But If I Niche Down I’ll Lose Clients

I’ve written about having a niche before and I talk about it all of the time. The problem is that personal trainers (and a lot of other service providers) don’t believe you when you say that having a specific niche will actually get you more clients, not less.

Let’s start by defining what is meant by having a niche. The definition of niche (according to Merriam-Webster) is “a specialized market”. This is your target market, the specific population that you want to help. Does that mean that if you choose a market of, let’s say “women”, that it is a niche? Well… yes, but it’s not very narrow. Entrepreneur, podcaster, and author, John Lee Dumas says that you should “niche down until it hurts.” So, “women” is not specific enough to really be effective as a niche. Many business coaches will have their clients create an avatar of their specific target market (niche). Doing that might look something like this:


  • Female
  • Age 65
  • Retired professional
  • Grandmother
  • Wants to be able to play with grandchildren and be able to get up and down off the floor easily

I hear you. Too specific, right? You’ll be missing out on a lot of clients that don’t fit that niche, right? Well, I want to point out two things to you. First, when I needed to get my shoulder replaced, I didn’t want some orthopedic surgeon that did shoulder, hips, knees, ankles, elbows, wrists, etc. I wanted the best results possible and wanted someone that did shoulders only and eventually got it done by the top shoulder guy in Boston. Most people feel that way, “I want someone that is a specialist in me and my circumstance.” They don’t want someone that can train anyone. If you market yourself as trainer to everyone, you disappear into a sea of other trainers that train everyone. What happens when you niche down is that when a “Nancy” sees that you specialize in “Nancys” they will choose you over any other trainer. You will become the trainer to all of the “Nancys” in the world (or at least in your neck of the woods).

My second point is that just because your niche is Nancy it doesn’t mean that you can’t train others. All of your marketing and brand focus is on Nancy, but others may still approach you about training because of the good work you’re doing with Nancy and Nancy herself may also want you to train her friends and family members. And yes, you can train them.

The point is that in order to stand out from the crowd you have to have a specialty, a niche.

“In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.”― Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable

Networking By Walking Around (NBWA)

Stealing the concept of MBWA (Management By Walking Around), NBWA supports the idea that getting face-to-face with those in your community creates opportunities to establish new relationships, reconnect/reestablish others, and bring them closer to being a potential customer.

I was having a conversation with professionals in one of my mastermind groups about the importance (particularly for brick and mortar businesses) of getting out into your community and meeting your potential clients/customers in person. As it happened, I went to the local farmer’s market on Saturday and bumped into someone I hadn’t really had a conversation with since pre-covid days. It turns out, I had been on her mind and she said that she wanted to start working with me. (*1 new client).

Later on Saturday I went to an art show opening and, through the course of the evening, I had similar conversations with three additional people that also said that they needed my help. (*3 more clients) As if to emphasize the point of NBWA, by getting out into my community, in one day, I picked up 4 new clients.

Now, I do want to say that it wasn’t out of the blue. I have established myself in the community as someone that is known, liked, and trusted, but that wasn’t from advertising. It was from previous things I had done in the community, such as volunteering to help local organizations, donating time and services to local charity events, and attending community events over the years. Every person you meet is an opportunity, not to sell overtly, but plant the seed of what you do and the type of person you are. These planted seeds may blossom immediately or it may take years of ongoing interactions. The key is that face-to-face interactions are the fastest way to get known, liked and trusted. And that is who people want to do business with.

So, if you are looking for local customers/clients, it is time to get out of your space and into your community. Volunteer to help non-profits, charity events, and community events, go to local networking events, and just get out and attend other local events where you can meet and talk with others.

Taking Your Business to the Next Level Through Mastermind Groups

Everyone has challenges in their business. Sometimes you have a firm handle on how to meet the challenge, other times… not so much. When you come across obstacles where you don’t know how to move forward, it can be immensely beneficial to have a place where you can discuss it with peers that understand what you’re dealing with. A safe place where you can talk about your thoughts and ideas, even fears, without ridicule and where you know what you say will stay within the group.

That’s actually the basis for a mastermind group. Mastermind groups are groups of professionals that come together to brainstorm, solve problems, set goals, plan for the future, and keep each other accountable. The success of these groups depends on the members wanting to accomplish two things, to take their business to the next level and to help others do the same.

Mastermind groups can have a particular industry specific focus or, more often than not, have members from different industries that are at a similar stage of growth (such as startups) so that there are no worries about sharing information with the competition. (By the way, some of the most original solutions come from outside your own industry.)

Mastermind groups have facilitators who run the meetings, make sure that everyone has a voice, help the group stay on task, and summarize the work required for the next meeting. While the facilitator has great experience in business, they are there to get the group to come up with their own solutions and should only provide suggestions when the group needs additional help.

Meetings (online or in person) can run the gamut as to how often they meet. It could be a one shot/one day meeting, once a year, quarterly, monthly, every 2 weeks, or weekly. The length of the meeting usually depends on the frequency of meeting (a once per year could take 2-3 days, whereas a weekly might only need to be 60-90 minutes.

The typical meeting agenda looks like this:

  • Call to order – This is sometimes formal, sometimes not.
  • Catch up – Each member reports how they did on meeting goals set from last meeting.
  • Education – A brief educational presentation on some business topic that can benefit all of the members. This isn’t as common, but it really depends on the group.
  • Member focus (also called Hot Seat) – Each member has a turn to express the challenges they are facing at the time and may say what they think they might do, then each of the other members will ask questions and/or offer suggestions as to what they think the solution might be.
  • Goal setting – After everyone has had a turn discussing their individual challenges, they then commit to a goal(s) to accomplish by the next meeting.
  • End meeting

Does this sound like something that you’d be interested in? Do you need help growing your business? Do you feel you need to find others that understand the position that you’re in and demands that you have? A mastermind group may be the solution for you.

To find one that is right for you, ask other business people in your area or do an internet search to find the right one for you. Remember that you can find mastermind groups that are held online or in person.

Should Fitness Be a Holiday Sale Item?

Tis the season for holiday sales, right? You see them everywhere. Everyone is having sales. I get it. It’s the end of the year and the volume of sales makes up for the loss in markup. Even gyms and health clubs are having sales. There are discounts on personal training, group fitness, and special programs. The question I have is should there be sales on health and fitness?

A debate that has been going on for many years is the idea of discounting health and fitness services. On the one hand, everyone does it and the public has come to expect sales and discounts. On the other hand, many fitness professionals believe that discounting diminishes the perceived value of their services. A frequent rebuttal is, “Your doctor or physical therapist don’t have sales or give discounts.” I’m inclined to agree with that viewpoint. Most clubs still discount personal training based on the number of sessions that you buy. Buy 1 and it’s x. Buy 10 and it’s 0.8x… 24 and it’s 0.6x. If the trainer is paid based on a percentage and not a flat fee, they get paid less for larger packages. That does not incentivize them to sell larger packages. Not to mention that the people that can afford a 24 session package don’t need a discount.

Discounts are for products, merchandise. If you want a holiday promotion, discount your merch. Or use your merchandise as add on value for service purchases. Give a T-shirt away when someone buys a program.

You could discount your monthly membership as that in itself is not a service, but I’d still rather you add to rather than decrease. i.e. add a merchandise giveaway or add extra month or two onto a membership. Aanndd… if you have any initiation fee or joining fee or processing fee, we all know there is very little cost to having someone join. So, its real purpose is to use it for discounting or waiving as a promotional tool anyway. Do that.

I know that you’re getting my thoughts/opinion on this and you may feel differently, but… give this some serious thought. Just because it’s the season of sales and discounts, doesn’t mean it’s what we should be doing. IMHO

Happy Holidays!!!

The Impostor Syndrome and Staying Hungry

First let me explain what impostor syndrome is. An article on Time.com poses the question, “Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? Like your friends or colleagues are going to discover you’re a fraud, and you don’t actually deserve your job and accomplishments?” The article goes on to say that 70% of individuals feel this at some point in their lives. Most people are afraid to admit this because they assume that if people find out, they may not continue to give them the same opportunities or look at them in the same way. Because I know that so many others feel or have felt this, I’m not afraid to admit it. I have felt like an impostor on many occasions. I also know that I shouldn’t feel this way. I’ve worked very hard to reach my various goals and my level of expertise, but still I have those doubts. I’m sure there are reasons that so many of us feel this. For me, maybe it was growing up as the third of eight kids. Maybe I felt I had to work hard to get out from under my older siblings’ shadows. Who knows? I don’t need to know why.

Recently, in a book that I was reading, the author made a point that there was an upside to suffering from impostor syndrome. That is, because somehow we don’t feel we’ve earned our success, we end up working extra hard to make sure that we get it right. I feel that’s very true. We need to feel that we’ve put in at least as much if not more than anyone else to prove our right to be where we are. Rarely are we satisfied, and that is a strength. In talking about his climb to success, Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that, “I always stay hungry, never satisfied with current accomplishments.” and I believe that is us, too. I’m my own worst critic and it keeps me on my toes and always trying to do better.

If you are one of the many that suffer from impostor syndrome, know that you’re not alone… far from it. Know that it can be an asset and help you attain even more success, if you let it. So, stay hungry, keep getting better, accept your achievements (because you deserve them) and move on to the next challenge. Best wishes going forward!

Rolling With the Punches: Our Case Study

We’ve all been though tough times lately. Our industry has changed. As yet another stumbling block rears its head, I thought I’d share how we’ve been handling the challenges.

Point of reference: September 25th, 2015, my wife (a fitness pro and manager since 1995) and I (fitness pro and manager since 1980) moved to Easton, PA and opened a boutique fitness studio (Jiva Fitness) offering personal training and group fitness. All’s going well and our business gradually builds.

March, 16th, 2020, all gyms/clubs/studios are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Like everyone else, we had a moment of panic as we thought through, “What now?” Most were either moving to on-demand workouts for their clients or live streaming their workouts. We decided to go live streaming only (we believe in the supervision and interaction of being able see and assist our clients.) So, we immediately made the shift. We purchased some essential sound and video equipment, upgraded our internet, rented equipment to members that needed it to do their workouts from home, and began training and teaching live streaming workouts.

*The positive:

  • Some of our existing members and clients found that working out from home had a lot of benefits and continue to workout from home even though our studio is now open for in-person workouts.
  • Family and friends of our members and clients were able to join in from wherever they were in the world. (We had a couple of people from Europe join us.)
  • It’s a new market that we wouldn’t have discovered had we not jumped on it.

May 26th, 2020, my wife was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. (one year later, she’s actually doing okay and we’re hopeful.) So, she was unable to teach her classes and train her clients. How could we keep the number and quality of our class schedule without her? I was already teaching a lot and couldn’t take on all of her classes as well. I picked up a couple of her classes and we decided to have friends of ours teach the remainder of her classes via Zoom from their location in Maine.

*The positive:

  • We realized that we could hire teachers from anywhere to teach for us online. In fact, we had a friend teach Pilates to our members from her studio in France.
  • We could offer classes that may not be available in your area. i.e. maybe there are no good Tai Chi instructors in your area, but you might find one that could teach online for you.

June 29th, 2021, I will get my right hip replaced. Okay, now I’m going to be unable to teach for a while. I, to date, have been teaching all of the in person classes since we were allowed to open our doors again. So, we’ve had some classes that have been online only and some that were both online and in person. Some of our members waited until we reopened before they came back. They’ve worked hard and regained their fitness levels. We can’t go all online again. The downside of the live streaming from remote locations has been that nobody would be able to see the instructor in the studio. How can we handle this? Our next move is to make the online classes accessible to people in the studio. I know that there are companies that have classes on demand that clubs can integrate into there studio spaces, but that’s not what we want. We want to offer our members live classes. Long story short, we are going to project the live streaming classes onto the front of the studio.

* The positive:

  • This will allow our members that like, want, and/or need to come into the studio to get in their workouts, a way to continue.
  • While my wife and I won’t be able to physically do the workouts, we can still be in the room and offer support and corrections during the projected classes. This adds back in the more personal touch that people expect when coming in to the studio.
  • This also expands the audience of our previously online only classes.

Now, the point of all of this is to highlight that when challenges come up (and they always do), you need to realize that, more often than not, there is an opportunity that comes along with it. Look for those chances to rethink what you do and how you do it.

Best of luck with your challenges!

“Special Populations” is Not a Niche!

There are a lot of fitness professionals that are “special population specialists”. There are certifications in which you can earn that designation. The problem is that “special populations” includes prenatal/postpartum women, older adults, youth, obesity, adults with specific diseases or disorders, injuries, and those with multiple health conditions. So, if you include all of those categories, you never get in depth in any one area. Not only that, but, it means that the majority of the population is deemed special.

And, as the saying goes, if everyone is special then nobody is special.

The benefit of choosing a real niche, a specialty, is twofold.

One, it allows you to get very specific in your education and really know that one area. i.e. Cancer Exercise Specialist & Training the Older Adult.

Two, it allows you to own that space with that specific target market. This means that to that specific audience, you are the expert in that area, the go to person for safe, effective training that is appropriate for them and their specific circumstance. If you need brain surgery done, you don’t want to go to your general practitioner. You want someone who specializes in brain surgery. The same is true for seeking out a fitness professional that specializes in training those with Parkinson’s or joint replacements or prenatal/postpartum.

Now, I’m not saying that knowing a little more about a lot of areas isn’t beneficial. However, it doesn’t give you enough in any one area to be “the specialist” in that area. Home in one specific specialty and own it!

Gotta Catch Em All… Trading Cards

The first baseball cards came out in the 1860s. The idea of collecting a complete set of whatever type card someone might be collecting has been a passion of many people for a very long time. Whether it’s sports cards, Marvel superheroes, or Pokemon, we’ve “gotta catch em all”. I don’t know what got me thinking about this, but I had, what I believe to be, a fun idea.

Members and clients feel more connected to a facility if they know, like, and trust the individuals that make up the organization. What if… you created a set of trading cards of your entire staff? Then, as a promotion, you tasked the members and/or clients to collect them all and offered prizes to those that accomplished that. They would get a bigger prize if they got them all signed, of course, because signed cards are always worth more.

You could give out random cards (just like you would find them in a gum package) for certain achievements such as taking a certain class or trying one of the club’s shakes. As in other card collecting, they could trade duplicates for cards they didn’t have yet.

Again, this would help members and clients connect with managers, trainers, teachers, cleaning staff, etc. and with that, a deeper connection to the club. I would try this in a heartbeat if we weren’t currently a two person operated boutique studio with two additional teachers. That doesn’t leave a lot of collecting to be done. (the pics above are just mock-ups)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and if you decide to try it, I’d love to follow your progress with it.

Investing in Yourself: What’s the ROI?

Return On Investment (ROI) is a measurement of the profitability of something. We try to predict it before making an investment and then we measure afterward to see if it was profitable.

In the fitness realm, businesses invest in equipment, programs, people, etc. in the hopes that the investment more than pays for itself in the end. Members and clients invest in their health and wellness by joining clubs, programs, and hiring personal trainers with the intent that it will pay off with added health and a better quality of life.

Pretty much everything we do has an ROI. Even donating or volunteering for a charity has the ROI of making us feel better about ourselves for having done so. Our ROI decisions aren’t always a conscious thing, but maybe we should start to make these decisions more consciously.

For fitness professionals, I’ve seen too many underinvest in themselves and their careers because “they can’t afford it”. “I can’t afford to go to that conference, take the course, hire that coach, or pay for that system.” But what if you actually looked at the return on those investments?

I had a personal trainer that used to work for me who would complain about doing paperwork(reporting client sessions and payroll) when she could be training and making more money. My suggestion was to hire someone to do it for her. If she paid the individual $15 an hour and the trainer could fill that hour with a client then if the trainer makes $45/hour (just picking a number) she still comes out $30 ahead and saves herself from a task she didn’t like doing. She never did hire the help.

What about conferences, certifications, a programs? What’s the total cost? Would what you learn help you get more clients? How many client sessions would it take to make it profitable? Let’s just say that the personal trainer makes $45/client session and the event or program could yield 2 additional client sessions/week. What kind of income are we talking?

  • 1 wk = $90
  • 2 wks = $180
  • 3 wks = $270
  • 4 wks = $360
  • 8 wks = $720
  • 52 wks = $4,680

How much was that conference, certification, or program again? What’s the ROI on it? Was the return higher than the investment? Rather than just looking at the investment number and letting your gut reaction stop you from making the investment, figure out the potential ROI and let that guide your decision.

Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and your career if it’s going to give you the return you want.