Setting Boundaries: Identifying the Non-Negotiables for Your Personal Training Business


Starting a business is a challenge many newly certified fitness professionals are hesitant to take on.  It makes sense – it’s not really a science by definition and personal trainers and fitness professionals are–by education, trade, and passion–scientists. Being a business owner is a different (and intimidating) realm for many, but there are some tricks to “taming the business beast”. We’ve talked about setting boundaries with clients, but just as important is setting boundaries between you and your business. to govern your daily existence.


Manage Overwhelm by Setting Boundaries

As businesses go, they are as unique as every client you will encounter. This makes being a business owner an experiment in many ways (sort of like in science). Everything from the identified structure (LLC to Partnership to S-Corp) to the logo, the tag line, the general look and feel of a website/social media accounts, to the budget and marketing plan is an individual choice by the owner (or partners if that is the case). In short, there are tons of decisions to make, and this feels overwhelming. But that is what a solid business plan is for (a topic for another day).

Where it gets sticky and tricky is deciding the “non-negotiables”. As an entrepreneur, you are both the boss and employee, so our boundaries are challenged by not only yourself as the owner/proprietor, but by those we serve if we do not outline what we are willing to accept and not accept.

Why is this difficult? Because there is this unique (and sometimes crushing) pressure business owners experience. Simply stated, if you aren’t working, you aren’t earning. However, neglecting to set boundaries (the non-negotiables), burnout sets in, and earnings decline anyway. How is the business owner to embrace the business non-negotiables successfully and do so consistently? Let’s start by defining them and what they mean to you and for your customer base.

Defining the “Must-Haves” is Step One

The must-haves are those tactics, strategies, or boundaries you deem necessary to keep your business (and yourself) running successfully. Think of these as rules. For example, in your personal life non-negotiables might include sleep, nutrition, movement, and downtime. When you imagine your business and what defines your best practices, what appears for you? Let that question marinate for a minute and then jot down some ideas.

For me, not working weekends or replying to emails or business-related messages after a certain point in the day are two of my “must-haves”. I communicate these to my clients and let them know upfront the methods by which to contact me outside of session experiences and times and at what point in the day I am not likely to reply due to family time or other personal endeavors.

Once you jot down your ideas, categorize them into “nice to haves” and “non-negotiables”. Ask yourself, if these are my rules, do I envision myself breaking them? If so, why, and what would entice me to break them? If a rule on your list is breakable, move that to the “nice-to-have” section. Your “must-haves” are not breakable.


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A Plan to Support the Must-Haves

You already took the first step, you identified a few of your needs. Now, the additional work and “contract” with yourself begins. After defining those needs, engage in these four remaining steps.

  1. Post them. In other words, write them down formally as an agreement with yourself. Place them somewhere visible.
  2. Review them regularly. You will find as your business grows, your rules may change (much like your philosophy and perspective). It is all part of the growing process, so it stands to reason that your rules might change. Ask if the rules you have are still applicable based on how your business has changed.
  3. Communicate them. Clients need to know your boundaries. A lack of boundaries invites additional layers of stress. I recommend placing the non-negotiables in a client welcome packet or as part of your client intake process. Consider posting a note on your website or in your contact form that gives clients an expectation of response time should they try to contact you after working hours.
  4. Share them with your team. This rule may not apply if you are working solo and do not have contracted professionals within your business structure. If you are a sole owner, consider your team as your family and friends. Sharing your boundaries adds a measure of accountability and allows those on our “team” to keep us in check if we start to bend a rule.

Boundaries are necessary to protect your business, your clients, and your personal life. If you have not considered setting them before, this is your call to action to do so.


Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at