Done right, online personal training can improve your bottom line. You can provide additional support to your gym-based clients, and even accommodate clients on the other side of the globe.
The concept is simple. However, the practicalities—coaching clients on exercise and nutrition via Skype, email, digital videos and other virtual platforms—may seem daunting.
In this article, the latest in our series about computer-based coaching, we’ll look at the virtual “nuts and bolts” required to get a digitally driven business going. Here’s how to choose the right software, virtual platforms and business systems to maximize efficiency and profits—and create an online enterprise that is a pleasure to run.
The Value of Being “Scalable”
In corporate-speak, a “scalable” enterprise can replicate itself smoothly as it grows. Once you spend the time and money setting up your first client (for this you must create all your policies and programs from scratch), adding your second client should be pretty straightforward. Most trainers can go from one client to two quite easily. But in a truly scalable business—with great systems—adding five, 500 or even 5,000 clients should be a fairly simple task.
“Systematization is vital to running a successful online business,” declares Eric Bach, CSCS, a strength coach in Denver and owner of the virtual coaching business BachPerformance.com. “Without systems to scale your efforts, you’ll end up doing tons of repetitive work that will decrease your ability to work on high-value projects for your clients.”
Use tweakable templates. “The only way to truly scale your program is to create template workouts that you can use for more than one client at a time,” says Jonathan Goodman, CSCS, creator of thePTDC, a collaborative blog for trainers. Goodman is also the author of Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career (V2.0, printed by Createspace 2015) and developer of the “1K Extra” course about creating an online training business.
Focus on no more than three client niches (age, gender and interest might be most useful), Goodman advises, so that you are not juggling too many templates at once. Templates should be adjusted according to individual needs, but the fundamental workout remains the same for all clients within that niche.
Make your training multilevel. Goodman recommends that you have at least three service levels, ranging from low-cost to extremely high. “The low-priced package should take little or no time commitment from you. Your time is your most valuable asset, and it should be offered in premium packages only.”
Bach agrees. He is able to assist between 10 and 20 online clients at any one time, with 75% of his clients at the lowest service level (workout programs only). His high-end clients also get weekly Skype calls, constant email access and nutrition guidance. The greater time commitment is reflected in the price, Bach adds.
Foster an FAQ. You’re going to get the same 5–10 questions from virtually all your clients, remarks Goodman. His solution: an FAQ document to share. Goodman advises that you update the document regularly; this will save you many hours of answering those frequently asked questions.
Provide support selectively. Instead of offering unlimited email support, tell clients that they can email you once a week on a specific day, advises Goodman. “Each email must be in bullet-point form, with one point equal to one question and each point no longer than three sentences. This way you can plan your time.” This policy also ensures that people ask only important questions and that the questions are succinct, he notes.
Similarly, Bach schedules weekly office hours on Skype or Google Chat, so that clients can contact him with questions or issues within a set time. “This helps regulate client expectations and helps hone in on the truly important concerns,” he reports.
You don’t need lots of fancy software to get started, observes Goodman. The basic tools an online trainer needs are free email and PayPal accounts, some sort of workout template that can be emailed electronically (such as a Microsoft Excel document) and, ideally, a Skype account. But as your business grows, you may want to adopt these upgraded online strategies:
Systematize your scheduling. Like a virtual secretary, software such as Acuity Scheduling enables potential and/or existing clients to make appointments to speak with you. Add some variation of a “Sign up now!” button on your website, allowing clients to book online meetings based on your prescheduled availability.
An alternative is TimeTrade™, which is scheduling software that integrates with your Google calendar. Goodman notes that TimeTrade automatically adjusts bookings to reflect applicable time zones, reducing confusion for foreign clients.
Leverage a video library. “While most client software packages have an exercise library, it’s nice to include a personal touch,” Goodman suggests. “Take a day and film a 20-second video of each exercise that you include in your programming. Upload them all to a YouTube channel, and when you decide to include a new exercise later, add it.”
IDEA members also have access to the IDEA Workout Builder, an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface that lets you compile workouts from over 1,300 prerecorded videos featuring industry pros. You can share the workouts with your online clients via social media or email, which they can access from any device.
Automate income. What’s the best way to take client payments? PayPal accepts credit card payments and is free and easy to use. Plus, you can transfer the funds to your bank account at no charge, says Goodman, who recommends the service for novice online trainers.
Goodman identifies two slightly more complex alternatives: 1shoppingcart.com (which is ideal if you have add-on products to sell, such as T-shirts or supplements) and Infusionsoft® (which integrates email marketing with sales).
For additional payment options, see “Choosing the Right Payment System for Your Business” in the February 2015 issue of IDEA Trainer Success.
Consider these software ideas. There are lots of other à la carte tools that may boost your computer-based business. For example, you can facilitate webinar courses with GoToMeeting® or WebinarJam™. For videoconferencing, try Skype or Zoom. To build your own website, check out Squarespace, Wix or WordPress.
To offer a members-only portal on your site (inside of which your clients can access exclusive PDFs, videos, e-books and more), look to OptimizePress™ (which also allows you to build sales and landing pages) or WishList Member™. Both options integrate with WordPress websites. Effective landing pages can also be created with LeadPages®.
Choose a single software package. Comprehensive virtual training platforms are ideal if you don’t want the hassle of implementing different digital parts-and-pieces as described above. Trainerize, for example, is a one-stop-shop that allows you to connect with clients, create workouts, track client results and more. It integrates with social media, MINDBODY Online (for scheduling and payments) and YouTube (allowing you to upload your own exercise demonstrations).
“When I started coaching online, I began doing most of my programming with Google Drive and sharing files back and forth. That didn’t last long, and now I stick with Trainerize,” Bach recalls.
An alternative is ptEnhance (from the C.H.E.K Institute). This software includes online booking and communication options, analysis of client results, assessment questionnaires and an exercise video library.
Establishing comprehensive business solutions from the start will set your customers up for a more successful training experience, asserts Bach. By choosing software and systems that can grow with you and your business, you can achieve the goal of scalability, meaning more trainees, more time for you, and more profit for your business.