do the work by X date to have a clear decision in mind. So if you’ve got two years left on your lease, then you’ll say by July, 2022, I will be ready to make a decision on whether I want to keep a bricks and mortar facility or not. OK. Step five, measure your opportunities. Do enough clients actually want this? Survey your clients. How many of your clients said no, I’d stay online forever with you or I’ll stay online for the foreseeable future until your bricks and mortar gets back open. Number six, maintain three points of contact. So don’t change anything yet, but free up your time to start building your online business, put everything else into maintenance mode while you follow the old rock climber strategy of staying in contact with existing holds while you’re reaching for this new thing. That means your business should be systemized.

Chris (03:34):

Your delivery, retention, sales and marketing systems should keep operating at a 10 out of 10 without you. Number seven, sell online while running your current gym. With everything else running smoothly, focus your attention on building your online audience. Publish every day, create free giveaways and an expensive product to sell. Number eight. When you reach your minimum amount of online revenue, begin tapering down your physical operations. Pivot as many clients as you can to online training. This is really the point of no return. Most in person clients won’t go online until the in-person option disappears. When I was still doing PT with 34 clients per week, I tried to drop down to 10 clients and move 24 clients to my other trainers. But of course, when I told my clients, I’m only keeping 10 of you, they all wanted to be in the 10. Some clients will promise to switch to online training, and then they’ll hate it.

Chris (04:33):

Some won’t switch until they don’t have a choice. And that’s why you don’t want to count on any of them switching. Consider your in-person clients a bonus to your new model. Number nine, close your physical locations. Before you dip below break, even don’t force your online revenue to support your physical location. Man, I did this. I had a personal training studio that was paying for my CrossFit gym to stay open. And it was like torpedoing both of them. Number 10, narrow your niche to scale up, to get more clients, you’re best to be the biggest fish in a very small pond. Yeah, there appears to be more opportunity. When you think broadly about all the people on the internet. It’s always tempting to invent something new and then just kind of throw it out there. But inventors rarely make any money. The most successful people are the connectors, the people who connect to existing ideas or connecting an idea, a methodology to a waiting audience.

Chris (05:29):

For example, online, physical fitness training for referees, online physical fitness training for soccer players, online nutrition coaching for people with eating disorders, you can help these people more by becoming an expert in that narrow niche. Number 11, be patient. Nassim Taleb, one of my favorite authors, said difficulty is what wakes up the genius. So here are the pros and cons to coaching only online. Some of our Two-Brain mentors have actually done this and we’ve put them on our podcast. Ashley Mak was one. But new fitness pros will probably start with training people online before deciding whether to open a gym or not. Right. And you’re kind of at that point. Now you’re starting from a blank slate where anything is possible, but you don’t have a lot to fall back on. And that’s OK. If you were starting from scratch today, you can ask yourself, what would you do differently?

Chris (06:22):

Because all the options are on the table. There are pros to coaching people online. So first, you know, obviously there’s less overhead. Second there’s fewer clients required because you don’t have to have client memberships to cover your overhead. And third you’ve already done the hardest part, which is building an audience. There are people who are waiting to hear from you, even if they’re not paying you money yet. There are also cons. Number one, even if you’ve been coaching online for three months and you love it, you’re still in the honeymoon phase of this. Also, it’s harder to get new clients online. You’re competing with big brands for advertising space now, and while, you know, some costs on Facebook are lower, it’s also a battle for people’s attention. And finally, the audience that you do have didn’t really sign up for this. So while you might get a few of them to go online coaching, and some might even prefer it, the vast majority of people want to touch a barbell.

Chris (07:18):

So start with a goal. You can make the pivot from going, you know, full bricks and mortar gym to fully online. Others have done it. It will take time to unravel your current business, but if you work backwards from where you want to be, it is definitely achievable. And we have specialist mentors to help you work through this. Your second option for coaching without a gym is going off site. Now this is an option that’s really being examined closely in states that haven’t reopened, like New York. So right now what I’m doing is I’m just sharing stories and strategies for delivering your coaching practice without a physical location. And now we’re going to talk about coaching in your clients; homes on their sports field or at their workplace. Before you get too deep into this strategy, you need to talk to your insurance company and you need to ask them if you’re covered, number one for just going offsite, like a neighborhood park, number two, for going into somebody else’s workplace and number three for going into somebody else’s home. In ascending order, those things carry more risk.

Chris (08:23):

And while your general policy will probably cover you to run a class at a local sports field, it probably won’t cover you to go into somebody’s home because there’s a risk of like a sexual molestation claim there. So first I want to share a lesson that I didn’t have to learn the hard way. After coaching in the US for a few years, I returned to Canada and I started taking personal training clients around 2000, but I didn’t have a gym. So my first clients were trained in the back parking lot of this treadmill store, where I worked, and in their homes. After the store closed for the evening, I’d lock the doors and I’d walk around back to the parking lot. And there’d be an athlete waiting for me. My first niche was soccer players. And we’d pull equipment out of my truck, a homemade sled or a rusty old barbell and some equally rusty plates.

Chris (09:14):

When it rained, we canceled our sessions. When it didn’t, I would start by marking off a warm-up route in chalk. Like we would do dots of death, that agility drill, or maybe a shuttle sprint, or I’d find a level spot for the barbell while they were doing some kind of skipping warm-up and we’d do some lifting together. And then we’d walk down the road to this park where we would do our conditioning work. I charged 45 bucks an hour and I kept all of it. I had no expenses at all, but then it started to snow.

Chris (09:45):

As I got busier, I also started training clients in their homes, right? So I’d go from one athlete to the next in the back parking lot. But then I got my first non-athlete client and it was this woman with a home gym. I was preparing to quit my treadmill sales job so I wanted to take every client I could. I agreed to meet her in her home on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, she was easy to train and she was fun to be around. And she had all the equipment that she needed, but taking her as a client was a huge mistake. I didn’t realize it at first, but driving to her house and back took time. She was only about 10 minutes away, but I couldn’t book another client into the hour before or the hour after her session because of the drive. So her training hour actually took up three slots.

Chris (10:29):

Then this happened, you could probably see this coming. I showed up at her house on time to find dark windows and an empty driveway. This was before cell phones were really popular. So all I could do was bang on the door. And finally, here’s my third mistake. I didn’t charge for sessions in advance. So I’d have this awkward conversation with her at the end of the month. And when I tried to bill her for no-show sessions where I showed up and she wasn’t there, I showed up and she didn’t answer the door. There was no way she was paying for those. So I wasted all that time. You can guess what happened next, right? When she didn’t feel like working out, she just stopped answering her door. Or she’d claim to forget about our appointment. This happened with increasing frequency until I finally said, I’m just too busy for this.

Chris (11:14):

And I stopped training her. She’s a great person, but the wrong client. So here’s what I learned that will hopefully help you if you’re looking at doing a concierge in home service. First, if you’re going to train clients in their homes, charge at least twice as much as you would charge to train them at your location. Your travel time alone is costly and people will pay for the convenience. Second, sell packages in advance. Don’t try to bill after the fact. Thir,d set expectations really clearly on your first visit, highlight the cancellation policy. Ask if they understand it. Fourth, set up a three-month commitment. When driving to their house, you’re not training other people and you’re not working to find more clients either. That’s truly dead time. Here’s some other considerations. Again, your insurance might not cover you in clients’ homes. You better find that out first. Second, training somebody at home is a very high value service. You don’t even have to work out each time. You can take them grocery shopping, take them for a walk and just let them vent. Or you can clean out their cupboards. The first video I ever watched in the CrossFit Journal was by a coach called Skip Chase. He was talking about showing up at a client’s house and throwing all their processed carbs into a trash bag and hauling it away. Now that is service. That was a clear value to the client about what it meant to train with Skip Chase. Before we continue, I’d like to mention that this episode of Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by Wodify. Wodify is an all in one solution for member management, appointment scheduling and tracking. Wodify’s insights tool includes the business health dashboard co-developed with Two-Brain to provide average revenue per member, length of engagement and more key metrics. Gym owners, to receive 20% off your first year of Wodify Core visit

Chris (13:04):

Now you can also train clients on their fields of play. I’ve trained hundreds of athletes at Catalyst. One of our biggest strategies for getting new clients is the one to many strategy of training an athlete’s entire team. If you’re a Two-Brain client, all of this is laid out in the Two-Brain Growth ToolKit. You go to the affinity marketing highway, milestone two, and you get step by step instructions on how to approach a youth athletes team. So for example, when a basketball player joins the gym, immediately make contact with their coach, tell the coach your plan for the athlete and ask if they approve. Now, you don’t really need their approval and they probably don’t understand strength and conditioning anyway, but it’s a great way to build a connection. After the athlete’s first month of training, offer to run a fund combine for the team. Bring the team to the gym and run them through a few physical challenges. Collect parents’ email addresses on waivers and add them to your email list.

Chris (13:59):

Finally, approach the coach about a preseason conditioning camp. This has worked literally dozens of times at Catalyst and generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. But of course, I screwed it up the first few times. I could tell you stories about entire teams failing to pay. About parents failing to pay, and then trying to collect from them after the fact. About coaches forgetting to include the sales tax when they dropped off a check. About staff failing to show up for the sessions, all these things have happened. My worst memory was a parent threatening to sue me when I wouldn’t refund her kid for the sessions that she had skipped, but the rest of her team had showed up for anyway. Here’s what I learned. First, charge by the team, not by the athlete, calculate your hourly group rate, double it for travel offsite for the reasons that I just mentioned, produce a professional quote for the coach and have them pay in advance with one check.

Chris (14:53):

Let the coach worry about collecting money from the parents. So here’s one quick story. Our rates are higher than most gyms in town. Our city is full of part time experts, mostly just people who like to work out who will train their kids hockey team for cheap. I’ve stopped ranting about this now. And I just stick to our rates. More than once a coach has chosen Catalyst over the free parent expert because we looked safer and more professional. Now it doesn’t happen all the time. These coaches are working with very limited, maybe zero budget. And so they’ll take the free help when they can get it. But ultimately showing up as a professional means you’re going to get their business down the road. Second, train them once or twice per week, and then assign individual homework. Affinity marketing works both ways. You can go from one client to many, but you can also probably keep a few of the athletes long term after the team finishes training. Assigning individual homework is a good way to build one on one relationships even if the homework is the same for everyone. Third, make sure the coach understands your cancellation policy. They’re the only one who can cancel or postpone a session. Kids aren’t individually refunded if they don’t show up because your trainer is still there and training everybody else. Other considerations: make sure that you have the permits required to train people in public areas. Second, you can sell an optional equipment package to the players on the team. If you’re prescribing them homework each week, you can help them by offering an optional package of jump ropes and mats and stretch tubing. This isn’t a hard sell. It’s just an offer of convenience. As a parent, I would rather pay you 150 bucks than to drive all over town trying to find a yoga mat at one store, a skipping rope at another store and an AbMat online.

Chris (16:40):

Third option for training clients outside of a gym is training them in their workplaces. I have coached people in nursing homes, in office boardrooms, shuffleboard floors in bank lobbies and even an empty staircase at a hospital. Back then, my technology was a bunch of PVC pipes tied together with stretch tubing so I wouldn’t drop them in the office lobby. And of course I did, and it makes a huge noise and they run all over the place like pickup sticks. But now the best offsite training leverages technology and it usually centers around nutrition coaching. So if you’re a Two-Brain client, you’ll find a full step by step strategy for running corporate nutrition challenges on our Growth ToolKit. Go to the nutrition business highway milestone seven, and you’ll get the emails, the videos, everything that you need to run a corporate nutrition challenge. If you’re doing this on your own, start with your best clients, ask how you can help their coworkers.

Chris (17:33):

So Two-Brain clients, on the Growth ToolKit, go to affinity marketing milestone three. Then contact the HR department. Offer to do a free seminar on nutrition or stress in the workplace. Then sell them a corporate nutrition package, deliver the first seminar in person, and then set up an online nutrition course that drip feeds to everyone in the company who signs up. Two-Brain clients, this is all included in the nutrition business section on the Growth ToolKit, including pricing, emails, videos, everything, then book one-on-one appointments with people as necessary and convert them to nutrition coaching packages. Here are the considerations for coaching people in their office. First, measure attendance in your corporate classes if you offer them, measure adherence in your program to exercise and or nutrition. And measure every other metric you can. Present them to the HR department at the end. If you can get them, measure sick days or injuries, and then resell the value of your program to the corporation with proof. We get funding from government agencies from foster care agencies from corporations because we provide them with meaningful data that they won’t get from anybody else. And what data you provide them is any that you can get. Second consideration, make sure that you charge enough to cover your travel time if you’re going off site every few days. Also run the challenge once yourself, record exactly how you want it done, optimize your delivery and then automate it where possible, don’t put another coach in charge of this until you’ve run one yourself to see how it goes and then prepare them. This makes the process repeatable instead of just buying yourself a time-consuming client. The third option for coaching without a gym after coaching online, and then coaching on another field of play like the client’s home, their sporting venue or the office,

Chris (19:17):

the third option is working from another gym. So here’s another call that I got around 2018. Hey Chris, I make a great living as a personal trainer. I net about $80,000 per year working from someone else’s gym, but I’d like to open my own gym to make more money. Can you give me some advice? Now my advice might surprise you because you know that my mission is to make a million entrepreneurs successful. But what I told this trainer was don’t do it. This trainer was doing one-on-one training at a CrossFit gym. The owner wasn’t charging them anything. The trainer just had to run some classes every week. And in return, they kept all of the revenue from personal training. So the trainer was definitely earning more than the gym owner, but still he wanted to earn more. So he thought the next step was to open a gym like I had done.

Chris (20:07):

But when he saw the math, he realized that opening a gym would require a major step backward in his income, at least for the short term. To make $80,000 per year net as a gym owner, what he was making as a trainer, he’d have to generate at least $240,000 in revenue. And that’s best case with a 33% profit margin. He’d have to sign leases, he’d have to commit to loans and he’d have to scramble to find clients who paid less than his current clients did. He’d be required to market and sell constantly instead of just cherry picking clients from a waiting audience. So he raised his personal training rates by five bucks an hour, gave himself a raise. And I never heard from him again. Now of course, my advice to the owner of that gym would be radically different. But as a trainer in that gym, he could make more money because, you know, honestly, he was just grabbing clients that the gym owner had placed in front of him.

Chris (21:06):

And I tell this story, not because I’m telling trainers, here’s an opportunity for you to scavenge from the gym owner. I’m telling this as a cautionary tale to the gym owner, that doing the job of building the audience is most of the work, putting everybody in one place, access to equipment, insurance, banking, setting, all that stuff up. That’s the work, not coaching. You know, the coaches can make a living from your platform, but don’t just hand them the platform and say, here you go, charge whatever you want and keep all the money. In this story, the coach was really reaping all the benefits of the gym owner’s hard work. These opportunities are disappearing and rightfully so. They’re unfair to the gym. And often they wind up killing the gym. In the previous part of this podcast, I mentioned my start as a personal trainer using local parks, parking lots and my clients’ homes. That worked for a few months until the winter came and then I needed a roof.

Chris (22:02):

So I made a deal with a local gym. My clients would buy memberships and I would train them. Now, this was a great deal for me. The gym didn’t take a percentage of my coaching and I had all the equipment that I needed. As an unbelievable bonus, the gym had this unused dance studio upstairs where I ran my conditioning drills. For a few months, my clients and I enjoyed a fantastic training space and I kept almost all of the money. But then I got this phone call in the middle of the night. Coop. Yeah, it’s Shane from the gym. Listen, you better get over here and grab your stuff fast. The bank is going to padlock the doors in the morning. We’re bankrupt. So I threw on this pair of shorts. I drove to the gym. I loaded up my pylons and agility ladders into a bag in the dark.

Chris (22:49):

And by morning the gym was closed forever and I was homeless again. I called my clients and I told them I didn’t have anywhere to train them. For a few months, I was completely out of business. And then I had to start from scratch when I found a new home. If the training relationship doesn’t benefit everyone, the coach, the gym owner and the client, then it can’t last. So let’s talk about finding a space if you want to coach from somebody else’s gym. If you want to coach people in small groups or one-on-one, look first for fitness businesses that aren’t gyms. For example, some personal trainers in my city rent space from a local gymnastics club and train their clients in the corner there. Other sports specific coaches rent basketball courts, or hockey dressing rooms to run their workouts. Some use parks to run their boot camps, some rent dance studios to teach Pilates or yoga. Many of the first CrossFit affiliates were run this way.

Chris (23:39):

No commitment to a private space, no equipment purchase, no overhead. And the head coach at Catalyst used to run boot camps in local parks for almost a decade before she came and led my team. So here’s what to pay if you’re a trainer renting space in a gym or another fitness facility. How much should you pay in rent depends on what you’re buying. So the hardest part of any fitness business is building an audience for your service. If you’ll be training the clients of the gym where you’ll work, you should expect to give up 30 to 50% of your revenues to that gym. Now that might seem high at first, but consider this. You don’t have to go out and find clients. You don’t have to pay for advertising. You don’t have to figure out marketing or sales. You don’t have to pay insurance. You don’t have to buy or cart equipment around.

Chris (24:27):

So you can actually book clients back to back. You don’t have to pay bank fees. Any business can be divided into two parts. There’s operations, how you deliver the service, and audience, which is how you get people to pay for it. If the audience part is off your plate, then you can just book clients and collect money. The hard part is done for you. You’ll make more per hour than you probably ever have. And you’ll get as many clients as you want. Most commercial gyms, the big globo gyms, pay their coaches, 15 to 25% of the personal training fees they collect because they understand the value of having the audience. If you’re renting space in a building and recruiting only your own clients, you should pay a flat rate. Typically that rate is calculated by square footage, usage and cost. You can also go up if you’re using the facility’s insurance, equipment, or like bank processing equipment or booking billing software, stuff like that.

Chris (25:22):

All of these options are still a great deal because it’s cheaper to pay 5% more to use the gym’s booking and billing software than to pay 150 bucks a month to get your own, let alone bank transaction fees. In general, my rule of thumb for trainers is this: Number one, pay up to 56% of your revenue for space and audience. If you opened your own gym, you’d pay more like 88% of your income for those two things. Keeping 44% of your revenue is way more than the gym owner keeps in most every case. A 44% profit margin is great in any service business. At a globo gym, you would be paid around 15% of what your clients pay for a session. At a Two-Brain micro gym, you’d be paid triple that amount. Pay up to 22% of your revenue if you’re renting space only. Now you’re still gonna have to pay for insurance and booking and billing software and coaching software and bank fees and all that other stuff.

Chris (26:18):

You’d still have to put in 20, 30 hours per week to build an audience from scratch, but the space can give you a foundation to operate. And if you’re confident that you can build your own audience, this might be an option for you. Here are the keys to that option. If you need to leave your equipment in one place, you’re going to pay a lot more. Owning immovable equipment means committing to a lease. Period. If you need empty space with minimal equipment, pay per hour, and just carry your stuff with you. This is a typical case for yoga teachers who are just starting out because they just have to bring their mat and their clients even bring their own mats. If you need something in the middle, pay per hour in a minimal space rental fee. So for example, a local fitness instructor leads a seniors’ fitness class in our local town hall.

Chris (27:01):

She wants to leave her Swiss balls and mats in the storage room. So she pays to rent a storage room by the month and the rest of the space by the hour. Now this works in a blank slate multi-use facility, or like a government run facility, but it wouldn’t work in a gym setting. The key is to get the best for everyone. Sometimes good coaches open gyms, and then the gyms close. That’s OK. Their passion for coaching didn’t turn into business excellence because it’s a different skillset, but they can still make a great living as a coach at another person’s gym. And they won’t have to worry about acquiring clients or managing other coaches. I know many long-term owners who closed down, got a job coaching elsewhere and are now happier for it. Their clients are better served. The new gym is better served and the coach has a happier life. It’s a win for everyone. And that’s what you need to look for when you’re trying to coach without a gym.

Andrew (27:55):

This has been Two-Brain Radio with Chris Cooper. Got a topic you’d love to hear Chris talk about? Email


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