What Competition?

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The email came from a friend in the fitness world who was about to strike out on his own after building his personal training business in space rented within a gym. The scenario’s not all that uncommon. It’s how many personal trainers get started. Gym owners get rent and trainers get an as-needed space to train in. Everyone’s happy.

My friend’s success had proven to the club the viability (and income potential) of a personal training program. So, as he headed out the door, they decided to ramp their own in-house program…and they had much deeper pockets. My friend was a little freaked about the prospect of now having to compete with them.

So he asked me what to do. And with his permission, I’m sharing my advice to him with you…

First, step back. Stop looking so tactically. Look big picture. Why do people come to you in the first place? Pretty sure its’ not because you suck. It’s because of (1) who YOU are, (2) the experience YOU create for them, (3) the family YOU build to deliver that experience, and (4) the way YOU AND THAT FAMILY make them feel.

F@#k the other guys. Let them do whatever it is they need to do. THEY ARE NOT YOU!!! Own that. Take who you are and how what you create is special and do it better than you’ve ever done it before. You’re not competing against them unless you give up what you do best and let them drag you into playing on their field and by their rules.

You are the place 85% of people who wanted to workout would never have gone before BECAUSE you were housed in a gym that scares the crap out of them. You are everything a gym is not. Own that. Relish it. Amplify it. Build your brand around it. Treat people like gods, blow their minds, know their names, make them feel welcome coming in and amazing walking out.

The next few weeks will pass. Whatever happens, doesn’t really matter in the scheme of what you are building. Market, first and foremost by realizing and revealing how you will be different. Blow peoples’ minds on a consistent basis. And that includes your employees, give them every reason in the world to fall in love with you. Lead them, treat them with respect and compassion, like family. Then encourage everyone at every level to evangelize what you’ve created.

Yes, let the press know, run promotions, launch [top secret pre-launch strategy]. Get crazy creative.

But DO NOT FORGET THE CORE…you are not competing against the gyms, you are everything they are not. Own it, amplify it, feature it.

Reading that, it may sound like I’m anti-gym, but I’m not. The current model works for a certain percentage of the population, the 15% of U.S. adults who dig how big box facilities are run and what they offer. And there are enough of those people to keep most facilities in business (though it’s getting harder and harder to compete).

Sadly, though, this same model also alienates about 85% of U.S. adults who refuse to join or stay members. That number has stayed pretty consistent for decades, no matter how many bells, whistles, machines or marketing campaigns are added. Because, as I’ve discussed in an earlier article, the the problem runs core and culture deep.

And that has created a massive opportunity for niche newcomers and outliers who solve problems, offer lifestyle experiences and solutions and do business in a radically different way from day one. This is exactly what I did when I launched and grew two companies in the health and fitness world.

I didn’t care about the giant facilities that surrounded me on all sides or the established players. They had their place and they served their 15%. I wasn’t competing with them, my market was the other 85%. I was creating my own new solution tailored specifically to those who’d never do the big gym thing. My own blue fitness ocean. I turned the very fact that I didn’t have rows of machine, tons of TVs, busy locker-rooms, entertainment systems, key tag sign-in and loud music into an asset. I was there to serve those the rest of the industry had stepped around.

“Not being a gym,” though, isn’t a business model. Nor is “not being an XXX” in any industry. It’s an opportunity and a point of differentiation. But the business model is about what opportunities to serve, solve and delight this counter-mainstream positioning affords you.

It’s often about doing things in a way others either don’t yet understand are aren’t willing to explore because there’s too much uncertainty in contrast to a business model that’s relatively proven, but operating at a fraction of its potential.

Understand this…

Uncertainty, properly harnessed, is manna for innovation.

Lean into it. Dance with it.

The challenge is to focus not on how to be incrementally better, but how to change the game.

It ain’t easy, but if you can pull it off, it’s worth it.

Curious, how might this apply to your current career, business or life?

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20 responses

20 responses to “What Competition?”

  1. sukhi says:

    Once again Jon, an amazing post!

    I just did a seminar last night talking about how we are all uniquely different and at our core, we’re innovators. We all look, feel and process the experiences of our lives uniquely. Most will follow herd mentality because they don’t want to keep fear in the equation.

    Years ago I created an innovative wellness studio for health, healing and peak performance. Every nook and cranny of this place was a reflection of my uniqueness and core values. So many peeps around me told me it wouldn’t work, it was too out of the box and how others who were even more mainstream went bankrupt.

    Well I decided to keep fear in the equation and go for it, completely pouring my heart into it. That was 8 years ago… THe rest is history. One of the most successful models in the country (Canada). I’ve become a leader with my colleagues. Has lead to speaking, panels and collaborating with extraordinary minds.Sounds like it may be no different for your friend, she/he just needs to be patient.

    Thanks for the reflections.
    Be well!

  2. Marie davis says:

    As an author it is easy to compare myself to other successful people in my field. Although I try to avoid comparisons occasionally I slip up. That’s when I remind myself I am only going to be good at being me, and nobody can do that better.

  3. This is interesting. It describes a similar situation that is happening in my industry, but in reverse. I am a latex clothing designer, and many of my peers are getting increasingly nervous about the recent proliferation of sweat-shops in China and the Middle East that are cranking out cheap knock-offs of their designs. They worry about losing customers to the ridiculously low prices, and that the abysmal quality and service will turn new customers away from the market entirely.

    But I think what’s really happening here is that the knock-off factories are pulling the 15% of people who would never have been the high-end designers’ customers in the first place. If anything, I think this development in the industry is providing an opportunity for designers to differentiate themselves by highlighting their commitment to quality, service and innovation.

  4. How do I change the game, that’s my take-away from this post. I compete in a saturated global market for handmade upcycled clothing. Everything being said right now about success in this venue points to differentiating by telling my personal story as an artist. The bottom line of this type of thinking is that success=likability (Guy Kawasaki). And I don’t particularly care whether everybody likes me as a person or not, but when it comes to my small business, I care immensely.

    But it can’t just hinge on likability. That’s just too contingent on emotion, which we know is multifiltered and baggage-laden. I’ve read your past post on gettin’ my freak on, on embracing my own quirkiness, and now I’m ready for the next nugget of wisdom. How do I change the game, hmm…

  5. Fantabulous post, Jonathan, and an ideal read to kick off Friday!

    A few quotes come to mind:

    “Nobody does it better.” -Carly Simon singing the theme to “The Spy Who Loved Me”


    “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” -Dr. Seuss

    It’s true. When your business is a pure flowering of your heart and soul, not to be gushy or new age here, there really is no competition. Your customers flock to you and come to cherish the unique service and environment that you create from well honed intuition and a position of sincere gratitude. Build the relationships!

    Jonathan, your advice to your friend above reads like a glittering, impassioned communique to a friend that one could easily imagine within the context of a great novel.

    Timeless thoughts!


    • Rob says:

      @Pete, love me a good Dr. Seuss quote. My kids may outgrow them, but I never will!
      Thanks for the own it, amplify it, feature it.
      I’ve been trying to set myself apart because I am different. It is so easy to stay in comfort zones, though.

      Live it LOUD!

  6. Ed Gandia says:

    Right on, Jonathan!! This is the sort of mindset freelancers and solo professionals need to adopt. That “I’m in competition with everyone, including the big guys” mentality came from the upbringing many of us had in the corporate world or in more traditional businesses where it’s all about year-to-year growth and market share. But in a long-tail economy where your capacity is limited to begin with (you have only so much available time as a solo), YOU are the product. YOU are who your clients buy. The competition is irrelevant!

  7. Christopher says:

    With that said, Atlas Shrugged Part 1, is out in theatres today.

    There’s no competition if you move to fulfill your vision and let nothing get in your way.

    Thanks Jonathan.

  8. Rick says:

    Brilliant post, spot on. I’m not competing with the other folks in this town doing consulting – I can own ME and give folks that better than anyone else. Again, just brilliant.

  9. Are there other blog consultants out there? Sure. But they’re not me and they don’t work or talk or think like I do. I appeal to certain people and not others. The “not others” will never be me clients. I don’t even want them to be! Anybody else can have ’em.

  10. Cory says:

    Great and timely post, Jonathan. Was just discussing this very subject with a dear friend about 6 hours ago. I get very nervous when I let “The Forces That Be” distract me into the illusion that somehow they know something that I don’t. I guess if they did, my clients would be beating down THEIR door, instead of mine! For as long as I have been in this business, the sky has been falling, and we have simply gone on doing what we do. Thanks for the anxiety squash.

  11. There are different personality types and business or any institution should not be a one size fits all model.

  12. Attraction rather than promotion …

  13. Hans Hageman says:

    I needed this! I’m a trained lawyer and recently headed up a large nonprofit. I gave it up to start a personal training studio with my wife. I’m 53, with a bunch of kids in school and college, a mortgage, and serving as the sole source of support for a girls school we started in India. There is the opportunity for fear and insecurity to leak in. This piece reminds me that everything that has made us successful in the past and that drove us to this point, will be the reason for our next success. Thank you.

  14. Mark Freddy Farrell says:

    I needed this post. Doing 3 Jobs at the moment, and havent
    decided in which direction I am heading. I am a Lanscape Gardener, Design and sell my Medical Products, and Do small Group and Personal Training. The Fitness Training is an offshoot of where I have been doing Karate for 8 years.
    They have expanded their Training to an MMA as well.
    Offering all styles of Fight Fitness, and Competition.
    I have Grown my group over the past 2 yrs with a Kickboxing Fitness Brand for Women, Men and Children.
    Focussing on Fitness, and Basic Self Defense. I rent space, I am now thinking of setting up my own place in our local Village. This Post is Good Timing for me. Making up my mind, and heading in one direction seems the hardest to Do.


    Mark Freddy Farrell.

    I am heading

  15. […] for me in this quest was a post by Jonathan Fields about Karma Capitalism. As I was reading his blog a few days ago, it occurred to me that while the post is ostensibly about business and branding, […]

  16. Dom says:

    Thanks for this post Jonathan – it struck a chord with me as a personal fitness trainer in London.

    One thing that gyms don’t do is give ‘workout homework’ and nutrition advice between sessions, which is what I offer my clients. So I guess that’s an example of changing the game.

    @hans hageman – good luck with your personal training studio.

    @peter paluska – great Dr Seuss quote!

  17. kevin says:

    great article. especially for the “little guy” who decides to start up a gig in an area with some “players”. you cant try to be them or a smaller version of them. you wont last. find your groove, your place. what are the big guys not doing and how can you do it. look for other entrepreneurial companies. keep your ear to the ground to see who has had a bad experience being a file number instead of a client. and hustle.