Expand your career horizons-and revenue opportunities-through consulting.
What exactly does “consulting” mean, and how does it apply to fitness professionals? “[Consulting is providing] advice and counsel . . . to a client with the objective of improving the client’s condition,” according to Alan Weiss, a top independent consultant and author of numerous books on the subject, including Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice (McGraw-Hill 2003). Consultants provide specialized expertise for specific projects.
Fitness professionals can consult on a wide range of projects for organizations or individuals, both inside and outside the fitness industry. For example, a successful club sales manager might advise personal trainers on sure-fire sales tactics. An expert on outdoor exercise could be the perfect consultant for a gadget manufacturer developing a newfangled sports watch. (For more ideas, see “Consulting Jobs for Fitness Professionals” on page 101.)
Having expertise and experience in a particular area gives you a decent head start on becoming a good consultant. But successful consulting requires other key characteristics as well. Before you take the leap into the consulting world, you should consider whether you are cut out for this line of work. Fortunately, many of the personal qualities and business skills that make you a successful fitness business-person can also help you build credibility as a consultant.
What makes a successful consultant? Weiss points to superb communication skills, solid self-confidence and the ability to think fast on your feet. A desire to help others succeed and good professional and personal boundaries also come into play, adds Costa Mesa, California, resident Juliane Arney. She has consulted on numerous projects, including group exercise programming, consumer fitness shows, training manuals and video choreography.
“[To be a good consultant, you] must be flexible, willing to ask questions, not [convinced] you know it all, confident of your value and limitations, and prepared to act and work with good business ethics and standards,” adds Jay Blahnik, a fitness professional in Laguna Beach, California, whose consulting clients include Nike, the Nautilus Health & Fitness Group®, Star Trac, Fitness Quest and IDEA.
Once you have determined your suitability for consulting, select the best ways to market yourself. Your tactics may be similar to those you have used to become a successful fitness professional.
Stand Out. Make yourself visible to your target market. Blahnik says he receives lots of consulting work from folks who see him presenting at conferences. Weiss suggests authoring articles for exposure. For example, let’s say you hope to advise nonfitness businesses on how to set up corporate fitness centers in office buildings. One way to position yourself as a viable consultant would be to write articles on the benefits of employee exercise for publications that your prospective clients are likely to read.
Network, Network, Network. Network and ask for referrals. Mention your consulting aspirations to your personal training clients or facility members. Inform your colleagues—especially those who do consulting themselves—about your new career direction. People won’t know you are available unless you tell them.
“I take on quite a few projects through referrals,” says Arney. “Many of my favorite jobs have come through a third-party professional relationship where one consultant was offered the work, but he or she was too busy, or the project was more in line with my specialty areas. That person [then] referred the client to me.”
Exceed Expectations. Blahnik says word-of-mouth referrals from past consulting clients are also powerful. “The best way to get work is to do good work,” he says. “Word gets around if you can deliver or not, so make every job a priority and deliver what the company asks for.” In fact, he says, exceed expectations whenever possible.
Carve Your Niche. Developing a niche is another smart marketing move. “Most fitness professionals possess a wealth of information, so it becomes difficult to differentiate yourself in a sea of people with similar experience,” says Blahnik. “Identifying what you are best at makes it easier to target your clients and have them target you.” Arney, who is well-known as a dance-for-fitness expert, often receives inquiries from clients seeking a consultant who is proficient and recognized in that area.
Begin With the Familiar. Arney suggests starting with a project you know well. “For example, maybe for 5 years you worked as director of a personal training program,” she says. “Put the word out to privately owned clubs, small chains or the new club being built in the next town that you are available to help them open their doors by designing their program and training their staff.”
Your first task with any potential consulting project is to decide if the job is right for you, says Arney. If not, move on. She recommends making sure the chemistry, work styles and expectations of all parties line up before you sign any contracts. Hold off on time-intensive, face-to-face meetings until you decide to take on the project. “A 10-minute phone call should be the first thing you invest in a potential consulting job,” she says. “Ask the client, ‘How can I help you?’ Have the client lay out all his or her needs and expectations. You may discover in 10 minutes that this is not the job for you.”
If, however, you feel good about the project and plan to proceed, make every effort to nurture that consulting relationship from the start, Blahnik advises. Clients will then be more likely to rehire you and/or readily refer you to others. “I am a firm believer in having long relationships, not necessarily lots of relationships,” says Blahnik. “I work hard to lay out clients’ expectations and to list exactly what they want from my working with them.”
Clearly communicating expectations gets the professional relationship off on the right foot and helps ensure that the project starts and ends smoothly. Prepare a contract or letter of agreement outlining the project’s details and scope. “The more precise you can be on exactly what services you will provide, the less room [there will be] for misunderstanding down the line,” says Arney.
Make sure you write each clause clearly and concisely. “I like the major ‘deal’ points to be wrapped up in 10 points or less because it gives me a good feeling that both parties are on the same page,” says Blahnik. “You can’t always make this happen, but I try every time.” Don’t forget to address what happens if the project exceeds the timeline or workload originally agreed on, says Arney. Know how you will handle such situations before they arise.
Payment for consulting services varies from a few hundred dollars to many thousands, depending on the consultant, the client and the project. Says Weiss, “Charge based on value; that is, your fee [should reflect] your contribution to the worth of the client’s objectives. Never, never charge by the hour or time unit.” Quoting a per-project fee allows a clear understanding of payment before work begins. Blahnik recommends using the contract to communicate the need for fee renegotiation if the work becomes more or less than originally planned. He also advises arranging payment in stages, rather than as one lump sum at the project’s completion.
If you’re like many fitness professionals, you probably possess a myriad of valuable job skills. Sharing your talent and expertise through consulting is yet another way to enhance your career as you Inspire the World to Fitness™.