Success in business boils down to two things: effective marketing and a quality product.
One helps you get customers. The other helps you keep them. But first you need to know who you’re marketing to, and who your product is for.
Marketing to everyone is a waste of time and money. The more you focus your brand on the right target market for you, the faster you’ll build your personal training business. It’s the difference between throwing darts at a bare wall in a dark room and having a clear bullseye to aim for.
Another benefit of sharpening your focus: Once you stand out as the go-to expert for a specific niche, you can charge more for your services.
I know how well it works because, in nearly 15 years in the fitness industry, I’ve successfully targeted three unique markets: stay-at-home moms, people with obesity, and baby boomers.
I wish I could say it was simple, that I announced I wanted to work with stay-at-home moms between the ages of 30 and 50 who’re interested in health and fitness, and clients lined up to train with me.
Figuring out, and refining, my target market was an ongoing process. Still is. The following three steps allowed me to build successful businesses around each target market, and they should work for you as well.
1. Begin with something you’re interested in or feel passionate about
In college, I belonged to a personal training program that let me work with dozens of clients right from the jump. I didn’t set out to work with moms, but by getting a chance to train a few of them, I realized how much I enjoyed it. By graduation, I knew that’s who I wanted to focus on.
Years later, I met marketing guru Joe Polish, who shared three powerful questions for launching a successful business:
- Who do you want to be a hero to?
- How do you want to be a hero to them?
- What product or service can you create to do that?
The framework made sense because I’d already used it. Who did I want to be a hero to? Stay-at-home moms. How? By helping them be their healthiest, most energetic selves. The product or service: bootcamp-style training with free child care.
My inspiration was my own stay-at-home mom, who raised four children and always put our needs above her own. Growing up, I often felt she needed an outlet, a place where she could connect with adults and enjoy the kind of “me time” you get from a great workout. Now, as a trainer, I could give that outlet to other deserving moms.
Thus, my starting point was a population I wanted to serve. It should also be your starting point.
Now comes the hard part: making it work for you, and using it to reach your financial goals. In my case, I found a gym with on-site child care where I could lead my bootcamps in exchange for a percentage of my fees.
I had no idea if it would work. Would moms want to train with a kid just out of college? And if they did, could I make enough for it to be worthwhile? I admit I lucked out. I just followed my heart, and built a solid business.
Three important pieces of advice:
- Train as many types of clients as you can for your first year or two. I was able to do this in college, but most trainers won’t get this opportunity until they land their first job.
- Don’t rush into a niche. Keep an open mind. See who you gravitate toward, and who is attracted to you.
- When you get more referrals from one type of client than any other, you’ve probably found your target market.
READ ALSO: How to Make More Money as a Personal Trainer
2. Create avatars for your target market
When trying to define a new niche, it helps to start with a wide lens, and then systematically narrow your focus. You want to consider some or all these demographic factors:
- Income level
- Marital or family status
- Training experience
- Learning style
- Fitness goals
Identify three to five pain points within this audience, and build an avatar for each one. Here are some examples from my Fit Over 50 program:
- A 55-year-old woman struggling with postmenopausal weight gain
- A 65-year-old retiree who wants more energy
- A 73-year-old concerned about falling
Now go deeper still: For each avatar, try to identify at least three reasons why this person might want to hire you.
Let’s take the 65-year-old retiree. Maybe she wants to:
- Kick around a soccer ball with her grandkids
- Easily get up and down from the floor
- Take fun, active vacations
- Return to hiking, tennis, golf, or another physical activity she used to enjoy, or start a new one that requires better mobility or a higher fitness level
You must let market research inform your avatars. I can’t emphasize that enough. It won’t work if you make assumptions about what your target clients should want.
Immerse yourself in your clients’ world. Visit the stores where they shop. Read the magazines they read. Talk to them, and pay attention to the language they use.
I do a lot of my market research on sales calls, which I never delegate to anyone else on my team. I talk to 100 people a month, and have spoken to thousands in my career. What they tell me about their frustrations and goals often makes it into my ad copy, using their own words.
But how do you do that when you’re starting out, and don’t have any sales calls? Host a gathering with some of the people you’re targeting, and just sit and chat with them. Ask about their goals and challenges. What have they done, and what do they want to do?
Whatever vision you started with, you must refine it to match the reality you see in your research.
A successful target market exists at the intersection of fantasy and reality. You dream of who you want to work with, and then you refine the dream based on who you actually attract. They may not match the avatar you created.
For example, when I started Killer Kurves, my program for people with obesity, I didn’t have any specific age group in mind. But I eventually realized some two-thirds of our clients were over 50. Now my marketing message speaks directly to the overweight 55-year-old.
3. Keep researching, and be prepared to pivot
It may seem like I’ve followed a clear straight path, but pivoting has kept my business alive.
I spend a lot of time and money staying on top of industry trends, attending conferences (I like IDEA), visiting websites like the PTDC, and reading industry magazines like Personal Fitness Professional. I also regularly connect with friends and mentors in the industry.
But the most important conversations I have are with my clients. In 2012, I was able to recognize that the bootcamp market was becoming saturated. Despite my growing mom empire, I knew it was time for a change.
That’s where another type of market research came in: talking to clients.
One client who’d lost 60 pounds with me said she wished we had a program for obese people. Just like that, Killer Kurves was born, a program available only to clients with a BMI of 30 or more. Classes are half exercise, half group discussion. And nearly all the trainers have lost 40 to 80 pounds.
A couple years later, I noticed a lot of younger clients asking about programs for their parents. At the time, I had a brick-and-mortar facility that sat empty for much of the workday. So I launched Fit Over 50, a program that targets seniors. Now I have retirees in the gym while most of my other clients are at work.
Today I target all three niches. I still help moms, but that business isn’t nearly as robust as it once was. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the other two.
One final word of caution: I don’t recommend adding new niches before mastering those you already have. You don’t have to stop with one, but that’s definitely where you should start.
Ready to Start Your Personal Training Career?
Starting your career isn’t complicated. All you need is for someone to pay you to train them.
But how do you get that first client? What do you need to know? Where do you want to work, and how do you get hired?
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- Land the perfect job for you (pg. 17)
- Attract more clients (pg. 95)
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- Get even more clients through a foolproof referral system (pg. 115)
- Learn the no-fail secret to motivating clients (pg. 61)
- Set yourself apart with programs your clients will brag about (pg. 71)
- Master marketing skills that open up new income opportunities (pg. 152)
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If you’re just beginning your journey in the fitness industry (or know someone who is), you won’t find a more authoritative or comprehensive resource.
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