James Roberts represented Great Britain at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympics, and in innumerable World Championships. He was born with a congenital disability called Femoral Dysplasia, floating hip of the left leg, and Scoliosis of the spine. After competing for over a decade he began an online training and nutrition business called Fitamputee with the initial aim to help bridge the gap between fitness and disability, but his services are open to everyone.
We spoke to James to find out how he made the transition from athlete to entrepreneur, why working within a niche market is crucial to success and how you can build a business with absolutely no budget.
Why do you think it’s important for ex-athletes to stay involved with sport?
If you’re an athlete you may have a interesting or turbulent backstory, and it’s up to you to find your USP within your journey to being an athlete. When I was a teenager I was asked to look in to disability sport, and my immediate thought was ‘why would I want to do that?’ I was dismissive about sport and disability and was sure that I could compete with my ‘able bodied’ peers. It was only when I resisted this negative attitude that I decided to give disability sport a go and within 18 months I was competing. Knowing the dismissive nature I once had, has given me stimulus to want to help other people who are going through the same journey; not just with disability, but in any bridge that life has in front of them – I want to help them cross it.
I truly enjoyed the process of training, even on bad days, but would rather use that decade in sport and personal experiences of dealing with an impairment for 31 years, to share empathy with my clients, explore where their pitfalls might be and help them succeed.
Simply put, as an athlete you can either focus entirely on your own success, or you can use that success to help others overcome obstacles and achieve goals of their own.
Why does athlete training make you a better PT?
Unlike most children, athletes often start competing at a young age, and at that young age they already known where their weaknesses and strengths are. Being an athlete doesn’t mean you’re good at everything; due to my disability at a young age I had to learn to use my upper body to my advantage, so at 12 years old I started swimming the Butterfly Stroke. This heightened awareness of training adaptation is what sets an athlete PT or ex-athlete PT apart from a PT who hasn’t had that experience. Every person should have an adapted training plan, whether it’s for weight loss, cardiovascular, or strength, and you should not implement what you’re passionate about just because that gives you results 50% of time, you must treat them as a person and not a number. As an athlete you are nurtured as an individual to compete, so you should nurture your clients as an individual too.
How can you build closer relationships with your clients?
Clients will often assume that the only time they can benefit from your expertise is when they are paying for your time, but my advice would be to encourage them to feel comfortable contacting you over text or phone call whenever they need advice. It will help strengthen the relationship and it is extremely rare that they will abuse your generosity.
As a Personal Trainer I view myself as a service provider, client contact shouldn’t be at my convenience and I should be available to talk when my client needs me. I try to be available on Skype or ‘face to face’, rather than email or text where communication can be misinterpreted. Online there is a challenge presented by the lack of ‘in person’ contact which can really put some people off, so you have to make an even greater effort and encourage as many catch ups as possible. Apps like Trainerize are great for clients, as they have everything at their disposal (trainer schedule, email, text and call options), and they can contact you 24/7 and as a trainer, you will do your utmost to answer their query within 24 to 48hrs.
How can you use social media to launch your PT service with no budget?
1. Find your niche- there is no point putting content out there without knowing who you are trying to target. Anyone can write content now (bloggers, vloggers etc), and you don’t have to be a pro or a scientist to be heard. But by knowing who your audience is will help you to contextualise your content so that it’s specific to them and cuts through the noise.
2. Finding the common problems that people face- research why this niche needs you: what misconceptions do they have when they are try to achieve a goal? Who is already trying to target them? You can find this stuff out with a quick Google and Facebook search. On Facebook type in your niche and see if there are any groups that you can ‘join’. See what questions are commonly asked and what the themes of the group are. If the group is private, you’ll have to ask the Admin if you are able to add value by answering questions or sharing educational content. You need to do this before you start referring to your PT business as most credible groups are wary of being exploited for self promotion. The people you meet in these groups may not be immediate customers, but it’s a good research and networking opportunity and you never know what these people (or their friends) might need in the future.
3. Keep researching – now that you know who your niche is and what your niche needs, be more compassionate and try to learn as much as you possibly can. Become the expert in that niche.
4. Create a group of your own – Once you are clear on your niche and confident in your expertise, start a group of your own and begin by inviting your personal network. Initially you will need to add the content, by sharing blogs, facts and questions to encourage people to engage, but in time other people should take over the activity. The more specific the niche the easier it’ll be to get that shift because the group will have it’s own identity and purpose. You need to know what the group stands for and what the themes are. People might be shy and be reluctant to disclose their issues and challenges, so it’s about creating an open environment and removing barriers so that they feel comfortable sharing with the group. In time you will find you have developed a powerful team of subconscious and conscious brand advocates for your services.
If you’d like to find out more about James’ work, then feel free to take a look at his free Facebook groups, Fitamputee, Mind Set Game and his Podcast, http://mindsetgame.libsyn.com which is also available on iTunes and Stitcher.