How to Develop Your Fitness Niche

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Five months ago, I wrote an article called How to Find Your Fitness Niche – and it was one of the more popular posts in my site’s history.  I realized after writing it, though, that I never bothered to talk about how I developed the niche I was in once I discovered it.

If you didn’t read the original installment, definitely check it out now.  However, as a brief background, about 80-85% of our clients at Cressey Performance are baseball players.  This past off-season, we had 44 professional players travel from all over the country to train in snowy Hudson, MA.  So, you could say that my dream “niche” came true. Here are some of the strategies we employed along the way.

1. Don’t go for the big fish right away.

People are always blown away when I tell them that I started out with training high school baseball players, not big leaguers.  That’s the truth, though; a few younger guys got great results, won a state championship, earned D1 scholarships, and – in the case of one – received state player of the year honors.  My phone started ringing off the hook when some of those results were featured in the Boston Globe.

Eventually, the high school clientele grew to include more college guys and, in turn, pro guys.  Once you have a few pro guys and you get results with them, they tell their buddies – and their agents and teams also have more guys to send your way.  Then, all the younger athletes see professional athletes training at our facility and it reaffirms in their mind that Cressey Performance is the place to be.  If a professional baseball player travels all the way across the country to train here, why wouldn’t they be willing to travel ten minutes?  You wind up with a big circle that continuously grows.

What doesn’t work is just shooting for the “red carpet” clients right off the bat.  Don’t expect to just be able to call your local professional sports team or some big time agent and “wow” them with a 15-second elevator pitch to get their best players to train with you.  The truth is that you probably won’t even get a call back.  It’s not my niche, but it works the same with celebrities, TV personalities, politicians, or anyone else who lives their lives knowing that everyone wants a piece of them.  Be patient and fish in the river for a bit before you head out to catch the big fish in open waters.

2. Start locally.

Before you can be a national expert, you have to be a local expert.  Training my local guys got me motivated to research and write more in the baseball realm.  That gave rise to more guys traveling from out of state to train with us.

3. Remember that expertise is perceived differently.

Some perceive expertise as telling them what to do so that all the guesswork is taken out of the equation.  They might think you are annoying or clueless if you try to tell them the “why” behind everything you do.

Others perceive expertise as your ability to justify everything that you do.  They might think you’re incompetent if you tell them to “just trust you” because you “know” the program will work, or if you’re simply at a loss for words when they ask you to explain the “why” behind your training approach.

Some want to see you coach athletes to be confident in your abilities, and others just want to sit down with you and ask questions to verify your competence.  Others might want to see you present at a seminar.  Some want to read your writing, and others want to ask current clients about their experiences with you.

The point is that you have to be versatile and multi-faceted in the way that you present your expertise.  I can rattle off research and tell guys why we’re doing stuff, or I can skip the science mumbo-jumbo and replace it with loud music and attitude.  People are welcome to watch me coach, ask me questions, read my writing (online and the stuff that is framed in the office), view seminars I’ve given, check out flyers in the office, and speak to our clients.  We make “perceiving expertise” easier for them.

4. Good will doesn’t run out – and costs nothing to give.  Cultivate relationships.

At the end of the day, success in your niche isn’t about making up flyers or some other advertising tactic; it’s about overdelivering relative to clients’ expectations and creating genuinely positive relationships with people.  We haven’t spent a penny on advertising since we opened in 2007 – but we’ve made a lot of friends along the way.

5. Remember that impressionable young minds ultimately become opinion leaders.

This is a cool year for us because it’s the first class of guys that we’ve seen all the way through high school.  In other words, some kids I started training when they were in eighth grade are now seniors in high school with college baseball scholarships.  They might not have been big referral sources when they were 14 years old, but as more accomplished 17-18 year-olds to whom underclassmen look up, they are huge opinion leaders who refer us a lot of business.  Likewise, we’ve gotten to know their families well over the years, so the referrals don’t just come from the kids; they also come from the parents.

Tim Collins was the second professional baseball player I ever trained.  He was a free agent signing out of high school in 2007 – and at the time, he was 18 years old, 5-5, 130 pounds soaking wet, and topping out at 82-83mph.  Tim just wrapped up his fourth off-season with us and stands an outstanding chance of making the opening day roster for the Kansas City Royals after putting up some of the best numbers in minor league baseball over the past few years.  He’s now 170 pounds, throws in the mid-90s, and has a ~39-inch vertical jump.

In the fall of 2007, Tim was as much of a longshot in professional baseball as you could have possibly imagined: undersized, underpaid, and undrafted.  Now, he’s on the big league radar screen – and along that journey, he’s generated an enormous amount of publicity for Cressey Performance and referred several of his teammates our way.

6. Research like crazy.

If you are going to be the expert, it’s your job to know everything you possibly can about your niche.  Being smart is never a bad thing; you need to be on the cutting-edge.

7. Adapt.

Whether you are training fat loss clients, pregnant women, senior citizens, or MMA fighters, we are in a dynamic field where things change daily.  New research comes out and better ways of doing things are constantly being discovered.  If you’re going to be the “go-to” expert, it’s not just good enough to learn new things; you have to be able to effectively integrate them in your existing philosophy.  It’s no good learning something if you aren’t going to use it – and let’s face it: change is hard.   Find a way to make it easy.

8. Don’t try to replicate yourself; complement yourself.

The single-worst thing I could have done in developing my baseball niche was hiring someone to be like me.  Conversely, the best thing I can do is surround myself with people who have skill sets that complement mine so that we can together offer a more comprehensive product to our niche.

With that in mind, at CP, we have a pitching coordinator, nutrition director, massage therapist, and chiropractor on hand.  My business partner handles all the billing, scheduling, and other office tasks.  We have a cafeteria in the building to help out with nutrition needs.  All these people do their thing so that I can leverage my abilities, which allows us to best serve our niche.

9. Don’t force it.

This one will be brief: you have to enjoy what you’re doing in order to be good at it.

I don’t care what sounds profitable or what your spouse or buddies tell you you’d be good at; it has to appeal to you on a level far more important than financial gain.

10. Success is about what you’re doing right, not what others are doing wrong.

Because we’re so focused on our niche, I have never really paid any attention to what surrounding training facilities are doing simply because I don’t view them as competition.  However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not asked about them all the time – almost as if people are trying to bait me into talking poorly about industry colleagues.  My policy is strict and straightforward: stay positive and never speak poorly of your competition.

I will gladly talk about what I feel we do well and how this distinguishes us from the industry “norm,” but it’s not my place to comment on what others are doing.  Speaking poorly about others only makes you look jealous and petty.  And, frankly, this time and effort is much better spent looking in the mirror to determine how you can make your own offerings better.

Closing Thoughts

Surely, these are just a few of the many factors involved in turning a fitness niche from a dream into a reality.  And, I’m sure we can all learn from one another.  In the comments section, I’d love to hear what your fitness niche is and what strategies you’ve employed to get to where you are.

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