The Six Stages of Fitness Business Growth

by Sean Greeley Categories: Fitness Business, Fitness Management, Personal Training Business

It’s funny how time flies.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he talks about the 10,000+ hour rule.

If you haven’t read the book, I’ll break it down for you quite simply. After studying top athletes, executives, and elite performers across many fields… Gladwell shares his analysis that there are many factors involved in reaching a level of mastery in any field.

But the most important he asserts is time.

You’ve got to put in a lot of time in your field to achieve mastery.

Malcolm proposes 10,000+ hours as the benchmark.

Over the last 10 years, my team and I have put in well over 50,000+ hours analyzing, dissecting, systemizing, improving, and growing over 24,000+ fitness businesses in 95 countries across the world.

And whether you’re a personal trainer just starting out looking to get your first few clients (I wish this information had been available when I first started and got qualified in the industry), or you’ve now grown to become a powerful entrepreneur with multiple locations, licensing programs, franchises, membership sites and more… then you will relate to the stories shared in this article.

More importantly, you’ll find….

A Roadmap to Follow

The six stages is a model we’ve innovated over the last decade of work in the fitness industry.

It’s a roadmap that lays out each of the stages, challenges, goals, and success factors that fitness professionals, business owners, and entrepreneurs must grow and develop through in order take their business to the next level.

You’ll likely want to scroll through this article, find your stage, and learn more about the specific success factors needed right now to overcome the challenges you’re facing currently.

But don’t do that.

I strongly encourage you to read through this article in its entirety to learn more about each of the six stages.

And bookmark this page (you should print it off too) so you can come back and refer to it often.

Whenever you feel lost or confused (which will happen often if you’re challenging yourself to grow), pause for a time out.

Come back to this article, identify where you are now in the six stages, and follow the success factors required to continue moving forward and grow your business to the next level.

Stage 1: Just Starting Out

Revenue: <1,500/month

Challenge: You’re still new to the industry and aren’t sure how to grow and follow your passion.

Goal: You want to discover if you can make a business out of your passion and if it’s something you’ll truly love doing.

Success factors: Vision and Community

For most, this is where your journey begins.

You love fitness, you love sports, and likely have an athletic background of sorts.

And now you’ve decided to get certified as a fitness professional.

Some choose to get qualified while still a student. For others it’s a part-time passion project to grow their education in an area they love learning about, and still others are looking for a new career path so they can leave a job they’re not excited about.

Whatever your reasons were (or are) for getting certified, the point is you’ve done it.

But now what? What’s next after you get certified?

Well, most fitness professionals start out working for a commercial gym.

Some start working part time, for others they begin full time.

In either case, your work when starting out in a gym generally involves more than just training.

It means things like working the front desk, cleaning equipment, and other low-level work. Blah!

This can be frustrating when you’ve just studied hard to learn a professional skill set… and now you’re a glorified treadmill cleaner!

Personally, I started out just working with a few friends (helping them write programs and coach them) and my first client was referred to me – an elderly man named Bob.

Bob was recovering from an injury and just wanted to get back to being active again. Fitness was also a social time for him to get out of the house. When you’re 70-years-old, getting out of the house and being able to move without pain is really important to staying active and engaged in life.

But I had a challenge in that I wasn’t working for a gym, so I had no facility to train him in. So I had to “pretend” that Bob was my training partner while we “worked out together” at the local gym… which of course had their own trainers who were frustrated that I was taking a client into their territory as a rogue operator.

Anyway, I loved it.

And my experience working with Bob got me switched on to loving working with personal training clients and seeing how coaching and teaching could transform someone’s life in a powerful way.

I don’t believe there is anything more rewarding in life than serving others and making a difference in somebody’s life through the work you do.

And that’s what you’re trying to really figure out at this stage.

How will you grow and follow your passion in this career path, and will it be something you will truly love doing day-in-and-day-out?

The keys to success are to expand your vision. Seek others who’ve been down the path you’re exploring before. Ask good questions. Listen to everything they have to say. Take it all in.

Once you decide this is something you truly love doing, you’ve seen some great examples of how others have succeeded in making it on their own in the industry, then it won’t be long before you’re on your way.

But you’ll soon be asking yourself “how can I take a job I love and turn it into a full-time career earning professional income?”

And that will lead you down the path of determining how to start working for yourself so you can keep more of the revenue you’re bringing in the door while working for someone else.

Stage 2: Work Full Time in the Fitness Industry

Revenue: <3,000 per month

Challenge: You love working with clients, but are struggling to fill your schedule and charge premium rates for your services.

Goal: You want to grow your client base so that you can make a comfortable living as a full-time fitness professional.

Success Factors: Mindset, Vision, and Sales

To break out on your own, you must learn how to sell.

We have a saying here that, “Nothing makes a greater immediate impact on your bottom line than mastering Salesmanship.”

And it’s so true.

If you’re going to make anything of yourself in business… you must first learn how to sell.

Many people think sales is something sleazy.

And they have a poor image of a “used car salesman” taking advantage of people, making them buy something they don’t want and stealing their hard earned money.

Certainly there are those kind of characters out there, but professional salesmanship is something entirely different.

To be really good in sales you have to LOVE people. And LOVE serving people.

“Selling is Serving”

When you take the time to really understand and care for the prospect in front of you, and direct them in a positive direction to solve their problems or achieve their goals… you are serving them at the highest level.

What are their goals?

Why are their goals important to them?

How committed are they to achieving their goals/solving their problems?

Of course there is more to learn here as well:

  • How to package and price your services most effectively (most professionals make some big mistakes in this area and put themselves in a difficult spot because they don’t know how to get this right).
  • How to present your services and effectively communicate the value of what you deliver.
  • How to help people look differently at their objections and obstacles and help people overcome those.
  • And more…

Learning all the components involved in effective salesmanship makes the biggest impact on driving you forward quickly.

The sales system we teach is called The AUTO-CLOSER® Sales System.

When you combine that with a couple referrals, you’ll find your schedule gets busy quickly.

When you learn how to put those pieces together… you’ll have earned your first taste of freedom.

You are your own boss.

You call the shots.

You set your own schedule (actually your clients really do based on when they can train, but at least you still feel like you’ve taken a big leap in controlling your destiny).

And you’re keeping 100% of the revenue from your services… WOW.


It’s funny.

In 2001 I stopped working a college job I had and went exclusively to working for myself as an independent personal trainer.

I still remember how really scary that decision was.

Could I really find my way?

Could I really find people to buy what I had to sell?

Would I be able to keep my income consistent enough?

What if I lost a client or two… could I replace them?

What if I went on vacation, would my clients still be there when I returned?

Really… it sounds silly when I think back on all that I’ve accomplished in my life and where I am today… but I can still remember those feelings of fear and insecurity like they were yesterday!

That’s why we talk about NPE Client Success Principle #2 “Have courage, practice faith.” It starts here.

Now, once you get these first business pieces down, you create the next problem for yourself, which is that:

  • You’re working too much (and yes, this includes the dreaded “split shifts” of getting up early to start working in the dark and working late nights getting home after everyone has gone to bed).
  • You’ve got no leverage or freedom.

Which means that you soon discover you’re limited to trading time for money by only working for yourself.

You’ve got a great job, but not yet a business.

And you need a path forward to grow.

You need leverage to grow beyond the grind of a being one-man (or woman) band.

And seeking the answers to solve that problem will lead you right to Stage #3.

Stage 3: Ready to Open and Grow a Business

Revenue: >3,000 per month

Challenge: You’ve started to grow a business, but aren’t consistently producing the revenue required to reinvest in continued growth.

Goal: You want to build upon your initial success, accelerate growth, and create the opportunity to work ON the long-term growth and success of your business.

Success Factors: Professional Development, Leadership & Team, Sales & Marketing, Operations, Finance, Strategic Planning

This is a fun but tough stage. 😃

Up until now, you’ve learned how to work hard and how to be successful by doing a better job than others out there.

You’re supporting yourself and making some money, and you want to go to the big time and make your business a big success (Stage 4).

But you might not be ready to do so just yet.

Growing a business takes a tremendous amount of re-investment.

A new facility, equipment, software, insurance, and more don’t come cheap.

You need revenue in order to continue growth.

And if you don’t have enough to re-invest, well you’re going to have to sell your way to get some more!

You will likely also need to get some assistance in order to help with your work. Maybe it’s a part-time admin, maybe you hire an additional coach, maybe both… but it begins.

The program we deliver in this stage is called our VIP FAST-TRACK™ Program.

You’ll learn important systems like:

  • The Fitness Marketing Lifecycle… a SYSTEM for managing what you say, to whom, when in all your marketing activities
  • How to define WHO is your best prospective client, WHERE they live, and WHY they buy
  • Simple lead generation marketing strategies you can use to add 10-30+ new clients to your business
  • How to create a tremendous client onboarding experience (allowing you to maximize conversion of trial offer buyers to long-term clients)
  • And much, much more…

It’s tough to consistently challenge yourself to put in the work, sacrifice more than others would, and push yourself toward your dream.

This is where your vision and commitment get tested for the first time.

Not every day is fun.

This is real work.

Of course your mind will try to trick you into thinking (incorrectly) that it would be so much easier to go back into Stage 2… working for yourself, keeping all the money you earn, not having much risk or responsibility to anyone or anything.

But there is no leverage there.

You must press forward.

This is simply conditioning that will prepare you for a more serious level of commitment yet to come.

Stage 4: Committed to Long-Term Business Success

Revenue: >7,500 per month

Challenge: You’ve got a business, but you’re struggling with putting all the pieces together to hit targets, earn a profit, and make it all work.

Goal: You’re ready to get serious and committed to developing a long-term business plan, achieving consistent profitability, and growing your personal income. 

Success factors: Professional Development, Leadership & Team, Sales & Marketing, Operations, Finance, Strategic Planning

Ok, by this point you’ve had some business experience.

You’ve been at this for a while now, but it’s time to get committed on a whole new level in order to continue growing.

Maybe you’ve gotten married, decided to purchase a home, or have children (or a new baby on the way) dependent on you.

Regardless of the motivation, it’s time you achieved even greater financial success with your business.

And you can’t simply continue “working harder” and expect for things to change.

You’ve got to put in the effort, but more importantly you’ve also got to invest significantly in your business now and develop a plan for your long-term success.

You’ve got to have very clear goals, a rock-solid business plan, and show up to get after it each and every day.

There are several things you’re going to need to learn in order to take your business to the big time including:

  • The development of a strategic business plan that outlines how you’ll achieve financial goals and hit targets
  • Advanced sales and marketing systems and skills that allow you to uniquely position your business against competitors in your area
  • Personal and professional management systems that allow you to monitor and manage all the different functions of your business and team
  • Finance strategy and operations system, including tools to monitor the cash flow in and out of your business each week
  • And much, much more…

We deliver education, training, and coaching on all of this and more as part of our VIP PROGRAM™ Journey.

Most people don’t get this far, nor progress into (or beyond) this stage.

It takes a strong commitment in order to grow your business from the early stages to the 15-25k/month mark.

You should EXPECT to meet challenges along the way and get knocked about at times.

But no matter what setbacks or challenges you meet along the way, you must continue progressing forward to grow.

And as you begin to grow revenue, achieve consistent profitability, and grow your personal income… the next steps will be to put a team in place that runs your business whether you’re around or not.

This will be critical to not only giving you the freedom to do more of the things you love to do (and ensure you don’t become a prisoner of your own success), but also to allow your business to continue growing and ensure you don’t become the bottleneck on the growth of your company.

Let’s continue on…

Stage 5: Want to Lead a Team that Grows Your Business With You

Revenue: >25,000 per month

Challenge: You have a successful business but haven’t yet achieved your personal financial goals, and your business still depends too much on you to run and hit targets each day. 

Goal: You’re ready to step into a leadership role and develop a team that allows your business to continue growing while giving you the freedom to do more of the things that you love to do.

Success factors: Professional Development, Leadership & Team, Sales & Marketing, Operations, Finance, Strategic Planning

At this stage you’re doing a lot of things right (even if it doesn’t always feel that way just yet).

You’re already hitting some great revenue goals with your business, and have grown your personal income.

But you’re working too much in the business and your business still depends too much on you to run and hit targets each month.

If you were to leave for a few weeks, then growth would stop.

And as strange as it may seem, at this point you will find yourself in a position where YOU are the limiting factor in the continued growth of your company.

You must now evolve into a leadership role and develop a team.

And your team must be trained in all of the sales and operational functions of the business to ensure the company continues to grow whether you’re present onsite or not.

This involves things like:

  • Learning about what is required to move into a leadership role with your team and enroll everyone in “the mission”
  • Beginning to watch key metrics in your business you haven’t before like what it costs to acquire a new client, how much a client is worth to the business over time, and your retention rates
  • How to create an ongoing recruiting pipeline and hiring systems to ensure you never run out of team members to support your growth
  • How to create a winning culture of fun growth with your team
  • Long-term strategic planning work for continued success of your business in the years ahead
  • And much, much more….

We deliver education on these systems, training, and coaching as part of our VIP PRO PROGRAM, which includes a high-level mastermind group and training for your staff.

When you progress through this stage, your business will be generating 25-50k+/month in revenue and you’ll have a great team in place that allows you to do more of the things you love to do.

For some that involves launching a second location.

For others, it’s about spending more time at home with a young family and children as part of a work-life balance.

Whatever that means for you, the opportunity is yours for the taking.

And celebrating the success you’ve achieved from all your hard work and efforts is awesome.

That’s the good news.

But the even better news is that for most entrepreneurs, that celebration only fulfills you for a short period of time.

You realize that what you REALLY love most is not the rewards, but facing the challenges of growth and the entrepreneurial journey.

Because that’s what makes you come alive – living up to your highest potential!

You are at your best when you’re facing tough obstacles, taking on big risks, and climbing mountains that others would never dare to face.

And you want to get “back in the game.”

When you reach this point, welcome.

You are now entering…

Stage 6: Achieving Your Goals and Ready for the Next Challenge

Challenge: You’ve achieved your initial goals and now have a bigger dream that you aren’t quite sure how to make happen yet. 

Goal: You want to be inspired and challenged to continue growing by engaging with other elite entrepreneurs and having fun along the way. 

Success factors: Mastermind and Fun!

Now if you’re in any of the previous stages, I know you’re probably thinking, “Wow! Life must be totally awesome for these folks at this point! Everything is amazing when you’ve come so far!”

That’s true.

But everyone’s got challenges they’re facing when they’re growing in new areas.

That’s what growth is all about!

You learn to love the challenges and recognize that the simple things are what matters most in life (not the money).

Business (and life) really IS about the journey and not the destination.

The keys to continued growth and success at this stage are to surround yourself with others who will inspire and challenge you to continue growing.

And you need a new dream.

We’re most alive when we’re growing. And a new dream allows us to grow and develop ourselves (and our entrepreneurial skills) in new and exciting directions.

I have the pleasure of working with MANY top folks at this level as part of our PLATINUM™ PROGRAM, and it’s a real joy.

In addition to having access to all the other course curriculum and training we offer for you and your team, this group also meets together twice a year in exciting locations for high level mastermind work and private coaching calls each month.

We have great fun together… because that’s important at this stage, too.

I love working with entrepreneurs who dream big and are committed to personal and professional growth at every stage!

Where Are You Now?

There you have it.

An overview of the 6 Stages of Fitness Business Growth.

Which of these 6 stages are you currently in now?

I invite you to learn more about the NPE Coaching Programs and how you can grow your fitness business to the next level by requesting a complimentary diagnostic consultation with a member of our team.

We look forward to hearing more about YOUR story and how we can best support you in achieving your goals and fulfilling your dreams!



  • Michael

    This blog post says it all! I started from ground zero when I moved back home. This total describes the process.


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