As personal trainers, we’re often given the advice that we need to niche, or narrow our expertise, to achieve the most success in our field. Maybe you’ve heard some of the following:
‘You need to know your target market and market to them!’
‘Design your ideal client avatar and it will help you in building your dream business’
‘Defining your niche is the single most important business decision you can make as a personal trainer’
Unfortunately, all too often we accept this cliché advice as gospel truth, when the reality of working successfully within a niche is far more nuanced. Well-intentioned though it may be, this advice could actually be hindering your success.
Here are four key reasons why success as a personal trainer is not dependent on identifying and/or working within a niche.
You do not have enough career capital to choose a niche
One of the biggest mistakes I see new personal trainers make is assuming they already know who they’ll be training with. They come to me with stars in their eyes, talking about how they are going to work with athletes, powerlifters, physique competitors—or whatever other training group takes their fancy.
The problem is, they have no results, knowledge or experience with the particular niche in question.
Cal Newport, in his fantastic book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, explains that it takes time to develop expertise in any field, especially if you want someone to pay you. New personal trainers have few, if any runs on the board, and by focusing on a single market segment, they are bound to fail due to their inexperience, and lack of applied knowledge.
What to do instead: Work with as diverse a clientele as possible. Help everyone that comes your way. Build experience in helping clients meet their goals and learn valuable communication skills that will help you work with a wide range of populations. Ironically, this approach could lead you to stumble upon a niche by developing career capital. Taking this approach, I started working with some clients who needed assistance with pain management, an area I had no intention of taking on as a niche. However, my clients saw some powerful results and I came to enjoy the work (and got really good at it), therefore I was able to start building a niche with career capital and skill.
Develop skill diversity before client specificity
The thing with training clients is there are so many situations and specifics that come into play and that can help develop your skill set, it is kind of crazy to limit your focus to only one small aspect of the personal training experience. Another beautiful thing is that the skills you develop with one group of clientele can often come into play and be very useful with an unexpected group. For example, learning basic rehab skills is essential for working with athletes.
What to do instead: Try and work with people who push you a little outside of your comfort zone. If you only work with young males wanting to build muscle, try and help an older female battling osteoporosis and mobility issues. This will make you a better trainer and also a more compassionate coach.
Seize the opportunities that come your way
When we talk about niche, it is typically used as a way to focus our marketing approach. Although that can be useful down the track, bear in mind that your marketing should always be suited to your environment. If you work in a commercial gym, your marketing should be based around offering complementary sessions, as they’re a fantastic sales tool to help you sell your services.
What to do instead: Marketing should always be specific to your environment. When marketing online, having wording that speaks to your ideal client is helpful because it cuts through the noise and brings you into focus for the prospect. However, in the real-world, when you’re training people one-on-one, be open to new opportunities and spend your time on those strategies most likely to generate results and build your client base.
The world is leading towards generalists, not specialists
People now offer any specialty you can imagine. However, when clients come to see a personal trainer, they are looking for someone who can:
- Be a motivator and provide accountability
- Build them a successful training plan
- Help them eat better and lose weight
- Push them when they are struggling
- Help prevent or reduce pain
- Provide stress management
Although this list is by no means exhaustive, it should be obvious that this is not the work of a specialist, but rather many different roles performed by one person!
How do you become a generalist? Diversify your skillset. Work with different clients. Read books on different topics. Reflect on what you learn from each client and training program. See the subtle, common links between people, not the obvious differences.
Hopefully this article sheds some light on why taking the generalist approach when starting your career—rather than striving to be a specialist or identifying a unique niche—can be of immense value.
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