Directions toward a career in fitness – part 2
A little background
Picking up from part 1, it’s time to move on to nutrition. This gets a little complicated, so stick with me. In addition to being a trainer, I was also the club’s nutritionist. I eventually dropped my role as a trainer within the club (voluntarily), but continued to see outside training clients. SportsMed, a subsidiary of the Sports Club Company, contained a team of dietitians of which I was a part. I was stationed in their sister franchise, the Spectrum Club. Among the five nutritionists, I was the only one who wasn’t a registered dietitian (RD). However, the fact that I had a master’s degree in nutrition pretty much kept the dietitians from glaring at me.
On a related tangent, here’s an amusing story. Our director did a company-wide survey of what term, registered dietitian or nutritionist, should be placed on the business cards. The vast majority of people surveyed said they’d know more immediately what a nutritionist was than what an RD was. The dietitians were indignant at having to bear the “nutritionist” moniker on their cards, but it was also a sweet moment of vindication for my lack of the RD credential. More on that in the final installment, let’s look at the pros & cons of the job.
Nutritional counseling: health club employment pros & cons
Similar to being a club-employed trainer, the massive membership and built-in traffic of the gym made it easy to get business. The sales staff forwarded all new members to me, as did the trainers, so there really was no struggle to capture clients. Since there was only one nutritionist per club, I didn’t have to sweat any competition. Perhaps the biggest benefit was that I got to realize my strength in counseling and teaching. I was much more content sitting on my butt at a desk talking about nutrition rather than handing off dumbells, switching plates, and counting reps. Not to mention, none of my nutritional clients have audibly farted while straining to tell me the truth.
Again, this is a different strokes thing. Some people go into training because they’re sick to death of their desk jobs. For that kind of escape, training is great; I just had opposite interests. The rest of the benefits were the same as training – free membership, overall job predictability and convenience. I have to say that in retrospect, the benefit of starting my nutritional counseling career as an employee allowed me gain my footing and make my newbie mistakes while the company shouldered the risk.
What bugged me most about this job, funny enough, were the same things as training: dress code and pay. By now it should be pretty clear that I hate anything remotely close to a uniform. The nutrition staff was required to dress in business casual. Ugh. Our pay was approximately $20 per half-hour session. Not too bad, but then again, not too good – especially for someone who was going to support a family. After spending some time watching the company keep about 50% of what my clients paid, I decided I’d be better off keeping all of it, and absorbing the risk of being on my own. Since I knew that I could do this with training, it was time to leave and navigate my own ship with nutritional counseling.
Nutritional counseling: self-employment pros & cons
The pros, just like self-employed training, were full conceptual and operational control of the pricing, policies, and protocols. Once again, I was immediately able to charge triple the 20 bucks I made per session I made as an employee. This is about the same per-session pay rate as I made training independently, except now my sessions are 30 minutes of yapping instead 60 minutes of busting ass. Another advantage to being on my own was the prestige associated with having my own private practice. So far so good, now for the cons.
The single biggest expense facing independent practitioners is the rent for office space. A tiny office in my neck of Southern California can run you as little as $400-500 a month, whereas a little more comfy setting will cost about $700-800. I had my sights set on a large office in a health club with built-in traffic. In a cool twist of fate, I was able to secure a space in the club I was formerly employed at. They wanted $1200 a month…ouch. I took the general manager out to lunch, gave her some puppydog eyes, and negotiated my rent down to $800.
The club eventually switched management and brought in the Apex nutrition system, which was software that generated plans with the Apex supplements baked into the diets. It pissed me off that the trainers were being forced to act as nutritionists despite my presence in the club, so I approached the new manager and negotiated my $800 monthly rent down to $400. To my benefit, the Apex launch floundered and was canceled due to a lack of interest, but my rent stayed at the re-negotiated low.
My current practice
I have since been invited to move my practice into an upscale personal training facility. When I say upscale, I really mean that. A good portion of my clientele are professional athletes, successful actors, and CEOs of huge multinational corporations. The facility (Elite Fitness Plus) is owned by a friend of mine who I’ve been trying to work together with for years, and have finally gotten the chance to, and feel really blessed to be in such a great spot.
The downside? My commute one-way is 30-45 minutes. Yeah, I know some of you drive double and triple that, but one of my pet peeves, along with dress codes, is having an insipid date with traffic as part of my workday. Being self-employed puts me in control of my schedule, so a simple solution to minimizing the time and expense commuting was to cut my office days to two longer days per week instead of five regular days [UPDATE: I now work 1 day a week at the office, the rest of the time from home]. The 10-second trip from my bedroom to my desktop computer is one of the things I love about online consulting, which comprises a significant portion of my practice [UPDATE: I now work 100% from home and am no longer taking on new clients due to being overbooked].
In the final installment, I’ll discuss the remaining aspects of my career: continuing education lecturing, corporate wellness consulting, and writing books, magazine articles, and my research review. If anyone’s still at a loss of ideas for building a fitness career after reading this series, I’ll be at a loss for words (ain’t gonna happen). [see part 3]