Are Free Software Tools Good Enough For A Personal Training Business?

Thanks to the free tools that are available today there was never a better time to start your own business. The barriers to entry are not capital but rather the skillset and hard work that you need to put into building your own business. Those are the scarce resources that you will need a lot of as your business scales. Constantly getting better at your craft to deliver a better service and putting in the hours will determine your ultimate success.

So I don’t even need money to get started? Precisely! In this article, I will show how I took advantage of the free tools available when I started my coaching business. These products will be familiar to most of you and for a good reason. They are cheap, reliable, and already used by billions of people.

Do you feel the itch to help others achieve their fitness goals but are not sure how to get started? Make sure you read our guide on how to become a personal trainer and build a business that generates over $150,000 in annual profit.

The Pros Outweigh the Cons in the Beginning

I chose free tools in the beginning to hedge against my ignorance. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to build a sustainable stream of income so I didn’t want to commit to expensive monthly recurring costs. My goal was to use the best free alternatives that were functional enough to let me test the market.

Are they a temporary solution or can they be a permanent fix? Some coaches swear by these platforms, not only because they are cheap, but often their benefits make them a good fit for those who value the following attributes.

The Freedom of Zero Cost

The cost-effectiveness of these free tools cannot be understated. For instance, using Google Forms for initial client assessments saved me the monthly subscription fee of more specialized software. This saving allowed me to invest in better equipment to improve the quality of my workout videos. Moreover, the absence of software costs meant I could offer more competitive session rates, broadening my clientele.

Leveraging Client Familiarity for Seamless Integration

One of the most profound benefits I’ve discovered is using tools that my clients are already familiar with. For example, when I introduced workout plans via Google Sheets, my clients adapted instantly. They were already using Google Sheets for everything from budgeting to planning their weekly meals. This familiarity eliminated the need for training sessions on using a new app, freeing up more time for actual training. Similarly, using WhatsApp for quick communications mirrored how my clients already interacted with friends and family, making them feel more at ease and connected.

Unparalleled Customization with Google Sheets

The customization capability of Google Sheets has been a game-changer for me. I created a client-tracking sheet that not only logs workouts but also integrates their feedback. For instance, after each session, clients rate their exertion levels and update the actual reps they did, which I then use to adjust future workouts. The level of personalization that is possible here would be challenging to achieve with more rigid, pre-designed fitness apps.

Data Ownership: Prerequisite for Independence

Owning my data has always been important to me. All the content – workout videos, client progress, email lists – resides with me. For example, owning my videos means I have control over my content. Platforms like YouTube or social media sites can change their terms of service, and algorithms, or even shut down. If my content is solely on these platforms, I’m at their mercy. Owning my videos ensures I can distribute them as I see fit, on my website or through my email list, maintaining direct access to my audience.

By owning your client email list, you can monetize your content in various ways. This could include selling access to exclusive video content, online courses, or personalized training programs. You’re not limited to the constraints or revenue-sharing models of third-party platforms.

Most importantly, this control ensures that if I ever need to switch services or platforms, my business remains uninterrupted.

Diversifying to Mitigate Platform Risk

Spreading my content and services across multiple platforms has insulated my business from unexpected disruptions. For example, when Google Drive was temporarily down, I was still able to quickly upload my custom workout plans and video instructions on Dropbox and share them with my clients. This multi-platform approach ensures that a glitch in one service doesn’t derail my entire operation, maintaining a consistent and professional presence for my clients.

In my personal training career, while I’ve benefited greatly from various free tools, it hasn’t been without its fair share of challenges. From juggling multiple apps to hitting usage limits, these tools, though cost-effective, come with certain limitations that are important to acknowledge and manage.

The Puzzle of Segmentation

One of the primary challenges I’ve encountered is the segmentation of services across different platforms. Each tool – be it Google Sheets for workout plans, WhatsApp for communication, or Google Forms for client assessments – requires its own login and management. This segmentation can be overwhelming, not just for me but also for my clients. For instance, clients sometimes mix up links or lose track of where specific information is stored, leading to confusion and inefficiency.

Lack of Specialization

These tools, while versatile, are not specialized for fitness needs. I’ve often found that they don’t fit perfectly ‘out of the box’ for the specific requirements of personal training. For example, while Google Sheets is excellent for data entry, it doesn’t offer fitness-specific features like exercise libraries or integrated workout timers, features that specialized fitness apps provide readily.

Usage Limits and Hidden Costs

Another significant downside is the usage limit on these free tools. Initially, they seem cost-effective, but as your business grows, you often hit the ceiling of the free version. For instance, Google Drive’s 15 GB storage limit can quickly get exhausted, especially with numerous high-quality workout videos and client data. Upgrading to a paid plan then becomes inevitable, which adds to the overhead costs.

Customization Requires Effort

Tailoring these tools to fit specific needs demands a considerable amount of work. Setting up advanced formulas in Google Sheets or designing an efficient workflow in a tool like Notion requires both time and a certain level of expertise. For instance, I spent hours learning and setting up a tracking system in Google Sheets, time that could have been spent on client interaction or business development.

Limited Scalability

Finally, the lack of automation in these free tools limits scalability. As my client base grew, I found it increasingly challenging to manually manage each aspect of my business. Automation in specialized fitness software can handle client reminders, workout updates, or progress tracking, but in a free tool setup, every update or reminder has to be done manually, which is not sustainable as client numbers increase.

Managing a personal training business requires a blend of fitness expertise and efficient administration. To navigate this, I’ve leveraged a suite of free tools, each serving a specific purpose in my workflow. Here’s a detailed breakdown, illustrating how I use these platforms for client onboarding, analytics, feedback, and payments.

Onboarding: Google Forms, Drive, and Calendar

  • Google Forms is used for initial client assessments. New clients like Emily fill out a detailed form about their fitness goals, health history, and preferences. Though versatile, Google Forms requires manual effort to make it fitness-specific.
  • Google Drive is my repository for storing all client-related documents, including assessment responses from Google Forms.
  • Google Calendar helps schedule initial meetings, follow-ups, and regular training sessions. For instance, I schedule John’s weekly sessions and share calendar invites with him.

Workout and Progress Analytics: Google Sheets

  • Google Sheets is pivotal for creating customized workout plans and tracking client progress. For each client, I create a dedicated sheet, logging workouts, sets, reps, and progress over time. However, this demands a significant amount of manual data entry and formula setup.

Communication and Feedback: WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube

  • WhatsApp is my go-to for daily communication and quick feedback. I create group chats for general announcements and have one-on-one chats for personalized interactions.
  • Facebook Groups foster a community among my clients. Here, I post general fitness tips and celebrate client achievements.
  • Facebook Messenger is used for more detailed discussions or when clients prefer this platform over WhatsApp.
  • YouTube is where I upload and share workout demonstration videos. This allows clients to visually understand the exercises but lacks the direct integration into their workout plans.

Payments: Stripe and PayPal

  • For payments, I use Stripe and PayPal. Clients can choose their preferred payment method for their training packages. While these platforms are convenient, they charge transaction fees.
Tool/PlatformPurposeFree LimitationsAdditional Costs (Yearly Estimate)
Google FormsOnboardingNone$0
Google DriveDocument Storage15 GB free storage limit$19.99 (100 GB Plan)
Google CalendarSchedulingNone$0
Google SheetsAnalytics & TrackingNone$0
WhatsAppCommunicationNoneData charges may apply
Facebook GroupsCommunity EngagementNone$0
Facebook MessengerDirect MessagingNone$0
YouTubeWorkout DemonstrationsLimited video management$0
StripePayments2.9% + 30¢ per transactionVariable (depends on transaction volume)
PayPalPayments2.9% + 30¢ per transactionVariable (depends on transaction volume)

Note: The costs for Stripe and PayPal are transaction-dependent and can vary greatly based on the volume and size of transactions. The cost of data charges for WhatsApp and video management limitations for YouTube are also variables to consider.

Free tools vs. Trainerize

For personal trainers who are budget-conscious and comfortable with a bit of DIY setup, using the suite of free Google tools can be a viable and cost-effective solution. It allows for a high degree of customization and integrates well across different aspects of business management.

On the other hand, Trainerize provides a more professional, fitness-focused solution that can save time and enhance client interaction and retention, albeit at a cost. It’s a more streamlined and intuitive platform for personal trainers who prefer a comprehensive, all-in-one fitness coaching tool.

Ultimately, the choice depends on your specific needs, technical comfort level, and how much you’re willing to invest (time or money) into your business tools. Free tools are great for flexibility and cost, but a dedicated platform like Trainerize offers convenience and a suite of fitness-specific features.

Long Story Short

While managing my personal training business through these free options is cost-effective, it requires significant manual input, lacks specialized fitness features, and involves juggling multiple tools. As a personal trainer, it’s essential to weigh these factors against the benefits and decide whether the savings in cost justify the additional effort and potential limitations in service quality.

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