Jenn Morelock is a personal trainer based in Tennessee who runs a busy gym with a steady influx of clients. But her practice hasn’t always been like that. She started out working for a big box gym and eventually worked her way up to renting out a gym, training personal clients, and creating a successful career doing what she loves.
In this interview, Jenn talks extensively about her journey, including all the obstacles she’s had to overcome to get where she is right now. If you’re a new CPT, her story contains a ton of helpful info that you can use to build your own practice and eventually become independent.
If you already have a practice but you’re looking to scale up, you can also take lessons from what Jenn has accomplished so far and hopefully, find your own way.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a personal trainer?
I think it was a blend between what I had a lot of experience in, what I was good at, and what I loved to do. As a kid, I was always involved with sports and it was a huge passion of mine. I played basketball and baseball in high school and I was very close with the coaches in my school.
When I graduated, one of the coaches asked if I wanted to help coach some of the high school students, which I loved. So while I was going to college, I was already doing many of the things I do now, which are coaching, teaching people how to move, become faster, and things like that.
The coach also put me in charge of writing the workout program which turned out to be a great experience. I loved it so much that I eventually changed my major in college and focused on Exercise science.
So that means finding your first training clients came easy for you?
Yeah, I was very lucky because of that background. I also got a personal training certification while I was in college which allowed me to train clients in between classes. There was a really nice facility in college which helped.
I also networked with other people in that space and was able to go to work with a big box gym immediately after college. One thing I enjoyed was that the gym fed me clients. There was some selling involved, but it’s not as daunting as being on your own. You also get to network with other CPTs which is nice. I was at the gym for about nine years and during that time, I really developed a database of clients.
At what point did you decide to leave the gym and strike out on your own?
Well, it was a process, but it began when a colleague left to open up her own gym and asked me to come over. She had some space that she needed to rent out. I thought about it and realized it might be a great opportunity to go.
Some clients decided to come with me, which was really helpful. I also picked up some other clients over the year I spent there.
I later encountered the space I am now in, which is a Crossfit gym. I attended some of the CrossFit classes and eventually, they asked me to coach some classes. Long story short, I now have the space to myself and I rent it out to other trainers.
So is it right to say you left the bigger gym because you found a better opportunity?
Well yes, but also because the environment didn’t fully agree with me. There are a lot of restrictions and rules we have to follow. Sometimes, they would even dictate your training style which can get sort of annoying. I’m quite independent and some of the standards were just downright ridiculous.
Sounds like the transitions from the gym was very easy
It seems like that now in hindsight, but it was very nerve-racking in the beginning. With each of the transitions I made, I had no idea if it was going to work or whether I would get clients.
Thankfully, I was able to get enough clients to cover my costs and make a successful business out of the bold steps. Another benefit of this current space is, my building is attached to a chiropractor’s office and we’ve developed a relationship where we feed each other clients.
I know you mentioned that some of your clients followed you from the big box gym. But what about the other ones, how did you get them?
Getting clients is definitely the hardest part of being a CPT. I would say networking and referrals are the two biggest strategies that worked for me.
Many of my clients are referred to by other people I’ve worked with. For example, I trained a woman who brought her mother because she saw progress, and then her mother brought in a friend.
I also created a relationship with the chiropractor whose office is attached to my gym space, which really helps. Now I’m at a point where I’m fully booked and can’t take on any more clients.
Many trainers have gotten a steady influx of clients from social media but you haven’t mentioned that so far. How come?
I think I’m a bit of a unicorn in this regard. I don’t like social media one bit. In fact, I own a Hotmail account. One of the other trainers that I manage my current space with runs our Facebook page. And we basically set it up because it would be awkward not to have any online presence whatsoever.
I know that social media is invaluable for CPTs especially when they’re trying to get clients. I’ve just been lucky to get a full booking with referrals and collaborations alone.
What was the biggest concern you had when you were setting out to establish your own practice?
The biggest fear for me was having enough clients. Life is dynamic and people go through stuff all the time and they might not always be able to maintain the schedule.
Having your livelihood solely depend on other people is very scary and it almost never goes away, which is quite unsettling.
So what approach has worked best for you when maintaining your client base?
I think you have to be passionate about the work because it’s difficult to keep that steady income, at least when you’re practicing full-time. You just have to stay persistent about helping people stay healthy, get in better shape, and basically achieve any goal they might have.
Your passion will also reflect well with your clientele. Because when they see that you’re very passionate about what you do, they are more likely to stick with you.
What was the one thing you were afraid of that turned out to be a breeze when setting out on your own?
Networking. I’m an introvert and I value being alone. So in the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I had the personality to network with other people and relate with my clients in a way they would enjoy.
But it turned out to be not a big deal. I’ve had hundreds of clients and the relationships went on pretty well. I guess meeting so many people also helped me overcome the fear.
And the personal connection is a pretty important tool because I’ve found that listening to your clients can make a huge impact on their overall progress. A lot of time, the training is almost a therapy session where you have to help them overcome some of those mental roadblocks they have.
So being someone that they can converse with and talk to really helps you in your practice.
How do you deal with slow periods like summer where some clients don’t book your services?
I think you just have to be prepared and financially savvy enough to deal with those drought periods where up to 5 clients will be out of commission because they are on vacation or saving for a vacation.
It’s difficult to find a client to replace another one right off the street; it’s just not realistic. I believe you just have to be financially smart enough to deal with the drought periods.
How do you handle taking time off and vacations?
That’s why networking with other personal trainers was so important for me. Because we need time off too – we can’t exactly work year-round- but you don’t want to leave your clients hanging because many people won’t work out without that structure.
What I do is strike a deal with other trainers and they handle my clients while I’m on vacation. That keeps them accountable and on task and it helps me because I know my clients are in good hands.
I’ve heard a lot about some CPTs stealing clients from other trainers. Aren’t you afraid of losing your clients like that?
Yeah, that does happen often and it can be tricky to navigate. The good thing is, I only have a handful of trainers – about 2 or 3 – that I can call friends, and that I trust to take care of my clients without poaching them.
I’m also lucky because, in my community, you’ll be blacklisted if you ever do that. No one will network with you, gyms won’t hire you, and you’re basically out. Poaching clients is a cardinal sin and a great way to ruin your career in my community.
You’ve obviously had a very exciting career so far. What advice would you give to new CPTs who are just starting?
I think even though big box gyms aren’t ideal to stay in long term, they can be very helpful especially when you’re just starting your career. Working at a big box gym really exposes you to a lot of things you need as a personal trainer. You get fed clients and you can connect with other trainers and see what’s what.
Eventually, you can strike out on your own and hopefully, some of your clients will come along. So there’s really a lot of benefit in working at a big box gym.
It would have been impossible for me just to start out by opening up a space and trying to get my own clients. But then, I’m not a social media person so if you’re inclined in that way, it’s possible. But I strongly advise getting some experience and networking skills in a big box gym first.