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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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