The benefits of connection

It is surprising what an unexpected conversation can spark. Chatting casually with a sports psychologist at a breakfast recently reinforced something in which I am already a great believer; the potential of the collective being greater than that of an individual competing alone. In terms of our industry, the opportunity to build a like-minded collective of personal trainers who are competitive, but who share clients or referrals can offer clients something bigger than a single service.

In other words, instead of trying to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ personal training business to appeal to everyone, consider identifying your industry niche or area that you want to focus on – it could be children, women, men, or older people. How could you find or create a network of others working in a similar area to offer reciprocal referral opportunities where you do not have those skills or specialize.

An example of this from another industry is a friend of mine who owns a successful café in a small side-street filled with other cafes and retailers. Interestingly, the café owners, on occasion, refer customers to their ‘competitors’ when they know they specialise in a very specific request from a customer. Putting the customer first, even before profit, generates immense goodwill and builds the culture and reputation of this shopping and dining precinct.

Other friends building a fashion brand work together with other small brands in a collective. They constantly cross-promote all the included small businesses. In doing this, they all access a much broader audience. The effect is that they maintain their niche as boutique players, but are represented as a strong community working together, drawing on a more diverse audience and generating a culture of belonging to something special and authentic.
In both these examples, the businesses are thriving and customers are enjoying an all-important positive experience. But this approach may appear counter-productive and against all instincts on building a small business in a highly competitive environment. Sure, immediate term, an individual business may lose a transaction, but longer term the result is that the whole collective is recognised as a place where you can get what you want and you are highly valued as a customer or client.

Putting this in the context of the fitness industry, I believe that as individual trainers, we all have the potential to expand our quality service offering by engaging other experts in complementary fields such as nutrition or allied health, as well as referring clients to other competing specialist trainers when we aren’t the best person for the job. This does involve a level of professional trust and integrity and finding the right people for your collective will take time. However, I believe it is something very much worth exploring.

Increasingly, people seek out community and are drawn to things that make them feel part of something bigger than themselves. This presents a great opportunity to many trainers who can build a community of specialists and not only refer to one another but also work together on bigger projects. The other benefit is the opportunity for trainers who often work in isolation to build a strong community, expand their operation, share resources, learn collaboratively, engage with a professional support network and enhance their own professional life.

This school of thought is a huge challenge when all you want to do is build a business in an environment where small business has a very high attrition rate. However, the long term pay-off has considerably greater potential and could define you in a saturated market as highly professional and completely client focussed with something special for clients to belong to.

So, it’s ok to maintain the status quo and as an individual we can continue to compete over the existing fitness industry ‘pie’. However, if we start connecting with others, particularly with service providers that are complementary to yours or perhaps another niche in the same industry, the opportunities can expand, building a bigger ‘pie’ to share from and encouraging growth for a diverse fitness community.

Ben Cooper