Certifications: PT, DPT, CSCS
Author of Marketing For Physical Therapy Clinics and Total Activation
In an inspiring interview with this issue's featured professional, Nitin Chhoda, I was captivated by a word he used to describe his journey to success: evolution. Born and raised in India, Chhoda graduated from physical therapy school in 1995 and began work as a physical therapist. After deciding to become a fitness trainer, he soon was working with several celebrities and athletes in Bombay. In 2002, with a desire to further his experience and credentials, he moved to the United States to work at a gym in Inglewood, New Jersey and completed his certifications for NSCA, CSCS and ACE as a clinical exercise specialist.
Chhoda shared with me how he evolved his vision, direction and lifestyle from the start of his career as a personal trainer and physical therapist in India to taking the risk of moving to the US for a job that paid next to nothing and ultimately evolved into a successful entrepreneur, coach and mentor, highly sought physical therapist, fitness trainer and published author.
The Early Days: Getting out of Being "Fat and Happy"
"I was making $28,000 a year when I first moved to the US in 2002, and it was just a year into my job, I had to spend, I think $3000 to get my car repaired, this old beat-up Saturn. The next week I was fired because my boss basically said, 'The gym's not doing well, one of us has to go and it can't be me.'
"So here I was in another country -- I'm not exaggerating -- with no money. I actually thought of giving up. I worked at an Indian store, chopping onions and trying to get by for a few months while I was just trying to find another job. I told myself the best thing I could do with this bad situation was to start my own business. I got one client. The one became two, the two became four. I think turning points in your life come when you're in a corner. People like to gravitate towards their comfort zone, which is fine. That's how we all are. You become kind of fat and happy. And I don't mean fat as in body fat-wise, I mean content and happy. But I think it was when I was pushed into a corner is when I said I'm going to fight or I'm going to give up and catch a plane back to India with my tail between my legs."
Evolving His Business
"I started doing my own personal training, but as I was doing that, I said to myself, 'When I look around me and when I look at the environment in America, we live an environment of excess.' It's an excess of everything from food to fun to, in many cases, money, people. It's a good life, as it should be, because most of us have worked hard to bring the US to where it is today. After thinking more about our lifestyles of excess, I decided to write a book called Total Activation. The book talks about the five components of fitness and health as I see it: emotional, physical, social, spiritual and intellectual health.
"I wrote my book and then I worked as a trainer for awhile, and also started doing boot camps. I hired other trainers and built that business up. When I met my wife, she was a physical therapist and I basically said, 'You know what? I'm going to get my PT license as well.' I soon realized that I was better at advising and coaching physical therapists to grow their business than I thought.
"I started building a coaching and consulting business and became more of a consultant and less of a trainer. In a nutshell, a lot of things have evolved, and of course it all started and it all comes back to the fitness industry.
Successful Steps and Lessons Learned
"I didn't want to be paid $80 a personal training visit; I wanted to get a check for $800 for ten sessions. Now, in hindsight, the way I would have done that differently is I would have tried to sell a package of 100 sessions for $6,000 or $7,000, giving them a discount to pay up front. Sell packages, not sessions, and ask for prepayment.
"Never, ever become so friendly with clients that they take you for granted. Always keep a professional relationship so that clients respect you and look up to you. That's a mistake I made early on. "As much as possible, do more group training. Do more boot camp-type training because there's leverage in the numbers.
"I was very conscious about setting up my business credit, and one of the best things I did was get an accountant who basically said to me, 'Listen, you're being an idiot. You made more money this year but you've gone home with less money because you're spending more on such and such.' For example, there was a point when I had so many personal training clients that I was driving around, spending a lot of money on gas and tolls and at the end I was making less. With the group training, the dynamics changed."
Three Components of Evolution
"There are three things that a person needs to evolve. First of all, you need the right company, the right people around you. If you want to evolve from a mindset of, 'I can only make $15 an hour' to 'I can afford to pay $15 an hour,' then I think you need to be surrounded by the right people. If people around you feel that life is limited to your present circumstances, then it's hard to grow.
"The second thing that helped me, really, was having one coach, one mentor. Find a role model and say, 'I want to be like that person, I want to be as intelligent, as financially successful, as powerful, as spiritual, whatever you want to call it, as that person.' If you have to pay to be around the right people, you should. When I say pay, I mean pay as in professional coaching. The right people don't just come into your life by accident.
"Number three, have a vision of where you want to be. My mother's 67 years old. She came to the US for the first time last year and it was the first time in her life that she had a room of her own. When I grew up, until I came to the US -- I was 24 years old -- I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with my brother and my parents. Coming from where you are gives you a very clear sense of where you need to go, and for me, my calling, my vision is to help people as much as I can to reach a point of financial security that I've managed to reach. For me, it's more a case of giving back as much as I can."
The Evolution of an Industry
"The consumer is basically confused. The consumer has a lot of options. They get more and more options every day. A few years ago, the only thing we talked about was the Atkins Diet. Now people talk about the South Beach Diet, and then there's going to be something else coming along. A couple of years ago, it was personal training. Last year, it was boot camps. Now people are talking Zumba. Next year there'll be something else.
"The one thing that the consumer wants, which is really lacking amongst all of these things, is trust and bonding. If a fitness professional needs to build trust and build a sense of bonding with a consumer or a community, that takes time, and that can only happen with regular, frequent contact and contact through multiple modes like email, workshops, in person, maybe even text messages. I think that the way a fitness professional who is working independently can set himself apart is to consistently stay in touch with key people in the community and establish that sense of trust and bonding. Quite honestly, that's the only way you can compete. People want that human connection."
Chhoda embodies the true spirit of evolution. After the interview, I found myself reflecting on how fortunate we are as fitness professionals to be in a profession that allows for continual self-improvement, satisfaction in helping others and an opportunity for personal and professional evolution.
When you chose a profession in fitness, you probably made a commitment to help your clients transform their bodies and make positive lifestyle changes. Ultimately, you help your clients evolve so they can live a healthier, stronger, and fitter life. As Chhoda exemplifies, be sure you are also considering how you continually evolve your own personal and professional vision. As you evolve, the value you offer those you serve will be the key to your own journey to success.
Topic: Success Stories/Trainer Spotlights
• Journey to Success: Sage Rountree
• Journey to Success: Brook Benten
• Journey to Success: Pete McCall
• Journey to Success: Daniella Cippitelli Abruzzo
• Journey to Success: Leanne Ellington