This article was originally published at theptdc.com and is republished here with permission from our partners over at the PTDC.
The call came in my sophomore year of college. It was my brother, Rodney: Our mom had suffered a massive stroke.
Mom would never be the same and neither would I. She had been a full-time nurse, part-time worrier and, sadly, a no-time exerciser—who smoked.
She’d been supporting me, so I had to leave school for a while and get a job. My story goes from sad to worse—the deaths of my brother, two sisters, a brother-in-law and my mom—but I also know that it made me who I am: An online personal trainer who helps people live healthier lives.
My story shapes my training style and my clientele to this day. I coach moms over 30; that’s my niche.
I became the solution I wish my mom might have had: a charismatic, funny coach who could’ve helped her get healthy. Someone who would have given her simple exercise routines she could handle, who wouldn’t deny her the foods she loved and who could give gentle, amusing encouragement.
I was raised by my mom, a sister 13 years older than me and my grandmother. Their lives—and deaths—are imprinted on me. They gave me the desire to help women who are overworked and overstressed, moms who put their needs on the back burner to help their families.
Your “Why” is Important
My niche is a natural result of who I am. Yours should be, too.
Now, I realize that for anyone trying to build an online coaching business, the words “niche” or “avatar” may be stress triggers.
Wait, what’s my niche? How do I find it? If I find it, how do I tell people?
Let me help. By the time you’ve finished reading this, I think you’ll be stressing less and feeling more optimistic. I’ve learned a ton that can help you. First, I’ll fill in my backstory so you can see literally where I’m coming from.
After her stroke, Mom moved in with my brother—until he had a heart attack and died. So, she moved in with my big sister, Robin, and her husband. Four years later, Robin, who was an addict, drank, drove and died instantly when her car struck a tree. Her grief-stricken husband refused dialysis and died three months later.
My mom lived two more years in an extended-care facility, 120 miles from me. I’d visit her for Thursday doughnut parties, Saturday milkshake parties and football Sundays. When I’d leave after a day with her, I’d cry like a baby every time. (More tears: My younger sister died last year, leaving behind my three beautiful nieces and handsome nephew.)
Whew. Maybe you connected with some of that. Not the details, I hope, but the emotion. I share all of this to remind you that your story is important. Don’t deprive potential clients of that. Let them tap into your humanity.
There’s an old business saying: People buy on emotion and justify with logic.
I agree, tweaking that for online fitness marketing: People hire on humanity and justify with your credentials. (Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.)
I can hear you asking: How do I know what my niche is?
The best direction I can give you is this: Align your work with your life.
By picking an niche that aligns with your life, your message will be authentic, and it’ll have impact and longevity. Carolina hopes to appeal to “badass moms,” maybe because she’s mother to a blended family of four kids who still gets it all done.
Take an inventory of yourself. Identify your authentic, relatable parts. That’s your guiding force—draw directly from this well. Athlete? Busy dad? Middle-aged mom? Former heavyweight? Teacher? Motivator? Comeback kid? Figure out what makes you tick and put it out there.
And remember: You don’t have to be a representative of your target niche. I’m not a mom over 30, yet that’s my clientele. The women who raised me are my guiding force. I draw from that well.
3 Smart Strategies for Marketing to Your Online Personal-training Niche
Now, let’s talk about some actionable fitness marketing strategies.
1. Immerse Yourself in the Community
This one is easy if you’re already a member of your own niche.
An athlete who works with athletes is obviously going to understand that life, right? The rigors of practice, the chill of an ice bath, how to hone a competitive edge or come back from injury—those are all lived experiences. Your life immerses you in the community. Your authenticity comes through and speaks for itself. But what if you happen to be a 46-year-old single guy working with moms over 30? You find ways to listen.
My childhood, in that house with a big sister, mom and grandmother? Trust me, I was fully immersed and did a lot of listening back then. Even so, I’m not a 30-something mom, so I learned how social media can be a virtual master class in motherhood. Or in whatever online personal-training niche you’ve targeted. Let others inform you of the life they live.
I’m relentlessly observant and empathetic. I pay close attention to the community I serve, and you should, too.
Start by looking and listening. Curate your social-media feed. If you’re working with women, why are you only following men’s bodybuilding pages? Follow experts who work with women. Better yet, follow some of the women who need your expertise.
Working with soccer players? You’ll probably want more of that sport in your timeline, and less about, say, the Lakers. Load your daily feed with things that help you understand your niche.
Next, learn the language. This takes concentrated listening. Join groups where your target market communicates. For example, I quickly learned from the awesome Girls Gone Strong group that “female” isn’t a cool way to say “woman.” “Female” as a noun isn’t human-specific, I was informed. When I used that word, the response was: “A female what? Oh, do you mean a woman?” Lesson learned.
It’s all learning: If I’m not willing to observe, understand, and empathize, it’s difficult to work with my demographic.
And don’t forget to ask questions. Yes, you can actually ask someone in your niche a direct question, and it can be wildly effective. It can be a general question like: “When you think about fitness and nutrition, what are some of the challenges you run into more than others?” Or it can be specific, like: “What frustrates you about doing squats?” Or “How much time can you find for exercise on a weekday?” This is solid-gold intel.
2. Make your Clients the Star of the Show
Post pictures of them (with permission, of course)—they’re your strongest selling point and most effective spokespeople. This is particularly important if you aren’t a member of the population you serve. While you may rack up likes and follows posting photos of yourself doing push-ups or hanging from a pull-up bar doing leg raises, you may also be struggling to build a roster of clients. As an Online Trainer Academy mentor, I talk to coaches around the world. You’d be shocked at how many have 10k followers but can’t get 10 clients.
When you make your clients the stars of the show, you become their champion. And they stamp your business with authenticity. So do this:
Post their pix. My Instagram feed has more posts about my clients than about me. I’m letting them get all the shine. And if I interject something, it’s usually based on what I’ve heard from them. When someone in your niche sees a post about someone who reminds them of themself, they’ll appreciate it and be encouraged. They’ll enjoy seeing someone enjoying the results of your expertise.
And they might sign up.
Team up. If you have clients who love to record their workouts, share them and talk about how you coach them. Appeal to potential clients with something specific and realistic.
If your clients are feeling cute, post their pics (with permission!) and their caption. Remember, just because you are successful with your exercise and nutrition program doesn’t prove it’ll work for others. Encourage clients to tag you in their posts and stories, and then make them the stars. Your niche will appreciate it and think of you as the solution they need when they’re ready to take action.
Keep it real. The online training world is full of preposterous promises and pictures. They’re not fooling anyone. Amber Reynolds, head of the Online Trainer Academy and a personal trainer who calls her niche group “Hot Mess Working Moms,” recently had a photo shoot in her home.
Did she clean up first? Nope—she wanted it to look real, as if a three-year-old lived there (true). No makeup or special outfit. Clients love that, thinking, “She’s like me.”
Amber Reynolds with her three-year-old son. She appeals to her niche by keeping it real and showing she’s a “Hot Mess Working Mom” too.
3. Speak Directly to Your Online Personal-Training Niche
Once you’ve immersed yourself in your target market, and you understand their language, hopes, fears and challenges, make sure you fully focus on them. Speak directly (and only) to them in all your content.
In the online space, generalized content is an absolute death sentence. There are thousands of coaches on the internet who can teach your potential client about hydration, protein, squats and mindset. But if there’s a new mom starting to exercise again, and she sees my post titled “The top 5 baby strollers for new moms who run,” she’s going to stop scrolling and start reading. A 25-year-old male athlete with no kids will ignore it, and that’s O.K. (Actually, it’s preferred.)
When you know who you’re talking to, content creation becomes so much easier. And speaking directly to your niche allows them to see you as the obvious solution to their challenges. That’s a win-win for you and the people you most want to serve.