If you don’t have idols who are absolute titans in the fitness business who you regularly keep an eye on and try to learn from, you’re doing yourself a disservice. We all need people to look up to in our professional life, especially if you’re new to the game. The fitness industry may not be as broad as something like tech or medicine, but there are plenty of wildly successful people in fitness who started right where you are—as an everyday trainer who had big dreams.
Sam Pogue, Vice President of Brand at TrueCoach, sat down with some true titans of the industry and we dropped in to listen to their vibrant, incredibly useful conversation. Below you’ll find some of the best tips they offered for fitness professionals, whether you’re a beginner or a veteran. Get comfortable and get ready to take notes. You’ve got some work to do if you want to grow your brand.
Meet Some of the Best Leaders in the Fitness Industry
Sam was lucky enough to chat with a few experts that TrueCoach has always admired. You’ll hear from Markus Gerszi, who runs Gym Breakthrough in San Clemente, CA, as well as Jim Crowell, the CEO of OPEX and Big Dawgs who is also on the board of Brand X. Pete Dupuis was also included in today’s conversation; he co-founded Cressey Sports Performance with Eric Cressey (you can learn more about their program by reading this). We also have Mark Fisher, who runs two facilities in New York City called Mark Fisher Fitness. He also runs another company called Business For Unicorns and spends most of his time coaching and consulting.
Then we have Jonathan Goodman from Personal Trainer Development Center, a publishing company that has produced over 1,000 resourceful articles for trainers—for free. He’s also written 10 books and created the first-ever certification for online fitness trainers called Online Trainer Academy. Finally, you’ll hear from Jill Coleman, who owns a company called JillFit and has been running a longstanding fitness blog with a faithful following. “Now most of my business is helping personal trainers, health coaches, and nutrition consultants build their online personal brand,” Jill says.
Here’s Some Advice For New Trainers
“It isn’t what you think it is,” Markus says matter-of-factly. “Buckle up.” He wants every new trainer to know that the business will be hard work, but it’s worth every second. You just have to be prepared to work your ass off. Many agree and also give a general reminder to try to enjoy it, even when it drives you crazy.
Jill adds, “I think if I had to give a piece of advice, it would definitely be to enjoy this process on some level. One thing that I always tell my clients is, take it seriously but don’t take it personally.” This is often easier said than done but you have to learn to separate your entire identity from the way your business goes in the first couple years. Pete has a slightly more tough-love message: “You’re nowhere near as efficient and productive as you think you are.” Well, Pete, tell us how you really feel. He encourages newbies to trim the fat off and make sure they’re spending each hour of the day in a way that will positively affect their very near future.
Pete also says it’s important to be as invested in the short term as you are in the big vision—because there are going to be a lot of twists and turns that will throw you off along the way. Be prepared to take turns and come up with quick solutions.
At the end of the day, your plan in the beginning should be “massive action”. Jill says she sees a lot of trainers who are too cautious in the beginning because they feel overwhelmed. “You can take a ton of action, and see what works and what doesn’t,” she explains. “As you get more advanced as a coach, that’s really when strategy is the most important.”
Don’t Limit Yourself
Jonathan says too many people come into the fitness world calling themselves a trainer or coach, not realizing that there are many other kinds of jobs in the fitness world. Not everyone interested in fitness is born to be a teacher. And that’s totally OK. Luckily, there are countless other options for you, so there’s no need to limit yourself. “You could create a personal brand, but you could also be a project manager,” he suggests, “And maybe support another company.” A passion for fitness doesn’t have to only be expressed by becoming a coach. Jim used himself as an example: “I don’t spend all day coaching. I spend all day building out the system that allows thousands of other coaches to coach.”
“You have to be a good generalist before you are a specialist,” Pete advises. “And every person on this call was probably focused on developing some strong generalist skills in the beginning.” Besides, there’s no shame in just acknowledging the fact that you’re new and you’re in the process of developing skills. Once you accumulate a broad range of knowledge and figure out what you like, you can move yourself forward.
Learning Business Is a Completely Different Skill Than Training
This may sound like an obvious statement, but it’s worth highlighting. Hiring a business coach may be a great idea because you’re not expected to have expertise in running an independent brand. That wasn’t taught in your personal trainer exams, so don’t be afraid to “take off your trainer hat,” as Jill says, and learn the business side. “You’re not supposed to know how to write copywriting,” Jill gives an example. “Be gentle with yourself. That is a whole separate skill set.”
“A lot of these [fitness] influencers actually have very little ability to sell anything other than supplements and fat-loss e-books,” Jonathan says. That can work in your favor. Learn what the landscape looks like so you can figure out bigger problems that will pay off more than selling a few digital books online.
One of the biggest parts of becoming more business savvy is learning how to sell. “When I say learn how to sell, I’m not just talking about getting yeses,” Pete explains. “I’m talking about getting yeses for the right reason. Learn how to connect with people, learn how to really establish rapport and get to know what the real problem is. Learn how to solve problems through selling rather than just trying to talk people into buying your stuff.”
Start this by studying human psychology, relationship building, etc. “You can authentically get them to reveal what it is that actually matters to them and see how you can help them,” Pete concludes. “Once you learn how to do that, it starts to open up a lot of doors.”
Surround Yourself With the Right People
“If you really want to be an entrepreneur, it’s about hiring people that are better than you at certain things,” Mark advises. And this is different than hiring an outside source to pick up a project or two. Younger fitness facilities make the problem of outsourcing too quickly and too often. When you do this, “you don’t have an ability to be part of the process in a collaborative way,” according to Mark. “It’s very difficult to get good outcomes.”
It pays off to hire people you trust who are smarter than you at certain tasks. Similarly, you need to have mentors who can guide you along the way. It may feel easier and quicker to just hire some random company or person who has some high ratings online, but you might be giving up some of your agency. And that’s the last thing you want to do if your business is new.
“Sitting here now I can say that my career has gone the way it has because I’ve been able to connect with individuals like yourselves,” Sam concludes. “And that’s really set me on a good path to get to where I am.”
Always Make the Right Decisions
Take your time. Don’t jump into anything big until you’re sure it’s going to move you forward. “For every person who’s listening to this and wants to build a business in the fitness industry, you have to start making better decisions over time,” Jim insists. Think clearly about your history of problem solving and make sure you’re always learning from it.
Jill agrees, explaining that she knows people in the industry get scared when they see someone else excelling and think to themselves, “I could never do what they’re doing.” You don’t need to copy them, though. You just have to be decisive and “do the first thing in front of you.” Make the right decisions for you and your business without trying to copy what’s going on around you. It will take consistent refinement for years and years to get really good at decision-making, but you’ll get there.
The Bottom Line
More than anything else, know what brand you want to put out there and be true to it. Sam encourages you to ask how you envision yourself building the brand of your dreams—and even more importantly, how you make sure this is what people want in the industry today. Jill agrees: “You have to break through with something.” You have to be able to sell a message that people are looking for. Keep that in mind as you do your best to grow your ever-expanding business.