Individuality vs The Business of Bodybuilding

Individuality vs The Business of Bodybuilding

Anyone who’s serious about being a fitness influencer needs to understand the difference between being an individual and being a good businessperson. But you might say what does a boring subject like business have to do with being creative? Influencers are on the cutting-edge. They create trends. They don’t bow down. They don’t settle. They’re all about living life according to their own rules. They’re able to fly by the seat of their pants. This is why people look up to them, right? It’s that no-holds-barred attitude that affords them the rare privilege of not answering to anyone. It’s that freedom that makes their lives so sought after. Everyday people wish they could wake up and lead the life of an influencer. I mean who wouldn’t want that reality. Do what you want. Go wherever you want. It’s all about doing whatever feels good. It doesn’t hurt anyone and it’s a win-win all around.

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Real Talk with Christian Duque

Ok. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there’s the life that influencer’s present to you on social media and then there’s the actual reality. No one really gets to do whatever they want. And believe you me, I hate to be the one to take the wind out of your sails. If you want to believe in such an alternate reality, then by all means do so. That’s part of the allure. Some folks buy into the influencers because they want to believe in the myth and that’s totally fine. You can spend your money however you want to. After all, you earn your money so by all means spend it how you want. Eat what you want, drink what you want, believe whatever floats your boat. Have at it!

However, if you’re seeking to be an influencer, then you can’t believe the myth. You have to act like it’s your life, but you need to learn the ropes or you’ll find yourself out of money and desperate for cash. There are rules. Even when you’re pretending to live life without any rules – there are rules. You must know the business of bodybuilding and if you don’t, you’re going to fail miserably.

If you’re truly good at what you do, then everyday bodybuilding fans are going to associate you with whatever brand you’re working with. What’s the constant been in this article thus far? Besides reiterating how crucial the rules are, it would have to be the repetitiveness of if and then. If and then. If and then. If you’re good at what you do, then you can write your own ticket. If everyday people associate you with an energy drink or a protein supplement or a clothing line, then you’re golden. Even if you’re not holding the drink or wearing the clothes, if you’re able to make people think of the item when they see you, then you’ve hit a homer. That said, that kind of reaction is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing because the company, or companies involved, will stop at nothing to have you work for them. This means they have to pay you what you’re worth because your name and likeness is generating income for them. Money talks and bullshit walks. So long as you’re making their investment in you make sense, the money won’t stop pouring in. Win a show? They’ll pay you more. Get a certification? They’ll pay you more. Do a bunch of press, they’ll pay you more. The more you’re worth, the more they’ll pay. If you’re making $50k a year and bring in $300k, do you think they’re going to give you the run around for a 10% or 20% raise? They’ll gladly up your salary by $10k-$20k if you’re making them hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s all about return on investment (ROI). If you’re making 5x or more what you get, you’ll never have a problem. But it’s not just about the money you make and the money you bring in.

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While being automatically associated with a product is a blessing, it can also be a curse. If people associate you with an energy drink, a protein product, or a clothing line and you go off the reservation, you’ll have a problem. If all of a sudden you appear in a MAGA hat or a Biden shirt, that’s going to piss people off. You’re a fitness celeb and politics are one of those subjects that divide people. If you take a controversial stance on a poignant issue, word will get back to your sponsor(s). And what’s crazy is that you may not be holding the energy drink, sipping the protein product, or wearing a thread of your sponsor’s clothing. The fact is that if an athlete is so decisively associated with a sponsor that everyday people associate the sponsor with the athlete, then they can’t afford to get involved in politics. Why only sell to conservatives or only sell to liberals. Don’t talk politics and sell to everyone!

“But what about in their off time? What’s off time? There is no off time for an influencer!”

Christian I. Duque

Influencers that really nail it are on the proverbial clock 24/7. Social media never sleeps. Welcome to the world where no one ever rests. One day you’re viral and the other no one is talking about you. The smart people are happy to be trending a few times a year and fly under the radar the rest of the time. They’re strategic. Their opinions are measured and they try to be where things are happening. Whether that’s a big concert, a fitness expo, maybe they show up at a contest or two, but not three. They mix it up. They might take some measured risks. The last thing any successful influencer wants to be is predictable.

That having been said any real influencer understands that sponsors have veto power. Whether you’re an influencer that stands on his or her own name and likeness as a brand – or – you own a media outlet, you have to answer to financial backers. Whether you have an army of sponsors or one big title sponsor. Whether you call them backers, sponsors, or advertisers, it really doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s their money that keeps everything going. It’s their money that pays for the websites, funds the trips, and allows for the lifestyle. If you – as an influencer – want to collab with another influencer, maybe go to an event, or promote a particular cause and your sponsor objects, you must adhere to that. You can’t ignore a sponsor’s objection! You have got to give it – at least – the time of day. Maybe you end up pleading with them and reaching a compromise. Other times, their veto may be final. And if you can’t show them the respect their financial backing justifies, you’re going to lose them.

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But what about respect? Respect is key, as is individuality and expression. I’ll give you that; however, it’s also just business. The fans might subscribe to the whole notion of living as you wish, but the actual influencer has to know better. There is no free lunch. No one truly can do whatever the hell they want. Maybe that’s a thing for self-funded rebels, but the vast majority of the biggest names in social media rely on the deep pockets of people who see them for what they are – earners. If you make a company a lot of money, they’ll back you. If you start to cost them opportunities and they can’t rein you in, they’re going to drop you. And if they drop you for being a loose canon, the break will be public and noisy.

But what about respect? Well, if you’re dropped in a noisy way by a big company that’s backed your play over the course of time, it’s like getting painted with lime green paint. Other companies will respect you for being a loose canon and won’t be able to run away from you fast enough. You want to talk about respect? Ok, so everyday people will respect you, the same everyday people that eat up the notion of living free and doing whatever you want. These are the people who buy everything, but they’re not the people that pay you directly. Unless the influencer takes the huge risk of bankrolling an energy drink, a protein product, or a clothing line, they’ll need to do the business of bodybuilding and know their role. You have got to do right by the sponsors and advertisers if you’re going to make it.

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One key way to do right by your financial backers is to be mindful of what kind of content you put out. If you’re really good at what you do, then whatever content you post will undeniably be linked to the companies you work with. This is why I often scratch my head when big-name athletes and fitness celebs post reels with highly obscene music. There’s songs that denigrate women and that cross a number of lines. Other times, I look at the attire some fitness celebs choose to wear. If it’s going to get flagged or it’s going to violate a platform’s terms of service, is that the kind of content that advertisers want associated with them? The counter offered by some influencers would be that they know what goes viral and they know what’s trending. They may be so but what’s the point of going viral if it’s going to result in the influencer getting shadow banned? What’s the point of that? Then the company needs to employ resources to get the influencer’s account back in good status. Sometimes that’s not even possible. 

The key is to be a consummate professional, understand the role backers play, and try to do right by your name and likeness. Don’t just do whatever you want. You may want to promote that kind of lifestyle, but it doesn’t mean you actually live by it. Does that make you a hypocrite? Does it make you a sellout? Maybe, and so what? You have to make a living. Ultimately, we all have to work. Sorry to break the news to you, but it is what it is. If you’re getting ad money or sponsor money, then you do have to answer to someone. That money most definitely comes with strings attached. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be successful in this industry and any other.