We call him “MMA Guy.” He’s beefed up and has a history at a boxing gym. He meets his clients at the same park I train a client twice a week.
It’s awkward training next to MMA Guy. He’s raunchy, egregious and overt in telling you all the reasons why you need his services. (I should know, because when I was six months pregnant he told me I needed to come train with him because I was starting to let myself go in the midsection.)
The “MMA Guys” of the world give training a bad name, but it’s not just enough to be different; you need to put as much distance between you and them as possible, which isn’t always easy. Sometimes, incredibly innocent actions get misinterpreted.
You are the business. When you have a business, everyone becomes a potential client. Some may never use your services, but they may refer their friends, so you always have to be “on.” Great trainers know this, and they are contentious of their actions – or at least they try to be.
I can’t imagine MMA Guy means to do the things he does. He probably wants to represent himself in a professional manner and build a successful business, instead of having high client turnover and an article written about his shortcomings. Over time, he’s probably just become complacent.
It’s easier than you might think to end up on the wrong side of unprofessionalism. These are five things I’ve noticed to be the biggest opportunities to make a great impression:
1. Wear a uniform.
If you work in a gym, this is probably a non-issue. But, if you’re independent like me and MMA Guy, it gets tempting to do your own thing.
If you’re MMA Guy, your own thing eventually leads you to jeans and a backwards cap. Don’t fall into the trap. I have a collared branded T-shirt I pair with long training pants. When it’s 96 out like it has been this week, I opt for pressed khaki shorts of an appropriate length. Yes, you’re training sweaty folks, but you still need to look professional – it’s not the time to show off skin or be a fashionista. (This also goes for hair and other grooming measures!)
Attire is one of the 3 most important ways to showcase expertise before meeting a new client. To learn more about why and the other two click here to open your next article in a new window to read after.
–> The other two ways to showcase expertise
2. Talk like you would to your grandma.
I have clients with whom I joke and kid, because that’s the relationship we’ve built. But even when our conversations go where they shouldn’t, it’s discreet.
Enter the awkward moments with MMA Guy when he tells us how he calls all his clients “girl” because “I train so many women.” If you go with the mindset that your grandma is always over your shoulder, you’ll probably be more apt to hold back a comment that could be taken the wrong way. (Note: this goes for music too. Pandora has an explicit content blocker. Use it.)
3. Stand engaged.
I wish I was kidding in writing this, but I actually caught MMA Guy sunning himself while his client did stadiums.
He’s kicked back with his feet up and head resting in his hands – my client even said something. It’s little things, like hands in your pockets or leaning against a wall, that can make you look disinterested or bored. (And eventually lead to sitting and resting.) It can truly disrupt your client’s energy while simultaneously scaring off would-be clients.
Always keep in mind how your stance could appear to others. If you must be on the ground, then kneel. Good posture and an engaged stare scream that you care, and they only improve how your billboard (aka your body) looks to others.
4. Be tech savvy.
Technology is great. There are super fancy apps for personal trainers and timers you can use on your phone or tablet to keep track of intervals, rest breaks or even workouts. But that’s not what people see you doing. What they think they see is you texting or e-mailing or playing Candy Crush, which is exactly what MMA Guy does while his clients run sprints.
If you must use your tech during a session to directly benefit your client, keep it on a clipboard so it’s not quite so obvious. It’s never okay – not even when your client goes for a water break and especially not when they’re in the middle of exercise – to be playing on your phone. If the temptation is just too great, turn it off or use “moon mode” (really, it’s called “do not disturb”) features. Additionally, consider using the old fashioned watch for timing sets – but take it off and hold it, as it just looks like you’re bored and checking the time.
5. Change perspective.
Maybe you do all of the above well, or at least you think you do. Consider asking colleagues or clients what your body language, appearance and actions during sessions say about you. Maybe even discreetly videotape yourself so you can see for yourself. You may find there are some small habits that could be a big deterrent from increasing the client base you desire or keep clients from coming back.
I’ll be honest, the idea of needing such strict standards goes against the whole reason I started my own business. In my naivety, I broke off saying I’d wear what I wanted and I would do what I wanted when I wanted to do it, and it was going to be awesome.
Then I wised up.
I realized what I really wanted wasn’t the freedom to be my own boss as much as I wanted to help as many people reach their goals. Staying disciplined in these areas gave me the freedom to achieve that goal.
If that meant donning a uniform, I found myself excited to do it.