Working in fitness: Tips to survive and thrive in a competitive industry
Welcome to the first post in my “Working in fitness” mini-series. Each post we will be delving into some must know info and sharing industry insights to start your fitness career off on the best possible path.
Having a fitness career can be incredibly personally and financially rewarding, but for every success story there are many who fail to make it out of the starting blocks. The fitness industry is tough, no matter what sector of it you work in. Most people start careers in fitness because they want to help people. They love to train or teach and want to help others feel the same. But it’s never that easy - you are expected to be a subject guru, master marketer and sharp salesperson straight out of the gate. I mean, why would someone come and train with you when they can do a free YouTube workout? How can you convince someone that sports massage or physio would benefit their injuries when they think those services are only for athletes? How do you find income when all your clients are busy at work? How can you stand our from the crowd as an instructor?
So, how can you avoid the traps that so many fall in to and ensure your fitness career thrives? Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Find your USP
Your USP, or unique selling point, is what makes you different from any other professional in your field. This is your way to stand out from the crowd and make potential clients come your way. If you are a PT this is especially important. You may start working in a commercial gym with 15 other trainers. What is going to make a client want to part with their cash to work with you?
Do you have a higher level of passion or knowledge about a type of training than anyone else in your facility? This could be CrossFit, Olympic lifting, martial arts or Pilates/yoga to name a few. Maybe you’ve competed in bodybuilding or physique shows and want to train clients with similar goals? Do you know how to rehab injuries or work with pre and post-natal clients? Do you want to specialise in treating older populations? Maybe you had a competitive sporting career before becoming a fit pro and can coach young athletes? Have you run marathons or completed ironman events?
Market around your USP and you will not only find clients more easily, but you will also attract the right type of clients for you.
2. Never stop learning
I am one of these people who loves to learn. I’m constantly downloading new books, going on courses and trying to expand my knowledge. In my opinion, if you fail to keep learning then you are going to get left behind. Your 6 week PT or massage course is never going to give you all the answers to work with complex clients; besides, the fitness industry is rapidly evolving and growing. Go on courses, read books, listen to podcasts, anything that can keep you ahead of the field. Clients and class members will come to you for your expert advice, whether that is on the latest fad diet or a new massage gun! If your most frequent response is “I’ve never heard of that” they will begin to question your expertise. If you get asked a question you don’t know the answer to, go home and research it so you can go back to that person next time you see them with a comprehensive response. If you are viewed as an industry leader, not only will you satisfy the needs of your clients or class members, but you can also justify putting a higher ticket price on your services.
3. Become a networking pro
Getting started in fitness is incredibly hard. There’s only so many freebies you can offer or last minute covers you can do before you need a paying client or permanent class. Networking and social media can play a massive role in helping launch your career. If you work in one facility, be present on the gym floor, get to know the members, let them know who you are and what you do. If you are a freelancer, approach all the gyms or clinics in your area. Get to know other fitness professionals. Join Facebook groups, go to local networking events. I got most of my permanent classes by offering to cover for someone on a Facebook group, getting great feedback from the gyms and then being offered a permanent gig. As my reputation as a good and reliable instructor grew, I found myself having to turn down offers!
You may also want to start a social media page for your fitness business. Facebook and Instagram are great for fitness content because they are both image rich platforms. Fitness is a very visual business. Take pictures and videos of yourself training or training a client, do a Facebook live video answering questions on injuries or training splits. Make yourself known.
4. Learn how to sell yourself
This is a difficult one, but very necessary if you want to have a successful career. I had a great discussion with a very new PT a few months ago about how wasn’t going to sell, he was going to let clients come to him. He had this image of salespeople being slimy men in suits trying to hoodwink people out of their hard-earned cash. You don’t have to have a product to sell to be a salesperson. As a trainer, therapist or even as a class instructor, you are selling yourself and your personal brand. When you go to a class audition, you need to sell yourself. If you want to convert a conversation on the gym floor into a client, you need to sell yourself. If your goal genuinely is to help as many people as possible (and that’s a fabulous goal to have!) you are still going to need some people to pay you in order to make that happen. People buy people, and if you can make somebody trust that you will be able to help them and get them the results they want then they will likely work with you. Be likeable, be approachable and be confident in the skills you have and the results you will deliver. Once you have those first few clients, word of mouth and referrals will be a powerful tool to help you take your career to the next level. This also links back to my first point. If you have a niche or USP, you will find it easier to market yourself and your personal brand.
5. Diversify your income stream
This has probably been my biggest lesson. When I tell people the number of different programs I teach and things I do they are usually a bit taken aback. A regular week for me consists of office hours for my role as group exercise manager, teaching up to 20 group fitness classes, teaching swimming lessons and seeing sports massage clients.
Fitness is a leisure industry, meaning you will be at work when other people aren’t. Whereas an office worker’s day might be from 9-5, they are going to want to see you outside of these hours. As a fitness pro, getting work at peak slots of early morning, lunchtime and after work will be easy. But what do you do in the hours when most of your potential clients are at work? By diversifying your income stream you can increase your earning potential and minimise your risk. If I got injured and was left unable to teach my 20 classes a week, would I still be able to pay my mortgage? Absolutely – I have my office admin and swimming teaching to fall back on. If you are only working around the three peaks and only have one stream of income, could you survive financially if you lost your biggest client or sustained an injury where you couldn’t see clients?
Some purely fitness-based ways to diversify are gym floor hours or helping at your club’s reception, lifeguarding, starting an external bootcamp or run club, online coaching, training to do sports massage or moving into health club management. You could also diversify in non-fitness related industries, such as taking on a shift job, becoming a virtual assistant, building an online business or becoming a brand affiliate.
So there are my 5 top tips to help you stand out as a fitness professional. Over the next few instalments of this series we are going to be taking a deep dive into each fitness profession, talk about the pros and cons, a day in the life and income.
Until then get involved with GFT by following us on Facebook and Instagram @gftcourses and subscribing to the mailing list to mailing list to make sure you never miss a post or podcast. Let me know what content you want to see next!