By Carrie Myers
Niche, noun (nich, also neesh, nish): a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted; a specialized market. (Miriam-Webster)
As a fitness professional, you probably work with various populations using many different modalities and methods. You may have worked for years to become a well-rounded professional who can meet the needs of as many types of clients and students as possible, learning at least the basics of all the popular methods. But have you ever thought of specializing in one particular area and carving out a niche that highlights you as an expert in that area?
JOIN THE CONVERSATION!
Have you chosen to specialize in a particular modality or population group? Have you achieved greater success as a result of specialization? Or do you prefer to be able to work with a wide range of clients? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
Many fitness professionals are now turning much of their focus on either a specific modality or method—Pilates, kettlebells or indoor cycling, for instance—or population, such as women, pre-/postnatal or seniors. Before you ditch your current clientele and narrow your market down, however, there are a few things to consider first.
Experts do not necessarily agree on which is most important—having a passion for a special niche or seeing a gap in your particular market that you can fill. But most agree that both are necessary to your success in specialization.
“As trainers, I believe in focusing on our strengths,” says Noelle Rox, owner of Noelle Rox Pilates in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and creator of Noelle’s Powerhouse Pilates DVD series. “When you are constantly looking over your shoulder to see what the next trainer is doing, you take your eyes off the prize. Focus on yourself and what your strengths are. Specializing in what you excel at will benefit your business greatly. From there it all seems to fall into place.”
Rox also believes that simply following the latest trends isn’t what will expand your business or make you a specialist in that area. For instance, several years ago when indoor cycling became the latest rage, many of her friends got certified as quickly as possible. Rox took a different path: “Although I respect the workout very much, [indoor cycling] didn’t speak to me. As a gymnast, we were put on stationary bikes as punishment and injury rehabilitation, so the idea of me having to teach on a bike sounded like torture.”
What she did connect with was Pilates. “I came to find my calling, my purpose and my passion in the Pilates method, which I currently specialize in and have for the last 12 years,” she explains. “Even though I remain a certified personal trainer [through ACE], my focus and specialization remains Pilates. Pilates is what speaks to me and has allowed me great success with hundreds of clients over the years. I love my work and believe in my work and that passion comes across to my clients, making me a more effective teacher.”
Other fitness professionals agree. “My advice to fitness pros looking to specialize,” says Trish Blackwell, author of The Skinny Sexy Mind: The Ultimate French Secret, “is to specialize only if you have a true passion for what you do. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care and why you care.”
Define Your Market and Need
In deciding whether or not creating a niche for your business will benefit you, you need to determine who your target market is, as this will help you figure out whether the market is large enough to support your niche. Peri Pakroo, a business coach and author, offers the following advice for making this critical decision.
“Having a clear vision of your expected customer base will increase your business’ chances of success. By defining your target customers, you can:
- better determine if there are enough potential customers for your business (in other words, whether there is enough demand for your products or services)
- tweak your business idea to better meet the needs of your potential customer base
- tailor your products and services to better meet your customers’ needs and desires
- target your marketing efforts to reach your most promising prospects
- craft your marketing messages appropriately—using the right tone, language and attitude to appeal to your best prospects."
“In a crowded marketplace, a niche serves the critical function of distinguishing you from your competitors.” —Peri Pakroo, business coach and author
So let’s say you have an incredible amount of passion in an area. Is that enough? “The ultimate key to small-business success is finding a niche that is not covered,” says Bill Bryan in Hector Barreto’s book, The Engine of America: The Secrets to Small Business Success from Entrepreneurs Who Have Made It! Bryan is a counselor with SCORE, a resource partner with the Small Business Administration (SBA).
“If you can identify your own niche, you’ll probably do well,” Bryan continues. “Finding a market niche—which you must defend by operating superbly and providing customer service without peer—is the secret for financial success.”
Bryan offers a lesson from sports as an example. “When a successful baseball player was asked for the secret to his constant batting success, he replied, ‘I hit ‘em where they ain’t.’”
Is Your Market Large Enough to Support Specialization?
Okay, so you have the passion and there seems to be a need within your geographical area. Should you go for it?
One more thing to consider is population size. For instance, Kavon Atabaki, ACE-certified Personal Trainer and co-owner of Functional Fitness VA, specializes in kettlebells. His northern Virginia location is large enough to support this niche. However, if he lived in northern New Hampshire, which is a decidedly smaller market, it most likely would not be. The solution? Specialize, but don’t limit yourself to just that specialty.
“Specializing in one population or type of training or equipment doesn’t mean you forget everything you need to know regarding general fitness and all other populations,” explains Atabaki. “It just means you get that much better doing what you are focused on doing. It attracts clientele with an interest in your interest, and gives you a niche in the market.”
In other words, you can continue to work with the general population, while carving a niche within that population. With fewer people to choose from, you may also want to keep your niche wider and not narrow it down too much. For instance, rather than specialize in just pre-/postnatal, consider specializing in training women while creating a niche within your specialization for women who are pre-/postnatal.
“Finding a market niche—which you must defend by operating superbly and providing customer service without peer—is the secret for financial success.” —Bill Bryan, small business counselor
Not all fitness professionals feel that specializing is the best route to take and choose not to do so, even if they’re in a geographical area that would support it. “I generally do not specialize, because I like to work with a wide range of populations,” explains Maxine Chaikouang, a certified trainer with HiFi Personal Fitness in Chicago, Ill.
Chaikouang feels that specializing would limit her work. “It’s easy to cast yourself as only working with certain types of populations, which will cause fewer people of a different type of population to want to work with you. You want to be able to be known as a well-rounded expert.”
Don’t Water Down Your Expertise
Beware the desire to “specialize” in several areas, as this can lead you to becoming certified in many things, but not really gaining a deeper understanding of any of them. “To me specializing means you still have the general skill set and knowledge that is taught in, say an ACE certification, but you have a deeper understanding and focus in one or maybe two areas,” says Atabaki. “It does not mean you are an expert in everything. I’ve seen quite a few fitness professionals get specialized certifications in every new modality or tool or method that comes around. The phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ comes to mind.”
It All Comes Back to Sharing Your Passion
Generally, however, experts feel that if the surrounding environment supports it and you have the passion for a specific area, specializing can be beneficial to your business. And, says Blackwell, what can add even more to your success is sharing why this specialty is your passion.
“Be sure to share your own story about why your specialization is important in your own life so that your authenticity for it is conveyed properly to your clients,” she adds. “In short, lead by example and if you are going to specialize, be world class, be the best.”
Carrie Myers is owner of CarrieMichele Fitness, author of Squeezing Your Size 14 Self into a Size 6 World: A Real Woman’s Guide to Food, Fitness, and Self-Acceptance, and presents, teaches and trains in N.H. and Vt.