Originally published on mensphysique.com on Saturday, 08 February 2014
The enticing waters of the competition world can truly rule a competitor’s life, especially when a national qualification is won at local and regional shows and the national stage beckons. In fact, most of you probably already have your national contest strategy in place and are prepared to hit contest after contest to maximize your chances of getting a Pro Card.
Every year competitors continually squirm through that national level bottleneck in an effort to go Pro, accommodating and prioritizing the NPC national contest schedule and scheduling work and vacations around it. Believe me, I can relate. The national contest lineup was so etched in my brain over the last few years that I would maneuver my work schedule and everything else around it, year after year.
A profound shift seems to occur for many competitors as they pass into the Pro ranks. When I went Pro in July of 2013 at Team Universe, everything in my life took a radical shift. I am sure many of you who are IFBB Pros understand what I am talking about. Suddenly you are cast into a wide ocean, with more contests, more opportunities, and more ventures. It can be downright confusing, overwhelming and a bit depressing once you realize that the battle you waged to slay that dragon is now over, and that unless you wish to slay a bigger dragon by earning a spot on the Olympia stage, you might not know what to do now.
Probably the best advice I can give to new IFBB Pros is to enjoy the moment and float on the cloud for a while, then be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work. I honestly believe that becoming a Pro actually means you have to work harder to reinvent yourself and make your mark in the world. You are in an elite group, surrounded by many driven and incredibly talented people. How will YOU stand out?
Maybe competing is still very much in your blood and you want to collect wins and points, or you want to remain relevant in the competition world. That’s fine, but just make sure to look at the bigger picture. The people who didn’t give you a second glance when you were an amateur might suddenly be fussing over you, but don’t let the attention get to your head. You need to leverage your Pro status and your unique talents and position yourself in such a way that you truly make an impact on your followers and potentially build business and a name for yourself. Think beyond the stage, push your brand and your message, and you may indeed become one of those Pros who really stands out.
Get out there, PRO!
I have been struggling to assemble various elements of my personal branding on my own, but this task has proven to be extremely challenging. One of the first things I worked on was a logo, but after seven months, I still have nothing to show for it. Part of the problem is that I only have ideas of what I want to convey, and I have to rely on the creative vision of a logo designer to interpret my ideas in a way that is cohesive with my brand. This project has dragged on and on, and I am now beginning to doubt whether I will have a logo before the end of the year. There are countless other things on my to-do list, such as compiling an email list, revamping my three websites, designing a newsletter template, etc. I don’t have the expertise, nor do I have the time to do all of these things on my own. So I have been sitting on these projects as well.
Another thing I was hoping to get into place was a public relations person to help me with my image and to increase my exposure. Here’s where I ran into another wall. I had a meeting recently with a very competent and talented PR person but as we continued to discuss my goals and my vision, I realized that there was a disconnect. This person went through my images online and explained why certain images fell outside the realm of certain goals I was trying to achieve. While I understood that some images were less conservative than what a typical physician would take, I also felt attacked and restrained. Part of what I love about being who I am right now is the fact that I AM atypical, that I am defying the odds, and that I am challenging stereotypes.
One thing this person told me was that I needed to consider what a certain television show producer would think of me if he saw how I portray myself on the internet. With all due respect, I don’t live my life for others, and I will NOT conform for the sake of being invited on someone else’s TV show. I have enjoyed my personal freedoms and feel that as long as I honor the boundaries of common decency, I am NOT going to start doing photo shoots in business suits. That is simply NOT me and I would be miserable if I was FORCED to do that. I will never be the kind of person who will fit in a neat little conservative box. Try doing that to me and I will rebel.
In an era where the more outlandish and crazy someone is on television, the more popular they are, why is it that I am expected to remain on the straight and narrow path, with the reins pulled tight against my expression and my personality? I honestly don’t want to EVER sell out and become what a TV network or what middle America expects me to be. Perhaps Dr. Oz’s popularity stems somewhat from his conservative vibe, but I can tell you that when it comes to image, I will never be a predictable female version of that guy. No way. Don’t expect me to wear scrubs on a national TV show or dress in conservative garb just to appease the viewers. I am an IFBB Bikini Pro and very proud of it. So what if I model swimwear and fitness apparel? So what if I like to look sexy? Since when is that a crime?
My plan is to keep doing what I am doing, remain true to myself, maintain my integrity and keep moving closer to my ultimate goals.
The fitness world is packed with people who are trying to make their mark, so it has become increasingly more difficult to stand out in the crowd. Let’s look at the common characteristics among fitness people who are successful. They are all incredibly fit, attractive, photogenic, good with performing on-camera, and have a wide appeal to consumers. But successful fitness people have one very critical quality which they share: they know the importance of BRANDING. It is no surprise that the pool of beautiful, fit people who are scrambling for stardom is considerably large, which makes it vital for fitness people to establish something unique and marketable if they want to rise to the top of the heap.
How does one approach such a task? The first thing to do is to define your main audience. You can look at trends from social media to see who is following you and target the largest group. Then you need to determine what it is about you that grabs that target audience, whether it is your age, your gender, a specific training style, a distinctive look, a great product, etc. Once you have done that, you can use hashtags on social media to describe your unique qualities and to spark the interest of your target audience. If you have a certain key phrase you use all the time, USE IT! It is astonishing how effective using a key phrase can be in promoting your personality.
Make sure you have a website which is updated regularly, and direct your followers to that website whenever possible. Though having a slick website is a nice bonus, it is more important to have SOMETHING for followers to go to, even if it is a free site like Wix. Many people will just shy away from fitness personalities who do not have a site established. There are several website template sites which are decent and which provide all the basics you need. Once you have established your brand, you can always upgrade to a more complex or detailed site.
On another note, I am always surprised by how many people want to establish a foothold in the fitness industry, but do not have business cards. I cannot tell you how unprofessional you look when you are trying to network, only to tell interested parties that you do not have a business card to hand to them. Business cards are pretty inexpensive these days, and in some cases free (Vistaprint.com is one site which offers free cards), so GET ON IT!
Ah yes, the Pro Card. The International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) awards Pro Status to hardworking bodybuilding athletes everywhere. Plenty of individuals who are enchanted by the idea of chasing after Pro Status in the bodybuilding world are under the erroneous impression that their lives will change dramatically upon winning a Pro card. While it is certainly a privilege and an honor to achieve Pro status, don’t think for a second that fame and fortune will suddenly descend upon the new Pro. The majority of new IFBB Pros still have to hustle to get sponsorships lined up, and they still have to figure out how finance upcoming competitions. With the slump in print magazine readership it has become more difficult than ever to secure a cover or a feature article, even as a Pro.
It is far more important to showcase your particular talents and strengths and build your career and your brand well BEFORE even attaining Pro status. Every single thing I have done since I started competing in 2009 was done as an amateur and was fueled by my desire to increase branding and exposure. So for those of you who hunger for that Pro card, don’t forget about what you are doing right now. The path you are walking in that race for the Pro card is your foundation for a great future in fitness and bodybuilding. Don’t risk messing up that foundation by forgetting about all the details which will get you to the Pro ranks.
One final note: I am aware of a large number of people who have jumped ship and joined other federations in their quest for Pro status. While some have made the switch in a diplomatic way, others have been so dazzled by the Pro status prize that they opted for an easier route. If switching federations is a better fit for you, then fine. But if you just want a Pro title so badly that this is the ONLY reason for switching, you might shift your focus on building your brand instead and hang up your competition hat. Remember, competing should be FUN. When you stop enjoying it, you need to retire from the stage.