What you’ll learn from this episode
Highlights from the interview
[08:20] – How Kristian went from a teacher career path to personal training at a big box gym to successful offline and online fitness business owner
[18:59] – What made Kristian choose to focus on training women going through Menopause
[29:28] – How Kristian built up his online training business & fitness video library part time
[32:10] – Kristian’s Online Fitness Business Setup
[33:59] – How to give a custom nutrition program to every client in under 5 minutes
About our Guest
Today on the show is Kristian Leach, he is located in Calgary, Canada. He initially set out to be a teacher, but soon fell in love with personal training.
He started in a big box gym, like a lot of us. And then he found his way in leasing space and doing online training. He makes, I would guess, about six figures and he can customize his schedule around his young family.
In addition, he’s really big into his charitable work and has raised over $125,000 for programs like Charity Water, the salvation army adoptive family. What’s interesting about Christian is that he’s found success really quickly as a personal trainer, which we all know isn’t actually that easy.
He actually grew his online business to having too many clients and all with free Facebook marketing. In addition, in this three-part interview series with him, we find out not only how he has found success in his career, but how he’s made it work for his family life and who he is as a person.
Edited transcription of Fitness Business Secrets Podcast, Episode 33
How Kristian went from a teacher career path to personal training at a big box gym to Successful offline and online fitness business owner
[08:20] Kristy: I’m really curious how you got to this point.
Could you tell us a little background of how you got into personal training and decided to take your business in this direction?
Kristian: I’ve been personal training for 15 years now. I first got into personal training because I did a lot of power lifting and I coached a lot of sports. I was actually enrolled in the masters of teaching program to become a teacher. Then, I thought, “In the meantime, while I’m waiting for school to start, I’ll do personal training just to kind of save up to pay for school.”
I loved personal training so much that I canceled my spot in the teaching program, and I’ve been training ever since. Then, about three and a half years ago, I transitioned to some online training. I thought that the “be all, end all” goal for me was to be 100% online.
Once I got to about 50% online, I thought, “That’s probably enough desk work for me, and to have a little ADD, I need to be doing a variety of things.” There were some clients that I really wanted to still have that one-on-one with, so that’s probably your definition of a hybrid trainer.
Kristy: Interesting. You mentioned you’ve been training for 15 years. What was the first one to two years looking like for you? What type of training were you doing?
Kristian: I started at one of the big box gyms. I quickly realized that I wanted to work for myself, but I just wanted to gain the experience. Within about 10 months of being in the box gym, I found a gym where I could pay a lease. Then, I quickly kind of learned the ins and outs of running my own business.
During the first year, I was working for the box gym and getting versed in sales. I had no sales experience whatsoever. For any of you watching, you probably know that with the big box gyms, there’s a lot of consultations and sales. That was probably the toughest part for me.
Once I built a decent clientele, there hasn’t been a lot of sales involved since, at least on the in-person side of things. Paying the rent space at the gym– that’s what I’ve been doing the last 14 years.
Kristy: Oh, wow. I know you currently do 50% of your services in person. Is that the space you leased in the beginning or did you change location?
Kristian: No. I’ve been in that space ever since. I actually sought that space out. They said they didn’t have room for any more trainers, and I just kept bugging them until they made room for me.
The reason I like the space is because it’s a bit of an older population and a lot of my clients are in that middle to older age population anyways. So, I thought it was a good fit for them.
There’s a couple other gyms that had openings, but they were more of a bodybuilding gym or the high-intensity boot camp style gyms, and that wasn’t necessarily the best fit for my clients.
So, that’s why I ended up where I’m at now, and I’m pretty happy here. Obviously with COVID, we closed down here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We just got a very surprise notice yesterday that we can reopen, so I’m just trying to help the management team here.
Kristy: I’m definitely going to ask you some questions about COVID and how it’s affecting your business.
Kristy: Just to go back to how you got started, a lot of people are like, “Hey, I want it. I want to be on my own. I want to make that jump.”
There’s a lot of ways you could do it. Could you tell me a little bit about the lease that you took on? Is there a percentage? How does it work?
Kristian: Well, it’s just a flat monthly fee, so that can be overwhelming at first.
If anybody’s looking into approaching a gym to run your own business, often there’ll be a variety of ways to pay. Maybe you pay per client. Maybe the gym wants to take a percentage of each session, or maybe you want to pay the lump sum.
If you don’t have a lot of clients, paying that lump sum in the beginning probably is not going to work for you. But, if you have just a handful of clients, then maybe you want to let the gym take a percentage of each session or just pay a drop-in fee for you and your client.
What I’ve found is that gyms are in the city, so I have a lot of friends in the industry. Gyms are usually willing to kind of ease you in, rather than have that big lease to start. If you want to do the drop-in fee or something until you build up your clientele, try to talk and work with them.
If you do have a good client base, usually it makes more sense to just pay your monthly lease, then everything you make above and beyond that is a profit or it can be reinvested in the business.
What percentage of the training price you can expect to keep when training at big box and boutique gyms
Kristy: I like that. Could you give me some examples? I know it’s going to be particular to where you are. Let’s say it’s a drop-in fee or a percentage. What would you imagine what that might look like?
Kristian: Probably in the $20 range per hour is what a gym might charge, plus or minus. I know some gyms have been charging $15 to $18, and some have been more to $25.
I would say that would be a reasonable expectation. That’s based on a trainer charging in American dollars. Maybe somewhere around $75 a session for the hourly rate. You could probably consider $20 to $25 of that going to the gym initially.
I would say that would be a reasonable expectation. That’s based on a trainer charging in American dollars. Maybe somewhere around $75 a session for the hourly rate. You could probably consider $20 to $25 of that going to the gym initially.
As you get busier and busier, if you’re new at it and you start paying your lease, you can probably get that down to $10 per hour that you’re paying to the gym.
Kristy: Nice. First of all, thank you. That’s really helpful information. How much would you expect the gym to support you, such as to give you leads or is it sort of like you have your own leads?
Kristian: It depends on the size of the gym. When you’re paying a lease, I really wouldn’t expect much in terms of leads from the gym. It can be different from gym to gym, but what I learned from most of the contract trainers I know in the city that are paying a lease, you’re pretty much responsible for your own leads.
That’s why it is advantageous to come to the gym already with some clients. If you’re giving them good service, then referrals are the name of the game. You get a client in good shape. They start getting compliments from their friends, and then they will tell their friends about you.
Our gym does offer us the ability to do consults with clients, but we don’t have a lot of members here and we have seven trainers. It is really dependent on the gym.
From what I’ve seen for the most part, you kind of want to be relying on referrals in your own online marketing, as your primary pipeline for your business.
That’s why it could be advantageous to start at a box gym where there’s a plethora of people walking through the door to get that experience and maybe build up a clientele first.
Kristy: That makes sense. How about percentage? Let’s say instead of the dollar amount, they go with percentages. I know the 25/75 is like 35%.
What would you kind of consider a percentage?
Kristian: Well, for the box gyms here in Calgary, generally it’s around 50% is what you can expect them to take. All the systems are pretty similar throughout Canada. You’re a brand new trainer. You start by charging X amount and the gym gets 50% of that.
Then, as you graduate, maybe you can get towards that 30% or 35%, but that’s kind of your best case scenario really at these gyms. I can get to the point where I’m charging the clients $75 an hour, and I get $50 of that. That’s probably the best case scenario actually from a franchise gym.
Kristy: So, if it’s a smaller gym, maybe similar to yours where it’s more boutiques, would you imagine a different percentage?
Kristian: Probably not. We don’t have that system in place at our gym, but I think that the boutique gyms are pretty savvy to the numbers too.
At least here in Calgary, Canada, that’s the consistent commission if you’re not paying a lease. Like I said, if you’re paying that lease and you build up a good clientele, you can probably get that down to the point where maybe when you do the math, 10% to 15% is going to your lease and the rest of this going into your pocket.
How to possibly increase your pay by renting or leasing gym floor time
Kristy: Nice. That’s really it. Then, in dollar amount, if it’s a per session, you mentioned it’s almost $15 per session if you have a lease.
Kristian: Yeah. You want to kind of get that down to $10 or $15. $10 is usually my goal. If I can do the math of the hours I put into the gym versus my lease and I paid $10 an hour, then I feel pretty good about that.
Kristy: That’s a good percentage. How many clients do you feel you need to get to make sure you’re reaching that? I don’t know if it’s on a weekly or monthly basis.
Kristian: I saw the training sessions and packages. Some people are more, some people are less, but that’s based on two times a week. So, you’re looking for about 20 clients. That’s based on twice a week.
One thing you want to take into account is that clients will be traveling and sick. For most trainers, it’s a 24 hour cancellation policy where if they’re canceling with 24 hours notice, then you’re not getting paid for that hour.
When you’re doing your math, you want to factor in the fact that maybe 15% of the booked sessions each week might get canceled or rescheduled due to illness or travel or whatnot.
What I’ve found is it’s kind of a blessing and a curse, but working with people that are middle aged and older, they have a decent amount of disposable income for training, but they also have that income to afford going off for a month or two to travel, which is nice for them. But then, it’s not always nice for the trainer when you’re looking to fill that spot.
What made Kristian choose to focus on training women going through Menopause
[18:59] Kristy: My next question then is because I know that you have a specific group that you target and I think that’s really interesting to have a strategy, how would you describe your customer avatar?
Kristian: When I ventured online, initially, I just started advertising online training. I didn’t get into that avatar or that niche if you will, but I’ve isolated perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. The main reason I did that was because those are the people that I’ve worked with the most.
If I’m an expert in working with anybody, it seems to be women in that age group. I see that women in that age group often have the most challenges, so I think there’s the most opportunity to help there.
A lot of the women I work with come into the program with the belief that they can’t lose weight. Maybe they’ve even been told that by their doctor or somebody, “You’re going through menopause. You can’t lose weight.”
I think I get an extra sense of pride when we have some success stories of women that have tried everything under the sun and have failed, and then it’s like, “Well, you could do this. We just have to try something a little different here.”
So, that’s my niche right now. When I started, it’s called The Fit Woman For Life program. I had a trainer. I had designed the program, and then I brought a trainer on board and she was in her early fifties. I think from a marketing standpoint, that was really effective.
Online training just really wasn’t for her, so I’ve been running it on my own ever since. Referrals are really important in that regard because when you see a 39 year old guy being a specialist for women, I think some people will be like, “Why is it him and not a woman?”
But, because I’ve had a few hundred women come through the program and know me, then they’re able to refer people to me and I can do the thing on my own.
Kristy: What year was it in your training career where you started to notice your customer avatar? The typical customer you’re working with and make that focus.
Kristian: I would say probably two years into it. When you’re a new trainer, you’re taking on every single client in the world. You’re just looking for business. I think it just happened by chance that I started to work mostly with middle aged women and they started to refer people to me. I was like, “I guess this is my specialty,” and I enjoyed it.
I seem to connect well with that avatar. It wasn’t necessarily by choice, but I’m happy it worked out that way.
Kristy: I could see that’s been a great opportunity. You might’ve seen that I ran Alana Life and Fitness. We were women focused and we had some different age groups, but that was definitely one of the groups we focused on.
Figuring out the best program length for his weight loss program and customizing it to attract new customers
Kristy: I’m curious because I think a lot of people are wondering if they should focus on a specific group. I want to ask you some questions about this group. You mentioned it’s also just an older group, so it could also be that, but how long do you see yourself working with this group? You can subgroup it by online versus offline. How long do you usually work with them?
Kristian: It varies, but I would say the average amount of time is usually three to four months. I packaged the women’s nutrition coaching program in six and 12-week blocks. To be honest, 12 weeks is really the ideal time to really start to make those habit-based nutrition changes where they’re getting a customized portion plan.
In order to really get to learn what makes that client tick and break down those barriers to weight loss and change habits, that usually takes 12 weeks. Now, someone might ask, “Why do you have a six-week option?”
In order to really get to learn what makes that client tick and break down those barriers to weight loss and change habits, that usually takes 12 weeks.
It’s because some people aren’t ready to commit to 12 weeks. That seems like a really big barrier to them. You can get them in at six weeks, then get them to renew from there. I find that the 12 to 16 week range is really optimal for getting them to create those habits and to buy into the process.
I really try to preach sustainable weight loss methods, so we’re not going for rapid weight loss. You’re going to have to add that up over the 12 weeks rather than expect dramatic changes over six weeks. In fact, for a lot of these women, the reason they’ve failed in the past is because they’ve always tried to make very quick changes to their diet, and then it’s not sustainable.
I weighed that up. “Do I even offer this shorter term contract?”
I think it’s more to get some people in the door that are really hesitant. You know they need 12 weeks, but they don’t know you. They don’t know that they need 12 weeks quite yet. Some of them do, but some of them don’t.
That’s why there’s the six week option, even though I do really try to stress that the changes we’re looking for are more long term.
How he keeps his online and offline customers well past their initial program
Kristy: I’m going to ask you later about how you kind of get them to sign up for the additional six weeks, but I’m wondering about this client. You’re training them in person and online, and you’re training them between 12 and 16 weeks. Let’s talk about offline then. Are some of them doing maintenance programs? For offline, on average, how long do you have this client for?
Kristian: The interesting thing is most of the women in my Fit Woman Online Program are strictly online clients. Then, most of the in-person clients are strictly in-person clients, but the Fit Woman program is a nutrition coaching program with some bonus exercise routines in there.
Often the transition for those online clients is once we’ve realized the weight loss goal, we might transition to exercise only online. That’s usually what I try to do.
“You’ve lost the weight now, perhaps you want to elevate your training prowess.”
I do pride myself on the fact that I have to put my money where my mouth is. I don’t want you to need nutrition coaching forever. I want to have taught you enough to be able to do this on your own, but then the next transition will be exercise only coaching because that can go on forever.
Kristy: I see.
Kristian: Then, your second point to the in-person clients. Most of my in-person clients kind of are staying with me indefinitely, which is great. It’s the demographic I work with. The nice thing is there’s financial security, and a lot of them are doing this to, quite frankly, extend their life expectancy. So, they’re kind of in it for the long haul.
I have trained a few people for fitness competitions and whatnot, but that’s a very finite amount of time. I know there’s off season programs and maintenance, but the middle aged and older retirement demographic, often they’ve got their budget worked out and this is a part of their life. There’s more security that way.
Making the hard choices to let go of customers to create the dream work-family-life schedule
Kristy: That’s a great client because you have to work so hard to get them. It’s nice to know that the lifetime value is a long time.
Kristian: If anything, when I transitioned online — and for anybody watching this, if you started to do this, you probably have to make some decisions about which clients you keep. It’s almost like breaking up with somebody. You have to end that relationship with some of these clients that were in it for the long haul.
When allocating more time to online and less in-person, I’ve always tried to partner them with a trainer that I think might fit well with them.
I guess it’s a good problem to have, but that’s been one of the tough ones when I went online and probably one of the things holding me back was, “I’m going to have to let some clients go.”
Kristy: What was the reason you have to let them go?
Kristian: Well, I think what really gave me the kick in the pants is I have a six year old daughter and a three year old daughter. I was really tired of normal personal training hours, working early mornings, evenings, and Saturdays. So, I said, “I want to buy back my weekends and my evenings. I do not want to be in the gym on the evenings and weekends.”
My wife was working part-time. The days that she’s working, I want to be able to get out of work early afternoon and pick the kids up from their day home or from school or wherever. So, any clients that fell in that timeframe, I had to make that tough decision.
This time with my family now is more important and because the online was going so well, my finances were actually up even with letting the in-person clients go.
An easier way to break up with them was, “It’s not me. It’s the time that you train. It’s the time frame.”
I think that softened the blow a little bit. It wasn’t because I didn’t like those particular clients. If they were evening or weekend clients, it was just, unfortunately, a decision that had to be made.
I would say the quality of my family life and my relationship has improved exponentially since giving up evenings and weekends. It’s such a relief.
Kristy: I totally get it. There’s just certain times where to be working at those times, it’s a big ask. So, it’s not the amount of time. It’s the time of day.
Kristian: You probably noticed in your gym, it’s booming in the early mornings and evenings. That means you’re committed to the bookends of the day, whereas a lot of jobs don’t require that.
How Kristian built up his online training business & fitness video library part time
[29:28] Kristy: Exactly. I’m curious because I want to get into your online business, since that’s really interesting.
You mentioned that it did really well. That was a great story of how you decided to go online and take that jump for your family. I know right now it seems obvious and it worked out well, but I’m sure at that time, it seemed risky.
How did you end up getting online and creating your program? Did you have a coach? Did you find a program?
Kristian: I enrolled in the Online Trainer Academy with Jonathan Goodman. I thought that was really good information. I started to follow other trainers online and see what they’re doing. I started just with doing the online training programs.
One of the easiest ways for anybody watching is if you have in-person clients that you don’t see that often or maybe they’re traveling a lot, I initially started by transitioning in-person clients to online. That was the easiest thing, rather than to put some posts online and market to people that don’t even know me.
“This person is so busy. They can only see me once a month in person, but I have this service now I can offer where I can send you all your programs. Even if you’re traveling, we can give you some body weight programs for your hotel room or something basic for a basic hotel gym.”
To me, that was the easiest way to transition online. I utilize the Trainerize app. There’s Trainerize and My PT Hub and some like that. I had a very good friend who helped me film hundreds of exercise demo videos, which for anybody watching, that seems really overwhelming.
What we did was every Friday, we did as many videos as we could do in an hour. You add that up over a couple of months, and then you’ve got a couple of hundred videos there. At first, I was like, “There’s 25 different versions of a chest press that I want to do, and that’s just the chest press.”
Just keep chipping away at the videos and uploading them. I think transitioning in-person clients to online is the lowest barrier way to do it.
Kristy: I like that. That’s really smart because clients already know you. They trust you. If they’re not able to see you very often now, you’ve added value to your service for them and you can design those programs whenever you want. You can be sitting in your underpants at two in the morning. If you want to design those programs, it’s totally your time.
Kristian’s Online Fitness Business Setup
[32:10] Kristy: What does your service offer? Since some people do it very differently. Some of them just have a library. I know you mentioned you do a nutrition specific program and some people literally train people in-person via FaceTime or something.
So, what does your service provide to your clients?
Kristian: The Fit Woman For Life program is a nutrition coaching program. When people sign up, they get a customized portion based meal plan, and then they get access to a private coaching group for all of the women. Then, they get access to a private coaching group for just me and them.
When people sign up, they get a customized portion based meal plan, and then they get access to a private coaching group for all of the women. Then, they get access to a private coaching group for just me and them.
We communicate almost every day in that group throughout the duration. I check in each group once a day. So, they have access to those groups and the coaching. We check in more of a formal check-in every Sunday. There’s a form they fill out and I review that check-in, and then just adjust things as needed.
So, that’s the Fit Woman For Life program. They get a predesigned program that I’ve created on Trainerize. There’s kind of six months worth of programs. There’s a lot of startups involved in that, but now they’re done. Then, there’s the exercise coaching clients where they get customized programs designed.
Some of them would like one program a week, and some of the more advanced clients might want three. Obviously, the cost goes up the more programs they want. That is me taking all the videos that I’ve done, and then just utilizing Trainerize and sending them out their programs. It works really well, particularly for clients that are traveling.
I really try to get them to give me their schedule ahead. Some of them we even know like, “Hey, you’re going to that same hotel you were at two months ago. You sent me images of that. I know what to plan exactly for you for that week.”
So, a little bit more work that way, but it allows you to command a higher dollar value and give you your clients a better service.
How to give a custom nutrition program to every client in under 5 minutes
[33:59] Kristy: So, what I’m hearing is for your Fit Woman program, you do a custom nutrition program. How much work do you do to customize it for each person? Or is it just small modifications?
Kristian: That’s a great question. It’s a portion based plan. For anybody watching and is familiar with precision nutrition, it’s something along those lines.
The reality is the plan is far less valuable than the coaching that you’re going to give them, but people expect a plan. It initially took me a decent amount of time to do it because it’s based on an intake form, which is based on age, height, weight, activity level, previous lowest weight, and previous highest body weight.
As you go through hundreds of women, you find some that have almost the exact same intake form. Now, you have Jane Doe who’s 50 years old, 150 pounds, very active, and wants to lose 10 pounds. Then, Jade Doe number two comes in with the exact same intake form. You don’t have to redesign that portion plan.
There’s nothing unethical about going into Jane Doe number one’s plan, tweaking it a little bit and changing the name, provided that it’s appropriate for the new client.
You can even build them ahead of time if you just write down a few kinds of typical specs. Maybe it’s a 55 year old woman who’s 190 pounds, wants to lose 40 pounds, and is sedentary. You could build a plan ahead of time, and then match somebody up to that.
The portion plans can be designed quite quickly now. In the beginning, it took a lot of time, but having worked with hundreds of women, you already kind of have it created.
Kristy: That makes sense. So, if someone is just starting out and they’re in there literally for a zero to 10, how long would it take them to create one custom meal plan?
Kristian: Good question. I think a big part of it is if you’ve had any nutrition coaching yourself or if you have any templates to work with. I personally have had three nutrition coaches, and then I also took the precision nutrition coaching program. Initially, it was about a half hour per plan. Then, I’ve got it down to 5 or 10 minutes per plan now with probably even better quality than the half hour before.
I would really urge anybody watching that this is a more of my coaching philosophy. If somebody is looking for a plan for you to make from scratch telling them exactly what to eat, that is going to take you a lot of time. It’s probably not going to be worth your time. More than anything, it’s probably not going to work long term for them because they’re just going to read whatever they see on that sheet of paper.
When the program’s over there, they’re not going to know how to think off of that sheet of paper. Whereas my plan is a portion based plan based on servings of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Then, we coach them how to slot in any foods they wish into that plan. They’re making a lot of the decisions on their own, which is less work for you, but more successful for them too.
When I was a younger trainer, I’ve had clients ask me, “Just give me a few days worth of what to eat.”
I did the spreadsheets and gram for gram, and that took me forever. I didn’t enjoy it, and I wasn’t getting paid what I should for it. If you tell somebody, “That’s going to cost you $300.”
They’re going to say, “No way,” but that’s probably the value of your time to make very customized meal plans.
The other thing I did was I invested in a customized recipe book, which really fits with the philosophy of the program. No secrets here. Generally, most people are aiming for about a third protein, a third carbs, a third fat.
So, I sought out a company that could design a recipe book with that in mind. Then, I was able to customize it any way I wanted. I think the company is called FitPro Recipe Books. I’ll look that up. I can let you know for sure. People seem to really like that because I took each recipe and equated the portions to the portion plan.
So, it really gelled with the program. I think it really had some wow factor. That cost around $400 or so. To me, that’s already paid for itself in terms of value for the clients. The beauty of that is that $400 has a hundred recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that fit with my program. If somebody says, “Tell me what to eat.”
I’m like, “Look at the recipe book because that matches up with your portion plan.”
Then, they’re doing the work for themselves, which saves you time and also makes them more successful.
Stay tuned for the Part 2 of this interview with Kristian!