3 Fatal Mistakes Keeping You From Beating Your Competition

You want to beat the competition. I’ll show you how. Let’s begin with a “shameless” boost from a happy client of mine:  

FULL DISCLOSURE: This is a shameless advert for something that preoccupies much of my life now….

I called Joe Hanney.

He answered all my searching, skeptical questions.

I joined his establishment.

The rest is history and hopefully will remain that way.

I am fitter, thinner and stronger than I have ever been.

Would I have done this without this place…? The honest answer is … I don’t think so. Whatever results I have achieved are not solely mine, but theirs. The process has been sweat and definitely some tears. Mostly my sweat & tears — and sometimes theirs — as I am probably the definition of difficult client, yet they never gave up on me!

Here is the reality check…if you want to join a gym where you turn up when you feel like it, stroll on a treadmill or read a book on a bike, then I strongly suggest you DON’T join. Firstly, because there are no bikes or treadmills! And secondly, because this experience is not for you. It takes hard work and commitment. However, if you want a tailor-made nutrition and exercise programme which recognises your functional limitations and behavioural issues with food and you are prepared to do what it takes… keep reading  

This is MY gym. They work for ME. They adapt what they do to get me the results I want, and the rest is up to me. I’ve had constant advice and support (weekly semi-private personal training and one-to-one discussions on progress and challenges). Those of you who know about my gym habit sometimes question the fees I pay. My philosophy here is that “you get what you pay for”. I have probably spent thousands in gym memberships and weight loss programmes in the past, yet nothing else has been successful for me….until now.  

I’m not where I want to be yet in terms of weight, inches and functional fitness but I’m the furthest along that I’ve ever been…thanks to U Fit Studio  

Here endeth the sentimental journey….thanks for reading!

Apsara Leslie


There are literally hundreds more client success stories like this (a tribe which called themselves “U Fitters”).

As for me, I have muscles, but I’m no academic.

To view or download an infographic version of this blog click here.

Actually, I dropped out of University while studying Sport Science. I was way too focused on football rather than my studies.

That was probably why I only came out with C’s and D’s. PE was my highest grade (a B). The only real qualification I held as a personal trainer was the Level 3 Certificate In Personal Training (okay, I had the Les Mills RPM Certificate, too).

And to cut a long story short, despite all that, I managed to become the founder of the multi-award winning U Fit Studio, an innovative, results-driven personal training studio. It commanded high membership fees, but wasn’t in a big city, as you might imagine. It was in Leicester.

Leicester! Of all places!

Never heard of Leicester? You are not alone. Leicester wasn’t even a blip on the radar until last year (2016), when Leicester City won the Premier League title for the first time in their history.

It was a feat even more miraculous than the Chicago Cubs finally winning the World Series over in America!

And in Leicester, I didn’t have the title award winning team to help me make a name for myself. Instead, I was competing against:

  • 12 other personal trainers at the mega-gym Greens Health & Fitness (now Nuffield). They had 5,000 members, where at any one time 600 people would be on the floor. When 13 trainers are competing for them, it was slim pickings.
  • 49 other gyms within 12 miles, all with a minimum of 5 personal trainers each (a total 245 other personal trainers)
  • Two private hospitals offering weight loss services and advice
  • More than a dozen GP clinics offering weight loss advice and medication
  • 41 Weight Watcher meetings
  • Lighter life meetings every day for 365 days of the year…
  • Also, Slimming world… and other weight loss classes

Google “Weight Loss Leicester” and there are half a million results. Google “personal trainer Leicester” and you’ll get 7,840,000 results.


Despite all of that, I decided to take the leap from a commercial gym to my own private studio, in the little of Leicester, in a saturated market.

My studio wasn’t in some high-end affluent area or even a sweet spot in the city centre. It was on a rural industrial site, which wasn’t really even fit to host a factory warehouse, let alone a boutique personal training studio.

On that site, there were many buildings, ugly and run down. Not only that, but you couldn’t even see U Fit Studio from the roadside. You had to go searching for it, and there wasn’t even a sign posted.


People would constantly ring us and ask, “Where are you?! I’ve driven up this road a thousand times!? In this business, first impressions are important, so this difficulty for clients was a big No-No, especially considering how saturated the market was. I was already fighting for a limited market, and now I was asking them to pay higher fees and drive out to the boondocks, only to get lost?

The building and piping was old. The landlord was fraudulent. Parking was sketchy at best. Some of these huge big box gyms have spaces for 100+ cars. The so-called plush studios in town boasted private lots. Us, on the other hand, had space for 10 cars (see picture). Yup, that was it. Just down the side and to the rear.

Alright. You have the picture. But why did I start this blog with a client testimonial?

Well, it was my hope that by painting a honest picture of how the odds might have been stacked against us to even survive, let alone thrive, you can set out to do whatever you want to do. By removing the excuses, you can take on the market, from anywhere.  

In whatever situation you find yourself in now, if you follow the 3 Simple Steps below, you’ll also have the best chance to also thrive!  

To really bring the point home:

  • Leicester was voted fourth lowest level of disposable income in the UK
  • A national report in 2015 stated Leicester is the poorest city in the UK
  • In 2016, the average income was only £12,071 per person

Eek. That’s only £1005.91 per month.

Despite that, I still managed to thrive off a business model where I got more money from fewer members. I took on 4850 fewer members than the commercial gyms.

Now, you’re probably thinking “yeah Joe, that’s great to hear, but even though your story inspires me and all of what you’ve said describes me now and that I’m up against, it’s tiring, and I fear I’m not going to last in this industry…”

I hear you, I really do.

So, I’ve put together a list of the most common mistakes I see personal trainers and small gym owners making. You can use this article as a checklist and see if you’re making the same mistakes.

Then using the solutions I’ve shared, try and fix these issues as soon as possible.

Now, just because you might be making these mistakes, it’s not the time to get defensive and take any of this personally. I mean, okay, get defensive, but let it go, so that you can move on and get on with it.

Despite what your perception might be of those who have achieved great things in the industry, it’s not different for them. They get defensive, too, as do I.

They’ve been here, done that. Got the shirt. They realised (just as you will) that mistakes are part of growing. As long as you learn to persevere at an even higher level, and allow time for things to take its course, it will all start to fit together.

I want you to fix this more than ever. Bear in mind that this is in no particular order and it is a helicopter view, but it all matters.

You’ve continued to replicate and duplicate already dying fitness models.  

Just because every other trainer is doing 1-2-1 training, and charging by the hour, doesn’t mean that you have to.

Just take a look at the research mainly by Carron and Spink (1993) in which I must thank Jacque Crockford for… whom also wrote a brilliant article on ‘Discovering the benefits of small group training‘ 

Why do clients hire you? To achieve results. But how can you possible do that if the hard evidence suggests that clients are more likely to stick to their programs if they’re in a group setting?

Because it gets results, a group model increases client retention. And retention puts more money in your back pocket, and for less working hours.

Take this for example:

Let’s say the client chooses to train once per week.

1-2-1 Training Model


£50 per hour, or £600 for a package of 12 sessions

You have 21 clients. That’s 21 hours per week, yielding £1050 per week.

That’s £4,200 per month.

Stay with me.

Small Group Training (3 clients per hour)


£120 per hour (£40 x 3), or £1440 for a package of 12 sessions

You have 21 clients. That’s 7 hours per week, yielding £840 per week.

That’s £3,360 per month

Hang on a minute Joe, you said I would earn more!

Yes, that’s right. You will!

With the small group training you are working 7 hours week instead of 21.

So, if you did small group training and you increased that to 21 hours per week, it would look like this:

£120 (3 clients @ £40 each) x 21 hours = £2,520 per week. That’s £10,080 a month.

But what other benefits are there?

  • More opportunity for client referrals
  • Tighter schedules mean clients work around your diary
  • The power of influence. If one client drinks a post-workout shake, others will too because they don’t want to feel left out. That’s more upsell.
  • Greater gravitational pull for clients to stick with you means you worry less about searching for new clients or whether you’ll have enough money next month
  • Plus much more…

Adapt to your clients wants and needs, not what the other trainers are doing.

This leads nicely onto the next mistake…


You have no personal brand

It makes no sense to me to call yourself a “Personal Trainer”.

Yes, if all you want to be known for is someone who can count from 10 to 1 backwards, be my guest.

When a potential client thinks of a personal trainer, what crosses their mind?

According to Paige Waehner, there are 10 reasons why people are afraid to hire a personal trainer:

  1. It costs too much
  2. I’m too overweight and out of shape
  3. I don’t know what to expect
  4. I’m afraid it will hurt
  5. I’m afraid of an injury
  6. I have personal trainer or gym trauma
  7. I’m afraid of failing
  8. I’m afraid of committing
  9. I’m afraid of looking like an idiot
  10. I’m afraid I won’t like my personal trainer

So, this is not a good advert.

How, do you differentiate yourself from all the other personal trainers in your town?

The strategy right now is the cheapest fee gets the client.

How many enquires have you received that begin by asking what your prices are?  

I know what you’re thinking; you can explain how different you are if you get a chance to speak to the prospect.

I fear not. I could send a mystery shopper to you right now and almost predict word-for-word how the conversation would go.

We’re just scratching the surface here. We’re talking about a failing title that the failing fitness industry demands that you should adopt …

Time to do something different.

But first, what does Personal Branding actually mean?

I like how Neil Patel put it:

Personal branding describes the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility, advance their careers, and build self-confidence.

He also shared another great resource, Andrew Cooke.

The end goal is then to create a unique value proposition.

And to begin that process, Andrew Cooke, from Growth & Profit Solutions, suggests that you ask yourself these two questions:

People “buy” you – so how do you differentiate yourself from others?  What can you do to attract the people you want, and to be attractive to them?

If you take a look at his site, he takes it a whole lot further.

Bottom line is:

  • Who are you?
  • What is your story?
  • Why did you really get into the fitness industry in the first place?
  • Who gives you the most personal satisfaction to help?
  • What do you want to be known for?
  • Who gets the best results or positive change when you help them?
  • What strengths do you possess, what skills do you need to acquire?
  • What are your core values, rules, beliefs and standards?

Once you can answers these questions, the personal branding process can truly begin.

What you’ll then quickly realise is that once you figure out who you really are and what you have to offer, you have something that no one else has. You are truly unique. You have a story. Use that to differentiate yourself and create new demand. Do your thing, and leave the competition to copycat one another and fight over the same clients.

Why do you think I attracted middle aged women, slightly overweight, who had put their life on hold, barely surviving to bring up children on their own who over time lost confidence in themselves, questioned their self-worth and practically given up on life…?

Because I knew who I was. I owned my story.

When visiting my website, people wouldn’t see a list of qualifications or how self centered I was. Rather, they’d see that I built something my ideal clients would want to buy!


You’ve never hired a coach for yourself.

And for that reason, you don’t appreciate its full power or recognise the impact it can have on people’s lives, including your own

Let’s say your client comes to you to lose weight.

How many times have you helped such a client lose weight and they are still unhappy for whatever reason?

Or, I’m guessing it is very rare that you even got a long enough chance to help them lose weight? Before you know it, they decided to not continue. They become demotivated, or other things got in the way.

What motivates one client will be completely different from the other.

How do you communicate differently and effectively to ensure all clients reach their intended targets?

To be truly outstanding at getting your clients the results they want is to have your current beliefs, rules, values and standards challenged.



Well, you entered the fitness industry to help other people attain their health and fitness goals, but did it occur to you that it may have been also about healing yourself?

Now that I’ve brought these 3 Fatal Mistakes into your awareness, do question them, and evaluate what you are currently doing and what needs to change.

How many of these are you falling prey too? What do you plan to do to fix them? Have you already fixed them, and if so please comment below, so that other trainers can learn.



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