If you want to become an engineer, you know it’s going to take four years of college or university and thousands of dollars. Same if it’s a doctor you’re striving to be, although in that case, it’s closer to seven years.
Why would becoming a professional fitness coach, who consistently earns a professional wage, be any different?
Perhaps it’s because there’s less of a structured educational path to get there.
Regardless of the reason, long-time coaches with full-time careers in the industry, explain that it takes not months, but years to get to a place where you’re a full-time, professional career coach who earns a six-figure salary.
And here’s the thing: Becoming a professional coach isn’t like going to the gym, where if you just show up consistently, you’re probably going to see some kind of gains. As a coach, if you don’t have the right systems in place, if you don’t have a plan, it’s going to be super hard to progress up the ladder and eventually become a professional. In other words, it takes a calculated, well-thought-out game plan to become a professional coach.
In light of this, let’s take a look at what to expect if your goal is to become a full-time, career coach who manages a book of individual design clients:
But first, let’s consider three personas that play different roles at different stages of the coaching journey. It’s important to recognize the difference between them in order to improve in the areas you’re weak as you progress along your journey.
- The Artist: This is the actual coaching part, where the coach develops relationships with and creates training programs, nutrition programs, and lifestyle programs for their clients. This is the side of coaching most aspiring coaches are drawn to, and while it’s important, it’s only one of the three important personas that will allow for long-term success in the industry.
- The Manager: This is all about managing either your time, your book of clients, or maybe eventually other coaches.
- The Entrepreneur: This is the business side, which requires you to make smart decisions that allow you to actually make a living as a coach or owner. It’s essentially the visionary side of the equation.
Watch this episode of the OPEX podcast, Back Room Talk, for an in-depth discussion of the fitness coaching lifecycle, what you should prioritize at each stage, and how much you can expect to make.
Stage 1: Learning, Contemplating, Education
This is the first stage of the process. At this stage, you might have taken some education, or are taking some courses, and have some knowledge, but you don’t have actual experience as a coach yet, and you don’t yet have clients to work with.
This stage can feel risky because you’re contemplating and tempted to “go all in,” explained OPEX Fitness CEO Carl Hardwick, a coach of nearly two decades.
Hardwick’s advice is that “you don’t have to go all-in” right away. In fact, sometimes it’s best not to. It’s important first to figure out if this is what you actually want to do, he explained, adding that it’s OK to “dip your toes in the water.”
Similarly, Michael Bann, a full-time remote OPEX CCP coach, who has been coaching for 15 years, mimicked this sentiment. Although he has 120 clients now, each paying $355 a month, he didn’t just jump right into it full-time.
While it can be tempting to just up and leave your current job and take a risk and start coaching, he said, “People need to recognize you don’t become a professional coach in two years,” let alone in a matter of months.
Predominant persona: A learning artist.
Potential income during Stage 1: During this phase—the learning, educational phase—your income is likely to be $0. So don’t go into debt in the process, both Hardwick and Bann warn.
Stage 2: Part-Time Coach
The next stage, if you’re looking to be an individual design coach, is to move into a part-time coaching role. You have to start out as a part-time coach because it will simply take some time for you to build your client book to a place where it’s financially viable to make it a full-time gig.
This is the “side hustle” stage, Hardwick explained, and while your intention might be to turn it into a full-time career, it’s important to be patient.
Predominant persona: Artist, and to a lesser degree a manager of your time, clients, especially considering you probably have another full-time or part-time job still.
- You don’t really need to be an entrepreneur at this stage, as your main focus is on gaining coaching experience and learning about different people, and continually challenging yourself to become a better artist more capable of helping your clients.
Potential income in Stage 2: $10,000 to $20,000 annual income. Again, a good part-time job, but don’t quit your day job until you’re financially able to.
Stage 3: Full-Time Coach
This happens when you have enough clients to move to transition to being a full-time coach, and this is when “shit gets real,” Hardwick explained because now your livelihood is at stake. Now you have to make a living doing this.
Predominant persona: Artist, and to a lesser degree both manager and entrepreneur.
- Generally during this time, you’re likely working full-time under someone else at a facility, so there isn’t massive pressure to be an entrepreneur (and in many cases, the gym might be feeding you, clients, to some degree), so the predominant persona is the artist, and secondly, the manager persona, as now you’re figuring out how to manage a growing book of clients, as well as your own time.
- That being said, you will need to have some degree of the entrepreneur persona, because if you’re not serving your clients, they likely won’t stick around and your paycheck will take a hit. So in this sense, it’s important to be aware of all three personas during this time, but the predominant one is still the artist.
Potential revenue in Stage 3: $40,000 to $250,000.
Why is the range so broad?
- A less experienced coach might have 20 clients paying $250 a month, while a more experienced coach like Bann is able to juggle 120 clients at $355 a month, so depending on your rates and the number of clients you have, your income can range from being close to the poverty line to doing pretty damn well.
The Timeline to $100,000 as a Full-Time Coach
For many coaches, Stage 3 is where they want to stop, as they’re not interested in becoming a gym owners.
So how long does it take to reach a six-figure income if this is where you want to stay?
The answer: It depends, but probably longer than you want, and likely a good five years plus.
What the Coaches Say:
Alex Samaniego, a 15-year OPEX CCP coach based in Mexico, was a part-time coach for six years before turning into a full-time coach, and after that it took him another five years to be “making a competitive wage that allowed me to project into the future with things like retirement investments, buying a house and even having a plan on how to pay for my future kid’s college tuition,” he explained. “So basically five to 10 years to grow into a professional coach.”
He added: “But I would say that once you get there, you’ll have plenty of room to continue growing.”
Bann agrees: It generally takes a minimum of five years to “break-in” and develop “a niche” and become a professional coach, and possibly more if you’re going the online, remote coaching route, he said.
Finally, Hardwick said it really is a mixed bag and depends on the coach, and explained that he has seen coaches do it in one year, while others take 10 years to be earning the wage required to live the lifestyle they want.
“Personally, my transition into full-time coaching was a measured one, and because of that, it was fairly seamless and I was earning more than I was in my pretty well-paying, full-time military career within two years,” he said.
Stage 4: Gym Owner
While many coaches don’t ever want to reach this stage, many do, as it seems like a more financially lucrative option for them.
That being said, many new small gym owners open up and are surprised that they suddenly have two full-time jobs and don’t make more money (in the short term) than they did as a full-time coach because now they have two full-time jobs, one as a coach and the other as a manger/gym owner.
Predominant persona: Equal parts artist and entrepreneur, and to a slightly lesser degree a manager (of your own time and client book). Read this blog on 5 tips for remote coaches and gym owners.
Potential revenue in Stage 4: As a sole proprietor owner without other coaches working for you, chances are your revenue is similar to that of the full-time coach: between $40,000 and $250,000.
Stage 5: Coach of Coaches
In this stage, you’re an owner and have coaches underneath you, and you might move away from coaching actual clients. Your priorities now are to develop coaches to help clients.
Predominant persona: Manager and mentor of coaches, and secondly an entrepreneur, while the artist role declines.
Potential revenue in Stage 5: $80,000 to $500,000
Stage 6: Scale
This coach has likely been an owner and a coach of coaches for quite a while and generally doesn’t have clients of their own anymore, and the goal here is to either open more facilities, spin up additional businesses, or scale the businesses you have in a different way. The sky’s the limit here.
Predominant persona: This stage is almost entirely about being an entrepreneur.
Potential revenue in Stage 6: $150,000 to $1 million-plus
The bottom line is: Becoming a professional coach, either a full-time coach or a gym owner, takes time. Lots of time. But why would you expect anything less? It’s par for the course for becoming a professional in anything.
ARE YOU A FITNESS COACH OR WANT TO BECOME ONE?
If you’re a fitness professional or want to become one, you need an education grounded in principles. One that prepares you for a career in the ever-changing landscape of the fitness industry. Enter the OPEX Coaching Certificate Program (CCP), the gold standard of education for individualized coaching and program design.
CCP not only bridges the gap between the classroom and the gym floor but also gives you the opportunity to develop your own creative style under the mentorship of our founder and expert instructors. Apply to join our next cohort today and become the coach you’ve always imagined.
Download our free curriculum guide today and learn how you can grow as a fitness coach with our Coaching Certificate Program (CCP).