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Make philkaplan.com your resource, not only for "fitness truth," but also for the most honest, valuable, hard-hitting career information. Here are some other valuable articles for fitness professionals

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The Interview . . . A Closer Look Inside

Marll Thiede Interviews Phil Kaplan
for Personal Fitness Professional Magazine (March 2004)

Marll Thiede: While gurus come and go, and a stream of newcomers promise success information for trainers in books and seminars, you’ve managed to stand the test of time. What is the secret that allows you to stand out? 

Phil Kaplan: I think the primary secret is to share information that you absolutely know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, “works.” I’ve managed to give trainers valuable tools along with instructions on how to use those tools and the results speak for themselves.  I know that sounds simplistic but many of the new . . . ummm . . .  gurus . . . present ideas for earning riches on the Internet, book publishing, or making money selling hot new products. What does any of that have to do with personal training?

Marll: Phil, to be candid, you have a Web site, you’ve written books, and you carry a line of products—isn’t that what you do?  

Well, no, not in terms of teaching trainers to build their business for longevity. It’s a tiny part of what I do.  I am a personal trainer who over the course of 20 years built my business one client at a time. I never sought out a method of acquiring riches, I simply strove to earn a living doing what I love, helping people improve their lives.  Everything I now do is an outgrowth of my core business.   I never decided to make a million dollars on the Internet, in fact I was at first “internet-resistant.”  With time I recognized how a web presence links into my core business and I took the information that I was already delivering to my clients and made it available online.  In other words, rather than seeing the internet as a "new" opportunity to command wealth, I came to see it as a doorway into my core business . . . a business founded in connecting with people to help them see through fraud and deception and understand how to achieve fitness results.

On a similar note, prior to selling tens of thousands of books, I spent ten years refining programs and carefully testing new strategies on myself and clients.  The books, the products, and the website weren’t reinventions but rather a natural extension of a thriving business.  As odd as this may sound, after I created manuals for my clients to use, the books just seemed to create themselves.  It was nothing more than a new vehicle for transmitting information consistent with the information I’d personally shared with clients. 

Earlier you asked what my secret is and I said it’s mastery of techniques that absolutely work.  I think there’s another secret.  It’s focus.  My focus has always been the foundation of touching people emotionally, compelling them to train with me and then thrilling them by delivering results.  Continued focus and perseverance allowed me to uncover and develop success methodologies that serve the personal training community greatly.  I have never suggested any success strategy that I hadn’t already proven to be valid. Everything that I suggest trainers do, I have done myself.

Don't misunderstand me. If any established or growing trainer finds opportunity to add to revenues by publishing or growing a web presence, there may be massive opportunity there. I just think a focus on the core business allows for slow, consistent, and lasting growth. Their other offerings should serve to reinforce the business they were initially driven to pursue.


MT: Do you feel that some of the other people that are selling products to personal trainers haven’t put the products or their methodologies to test?

PK: Oh, they've put their methodologies to the test, but not in the field. They've "tested" to see how well their products or offerings will "sell," but the target customer is the personal trainer and the value return on the trainer's cash outlay is almost non-existent. Because we are in a capitalist society, entrepreneurs seek out opportunities for revenue generation, and aspiring personal trainers are a very attractive target, primarily because the field is so fragmented and success for many remains elusive.  The question too many people ask is, “how can I sell a dream?”  The step they often neglect lies in first realizing the dream themselves.  In other words, it’s difficult to prosper for the long haul when you attempt to teach what you haven’t yet mastered.

I've seen "new gurus" holding amateur trainers and non-established "professionals" as "experts," and the sale of audio CD's interviewing "expert trainers" should deliver valuable, usable, real-world information, not from struggling trainers seeking to expand their reach via audio CD presentations, but rather from experts in the field who have already turned some of their dreams into reality. I've seen supposed "schools" and "institutes" sell certification programs that have absolutely no recognition in the field and serve simply to generate profits for the individuals who were clever enough and unethical enough to create imaginary credentials. I've attended "wealth" seminars where the entire presentation was a shallow and transparent pitch to sell nutritional products. I can keep going, but I won't. You get the idea.

MT: Where do the less ethical “gurus” get their information?

PK: Well, I guess sometimes they make it up.  Other times they take it from other industries and it doesn’t really apply to what we do.  They also borrow material, and I’m being polite by saying “borrow,” from those who are accomplished and they create poor replications of works that in their original form might have significant value.  I’ve seen some of the personal training gurus create products from interviews with other trainers, many of them unknown, many of them far from accomplished.  By fraudulently positioning novice trainers as “experts,” they manage to create compelling marketing copy.  The products are usually impotent and disappointing.  If you’re going to invest in an information product, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of looking into the track record of the “expert.”

MT: Here we are in 2005 with hundreds of these “success offerings” on the market.  How does a personal trainer separate what’s good and what’s bad?

PK: I already mentioned the importance of looking at the author or creator’s track record.  I’d even go a step further.  I’d suggest trying to get in touch with the person making the success promise.  The accomplished experts often conduct seminars and maintain appearance schedules.  They also have websites with contact information, and if they’re earning their livings as trainers they have to be accessible by telephone.  With a bit of perseverance anyone can establish contact with an established success who maintains a commitment to helping others. 

I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people I used to see on TV, read about, or admire from a distance only because I came to realize that people are just people, regardless of their level of achievement.  I sat down with an associate recently and we tried to figure out how many people I am in touch with on a daily basis and we estimated at least 150. Thanks to e-mail I can reach people worldwide and thanks to the media I can reach sometimes up to 15,000 at once.  Those who are persistent can reach me and I believe anyone committed to assisting others would say the same thing. 

Skepticism is healthy, so ask for details about a product or offering, inquire as to the product or author’s track record, ask to speak to others with similar needs who might have found the offerings valuable, and inquire as to whether or not there’s a guarantee of satisfaction.


MT: You have talked about proven successes that you’ve had.  What are some of the business practices that have been successful that you have passed on to other trainers? 

PK: Before I attempt to instill the value of new business practices, I initially work to instill what I call a success mindset—a shift in conventional personal trainer thinking.  The conventional strategies being applied on a daily basis by trainers throughout the world are flawed in their potential to create well-compensated respected experts.  When we look at the offerings of free sessions, complimentary assessments, and discount training packages, it’s important that we recognize that personal trainers never set the paradigm.  Health clubs did, and they did so with little concern for the true value of the professional personal trainer.  
With a new mindset the trainer’s internal dialogue becomes supportive.  The new self-talk says, “I am a professional, I am in control of my own business, I should be respected and I deserve to be paid.”  That’s step one.  That’s laying the foundation.

I’ll now share two strategies that have proven to be very powerful in increasing profitability and professionalism, but they’ll only “work” in alliance with a success mindset.  The first is the small group orientation.  I came up with the strategy out of desperation.  There was a time I’d go to the happy hours to eat because I could barely afford food.  I remained committed to my clients, but despite my passion, I just wasn’t seeing my way clear to a prosperous career. I sat down and put a pen to it and looked at all the free consultations I was conducting and I asked myself a simple question.  “If I were getting paid for all of those “free” hours, how much more money would I earn?”  When I totaled things up my eyes almost popped out of my head. I immediately started questioning why I’m providing services I deserve to be paid for without compensation.  In seconds I answered my own question: “I am doing it for free because the health club industry told me that was what I was supposed to do.” I decided I would get paid from that point forward for any professional services I provided.  The decision wasn’t enough.  I needed a strategy and I wanted to minimize prospect apprehension.  I knew if I asked for $75 for a consultation right out of the gate I’d have a challenge attracting new clients. I wanted to prove my value first.  

I decided that instead of spending one hour of my time meeting a client without compensation, I’d direct all of my marketing to attract people to small groups.  I knew that if I had an hour to present to a group of people seeking physical change, I’d attract many of them as long term clients. In order to make certain I generated significant dollars for every small group I conducted, I asked for a $20 registration with an unconditional money back guarantee.  With an average of eight people in each orientation, I’d generate $160 for the hour and continually build my client base at regular fees.

The second business strategy was the one that led to the most radical change in terms of profitability.  I completely turned my business from a struggle to a career when I stopped selling packages and shifted to ‘a Series.’ Most trainers sell packages. They are worth $50, $75, or $100 per session, but because the client is willing to make a commitment, they discount it to $30.  In other words, they might advertise fees of $50 per session, but they typically sell ten-packs for $360.  When I turned my attention toward questioning this practice, it clearly didn’t make sense. If a trainer is worth $50 a session shouldn’t that trainer be compensated accordingly? Why do trainers feel a need to bribe people in order to facilitate a commitment? Clients are not making the commitment for our benefit; they are making it for themselves.

A series is “more than one session on a recurring basis.” Clients provide one session’s fee paid in advance. We call that a retainer.  In the event that they fail to show up they forfeit the retainer.  When people have money on the line, they show up!  With a series there is no end in sight, so if you can continually motivate each clients to show up for “one more session,” the series remains ongoing and you’re compensated precisely in line with your worth. 

MT: I know that this is some of the information that you talk about at the Personal Trainer Business Forum, which we sponsor. Why did you choose to get involved with our forum?  

PK: I don’t think it was a choice. I think it just kind of happened, the natural order of things. In the late 1990s I was speaking at 20 or 30 conferences a year, each time allotted 90 minutes to present information to fitness professionals.  90 minutes just wasn’t enough.  There was so much more to share.  In 1999, I decided to invite career oriented fitness professionals to come to

Florida and I offered 3-day seminars with one goal in mind: to send trainers home equipped to instantly become more successful. It ultimately took on a life of its own and it quickly gained a reputation as a premier event.  When Conrad Swanson, the people behind Personal Fitness Professional, and Joel Dunkel of Event Evolution approached me and said, ‘let’s reach even more trainers,’ that pushed my buttons.  We agreed to “just try it” for one year to see how it went.  That was more than 5 years ago. The simple answer is that it is the premier personal training career-building event and a solid resource to help trainers find what they most lack.

MT: You have a new line-up for the Personal Trainer Business Forum this year; an interesting group of people. Can you tell us a little about them and why you chose them? 

PK: First of all there is my good friend Juan Carlos Santana. I think the word genius is overused but in this case it applies. This guy views human movement at a level I have never seen. I think Carlos may be from another planet. Humans are not capable of thinking the way he does. He continues to amaze and fascinate me.  What I love about presenting with Carlos is watching him compel people with logic, not hair-brained crazy ideas. He has become the revered guru of functional training and rightly so. When Carlos and I started speaking together, it was a natural fit. It just takes things to a new level by adding him to the forum.

This year I am also inviting my friend and personal inspiration, Joe Cirulli.  He is the owner of Gainesville Health and Fitness, which may be the most respected health club in the world, but he is also a regular guy who started with absolutely nothing. As a matter of fact, the first six health clubs he worked for went out of business. When I was eating at Happy Hour buffets, Joe was living in his car.  Today Joe comes to pick me up in his airplane.  He is an amazing inspiration and what I admire most about Joe is that he did it holding on to his core ideas helping people get fit. I think when trainers hear his story and hold him up as a model of what they can achieve; they immediately raise their own bars.  

Eric Ruth is also joining us this year.  He is not a personal trainer, and he doesn’t claim to be, but he is a legitimate and proven marketing expert. Eric has agreed to share some of the secrets he normally reserves for his consulting clients.

And I also have another speaker that I don’t know if I should reveal. I will tell you that like Juan Carlos is the functional training genius, she is the public relations genius. She doesn’t aspire to be well known but she has created fame for people and she’s an amazing find. This is not stuff that trainers are going to hear anywhere else. There will be lots of new ideas built around the same core ideas of the forum.  

MT: Many trainers consider themselves successful but might be thinking there are more opportunities available to them. What advice can you offer?  

PK: I think what happens with many trainers is that they hit the ceiling; they are limited by the number of hours in a day or in a week. There are many opportunities for growth and they are primarily in replication. In other words, trainers should grow their businesses doing one-on-one training, and when the revenue ceiling begins creeping down on them, they can take things they already do and replicate them for exponential profit.  Suppose, as an example, a trainer incorporates periodic seminars in his or her marketing efforts.  With a video camera an instant marketing tool or retail item can be created.  The idea isn’t to find wealth selling videos, but to complement a successful personal training business.  Trainers who regularly outline programs they design can pull the written routines together and create a manual. 

As you reach more and more people, it’s amazing how opportunities just land in front of you. As you get involved in the media, it’s as if a huge door swings opens. You are then perceived as an expert and marketing becomes surprisingly simple.  I’ll repeat the advice I shared earlier.  Strive to be the best trainer you can be and then recognize opportunities for growth.  Don’t seek out the opportunities that promise to make you rich . . . at the expense of your core business. 

MT:  You have been writing for this magazine since the beginning.  Can you tell our readers one thing that would surprise them about yourself? 

PK:  I learned only by making mistakes, and I’ve made every mistake in the book.  People may mistakenly perceive that I’m a polished business expert.  The reality is I was a dedicated personal trainer who was so thick-headed that when people told me you “can’t” make a career of this I refused to listen.  Every time I got knocked down, and there were many, I just got back up with a new education and a new outlook.  I am not a business guy teaching the business of personal training, I am the personal trainer who has made more mistakes than any other trainer in history.  I have learned by doing everything wrong, and as a result, I am now in a position to help others avoid the mistakes that slowed my career growth. 

MT:  At the forum, do you talk about your mistakes? 

PK:  There is a segment that I call “the pitfalls.”  In presenting the information, I not only share how I made the mistakes, but more importantly how the mistakes led me to solutions.  If I had had someone to teach me what I now teach trainers I could have made it to this level in four years rather than 20.   

MT:  When we first met you and we were discussing the forum, you insisted we offer a money-back guarantee.  We reluctantly listened but now understand why.  Share with our readers why you do this for the forum and all of your products. 

PK:  Because the market place is filled with fraud.  The willingness to offer a money back guarantee puts me on the line so I have to deliver.  This is a strategy I’ve used to draw a rift between what I do and what others say they do.  I encourage people to be skeptical.  I encourage them to be apprehensive.  I have learned to always deliver more than clients expect and I want trainers and clients alike to rest assured that any money they invest with me provides a return far greater than the investment.  When you know you can deliver, you haven’t the last bit of concern in guaranteeing satisfaction.  We know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the investment in the Personal Trainer Business Forum is an investment that can pay for itself 1,000 times over in the course of a personal training career. 

Phil Kaplan's PEAK Weekend, now presented exclusively at the Personal Trainer Business Forum offers a rare opportunity to master Phil's success strategies. Click here to find out more or for registration details.

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