Online personal training software has been around for some time, and one of the most frequently asked questions by fitpros is how to choose the right personal trainer software.
When free or very low-cost software becomes available, many trainers jump on the occasion, thinking they can save money and invest it elsewhere in the business by choosing them.
These trainers might only realize the actual costs of using a free solution once it's too late. In this article, we'll provide you with information and questions to help you understand why free online training software might cost you more than you think.
Firstly, creating and running software is time-consuming and expensive, so anyone going to this expense and time will inevitably want something in return. The most honest transaction here would be to ask you for payment to use the software. Software claiming to be free will be taking something from you. They may just be less open as to what that is.
The Types of Free Online Training SoftwareLet's start by clarifying what free might mean in the software world. There are different types of models where the provider calls their software free, so it's worth understanding the difference.
Free and Open Source Software
You can download and use it for free and freely alter, update and share it with others. But, unless you're a software developer, you will only use it and might find a steep learning curve.
Free with Limited Functionality or for a Limited Time
Most subscription-based SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solutions belong here. You get a limited-time free trial or a free package with limited functionality, so you can figure out if it's the best fit for you before you pay. Those with a limited-time free trial tend to be open and honest about it. Those with limited functionality often hide this fact before asking you to pay later.
This is free software you can't alter, copy or redistribute, and a company or a developer owns it. Most software out there that you don't have to pay for belongs here, and most of them will have the company's branding on them with minimal customization options if any at all. So when you see an online training software that claims to be free without any limitations, it will most likely fall into this category.
Why Would an Online Training Software Be Free?That's a question you should ask yourself when considering using any free software for your personal training business. Software is time-consuming and expensive to create, and the software creator will be looking to make money from it. There's a saying that when you aren't paying for a product, you are the product. This usually applies to Google or Meta products, but you might need to realize that this can also be the case for free online training software.
So, what will the company gain from offering a solution for free? Will you incur other costs elsewhere that make using that software cost much more than you realize?
Understand the True Costs of a Free Online Training SoftwareLet's look at each stage of getting online training software up and running and where you might incur additional costs. It's not all about money.
This is the stage where you create an account with the online training software and play around to understand if it has everything you need. Free software tends to be pretty simple to learn, but because it's oversimplified, you'll need to get creative to figure out how it can work for you.
If you decide to go ahead and invest more time into setting up the software, you need to be prepared to spend more time figuring out how certain features you need can be accessed, if at all. In addition, you may be limited in what services you can offer.
So, you have free software that is simple enough to set up, but does it offer built-in features for specific purposes? Most likely, the answer is no. But, in most cases, you'll get access to a blank canvas system where you'll need to test and tweak and spend time and energy using it for your needs.
For example, you may need to create the exercises manually and add names, descriptions, pictures, video links, or files. If you're big on providing habit coaching, adding those habits manually will also take time. Not to mention you might not get some functionality like a nutrition log, group coaching, or even a message scheduling feature at all. So, will you need additional software to provide everything you want? How much will that cost?
Due to the blank canvas nature of most free software, tracking and viewing your client's results and improvements can be very time-consuming. Jumping from one item to the next on a client-by-client basis, with no filter for specific tracking like exercise results, nutrition tracking, habits, assessments etc... can make a task that takes a few seconds on PT Distinction take hours with just a few clients.
Learning free software should be easy. After all, it doesn’t include many features to learn. However, we've already mentioned that a free online training software will require a lot more creativity, time, and energy investment in setting something up that you can deliver professionally to your clients. If you signed up for purpose-built software, this time could be spent elsewhere in your business.
Consider the time you spend on figuring out and making the system work for what you need. What if you could spend it on coaching clients, and scaling your business? Using software that takes more time to run might cost you additional clients and revenue.
It's more than money that you can lose, however. Since you're operating online, you'll need to ensure that all the tools you use comply with data protection laws and regulations. So, if we go back to our hypothesis that if you're not paying for a product, YOU ARE the product, it raises crucial questions regarding data security.
Where and how will you and your client's data be stored? What measures has the company taken to ensure all data is secure from threats and 3rd parties won't use them? Does a login even protect you and your clients? If not, anything you enter in the software is open to anyone with internet access. When it comes to cyber security, it's not just money you can lose but your reputation and your whole business.
Branding and User Experience
Most free software includes its brand in your communications with your clients. Whether that's in emails, texts, or reminders, you might want to consider what brand image you'd like your clients to see in everything that comes from you.
Again, while we're not talking about money here, your clients will trust you when they get your brand in your messages. They’re not interested in what systems you use so long it serves them well and is easy to use.
This is a common area free software that will look to upgrade you and charge to add your own brand. You may consider it worth the investment, but suddenly your free software with all of its limitations becomes a paid software that doesn’t stack up well compared to other paid software, which offers much more customization, branding, functionality, and features.
One of the significant risks online training software users neglect is how reliably the company stays in business long-term. Or, what happens if the “free” software doesn’t serve the owner's purpose and simply becomes an expensive burden for them? What will it cost in time, energy, and money to migrate everything over to another software solution?
As an online personal trainer, you rely on online training software heavily to deliver excellent service. However, if your goal is to keep doing that for the long haul, consider minimizing these risks by using software that has been around for some time, has excellent reviews, and is continually updating.