In 2014, we saw numerous mobile health and telehealth acquisitions as larger companies ramped up their digital health strategies (Comstock 2014). These moves are more than business news headlines—they represent broad trends that are increasingly relevant to fitness and wellness professionals.
New mobile apps and online services give you abundant options for leveraging technology to interact with clients and expand your business. But which of these tools are right for you? Developing a coherent “investment strategy” for digital health can help you figure that out. Such a strategy can facilitate business growth and, perhaps more importantly, help smaller players avoid becoming obsolete. The key is to construct an appropriate “tech investment portfolio” that aligns with your fundamental business goals. Here’s how to make that happen:
Explore Client Interface Options
Client interaction can now happen, not
only through face-to-face meetings, but also on a live or recorded basis through online distance learning, or completely through email or app data sharing. For example, telefitness sites Wello, PowHow and some service providers on Google Helpouts offer two video conferencing options:
- Two-way—instructor and client can speak with each other.
- One-way—client can hear the
instructor, but not vice versa. Other platforms, such as Weight Watchers® and FitOrbit®, offer online coaching services through a Web interface, email and/ or text messaging with a health coach or personal trainer, as well as online
WEIGH THE GOALS AND CONSTRAINTS
When choosing one of these interfaces for interacting with clients, fitness professionals should ask themselves:
- What are the business goals and constraints of each option?
- Who is your target demographic, and what is the best way to reach it?
- What technological constraints does your business face, and what will it cost to adopt one of these solutions?
ALIGN TECH INVESTMENTS WITH BUSINESS GOALS AND CONSTRAINTS
Deciding how (and how much) to invest in technology for a business depends largely on your goals and resources. Asking clarifying questions is helpful:
- What is your growth target?
- What financial, marketing and time resources are at your disposal for
investing in growth?
- How much personal interaction with
clients do you like to have?
- Do you prefer outsourcing additional
features—such as automated calendar syncing, payment processing and Web hosting—or would you rather handle those tasks in-house?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for matching tech investments with business goals and constraints. However, answering the questions above reveals much of the map for creating a tech-investment portfolio. Uncovering the rest of the map requires prioritizing your goals/constraints and finding the best solutions based on your unique priorities.
OVERCOME BUSINESS BOTTLENECKS
In my experience, the three greatest bottlenecks to growing a small, independent health and wellness business tend to be the time and cost of acquiring new cli- ents, the time available for existing clients, and real estate cost and availability. One way to circumvent these constraints is to provide recorded videos through one of the dozens of sites and apps that offer this type of service. Another strategy is to join an online coaching platform.
Advantages of these options include marketing by the site that hosts your videos or coaching profile, as well as the boost to your ratio of clients trained per hour of your instruction and studio space time. If you don’t already have a strong brand and following, however, it can be challenging to stand out from other instructors on these sites. And if you do have a strong brand, you’re probably better off creating your own independent site.
Some fitness professionals may feel less fulfilled if they lose direct, live interaction with clients. If this is true for you, you may be better off gravitating toward a live videoconferencing training platform. You can even capitalize on “time arbitrage”—the ability to reach clients in other time zones during nonpeak hours in your own locale.
Align Tech Investments With Target Demographics
Some emerging client interface options rely heavily on a more tech-savvy client demographic. The technological proficiency of your client base will largely determine whether you emphasize an in-person, face-to-face approach, or whether you achieve scale by leveraging technology to interact with your clients. If your clients rarely use their computers and are still using dial-up Internet, then you may want to avoid bandwidth-heavy solutions such as live videoconferencing. In contrast, if your client base consists of jet-setting executives sporting the latest tech gadgets, then it makes sense to provide geographically flexible, live and personal interaction through two-way videoconferencing.
Evaluate Your Tech Constraints
On the flip side, consider whether technology excites you or represents another stressor. Also, how much more tech investment will it take for your business to leverage tech more effectively? For example, if you seek to offer live online sessions, you must meet certain requirements for computing power and Internet service speeds.
If you live in an area where Internet service speeds fall short of a hosting site’s tech specifications, then there’s little you can do to remedy the situation apart from moving to another area where higher-speed service is available. Short of that, other coaching platforms that rely on text messaging and emails may be better options than offering live sessions online.
Likewise, if you do not feel comfortable with learning new tech platforms, you may find that the time and headache of integrating tech solutions are counterproductive for your business. For example, live videoconferencing sessions often hit bumps, such as unexpected software updates, Internet service outages or the ornery computer, to name just a few. These issues may arise on your end of the connection or your client’s. If you prefer to outsource technology risk to another party, you may want to join a platform that does not require an upfront contract or fee to test it out.
Technological change is happening at a stunning pace in the health and wellness industry. Even if you ultimately decide not to leverage technology for your business, make sure it is a conscious and educated decision that you have researched and contemplated. As more health and wellness professionals adopt new technologies for their businesses, those who do not may find it harder to compete for and retain tech-savvy clients.
Comstock, J. 2014. So far, 16 digital health acquisitions in 2014. MobiHealthNews. Accessed Oct. 19, 2014. http://mobihealthnews.com/33844/so-far-16-digital-health-acquisitions-in-2014/.