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Weathering the Ebb and Flow of a Fitness Career

The working life of a mind- body fitness trainer is notoriously inconsistent. Sometimes we’re staying late to accommodate extra clients that we couldn’t fit into our regular schedules, and other times multiple bookings suddenly fall off our schedules leaving our workload much lighter than feels comfortable.

This winter we’ve had no fewer than six snow/polar vortex days off from the local schools here, causing mass cancellations and cutting into the income I’d expected.

Back in 2008, during the recession, I had several clients laid off and many more cutting back from two or three sessions a week down to only one. And then there’s always spring break, summer holidays, graduation season, etc, that cause regular fluctuations through the year.

It can be scary to look at your usually full calendar and see big chunks of open time suddenly appear. Years ago when this would happen I’d get myself so stressed about it that I would go into something of a panic mentality. But at some point, after I’d been through enough cycles of these ups and downs, I realized I would need to accept this ebb and flow if I wanted longevity in this industry.

Now I see that if properly managed, and if taken with the right attitude, this natural cycle can actually be a positive aspect of my career. Here’s how I’ve come to approach occasional down times in my schedule so that I can actually make them work to my benefit.

Consider what’s in your control and what is not

Polar vortex? Not in your control. Three clients hosting graduation parties this week? Nothing you can do.

But if you’ve had a good few clients move away or fall off your schedule, or if you’ve got clients who leave for the season, it may be time to reach out to people you’ve not seen in awhile, or to start drumming up replacements for those who are away or have moved. Referrals by existing clients are a great way to do this.

Make an action plan for what you can do and chill out about what you can’t.

Embrace the slow times to get stuff done

You could use this time to work on those tasks that always get put off at the end of long working days, like chipping away at your email backlog, updating your social media and website, skimming through old emails to see if there’s any old exchanges that might be ready for a follow up. I started this blog on a snow day, when my entire schedule had collapsed for the day.

Prepare for busy times during the slow times

Get your home organized, do food prep so you’ll have easy, healthy dinners in the freezer for crazy days, take care of the little details of life, like getting your oil changed, or taking the cat for his checkup, all those things you know you won’t manage when your days get busy again

Develop your skills

Do research, professional reading, organize your course or study materials, re-read notes from a workshop you found interesting, and enjoy longer workouts for yourself, which can reignite your spark.

You could even pursue other aspects of life!

We can lose track of the fact that life isn’t all about our work. Take advantage of the downtime to build your relationships, reconnect with friends, spend time with your partner, and hang out with your family. Take some time to do the non-work activities you’ve not had time to enjoy, such as catching up on the stack of novels by your bed, or you could meditate, walk in the woods, take a class, or whatever it is that makes you feel alive and regenerated.

Don’t take it personally when you’re not booked

When looking at a series of holes in your schedule it’s easy to doubt yourself and take it as a reflection of your skills as a trainer, or of yourself as a person. But it’s important to keep in mind that these ups and downs happen in every schedule.

If you’re consistently struggling to build up your client base with no success and your slow times greatly outweigh your busy times, maybe there are some marketing changes you should make, or maybe you need to look at how your cancellations and wait listing are handled in case there are some inefficiencies working against you. Or perhaps you’ve not yet connected with the right niche of clientele for which you’re best suited.

I’ve trained a lot of teachers, of all different skill levels and backgrounds, and I honestly believe there is a clientele for everyone who truly cares about the work and puts in the dedication. Your downtime is the perfect opportunity to look over your strategies, or bounce ideas off colleagues or your boss if you have one.

This is a great time to reflect on how you’re feeling about your work situation, what changes you might want to make. When you’re busy you probably won’t have much time to ponder these issues.

When it Gets Busy:

So you’ve weathered a slump in your schedule and now you’re finding yourself overbooked and frantic to keep up with your workweeks. How do you get the most out of the busy times?

Save for the next slow time

Anxiety about cashflow can get overwhelming when you’re not sure when work will pick up. Studies have shown that people actually perform worse on IQ tests during tough financial times. Probably because it’s hard to concentrate when you brain is running a constant computation to figure out how you’ll cover rent, groceries, and health insurance bills during a “famine” time. So use your times of healthy income to prepare for the inevitable occasional downturn. How?

Build an Emergency Fund!

Put away a little chunk every month in an account where you can easily access it, but it stays very separate from your regular cash flow. You only touch it if you’re in a serious pinch and can’t make your mortgage payment one month, or if an actual emergency arrises, such as your car breaks down and you need to get it fixed in order to get to work. Put away as much as you can, even if it’s not much.

I’m not a financial expert, but I’ve often heard it said we should have at least three, preferably six-12 months of living expenses saved up. But how do you find this money to save?

Budget by your low months and save the extra

It’s easy, especially when you’ve felt a period of deprivation, to splash out and live a little bigger when you have a nice chunk of money come in. But if you can make your budget based on leaner months (maybe not the leanest, but lean), then you can put away any extra into your emergency fund. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I use Mint to manage my budget. But there are loads of easy budgeting apps out there.

Strategize to maintain your physical and emotional health:

Make time to keep up your workouts

If you’re a fitness professional I don’t have to tell you why this is important, right? Block it into your calendar for each day. I have a 30 minute routine that I do first thing in the morning that at least covers my basics if the rest of the day should get out of control. But I don’t consider that a “workout”, so I still have to do something when I’m at the studio or when I get home.

Streamline your eating and shopping routine

This will help you keep eating healthy when you’re busy and stressed. I’ve used grocery delivery services and really liked them (except it’s hard to actively avoid plastic waste when someone else is making your shopping choices).

You could pick two or three healthy, big batch recipes you really like so you can cook once or twice a week and have most of your meals covered.

It’s best to set this up in a slow time, and then you’ve got a system in place. There are loads of YouTube videos on healthy, weekly food prep that might give you inspiration.

Communicate with your partner or close friends and family when your schedule is starting to look extra busy and what they can expect (or not) from you during this time

If you can give your loved ones an idea of what your next crazy month is going to look like, what the likely end point of the extra-busyness will be, what you’ll need help with, and what you’re going to do to make sure they get what they need for you, you might be able to head off some potential resentment and grumpiness from all involved parties.

I hope some of these tactics that have worked for me will also help you maintain healthy mind, body, and finances through all the ups and downs of this strange, wonderful career we’ve chosen.

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