COVID financial resources for personal trainers

Posted on April 2, 2020

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(Last Updated On: April 2, 2020)

While I think most are aware what is going on from a health standpoint, besides the fact everything has been halted, I’m not sure an understanding of what’s happening economically has gone through the same process.

When you’re freaking out you might not be able to eat next month or having to tutor your kids all day, it can be hard to keep your head about you and do the amount of reading necessary to keep up with all this.

The point of this post is to act as a consolidated, quick briefing on each option available, with resources to go deeper based on your situation. I’ve been searching for something like this myself and have found the world lacking for it. I’m sure I’m missing something(s), but hopefully this can still be helpful.

For instance, I would not be surprised if say, many self-employed trainers just think they’re fucked right now. You have options. But it’s not like you’re going to get a text message telling you what they are.

Note I am not going to talk about something like trying to switch to online training. This is simply not realistic for the majority of trainers. In fact, I would REALLY REALLY REALLY CHECK if you’d be better off not doing that. One, you might screw up your qualification for one of the benefits if you still have a certain level of income. Two, hell, I don’t know, maybe you’re better off on unemployment right now so you can take care of a family member.

I’m going to list these in order of what I think is the closest timeline wise to helping the average trainer. Idea being every week you can make your cash last matters.

I will give some more specific trainer tidbits, but because I’m not sure how applicable they are to the average trainer, they’ll be at the end.

From this point on this is largely me regurgitating other resources. (Like, real resources. Not Facebook comments.) Besides the random ideas at the end, this is not me giving my opinion. Nobody knows your situation like you.

I will purposely be vague at times as much of this is location dependent and not finalized.

Tax deferral

The federal government’s tax filing has been delayed from April 15th to July 15th.

This is particularly relevant for self-employed trainers who are likely to owe taxes. If you’re getting a refund though, then you can still file now and get your refund on a normal timescale.

Many states have taken the same step, but you’ll need to check.

Here is a list of what each state has decided that last I saw was being kept up to date as of March 30th.

Stimulus Checks

The federal government will be sending money. If you do your taxes by direct deposit, you’ll get it that way.

As of April 1st, this is planned to be done within 3 weeks.

Check this IRS site for updates.

Check this page for specifics as to how much you’ll get.

One possibly important nuance: this is based on the last time you filed taxes.

If you made more money, and what is to many a good deal of money, in 2019, you may very well want to wait to file your taxes in order to get a bigger stimulus check.

Or if your dependents situation changed. You had a new baby in 2019, or you got divorced and who claims the kids changed, then you may want try and file your taxes as soon as possible, or wait.

The mechanics of this is still being worked through. For instance, will you owe the $500 if you had a dependent in 2018 but not in 2019, yet your 2018 taxes were used for your stimulus check? More info. However, it appears clear you WILL get money now, which is likely most relevant.

Unemployment benefits

These have been increased compared to normal. $600 a week on top of what your state normally does.

Self-employed CAN get benefits

Typically the self-employed have no access to something like unemployment benefits. That’s NOT the case right now.

The last I saw this has not been fully cleared up, but it is 100% an option. It’s just processing it hasn’t been cleared up.

This is the best thing I’ve read on the situation yet.

I’m going to highlight this story because there are a lot of parallels between the hair dressing and personal trainer worlds:

“Barbara Gadd, a self-employed hairstylist in Rochester, New York, was able to file a claim for unemployment benefits over the phone today with a state Labor Department representative.

That was after attempting to file a claim online and “hundreds” of previous attempted calls.

Her salon closed the week prior to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order for non-essential businesses to shut as of March 22, in order to support social distancing.

One of the challenges for Gadd, 56, was that the online application requested a W-2 tax form. For a salaried employee, the form illustrates prior wages and helps determine a worker’s ultimate weekly unemployment benefit amount..

However, Gadd, as a self-employed worker, doesn’t have a W-2 and was unable to complete the online application.

She ultimately had to fax a Schedule C tax form to the phone rep, who told Gadd that the state was working to put a system in place to process self-employed applications.

“It was confusing,” she said. “Somebody filing with a W-2 is going to have a more efficient end result.”

“I see the challenge the states are facing,” she added. “I’m not complaining. They’re doing the best they can.””

Health Insurance

I want to be explicit here in saying I have not seen much of anything on this, am not up to date on this like I used to be, and this might be the most location dependent of all the options.

However, I do know many states allow for a quick process of getting on health insurance should you lose it, or should your income drastically change. (I’m not talking COBRA, which is usually a very expensive option. I’m talking specific state options.)

California has called this a life changing event, where you can then be fast tracked onto a plan. Often you can get a very low premium plan that will at least cover you should a catastrophe happen.

This was through Covered CA, as well as their version of medicaid, which is medical. Many other states will point to using Healthcare.gov

Small Business Loans

This is going to be the most complex. If you’re in this world, odds are you’re pretty aware of your options.

Further, this appears to be the slowest moving option right now.

Regardless, this is the most noteworthy thing I’ve read on this issue so far,

SBA Loans to Charge 0.5% Interest, Can Be Forgiven If Used to Save Jobs

You need a subscription to read that link, but just the title is enough to tell you how much help is being (at least attempted) to be given right now. A truly extraordinary amount of money is being lended out at more or less no interest.

Here are specifics on which businesses qualify and such.

If I’m in this boat, I’m searching something like “Small Business Loans stimulus” on Google news every hour to look for updates.

Rent payments

Hopefully the above has prevented you from getting into this mess, but-

We have to distinguish between residential and commercial-

Residential

A lot of states have announced e.g. a 90 day freeze on any evictions.

Similar measures have been announced for home owners and their mortgages.

Commercial

This, in my view, is still the (very) big unknown.

For example, The Cheesecake Factory said they will not be paying rent right now, buttttttt a lot of landlords are saying they still expect rent payments, because they need rent payments to pay their bills.

This one is, as of now, likely to be so situationally specific I don’t even have a link to point to. How your situation goes may very well be dependent on how your landlord’s situation goes with how his or her lenders’ situation is going.

My only advice here is, in my experience, trainers are rather hesitant to negotiate with gym owners or landlords. If there was ever a time to negotiate though, now is the time.

I would also suggest being as proactive about this as possible.

I have two businesses I pay a good deal to every month, on the 1st of the month.

A few days before the 1st, one of them notified me of what they were doing to accommodate right now, why they were doing it, and what they were expecting / hoping from customers.

Another? I’m writing this on the 1st of the month and I still haven’t heard from them. It feels like they’re just hoping everyone will forget what’s going on for a day and act like everything is normal. Not ideal. Worse, this is a business which is paid exclusively by hand delivered checks. Uh, how are you even collecting payment this month? Might want to let people know that.

If you think you might have trouble making a payment in a week or month or whatever, might not be a bad idea to make that known now.

Some random ideas

  • Be upfront with your clients about your situation. If you’re in a tough spot, consider relaying that to them.
  • Ask them if they’d be willing to pay 80, or 50% of what they normally pay. (Again, please compare this with e.g. you filing for unemployment.)
    • Say you’ll make this up to them by giving them extra sessions each week once things get back to normal, this way they aren’t just giving you charity. They’ll get all the sessions they paid for. Maybe a 2x a week client will be a 3x a week client once your gym opens up again.
  • Offer your clients something extra if they continue paying you normally right now
    • For those who continue paying right now, give them a 50% discount once things normalize. This way you can the cash flow of right now, then while you lose some once life gets back to normal, you can make up for it by having other clients pay normal price.
  • Offer a buy-in-bulk package
    • Ask your clients to buy e.g. 6 months of sessions now. They can use them whenever they want, and get some type of discount. Like going to Costco.
  • Start thinking now how to bring a peace of mind once you do open back up
    • Figure out how you’ll train people in crowded spaces. Can you do a workout at 5pm in the racketball room so you can avoid the busy free weights section?
      • Are you even going to be able to do 5pm workout sessions in the foreseeable future? Will any clients be willing to show up at the busiest time of the day? Should you start getting used to do 5am sessions right now (when the gym is much quieter)? Maybe you’ll need to extend your hours so you can let clients train at less crowded times. How will that work for you? Should you start getting childcare preparations in place now?
    • Tell your clients part of the money they pay you right now will go towards buying your own adjustable DB rack that only you and your clients will use once your gym is back online. This way you can assure them they will be clean. You can buy two adjustable DBs, which is only two DB handles you have to clean, and will take up little room in whatever gym you use.
    • Tell your clients you’re more than happy to do a pure bodyweight program for them the first month or two back, so they don’t have to touch any of the weights.
    • Think about how you can use the outdoor space around your gym to train people. Sunlight is a great disinfectant.
    • Notify your clients you’ll be asking them to bring their own mats.
    • If you’re paid in cash or checks, get an alternative payment system up now so you can show clients you’re commitment to avoiding touching the same surface.

I would be extremely cautious about asking for something without giving something. Again, one business I pay has been asking its customers for their understanding, etc. during this time. It’s been a complete one way street though. Where is their understanding for what their customers are going through?

Tough love; maybe a little inspiration

While I understand this is a stressful and controversial time, please no comments complaining paperwork is taking too long to process, communication isn’t as clear as it should be, etc.

The people trying to help are going through much the same. I’m not interested in shitting on them right now.

Finally, while I’ll try to write more in-depth about this, this is a time when there will be a divide in how people and businesses respond, and it will be made evident in due time.

While the paralysis stage is understandable, there are going to be some who never get past it…but there will be those who calm down, get very clever, and hit the ground running the moment this all opens up.

America’s factories, cars, offices, railroads, gyms, haven’t suddenly disappeared. Things are just offline for a bit. But this isn’t a nuclear holocaust.

You may remember the last time the country went through a bad economic period, the recession where the country bottomed in 2009. The worst hit economically we’ve had since the Great Depression.

I moved to California and started my personal training business…in 2009. While unemployment was over 12%.

Yes, 12% unemployment is extremely high, but it still means 88% employment.

Yes, I know, some will read the ideas above and be like “What am I supposed to do, train people at 5am and 8pm?” Maybe!

One way I got my business humming very quickly, despite starting in ’09? I trained people at 5am, also trained people at 7pm, AND I trained people on Saturday mornings.

A lot of people were working crazy hours in fear of losing their jobs, and a lot of affluent people work crazy hours because that’s how they are. (The median income of gym members is much higher at 5am than 5pm.) If I wanted to train those people i.e. if I wanted to have clients, that’s when I needed to train.

Yes, in many ways it sucked. The morning transition was especially brutal, as I was used to going to bed at 1am. I didn’t even both to sleep at night the first month. I slept during the middle of the day instead.

But it was better than only having 3 clients who came in from 9pm to 5pm and wondering if I was making enough money to pay for gas, which I saw happen to trainer after trainer. I spent 3 years being the only trainer willing to take on clients before 7am!

From there, I realized the clients who were coming in at more sane hours were older, largely retired people. Many of these people had money to pay since they had a lifetime of savings and social security checks, but training them was very hard due to their physical condition.

So the next thing I did was learn how to work with beat up people.

Voila! This site was born.

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