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Why be a run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-road PT when you can find a niche and feed your passion? Craig O’Toole details how.

Up until September 2013 I was running Craig O’Toole Personal Training – to all intents and purposes a run-of-the-mill PT business. I worked with anyone who came my way, from athletes to ladies that lunch to people with serious illness. I thought I was doing the smart thing by spreading my net wide and working with a variety of clients with different needs – boy was I wrong.

I even had a small team of trainers working for me to help me service all the clients and we got decent results. However, I knew things had to change. I’d lost the drive for the early mornings, long days and late nights. I’d also started to realise that my advertising was becoming less and less effective in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

Gamechanger plan

So in September 2013 I started ManAlive, a group training concept specifically for guys aged 30+. We take all the best elements from professional football, rugby, athletics and strongman and combine them with nutrition, mindset, support and accountability. I’m now at the stage where I have 60 high-paying members, four coaches, two investors and the business is in six figures, while I only coach six hours per week. We have put in place plans for year one, two and three expansion, ending in a national and international franchise. The future looks bright for ManAlive but only because I started working smarter, not harder. In fact, I now have more free time, more disposable income, much less stress and work that I’m truly passionate about – a big change from my PT days.

Find your niche

It’s essential to find your niche. How can you build a scalable business if you don’t understand exactly who it is you want to help and what help they need? Knowing your niche will make everything 100 times easier because you won’t be trying to attract and help everyone. Additionally, you’ll also be able to charge premium rates, as people value specialists over generalists. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll appeal to no one and become part of the white noise.

I simply thought about who it was I enjoyed working with, what their main emotional needs were and what they needed to move forwards and then built the whole concept from there. It was pretty easy because I knew who I was aiming at.

Know your avatar

Once you have your niche, you must work hard to understand your avatar. An avatar is a detailed model of your ideal client. Not only must you understand the usual demographics like sex, age, economic status and geographical area, but you must also understand their psychographics.

I have a profile of my ideal client that fills two sides of A4. It describes this ‘guy’ down to the number of kids he has, his hobbies, the brands he buys and how he feels about his weight and fitness. I’ve even given him a name. He’s called Mark and every time I write my marketing I write to Mark. If it appeals to him, then it will appeal to other similar guys and I’ll get the right sort of people applying to join the programme.

Understand your numbers

Business is all about understanding your numbers. Even in a business designed to help people you must still keep your numbers in clear sight and have a deep understanding of them. Otherwise, you’re just aimlessly doing ‘stuff’ with no idea whether it’s improving your members or your business.

The key numbers to understand are:

Gross revenue – How much do you want the programme to turn over – you decide how much you want to earn.
Membership – How many members will you need and at what price point will they need to be to achieve your turnover goal?
Costs – What are the likely costs of setting up and running the programme? Can you afford to hire staff to run part (or all) of the programme for you? Staff will give you the freedom to travel, study more, improve your programme and start other businesses.
Profit – What will your profit be, based on these figures? Is that enough to achieve your bigger lifestyle goals like a house, holidays, experiences, etc?
Time How much of your time will this all take? You need to constantly drive to bring this number down if you want a truly scalable business that gives you a lifestyle. Get efficient!
Marketing The better you communicate with your avatar, the less it will cost you to fill your programme. I’m currently on my second marketing mentorship – everyone needs a coach.

Create a tribe mentality

The key to long-term retention of your new-found perfect member is twofold:  results and enjoyment. Results will come from a properly designed programme specific to your avatar’s needs. Enjoyment is more subtle: you’ll need to use trial and error to see what works for you. A big part is building a tribe mentality. The end result of targeting a specific avatar is you’ll end up with a group of people with very similar emotional drivers, beliefs, outlooks, values and aspirations. We do a lot of extra stuff to foster our tribe mentality – if your members can see the obvious disadvantage of leaving the tribe, then they’ll be driven to stay longer. It’s called the pain of disconnect. The final advantage of a tribe mentality is every tribe needs a leader – and that’s you. When you’re the leader of the pack, you’ll gain immediate authority and respect – in and out of the programme.

Screw it, let’s do it

This is Richard Branson’s philosophy but I’m going to borrow it. Nothing will ever start out perfect. We’re still making changes to the programme a year on and will continue to do so. I’d sat on the idea of ManAlive for a year before I did anything about it. Then, on 6 September, I said “screw it, let’s do it”. I put a date in the diary of 30 September and started advertising right away. I had three weeks to find a venue, source all the kit, find a clothing supplier, find all my members, build the social media, write all the content manuals and design the training programme (plus a million other jobs). At the time I was still doing 25 hours a week of PT and my wife was heavily pregnant. I can’t remember sleeping much that month, but I did it! If you wait for everything to be perfect, you’ll never get going and someone else will get in there first. There’s a huge advantage to being first in any industry.

If you can be the first in your niche in your town then all the others will be compared to you – you’ll be the innovator. Just get started, make mistakes, learn and move on.