Coordinating the efforts of fitness professionals, certifying organizations and consumers on one platform—for free!
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that fitness trainers and aerobics instructors will be among the 30 fastest-growing jobs by 2018 (Boston Globe 2010). The estimated 29.4% increase in these fields could multiply the industry’s efforts in targeting the world’s health issues, but could also heighten the need for greater regulation and stronger alliances across all fitness and wellness professions.
To ensure the success of fitness businesses over the next decade and to help consumers feel confident in searching for qualified fitness professionals in their neighborhood, IDEA Health & Fitness Association has developed a new platform called IDEA FitnessConnect. First and foremost, IDEA FitnessConnect is the largest national online directory of fitness professionals open to the public—and the only one where profiles are verified by nationally recognized certifying agencies.
“We know consumers understand the importance of exercise, but finding a qualified fitness professional is a huge challenge for them,” says Peter Davis, chief executive officer (CEO) of IDEA. Without a standard set of guidelines to consider, a consumer search for a personal trainer may yield insufficient or outdated information.
Second, IDEA FitnessConnect is a business platform for all fitness professionals and health clubs. Equipped with powerful marketing tools, fitness pros and managers can spend fewer resources on promotion and more energy inspiring clients. “[Fitness professionals] have told us [that their] biggest challenges are finding ways to make more money, recruit new clients and do so without having to spend all their time marketing or selling,” says Davis.
Any fitness professional can sign up and create a profile in the IDEA FitnessConnect directory because all the tools and features are absolutely free!
Read on to learn what makes IDEA FitnessConnect different from current online fitness directories. Discover how certifying organizations are participating in IDEA FitnessConnect to provide a reliable, unbiased directory; examine the new tools you can use to take your business to the next level; and get an inside preview of this new platform.
One of the most important issues in the fitness industry relates to certifications and the need to standardize the quality of credentials. For the launch in August, IDEA focused its verification efforts on four accreditation agencies: the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education. With the support of top certifying organizations, the IDEA FitnessConnect directory plans to have the most up-to-date credential information on each fitness professional’s profile.
In January 2005, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) proposed that “clubs should begin hiring personal trainers holding at least one certification from an agency which itself has been accredited by a third-party organization” (IHRSA 2007). Since then, 15 major certifying agencies have gained third-party accreditation, and fitness professionals have been held to a higher standard of accountability when earning their certificates. However, personal trainers who work without credentials and/or let their certifications lapse do not instill confidence in our profession. According to the findings of an IDEA survey of certified professionals, 45% of fitness trainers with expired credentials claimed to be certified (IDEA 2006).
“[IDEA FitnessConnect] will allow the industry to offer greater transparency surrounding professional certifications,” states Scott Goudeseune, president and CEO of the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Currently, 14 of the 15 accredited certification agencies have agreed to participate in IDEA FitnessConnect by verifying the certification status of professionals listed in the directory. For instance, a personal trainer who lists himself as certified will have the word “verified” next to his credentials only when the certification agency has confirmed this information against its database; until then, the status will appear as “pending.” If a certification proves to be inauthentic, the credentials will be listed as “not verified.” If it has expired, the credentials will say “expired” with the expiration date. In cases where the certification agency has not partnered with IDEA to provide verification, the status will appear as “unknown.”
“Given IDEA’s history of quality in all of their efforts, the directory exceeds the quality of any professional directory that I have seen to date,” says Richard Cotton, MA, the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) national director of certification. “Our field needs a professional directory to continue to elevate the standards of the profession. IDEA is making a significant contribution to that effort.”
With this access to credentials, personal training directors and group fitness managers will also find in IDEA FitnessConnect a central resource and a highly convenient way to verify the qualifications of their staff. “We feel this unifying step strengthens our industry’s credibility as a whole, which helps raise the profile of all fitness professionals and ensure safe, reliable fitness instruction across the industry,” says Goudeseune.
Profiles with verified credentials also rank higher in IDEA FitnessConnect’s consumer search results than those without. “The ranking algorithm is made up of 2 dozen parts, with each part weighted based on level of importance,” explains Mike Bannan, head of development at IDEA. In addition to industry credentials, the algorithm takes into account variables such as CPR certifications, professional insurance, ratings and reviews from clients, college degrees and specialty certifications. “We want to encourage fitness professionals to complete and maintain their profiles so they best match what their potential clients are seeking,” Bannan says.
With access to this much data, viewers will also see how the combined rank of a health club’s personal training staff compares with the rankings of competing gyms in the area. This will impact not only consumers’ decisions regarding the trainers or clubs they choose but also fitness professionals’ decisions on the staff with whom they might like to work.
Success in the fitness industry requires doing more than training clients or teaching group classes. To remain relevant in their industry, fit pros must also be (digital) marketers, writers or bloggers, salespeople, networkers, educators and lifelong learners.
The business tools included in IDEA FitnessConnect are designed to help fitness pros become less overwhelmed with operational tasks and more focused on fostering relationships with colleagues, clients and prospects in order to provide the highest quality of service to their clients.
A Networking Tool
With IDEA FitnessConnect’s extensive directory, fitness professionals will be able to increase their networking opportunities and create working alliances with complementing health professionals. At its August launch, there were over 100,000 profiles of personal trainers, specialty instructors and sport coaches in the system.
“There has been a desperate need in the medical community for a resource like IDEA FitnessConnect to help healthcare providers partner and collaborate with fitness professionals,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, national spokesperson for ACSM’s Exercise is Medicine™ global campaign. “In order to provide the highest level of comprehensive care to patients and clients, IDEA FitnessConnect is going to allow medical providers an opportunity to learn more about a fitness professional’s background, certifications and experiences.”
E-newsletters are a cost-effective part of any online marketing strategy and are often used to generate client leads, increase retention or build brand loyalty. IDEA FitnessConnect’s e-newsletter tool (called Client Newsletter) is designed to inform current (and prospective) clients of the latest fitness news and upcoming events. It merges consumer- or client-focused articles from the IDEA Library with a fitness professional’s specific profile information and mailing list to create and distribute a customized newsletter (see the sidebar “An Inside Look at the Client Newsletter” for more on its features).
Event Management System
Fitness professionals who host lectures or lead various boot camps and/or group classes will benefit from IDEA FitnessConnect’s event management system. It allows users to list all upcoming events and classes in their profiles. “Share” buttons for each event allow easy cross-promotion to social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Send reminders or invitations to your clients, or use IDEA FitnessConnect’s secure payment system as a registration platform for special events. The system also tracks statistics by event page views, open rates for invitations and real-time roster updates of registered participants. All events are powered by Google Maps, which makes any event or class location easy to find for attendees.
When used together with a current business strategy, IDEA FitnessConnect’s marketing tools may help fitness professionals and health clubs better leverage prospective clients, enhance event promotions and improve member retention. “This will push fitness professionals to be more unique and equip themselves with greater assets,” says Peeke. “It will challenge fitness professionals to clearly define their own brand as they market themselves in a competitive arena.”
Leads are an important part of sustaining a business. Access to a target demographic (preferably, those interested in improving their health and fitness) and a marketing campaign with an authentic voice (word of mouth) can improve the possibilities for new business.
Syndicating the Directory
The IDEA FitnessConnect directory will be available to more than 16 million fitness- and health-oriented consumers through the IDEA website and other popular health and fitness websites. For example, an athlete searching for a 5K in her city through www.active.com will also be able to find a local fitness professional specializing in running or 5K race training without ever leaving the site. Making the IDEA FitnessConnect directory available as a resource through sites such as www.fitnessmagazine.com and similar partnership agreements is aimed at positioning fitness professionals in front of new markets.
Digital "Word of Mouth"
Customer reviews and user comments carry more weight than traditional advertisements. Consumers often rely on unbiased, unedited evaluations of products and services, glossing over canned testimonials or flashy websites. More consumer websites are allowing customers to voice their opinions (think Amazon ratings). In keeping with this “prosumer”-driven market, IDEA FitnessConnect also provides a space on each profile page for clients to rate and review the services of their fitness professional. Of course, the onus is on the trainer to respond to comment threads and manage his or her online reputation. However, a few good reviews on the profile can quickly generate buzz for the trainer’s business.
Over the next few years IDEA FitnessConnect will continue to grow as a directory and evolve as a product. IDEA has always worked hard to advance the industry by providing resources and creating new opportunities for all fitness professionals. “It was important that the timing was right and the technological sophistication was available to deliver a top-notch platform,” says Davis.
David Jensen, a personal trainer and lifestyle consultant in the Perth, Australia, area, asked the following question in a LinkedIn discussion in May: “How can we improve the health and fitness industry?” The post (not surprisingly) generated a lot of replies. Fitness professionals around the world chimed in with their ideas—suggesting everything from increasing regulation of personal training certificates and improving alliances across all health and fitness professionals to having better marketing tools and networking opportunities. Perhaps IDEA FitnessConnect is the first step in executing these ideas.