Networking 101 For Fitness Professionals

How to make connections strategically and meet people who can boost your career.

by Fred Hoffman, MEd

How to make connections strategically and meet people who can boost your career.


Do you have the magic touch to build and harness the power of your network? This pro tells you how to do both.

Professional networking - we all do it. Sometimes it's deliberate and sometimes it happens by accident, but in either case, it's pivotal to our professional development.

This is especially true in an inherently social industry like health and fitness. It won't be just the merits of your certifications or perfect form that propel you to success. It will be your network of colleagues who help you hone your craft and who, along with family, friends and clients, will clue you in on crucial career opportunities.

What Exactly Is Networking?

Networking means developing and maintaining contacts and personal connections with people who can help you and your career. Effective networking is all about establishing, cultivating and nurturing professional relationships. It goes far beyond a two-person exchange of giving and getting.

Your network is based on trust and honesty - and it grows over time. Networking can happen anywhere, anytime and with anyone.

Networking events target specific people and professions, so you know what you're in for when you attend them. But don't rule out the potential for casual encounters that lead to conversations about common professional interests. Chance meetings can turn into networking opportunities while you're in line for the bus, waiting for coffee or sweating at the fitness center.

When and Where Can We Network?

Successful networking requires planning and a strategy. First, determine your goals. Are you networking to find a job or change companies? To recruit for your business? To share thoughts and ideas with like-minded people? Are you moving to another area of the country or abroad and need to meet people in your new home? Or are you simply looking for additional people to reach out to for specific advice or help? After you've worked out your goals, start looking for networking opportunities that will help you achieve them.

ATTEND AN INDUSTRY EVENT

Attending an industry-specific event such as IDEA World (where this year you can obtain CEUs in the AFAA-NASM educational track) or a fitness fair, or a health and wellness trade show. All of these provide fantastic networking possibilities. Be sure to attend social events, join focus groups and wander the trade show to speak with vendors. And don't hesitate to approach featured speakers and presenters, who should be happy to chat with you.

Also, conference and convention organizers always need help, so you may consider volunteering in exchange for a free or reduced registration and a chance to participate in classes and lectures. That'll give you access to many of the speakers, put you in contact with hundreds of participants and show you the behind-the-scenes workings of a major event.

Not sure which events are best for you? Go online and narrow your search with specific keywords, or ask colleagues to recommend their favorite events.

BE A LOCAL EXPERT

Another great networking tactic is to establish yourself as a local expert. Your nearby Red Cross or American Heart Association chapter would be happy to have you give a free lecture or fitness class, as would the local chamber of commerce or city council.

For other local networking opportunities, look for events at nearby community centers, places of worship, schools and universities. Meetups (www.meetup.com) also help you find people with common interests-just go to the website and do a quick online search for interesting networking possibilities near you.

Go Online

The internet can connect you with people around the world, many of whom you'd never meet otherwise.

Start with social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and look for industry-specific groups that will connect you with other fitness pros who can provide exercise tips, help solve a problem with a client or provide a sounding board for work-related issues and challenges.

You also can attend online networking events like the ones offered to university alumni, or participate in a Google Hangout or a Twitter party with a specific theme and audience. The beauty of these is that you can access them from anywhere with a computer or mobile device (tablet or smartphone) and an internet connection. And after joining, if you realize a group or event is not for you, it is simple to leave just by unsubscribing or signing out.

How Do You Share Your Message?

It's not enough to have a savvy networking strategy. You have to know how to implement it and make sure your efforts aren't wasted.

For starters, you must be able to introduce yourself and describe your professional activity clearly, precisely and quickly (in 30 seconds or less). You want to leave a lasting impression, so try to say something noteworthy or intriguing that people won't forget.

Once you've introduced yourself, it's time to practice active listening. Give your new contact your entire focus and listen closely. Remember, it is a two-way ex-change. The conversation should never be just about you and your interests.

As you talk, be yourself and be genuine. Take risks and be curious, but always remain respectful. Make sure the conversation is going in the direction you want it to, and don't let it go off the rails. (For more on sparking conversations, check the Top 5 Tips sidebar.)

If you exchange business cards, read the card before putting it in your pocket or bag. You may notice something on the card that you want to comment on or ask about. As soon as possible after the conversation, make a note on the back of the card that includes details to help you remember them, what you discussed, and what, if anything, you want to follow up on. (An example could be: "short red hair, lives in San Francisco, teaches Pilates, send her a list of my services.") You don't want to arrive back home or at your hotel room with a slew of business cards and realize you have no idea whose card is whose.

Then, follow up: Do what you said you'd do-in a timely manner. Always remind the person where you met and what you talked about. If you are requesting something, offer something in exchange, even if it is just an open invitation for that person to contact you anytime.

What Marketing Materials Are Key?

Business cards are NOT old school. Carry them with you everywhere. You never know when you might want to give one to someone.

Before creating your card, decide what you want it to say. For contact information, provide the most efficient way to get in touch with you. If you don't want people sending things to your home address, then don't include it. If you noted several means of contact (phone, email, social media), be clear as to which one is the best.

Business cards do not need to cost a lot of money. There are many inexpensive card services available. A word of caution though: Your card represents you and your brand, so opt for a quality that reflects that.

You should also have a marketing portfolio available digitally and, on short notice, in printed form. It should include the following:

• An updated resume or CV (digital version)

• A current headshot photo and several fitness action shots (professional or high-quality)

• Two versions of your personal biography (a short summary of who you are, what you do and several accomplishments). The most common word counts requested for brochures and other marketing materials are 25 words and 50-75 words.

Boosting Your Fitness Career

Networking is crucial to finding the most promising opportunities in the health and fitness industry. Your networking should reflect your desired outcome: what you want to do, where you want to do it (company and/or location), where to look for opportunities and how to find people who can help make this happen. Prepare properly, seize opportunities and exploit them professionally.

But remember, networking is an art form. It must be developed, practiced and allowed to evolve over time. AF

Top 5 Tips for Networking Success at a Convention or Conference

There are a number of professional fitness conferences and conventions coming up this summer (check out some event ideas on page 6 to start your wish list!). Get ready to put your best networking foot forward!

1. Prepare your opening line. Arrive prepared with a welcome introduction and a few questions to get a conversation started. This could be as simple as asking where a person is from and why they're at the event. Follow up with a question about their work situation.
2. Size up the room (or crowd). At social events, get a drink or something to eat and observe what is going on around you. Scan the room for people with whom you may want to speak. Avoid approaching people who are deeply engaged in conversation, as an interruption may be counterproductive.
3. Sit beside strangers. At lectures or presentations, sit next to people you don't know. Say hello, introduce yourself and ask why they are attending the session. The same applies to a group fitness class or activity session.
4. Participate in group activities. When an instructor asks you to "work in twos" or "turn to the person next to you," seize the moment. This is the time to introduce yourself and strike up a conversation.
5. Know when to move on. If you see that a conversation is going nowhere or you realize the person is not interested, excuse yourself and leave, or just end the conversation by not asking more questions. Most important, don't take offense. Networking opportunities can misfire for any number of reasons, so remember that it is not personal. There will be many more opportunities for meaningful exchanges.


Chance meetings can turn into opportunities while you're in line for the bus or waiting for coffee.

Meet our experts

fredhoffman Fred Hoffman, MEd, Fred Hoffman, MEd, is the owner of Fitness Resources Consulting in Paris. The recipient of the 2007 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year Award, he holds a master’s degree in health education and is certified by ACSM and ACE.

The information provided is without warranty or guarantee and NASM disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information. Learn more