Several years ago, Julie Gohring was part of corporate America in hectic San Francisco. Today, she operates a successful online personal training business from her new “office”: the beaches of Costa Rica, where she now resides.
Whether you want to ditch the 9-to-5, like Gohring did, or simply add an online component to your existing in-person clients’ routines, building a virtual fitness brand can be a boon to your business. Online training means working with remote or local clients via a computer-based platform, such as email, online workout templates, Facebook, Skype, and even a dedicated website.
But if you build it, will they really come? Finding computer-based customers—and then keeping them—will be a critical part of your online success. This article is the latest installment in our IDEA Trainer Success series about computer-based personal training. Here you’ll learn how to secure new online trainees, and how to develop effective retention strategies for business longevity . . . starting with your very first client online.
(Psst! Want a free tool to build your business and reach 16 million potential customers? Join IDEA FitnessConnect, the largest fitness professionals directory, today—for free!)
Getting Online Trainees
To attract followers to your virtual platform, apply these principles:
Nail your niche. When working online, do not try to be all things to all people. “Online training isn’t about offering general health and fitness to anyone who wants to lose weight and/or eat better,” advises Angela Anderson, the CEO and founder of La Meta™, a holistic online health and fitness company in southern Colorado. “There are too many people with a broad message like that.”
Instead, “you have to decide what type of client you are passionate about,” observes Robert L. Brown, an online performance enhancement specialist based in Plano, Texas. That way, your message stands out from the crowd.
Prepare a recruitment rollout plan. “Getting a client online whom you don’t already know isn’t easy. It takes time,” says Gohring, co-creator (along with Nick Holt) of the online training business Saltwater Fit.
Gohring continues: “Start by bringing your in-person clients into the fold by transitioning them to online training. Next, go after folks who already know you and know what you do.” At the same time, she adds, “work on getting your name ’out there‘ on the Internet and building an online following, so you can continue to grow your client base.”
Cap client numbers. Most experts interviewed for this series take on no more than 20 clients at a time. That’s because their programs are personalized, with a level of customization and attention similar to what they would deliver in a traditional gym environment.
For example, Anderson offers “high-client-contact” virtual training. Her customers receive 30% of their coaching through real-time, one-on-one videoconferencing and phone calls. The remaining 70% comes through predesigned resources, including prerecorded videos and group coaching in a private Facebook group. With this structure, Anderson can work with 6–8 clients per month.
Similarly, Gohring’s online business focuses mostly on one-on-one, individualized coaching. Quite a few of the program components are automated, but each client is also offered one or two Skype consultations per month. Because of this time commitment, Gohring and her business partner take on only 10 online trainees at any given time (with an absolute cap of 20), since they also see clients in person for traditional workouts.
An alternate approach: Exclusively sell noncustomized online services—such as workout videos or one-off info-products—to an unlimited number of customers.
If you want to reach clients beyond your immediate sphere, then to generate leads you will need a very elegant landing page with good copy (writing), acknowledges Brown.
The solution is to create your sales page with an initial in-person consultation in mind, says Jonathan Goodman, creator of thePTDC, a collaborative blog for trainers. Goodman is also the author of Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to a Successful Personal Training Career (V2.0, printed by CreateSpace 2015) and creator of the “1K Extra” course about building an effective online training business (www.1kextra.com). His advice? Don’t make your website all about your certifications and accomplishments. Instead, Goodman urges, follow these three steps:
Appeal to your niche. Lead with whatever concern is top of mind for your target clientele. Telling a 25-year-old male client with no injuries who wants to look good naked that you’re an expert in dealing with back pain isn’t going to be effective.
Demonstrate results. Social proof (previous success stories and photos) is critical here. Show three to five testimonials from past clients. If possible, include pictures, full names and client vocations in each success story. Once again, keep this content niche-specific.
Create a call to action. Conclude with a form that allows the potential customer to apply for a 30-minute consultation (see the sidebar “Web Copy That Works”). This implies that your product is valuable, and that you are in demand and can’t take on everyone.
Spreading the Word
Once you have organized a solid sales page, use the following tools to expand your marketing efforts:
Get to know SEO. Understanding search engine optimization is very important, advises Anderson. “Make sure your website is SEO-optimized. Note that it’s best to SEO-optimize it as you build it, so you do not have to re-create copy later.”
Get social media–savvy. “I have built 99% of my online business using Facebook,” declares Anderson. “YouTube has been instrumental as well. I am now also using Pinterest and Instagram.” The next installment of this series will go into greater depth on how to leverage social media to build your online business.
Make fitness films. “Personalized exercise videos make for effective marketing,” asserts Gohring. “We post beach workouts that people can do from anywhere, and we promote them through social media.”
However, keep equipment limitations in mind, recommends Brown. “Not everyone has access to a gym, so portable, cheap and effective equipment is the path to success,” he explains. “I wish I had filmed more rubber tubing and stability ball exercises at the beginning of my online business efforts. Also, I wish I had programmed based on the implements a client can carry in a bag.”
Retaining Online Clients
Once you’ve got some computer-based customers, keep them engaged and invested in your online services with these tips.
Get personal. “Building rapport online means sending a very strong, specific brand and message to your target market,” advises Anderson. Above all, be personable and authentic. “Make videos, host webinars and use social media to get into potential clients’ living rooms and help them get to know you.”
Encourage interactions. “The best way to create a community for your online program is through a private Facebook page,” declares Brown. “It should have constant interactions, which will keep clients engaged and active in the fitness program.”
Systematize client contacts. Send daily tips and encouraging words to your customers through email marketing software such as AWeber.com or Infusionsoft®, or via IDEA’s customizable monthly newsletter (https://www.ideafit.com/client-newsletter-product). And if “personalized” online training is your goal, Brown recommends supplementing these tips with a customized weekly email or text or a quick phone call to encourage individual trainees.
Anderson thinks using some form of phone coaching is a “very good idea,” but he offers this caveat: “You have to set your prices accordingly; your time is valuable. You also need to set aside specific days and hours when you will do coaching calls, and then stick with [that schedule]. Don’t just have an open calendar, because you will burn yourself out.”
Building Your Dream Business
“The skills you’ll need in order to develop a successful virtual brand are quite different from those you use as a fitness pro,” cautions Anderson. Besides being able to teach exercise, she notes, you must learn about business and marketing and you must love the challenge of building a brand. But once you learn how to keep and retain clients, you’ll be on the path to online success . . . from wherever in the world you wish to work.