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Online Training: Programming for Profit

Several years ago, Anne Parker was a fitness entrepreneur with a busy studio and an excellent reputation. But after endless 13-hour days (and less-than-satisfactory take-home pay), she needed to recalibrate. Parker wanted a way to make a good living while spending more time with her family—her baby daughter, in particular.

Her solution: online personal training, a growing trend in which trainers coach clients via the Internet. “I’ve been running my online programs for 3.5 years, and I’ve added $140,000 in revenue to my fitness business,” Parker reports. “The time requirement for online training fits perfectly with what I am doing at my studio.” She now coaches other trainers on how to launch successful virtual coaching services.

You may dream of working from home like Parker, or of connecting from a far-flung and exotic location. But before launching an online training business, you’ll need to choose a potential training product that matches your financial goals, your professional preferences and the size of your online following.

This article—the second in an ongoing series about online training—explores how several Internet-based entrepreneurs have structured their services to find online success. Here are three of the models they use.

Online Option 1: Ongoing, At-a-Distance Memberships

This is “doing what you do in the gym, but from afar,” says Jill Coleman, MS, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina–based cofounder of Metabolic Effect and owner of the online fitness training site JillFit Physiques. In Coleman’s case, that means customizing clients’ eating and training plans, monitoring their results and making adjustments—all via computer. Coleman notes that this system does have a time-for-dollars income ceiling, but putting it to work is usually easier for trainers who are just getting started with an online platform.

This model—based on continuous membership, with fees charged monthly—offers predictability, but Coleman warns that maintaining client retention requires a dedicated effort. “The membership model is not just about bringing new people in. That’s half the battle. It’s also about keeping people. I like memberships for their stability, but they require more ongoing work and invocation on your part,” she explains. “You can’t go on break. You have to constantly be adding new content and programming.”

Mike Campbell, based in Sydney, is an online training entrepreneur and author of Unleash Your Alpha (OpenBook Creative 2014). He prefers this personalized virtual coaching approach, because his price structure allows for a much higher profit margin with customized services. Plus, he finds it delivers better results to his clients.

Bottom line:

  • Great option if you don’t mind working full days, and if your primary goal is to change where you work (that is, to spend less time in the gym).
  • Perfect for trainers who want to work from home to be closer to family—or want to work remotely from a tropical island!
  • Good if you thrive on personal relationships and interactions.
  • Does not require a large online following in order to be financially viable.

Online Option 2: Online Add-Ons for Local Clients

Online training may also be offered as a bonus service to existing in-the-gym trainees you plan to continue coaching in-person. Further, virtual training is “an amazing way to help existing clients stay on track on days when they are not training with you at the studio,” asserts Parker, who is based in Denver.

Campbell explains how his regular, face-to-face clients benefit from his virtual business: “My in-person coaching involves quite a bit of online work/homework. The clients work on certain tasks each week, and they log their results in shared documents online. But we also have training sessions in-person.”

The drawback of a hybrid in-person/online business, shares Coleman, is that it can impede efforts to create a purely Internet-based business. “When I was doing both, the amount of online business I could take was limited,” she recalls. “It was only when I took the leap and went online full-time that I was able to significantly increase my income. I just had more mental reserves and time to produce content.”

Bottom line:

  • Works well as an added revenue boost for established trainers who have hit an income ceiling.
  • Can increase the number of clients you impact.
  • Allows you to grow your online systems gradually while maintaining some regular revenue.
  • Requires caution, so you don’t spread yourself too thin or lose sight of your ultimate business goals.

Online Option 3: One-Off Coaching Packages (Virtual Products)

This online coaching option involves selling do-it-yourself exercise package solutions for a one-time fee—for example, a virtual 8-week Fat Loss Makeover program.

“These programs are not customized to individuals (though some stratification might be embedded in the content), and they don’t require the trainer to do more work after the initial purchase,” Coleman discloses. “This option is best once you’ve established yourself as an authority in the online space, have built your platform and have a larger audience interested in your material. [My PT offerings] are all completely do-it-yourself, which means that clients don’t get FaceTime [or Skype] coaching with me.” Coleman currently offers three nutrition/training info-products, one or two times per year. They’re priced from $37 to $147.

Bottom line:

  • Ideal if you want to change when you work.
  • Requires substantial time and effort to build your business systems before you see any sales. However, once your systems are running, you don’t have to put in as many hours.
  • Has no income ceiling, but to be very successful you need to have a large online following, which can take time and significant effort to build.
  • Offers the trainer maximum personal/lifestyle freedom.

Creating Computer-Centric Cash Flow

In practice, you may choose to offer a combination of service models—as do most of the experts interviewed for this article. For example, Campbell has both local and long-distance clients, although there’s an online component in the training services that all of them receive.

As noted previously, Campbell has trainees he sees multiple times per week who also have online homework. “I then have some purely distance online clients. We interact via Skype, phone, email, Facebook groups and training software. And finally I have some clients in between this. They follow my online coaching format while seeing me for in-person training only once per week.”

Parker offers both ongoing memberships and short-term programs. For $450 per month, paid via EFT (autopay), local clients receive one in-person session per week, plus daily online training and nutrition coaching. For at-a-distance clients, Parker offers 21-day, 60-day and 90-day programs that range from $140 to $305 per month.

When it is done right, computer-based coaching yields extra cash and more work-life balance for trainers. “I work with several fitness entrepreneurs who started their memberships earlier this year and now have 50 to 100 members paying anywhere from $10 to $25 per month,” declares Coleman. “That’s within 6 months. That’s a nice little reward for working online for an hour or two per day.”

By determining what your goals are—for example, to change when you work or where you work—you can choose the online business model that suits you best. In the next issue of IDEA Trainer Success, we’ll outline the policies and online platforms that will allow you to do just that.

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