The year was 1994, and I was fresh out of school. I was a former captain of my college track team who loved speed training, and my goal was to figure out how to make a living training clients.
When I looked at my competition, I noticed that almost all trainers described their services as “general.” The fliers (yes, that was before “online” marketing) all said the same thing: “I help clients aged 8–80! Lose weight. Improve sports performance. Cardiac rehab. Etc.” I knew instantly that this was not the right way to market. It was too generic.
If you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one. This statement couldn’t be truer in our current world of hyperspecialization. So I decided to train athletes with a focus on speed training, and I honed my marketing message to match.
Then I marched into my local gym and pitched the idea. I offered a class teaching speed and agility to athletes. And a funny thing happened: The class filled up.
Clients loved it.
After my second class, one of the participants came up to me and said, “Ryan, this is a great class. My son is a competitive hockey player, and his team would love this!”
This dad connected me with his son’s hockey coach, and before you knew it, I’d set up my second class (in a hockey/sports facility), teaching off-ice speed and conditioning to more than 30 youth hockey players.
My business grew from there. I picked up more private clients. I trained with elite tennis players and figure skaters.
So what’s my point?
If I had been like everyone else and tried a “general” message, my business would never have been successful.
The Power of Two
Now, when I coach business clients, I teach what I call a “model of two.”
I recommend that you start with a big, general market, and from there, you “niche down” at least two times. Essentially, the goal is to choose a more specific demographic as your target market. After working with thousands of fitness professionals over the years, I can tell you with 100% certainty that the more you niche down, the better your chances are for success. For example, my company created an “Underground Strength Coach” brand for Zach Even-Esh as he specialized in a more “unusual” training style (at least it was at the time), using things like tires and sledgehammers years before these were seen in a gym. Another client, Josh Henkin, went all-in with sandbag training and is now the go-to guy for everything related to sandbag training. He even has his own line of sandbags. After having Dave Schmitz write for my website over a decade ago, I recommended that he specialize in “band” training. Soon after, “The Bandman” was born. Just as Josh owns sandbag training, Dave now owns the resistance band training market.
For better or for worse, people want specialists. We live in an age of specialization, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Products and services will continue to become more specialized. If you needed surgery on your foot, would you go to a general surgeon, or to a podiatric surgeon? If you were going through a rough divorce, would you hire a “general” attorney who does everything from trademarks and patents to real estate and taxes? No, you’d probably hire a divorce attorney. Whether a specialist is actually better or not isn’t the point. What matters is people’s perception that a specialist will be better at meeting their individual needs.
Here’s how you niche down:
Let’s say your general market is fitness. (That’s where most people start—and end—their specialization.) Your next step might be to become more specific about gender. For example, let’s say you will “help women get into the best shape of their lives.” Next, think about the age range of the clients you’d like to work with. Maybe you are in your 50s and you want to help other women who are in their 50s. Now, your positioning will look like this: “I help women in their 50s get into the best shape of their lives.” Becoming specific about your clients’ gender and age range helps you be more targeted with your services and helps you see how to market to your chosen niche.
Think about a 50-year-old woman who wants to hire a local personal trainer. She sees two websites:
Site #1 proclaims: “I train everyone, aged 8–80.”
Site #2 tells her: “I train women in their 50s.”
Nine times out of 10, this woman will choose the trainer behind site #2, because that site’s message speaks directly to her.
Gender is one way to niche down, and age is another. Here are a few other areas to become a more specialized trainer in.
Equipment and Training Methods
For instrance, you can be the “Kettlebell Queen” or the “King of Kettlebells.” Once you choose the kettlebell as your niche, you go all-in and you never waiver on your niche or your messaging.
Now imagine a 50-year-old woman who has heard about kettlebells and wants to incorporate them into her training. She would be more likely to work with someone who specializes in training 50-year-old women who want to get fit using kettlebells.
You could even pair your target gender and age with a specific equipment type or program type—say, yoga, Pilates, TRX®, CrossFit® or Olympic lifting.
While there are not millions of people who fit a particular description, you can own that small niche and your marketing will be laser-focused. The marketing magic happens when you literally own a niche market.
If you like sports training, you can go deep there, too. Yes, you can be a bit more “general” and work with all athletes. Or you can focus on a specific sports outcome, like speed or power. For instance, perhaps you have the skills to become your area’s tennis performance coach. Your specialization doesn’t have to stop there. Let’s get even more specific and combine a specific sport with a specific type of conditioning. For example, you can be the “speed guru” for baseball, and help athletes become faster on the base path. Or how about position? “If you are a baseball pitcher and want to become an all-star next season, I’m your coach.”
Do you see the power in this?
A number of my clients have had success focusing on a specific profession and industry. For example, some make a great living working specifically with attorneys or accountants.
Bottom line: When you figure out what you want and where there’s a gap in the market, niche down at least twice.
Competition is heating up in our market—and the specialists are going to win.