Thomas Plummer

The business of fitness


The 17 Immutable Laws of Coaching

#1: Never fail to charge what you are worth

You cannot be the cheapest coach in town and then expect to be perceived as the best.

Successful coaches learn to charge what their talent, education and experience is worth to the client. Many new coaches believe charging less than their competitors gives them an edge in the market, thinking that if they charge less now than the other coaches, they will take everyone else’s clients, because they will be viewed as cheaper and; therefore, a better deal.

This strategy fails every single time. The client simply doesn’t believe the cheapest of anything can be the best of anything. Our clients make their decision to choose a coach on whether he or she believes the coach can get the results they desire. In this client’s world, price is secondary, behind the anticipated ability to get the results the client pays for over time, but price is also a perception of quality and if you are a money person, which our clients usually are, the more you charge the better you are valued.

Simply put, if one trainer is $50 per hour and the other trainer is $100, then which one is going to be the best trainer to choose in the eyes of most of our clients? These clients believe the expensive trainer is usually the best trainer. The higher priced coach must have the experience and education to charge this amount and he or she must also have had enough clients to validate that someone else pays this amount.

One of the biggest mistakes a coach makes is undercharging for what they do and who they are. Your price sets an expectation of quality and the cheapest is never the best.

#2: Never tie yourself to a single methodology

Single methodology coaches fail over time. Single methodology people are much like a carpenter that is really good using his special hammer and then he believes that his magic hammer is the only tool he would ever need to build a house. This would be a great theory until you need a drill or saw and then the one tool wonder falls apart.

Single methodology coaches suffer the same fate. We become married to a tool, such as a kettle bell, barbell, yoga mat, suspension trainer, or go so far as to build an entire gym around a single methodology system, and we then try and force every client into our single tool approach, or put another way, I am a hammer and you are going to be a nail rather you like it or not.

Master coaches move beyond tools and think more as an architect who is working with a master builder to create a beautiful house. The architect can design an expected outcome, and the master builder, with all his vast array of tools, can build it efficiently. The master coach has to play both of these roles to get the most out of any client. He must see what can be created, but he also must have all the tools in the bag to be able to get it done, because every client is different and every client might need his own unique application of tools to get it done over time.

Single methodology people limit their businesses to the one client who can benefit from that exact process. Master coaches spend careers mastering many different tools so he or she might always have the right tool for the right client at the right time.

#3: If it hurts you, why do you think it won’t hurt them?

If you are hurt and beat up from your own workouts, then what are you doing to your own clients? There is nothing more pathetic than a coach who is constantly in pain and beaten up from his own workouts applying this same brilliant approach to his clients.

Many young coaches believe that constantly being dinged, in that six Advil a day pain range and held together with tape is a status thing: “Yeah, been pushing it hard lately and going for another PR this week,” is nothing to brag about to any other human, but rather a negative statement on your IQ and mental stability.

If your approach to fitness is keeping you constantly fighting pain, then what do you think you are doing to your clients, who believe every word you utter, but who have so much less base conditioning, technique and experience?

Maybe you are the problem, not the solution you believe yourself to be? Maybe your technique, choice of exercises, willing to push through pain and overall willingness to destroy your body in the name of fitness is just a wrong approach that is killing you and hurting the very people who trusted you with their fitness?

#4: Never lose your integrity

It takes a lifetime to create an image of integrity, but only a few brief moments to kill it.

Integrity is who you believe yourself to be in life. You create your own code, based upon your personal values, and then live by that code. Coaches need to be honest to the extent of obsession; respectful of others, including yourself, your family and especially those who pay you for your help and guidance; are willing to help when others can’t or won’t, and especially willing to never do anything to a client for the mere sake of trying to make a little money off of him selling him something he doesn’t need and he only bought because you told him to buy it.

You can never be a master coach without integrity nor can you ever be a good human being without integrity. Integrity is nothing more than a bond of trust stating you will do what you promised and that the other person will not get hurt in the process. This applies to clients of course, but also to your life in general. Do what you say you will do, when you promise to do it, and make sure you do no harm in the process and you are on your way to discovering the integrity within your soul.

#5: Professionalism is the separator between the good and the great

Everything matters. How you dress, how you speak, what time you show up, how prepared you are for a client, how you follow up, how you do not ever talk about other clients, how you shake hands, how you charge, how you protect yourself by never making a deal with any client that you wouldn’t give every client and how you value your team are just a few small parts of what it takes to be a true professional.

There is usually an aura around those you respect over time, those of whom you want to learn from and emulate in life. The aura you sense is a shield of professionalism that is never compromised or let down. If you are a professional coach, then you live it every day.

Being the best dressed coach in the room, the best spoken, the most prepared and the one who is simply the most put together compared against every other coach is a huge edge as you build your career over time. You can be the most educated person in the room and neglected, or you can be the one who is educated wrapped in professionalism and be a guru to others in your field.

#6: I would rather go broke and die on the street than scam a client

There is always a time in every career of every coach when you will consider, even if it is only for a few seconds, taking advantage of a client. You could be broke, desperate for money or simply the guy who spends more than you make and then you consider looking for the easy money.

You tell yourself, “Hey, just once, and besides, this client has so much money who will care?” Then once you have talked yourself out of your integrity, you now are trying to do some outrageous cash deal with a client to pay your rent, or worse, you enter the world of multiple level marketing and you are now advocating products to the clients that they don’t need, and you may not even really believe in, because you can see yourself making some easy money.

When you cross that line, it is almost impossible to come back to the light. Once integrity is sold, there is almost no way to buy it back. If you want to make a living as a professional coach for the rest of your life, then swear to yourself that you would rather go broke and die on the street than ever scam a client.

#7: You are not a role model, you are a professional coach

Your physical perfection is not why the client comes, and is definitely not why the client might stay with you over time. The client trusted you, because he or she believed that you were the one, and the only one, that could get the results they were willing to pay for over time.

Wait, you say, the client trusted me in the beginning, because he thought all of my almost naked selfies and videos lifting heavy stuff with my exertion/sex face action proved that I am a stud/studette and the client just knew that if I can get myself into this kind of shape, just think what I can do for them?

If you ever said this to yourself, and you actually believe your own bullshit here, then you are too stupid to be a professional coach and should move back to your mother’s basement and go back to being the biggest stud that ever worked for Starbucks, because this is not why 99% of clients you will ever meet chose you.

Professional coaches are chosen because they have the skill set, reputation and experience to get results. Any drunken monkey with a one-day certification can take 20 people through a workout and only kill two or three, but it takes a professional coach with years of experience to be able to get the maximum results, from the maximum number of clients, over time.

Getting this done is not about how you look, but what you know. Despite the misguided belief that every coach has to be a specimen suited for framing at your local art gallery, coaches come in all shapes and sizes, and yes, many of these fine coaches are considered works in progress chasing their own fitness goals and wrestling with their own fitness demons.

Consider that all of your ego induced social media posts might actually be the very things that are keeping serious adult clients out of your gym. Also consider that your need to be in every ad without a shirt, every video in a workout bra and every group shot flexed up might be more of a personal issue you need to deal with rather than ways to help you create a financially successful training business.

And it won’t last. You will not be perfect for ever, but if you base your business on a perfect day on your 30th birthday, then what do you do for a living when you are 40 and not so perfect? Being a perfect specimen doesn’t last, but being a professional coach can feed you until you die.

Replace you in all of your social media with clients that have succeeded because of your caring and helpful guidance. Your potential clients care much more about how you can help them meet their goals than they would ever do about how you look without a shirt.

#8: It is never about you; it is always about them

We push clients too hard, and for too long, because we apply our own personal standard of fitness to them. Your goals and vision for the client maybe the exact thing that will drive him out of your gym, and maybe hurt him as well.

It is not about you and what you want, professional coaching is about them and what they need to be successful. Your client might just want to move and feel better and not give a damn about his weight, although you know that is what is hurting him. You can guide and suggest, but when you push you lose him forever. He is moving, he is happy dropping in once or twice a week and that is enough for him.

The side note here is that purists drive your clients, and probably your family too, crazy. Nothing worse in life than a Paleo freak at a holiday dinner yelling at poor Aunt Edna because she just stuffed a giant biscuit covered in butter in her mouth and washed it down with a beer.

Living pure is your choice. Expecting your clients to live up to your idea of a perfect fitness life is not going to work very well in the business world. Yes, there will always be a posse that will follow you because of your intensity and purism, especially for those coaches who own those single methodology businesses, but will 25 hardcore clients be enough to support your career over time?

Understand that your clients have different goals, lives, time commitments and that while you could create the perfect fitness life for them if they would only listen, most just want to venture down the fitness path of life slowly, maybe stop and drink a beer along the way, occasionally stop for a biscuit and just don’t have the same deep believe that you do… and all of that is okay because at least they are with you and moving forward and that is enough.

#9: One-dimensional coaches fail over time

Coaching isn’t enough. If you want to be successful over time you have to force yourself to be good at all aspects of professional coaching. For example:

  • Have you mastered marketing and branding?
  • Can you handle your own social media and then teach someone else how to do it for you?
  • Do you understand money? Do you save and invest? Can you run the financial side of a growing business?
  • Do you understand staffing and can you hire and create a team to grow your business?
  • Have you learned to speak and can present your ideas in public or speak in front of groups to grow your business?
  • Have you ever had anyone look at your professional image and help package you as a professional?
  • Have you learned about negotiating professional contracts that might affect the jobs you may have in the future?
  • Have you learned to network and surround yourself with a team that can help you and your career grow over time?

Being a professional coach isn’t just about learning to train someone. Being a professional coach is about becoming a well-rounded person able to create and manage a career that could span your entire life. Multi-dimensional is your plan if you want to hang around for more than a few years.

#10: You can help more people with a million dollars in the bank than a $12.92

It is never about the money, until it is. Easy to say I am not in it for the money and be that reverse snob as a coach where your poverty is a badge of honor; but then a kid gets sick, you get married and look for a house or your parents age and need some help, and then it is about the money and the so little you have ever earned or saved.

Money only has one purpose and that is freedom. Money lets you work where you want to work, leave when you don’t want to be there any longer, live where you are happy, help people who need your help and in other words, let’s you live your life on your own terms without being held hostage by anyone else who controls your cash flow.

Chasing money is not important, but the process of chasing money is in your life. The difference is you will build a more successful career, a more financially successful business and enjoy a sense of freedom and peace so many coaches never find who live check-to-check in life, if you make creating money part of your life’s work.

We create money to take care of our families. We create money to allow us to say no to stupidity that makes us unhappy. Most importantly, making money validates your talent in many ways, because making money proves you were right, you are a professional coach and people are willing to pay you for your help and guidance.

You can be happy and poor and you can be a simple monk and change the world, but for most of us who desire to live as a professional coach, you will find you can help a lot more people in life with a few dollars in the bank than you ever could being broke and barely surviving to each payday.

There will also be a day where you might not be able to do what you do any longer. You might become injured, burned out, or simply have had enough and want to move on in life. Money is your way out. Money is your way to turn 50 and say, “I have had enough of this and just want to go back to college and maybe teach for a few years.”

The hardest conversation in the consulting life is telling a guy who is 57 years old that the $2000 he has saved in life isn’t enough and that he will have to work every day until he dies to just stay alive and pay his bills. Remember, money isn’t made as a status and the biggest houses, newest cars, and most gadgets isn’t what you are chasing; you are pursuing the freedom that only comes from having enough money in life to live life on whatever terms you desire.

#11: You did not get to be you without a hand up from somebody

You are you because somewhere, at some time in your life, somebody gave you a hand up. There are no self-made people, only those who have forgotten where they came from and who helped them in life.

Remember who helped you and say thanks and make sure you help others who are further down the ladder than you are. You are who you are because someone cared… and now it is your turn.

#12: Hire a coach to coach you/break out of your comfort zone

You have been training for 20 years and think you know it all? Hire a coach you respect and have him or her train you for a week. You need to force yourself out of your own comfort zone, but most importantly, you need to be reminded there are other ways to get results and what you know is not what everyone else knows and maybe, just maybe, you are all right and you might learn something new.

Same thing is true for life. When you think you know it all is the day you should hire someone to ask the hard questions in life, from everything to money and family to personal goals and retirement. Often asking for help when we think we have it all figured out gets us to the point where we remember that we don’t even know all the questions anymore and fresh eyes can help us leap ahead years of just going our slow and self-dictated pace.

#13: Knowing when to say no is the sign of coaching maturity

One of the best days you will ever have as a professional coach is when you look at a client and say, “I don’t think I can help you, but I can refer you to someone who can.”

That is the day you have arrived as a professional coach, because that was the day you stopped faking it and finally stopped forcing a client into what you know and admitted there are clients that don’t fit your skill set and the best answer is, “No, I am not the guy for this job.”

Young coaches too often force every client into their box, even if the client doesn’t fit their training model, or worse, has medical concerns he shouldn’t even touch. Hey, this is what I know and if I throw you into the box I will force something to fit you somehow. This approach is sort of like a guy buying a shirt and the clerk says it looks fine, we can make it work, you look amazing, while the shirt is a 3XL and the guy wears a medium. I have the shirt for sale, and it is the only one I have, and you will buy it now.

Knowing when to walk is a sign of maturity. Knowing who to refer out to is a sign of a professional coach. You do not need to be right every time, or know how to train every client in the world, but a professional coach does need to know who can get it done if he can’t. Sometimes the best advice you can give a client is to go somewhere else.

#14: Why are you different than every other coach?

Generalists eat last; specialists own the future.

The future of coaching belongs to specialists who focus on narrower populations and then master that area. For example. You might focus on:

  • Fitness after 50
  • Women only after 40
  • Severely obese
  • Junior golfers
  • Stressed out female executives
  • Guys over 50 with fitness and hormonal issues
  • Movement analysis and correction for corporations
  • Male executives who are in the 40s and later

This is just a partial list of specializations a coach could make a living and a career mastering. There is truth in many of the old adages, such as: Find something you love and learn more about it than any other person and you will always make a lot of money.

The age of the generalist coach is fading and that one size fits all approach that worked so well 20 years ago is dead today. People want to work with coaches who understand them physically, but also mentally as well. Someone specializing in stressed out female executives would not only have to know how to train those women, but what they think, what are they going through in life at this age, their special nutritional issues, how they learn and what do they really want in life and from their fitness?

Generalists eat last for a reason these days; the specialists in coaching have driven them away from the table.

#15: You have to earn the right to be called a master coach over time

There is nothing funnier in life than a coach with two years of experience, an entry level certification, 12 clients, a one-day wonder certification that states, “You are now the man,” and who is still working for $10 an hour at a mainstream fitness chain where trainers have the status of a farting uncle in church, now declaring himself, because no one else will, a master coach.

You have to earn being a master coach. You have to pay your dues over time. You have to take the beating through the years that molds you into a coach who has seen it all and who has practiced his craft with discipline through those long years.

What does it take to be a true master coach?

  • You have to have done at least a thousand hours of sessions with every type of conceivable client per year for at least 10 years.
  • You have to have a strong entry level certification, a movement based certification and advanced nutritional certifications and training. Couple these along with a never-ending string of skill set certs, such as kettle bells, the Olympic lifts or sand bags that are added every year as new tools are introduced into the market.
  • At least 30 hours of education a year garnered through attendance at major coaching events, such as Perform Better Summits.
  • The willingness to at least once every two years admit that everything you learned up to this date might be out of date and you need to reinvent yourself one more time.

There is no certification for a master coach, but there is that moment when your peers come to you for help and guidance and then you know you have arrived at the point where what you know, and who you are, is respected by others in the industry. Until then, keep your head down and just keep working.

The driving force behind all of this of course, is the premise that if you do not grow each year, you will wither and die early in your career. Coaching is not only about making change, coaching is about accepting change and what we knew even a few years ago might be considered out of date and something the industry has moved past.

Grow or die should be your motto if you want a career as a coach that lasts and is respected by others, and if you put the years one by one, then one day you might just become the master coach the two-year wonder child already thinks he is.

#16: You will not be successful until you know what it means to be you

What do you want from your experience of being a professional coach? Ten years from now, if you are sitting in a bar and someone asks you, “So you have been a professional coach your entire life? What did mean to be you?”

You can’t ever reach the upper levels of success if you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish in your career. Ask yourself these questions:

What professional mileposts have you set for yourself?  Speak at a major conference? Own a training gym that does a million dollars a year? Get an advanced degree? Create an online training empire?

The problem isn’t that you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish, the problem is that you don’t dream big enough. Create a list of milestones that stretch out for years and dream big. Give yourself permission to chase your real dreams, not those watered-down things you share with your drunken friends over too many beers.

There are other questions that matter too when you come to the end of your career. Did you make a difference in the fitness world? Did you leave the industry a better place because you were in it? Did you help others and create a generation of young coaches on the right path because you gave a damn?

What will it have meant to have been you? No coach whoever amounted to anything couldn’t answer this question.

#17: We change lives

If you want to be a respected coach, then remember this: You exist to change lives!

Changing lives is your purpose in life. If you are a true professional, then this is why you were born; to make a difference and to change the lives around you.

If changing lives isn’t your thing, then you will have a difficult time ever reaching any upper level of coaching. All the great ones make the world around them a better place every single day they are alive. If you think everything written in these last few sentences is something found steaming in a pile under a bull, then you will not ever make it as a master level professional coach.

Changing lives is what you do. Changing lives is what professional coaching is all about in life. You are either in, or you are out, but if you aren’t driven to change the world, then it will be a very short and boring career before you leave to find work that might be important, but that will seldom have the impact on as many people as being a professional coach.