Create a successful business by being uniquely you with John Berardi

Key Takeaways:

  1. Building a business skill set isn’t the number one priority. Most trainers think they need entrepreneurial skills to get started but that always isn’t the case.
  2. Create a T-shaped curriculum. Know where you want your business to go and seek advice from others.
  3. Develop a survey and canvas the town.
  4. Put yourself out there with 30 day challenges. Talk to a different person every day and give them your elevator pitch.
  5. Be the expert in online communities. Use your hobbies to build your name.
  6. Establish a business on renewals and referrals. Create the feeling of personal to keep your business running. 

Short Summary

Starting any new business is always hard but the turn over rate in the first year of personal training in the health and fitness industry is always a talking point. Known best for his business Precision Nutrition, John Berardi has seen the ups and downs of the fitness industry and speaks about how to find success in his new book, Changemaker: Turn Your Passion for Health and Fitness into a Powerful Purpose and a Wildly Successful Career. 

Berardi speaks to DTS Fitness Education Director of Education Ben McDonald about best practices and how to build and retain clients (listen to the podcast here).

#1) Building a business skill set isn’t the number one priority

A common issue Berardi sees too often is new trainers worrying about increasing their business skills or entrepreneurial skills right off the bat. Instead, he says they should focus first on determining their purpose, unique abilities and values. 

“There are all kinds of paths to success in the health and fitness industry that first of all do not include being a coach or trainer, and secondly, being a solo-preneuer or entrepreneur,” says Berardi. “We need to stop copying everyone else. Stop saying, ‘Oh this person seems successful so I’m just going to do what they do.’ Because one, it’s a lower number probability play. If you’re copying someone else who’s already doing something unique, well the world doesn’t necessarily need you because it already has that in another person. The second thing is, if it’s not who you are fundamentally, then even if you do have success, and the chances are a little lower of that happening, you’ll only have success living someone else’s life.”

Creating a successful business starts from the beginning and determining one’s purpose in the field. If the intention is to help people, the goal has to be narrowed down further because a lot of people help others differently. For example, a barista and a paramedic both help people everyday in different capacities, he adds. 

When determining one’s purpose, Berardi points to himself and notes how he lost who he was within Precision Nutrition. 

“I went through a pretty deep depression to the point where I have all these notebooks around my office where I write down all my notes for life and work and any experiments I was working on,” he says. “I still have the notebook where one day I made a list of ways to get out of the misery I was experiencing. One was to sell my shares of Precision Nutrition and get out of the company. Two was to skim my shares to Phil (my co-founder at PN) and say, “Hey man, it’s been a pleasure, I love you, here you go, I need to get out of here.”

It was the last point which made him pause because his third option was to drive off a bridge so at least his wife Amanda and his kids would get some insurance money. 

“I just wrote down to kill myself on a list of options. I’m going to have to a) get my help and b) see myself out of this scenario,” he acknowledges. “While I was in this scenario, all my unique abilities, I was doing none of it. I was in meetings all day and that wasn’t my forte. I like communication, writing, producing content, and data and science. I like all of them but I wasn’t doing any of them. That’s when Phil and I were looking around for something – we didn’t have the words: purpose, unique abilities or value back then, it was just life sucks. I hate my work. I love the idea of what I’m doing but I hate doing it.”

Berardi hopes by explaining his own situation that younger coaches can take note early on and find their own framework for the rest of their career by being uniquely themselves. 

“I do spend some of my time dissuading people from being a coach because it’s not for everyone. Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. Coaching isn’t for everyone,” says Beradi. “We’re rushing into the promise of entrepreneurship thinking it will bring meaning and value and financial freedom and all those kinds of stuff. That’s way too overly simplistic. The next step isn’t entrepreneurship for everyone. It’s, ‘OK, I’ve got my training certification, now I have to figure out who I am.’”

From there, one has to sit down and develop an educational curriculum to help them gain the skill sets they lack. 

#2) Create a T-shaped curriculum

Everyone will have their own niche market of clients they prefer to train from 60 to 70-year olds to professional athletes to young adults looking to build muscle. Each of these require a different base knowledge and the best way to determine a framework leading to success is to create a T-shape educational curriculum. Start by imagining a capital letter T. 

“Along the horizontal bar of the T, it’s all the skills you need to be the successful future you,” says Berardi. “Along the vertical bar going straight down, that’s the area you’ve decided to go deep in and train in. Me as an example, I have a PhD in exercise and nutritional biochemistry – that’s my vertical bar. But I’m not sitting here with you because of that. I’m sitting here because I’ve also developed communication skills, business skills, marketing skills, change psychology skills. These areas I didn’t get a PhD in, but I learned enough to be competent in each area.”

Start by drawing a blank T and consult with a few people who are older and more experienced in the field to determine where your purpose, capabilities and values lie.

“You can’t build out your educational curriculum unless you know where you’re going. Once you know, you can draw out this T-shaped curriculum and go find some people to get advice on how to get there, then you go out and fill it,” he says. “Each person’s T will be different.”

The beauty of creating a T-shape curriculum is it also shows you all the things you don’t need to do immediately. 

“We all do it. We end up in a seminar and we’re not even sure why we’re there. We don’t even know if we’ve learned anything. Well, how did you get there? You didn’t have a T to look at, you had no plan, and you have no T to look at to future you,” notes Berardi. “We need a better approach to this. What do people need to direct their career? Figure out which direction you want the plane to go then what the future you needs to learn. How can I take action to get as close to 100% probability of what I want.”

#3) Develop a survey and canvas the town

The biggest thing any new trainers needs to do is to gain clients but it’s also one of the hardest parts of being a trainer. 

During a consultation with Equinox, Berardi noted they were lamenting the loss of new trainers. Currently, the health and fitness industry has a $0% turnover rate within one year for new trainers. 

“They have a crop of new trainers that come in every year, they have a high turnover rate – as most commercial gyms do, it’s not a uniquely Equinox thing – and they were trying to figure out how to keep them. They were leaning towards education and all these other things and I told them I would run some numbers for them because I was super curious,” explains Berardi. “What’s the ratio of time spent here versus clients, and it ended up being the same thing. If they don’t get their first five clients within the first couple of months, then they’re gone. The ones who get their first five clients quickly, stay. This might be a surrogate marker for a whole bunch of other things but it’s the ultimate predictor of whether or not you will be in this field or not in a few years.”

One method to help gain clients is a strategy by John Goodman known as a simplified version of Survey Sally. 

“The idea is you get five to 10 people and you get very specific people. You put up an ad, “I’m looking for… five people who are between this age range, in this geographical area, who are looking for this specific goal (build muscle, lose weight, etc),” says Berardi. “I’m taking only five by such and such date. If you are interested, come check us out at… or call us at …” On the other end, you have them apply: what’s your name, how old are you etc.”

The goal is to take immediate imperfect action by putting yourself out there to see if you can get some people raising their hands. 

This is Marketing 101, notes Berardi, but the way to get people to take action now when you need them to take action is to give them a deadline and scarcity. 

#4) Put yourself out there with 30 day challenges

Secondly, Berardi notes a long term play is simply telling people what to do, including yourself. 

“For the next 30 days, everyday I’m going to go out in public, somewhere, and you tell someone what you do. Coaches are notoriously bad at telling people what they do, I hate selling, etc. This is just another way of saying I’m uncomfortable talking about what I do with others,” he says. “The challenge is everyday you need to tell someone what you do. I prepare an elevator pitch, I help x kind of person with some kind of benefit for some hopeful future. This is a template I feed to people.”

An example of a pitch would be, ‘I help new moms lose their baby weight so they can feel more energy, more confidence and back to their pre-baby looks.’

“The formula again is a specific group of people, this is the benefit (weight loss, lower cholesterol) and the last one is crucial where you paint the hopeful future for them,” describes Berardi. “The them of the future because that’s what people are buying. They’re not buying your services, your squats, your meal plans; they’re buying a better them so you need to articulate it.”

The idea is to tell a stranger what you do, exchange information if they are interested and then follow up. The follow up is determining if they are interested in coaching or if they may know someone who is interested. 

“Imagine meeting 30 people over the next 30 days, there’s a higher probability of gaining clients versus not meeting anybody,” says Berardi.

#5) Be the expert in online communities

Another way to reach more people is to use your hobbies outside of fitness to increase your network. 

“If you do online coaching for example, there are all kinds of communities where you can meet people who may need your services. The best communities are not health and fitness communities, because they are already coaches,” says Berardi. “This is where you fish your hobbies for people who may need help, like baseball card collecting, or part of a fantasy football league. It’s a group you want to be a part of and you’re a member because you want to be there.”

When topics or discussions appear related to health and fitness, the idea is to make yourself the go-to expert. 

“You answer all the questions in the group, but you don’t pitch yourself because that’s a good way to get kicked out of the group real quick. What you do is be friendly, answer a few questions and as a sign off under your name, add a little bio of where you can be reached,” he adds. “Eventually when you become that trusted person, you can drop in, ‘Oh, by the way I do this for a living. If you’re interested, you can check me out here.’ It’s really low touch and not pushy-salesy. It’s another way to be in front of a big community and show your value.”

#6) Establish a business on renewals and referrals

Once you are established, the focus has to be on retention of current clients and referrals. 

“As long as they still need me, how I keep them and get them referring. Keeping people is so easy but we just don’t do the steps. Research from PN shows how people want the feeling of personal,” says Berardi. “They don’t need the personal relationship with the coach, that’s the mistake people make when they hear this. They need what I say, the feeling of personal.”

It’s the small but sentimental moments like remembering a client’s children’s names, when their birthdays are, if there any big events happening soon, or their pet’s names. 

“If a client tells you they’ve been skipping breakfast or getting sick of eggs, you should make a note of it. Then, come up with a solution for them between now and their next session,” says Berardi. “It could be you buy them a cookbook of 101 creative breakfast recipes. You don’t tell them you’re doing it because it’s a surprise for them. What you’re conveying to them is I’ve listened to you, I’ve thought about it because it’s important to me, and I got you something to surprise you as a solution. Even if they don’t read that cookbook, you will be their go to. It’s the little relationship leveraging things.”

The same thought applies to parenting where it’s not the amount of hours spent with the children but the quality of hours. 

“How do you wrap up that feeling of connection? By doing connecting things, thoughtful things: I thought about you when you weren’t here, remember you brought up this thing, etc. This is the feeling of retention,” he adds. “You’re constantly keeping up the feeling of personal with your clients by creating these little shared moments. It doesn’t have to be a friendship where you hang out after outside the gym.” 

When you’ve created the feeling of personal on a consistent basis, referrals are an easy next step because your clients will want to help you succeed. 

“They don’t need to be inventicized because it’s already done with the feeling of personal; it’s already baked in,” concludes Berardi. “They will be, ‘I do this because I care about you.’ You just need to ask on a consistent basis in a non-weird way. “Hey, is there anyone you know because I have a couple of spots opening up and I’m reaching out to all my clients.” 

The goal is always to create the feeling of personal in small ways that will leave a big impact.