Many times, when newly certified personal trainers begin their career, it appears they give no thought to how they will attract new clients. From my experience of working in health clubs for more than ten years, it seems as if many new trainers think all they need to do is show off their buff body, brag about their athletic accomplishments or wear a t-shirt that says “personal trainer” and the clients will start flocking towards them. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many steps required to establish a business and become a successful fitness professional. To quote an old phrase: “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
Running a successful fitness business requires an up-front investment of time to create a detailed business plan. This will help the new practitioner to establish definitive goals and a structure for achieving those goals. The process of developing a complete business plan is intensive and outside the scope of this article. For excellent advice on how to create a business plan, see other PtontheNET resources such as “Starting Your Own Personal Training Business” by Bobby Cappucio, the “Becoming the Personal Training Executive” series by John Hardy or “Personal Training Business parts 1 and 2” by Sheldon Persad; all are excellent resources for how to develop a personal training-specific business plan. For generic information on how to write a business plan see the government resources on the Small Business Administration website (www.sba.gov) or plug “how to write a business plan” into your favorite search engine and select your favorite options from the results. However, a critical component of a business plan is the marketing strategy. The purpose of this article is to present ideas on how to develop a marketing strategy that will successfully generate new business.
Whether working in a large health club, personal training studio or traveling to see in-home clients, a marketing plan is an essential tool for communicating your service to prospective clients. A business plan establishes the goals for the business such as revenue and production goals. However, in order to generate revenue, clients must be willing to pay for your service and a marketing plan is the method to attract clients. Marketing is the process of communicating the features, advantages and benefits of a particular product or service. Features are what a particular service or product offers. Advantages are how a particular product or service is better than the competition. Benefits communicate the direct rewards of using a specific service or product and how it can enhance the consumer’s life. If you are a new fitness professional or are looking for ways to generate more income than taking the time to develop a marketing strategy will help you communicate the benefits of your services to prospective clients, leading them to become real, paying clients.
The Benefits of Branding
The initial step for developing a successful marketing plan is to establish a specific brand of training. A brand tells a story and creates an identity for a product or service.(3)Take a generic product category like soft drinks or athletic footwear; now think of a specific type of soft drink like a cola or footwear such as running shoes. The chances are that the first thoughts were of specific brands such as Coke or Nike. The power of a brand identity exists when a consumer thinks of a general category such as soft drink or cola and the first thought is of a specific brand like Coke. This type of instant recognition and recall is known as top of mind and is the goal for any type of brand name product.
When you hear the words: “king of beers” or “I’m loving it,” what brands or companies come to mind? The company Anheuser Busch uses the phrase “king of beers” to establish the perception that its Budweiser brand beer is one of the best available. The tag line “I’m loving it” is used by fast food conglomerate McDonald’s to establish the expectation that their food is worth their customers affections. While not specifically germane to the fitness industry, these two phrases are examples of how a brand identity can be successfully communicated with a simple phrase or tag line.
Once brand identity is successfully established, marketing is the process of convincing consumers that they’re better off with that brand and not a competitor’s. As automobiles, both a Mercedes-Benz and a Honda perform the same basic functions. They each have four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel and seatbelts. The marketing strategy of Mercedes-Benz effectively creates the perception that German automotive engineering is the best available at any price. Therefore, Mercedes-Benz is able to create an image around their product that makes consumers spend four times as much for an S-Class than for a Honda Civic even though both cars serve the same basic purpose of transportation. That is the magic of branding—creating a perceived value for a product or service so that consumers become convinced it is the only one that will meet their needs and they are happy to pay the price to have the product. Creating a successful brand requires imaginative thinking, effective communication skills and hard work, but the pay-off is establishing an identity that creates instant name recognition that will help you to stand out from competitors.
Branding for Fitness Professionals
As a fitness professional, it is possible to create a brand identity by communicating how your style of personal training is different than competitors and how that difference will benefit the client. An advantage of branding yourself is that you can become well known for providing a particular type of training service. Options for creating a brand identity for a specific brand of fitness service are to develop a planned system of progression, a particular style of training or use a specific philosophy for exercise program design. Another option is to incorporate a piece of specialized equipment such as a TRX, Power Plate, stability ball or kettlebell into training programs which could differentiate you from competitors who might use such tools.
Think of the top trainer in your health club. What makes him or her so popular? Is it their encyclopedic knowledge of exercise science? Is it their dynamic personality? Is it their attractive features and fit body? Is it because the trainer uses a specific style of training such as mixed-martial arts or a particular piece of equipment that creates uniqueness? Whether it is any of these individual qualities or a combination of all of them, this trainer has created a brand identity for his or her style of training. The fact is that when the members of your club think of personal training, they think of this person first. If you want to increase your business and be the one in your club who members think of when they hear personal trainer then it is extremely important that you develop your own approach to training so that you can become a “top of mind” fitness brand.
Personal training is a service; therefore it requires a different approach than simply branding and marketing a product like shoes or a soft drink. A product is a tangible good which can be replaced if it does not work, however a service is the potential of an anticipated result. The fact is that selling a service is nothing more than selling a promise.(1) Building a brand as personal trainer establishes the promise to a prospective client that they can achieve a particular result if they use your service.
A thriving service business is based on delivering a product or service with honesty and integrity.(1) It is important to create an effective brand that clearly communicates the expected benefits of working with you as a trainer and then, most importantly, deliver the service to produce results. Todd Durkin used boot camp programming to create a successful brand of training for his business Fitness Quest 10. He delivered on his promise by wearing camouflage fatigues and having class participants do military chants during sessions. This created the total boot camp experience. He developed his brand Fitness Quest 10 by challenging his participants to give a level 10 of effort with every training session and developed the motto “10 in—10 out” to remind his participants the price for success.
Another example of branding in the fitness industry is Balance Gym in Washington, DC whose motto is “Train for Life, Train for Sport.” The owners, Mark Crick and Graham King, support this brand identity with two specific levels of group personal training. The “Train for Life” programming focuses on movement-based, bodyweight strength training for less experienced participants while the “Train for Sport” level increases the intensity and challenges participants with advanced power training and metabolic circuits.
Author Harry Beckwith states that distinctive names and services are more likely to be remembered.(1) Todd’s success is based on his brand identity and his unique name which he then delivered on with every training session and boot camp class he provided to his clients. Delivering multi-level programming consistent with their brand identity, Mark and Graham have successfully grown Balance Gym from a small operation offering group training classes in a park, to a twenty-three thousand square foot full service health club in downtown Washington, DC.
While I was working as a full-time personal trainer for a large health club company, I used Beckwith’s advice to create a brand of fitness service that applied to both the group exercise classes I taught as well as the individual clients that I had the privilege to train. My brand identity was based on applying the principles of strength and conditioning and athletic performance enhancement to all types of clients. This was beneficial because members enjoyed not only the workout they received during the class, but the education as well. This complete package eventually led most of them to become my personal training clients as well.
My business cards and website identified my brand of training with the simple tagline: “high performance training for life and sport.” My goal was to communicate the fact that working with me was equivalent to working with sports performance coach and that I wasn’t just a trainer who would take clients through the machines and pretend to count reps while texting on my phone. My clients enjoyed working with me because I was always challenging their existing skill level with new drills, exercises and equipment. For example in 2000 and 2001 I did continuing education workshops and used resources like ptonthenet.com to learn how to use stability balls and medicine balls to teach group fitness classes. At the time I was the only one at my club specializing in this equipment as both an instructor and a trainer therefore it generated a lot of interest and led to a busy training schedule.
Taking the time to create a specific brand of fitness will assist you in communicating how your particular style of training will benefit prospective clients. The next article in this series will discuss the benefits of being able to develop a marketing strategy around a specific brand.
- Beckwith, Harry (1997). Selling the Invisible. New York, NY: Warner Books.
- Forsyth, Leighann and Marcus, Bess (2003). Motivating People to Be Physically Active. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Ries, Al and Ries, Laura (2004). The Origin of Brands. New York, NY: Harper Business.
I’d like to thank my former client John Dolan for giving me a copy of Selling the Invisible, one of the best resources for marketing services.