Finding Your First Clients

The Barbell Logic Online Coaching Academy offers a guided path to becoming a better coach. That path is predicated on your finding and coaching as many people as you can, learning and refining your coaching skills through practice.
Coaching’s opportunities attract some lifters to pursue coaching as a career.  For prospective coaches, gaining the first few clients may present seemingly insurmountable difficulties.  An example path—with specific, implementable ideas and general principles—may aid those looking to begin their coaching journey.

Finding Your First Clients:  From Passionate Lifter to Novice Coach

Two o’clock on a Monday morning, I sat in an urgent care next to my mom.  Gazing at me through her tears, she promised to try strength training. Earlier that evening, she broke her ankle while stepping out of my front door as I cooked dinner.  The broken ankle finally convinced her to try strength training, something I had tried to do for years. I like to think that I planted the seed for her decision, though.   

In the spring of 2018, after years of meandering through different training programs and goals, I decided to pursue strength training seriously.  I signed up for in-person training sessions with Alex Kennedy of Atlanta Barbell and, shortly thereafter, signed up for Barbell Logic Online Coaching.  The benefits I experienced from training convinced me to learn more and teach others. 

It took my mom’s accident to nudge me to the next level.  She lives in Columbus, Ohio. Despite Columbus’ many ties to the fitness industry—West Side Barbell, Rogue Fitness, the Arnold Classic—I found it difficult to find her a quality coach.  Recognizing the need for a competent strength coach in my immediate sphere, I decided to become a coach. As most people who have taken the path from exerciser to dedicated lifter to coach will understand, the first and most difficult step in this process was finding people to train.  Below I summarize my path to becoming a novice coach and describe certain waypoints I found in navigating the process of gaining my first clients. Through applying these ideas, others hopefully will be able to more easily and quickly acquire their first trainees

My Journey—An Example Path

I read the necessary books and practiced the teaching progressions on immediate family members.  In October 2018, I enrolled in Group 1 of the Barbell Logic Coaching Academy. I coached no one during the academy, despite assignments requiring videos of myself coaching clients.  I learned less than I should have and performed worse than I could have because of this failure. It was a failure of determination and effort.  

A change in circumstances nudged me toward my first clients—I deployed to a base in the Middle East.  I gained a pool of co-workers who worked out in a common gym, and I lost the time commitment of everyday familial and household obligations.  Despite this, it took over a month for me to coach. Once I acquired my first trainees, I taught the lifts, provided weekly programming, and coached at least one of their weekly training sessions in-person.  After a month with three trainees, more people asked for coaching. Coaching quickly consumed more of my time outside of work, and I realized I had taken a significant step toward becoming a coach.  

I distilled the below themes from my experience, from which you may find implementable ideas and encouragement:   

  • Pursue coaching despite setbacks
  • Try an indirect route
  • Focus on opportunities, not obstacles
  • Prepare
  • It gets easier
  • There’s no finish line

 

Pursue Coaching Despite Setbacks

I first attempted to coach a few weeks into the deployment.  I offered a squat seminar in our unit gym. I sent an email with a description of the event, reviewed the squat teaching script, and prepared to teach a group.  No one showed up. This worsened doubts about my ability to coach and attract clients. I persevered, however, and soon developed a new idea that led to my first trainees.  When facing an obstacle, you can find a way, make one, take an alternate route, or go back. I persevered, lumbering along an unexpected path to my destination.      

Once I began coaching regularly, setbacks persisted.  When I could not fix someone’s error, I combatted feelings of inadequacy.  I trudged on, however, using the process and tools learned in the Coaching Academy:  I looked through academy products, my notes, and the Blue Book for potential fixes. I pondered the error’s potential root cause.  I tried different cues. Occasionally, I reached out to my coach Alex Kennedy for help. I reminded myself, however, that I was learning, and remembered that I provided value to the athlete despite my limitations.    

You will likely have to try different methods to attract your first trainees.  You will stumble and struggle to solve some errors. Coaches coach, so if you have decided to become a coach, find a way, even if your first ideas fail.  

Try an Indirect Route

After my initial failures, I established a 500/1000 pound club.  I developed the rules and trained the judges. Interest in the club grew, and I interacted with people who wanted to enter the club but needed training to meet the numbers.  I offered them technique coaching and programming, and a few people accepted. All three of them became regular trainees.  

The 500/1000 pound club created competition and camaraderie that spurred some to ask for coaching who may not have otherwise.  It provided purpose to people’s training. They suddenly expressed a need for coaching and programming. One co-worker mentioned that her lifts had been stalled for a while and asked if I could help.  After four months, I still coach her—and others. They continue to progress. 

What similar events can you organize?  Consider a health or strength competition at your church or workplace.  Train with a lifting partner whom you coach. Make strength training a small part of a larger event, such as a barbecue, or—if you are married and your spouse is willing—offer free childcare to neighbors, friends, or co-workers as they strength train.  Possibilities abound, and the indirect route may be the fastest route to your first client.   

Focus on Opportunities, Not Obstacles

Despite the opportunities the deployment presented, similar opportunities existed in the United States.  I had time to coach people on the weekends and enough equipment to coach the basic lifts. I could have developed a 500/1000lb club with similar results.  In the United States, I let difficulties blind me to opportunities. In Qatar, I pursued and created opportunities, and that made all the difference.  

Everyone has reasons to not begin coaching, no different than any other goal.  Obstacles too often justify our decisions to stop short of the summit. They grow into the villains in our self-assuaging stories of unanswered callings and unrealized dreams.  Lack of interested people, equipment, time, or experience plague all prospective coaches. Coaching benefits almost all lifters, whether they know it or not. Finding people who recognize that fact and ask for help contains the challenge.  They exist, however, and they want your coaching. 

Acknowledge and aggressively pursue your opportunities. Use your relationships to seek clients.  Talk to family and friends. Talk to co-workers. You know someone—or someone you know knows someone—who wants your coaching.  Your first client will likely be an acquaintance, just as other job opportunities often come through acquaintances. Keep asking people if you can coach them, and someone will agree.      

Next, think about what equipment and areas you may use to coach.  Do you have access to a work training facility? Can you train people in the gym you frequent, or do you have enough equipment in your home gym?   Different training environments—home gym, black iron gym, public gym, work gym—offer different opportunities. Ask your gym owner if you may coach in the gym.  Talk to your boss about coaching someone before or after work, or during lunch. Find an area to coach—create one, borrow one, or, if absolutely necessary, rent one.  

List available times, make more time available, and maximize your available time.  Consider if other priorities limit your available time, and weigh those priorities against coaching.  Lifting with a partner may offer an opportunity to both lift and coach. Coach in-person once a week—maybe on Saturday or Sunday mornings.  Offer hybrid in-person and online coaching. If coaching matters, make the time.

Finally, consider what experiences and knowledge you have and if you can provide value to trainees.  You almost certainly can improve their technique and programming. Tell the truth about your relative inexperience and how you are improving your competence.  Undersell but overdeliver. If you cannot fix an error, come to the next session having considered the error’s root cause and having prepared a variety of cues.  

Prepare

I had completed the coaching academy and the in-person seminar prior to coaching these trainees, so I had a foundation of knowledge.  I found, however, that if I failed to review the scripts before an initial session, I missed a key point or two during the teaching progression and had to cover it as a cue during the sets.  The lifter may not have noticed my error, but I knew I had failed to deliver the quality coaching I could. I committed to reviewing the teaching progressions for every initial session, and I spent time each week reviewing them so I could teach them at short notice.    

If you ask someone to coach, and they respond, “Sure, how about tomorrow,” are you ready?  Can you lead that person through the teaching progressions and identify the major deviations from the model?  Do you have cues for common, fundamental errors? Have you decided your availability to coach and when you will not coach?  You should be able to answer “yes” confidently.  

You must also be able to quickly and clearly explain what you offer and how it benefits potential clients.  Prepare and refine a pitch—both a short verbal pitch for those seeking information in person and a longer, informational pitch for someone who has agreed to their first session.  

Before coaching someone you barely know, practice on those close to you and leverage online resources to improve your eye.  Practice on family. Know cues for common and important form errors. Ask a Barbell Logic Coach to help you: Alex Kennedy provided feedback on my coaching as I led my wife through the teaching progressions.  Attend a Barbell Logic Academy Coaching Seminar.  Spend the time and money to prepare yourself for your first clients.  Preparation ensures you capitalize on your experience and knowledge, so you provide value to your athletes.

It Gets Easier

After a couple of weeks, others approached me in the gym and requested coaching.  The demographic expanded. I only coached service members, so my lifters shared a common military experience and health baseline.  Older members with accumulated injuries, however, began to ask me to coach them. I encountered and fixed new problems and improved my coaching.  I gained momentum, and I spent less time attracting clients. I had already developed and refined a pitch, and I had prepared for my initial training sessions.  This early effort ensured I offered my athletes quality coaching, and I continued to improve during and between sessions. Because of this, my trainees marketed for me, and my coaching practice grew.    

Coaching becomes a part of your life, just as training became a part of your life as you added five pounds to each lift three days a week.  Some days you look forward to the sessions and quickly fix problems; other days, you struggle and question your abilities. Similar to training, sometimes you bear down and get the work done.  You accumulate time, stress yourself, recover, and adapt and improve—no matter the domain.    

There’s No Finish Line

The Barbell Logic Online Coaching Academy offers a guided path to becoming a better coach and potentially acquiring clients, and the soon-to-come Barbell Logic certifications identify coaching excellence and assist with attracting clients.  As anyone in the broader Barbell Logic community can attest, however, good coaches continue to improve. They deepen and widen their knowledge. Just as training continues beyond LP or Texas Method, coaching progression proceeds past the certification.  

When I return to the United States, I will have to attract new athletes with whom I have not earned credibility.  When I leave the Army, I will coach non-service members. I will begin charging clients. I will not have rank or position to bolster my authority.  I will have to add legal waivers, create an LLC, and comply with state laws—different difficulties, different opportunities, same principles.  

You stand at the beginning of a long journey, if you choose to make it, and so do I.  Hopefully this article helps you complete the first few steps.


Dan Shell coaches service members at a military base in the Middle East and serves as an Infantry Officer in the United States Army.  He is pursuing a career as a strength coach. He values intelligent, quality coaching and realizes the scarcity of great coaches.

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