Dinesh Ramakrishnan, Freelance Personal Trainer

„I have a big dream and I want to keep chasing it“

Singapore native Dinesh Ramakrishnan works in Berlin as a freelance personal trainer. He talks about his entrepreneurial goals, nightmares from German bureaucracy and why he chose freelancing over a traditional career as an engineer or lawyer.

Hey Dinesh, thanks for taking your time. What did you do back in Singapore?

I was working as a personal trainer under a small local studio after serving my time in the military which is compulsory in Singapore.

Why did you decide to come to Berlin? Have you been traveling before you came here?

In 2017, I actually moved to Berlin after a complicated visa process and months of waiting. I moved here for my partner and yes! I was traveling around before and ended up in Berlin. To keep it short, I spent about a year in Australia Perth studying electrical engineering which was not my cup of tea – rather my parents. Afterwards I moved to the UK to study Exercise & Nutrition Sciences and started working as a personal trainer.

EY immigration expert Martina:

Immigration applications are very individual. In some cases, the application process can be very burdensome and time consuming. In Berlin, there is a special application center for businesses. This simplifies and speeds-up the process significantly. Therefore, an active support by the future German employer is of high value.

  Über Martina

Tell us about your journey as a freelancer. Did everything work out as planned – and what did you need to learn?

Honestly, my journey has been a rollercoaster from the start – from applying for a visa to working as a freelancer right now. But surprisingly everything is kind of working out as I planned it before. And every week I am learning new information on how to do things right, for example all the processes with the government. It was the first time for me working as a freelancer, so at the start I was overwhelmed with the workload and poor time management. I had to learn to manage that.

In your opinion, what are the advantages / disadvantages of freelancing compared to being employed?

Advantages of employment over freelance work:

  • You get paid on time every month and you don’t have to chase after your clients
  • You don’t have to worry about taxes, health insurance, and pension so much.
  • You don’t really have to schedule your work in advance
EY social security expert Nancy:

Indeed, as an employee choosing a health insurance may seem to be much easier than as a freelancer. In fact, the requirements to a health insurance are quite similar. As long as one is planning to live in Germany for more than one year it is required by law to have an acknowledged health coverage in Germany. This can be on a private basis or within the public health scheme. As an employee you are most probably registered by the employer with a public health scheme which you can choose or rather ask them to have a private one. But in order to choose for a private health coverage as an employee you need to earn a certain level of income. As a freelancer you have the choice irrespectively of your earnings. However, depending on the country you have worked in before, it may be that you are not allowed to enter the public health scheme in Germany.

  Über Nancy

Disadvantages of employment over freelance work:

  • You can’t choose when you want to work (day or time)
  • You have to answer to somebody up the chain
  • You have to do your job even if you hate a specific client
EY law expert Jan:

Indeed, as an employee one has to abide by the employer’s instructions and directives and is integrated into the employer’s organization whereas a freelancer, by definition, is (almost) free from instructions and not integrated into someone else’s organization. Also, a freelancer can freely choose when, where and how to work.
Seeing the flexibility, one has with freelancers and also the benefits these freedoms give to the freelancers themselves, already quite some time before the Corona crisis employers started to develop more flexible forms of work for their regular employees too. However, one must concede that especially in Germany there is still a rather tight (some might say antiquated) corset when it comes to e. g. working time, resting periods, workplace safety and so on.
There have been political initiatives too to break up this corset but results in terms of changes to the law are yet to be delivered.

  Über Jan

Acquisition is an important topic for freelancers. Did you have to learn this – or are you a natural?

Well, I would say 50/50. I definitely had to work on it. I also had a good mentor who taught me how to better network with people to switch them to clients eventually.

How do you advertise yourself? Are there any platforms? Do you have promotional material?

Frankly speaking, I never did any advertisement. I have a website but most of my clients are referrals, people who come by the fitness studios I work at (IGNITE FIT) or word of mouth.

It’s never too late to start. We give you the space to advertise yourself: How do you stand out from the competition? What is your USP?

I am a Strength & Conditioning Coach with a vast medical knowledge and 14 + years fitness coaching experience. Additionally, I have a bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Nutrition Science. I handle clients with complicated medical conditions or a specific sports related goal they need to accomplish in a specific time frame. I coach and work with clients to make them more efficient in their career and lifestyle. That’s why I have created a coaching system where my clients get educated on all the factors needed to reach their goals – from mental to physical elements. Give me a try and you will know why I stand out from other trainers. A line of advice to stay injury free: keep moving!

In your opinion, what characteristics does a good personal trainer need?

Well, a good personal trainer should be adaptive, empathetic, have a positive attitude and the ability to problem solve, be a good listener and communicator and last would be professionalism.

What do you like about being a personal trainer? How important is it for you to do something you like?

The main point is to help people to achieve a goal or become a better version of themselves respectively, both physically or mentally. What’s more: It’s also important to put a smile on their face every day they come for training. That’s why I think it is very important to do what you like, and you are passionate about, because that’s when you will succeed. I come from a pretty traditional Asian family where most of the time the children have to become a doctor, engineer or lawyer. I was studying engineering for 3 years when I decided to chase my dream of sculpting the human body and mind. I am sure that I will be happy about my choice in the future, because I am doing what I love rather than having an 8 to 5 job.

What kind of clients do you have? How do you practice?

I have a wide range of clients from kids with disability to the elderly. I love to work with clients who have complicated cases as it feels like a challenge. Most of my clients are expats who have their own companies, so the training times are always flexible. Most of the trainings are done in the studio around Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, but I also do train some of my clients at their home. Right now, I am also doing online trainings.

For some foreign people it’s sometimes hard to cope with the German mentality. What was your experience?

I have to admit, I pretty like the German mentality as it is pretty close to my homeland. Being punctual for meetings or appointments, following the rules and always straight to the point when they are talking about something are the pros in my opinion. On the other hand, I do feel German people often have a pretty closed and protective character. It takes a while to get into their friend circle or earn their trust. I do hate the German bureaucracy; it is like a maze.

Talking about German bureaucracy. How do you deal with legal issues? Do you do your own tax declaration – or do you seek advice?

Oh god, in my first year I had my share of nightmares dealing with the bureaucracy and stacks of paper after paper. I currently have a tax advisor who does my taxes and an insurance broker to keep track of the different insurances and pension; he also keeps me updated if there are any changes in regulations or laws.

Let’s talk about another topic that caused a lot of nightmares: The corona crisis caused many problems for freelancers and the fitness industry was hit hard too. How is your current work situation?

The corona crisis actually did a pretty solid damage to my business financially and I am recovering from it one step at a time. I still remember on January 2020 I was doing pretty well. I was planning to open a studio at the end of this year, but I guess that’s over for now, at least for this year. Altogether I lost about 65% of my clients due to the crisis but I am slowly recovering, and I hope it stays that way. However, I have the fear that in times of crisis personal training is seen as a luxury rather than an essential, and as a consequence people are less willing to pay for it. It is a problem!

What are your plans for the future? Will you ever go back to being employed?

Well, my plan right now is to stabilize my client numbers and earn a steady rate of income. For the start of next year, I want to restart building my dream of owning a studio with an innovative concept and look that would give a whole new layer to personal training. And no, I don’t think I will ever go back to being employed, I have a big dream and I want to keep chasing it.

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