Most fitness professionals not only want to grow but also excel in their chosen fitness field and be recognized for their accomplishments. Being provided with opportunities to develop both professionally and personally is often a top factor cited by many in surveys when questioned about what is important to them in a job. Opportunities for career growth are different for most people but generally fall into three broad categories. For some, it may involve simply having a solid annual performance review that results in a raise in their salary. Others may equate opportunity with receiving a promotion in recognition of a continued job well done. And, for a select few with strong entrepreneurial drive, it may translate into successfully striking out on their own to start a fitness-related business.
    Advancing in your fitness profession typically requires not just working longer, harder and smarter, but developing and following a sound strategy. Yes, a strategy. A good strategy provides you not only with a purpose and a goal but with a plan of action — a guideline of sorts — that, when combined with your individual skills and abilities and your capacity to be a strong team player, equates to a recipe for success.
    There are several things you can do that can improve your chances of successfully pursuing your professional opportunities of choice. I have outlined a few of the more tried-and-true methods that have worked well for many fitness professionals looking to take their career to the next level. Consider incorporating these suggestions into your overall strategy:
    Find a Good Match
    Hooking up with an organization that shares the same values and standards as you do is extremely important but often overlooked. Some fitness professionals anxious to start working in their chosen field often do not take the time to really question and research the company offering them a job. Others may just be excited to have a job, any job, and quickly sign on the dotted line. Unfortunately, this is a recipe for disaster.
    With a large portion of your day spent at work, do you really want to spend that time in a work environment that runs contrary to your particular working style and beliefs? Would you feel comfortable working with others that have values and approaches that are diametrically different from your own? Probably not. More than likely, you would quickly become disappointed and disheartened with your job. The end result being that you would probably quit and ultimately start over with another organization — often having to prove yourself all over again.
    Therefore, start out by finding the right organization from the get-go. Find a company that not only values your knowledge, passion and drive but that can complement and foster your own goals and provide you with the kind of growth opportunities that you crave.
    Master and Excel in Your Current Job
    Many times people make the mistake of reaching for their next promotion before they have taken the time to master and excel at their current job. You may think that you are doing your current job well (and you may very well be doing so), but are you going the extra mile to prove to your supervisors that you have the necessary skills to advance to the next level?
    For instance, are you always alert to finding and suggesting better ways to do your job? Managers appreciate employees who come to them with suggestions of how to streamline a particular procedure, save them a few dollars or who have an idea for creating a new revenue stream. It sends a clear message that you are vested in the overall success of the business and not just in drawing a paycheck.
    Interact and Network
    Sure, you have heard about the importance of interacting with your team members and managers and networking with others both in and out of your company, but are you truly working this angle to its full potential? While maintaining a positive, professional relationship with your clients, fellow staff members and supervisors is a no-brainer, interacting with others beyond your direct supervisor or team members often requires a little more effort and focus.
    The more people within your organization that know who you are, what you can do and respect you for it, the better off you will be. Wouldn't it be nice to have people bring up your name in conjunction with a new job opportunity or opening? It is more likely to happen when the powers that be are familiar with you and what a great job you are doing. 
    Also, look beyond your own organization for networking opportunities. While you want people within your company to know the value you bring, you also want others within the fitness industry to recognize you as a fitness professional worth knowing. Consider attending or speaking at a fitness industry conference, pursuing industry-approved certifications, joining a national fitness organization and/or writing for a fitness publication. These are all great ways to raise your external profile in the fitness industry, which could ultimately open doors to other opportunities down the road.
    Continue Learning and Improving
    Most of us lack the complete package. What I mean by this is, while we often have several of the necessary skills it often takes to move to the next level, we sometimes lack one or two important components that make us a strong candidate for advancement. You may be one of the best fitness trainers out there, versed in the most current fitness techniques, but how are you at supervising employees or drafting a department budget?
    If you know you lack the necessary skills it will take to climb to the next level, do something about it. Nowadays, it is easy to find a workshop or online class that fits the busy schedule of a working professional. Most are also financially friendly in terms of their cost and can easily fit into your schedule. There really are few negatives to taking the initiative and learning the necessary skills it takes to be a leader. It will definitely bring you to the attention of your mangers but also increase your overall marketability.
    Find a Mentor
    Sometimes, it is not always easy to figure out if you are doing all that you need to do to advance your career. That is why it is important to find a mentor who can provide you with advice and critical feedback on the steps you are taking. Never assume that you are doing a great job or that you are on the right track. It is often difficult to remain critically objective when we have to critique ourselves — far better to have someone take a non-biased look at what we are doing and then offer their objective opinion on how we can improve. Additionally, experienced mentors can offer a wealth of information and insight on things you may not have even considered.
    You should be applauded if you have the determination and drive to want to succeed and grow personally and professional. Unfortunately, determination and drive alone often will not allow you to firmly grasp the opportunities you seek whether that's getting a raise, a job promotion or striking out on your own.
    Prepare to go the extra mile, and yes, even take the occasional risk that puts you outside of your comfort zone. These are the things that will bring you to the notice of those in charge and ultimately open up other opportunities to you. 
    Tom Perkins is a fitness business coach and advisor, radio host, speaker, author as well as a certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist with more than 30 years of experience. For more information, listen to Tom discuss the latest fitness business strategies at