24 min read

Building Authentic Community with Rodney J. Morris

Oct 20, 2021 9:59:00 AM



One of the most powerful motivators in sticking to a fitness or wellness program is knowing and feeling that you are part of a community. How many times have you thought to yourself, “I really don’t feel like sticking to the program today, but I really DO want to connect with the others who are sticking to the program”? …  Or something like that So, cultivating that community can be an essential accelerator in any independent fitness pro’s success. 

How has the importance of community, and how you begin to build it, changed, along with almost everything else, in the past couple years? And how can you tap into the value of your pre-existing high equity relationships? You might be surprised to learn that the foundations of your future community of participants already exists. 

I sat down with MyFitPod’s Chief Operating Officer Rodney Morris to learn all of this and more. In a conversation about building authentic community.

Episode Transcript:

James Brown: (00:00)
One of the most powerful motivators and sticking to a fitness or wellness program is knowing and feeling that you're part of a community. How many times have you thought to yourself? I really don't feel like sticking to the program today, but I really do want to connect with others that are sticking to the program or something like that. So cultivating that community can be an essential accelerator in any independent fitness pro success. How has the importance of community and how you begin to build it changed along with almost everything else in the past couple of years. And how can you tap into the value of your preexisting high equity relationships? You might be surprised to learn that the foundations of your future community of participants already exists. I sat down with my Fitpots chief operating officer, Rodney Morris, to learn all of this and more in a conversation about building authentic community. This is the independent fitness pro podcast, the people and things you need to know to launch, grow and elevate your independent fitness career brought to you by my fit part. In this series, we're taking a deep dive into the journey from being an employee, to being an independent entrepreneur in the rapidly evolving world of fitness and wellness, what it means, what it takes and how to make it happen.

Rodney Morris: (01:15)
My name is Rodney Morris and I am in Dallas, Texas. Welcome Rodney.

James Brown: (01:19)
Uh, we're here today to talk about community building for independent fitness professionals. Let's start with why is community building important for an independent fitness professional?

Rodney Morris: (01:28)
You know, James, I think community building is critically essential, you know, for an independent fitness professional. You know, one thing that definitely has changed for a lot of folks is that, you know, up until recently, a lot of pros have been very content to work in gyms, you know, to deliver their services, to have literally the hundreds of thousands of members that joined their gym or studio each month, you know, filtered to them, um, as consumers, you know, of their services. And that's changed, you know, for an independent fitness professional, what's different is that now that convenience of having, you know, your customers brought to you, um, is, is not there. And in addition, you're now accountable for not just finding those people, but also retaining them. So I think the first thing to really figure out or the, to think about is, you know, what exactly does community mean as an independent fit pro and really it's that feeling, you know, a fellowship and the camaraderie, and also just that common, uh, interest, attitudes and goals that you share with other people and specifically those who are consumers of your services. So to say that in literally two words, community is about common ground and being able to successfully find people that you have that commonality with in terms of what you offer and motivate, activate, and retain them as customers. So it really kind of comes down to first and understanding of what you offer that's unique and or special, or quite frankly, valuable, you know, to an audience that is within your area and then to how you communicate that to them and get them to opt in versus opt out. Sounds good. So

James Brown: (03:06)
Where should people start and how can people build

Rodney Morris: (03:09)
From there? Well, I think there's a couple of big things to think about, and we'll definitely talk about where to start, because I think that's probably one of the places where most people get hung up and then quite frankly get stuck. But then from there, I think we have to think about exactly what we're going to say to motivate people, to, to make that leap. And then we've got to make it stick. And then once we make it stick, we've got to make it grow. So starting with, you know, literally where to start, this could be mind blowing for some, um, and it can seem painfully obvious to others, but you know, where we should start when it comes to building community. There's one thing to think about, it's going to be easier for you to build relationships and build community with, with people that are already within reach and I'm using air quotations.

Rodney Morris: (03:52)
But to say, because it means that these people are actually close to you in some way, shape or form. The other part of that is understanding that in order to build a community, people have to, to some degree self identify either with what you're offering or specifically with you. So I'm going to give you guys a term that I want to burn in your minds. And that term is high equity relationships. When you're building your initial audience or even better, if you start to build an audience and it hasn't gone where you wanted it to, and you're trying to kind of reset, go back to high equity relationships. And what does that mean? High equity relationships are relationships where you've already made significant deposits, meaning you're not a stranger you're someone of importance or someone of meaning to these people. Typically your hot equity relationships are your friends, your family, your colleagues, you know, current clients, you know, those who are already within your circle or are in very close proximity to you.

Rodney Morris: (04:52)
And these relationships are the most important because typically because of the familiarity is easier to get engagement. Meaning they're going to respond to an email, a phone call, a text or an in-person ask, and they're going to naturally be stickier because, you know, these are people that not only, you know, interact with you, probably on a regular basis, they likely intend to interact with you in the future. So if you make an ask of them or you, you know, are, uh, making a promotion for services, you know, even if they decline and choose to opt out the likelihood that they'll completely, you know, break or several, the relationship is pretty low. So in terms of where to start those high equity relationships, you know, literally put a pen and paper down, go through your Facebook feed, go through your friends list, your contacts and your phone. Most of us will be shocked to realize how many people are really within those inner spheres of the circle. And I would contend, you know, quite assertively actually, that those are actually the people to start with. And not just, they may all be willing to purchase your services, but because they know you, their stickiness there's engagement in each one of them could potentially refer or recommend that your services to the other people that they know which their pool is likely just as large as yours

James Brown: (06:15)
Having recognized the value of these high equity relationships. Why do you think that so many, um, starting out independent fitness pros fail to recognize this and tap into it?

Rodney Morris: (06:25)
Oh, it's a lot like, it's actually one of my favorite components of a lesson that Maria Turco, uh, does, uh, with the launch accelerator, from my fit pod. And it's really talking about the difference between, you know, your sense of self-worth and self-value, and I definitely, you know, I'll touch on it briefly, but there's a great resource to dig into there, to learn more about it. But I think what actually gets in the way for lots of independent fit pros is that at their core, they actually struggle, you know, with the idea of asking people, to help them asking people, to support them, especially if those people are close to them, because there's also the inner Sapper tour that, that sense of self doubt where, you know, what, if I fail, what if this doesn't succeed, but if I'm not good enough and although the focus of our conversation today, isn't about how to necessarily, you know, assassinate the inner Sabbath tour.

Rodney Morris: (07:14)
I think, you know, a, a poor or low or absent sense of self-worth is usually one of the biggest triggers as to why, uh, independent fit pros, don't start close to home. Um, and if anything, you know, if that kind of resonated with you, as you're listening to this, I'm going to, you know, recommend a quick checkup from the neck up, uh, to ask yourself why you question, you know, the, the longevity and the durability of those relationships. You know, that's, again, a whole separate conversation that we could dig into, but to answer the question, James, I really think that's the source of it. There's, there's, there's a, uh, there's a misconnect, uh, on, uh, a sense of self-worth, which would definitely inform someone's confidence or willingness to ask people who are close to them to actually help them be successful.

James Brown: (08:01)
That's really interesting, um, to think that perhaps the thing that makes us reach really far outside of our circle is that we're trying to find people that don't feel the same way as we do about our own self value.

Rodney Morris: (08:14)
Say that loud for the folks in the cheap seats. Like there's, there's a, there's a big deal to that, right? And it's actually working with a lot of independent fitpros, you know, I see that, you know, usually when we start working with folks, the first thing they want to do is do like social media advertising and put, pay an advertisement now and try to find people in the Bangladesh to participate in their virtual sessions. When literally there are hundreds to thousands of people, literally literally around the corner from them. And they get frustrated when people who are thousands of miles away who don't know them from Adam are not motivated to pay for the services like, oh my gosh,

James Brown: (08:51)
You've decided to reach out to those close to you. What are the things your messaging should have? What are some of the ways to, to send that message?

Rodney Morris: (09:00)
So this is the part where if you're struggling to kind of get over the hump of a sense of self-worth to even make the ask, this is going to be really hard for you because in those conversations to build community and get your close circle, to convert as followers, there's a high level of vulnerability and transparency that you must be willing to have. So the first thing that you're going to say, and I'll give you the bullets first, and then we can walk through some examples just to make sure that everyone listening can, can really con can understand and be able to apply. This. Is that the first thing that you say is you actually call out identify name, highlight what actually creates the relationship equity between you and that person or you in that group. So, you know, speaking like directly that someone is a close friend, a family member, a colleague, someone that you value someone that you've helped and be specific, especially that there are specific and compelling stories.

Rodney Morris: (09:55)
That's the first part, because before you transition in to talking about what you're doing or talking about, you know, what you want people to do, you need to remind them upfront that they care and that they should care. So that really no matter what you ask next, it should be something they're at least willing to consider, but most likely do. So the first thing is, start with defining, naming, verbalizing, you know, the actual relationship equity and the nature of the bond between you and that person. Uh, so the second thing then is actually where the vulnerability comes in. You got to actually communicate, you know, why this thing that you're doing matters to you. And this is actually where you tell your story. I had a, I had a wonderful conversation yesterday with, uh, an instructor in New Jersey, uh, that primarily teaches yoga, but her, her focus is on restorative as opposed to like traditional flows and you know, that type of stuff.

Rodney Morris: (10:50)
And I asked her to kind of tell me her story. And it was so powerful because in addition to just all the turns and the trials and tribulations of life, you know, what brought her to the practice was a realization that she needed to find a way to, to truly calm, you know, all of the crazy in her life from, you know, issues, you know, with family issues, with her professional career, you know, the challenges of aging herself and having to juggle, you know, the dynamics of a changing family and the practice allowed her to be able to manage all of those things. And her, why is that she really wants to help other people be able to capture that. And specifically people like her, you know, in her age demographic who are dealing with some of the same life challenges and, you know, just their, her having the, the willingness to share that story.

Rodney Morris: (11:44)
Like I immediately just naturally, like, I want it to be a part of her community. I was like, I can connect with that. I can identify with that. Like, you know, in my personal life, you know, my mother passed, you know, a number of years ago, I've been working through some issues with my father, as he's aging, you know, all the traditional trials and tribulations of aging yourself and your body changing. And, you know, all of those things, I was like, wow, like, I feel like I'm already a member of her tribe. And I think for most independent, fitpros just like, we're often unwilling to go to the people close to us. We also don't necessarily fully lift the hood up and give people insight into why this is so important to us. And those two things starting with the relationship equity and then being really transparent and vulnerable about the why those two things are where it captivate people's interests and in many ways confirm their level of commitment.

Rodney Morris: (12:39)
So I think those first two were just epic and major. Um, the third, and I want to dig into this with actually a lot more that we have another talk that we'll do that you can listen to. That'll really kind of unpack. This is the sharing for them, what the physical versus the emotional value is of whatever you're about to ask. So I'll give you a very quick story, but, you know, I've spent a lot of years in the fitness business and back in the day, you know, when we did profiles with people that came into the gym that purchase a membership, one of the questions we always ask them to confirm their commitment and clothes was on a scale of one to 10, how serious are you about achieving these goals? And usually the goals were losing weight, gaining muscle toning, affirming that kind of stuff.

Rodney Morris: (13:22)
Right. But you know, one of the things that I found and actually led, you know, when I was at fitness connection was just transforming that whole question of your process to really focus on identifying the emotional value and the emotional goals that those particular individuals have. And I'm giving you that here too, because the question of how serious are you about losing 10 pounds? Is it as compelling as the question of how serious are you not only about losing 10 pounds, but about having the confidence to stand in front of a crowd and be seen like those types of statements, those types of anchors for people are really critical. It really powerful. So thinking about you as an independent, FitPro selling your services is not just about, Hey, come join, you know, my 10 week bootcamp, so you can lose 50 pounds. There needs to be more to it, and it needs to be emotional.

Rodney Morris: (14:14)
And this is where having high relationship equity matters because chances are, you already know what those emotional values and triggers are, you know, for those people, you know, you know, for example, if Suzanne, you know, just had her third child and she's had difficulty, you know, regaining her pre, uh, baby body and she struggles with self-confidence and depression, or, you know, that someone has high blood pressure, you know, and they have anxiety around having, you know, some type of health risk episode or, or, you know, if someone's, you know, getting married in six months and they're just really excited to be able to take photographs of that day, they're going to cherish forever. You have all of this invaluable information with people who are close to you, that you can literally utilize to motivate them and get them to convert, or the fourth step, which is take action.

Rodney Morris: (15:11)
So we've talked about three, starting with the relationship equity, communicating why it matters to you telling your story, you know, talking about the physical and the emotional value. But then the fourth thing is after you've done all that and gotten this person on fire for whatever it is that you're trying to do to build them into your community, you got to ask them to do something and news alert. It needs to be specific like book my class, join this session, post this on social media, invite four friends, talk to James about why this is so important and why he should totally do this with you, like beat Uber, Uber specific and ask them to do something that is going to help you build that community. The most obvious is to ask them to join it themselves, but maybe they aren't able to join still. They're able to help you promote and help draw more people in.

Rodney Morris: (16:04)
Um, and then the last thing that you have to say, you know, when you're having these types of conversations is actually like, it's a, it's a beautiful book, you know, tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. Right? So the last thing you want to close with is reminding these folks of that relationship equity and why, again, this is so important too. And so reflective of the quality of your relationship. And that's as simple as saying, you know, thank you so much for your support. You know, it really means a lot to me to have my family helped me, you know, achieved a significant milestone in my life, or to have my coworkers help me or to have the people that care the most about, you know, be a part of this as I get it off the ground, like literally put that emotional dagger straight through their heart and then twist it gently to the right in a very loving way to really confirm and validate their level of commitment. I think if we can find the courage and underneath all of this, the sense of self worth to, to do these things, it's actually not going to be very hard to build your initial community of 5, 10, 15, 20 followers. And, you know, once you get that critical group launched and you get them engaged and they're active over time, if you stay consistent, it's going to absolutely grow. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely grow.

James Brown: (17:22)
So just to reviews, you start with the relationship equity, you communicate, why it matters to you share the value, the physical and emotional value have a call to action and close with relationship equity and gratitude.

Rodney Morris: (17:34)
But it really is that easy. Really

James Brown: (17:39)
The, my fit pub launch accelerator course is your launchpad for success in less than three weeks, you'll learn to market and sell your sessions with our expert. You'll master social media with pro advice and a customizable posting kit. You'll publish your own pro website in minutes with our foolproof template. And you'll learn how to stream your services online, build your community of followers and get personalized support from experts, attend a free info session to receive a 50% discount on the cost of the course, get ready to level up, learn more@myfitpod.com. So what else should fit pros, be thinking and doing to try to go community

Rodney Morris: (18:24)
Well, James, I think, you know, once you kind of do the checkup from the neck up and look in the mirror and get clarity on what it is you're trying to do and who you're trying to target, and you kind of figure out your pitch right now, you've got to get people in the community. So you've got to actually make it sticky. So making it sticky is going to be something as simple as thinking about how you're offering and packaging your services, the types of sessions you offer, memberships or packages, you know, do you have programs that you offer that actually recognize and reward your followers for regular attendance? You want people to show up, but you also want them to stick and stay. So a part of that is going to be, you know, making sure that the way that you structure, how they joined the community, uh, kind of motivates and incentivize them to stick.

Rodney Morris: (19:10)
Uh, the second thing is, you know, in addition to delivering great sessions, you know, that are high quality, you know, we gotta make sure I put the, the asteriskin there. The qualifier in the building community is really, really difficult if you're not giving people a great experience or an experience that, that clearly mirrors, you know, those different, uh, describers or descriptors that we talked about earlier. So if that box is checked, you should then be able to actually double down on the emotional value. And what I mean by that is, you know, if you understand people have various emotional and physical goals, you know, if you know, you know, what some of the anchors are, and, you know, for them internally that make being a member of this community meaningful, you need to be prepared and willing to remind them of those things and to remind them often.

Rodney Morris: (19:56)
So, you know, in a teaching environment, you know, one thing we're very apt to do is to say, Hey, great job, or really great progress, right? And we'll say that to someone as we see them making, you know, those movements, but going a step deeper and making sure that the praise and the acknowledgement, you know, is consistent and really anchors to what their, their, their emotional goals are. So, you know, if someone's looking to boost their self-confidence, you know, it can be as simple as at the end of the class saying, you know, James, I really noticed today that your energy is just beaming. I can see the confidence radiating off of you. It's so great that our experiences together are helping you build and grow in that way. Like again, gently put the stake through the heart and turn it to the right, like let them see because people don't always connect those dots without someone them.

Rodney Morris: (20:47)
Um, and that's a really great way if you do that with all of your participants, you know, over time, they're going to be reminded of that higher value and they're going to want to stay. Um, but the last thing about making it sticky, you know, you got to actually have a plan, right? So have a plan to check in, like, make sure that you're still engaging with your people before the session, you know, get there early, ask questions, answer questions, interact, you know, get to know them even better. Um, during the session, you know, make sure that you're doing the praise, the acknowledgement, the recognition and the after the session building value and future experiences to come. So, you know, the pleases and thank user and automatic, you get to thank folks for being there, but after the session, again, this is a great time to help people get clarity on not just what they did in your session, but what they're taking away from it.

Rodney Morris: (21:36)
And again, the takeaways, aren't just the physical benefits. It's those emotional elements as well. So if you can execute on that check-in plan before, during, and after, in addition to having a membership or a package or a session structure structure that encourages stickiness, and you become a master of communicating emotional value to your people in your sessions and beyond, um, you're well on your way to growing a very sustainable, um, and very engaged community. So the last part in that, James, you asked me about, you know, anything else, you, you, you gotta make it grow. And, and, um, this is another topic that we could literally spend a lot of time on, but I want to give you bullets. Um, first is in the session. You know, if you don't already have a marketing hook, you need to get one, what is a marketing hook?

Rodney Morris: (22:26)
You know, it is a simple, succinct statement or tagline that you use to describe yourself, your services or your brand. So it almost typically, you know, is connected with a call to action. But in a session, you remind the people that this is where you go, if you're over 40 and fit and looking to regain, you know, the energy, the vibrancy and the vitality of your youth, like that is a marketing hook. So saying that at the beginning of your session, during the session, after the session, representing that in your branding and your marketing, whether it's social media, all of those things are important. So that's part, one figure out, you know, what your quick pitch is and make sure you're peppering that into every experience. Um, you gotta be consistent and be professional show up on time, you know, deliver a great, you know, interaction every single moment.

Rodney Morris: (23:12)
Like you can't miss it. Um, you've also got to execute on the plan, whether it's, you know, the emails, the follow ups, you know, the text message responses, you know, all of those things, you can't miss it, you got to do it. Uh, and I think there's also one more thing. One plus one equals three. And what that means is every person in your class knows someone else. And if you can activate and get them engaged, they can turn into free people, meaning they'll bring somebody else to the table. Um, that's a big part of what, of what you can do. So part two of that then is the external promotion. So, you know, using word of mouth, doing your direct referrals, all your social media advertisement, paid advertising. And again, I wouldn't go into paid advertising, you know, until you've already built and established a pretty strong audience, because again, you should be able to find your starter community with people literally like right around the corner from you. Um, and of course, follow up, follow up, follow up, like, you know, if you get leads or people reach out to you or respond to your post on social media, or, you know, your neighbor says they have a friend that they know that would really love the class, and they'll take the step to follow up and, and, and be persistent, be diligent, be obsessed with making sure that any opportunity to grow your community, you know, is fully taken advantage of

James Brown: (24:30)
Any place that you can recommend that somebody can learn more about this?

Rodney Morris: (24:35)
Well, there's a lot. So, um, you know, I think when it comes to building community, you know, a lot of times, you know, rather than recommend, you know, a bunch of tactics and things that people can do, I really think it's important for those listening to really understand better for them, what their unique and authentic community looks like and what actually, you know, is going to help them grow it. So one activity that I often give folks that I work with is to actually literally old school, take out a pen and paper, and I'm sure you may have to like look in your house to find a pen and a piece of paper to write on, but literally sit down and ask yourself the question, what is the emotional currency that is experienced in a session with me, meaning, you know, when someone works with me directly, either in personal training, taking my yoga classes, my dance classes emotionally, what are the takeaways that they're going to receive?

Rodney Morris: (25:29)
And maybe it's, you know, building their self-confidence, maybe it's feeling seed and knowing they're in a safe and non-threatening, non-intimidating, uh, non-judgmental space, right? And literally stream of conscious, just start writing this list down of all these different things. And then once you do that, take a highlighter out and really highlight or circle, you know, the statements, the words, or the ideas that really resonate with you, and you feel are things that you can authentically and consistently deliver. That is actually one of the first steps, because then once you figure those things out, you'll have the descriptors of the community that you're actually attempting to build. And you have to actually value test that, to make sure that what you're attempting to sell, attempting to promote, attempting to draw people into really is something that you can represent authentically and something that you can deliver. And once that's done figuring out how to build your community and where to go is actually where those people live, where they exist, you know, the communities that are already established that they may be a part of, or the things that they're looking at, reading, listening, watching the people that they're following. Like those are the places that you go to learn more about what motivates that audience to, to really activate, and also to put yourself in.

James Brown: (26:50)
Thank you very much for being here on me. I think that'll be very helpful to our listeners.

Rodney Morris: (26:54)
Thank you, James.


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