Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Teaching Tennis Pros – Going It Alone

Are you looking for advice from a fellow teaching tennis pro? Well, you’re not going to find it here. This could be a good thing. Some of the best in the world at whatever they do, who are also quite good at teaching others of such, are not always that well prepared to promote themselves. I get it.

I have had success with selling additional services along with almost any product or other service for which I was responsible, particularly personal services. And, I am no ice-cubes-to-eskimos type salesperson. Not being such probably cost me some income. Okay, so what? Eskimos don’t really need frigging ice cubes.

Almost every hobby, every interest, every activity in the world has a group of people out there who teach others how to do most anything they wish to do or do better – cooking, handling personal finances, gardening, underwater basket weaving and improving one’s tennis game.

Outside of what we know as our traditional educational system and corporate continuing-education, many people want to invest their money and time to get better at something they need or enjoy.

People who have experience, expertise or are well-versed in something often have the desire or urge to teach that something to others for a variety of reasons. Often the reason is well-thought, sincere and well-intended. Often it is not, or at least the effort doesn’t necessarily reflect such.

Are people who do something well, necessarily equipped to teach that something to someone else? Not necessarily. Are people who have experience with something, but not particularly good at it, equipped to teach it? Potentially. 

Ultimately, this truly doesn’t matter. If you have the education, experience or desire to teach people how to play tennis or improve their game, you are far ahead of the guy or girl who believes they are oh so good as a player or simply wishes to teach tennis for whatever reason. Which are you? Hopefully, not the latter.

Regardless, once one makes the decision to begin passing on what they know and how to do whatever it is, we hope their heart and mind are in it – they are enthusiastic about it. I’m not talking about the jumping around, bouncing off walls enthusiasm (though, I have seen this work on occasion), but they are continually looking for the best from themselves and providing the best they can for their students. Most of their attention is spent on their students and their potential students, not themselves.

I have found that roughly three-fourths of those in the personal training and tennis teaching business do have these desires and intentions. For the other one-fourth, I’ve not been quite sure why they are in the business of helping others or providing instruction or coaching. I have my assumptions.

Nonetheless, I have met and worked with some wonderful trainers and teaching tennis pros, but many are reluctant or perhaps overwhelmed with even the idea of selling themselves, filling their own books.

I get it, but when you go it alone, you will have to learn to promote yourself, unless you are lucky, you have killer credentials or are a famous tennis player or celebrity in some fashion.

Again, I get it. I spent years in technical careers honing my skills, knowledge and my expertise. I was either well-supported or darn lucky. Or, I simply worked hard at what I did and did my best to do it well.

I also developed or already had this ability to uncover opportunities and then I migrated into sales, usually more at home with the technical aspect and knowledge (true asset when used properly) of whatever I sold than most of my sales cohorts. I also love finding solutions and began to use those business people skills I had been stifling for years. Being the pitch man and the solution provider, all in one, made for some great discoveries and relationships. Being proficient with the solution side and being able to promote those skills of mine or my company felt great, but it’s rare. I felt fortunate.

Selling a product, our company or whatever, even if we aren’t the selling type, is simpler, less personally involved. We may unknowingly sell (or not) ourselves, not in some declarative, spoken fashion, throughout any given day. But, things get somewhat messy and perhaps come across as less than authentic when we begin to talk about ourselves as if we were in some hovering orb looking down upon ourselves, boasting and trying to convince a prospect of their need and our value. It doesn’t work that way. More in a minute.

I worked in the fitness industry for quite some time. Initially, at a very successful company, we were tasked with selling personal training to new members as part of the gym membership. I embraced this – no one had to tell me that a gym, and its members, would not benefit from keeping the personal training books as full as possible. There was the increased chance of member success and happiness, along with the income that would possibly far exceed the fixed rate for membership.

Over time I became to know the personal trainers available during my work time and along with a few of these trainers we had a gym membership and training closing ratio of over 80%. If I had the chance to have the prospect meet with me and one of these personal trainers, chances were more than good that we then had a new member. It made sense and it felt good to be bringing a greater solution to the table.

What does this have to do with you? It was a combination of attention, motivation and discovering what their goals and desires were. I was only part-time, as I was working on this business, managing the gym in the mornings, while successfully competing with the full-time staff’s membership sales.

Although managing these fantastic new gyms was quite a responsibility, I was allowed to and did focus on that next person walking through the door. I was alone, yet tethered to other tasks, as you are, but it was just me and the new prospect. And, I definitely took advantage of the experiences and successes of my members in painting a picture for my prospective member – just as you should.

One day, the owner came to all of us fitness consultants (sales people), not just personal trainers, with an incentive for the most sales of personal training for a month. I beat all, including the personal trainers.

Why? Because I knew I could. I knew enough about my trainers and I knew the benefit in the long run to members and our membership.

And, also, because it is sometimes difficult to have a pitch (I hate the word.) good enough and sincere enough to sell one’s self. Most trainers and instructors aren’t built that way typically, and even if so, the delivery can come across as phony, awkward, arrogant or as a pitch. I was selling the trainer (in company with) while they were selling themselves simply by the attention they gave and the questions they asked. I had some sharp passionate people around me. The gym was doing the marketing, as well as I, but I was bringing the sale together – it took work.

For teaching tennis pros, promotion and advertising is key, while the sales part happens via what is learned and asked (most important) when meeting the prospect. Spouting out credentials, accolades and accomplishments does very little. This information is for the written word, in whatever fashion, in marketing one’s self – very important. Your appeal, the attention given and the concern you show for one’s needs and goals is what works during selling yourself in-person.

Let me go to the far end of the spectrum, but for good reason. One of tennis’ top coaches, who has worked with some of the top professional players, probably doesn’t have the need to speak much of credentials or even experience when meeting a student prospect. Are most local teaching pros in this position? Probably not.

But, let’s say he or she just met someone who has no clue of who the teaching pro is, credentials, experience or otherwise. The conversation would probably be more about what the prospect wishes to achieve and where they are with their game, followed by the coach quickly espousing some of his or her accomplishments teaching. 

But you can’t (in verbal conversation) revert to rattling off all your credentials or even relating to them unless either asked or it becomes somehow relevant. There is confidence lost if you don’t focus on the student prospect.

I wrote (composed/rewrote) resumes for some well-paid and well-experienced people in telecommunications when the market was at its height and companies had money to pay for the best and had a huge pool of candidates to choose from. No one was starving, but getting the best positions was tough.

I would be fooling myself if I said, “Many obtained a new position just on their resume.”, but I had a few clients tell me so. That was not the reality. I dealt with some sharp and accomplished people. The resume wasn’t the closer, but it got their foot in the door, further in the door when well-planned and written.

Point being, you want to leave those cold hard facts in the written word until you need to use them otherwise. No one walks into a career interview and begins reciting from their resume. It’s the tool that got them there and may be used as a guideline or checklist by the prospective employer - perhaps your prospective student.

This is the intent and purpose of your own advertising and marketing – for prospects to become somewhat familiar with you, with enough interest generated to contact you. Whereas most free-lance or independent teaching pros didn’t have the opportunity to do so 10 or 15 years ago, you now have the opportunity, via the Internet and other electronic means.

You now have the opportunity to advertise your credentials and promote what you do and how you do it, or how well. And, if you truly get organized and learn how to use some basic tools, you can the illustrate what you want prospects to learn about you:

·   All the different lessons, activities and events you provide
·   Your schedule and how prospects may contact you to meet you or schedule a lesson.
·   Testimonials from current or past students – key.
·   Illustrating in near real-time what you are currently doing with your instruction and students by having it available via some media for all to view and read.
·     A summary of not only what you have done, but what you are currently bringing to your students/clients and your tennis community.

Does this take work? Yes, if you call time and attention worth increasing how much you do what you do, how profitable you are at doing so and doing it as a career for a lifetime, work.

Most of you are good or great at what you do, but a friend of mine in the business of selling one’s own services used to tell his people, “Get over yourself”. What he was saying is you may have to do things out of your comfort zone because you don’t feel you have to, but You Have To. Embrace it.

If you currently work for a club or academy you should still treat your career as your own business when it comes to promotion and filling your dance card out on the courts. This is your opportunity to improve your own promotional and sales skill within the terms of employment with your employer while you have (hopefully) the other benefits afforded by someone else taking the business risks. 

Before you go it on your own full-time or even part-time (intent to go full-time), consider:

  • Are you the person or can you become the person to promote yourself with enthusiasm and tenacity (unthwarted by “No”)? Can you accept less-than-substantial sales/bookings when first starting out or does the idea of taking the risk truly horrify you?
  • Can you visualize your venture as a business, whereas you manage most every aspect of it, without romanticizing about the rewards, while still having the passion to be an independent teaching pro?
  • In your geographical area, can you stay busy without the need for the exclusive use of one particular club or tennis center? Have you or can you build the rapport/agreement with local public tennis centers to service your target student market?
  • Can you afford to leave or migrate away from whatever current benefits and income from employment you currently have?
  • Can your family, if dependent upon you, endure the changes in lifestyle and income you may endure when you first start out?
  • Do you believe this will be a wonderful venture just because you love what you do? That’s great, but getting paid and making it a career is a whole other issue.
  • Do you realize you will need to learn why students want a teaching pro and that you may have to cater to them in a fashion different or much less than you are capable of? But that’s okay. A forthright and ethically provided service which is of value to the customer, but not par with your capabilities, is still of value if the customer values it. Again, get over yourself.
  • Gut Check: Are ready to do all the above, love teaching tennis, know and are prepared for what it takes to run a successful business – good, bad and the ugly – with the visualization, without fear of failure, to make this a career? Go do it!
Not much of what I have written here as anything to do with how good of a teaching pro you are. This wasn’t the topic, but hopefully you continually work on being a better teacher and keep up with what all that is changing and beneficial to game, particularly for beginners, the little ones and those in their later years, still striving to get it right and improve.

I’ve noticed one word as being so prevalent over the last few years when owners of successful small to mid-size businesses are interviewed, and even founders of now giant corporations, when asked, “What it takes?”Passion comes up somewhere. I’m not going to expound here. I shouldn’t need to do so.

Here are a few realistic tips coming from someone who has been exposed to most every hokey sales convention, to life coaches and managers who attended Dare Carnegie classes and returned as glazed-over robots:

  • Get some business cards. If you work for a club and they don’t provide them, get your own. I have met plenty of free-lance pros who don’t. It’s too easy. Hand them out whenever possible, whenever you recognize a tennis player – tennis skirts or wrist sweat bands are huge indicators. At lunch, the grocery store, gym, etc. – don’t overwhelm your prospect or try to monopolize their time. Keep it brief unless you receive the “I’d really love to talk to you right now indicators”. Ask them to call you or visit your web site and thank them graciously and walk away. Unless you did get those go ahead signals, no one wants to feel like they were accosted on the breakfast food aisle by some tennis person. Less is good in these situations. It’s probably about a 3¢ business card. Come on.
  • Make yourself available as much as you can, particularly if just starting out. If you are married, have children or still wish to maintain a part-time career, this may make things more difficult. Most prospects will understand and work with your schedule as well as you will work with theirs.
  • If married and/or have children to care for, in light of the above, dedicate your personal time to them.
  • Promote yourself on the Internet (not just a closed social network) and establish good electronic communications. We provide all of this, but aren’t going to mention it here.
  • Whenever you have the opportunity to turn a thank you from a student or family into a testimonial to attract more prospects, do so. It’s easier than you think and pays off very well in promoting you.
  • Illustrate what you are offering via your own website, along with what you are doing, events, relevant input from your students and drill/clinic participants.
  • Take advantage of opportunities such as passing by a public court filled with tennis players, getting to know what is going on at your local elementary, junior and high schools, what local USTA or other league tournaments are taking place in your area.
  • Read your local newspaper, pulp, electronic or otherwise, and find a way to offer your services to the story subjects – junior/high school, league and tournament players.
  • Get organized – control and monitor your business and activities.
This is just of a portion of what is involved with self-promotion and entrepreneurship. There’s more. I’m just trying to help.

If you wish to read a wonderful book on finding and venturing out on your own new career, you may wish to read Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow (a link is provided below).

Stop right here: I gave this book to three different people back in the 1980’s (and many more since) and they either changed their career or went at it on their own. I don’t know where they are now with their decision, but they did it. These were fairly level-headed people (What do I know?). But, I have seen reviews from readers of this book who assumed this was some answer to all their questions or a quick way to get rich and suddenly be at peace with themselves and the world. The book is not about this. There are no silly questionnaires or formulas. It’s simply about some self-realization and some realistic inspiration. Don’t be a lemming. Read and apply the content to your situation and desires.

Self-promotion is not about being the quintessential super salesperson (Whatever that is?) It’s about making as much about you as widely known as possible. And, taking a few steps, perhaps awkward or difficult for some, to ensure such happens. As with anything else one ventures into, walk through it, mindful of what works and what doesn’t.

That’s it. As mentioned prior, there is obviously more to going it alone.

This is why we welcome any and all input, advice, experiences and uh, criticism. Be gentle with that latter part.

We wish all of you the best. You have helped me and many of my friends and family enjoy playing and becoming better tennis players.

Thank you.

Play the Game!


  1. Great post. I plan on sharing it on my blog. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you Lissa. I hope all is well over at Cayce Tennis and Fitness. Stay in Touch!