Last weekend, I headed out to New York for a $2000 course that I didn’t really know much about – just that it was going to be a small group of 15 folks working on growing their businesses.

Why would I do such a thing? Especially when I barely knew what the course would entail?

Some of it was probably related to the application process – I had to record a short video answering some questions and was selected from an ostensibly large and competitive pool of applicants.

Ask any good social science researcher about effort justification in initiation rituals – there’s a reason fraternities have elaborate hazing rituals. The difficulty and discomfort inspires participants to create a narrative justifying their effort, which increases their buy-in once they’ve made it through whatever blindfolded, sexually charged initiation process they’ve been subjected to.

Also, Ramit Sethi – the proprietor of the course – has built tons of trust with me over the years through his blog, his email list, his books, and his online courses. We’ve implemented many of his systems and tactics for marketing and copywriting at South Loop Strength & Conditioning and seen great results.

So, it was a no-brainer to swipe my credit card for the course and book tickets out to New York, even though we have construction going on at the gym, and the South Loop Games are coming up in just about a month.

During the weekend, I had a breakout session on “How to stand out in a crowded niche.” Legion Strength & Conditioning – our online coaching company – plays in the saturated and overcrowded competitive CrossFit coaching space.

I’m often extremely frustrated by the nonsense from prestigious coaches in our industry that masquerades as solid training principles. I’d love to do my part to stamp out the misconceptions and myths that pollute our market – but Legion doesn’t have enough trust in the marketplace as a whole to be able to combat the bad ideas that are out there.

That trust that I have in Ramit? To fly to New York and spend thousands on a course that I don’t know much about? We need to figure out how to build that.

And, unfortunately, the dense, nuanced discussion of abstract ideas that I enjoy is not necessarily the best way to build that trust. Once you have trust – great. Go down the rabbit hole, get detailed, and get after it.

Until then, there are probably better strategies for establishing a foothold in the marketplace.

I had a 5-10 minute conversation with Ramit after the course that was worth the trip alone.

Side note: As someone who is often in a position where people are lurking around me and attempting to monopolize my time to ask me lots of questions (often while I’m trying to focus on something else), I’m very sensitive to trying not to do that to other people. So, I was hesitant to approach with my self-interested questions, but I’m happy that I did 🙂

We discussed this trust building process, and here’s my distillation of those lessons:

There are top down and bottoms up ways of building trust.

In the market of competitive CrossFit coaching, the “top down” model is coaching or working with “famous” athletes. This is a somewhat unpredictable process, since it’s not enough to coach athletes who are really good – these folks also need to have struck whatever je ne sais quoi results in them becoming “influencers.”

I liken the process of becoming a “famous” athlete to that of becoming a “famous” pop star. Quality is only loosely coupled with the actual success in the marketplace. Take a listen to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” and tell me that isn’t one of the 10 best pop songs of the last decade. But, guess what – it only has 756k views on YouTube and wasn’t even released as a single. And CRJ already had built-in attention from her breakout breakout mainstream success with “Call Me Maybe.” What the hell!

So, anyone playing in the competitive CrossFit space should probably be trying to stumble into whatever serendipity they can that will push them over the tipping point into some sort of influencer status.

However, that’s a relatively unreliable business plan.

Fortunately, there’s another road that is probably more under your control.

This is the “bottom up” method of building trust.

To succeed here, you need to deeply understand your market and the problems that they are struggling with – and provide them very tight, crunchy, low-barrier to entry solutions to those problems.

Then, when they actually test drive the advice that you give, they have a quick win, are surprised at their success, and start to build trust.

In Ramit’s case, he opens his book I Will Teach You to be Rich with word-for-word scripts on getting credit card fees waived in the first chapter. This is a very low barrier to entry, tactical tip that will work almost all of the time.

And, once someone sees a late payment fee waived with 60s of work on a phone call, they start to build trust – and are much more willing to engage in the higher barrier to entry behaviors Ramit recommends like setting up automatic investment into an index fund.

This is tricky in fitness since most things that actually work are nuanced and take weeks – if not months – to produce results.

And, most of the things that people say they want are not what they actually want.

“Yeah, I’d love a meal plan.”

“A six week accessory work program would be awesome.”

“I’d like videos on proper form.”

Bullshit! All of them!

Not that these things aren’t valuable and some people don’t utilize these kinds of resources, but these solutions are way too ambitious for most people.

They love the idea of a accessory work and think it sounds nice, but there’s no way they’re actually printing off the PDF of their accessory program from some company they don’t really know about, taking it to the gym, and following it for six weeks. And, most people are lucky to consistently accomplish their main training goals in a given day. Very unlikely that they’re going to spend additional time in the gym doing accessory work.

So, how do you create a tactic that is low barrier to entry and gives nearly immediate results? And actually solves a problem that people know they have and that is a burning pain for them? I don’t really know but I’ve got some ideas.

(If you think of anything, please email me as well.)