We caught up with Keith McNiven, founder of London based personal training company Right Path Fitness, who shared his tips for breaking into the fitness industry.
With hindsight it’s easy to see that I would end up working in the health and fitness industry. For a start, fitness was always a big part of my life as I competed in freestyle wrestling from a young age. When you compete in a sport at that kind of level- when I finished it was with GB and national titles- it changes you. There’s a discipline that is drilled into you, but more than that, living healthily, eating well and keeping your body strong just becomes a way of life. And that’s something that I try and instil in my clients, it’s not about short term changes but long term changes, and in some cases changing habits that were developed in childhood and early life.
Whilst I was wrestling, I also worked as a fitness instructor at a gym in Shipley, Yorkshire from the ages of sixteen until around twenty so I had a good idea of that industry, the kind of clients that would come through the door and the kind of results they wanted. Of course, the natural step would have been to stay in the fitness industry and develop but life often isn’t that simple and I ended up working in social care for several years. I firmly believe though that no experience is ever wasted, and whilst working with disadvantaged people through my social care work I was developing those essential people skills and also learning about different segments of society. When I eventually decided to go back to my first passion, fitness, it was with a far greater understanding about the nature of societal problems, and I also began to think about how I might be able to combine this new understanding with fitness. If it’s your passion, then I don’t think you can go far wrong.
If I’d have gone straight into getting my fitness qualifications without that time in a completely different industry, I don’t think I’d have the diversity of experience that I have today. One of the main skills you need to run your own health and fitness business is the ability to communicate with everyone well. I’m lucky in that I can talk to anyone, make small talk, build rapport and engage quickly. These are all essential when you might be meeting several new clients in a week, you need to be able to develop a professional relationship quickly, and continue to work on this relationship over time, managing issues as they arise. Can I say that dealing with young disengaged adults has helped me to overcome pretty much any issue a client can throw at me? Yes, probably!
And it’s not only clients that you need to be able to communicate with. The difference from being a sole personal trainer or fitness instructor to running a company that might offer personal training sessions as just one of the services on offer is huge. There’s dealing with suppliers, learning about marketing, the day to day operations. I have a team of seven now and so I have to think about them too, developing my own leadership skills. I’ve had to get smart about handling people and dealing with certain situations. Despite being a good communicator, the reality is that when you run your own fitness business, the buck stops with you. It’s your business and it’s you that has everything at stake. This means that you need to be very direct and clear about your vision for the company, and be firm but fair when required. You’ll also need to learn to delegate, which can be difficult at first. Running a health and fitness company this might mean handing over your hard earned clients to another trainer so you can focus on other aspects of the business, or trusting someone else enough to take care of your operations.
The main challenge for me in setting up Right Path Fitness was similar to that which most people experience before starting on a health and fitness plan- simply taking the plunge and getting started. I’m a confident and positive person and even I had some doubts about striking out on my own. The reality is that these things are never, ever as hard as people like to make out. My advice is to not listen to the nay-sayers and the negative people who will point out everything that could possibly go wrong. Yes, there are risks, but there are risks in doing just about everything.
If you’re genuinely thinking about setting up in the fitness industry, my final piece of advice would be to invest in your marketing- but carefully! There are a lot of people trying to make money out of fitness professionals without actually giving much value, so evaluate each opportunity carefully. It’s a highly competitive industry, but if you believe in yourself, and have the necessary skills, passion and experience, you can make it for sure.