Making the decision to start a career in the fitness industry is usually accompanied by daydreams of working with off-season professional athletes and celebrities. While there are a few personal trainers out there who work with those populations it is more realistic to plan for a business that caters to average working professionals and their families which can lead to a long and rewarding career. As the process of becoming a fitness professional first required research on how to become a certified personal trainer, creating a training business that will generate an ongoing revenue stream requires further research to identify an ideal target demographic for that can benefit from personal training services. The good news is that you can make a good living by helping normal, everyday people improve their health and fitness but the challenge remains how to develop a niche type of fitness service to attract clients.

    The benefits of branding

    The initial step for developing a successful marketing plan is to establish a specific brand of training. Branding and marketing go hand in hand. Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a good or service to attract customers. In order to successfully market a product it is important to build a marketing strategy around a specific brand. A brand tells a story and creates an identity for a product or service. The power of a brand identity is that when a consumer thinks of a general category such as soft drink the first thought is to a specific brand like Coca Cola. This type of instant recognition is known as "top-of-mind" and is the goal for any type of brand name product.

    Understanding how to cater to a niche, or specific clientele can help you establish a brand identity in order to effectively communicate the results clients can expect from your training services. Establish the ideal types of clients who can benefit from your services and develop a strategy for communicating with them. Client types include, but are not limited to:
    • Business professionals -- the upside to these clients is they generally have disposable income to spend on fitness services but with a downside of limited availability of three distinct times of day to train (before work, lunch-time and after work).
    • Stay-at-home parents -- the upside to these clients is they can be available during slower times of the day such as mid-morning or early afternoon; however the downside can be a lack of disposable income to spend on fitness.
    • Retirees -- the upside is they can have a completely flexible schedule; the downside can be lack of disposable revenue due to living on a fixed income.
    • Youth athletes -- the upside is they can be a fun, dynamic group to work with whose parents are willing to invest in maximizing athletic potential but the downside is that availability is limited to after-school hours.

    As a fitness professional it is possible to develop a brand around serving different types of clients; the point is to create a brand identity by communicating how your style of personal training stands out from competitors. Creating a marketing campaign based on a specific brand helps you to maximize a limited marketing budget to get the best return on investment.

    Branding for fitness professionals

    If you want to increase your business and be the one who people think of when they hear personal trainer then it is extremely important that you develop your own approach to training so that you can become a "top-of-mind" fitness brand. As a personal trainer the primary benefit of having a brand identity is that it is easier to become well known by offering a specific type of training service. One option for creating a brand identity for a fitness service is to use a specific philosophy for exercise program design. Another option is to incorporate a piece of specialized equipment such as a TRX, ViPR, or kettlebell into training programs to differentiate yourself from competitors who might not have access to or know how to properly use such tools.

    Crossfit as a case study

    Over the past five years Crossfit has been extremely successful at establishing a hardcore base of fans who are die-hard consumers. (The point of this discussion is not to directly advocate Crossfit as a training system but to look at why and how it has become one of the most successful brands in the fitness industry over the past few years.) The reason for this is that many former athletes find the typical health club exercises "boring" and they gravitated to Crossfit because it allows them to train at a high intensity and tap in to their competitive nature. The result was that recently Reebok purchased Crossfit in order to tap into this market of die-hard enthusiast in an effort to sell more fitness apparel. Reebok has now created the marketing campaign which establishes the brand of Crossfit as the "sport of fitness." Again, this is not an endorsement of the Crossfit approach to exercise but the commercials are brilliant because they show hard-charging workouts that create the desire in fitness enthusiasts to go out and train.

    Crossfit created a specific market of extreme exercise participants and became a brand with a die-hard group of consumers. If you want to ensure the success of your fitness business then it is a good idea to take a page from Crossfit and create a specific brand for your unique style of fitness that will attract the same exuberant enthusiasm.

    How to create and market your own fitness brand

    Personal training is a service; therefore it requires a different approach than simply branding and marketing a product like a soft drink. A product is a tangible good which can be replaced if it does not work; however selling a service is nothing more than selling a promise. Building a brand as personal trainer establishes the promise to a prospective client that they can achieve a particular result if they use your service. The beauty of creating a brand identity is that it makes it easier for you to market and sell your fitness services. It is important to create an effective brand that clearly communicates the expected benefits of working with you as a trainer and then, most importantly, deliver the service to produce results.

    Again, look at Crossfit as a case study. How many times have you been asked about Crossfit? Whether or not you agree with its approach to exercise program design, it is hard to dispute the fact that it has become the "top-of-mind" brand when it comes to high-intensity exercise. The Crossfit approach to exercise program design, while extreme and not appropriate for many individuals, promises consumers a hard-core approach to exercise that can produce results. Crossfit creates the expectations of high-intensity training sessions then delivers with challenging workout of the day formats that push participants to the limits.

    Creating YOUR brand

    The purpose of doing exercise assessments for clients is to identify existing health status and develop specific goals based on current fitness levels. The data gathered during the assessment process is then used to monitor progress during the exercise program. As a fitness professional, you would hopefully never train a client without first reviewing a health history and performing an exercise assessment. Using a SWOT analysis applies the same logic to your business allowing you to assess your performance and identify areas for improvement.

    A SWOT analysis of your training skills will allow you to develop your target audience and develop a personal brand of fitness. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats; a SWOT analysis will help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses which can assist you in establishing your brand and clarifying your position in the marketplace.

    A basic SWOT analysis is easy to perform. Begin by dividing a piece of paper into four squares. The upper-left square is labeled "Strengths" -- in this square list all of the strengths and competitive advantages of your education, skills and abilities as a personal trainer. Examples of strengths might be education, certifications earned, the name or location of your employer, or experience working with a particular type of client. Ultimately your strengths will help you identify your professional traits which are then used to develop a brand identity.

    The upper-right square is labeled "Weaknesses" -- in this square list any and all weakness that you might have as a trainer. Be honest, the more honest you are in assessing your weaknesses, the more opportunities for growth you will identify. Examples of weaknesses might be the limited visibility of a location, unfamiliarity with specific types of clients such as older adults, being uncomfortable with the sales process and asking clients for money or overall lack of fitness industry experience.

    The lower-left square is labeled "Opportunities" -- in this square list the opportunities for developing new clients and expanding your business. As mentioned, weaknesses can be turned into opportunities for new business. For example the lack of education in a specific area of exercise science, is actually an opportunity to take a continuing education workshop to gain the necessary knowledge to work with a specific type of client. Another example would be the ability to offer small-group training as a means of being able to train more clients at one time, thereby increasing earning potential.

    Finally, the lower-right square should be labeled "Threats" -- in this square list all of the threats that might impact the business. Examples of threats are the general economic climate, the number of other trainers working in a health club or competitors who plan on growing or expanding into the marketplace. In some cases threats are due to external forces which cannot be controlled while in other cases they can be turned into opportunities for new business.

    Here is an example of a SWOT analysis for Kate, a newly-certified personal trainer working for a large health club in a major city:

    - Four year degree in Kinesiology plus a national, NCCA-accredited personal training certification.
    - Internship at recreation center during college teaching wellness workshops and designing exercise programs for other students.
    - Interested in helping clients with lifestyle and weight management issues; at her job at the college rec center she was successful at helping clients adhere to exercise programs for weight loss.

    - Not confident in asking clients for money.
    - Needs to learn more about marketing and sales.
    - Work experience is primarily with college-aged women, is not familiar with different population such as older adults or pregnant women.

    - Take a workshop to learn more about sales and marketing for personal trainers.
    - Work for a large health club operator in town which attracts one hundred-plus new members per month, see six-to-ten new members a week to conduct assessments and introduce to facility.
    - Develop a fee-based seminar for club members on how to implement lifestyle and behavior changes for weight loss
    - Take continuing education courses on how to work with older adults and pre-natal women.

    - Competition from other trainers in the club and the four other health clubs and training studios in the immediate area.
    - Consumer confidence in the current economic climate.
    - Limited space to train clients when club is crowded.

    Applying a SWOT analysis

    One way that Kate can create a brand identity is to use the strengths she identified in her SWOT analysis, specifically her experience of helping clients lose weight. For example she could create the tag-line: "Train with Kate to lose weight and look great!" This simple phrase uses her name and the features the services that she offers clients in an easy-to-say and easy-to-remember phrase. Kate can establish her brand identity by offering a series of seminars to members in her health club that focuses on the steps necessary to achieve a weight-loss goal. Kate can use interactions with members to provide information on how to achieve their goals while also differentiating herself from her co-workers who might not have the skills to offer the same services. Since most people join a health club for the purpose of losing weight, if Kate can establish herself and her brand of training as the most effective for weight loss she will be guaranteed a steady source of revenue.

    Putting it all together

    Conducting a SWOT analysis is an important step in establishing a brand identity as a fitness professional. While the SWOT analysis will help you to identify your strengths it is also helpful to indicate areas of weakness that can be improved upon by identifying a weakness in serving a particular demographic that might provide a lucrative source of clients such as pregnant and post-partum women. Taking the time to invest in the education for working with a specific population could provide great returns. For example, investing in the education on working with pregnant and recently post-partum clients will provide Kate the skills for working with a specific segment: women who want to continue to exercise throughout their pregnancy and return to exercise after giving birth. While a small segment of the exercise population, it is one that has a well-defined goal and a mother-to-be who is motivated to control the stress and weight gain of pregnancy.

    Finally, when establishing a brand another important consideration is to attend fitness conferences and workshops in order to identify emerging equipment and trends so that you can feature the cutting edge techniques in your programs. The goal is to identify the next Crossfit-type trend and use the popularity to extend your brand and build your business. When potential clients see you working with a new piece of equipment they will stop to ask you about it creating an instant conversation and a chance to market your training programs. Plus think of the buzz as a new product hits the commercial market and consumer magazines and your clients tell their friends "that's nothing new, my trainer's been using that with me for years."