8 Ways to Stand Out with Integrity in an Industry that has Little
Welcome to the fitness space, where integrity is hard to come by.
I’ve been employed in the fitness industry since I was 15, when I got a job at my local neighborhood gym’s NURSERY just to get the free membership.
Since then, I’ve managed fitness centers, corporate wellness facilities, run group fitness programs, created university personal training programs, developed certification curriculums, personal trained from sun up to sun down, spoken on stages to hundreds of people, written for fitness publications, and more.
And over the last 9 years, I’ve run an online fitness company, JillFit, where all of my services have been virtual.
Online fitness is a huge industry. People anywhere in the world can work with the fitness trainer/influencer/Instafamous model/coach of their choosing, no matter where in the globe they’re located. More people are buying coaching services virtually than ever, whether it’s fitness coaching, nutrition consultation or — mostly what I do now — business mentorship.
But here’s the thing with virtual coaching: claims, results, revenue, social proof, testimonials, and more — are not verifiable.
We just have to take people’s word for it.
For example, “7-figure business owner” is a common IG bio tagline, but what can often go unsaid are things like, did this person make 7-figures within the same 365 days, or have they just made that over their business’ lifetime. Or, great, they made $1M, but how much did they spend in paid advertising? $2M? (Not uncommon). Or worst of all, are they completely lying because they made $750,000 last year and hey, it’s close enough.
Unless it’s a company that publicly posts its P&L statements, there is no way to really know. Even things that have nothing to do with money like:
Did they buy followers?
Did they rent designer bags and shoes for their photo shoot, and are they just not mentioning that small little detail, knowing it comes off like it’s theirs? To project the image that you, too, can have these things in you just enroll in their coaching program for $2,000?
Did they call themselves a “best-selling author” when in actuality they made their book free on Amazon, drove traffic to it for a day and then took a screenshot when it hit #1 for an hour on the most obscure list?
In episode 109 of ‘The Best Life’ podcast, my co-host Danny-J and I pull back the curtain on all the pseudo lies and omissions that we’ve seen in the industry. Give it a listen.
But I don’t want to spend this time being negative and critiquing.
Instead, I want to share some ways you can start coming on the offensive and leading with integrity and transparency, as a seasoned fitness vet, or someone new to the space.
In a space where so much *isn’t* said, honesty is the opportunity.
So here are 8 ways to set yourself apart using integrity:
1) Have loyalty lines in the sand, and act accordingly.
Months ago, I was approached by a digital marketer with a large following. She asked if I wanted to be a part of a documentary she was producing. I was referred to her through someone else, and I actually had no connection to this person at all. Though, I had heard her name from one of my long-time coaching clients. My client, who’d been loyally with me for years and was crushing, had shared that this person had bad-mouthed her publicly, was constantly dishing out backhanded compliments and being passive-agressive.
My client was my priority and I believed her, even though the documentary sounded like a great opportunity. I reached to my client and asked, “Are you on good terms with this woman, or she still not someone you trust?” She told me it was the latter, and I didn’t need another second to decide about the documentary. I was out. No questions asked.
I responded to the woman kindly, and though I didn’t disclose the exact reason for turning it down (my client was my priority), I was direct and I didn’t lie ether. And that was that.
So, what’s your loyalty hierarchy?
Mine: my paying clients (even previous clients!), my good friends, my family and the peers I respect in the industry. I will go to bat for them. I will have their back even when no one is looking. I will stand up for them when they’re not there. I will turn down opportunities for them.
This is how it works. When you have loyalty lines in the sand, you don’t compromise. You act accordingly. And you’d be amazed at how everything works out.
2) Avoid gossip, and don’t try to manage what isn’t your business to manage.
A couple years ago, I peer of mine reached out, and said she was surprised that so-and-so was working with me as a client. She said, “I’m just surprised because she didn’t have good things to say about you [at one point]…”
As a human, I get hits when things like this come up. Not every person is going to speak highly of you all the time, and certainly, I don’t want my clients to talk badly about me, but I had to assess the bottom line.
And the botton line was: my client hired me of her own volition, obviously thinking I could help her (I could). Next, she was always kind and respectful to my face (really all I could go on, ya?). My client had never brought any grievances up to me herself (so why would I take it upon myself to bring up something out of the blue?).
And at the end of the day, while these kinds of things can certainly sting, it’s not my business to manage. It’s not my job to initiate a conversation with my client about something I heard via a third party. We’re adults, and if someone wants to share something to my face, I am happy to have that discussion (and believe me, it would be a discussion, I have no problem with criticism, I love honest conversations). But I won’t waste my time and project storylines that aren’t being addressed head on. Not my job.
I refuse to gossip, I refuse to talk shit, I refuse to say anything out loud to someone else that I wouldn’t also bring up to the person I’m talking about.
Your word is everything, so be careful how you wield it.
And in a similar vein…
3) Initiate tough, uncomfortable conversations.
My friend and peer, Chrissy King, is a writer, speaker and a coach. And much of her work is in the realm of body confidence and social justice. She shares generously and prolifically how businesses and personal brands can be more inclusive, and how we can start uncovering our own subconscious biases. I’ve learned so much from her.
Chrissy and I worked together for 3 years to get her online business up and running, and the Charlottesville incident happened during that time. Chrissy, as someone who is in her integrity, reached out to me honestly, and said, “I need to know that you are doing social justice work on some level, or else I can’t work with you anymore.”
I totally got it. She and I are friends, in addition to working together, and it was then that I started really doing the work to uncover my own biases and acknowledge my own privilege as a white woman. Not because of Chrissy necessarily, though I respect the heck out of her, but because it was irresponsible for me to remain ignorant to it all. I didn't know what I didn't know (that’s exactly what privilege is) and honestly, some of the ways I’ve acted in the past feel embarrassing and horrific to me now, but once my complicincy came into my consciousness, it became important to me.
And so I started learning, educating myself and working to acknowledge my privilege and figure out ways to be more inclusive. I still have a long, LONG way to go, and it’s an ongoing thing, but I’ll always cherish Chrissy’s willingness to have that conversation with me.
And I want to do the same for others. I want to iniate tough convos when I need to, in order to remain in my integrity. I’ll have a tough convo in an intimate convo with a friend or a peer, and I’ll have a tough convo in a public comments section of a social media post. These things never feel awesome, but they are a service. And I’m here for it.
4) Have principles you adhere to, even when no one’s looking.
How do you want to do your business? It’s important that you have a code of ethics or core values ahead of getting in to business, so that when situations come up that require you make hairy decisions, you let your values dictate how you proceed. It’s simpler.
One of my business clients recently asked my opinion on pricing her services. She mentioned that it had been a while since she raised her prices, and recently, a new potential client reached out to work with her. My client said, “I know this woman is pretty wealthy, should I charge more?”
First off, no. Your price is your price regardless of the person on the receiving end’s financial situation.
My client understood that, but was wondering about increasing it since “it was time.” My response, “Tell this woman the price as it is right now, without taking her wealth into account. Be honest. But after this, maybe for any future leads, increase it, since it’s time anyway.”
Do you have a code of ethics? Do you have core values? What will you stand for? What will you not? This whole list of 8 things right here, this is my code of ethics ;)
5) Maintain an Abundance Mindset, and wish people well, even if they choose not to work with you.
I see a lot of coaches getting angry with clients who choose not to continue working with them. This is the same thing as a boss getting upset over you quitting for a better opportunity. Ridiculous, in my opinion.
In 2019, people get to choose where they spend their dollars and they should choose based on what they believe to be the best for them. Me getting upset over that is absurd. And also, it doesn't negate the great relationship I did have with them for a time.
I wish them well. I tell them I’m in their corner. I tell them I hope they have continued success. I thank them for the time they spent with me.
However, the one thing I do do is stop promoting them like I would with a current paying client. Not because I don’t think their amazing or because I don’t wish them well, but because being a current paying client should have benefits that those no longer paying don’t enjoy.
This isn’t about being vindictive or bitter, it’s about implementing fair boundaries. We can still be friends, and I am still very good friends with many of my clients who have moved on. It doesn't have to be a big thing.
In 2017, I hosted an online business event for fitness, and my friend and internet marketer Derek Halpern came to speak at it. He wasn’t pitching his services necessarily but some of my clients applied for his mastermind as a result of seeing him speak.
And the way he approached it said everything I needed to know about his character. Here’s the text he sent me about it:
I was actually fine if he took them on because I, too, enjoy a free market and if someone is doing business better than me or is connecting with someone better, they deserve the business.
But the key here is how he handled it. It was with integrity and abundance.
And, I’ve had the opposite experience, where peers or other professionals will harrass and continuously sell to my clients, who they’ve only met through me.
I have no problem with people connecting to others — that’s why it’s called “social” media — but when you are using someone else’s client roster to try to populate your own, I’m sorry, it’s greasy. Do better.
Having an Abundance Mindset means you never feel like you are fighting for clients, you never get emo about someone else doing well, and you TRUST that your work is good enough, your reputation is good enough and YOU are good enough to assemble your own amazing client roster born out of your own work ethic and credibility.
6) Don’t lie. Even lies where the other party will never find out.
When I started JillFit in 2010, I wasn’t making enough money to bring on an assistant to do my emails and customer service. And at the time I had a coach who told me, “Just make up an assistant so that the person doesn’t think it’s really you on the other end, and you don’t end up doing free coaching.”
Made sense, and I did it for a bit. I even encouraged some of my clients to do it.
Ugh, thinking back on this makes my stomach turn. Not because this lie is that big of a deal (and when you think about it, it does make sense), but because it was a LIE at all. We think some lies aren’t a big deal. We think they’ll never find out. We think, what they don’t know can’t hurt them. We omit. We tell small, white lies.
But here’s the thing, no matter how small the lie, it’s not benign. And if I’m willing to lie about the small things, what makes you think I won’t lie about something bigger. I would. You would. That’s the way lying works.
And if I’m in someone’s presence as they lie to someone else, you better believe I know they would lie to me, too. What makes me think they wouldn't!
It took me going through infidelity in my own marriage to seriously look at my relationship to honesty, and I can say now, I refuse to lie. It feels disgusting in my body, it’s nonnegotiable. I’d rather be without the thing than lie to get it.
I recommend the book, ‘Lying’ by Sam Harris, it was a huge game-changer for me.
7) Be discerning and honest when in sales conversations.
Years ago, I was listening to a podcast interview with Ramit Sethi, an OG internet marketer and super successful business owner and author. He said, “We don’t allow anyone with debt to purchase our courses.”
I remember thinking, wow, what a line in the sand!
Although, of course there’s no way of knowing if the person is in debt at the time of purchase, but if someone’s credit card keeps declining while making payments, then discontinuing payments and taking them out of the program might be warranted, instead of trying to track them down to take money they don’t have.
We’ve had to make similar calls at JillFit, where people will want to pay for a program with multiple differents credit cards or ask us if we can wait until they get paid to take their enrollment. While I love that they’re so psyched to get started, it feels out of my integrity to have someone who’s scraping by put their money toward programs or a coaching calls that are frankly luxuries. And so, in those moments, we’ve assured the person that there will be other opportunities and we don’t want them stretching themselves unnecessarily to make payments.
Similarly, I recently launched Fitness Business Accelerator (FBA), my 6-month business coaching program for online fitness pros.
I did dozens of sales calls for the program, and one question I always asked was, “Can you make the live Tuesday calls? That’s where most of the magic happens, so if you can’t make them, I don’t think it’s worth your money.”
Sure, they can listen to the recordings of the calls later, but honestly, it’s not the same and I know they won’t get the results they deserve. So it’ll be bad for them and me, since I’m only as good as the results my clients are getting. So it’s a no.
Maintaining an Abundance Mindset allows for me to feel that I can forgo the cheap, high-pressure sale right now in favor of a great, ongoing relationship with the person, that will turn into a larger and better sales opportunity later. Or not. But either way, I get to be in my integrity, and the person leaves feeling taken care of and with good feelings there. Win-win.
8) Be as transparent as possible in all things.
If you buy followers, don’t pretend you didn’t. If you’re a business coach and believe that buying followers is an advisable business move, just say it. And then share why. But don’t do it, and then pretend to your own clients that your built your platform organically. Explaining why you do what you do can be an incredible teaching tool, if you’re brave enough to pull the curtain back.
If you have a launch that doesn't crush, talk about it. What happened? What went well, and what could have been improved upon? This is a great clinical practice for your own clients. Remember, business can be objective if you treat it that way.
If something’s not working, don’t be afraid to talk about that. It’s a service to your audience. You can admit what you didn’t do well, while also vowing to learn and grow. I shared a good amount of my own business failures in a recent post here.
I personally love transparency. Not only is it a service to your audience, it’s a complete trust-builder. If I’m going to sell something, I don’t pretend I’m not.
If I reach out to someone, I want them to know that I have something — they can pay for — that would help them tremendously. And on the other hand, it feels awkward and trust-destroying when someone you consider a friend or even a peer, reaches out to “catch up” and then minutes into the call you realize this is a sale pitch. Lol Ugh. No thanks!
I teach a course on Transparency Marketing, and why sharing everything up front not only makes sales less awkward, but actually results in more sales.
Our customers and clients, fans and followers, are more savvy than ever. And have more access than ever. So things can and WILL get found out. Being proactive with your services and honest in your relations, even if it’s scary or you might lose the sale, is always worth it. You still have your integrity and the other person leaves with good feelings, and hope of a relationship in the future.
I wrote, ‘How to Get Better at Sales Without Selling’ here.
And look, in conclusion, I am not without fault on all this stuff.
I have lied in the past. I have fudged the truth. I have allowed lies of omission to exist. I have not always done my best to disclose everything. But I am working on it. And I’ve done a complete 180 over the last 9 years in business.
If you are working with me, I can guarantee you will get the truth. You will get an honest take on things. You will get the full, inconvenient story. Take it or leave it.
Because I know at the end of the day, all I have in business is my integrity. It’s my reputation, it’s literally my future business success.
I am a work in progress, but I am doing everything I can to own the fact that I am human and I mess up, I have a massive ego that gets in the way at times, and I need to continue working on all these things. One day at a time.
But I’m here for it.