Credibility Builders in the Fitness Industry
Credibility in the fitness industry is a heated and often debated topic amongst fit pros. What exactly makes you credible in the eyes of colleagues and adjacent professionals is not necessarily what makes your case for potential participants, thus confusing the conversation even further. While many people double down on their own definition, it’s essential to be curious and review this topic from all sides. Not only will this help you when building your book of business, but it will benefit our industry as a whole.
First, let’s compare and contrast the two competing sides of the credibility conversation:
- how we define it inside the industry
- how consumers see it
Fitness professionals base credibility on being trusted, and we value operating from the same playbook regarding the expected knowledge base, methodologies, and ethics. On the other hand, consumers believe if you call yourself a fitness professional, all of the stuff we care about is taken care of – it is assumed. Credibility then becomes convincing them you have what it takes to deliver results they consider important – trust also plays a part in this.
With trust as the common denominator, we have a better blueprint for demonstrating credibility to our peers and participants. A good definition of trust to work from is competence + relationship over self-interest. The equation captures all of the things that make you credible, regardless of your audience.
Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. To gauge competence, you need to define the roles and responsibilities of a job and what constitutes successful and efficient.
The role of certification is to prove minimal competency at performing the role. Certification companies accredited by agnostic, third-party organizations (such as the NCCA) must first complete a role delineation study that defines competency. Then, the test questions are created around these findings by a committee of test-writers with various backgrounds and not necessarily employed by the organization. From there, a test is constructed and validated in a variety of ways to ensure the test is genuinely measuring competence and not the candidate’s ability to take a test. It also must be passable without using the study materials, courses, or other preparation materials prepared by the organization administering the test. In other words, the ability to successfully pass the certification can’t be self-serving.
It’s important to note while having a certification provides base level credibility; its only role is to prove minimal competency.
Beyond certification, you must layer the other two sides of the stool: education and continuing education. Education is the study completed to form your base of knowledge. You use your education to pass your certification, or whatever testing is necessary to land the role, and may come in the form of formal education (i.e., at university) or informal education (i.e., study materials, study guides, etc.) A professional should choose continuing education based on deepening knowledge. It should be completed regularly (not just to fulfill your recertification requirements at the end of a 2-year cycle in one fail swoop!).
Of course, there is a swirling conversation around the lack of application or on-the-job training needed and who is responsible for this part of developing our competence. Well, that’s a shared responsibility between you (yes, you have to seek it out) and your employer (should you have one). Of course, some organizations dedicate their work to this, and lots of continuing education opportunities provide hands-on components to their courses. But, it’s important to note, this is not the role of certification. So, debating various certifications based on the ‘practical’ is a wasted conversation. Instead, we should lean into organizations and employers that take responsibility for this critical piece of the puzzle and seek solutions to this missing professional development piece in the industry.
The relationship ingredient in the trust equation represents the degree to which a potential client sees you as being there for them. In other words, do you know me, understand me, get me, and have what I need?
For the most part, this is entirely subjective. But, you can enhance the relationship factor through your accumulation and demonstration of knowledge and experience with a particular target market. Therefore, it makes sense to choose your target market early and learn as much as you can about their physiology, psychology, and everything in between.
Once you develop an intimate understanding of your target market, you can then adapt your foundational credibility builders, service standards, and self-promotion strategies to speak directly to the group you intend to serve. The more closely you align yourself with your target market, the more your message will resonate.
Foundational credibility builders include:
- your email address
- business cards
You’ll want to be sure you are thinking of your target market when you make choices for these items that allow your target market to know you intend to serve them, specifically.
Service standards include the quality of your service, the methods & tools you use, your degree of responsiveness, additional credentials you attain, client importance, and your pricing strategy. These should also be designed based on your target market to build trust.
Self-promotion strategies include all of the formal and informal marketing you will do. The social platforms you choose, the marketing tactics you deploy, the images, colors, fonts, and language you use, and more will work to connect you to your target market.
Competence and relationship combine to increase the trust a potential client has in you, thereby helping him or her determine if it would be in his or her best interest to learn more and engage you. But, before they make that decision, they will also assess the degree to which your work serves them versus serves yourself.
When you operate from a place of self-interest, your primary motivator when choosing a target market or specific type of work is based on market opportunity, money, and/or ego (the applause). Whereas, when you choose based on passion or a connection, self-interest is rarely on display. Of course, having a true calling for a target market or the work you decide to do may lead to money and increased applause (let’s hope so!), but if you genuinely have chosen your work for the right reasons, your potential clients will sense this is your true calling, and you would do it regardless!
Much like relationship, self-interest is subjective. But you do have a certain degree of control over it. Be sure you have a strong why– you must know and articulate clearly why you chose the target market you did and seek to provide the results you promote.
Your why will also come across in your foundational credibility builders, service standards, and self-promotion strategies like the relationship component of the trust equation. But, where this will truly become evident is in the actual work itself; the products and services you create, the way you deliver these items, and how your current and former clients describe the magic you make.
While it would be much easier to equate credibility to competence, it’s important to remember what we see as credible inside the industry is not necessarily what the consumer uses as a gauge. Remembering that relationship and self-interest are equal players in the trust ‘game’ will help you keep in mind the additional work we need to do to continue to enhance the trust others have in our work.