Cultivating Your Personal Brand in the Health and Fitness Industry
By Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT
Building a brand isn’t just for big businesses. In fact, whether you are employed at a facility or operate independently, as a health and fitness professional you are your own brand. Your personal brand offers a view of who you are as a unique professional, and serves as a way for others to distinguish you within your area of focus. Your brand is essentially the way in which the world perceives who you are and what you offer. In turn, your brand influences if and how clients and customers choose to engage and do business with you.
What’s in a Brand?
Durkin, author of The IMPACT! Body Plan, breaks down what impact means to him, and how this one powerful word guides both his personal and professional life.
I - Live Inspired
M - Master Your Craft
P- Play at World Class
A - Take Action
C- Condition for Greatness
T - Be Tenacious
Branding goes beyond simply crafting a logo or launching a website. Embracing who you authentically are, honing in on what you do exceptionally well and with unrelenting effort and enthusiasm, and identifying how your offerings can enhance the lives of others are the cornerstones of a successful brand. It’s worth noting, however, that this process of personal exploration, deep reflection and self-discovery does not inherently lead to a well-defined brand overnight. For Todd Durkin, M.A., owner of Fitness Quest 10 and current trainer on NBC’s new primetime show Strong, the nationally recognized personal brand that people around the world know today took time to fully crystalize.
“If I were to define my personal brand today, I would use three key words—passion, purpose and impact,” says Durkin. “I ask myself how can I use my energy to make a difference in other people’s lives; how can I help others to get clarity on their personal potential so that they can tap into their highest self; and how can I inspire millions to greatness.” These guiding principles are broken down and defined even further within the IMPACT acronym that not only describes a way of life for Durkin, but that also purposefully and concisely communicates the core values of his personal brand in a way that is both memorable and meaningful (see sidebar).
Much like Durkin, registered dietitians and personal trainers Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., and Tammy Lakatos-Shames, R.D., did not arrive at a well-defined brand instantaneously. The duo, now known as The Nutrition Twins, originally operated under a different name, and quickly realized the importance of establishing a personal brand that was an authentic reflection of themselves.
“We realized early on that it was important for us to have a name that really spoke to who we are and what we offered, but it was a gradual process to arriving at that point,” shares Lakatos-Shames.
Today, the Nutrition Twins not only have an easy and memorable brand name that truly reflects who they are as a unique pair—something they now incorporate into all of their work, including the title of their most recent book, The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure—they also have a concise branding statement that describes what they are all about.
“I would describe The Nutrition Twins as a brand that motivates, inspires and empowers people by giving them the tools they need to lose weight and live happier, healthier lives,” says Lakatos-Shames. This thoughtfully crafted “elevator pitch” is not something the twins arrived at haphazardly, but rather it was designed out of necessity to succinctly communicate to the world through their various media work the essence of their personal brand and the value they offer to others.
Nurturing Your Community
Although it takes both time and patience to allow a brand to fully develop and evolve, it’s never too early to start the process of cultivating community and organically growing your tribe. As with any relationship, Durkin notes that trust is paramount and will ultimately serve as the foundation for amassing a following for your personal brand. “People choose to do business with people they know, like and trust,” says Durkin.
Crafting Your Personal Mission Statement
To help you gain greater clarity as it relates to your personal brand, take some time to craft some thoughts about your personal mission as a health and fitness professional. In 100 words or less, describe what you aspire to achieve in your area of interest, including what drives and motivates you most, your personal goals and what you feel is your primary purpose.
Here’s an example:
I am dedicated to inspiring others to live happier, healthier lives. As a health coach, I am motivated to connect with others in a meaningful way, which empowers them to take ownership of their health and wellbeing. Working with individuals with chronic conditions is what I am most passionate about, and my goal is to establish collaborative relationships with the medical community to produce better health outcomes and promote lasting, positive change. My purpose is to motivate others to be the best possible version of themselves so they can live each day to the fullest.
As such, one of the best ways to build your community is to simply let your passion, natural talents and unparalleled, consistent quality of work do the talking for you. Given that people are more inclined to follow the suggestion of someone they know and trust, the more you continue to put forth information and services that are of demonstrated value to people, the more you will create a growing tribe of ambassadors for your brand. These individuals, in turn, will offer genuine, positive reviews and personal recommendations to those around them, influencing others to become a part of your expanding community.
To nurture the relationships you have with the members of your community and to convey just how valued they truly are, make it a point to also listen to your community and solicit feedback often.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions,” shares Durkin. “Listening to what people are asking for and delivering to them what they want will enable you to best serve your community.”
Creating this two-way street for individuals to share their thoughts can be done informally through social media posts or polls where individuals can comment or respond with specific feedback. You can also do this a bit more formally by providing a link to an online survey through a site such as SurveyMonkey, which allows you to easily assess areas of interest.
Once you’ve gathered this valuable feedback, use the information to guide future decisions about content development and/or program offerings. The more your community feels that you care and that their voices are valued and are genuinely being heard, the more likely they are to remain vested in your brand.
As your brand grows, Durkin recommends homing in on what you love to do and developing a strategy around it to help guide the direction of your growing business.
Learning From Others and Taking Action
If you’re looking to grow your personal brand, Durkin suggests starting by researching three to five people who are currently leading the way in your area of interest. Follow those individuals to learn more about what they are doing, what makes them tick, and what does and does not resonate with you and your personal brand.
“Interacting with these people by retweeting and commenting on their posts, attending their conferences and events and learning more about how they manage their time is a great way to develop a professional relationship and gain valuable insight that can help you grow your personal brand,” explains Durkin.
While learning from other professionals that inspire you can be encouraging, The Nutrition Twins caution against comparing yourself too closely to other professionals, especially those who may be further along in their journey.
“While it’s great to observe what others are doing and to be inspired by their work, keep in mind that you often are only seeing the successes and the more glamorous aspects of what they do, which typically does not reflect the many years of work, setbacks and other challenges that were faced along the way,” notes Lakatos.
If you find yourself truly inspired by a professional in your field of interest, both Durkin and The Nutrition Twins suggest reaching out to that person to see what opportunities may be available to learn directly from them. For example, The Nutrition Twins host interns because they learned so much from being interns early on in their careers.
“It never hurts to ask about opportunities to work with a mentor, so don’t be shy,” says Lakatos-Shames. “However, it’s important not to take it personally if someone is slow to respond or is unable to accommodate your request, as it can be a lot of work.”
Echoing the same sentiments as The Nutrition Twins, Durkin challenges passionate professionals to not only interact with people who inspire them, but to also take personal action toward defining their brand and realizing their career goals.
“Often at events, people will share with me that they aspire to be a conference presenter. But when I ask them if they have taken the initiative to apply to speak at the event, they often answer no,” says Durkin. “The most common reason given is that they fear their application will not be accepted, which I call a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ultimately, it’s a matter of how badly you want to do something and what steps you are willing to take to make that dream a reality, no matter how long it takes. Persistence is a great trait.”
“Start by identifying the five roles you love most in life, and then deliver more content on things you love to do,” suggests Durkin. “The more passionate you are about something, the more energized the content that you provide will be, and that comes across to your clients, customers and followers.” For Durkin, this includes focusing on content that deals with leadership, a topic area that has enabled him to create a mastermind program and to develop leaders, both within the program and within the broader field of health and fitness, as well as other industries.
While most people have heard the saying, “content is king,” there is no shortage of information readily available at people’s fingertips. However, you can effectively establish and grow your brand by offering high-quality content that reflects your unique point of view, rooted in your innate strengths and areas of specialization. The key is to offer content that speaks directly to others and their needs, says Durkin, to demonstrate the value in what you do.
“When creating content, I put myself in the mindset of my followers and refer to the acronym WIFM—What’s in it for me?—meaning at the end of the day, how does this content help other people achieve their goals and reach their fullest potential,” shares Durkin. “If people can clearly understand how your brand will help them to attain their goals, they’ll want to do more business with you.”
In addition to offering innovative, practical and proven content that will help your personal brand stand out in what may be perceived as an already crowded space, be sure to engage with your community consistently.
“Regardless of the medium you choose to get your brand out there, whether it be on a personal blog or on a social media platform such as Facebook or YouTube, it’s important that you get the word out there and that you be BIW (best in the world) at whatever path you choose to take,” notes Durkin. “The key to a good brand is quality content delivered consistently over time.”
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed at the thought of navigating the ever-changing world of social media, start by focusing on the one or two platforms you feel most comfortable using and can commit to consistently growing. If you are sharing your message across multiple platforms, ensure there is cohesion across all of your outlets, from the primary imagery used to the type of content being shared, all of which should reflect the central themes of your brand. For the Nutrition Twins, this also means utilizing their brand name consistently across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and leveraging on the platforms where their followers engage with them most, such as on Pinterest, where they include direct links back to their website within each of their pins.
While a social media presence is essential, Durkin argues that websites are far from being out-of-date. “Google searches are so powerful, and having a website that appears toward the top of a list when someone searches your name is key,” says Durkin.
While there are many options for designing your site, Durkin and The Nutrition Twins agree that it must have some type of opt-in (usually email) to establish a direct line of communication with the members of your community so they don’t have to always come to you.
“Gathering names for an email list is extremely valuable so that we can keep our followers informed about upcoming events or new programs, such as our new 21-day online program, that we know will be of value and interest to them,” shares Lakatos-Shames.
One of the most effective ways to grow your email list is to incentivize individuals to opt in by offering valuable content free of charge, something Durkin does in a number of different ways on his website, including his reoccurring Monday motivation “Daily Dose of Durkin,” which includes fitness and lifestyle tips.
“The way I look at my personal brand is like a bank account,” says Durkin. “In order to grow the account, I have to make an ongoing series of deposits in the form of creating and giving away content that is of value to my followers so that in time I can make a withdrawal, in which I ask my community for something, such as taking part in a new program that I’m offering.”
Regardless of the size of your email list, Durkin recommends reaching out at least once a week to your list to ensure ongoing engagement with your community, while also respecting the fact that all of your correspondence should be of value to your followers. “I personally believe that marketing starts way before a product is done, so start getting your word out there today about your brand and providing valuable, consistent, high-quality content to your community,” says Durkin.
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT 500 is assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College, and associate kinesiology faculty at MiraCosta College, where she helps to grow and mentor the next generation of health and wellness professionals. A dynamic speaker, respected educator, fitness industry veteran and featured wellness expert, Jessica is a trusted and recognized go-to media resource, regularly contributing to numerous publications and media outlets, including The Washington Post and Shape magazine on topics ranging from fitness and yoga, to health coaching and career development. Additionally, she serves as ACE’s senior advisor of health and fitness education and is the lead editor and author of the new ACE Group Fitness Instructor Handbook: A Professionals Guide to Creating Memorable Movement Experiences. You can connect with her at www.fitexpertjess.com, @fitexpetjess (Twitter and Instagram) and www.facebook.com/fitexpertjess.