Seth Godin recently posted an article on his blog entitled The Travel Agent’s Problem. The premise of the article is that a travel agent’s job is founded on information scarcity.
Travel agents are becoming obsolete because consumers now have access to the same information, and that information is being presented in a way that’s both easy to understand and harness. Consumers no longer need an agent—at least not for run-of-the-mill travel excursions.
Seth’s hypothesis is simple: if your service offering is based on the dissemination of information that’s either hard to find or difficult for consumers to understand, you’re in danger.
Trainers are agents of sorts. Just over a decade ago, trainers had access to information that the everyday consumer could only find through diligent searching and networking. Even if they could find it, it was not written in a way they could understand without some formal education or experience. Consumers needed to pay trainers to both access and understand the information.
It’s a different story today.
The fitness industry has become widespread. Any consumer can access information on anatomy, programming, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, mobility—you name it.
Not only can they access it, if they spend enough time, they can find someone on YouTube or Instagram who can explain the information in a way that makes it relevant to them.
If you’re a trainer who thinks you’ll continue to attract clients because you know something they don’t, you’re sorely mistaken. If you want a long-term career in the fitness industry, you need to move away from being an agent and start becoming a mentor. As Seth says, ‘Become a network hub who creates value through information abundance’.
Health and fitness information is everywhere. The value is no longer in disseminating it, but in crafting a story with it that’s relevant to your clients.
The word mentor (originating from Homer’s Odyssey) is attributed to those who can offer their experience and guidance to others who are less experienced but are seeking development and growth.
In this sense, you no longer guard information behind a pay-to-enter door, but rather walk alongside clients, acting as their north star. You understand and accept that clients will come across and be tempted by information that’s less than desirable, so you work to arm them with an appreciation for quality and progressive development. You don’t try to overcome outside information and temptation with scare tactics, instead you invest in educating your clients so they can distinguish novelty from quality.
You might be thinking, ‘But once I do that, won’t I become obsolete? Won’t my client then know as much as I do and no longer need me?’ The simple answer is no, because:
- You dedicate all your time to health and fitness and your client doesn’t. Generally speaking, unless your client quits their job and becomes a trainer themselves, they know you’re more of an ‘expert’ than they are and will happily pay you for your knowledge and experience.
- When information is abundant, mentors are in high demand. We no longer look for someone who has information to share, but for someone who can make sense of the information and decide what’s worth investing in and what’s not.
Transitioning from agent to mentor
Learn everything there is to know about your client
To be an effective mentor, you need to know who your client is outside the gym. Learn what motivates them, what scares them, what they’re good at, what they struggle with, who they have relationships with (and the quality of those relationships), their decision-making process, and their short, and long-term goals.
This information is invaluable in enabling you to guide a client in their journey. It will foreshadow their obstacles and triumphs and will clue you into what might tempt or possibly mislead them. When you truly know your client, you can act in their best interest.
Set expectations and ground rules
Mentorship is a two-way relationship. It’s important that your clients understand what you expect from them to have a productive relationship, such as being on time, providing advanced notice for missing a session and putting in the required effort to get the most out of their training sessions with you.
Educate yourself in all sectors of the industry. Take continuing education courses in a variety of modalities and schools of thought or practice. It’s imperative to have your own training philosophy, but you must also have a general understanding of other philosophies. Only then can you offer your clients true mentorship, because mentorship is about guidance. You can’t be a guide if you don’t see all possible paths to success.
Mentors do not mentor alone. They have a network of others who they trust and who may have more knowledge or experience in certain areas. Sometimes your clients will be interested in taking an approach you lack knowledge or experience in (or simply don’t agree with).
An effective mentor doesn’t feel threatened by introducing clients to other mentors. Your lack of ego will gain you the long-term trust and respect of your client.
Mentors allow clients to explore various approaches. If a client feels unmotivated or isn’t seeing the results they’re hoping for, be willing to change things up—so long as it fits within your training philosophy and base of knowledge or experience. If your client wants to try a different approach and you don’t agree to it, they’ll likely go behind your back and find someone else. So either be that person or connect them with another mentor who can safely guide them on that path.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that not all clients are looking for mentors. Some simply want to show up and be told what to do. They don’t want to build a relationship and they surely don’t want to be educated along the way and that’s okay. It’s your job to know the difference. Err on the side of mentorship until you’re told or see otherwise.
Being a mentor is far more challenging than being an agent. But if you’re looking at training as a lifelong career, make sure you’re remaining relevant and staying connected with your clients through mentorship.
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