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Choosing a Specialty

by Mary Bratcher, MA on Aug 27, 2008

Career Path

Make more money and enhance your career by narrowing your focus.

Many fitness professionals take a shotgun approach to attracting clients. In essence, they try to be all things to all people. However, the best way to build a solid reputation and a steady client base is to become a specialist in a particular area of health and fitness. Discover why you need to narrow your market focus, how to choose an industry specialty and how to capitalize on your strategic decisions.

Finding Your Niche

Many fitness professionals feel like a fish out of water when it comes to knowing how to reach clients. That’s because there are so many different types of clients with different wants and needs that, understandably, it is hard to know where to direct your efforts. When you try to market your services to absolutely everyone, you may end up attracting no one. However, if you focus your attention on a select group of people who have specific needs that you have identified, you can market to those needs. This type of targeted, specialty approach to attracting clients is commonly referred to as finding your niche.

Finding your niche, or unique place, in the industry can benefit your business in a number of ways. First, determining your niche requires you to take a good look at your individual skills as a fitness professional. Doing this helps you better understand yourself and your specific talents. It also compels you to closely examine your business strengths and opportunities in order to identify what market needs you currently meet or want to meet.

Everywhere you look there are large fitness chains providing a gamut of services to all types of clients. Why, then, would someone come to a smaller studio or an independent personal trainer when they can easily join a larger gym with more facilities and services? Because, for some people, a smaller business can fill a need or want that the larger gyms cannot satisfy. An independent studio or at-home trainer can focus on providing certain types of programs or services that meet the needs of the individual. For example, your personal training services may be better able to accommodate the needs of clients with disabilities or clients who dislike loud music or crowds.

Sometimes it is obvious what particular market need you are filling. If 90% of your clients come to you for help with some sort of injury or chronic pain, then your niche is easy to define. However, when your client base seems to be a mixed bag, you may need to do some investigating to determine what market needs you serve. The first thing you can do to identify your niche is try to figure out what most of your clients have in common. Consider characteristics like gender, occupation, age, income level, fitness goals, ability levels, personality types, child/marital status or personal preferences. If you have trouble pinpointing the common characteristics, then simply ask your clients why they come to train with you. It will be helpful to keep track of their answers, so provide them with a questionnaire to help you identify their commonalities. (See “Sample Client Questionnaire” for some questions to use.)

Once you understand what specific market needs your studio or business fills, you can take advantage of your position. You can tailor your marketing promotions and identify networking opportunities that will garner better results for less effort and less money. More important, you can develop a name for yourself or your business as a specialist in a particular area of the industry.

Becoming a specialist will enable you to provide a better service, which in turn will boost your credibility and your ability to earn more money. People are willing to pay extra for a qualified professional who can address their specific needs more competently and efficiently. For example, a client who sees a regular trainer three times per week at $60 per session spends $180 per week. However, if your level of expertise enables you to help this client achieve his same goals with only one session per week, he will be prepared to pay you $150 per session because he will actually be saving time and money. Being able to assist clients in ways that few other fitness professionals can increases your perceived value, which dictates the amount of money you can charge for each session.

Selecting Your Specialty

Determining what industry area to specialize in is similar to the process of finding your niche. Although you may now know which segment of the market your services appeal to most, you still need to decide which area to specialize in within that market group. For example, you may have established that your niche market is corporate executives who have above-average disposable income and limited time to exercise. It is now important to determine precisely which needs of this market segment you want to target: their work environment, their time constraints, their income situation or a combination.

For instance, a client who works in a corporate environment may have chronic pain issues as a result of her sedentary and stressful occupation. Therefore, specializing in corrective exercise to address the musculoskeletal pain and injury of the corporate executive may be a good idea. Furthermore, it is very likely that your corporate client will have many needy colleagues to refer. On the other hand, you could make a name for yourself as an instructor who specializes in customized, 30-minute, highly effective circuit or group workouts in a corporate fitness center. Either path would ensure that your clients’ needs are being met, but the fact that you specialize in one area or the other makes it easier for people to find you and benefit from your expertise.

An industry as diverse as ours offers opportunities to specialize in all sorts of areas. When choosing, your main considerations should be that you have access to potential customers, you carve out your specialty in a growing area of the industry and you love what you do. Some examples of good specialty areas in today’s fitness climate would be child obesity and/or inactivity; body weight–focused programs such as suspension training, Pilates or yoga; functional training with an emphasis on biomechanics; and training for older sports enthusiasts. The possibilities are endless!

When you have decided what you would like to specialize in, expand your educational background on the subject. Read books and articles, attend seminars and conferences, and connect with individuals or organizations that can provide you with opportunities to learn all you can about the topic. Then start practicing your skills and tools in the field. Increase your knowledge and experience levels by trying out new things, within your scope of practice, with every client. (Part of becoming a specialist is being willing to experiment to see what works and doesn’t work!) Using your new skills in everyday practice will also help you communicate your specialty to your clients—and their subsequent referrals.

Capitalizing on Your Specialty Status

The more you learn about and practice your specialty area with your clients, the more confident you will become in your skills as a “specialist.” You can then shape your business identity around your particular area of expertise. For example, instead of feeling that you must take any client who comes your way, you can become more particular about the types of clients you choose to work with or the programs or classes you choose to offer. You can also develop long-term client and professional referral systems that solidify your reputation.

To help make the most of your decision to specialize in a particular area, consider the following suggestions:

  • Make sure that your business image and rates reflect your specialist status. If you are going to charge a lot of money for your services, you should invest in quality business cards, materials and equipment.

  • Submit article ideas to industry publications in an effort to gain credibility as a reputable instructor or trainer in your specialty area.

  • Build and strengthen your industry presence by applying to present at seminars, health fairs, conferences and industry shows on topics related to your specialty.

  • Keep yourself educated about the latest developments and trends in your specialty area.

For Your Success

Developing an industry specialty takes time, a keen awareness of your particular skills, conscious decision-making and dedication. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the effort you put into doing it will pay off tremendously in the long run. This is particularly true for trainers or instructors who work in larger fitness clubs and want to distinguish themselves. When you narrow your market focus and commit to becoming an exceptional fitness provider, there is no limit to the personal and professional success you can achieve.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 5, Issue 9

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© 2008 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Mary Bratcher, MA

Mary Bratcher, MA IDEA Author/Presenter

Mary Bratcher, MA, is a certified life coach and co-owner of The BioMechanics in San Diego, California. She holds a master's degree in psychology; and for over a decade, has used principles from p...