The following is a guest article by Melissa Edmonds.
As a fitness professional have you ever felt the pressure to maintain a certain body composition? Chances are you have at some point. Have you ever wondered if doing so actually affects your success?
Does having a six-pack really get you more clients? And more importantly, does it get those clients to stick around?
You probably have your own opinion on the subject, as do I. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many PubMed studies on the topic, but you can resort to the next best thing: talking to your clients.
I got curious and decided to do just that.
You see, I’m in a pretty unique position where I work. I’m an independent strength coach at Apple. As you can imagine, there’s a pretty large roster of options when it comes to choosing a trainer (50+ the last time I checked).
Apple also has tens of thousands of employees in my particular location alone, so there’s no shortage of people to grill on the topic.
Maybe it’s my background (I was a financial analyst for 6 years before switching over to fitness full-time), but I’ve always been fascinated by the “why” behind a person’s decision when selecting a trainer.
Why did my clients reach out to me instead of the other 50+ people on that list? Why did they decide to hire me? Did my physique make a difference in their decision?
After talking to all my prospective clients and asking them these simple questions, what I found was pretty interesting. What one might expect to be a black and white answer, instead, was all over the board. Yet, after digging a bit deeper into the various answers, I was able to uncover a few commonalities that I’ll discuss later.
While there may be no “right” answer to this question, you should at least be truthful with yourself and your business.
Putting it bluntly, it’s easy to stick your head in the sand and pretend like your physique as a coach isn’t all that important. You’ve got to look the part, but in order to really look the part you have to know your audience/clientele.
And that raises another question; what does “looking the part” really look like?
While there are many factors that affect a coach’s success, physique is undeniably a large contributing factor. When it becomes one of the deciding factors, however, depends on a few things.
1. Who your clients are & what they want
This comes back to my point about knowing your audience/clientele. You need to know who you’re working with and what kind of people you want to attract.
For instance, if you’re working primarily with female fat loss clients in their mid 20-30’s, most of them won’t want to hire a coach who has an extra 20-30 lbs to lose. Let’s be real.
These type of clients want to hire someone they aspire to look like and they rely heavily on that motivational factor. These are the women scrolling through Instagram and following fitness models and other ladies that lift, whose bodies they want to emulate.
Now if this is your target client, it’s not to say you have to walk around looking like you just stepped off the fitness stage, but you should at least look like you’re following the advice that you dole out.
On the other hand, if you’re working with serious powerlifters, elderly, rehab clients etc. they aren’t going to care so much whether you have a 6-pack or a few pounds to lose.
What they do care about is relevant experience. Which brings us to our second point…
2. How much experience you have
A powerlifter wants to work with someone who has experience powerlifting. A post-natal client is looking for someone with experience in training post-natal clients. A client with chronic lower back pain is going to look for a trainer with experience dealing with back issues.
You get the gist.
These clients aren’t going to care so much about your latest Instagram bathroom selfie or how many bicep curls you pumped out last night.
On a similar note, your elderly clients aren’t looking to max out on deadlifts or kill themselves in the gym. Most of them simply want to improve mobility and feel better.
Whether you work with in-person or online clients you need to know your clientele. Who do you want to attract as a client?
Depending on your answer, your own physique may be more or less important. But that’s not the only determining factor.
3. How well known you are
Sadly, this is how the Jen Selters of the fitness world become fitness “coaches” and amass millions of online clients. These days people assume that if you look good, you must know what you’re talking about. Because the larger your backside, the more you must know, right? Surely you’re qualified to write training and nutrition “plans”.
Luckily there are actually a few coaches out there with a decent following who know what they’re talking about. They may not have millions of followers, but they are respected and well known in their niche.
These are the Eric Cresseys and Mike Boyles of the fitness world (just to name a couple). Once you reach this level, you don’t need to maintain a sub 10% level of body fat to keep your coaching roaster full. You’ve built a reputation for yourself that extends beyond how ripped you are.
Until you get to that point, you’re a walking billboard. You are your brand.
You’ve got to prove to people that you know what you’re talking about and have the necessary knowledge to help them reach their goals. Your fat loss clients aren’t going to be very convinced that you can get them lean if you can’t do so yourself.
Unless you’ve been doing it for many years and have an established reputation, you’d be foolish to think clients aren’t paying attention to your physical appearance.
4. Where you work
Are you an independent coach or do you work at a big box gym? Do your clients have the ability to seek you out personally, or are they assigned a coach from the roster?
While some gyms are better than others, a lot of them will simply assign clients to trainers without giving either side input on the decision. Obviously in this situation, your physique won’t be one of the deciding factors. Yet, keeping your clients is one of the main objectives and management will be on your ass if you aren’t doing a good job with client retention.
So while keeping yourself in relatively good shape may not be as important when it comes to gaining new clients, it may help retain them further down the road.
I don’t walk around at the same level of leanness that I did when I was competing, but I do stay relatively lean. You see while some trainers may be leaner or have more muscle, I have balance and that’s a selling point for my clients who want the same.
A lot of them have been there, done that when it comes to competing and achieving extremely low body fat levels. They aren’t looking to give up their social lives and become hermits for the sake of being uber lean year-round.
What they do want is to find a balance on the spectrum of life and fitness. They want to get stronger and feel good about their bodies. And that’s where I come in. That’s why they seek me out. They know I can get them that lean if that’s what they wanted, even though it’s not always the case.
So what’s the bottom line?
Know your clients and what’s important to them. Know their why. What motivates them to stick to your carefully designed program? Why did they hire you in the first place? Some people want to get ripped, some want to get stronger, some want to find balance and others simply want to feel better.
Sure your physique matters – but it’s not everything. Knowing who you work with and their why will determine how much your appearance really matters.
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