The Personal Trainer Business Owner or Corporate Employee – Which Is Better?

Being a Personal Trainer is an extremely rewarding profession that also has many additional benefits. You have the ability to work flexible hours, manage your client relationships on your own, and put in as much time as you want to grow your business. Because personal training is a “service business”, it is entrepreneurial by nature. However, if we compare being a personal trainer business owner to a personal trainer corporate employee, we can start to see the nuanced differences that are important to consider as you grow in your career.

Here, we are talking about an “employee” at a gym or training facility vs. owning your own personal training business. In this article, we would like to discuss what those differences are and how you should consider them as you grow as a Personal Trainer.

Personal Trainer Corporate Employee

If you are a Personal Trainer at a gym such as Equinox, Fit Athletic, 24-Hour Fitness, LA Fitness, Planet Fitness, Crunch, or any big box gym, you are an employee of that company. Likewise, if you train clients at a small, boutique training facility in your area and receive a W-2 during tax season, you are an employee of that small business.

Personal Trainer Business Owner

Owning your own personal training business allows for many benefits to both you and your clients. In this sense, being a business owner can mean having your own gym, training clients at private gyms, having online clients, or any combination. Essentially, you are not an employee anywhere and do not receive a W-2. In most cases, your earnings come directly from your clients or possibly via 1099’s as an independent contractor.

In this article, we will breakdown the differences between being an “employee” vs. a “business owner” as it relates to the following:

  • Compensation
  • Tax Implications
  • Fringe Benefits
  • Finding Clients

  • Owning Clients
  • Freedom/Flexibility
  • Politics
  • Community


Personal Trainer Corporate Employee: As an employee, you do not receive compensation for the total dollar amount that your client pays to the gym. Simply put, the gym takes a certain percentage of your earnings. Every gym is different, but it will range from 25% to 50% and this typically depends on how many training sessions you are performing per month. If you are absolutely crushing it consistently and hitting the goals or targets, the gym will only take closer to that 25% range (maybe even less). However, if you are just starting out and are not at “full-time”, the gym will be taking a larger cut, closer to that 50% range.

Personal Trainer Business Owner: As a business owner, you are able to set your pricing based on your value and the services that you are providing. While you technically receive 100% of your earnings (without considering taxes), you also have to bear the burden of any expenses related to your business. Therefore, your total compensation is going to be your Gross Income (earnings) less your business expenses.

Tax Implications

Personal Trainer Corporate Employee: A major disadvantage of being an “employee” Personal Trainer is related to tax-savings. We will get deeper on this topic in a future article, but just know that by not “owning your business”, you are forgoing the ability to deduct expenses from your income, thus ultimately lowering your tax bill.

Personal Trainer Business Owner: As a “business owner” and most likely having to file Schedule-C on your tax return, you are provided the major tax benefit of being able to deduct business expenses from your Gross Income (earnings). If you are able to keep consistent records of all of your annual expenses using Quickbooks or hiring a bookkeeper, you will be well-set for maximizing your tax-savings every year.

Fringe Benefits

Personal Trainer Corporate Employee: One major benefit of being an employee is that you have the potential to be eligible for employer-sponsored benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans like a 401(k) and employer-match, dental insurance, vision insurance, and many other fringe benefits. You typically will not be eligible for these perks until you have obtained a “full-time” status, which usually depends on how many clients you are training per month. In addition, there may be a required time-period (such as 1-year) to be eligible.

Personal Trainer Business Owner: When you are self-employed, you do not have the luxury of being provided employer-sponsored benefits with group discounts. However, there is an advantage of being self-employed in that you have much more flexibility in your selection of retirement plans (Owner-Only 401(k) Plan, SEP, Simple, etc.) and insurance plans (health, dental, life, disability, vision, etc.). With that said, there is no getting around the fact that costs will be higher for these necessities.

Finding Clients

Personal Trainer Corporate Employee: One major benefit of being a Personal Trainer as an employee of any gym is that there is always a steady flow of potential clients walking in-and-out of the gym. This allows you the ability to grow your personal training business faster. However, this does not mean that clients will be handed to you as you are still in charge of developing relationships to obtain new clients.

Personal Trainer Business Owner: If you own your own facility or gym, finding clients is 100% on you if you are self-employed. You will have the opportunity to create your own marketing plan and figure out how you are going to obtain your clients. Some people love this part of being a business owner and some do not.

Ownership Of Clients

Personal Trainer Corporate Employee: One major drawback of being an employee at a gym is that your clients are technically clients of the gym. They are not “your” clients. What does this mean and what are the implications? Well, first off, if you were ever to leave the gym and had the desire to go to a different gym or even open your own gym, it may be tougher than you would initially imagine. Now, if you have some long-time clients that truly believe in you and you’ve exceeded their wildest dreams, those clients will follow you wherever you go. However, the tough part is the non-compete clause that you may have signed when you started working there and the non-compete laws/regulations in your state. The last thing you want to do is take your clients from the gym and have a lawsuit on your hands. This does happen and it can be quite devastating.

Personal Trainer Business Owner: When you own your own business and are self-employed, your clients are “100% your clients”. Because you are doing the hard work (marketing mentioned above) to obtain new clients and grow your clientele, it makes sense that you now “own” this part of your business. With this benefit or advantage, there does come the responsibility to keep your clients happy and to ensure that their experience working with you (or your business) keeps them as long-time clients. Whereas a big-box gym may have many different offerings, amenities, etc., the personal trainer small business owner has to find a way to provide their clients an experience that is more individualized, community-oriented, and personal.


Personal Trainer Corporate Employee: There is typically more structure in your day, which stems from having manager meetings, attending workshops, dedicated “prospecting time”, etc. We would consider this a benefit, especially in the earlier stages of growing your business, because it forces you to plan out when you will be prospecting, calling new leads/clients, or actually training your clients. However, it tends to be less of a benefit as you become busier and your main focus should simply be on training your clients.

Personal Trainer Business Owner: In this model, there is full autonomy and flexibility in what your day-to-day looks like. This is a tremendous benefit for those individuals that have always wanted to make their own schedules and enjoy more freedom in their day. However, you can’t forget that when you work as a personal trainer (whether as an employee or business owner), it will most likely be the case that there will be daily time slots that your “average client” will want to lock-in. This may typically be before work, lunchtime hours, or after work. While there will always be clients that can schedule their sessions at any time of the day, that is usually not the case for most individuals. Depending on your situation as a business owner, you may have a team that does the training, and this may not be an issue. The second part here is that when you own your own business, there is A LOT that you will always have to do, whether it be working “ON” the business (marketing, accounting, hiring, organization, etc.) or working “IN” the business (training clients, training staff, etc.). In addition, if you start out as a solopreneur without any additional staff, you will have to be solely responsible for opening the gym and closing the gym (no days off). Of course, there is still flexibility and freedom in all of this and owning your own business is why most personal trainers take this route. After organizing how you want your business to be run, you can then start to map out how you want your freedom/flexibility to look.


Personal Trainer Corporate Employee: Another drawback to being an “employee” Personal Trainer is that there always tends to be politics involved at some point, whether it stems from the manager of the gym, your direct personal training manager, membership advisors/sales associates, colleagues, or even clients. If you have already established your business and stay in your lane, this is not as much of an issue. However, if you are early on and trying to grow your business, politics tend to be an issue. It can be as simple as seeing your manager and the membership advisor favor certain Personal Trainers and provide them with more promising leads. If you are not a fan of building relationships and sometimes having to “play the game”, this could be a tough obstacle to overcome.

Personal Trainer Business Owner: For the most part, in this situation, there will be less politics that directly cause issues for you (as the business owner). This is especially true if you are a solopreneur. However, even in this instance, there may be politics that you will have to navigate through related to your marketing efforts, neighboring retail locations, your community/city, etc. As you grow your business and if you decide to hire employees, you will want to be hyper-aware of the potential for politics to arise within your business. If not taken seriously, this could be detrimental to your businesses’ culture, team camaraderie, and ultimately cost you more time/money than you would prefer.


Personal Trainer Corporate Employee: One final benefit is the fact that you are part of a team and are constantly surrounded by like-minded “Movement, Health, & Healing Pros”. This allows you to further develop as a professional by learning from others and not only living in your own silo. Finally, if you are motivated by competition by any means, having friends and colleagues there with you in the trenches of building your business is not a bad thing.

Personal Trainer Business Owner: Here, you (as the business owner) are solely responsible for building your own community. This community can be made up of your clients, the team/staff that you bring on, your family members, the neighboring retail stores, and your city. Furthermore, so that you do not only live in your own silo, you will want to engage in a mentorship relationship (being a mentor and also being a mentee) and finding a network of people (in-person or virtually) that are going through starting their own personal training business. This can all be as formal as you would like. However, you will have to make the effort to build it.

We hope that this article is helpful for you as you navigate the many career paths as a “Movement, Health, & Healing Pro”.

Additional Reads & Resources:

Self-Employment Vs. Employment, What’s Best?
Personal Trainer: 1099 Independent Contractor or Employee
How to Be a Self Employed Personal Trainer
Personal Trainer Jobs: Self-Employed vs. Working at a Fitness Facility
Personal Training: Employed vs Self-Employed

8 Financial Mistakes Made By Self-Employed Personal Trainers & How To Avoid Them
Fitness Career Path – Why Personal Trainers Have The Best Journey Forward
Self-Employed Personal Trainer – Financial Life Planning Case Study
Business Owner Personal Trainer – Financial Life Planning Case Study
Personal Trainer Employee – Financial Life Planning Case Study

For additional resources, you can always visit our “Resources” page.

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