Reclining in a beach chair under swaying palm trees and sipping a tropical drink, you turn on your computer and begin your day of work as a personal trainer. There’s a Skype call with a new client at 9:00 am and a webinar with a small training group at 10:00 am. You plan to spend the rest of the day updating exercise programs for your other clients . . . while you enjoy the ocean view.

Sound far-fetched? It isn’t, say experts, if you are willing to put in the hard work and focus required to build a successful online business. “There is a world of potential clients waiting out there for virtual coaching. I’ve had wonderful success with clients in this manner,” shares online entrepreneur and personal trainer Mike Campbell, based in Sydney. “The potential to get out of so many hours at the gym is huge!”

If you are tired of the inherent time-for-dollars limits of traditional one-on-one personal training, virtual coaching offers a supplemental income stream—or the potential for a whole online-only career. This article is the first in a new IDEA Trainer Success series outlining how to build a lucrative virtual training business. Read on to learn more about the digital trend that’s set to take the fitness world by storm.

What Is Online Training?

Online training is a service in which fitness professionals provide wellness coaching and/or exercise guidance via an Internet platform. The method(s) of service delivery could be email, Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, downloadable or streaming videos, written e-products or a dedicated website.

Colin Ayliffe is a C.H.E.K practitioner, a personal trainer and the owner of Coconut Fitness, an Internet-based coaching service with clients all over the world. “Every industry out there is going online: banking, gambling, retail and grocery shopping, to name a few. Personal training will follow that trend, and the fitness industry will change forever. If you’re not offering online coaching now, then you face the danger of being left behind,” he declares.

However, computer-centric coaching will not work for everyone, warns Jill Coleman, MS, cofounder of Metabolic Effect and owner of the online fitness training site JillFit Physiques. Coleman now operates her Internet-based business full-time, and she also mentors female fitness entrepreneurs.

“Being an online coach commands a different lifestyle, and you have got to love the lifestyle for it to work,” advises Coleman, based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Here’s what you need to know to decide if the change is right for you.

Online Training Benefits

Unlimited earning potential. Want to break through the dollars-for-hours time trade that is a hallmark of traditional training? “An Internet-based business can provide a passive income stream, allowing you to earn money while you sleep,” observes Ayliffe, who lives in Cheshire, England.

More affordable fees. The price point for virtual coaching is usually lower than it is for face-to-face, totally customized workouts. “This is something many clients appreciate,” observes Campbell, who is also the author of Unleash Your Alpha (OpenBook Creative 2014).

Greater geographic reach. Virtual training lets you work with a client thousands of miles away as easily as you train someone down the street. “Offering online coaching literally opens up the whole world,” notes Ayliffe. It also helps you retain training regulars who move away.

More options for locals. Internet services offer increased opportunities for contact with local clients. Consider those who cannot afford frequent face-to-face workouts, but could afford some online services in conjunction with in-person training sessions.

Deeper market penetration. There are always potential customers who, for practical or psychological reasons, cannot or will not come to a gym. Online training is a logical solution for local customers who fit this description.

Increased availability. “Computer-based commerce helps you capture the training dollars of clients you would otherwise turn away due to an overbooked schedule,” explains Ayliffe.

Lifestyle freedom. A fully online training business can allow you to live and work wherever and however you prefer. “With the right systems,” suggests Campbell, “you don’t ever have to set foot in a gym again, if that is what you want.”

Online Training Pitfalls

Less-structured hours. “[As an online entrepreneur,] you can’t leave the gym and be done for the week,” says Coleman. “I don’t take any days ‘off.’ There’s no being on break with social media or because you’re creating content.”

Unpaid work prelaunch. “You need to have extreme mental discipline to launch an online business, which is possible only when you have the space and time to create it,” says Coleman. She notes that this can be difficult if you’re juggling long, draining hours training in the gym. You may need to dedicate some time off to your online business.

Broader skill-set requirements. “If you want to make it online, then you need to invest time, money and energy in education and increased skills,” says Campbell. For example, your ability to communicate cues verbally and/or in written form becomes more important when you are not standing next to your client. And to work online, you may need to enhance your Web-based faculties and your social media savvy.

What Should Online Training Include?

An online training product may encompass any combination of the following services. Note that more isn’t necessarily better; it’s important to keep your offerings cohesive and logical, especially for clients who are novices. Here is a broad list of possible options:

  • Initial services—first consultation (via questionnaire, phone, Skype or FaceTime); initial movement screening (via Skype or FaceTime).
  • Technical coaching—exercise program design and/or nutrition assistance.
  • Motivational support—written support (via email, text messages), verbal support (via phone, Skype, FaceTime), forum support (via closed Facebook group) and group coaching (via webinars, GoToMeeting sessions).
  • Downloads—e-book or packaged info-products for download (could be a sign-up gift or get-started instructions for new clients).
  • Resource database—access to exclusive exercise video library, recipe/nutrition tips database, template workouts and/or prerecorded classes or lectures.

Planning Your Program

An online business plan must consider many practical issues. Your choices should reflect your financial and lifestyle goals. Consider the following variables.

Personalized vs. templates. Do you want to offer highly customized coaching, or do you excel at creating general workouts for the masses?

Real-time vs. pre-recorded. Do you want to speak directly to your clients (for example, via Skype), or do you want to create content for purchase or download (such as e-books or exercise videos)?

In-person hybrid vs. online only. Will you offer a combination of in-person and online services, or do you want to create an online-only business?

One-time cost vs. ongoing charges. Is it your goal to charge a regular fee for services with no fixed end date (such as a monthly online membership fee)? Or will you create e-products and sell them for a one-time price (such as a complete, 4-week body makeover)?

Of course, your eventual online product may involve combinations of the points offered above. The tradeoffs of each approach will be discussed in detail in the next edition of IDEA Trainer Success, which will focus on strategic programming for a virtual training business.

Taking the Leap

“[With face-to-face personal training,] the amount you get paid will always be limited by the hours you can work per day,” Ayliffe reminds us. Virtual commerce allows trainers to break through this income ceiling and help more clients.

“I believe in empowering clients so they can help themselves,” Ayliffe declares. “As trainers, we are just showing them the way.” Check out the next edition of IDEA Trainer Success for practical strategies to do just that—from the convenience of your computer or, perhaps one day, from the sandy shores of a tropical beach.

SIDEBAR: Is This Really a Moneymaker?

Building a lucrative virtual business is absolutely possible, and it’s a very rewarding experience. But online fitness business coach Jill Coleman, MS, cautions that it is also very hard work.

“I know many online trainers who make multiple six-figures a year doing it as their full-time job,” she notes. For example, explains Coleman, “If you had 500 members, each paying $20 monthly, you would have $10,000 coming in each month. But, obviously, building that kind of membership takes a lot of time and effort on your part . . . perhaps years to build that kind of membership.

“Someone just beginning to offer online training business can, with some decent work, expect to make between $500 and $1,000 extra a month within 6 months,” she adds.

Megan Senger

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