How to Grow Your Fitness Business Online (An Interview)
Cameron from Exercise.com: So we are here with Exercise.com’s “How to Grow Your Fitness Business Online.” If you’re wondering if this is for you — really any trainer in the industry — whether you’re just starting out, it doesn’t matter…we’re going to talk about some awesome stuff here.
We have some really good questions lined up. So excited for everybody just to collaborate and hear the answers that these experts are going to be sharing!
Cameron: We have Tony Gentilcore. He’s the founder of Tony Gentilecore.com. He’s a Boston-based strength conditioning coach and writer. He’s been featured on sites like T Nation, Muscle and Fitness, and Bodybuilding.com.
We also have Dean Somerset. He’s the founder of Deansomerset.com. He’s a certified exercise physiologist and strength and conditioning coach based out of Alberta, Canada and teaches fitness seminars all around the world. He’s been featured on sites like Bodybuilding.com and Men’s Health.
And we also have Kellie Davis, who is the founder of FitThriveWorkouts.com as a fitness and nutrition coach. She teaches busy women how to step into their best body by getting strong inside and out. She’s been featured on sites like Bodybuilding.com and is a co-author of Strong Curves: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Better Butt and Body (see video below).
The Motivation for Growing Fitness Business Online
Cameron: Thank you for joining us today, and we’ve got some awesome questions lined up. Excited to chat, so we’re going to jump right into it.
So first one: Dean, would love for you to start us off, but obviously, want to hear from all of you guys. So, what would you say first motivated you to look online to grow your fitness business?
Dean: I’d love to say that I had some grand schemes of world domination or something along that line. But the way that I actually first started off, I thought about getting into medical school, so I wrote the MCAT exam. Did absolutely terribly. Apparently, you need to know stuff about chemistry to get into medical school.
But I scored in the top 5 percent of the writing samples. I think that was the university’s way of saying to me, “Maybe you should do some writing and not be a medical dude.” So I started my own website and just started writing for free just as a creative outlet.
Eventually I got to a point where I was publishing in different places, and then I got to a point where people were emailing me and saying, “Hey, can I have online training with you?”
And I had no idea how that worked. I had no idea what to do, so I was like, “Okay, sure. Send me money, and I’ll figure this out.”
So that started the process up, and eventually it evolved into having a system in place with Exercise.com where I had an onboarding procedure, where I had payment, organization, website hosting, workout hosting, all that kind of stuff in place.
So, it’s gotten to the point where it’s actually been more lucrative than my in-person training elements. So, if I get to a point where I decide I want to walk away from in-person, the option is there. I don’t because I still actually like hanging out with people in real life.
But, it’s been a really cool growth process. I mean, like I said, I’d love to say I had plans of world domination, but I’ve essentially just been stumbling forward. If you ever watch high school kids run hurdles and they miss a hurdle and all of the sudden it looks like they’re just falling as they go, that’s essentially my career. I found a way to not faceplant.
Cameron: Yeah, well hey you’re heading towards that world domination there.
Jeff from Exercise.com: It’s a constant little shuffle. Nice little shuffle all the way.
Dean: More just like your arms are flailing. I’m just trying not to have my face ripped up on the track. That’s about it.
Cameron: Hey, well you’re doing great, man. You’re killing it. So, appreciate that. Kellie, Tony, what would you say motivated you?
Kellie: I’ll go first. My career was just completely unplanned. I used to be a teacher. And then I turned into a copywriter, and I sort of fell into being a fitness coach because I used to do bodybuilding, and for me, coming online…it just helped me become more available for my family.
And plus, at the time, I was moving quite often. It was really hard to constantly start my business over. So just having that presence online helped me facilitate everything I needed to do in life without feeling tied down to a gym or somebody else’s hours.
So that’s been huge to me. Right now I’m in the middle of a sale, and I woke up this morning and just had all these dollars in my bank account that happened while I was sleeping. It’s a beautiful process.
And it’s really been fantastic being part of Exercise.com because I’m able to reach so many other people, and the programs that I design and implement and push out into the world through Exercise.com reach every end of the globe, which is fantastic. You do not have that opportunity working in your local facility. So that’s been huge.
Cameron: Awesome! No, that makes complete sense. Really appreciate that. Tony, what would you say?
Tony: Well, I did have visions of world domination.
Cameron: You still do, right?
Tony: You know, much like Dean, my foray into online coaching was very much not planned. I’m originally from New York, and I was working in New York, and I moved to Connecticut.
And I had a client in Syracuse. When I moved to Connecticut, he was like, “Hey, uh, would you still want to write my programs?” And I was like, “Sure, I have no idea how this is going to work.”
This is before digital cameras were a thing. And I was like, “I guess I could just send you a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet, and you know, then you could send me a check. And if the check doesn’t show up, then you know, I guess you get a free program.”
And that coincided with me starting to get my name out there more via writing and my blog, and again, as Dean said, as I got my name out there more, I had more people contacting me, interested in possibly training with me.
So, I very much kind of did a hodge-podge approach to figuring it out. And then, you know, I don’t know how many years ago it was when Jeff had originally emailed me.
Let the team at Exercise.com show you how to grow and manage your fitness business better!
Jeff: I was thinking about that.
Kellie: That was like 2013, I think. Or 2012.
Tony: I think for me it was even before then, to be honest.
Kellie: Oh really? I think I met you in 2012.
Tony: It was when my wife and I just first started dating, and I was like, “Hey, I got this email from this guy.”
Jeff: I was thinking about that literally going into this, like both of you, all you three, and I was like…
Jeff: Kellie, I remember the day that you called me. I was in Charleston at that time. My wife just finished up at Medical University of South Carolina and I…remember that call that day.
I remember Tony and Dean. I think we were back with Weighttraining.com. Way, way back, when it was just this general idea. Man, that’s awesome. It’s kind of […] to look back and see what it all looks like.
Tony: Yeah. And you know I wish this existed back in, I don’t know, what was it? 2003, 2004, 2005. I look at what I did back then, and I made it work. You know, you figure it out. It’s like, we think about what did people do before the Internet? Well, they actually did math and they did long division and they wrote stuff down.
Dean: They mailed checks.
Tony: But certainly Weighttraining.com, which turned into Exercise.com, has definitely made it infinitely more easier to do online training and to reach more people. So, anyway, that’s my story.
Cameron: Yeah, that’s great. I love hearing stories like that of just how you got into the fitness industry, how you got into online training. It’s just cool how it all came together.
Editor: See more from Dean below:
Finding Success In The Fitness Space
Cameron: So next question: Kellie, would love for you to start this one. In a nutshell, what would you say are a few things that made your online business successful.? And what would you say is also the most important out of those?
Jeff: I would just say, like, your model of how you like, overall, if you were saying, “Hey, when I offer online training, these are some things I really try to do.” When I think about you, I think about your focused community. Right?
That’s very important. That might be through email marketing campaigns, whatever it might be. I think that’s, more than anything, just your overall vision — a few things that highlight that.
Kellie: Yeah, well, number one is: Always find your niche, and don’t be scared to niche down.
Don’t be afraid to make it super, super small. You don’t need a global audience. You just need a very small fraction of raving fans who are your tribe.
I think a lot of people when they come online, they feel like they have to cater to everyone, and then nobody knows what they offer or who they are. So get very, very clear on your mission and your message. That is so, so important.
I don’t work with men. I certainly will if they come to me, but it’s very obvious that my tribe is women of a certain age, of a certain income level, and you know, on a certain path in their life.
I don’t go out there and blurt this out, but through the messages that I send, the way I write my sales copy, I draw in a certain crowd, so that’s really, really important to get clear with your message and your intent. Communication is huge.
So don’t send somebody a program and fall off the face of the earth for five weeks and then all of a sudden they’re knocking on your door like, “Are you my coach or what?”
So, make sure that you have clear guidelines of what your communication is going to be with your clientele throughout the process and show up for them.
That’s another really, really important thing…is you want to create longevity.
I know everyone on this call has clients that they’ve been working with for years and you’re like, “Why are you still paying? You’re probably smarter than me now,” but just having that communication and, you know, that assurance that you’re going to show up for them is really, really important.
Cameron: Yeah, no, that’s huge. I think we could end the call right then and…
Kellie: You’re welcome and goodnight!
Cameron: That is awesome and translates across so many businesses but especially in the personal training world so that’s really good. Tony, we’ll go with you next and then Dean. What would you say the most important things that have made you successful at online training would be?
Tony: This is kind of lost among a lot of younger trainers and coaches. But I think what helps your online training is that you’re actually good at training people in person.
It’s very important to develop those skills — personal skills, interpersonal skills, and coaching skills — with real people because it makes a lot of sense to be good at doing in-person first before you start diving into the online world.
It bodes in your favor that you’re going to have a more successful online coaching business if you have the skill sets that you developed training people in real life.
You know, certainly video is part of the process now, and if someone sent me a video of their deadlift technique I’ve done enough coaching in my 15-plus years of training people that I can look at someone’s video and be like yeah, do that, do this, and send me another video; let me know.
So, I do think it’s very, very important to get good at coaching people in person because there are so many nuances to coaching people that you don’t really have a prayer of helping to just tinker with people’s technique and how certain things feel and programming adjustments — stuff like that. It just helps.
Editor: More on coaching and leadership:
Cameron: It does make sense, so if a brand new trainer came to you who just got certified and he said, “I just want to do online training. That’s it. I just want to go right into it,” you’d be like, “Man, get your hands dirty first.”
Tony: I mean, you can do it. But I don’t think you’re going to be very successful. I’m sure there are people who are, I mean, I’m sure there are probably people who will be like, “Oh, I never did it.” Which, that’s not the point I’m trying to make.
I do think it just helps a lot to have the soft skills of coaching that you only get by working with people in real life. That just helps.
Cameron: No, I love it. That makes complete sense. Yeah, I really appreciate that. Dean, what would you say?
Dean: Well, I definitely piggyback on what both Kelly and Tony said. I mean, you have to understand who you want to work with. For me, a lot of the people coming to me might have some type of an injury, whether it’s like knees, back, hips, whatever, but at a certain point of that injury, I can’t benefit them online.
They need somebody there in person. So, understanding who I’m working with and where in that spectrum, that’s going to be the best fit.
Working with people in real time gives me an idea of what I should be working with, with those people online, to the extent that I can.
Like being good at working with somebody face to face instead of somebody that you’re communicating with through email, you can’t replicate that.
If you’re a young trainer coming into things, I wouldn’t say, you know, one or the other, I would say, try to do both simultaneously so that as you develop your in-person skills, you can also develop an online following.
Even if it means that you’re adding one new client every couple of months, you’re still getting the benefit of learning how to communicate with somebody through email. But also just having a little bit of empathy for people as we’re going through this…
Dean: We’re going to only communicate with them to a certain extent through e-mail or video. We are not going to be able to see their body language. We’re not going to be able to hear them speak to us as much as if we’re in person, and people are going to get busy.
They’re going to drop off the face of the earth, so saying, “Oh you missed your workouts. Shame on you.” That’s probably not going to go over that well. So I’ve got a couple of clients where they might have a surgery coming up, or they’re just at a busy point in time in their career.
You know, it’s tax season right now, so everyone who is an accountant is scrambling like crazy. They may not be able to get six workouts a week in. They might only get two. “Okay, cool, well let’s see if we can find a way to make those workouts the best quality workouts possible, rather than trying to murder you.”
I mean, having that empathy: “Let’s flex your program a bit. This isn’t working for you. Let’s try something different.” That can play a huge role in being able to form the relationship in a way that may not be possible in person. Just adds to that experience an individual has with online coaching.
Cameron: I think the common theme across the board is a lot of people get a false idea that they’re going to get into online training and suddenly they’re going to have $10,000 in sales their first week or first month. And it started with hard work, you know, working with people in person, developing those skills, and growing as you went.
Jeff: I always say, “Cameron, you think big, if that’s what your goal is — ten thousand — but you always start small. And what is that start-small step?” And I think you guys have got tons of great ones there and ultimately…
Dean: It’s because we’re all kind of old in the fitness industry. We’re not in our early 20s, so we all started in a time frame when you couldn’t train online, so it’s like, oh yeah! Real people. We’ve got to do that.
Jeff: Yeah, for sure.
Online Training vs In-Person Training
Cameron: That’s a good point. Yeah, okay. So transitioning to the next one, which, Tony, excited to hear your answer for this. Would love for you to start. Can you talk a little bit about how…any synergies you found between online training and in-person training or any challenges?
Jeff: Tony, before you go, let me chime in. I made a note to talk about this. You and Dean recently have switched, I mean, within the last couple of years kind of, you do CORE, and, Dean, didn’t you just recently kind of go in a different new [direction]?
I’d like to hear that, too, that challenge. I mean, I don’t know. But I thought that was one to point out…like, you guys have a lot going on, on that front.
Tony: I think that a lot of value that I offer with distance coaching is the fact that I do train a lot of people in person as well so I’m always kind of practicing my skill sets and tinkering with stuff and different coaching cues and different positioning and programming like, I mean my clients, in many ways, are my guinea pigs.
So you know, I think there is certainly a lot of synergy between what I do at CORE and applying it to my distance coaching clients, so I do think again, just to expound a little bit more on what I said previously:
Like the in-person coaching definitely helps because like I said, there are just so many nuances that come with training people that I just think it’s very, very vital to learn that skill set.
And also, I think another skill is just learning when to say no to somebody.
I have had people reach out to me and ask for distance coaching, and I try to peel back the onion a little bit and try to figure out their background, what they’re looking to do because I get a little bit of mix of people who want to get strong and maybe want to compete in powerlifting, which is weird because I’ve never done a powerlifting meet.
But, they also might have a few pains. Their shoulder hurts, their lower back hurts. And if I peel back the onion a little bit, sometimes I have to be like, “You know, I really don’t think online coaching is the right fit for you right now. I do think you need to be working with somebody in person.”
So I usually say, “Let me know where you’re located. I can definitely try to find somebody in your area that I might know. If not, I’ll put something up on social media and hopefully get a couple of bites. I do think people appreciate that I’m not just, like, doing a money grab.
I do have their best interests in mind, and certainly down the road, you know, who’s to say they’re not going to buy one of my future programs on Exercise.com or some kind of e-book that I put out. So you know, there’s a degree of integrity that I think lacks in the industry. But I do think that something like that, people can appreciate it.
Cameron: Yeah, I think that’s big, and I think that goes back to what Kellie said, of knowing your niche and sticking to it, you know.
Jeff: And yeah, what Dean said, too, like sometimes, I’m not the best option for you right now, but […] weighing that appropriately.
Cameron: Dean, if you could follow up on that, can you talk a little bit about any synergies you’ve found between online and in-person training or challenges?
Dean: Well, the synergies are pretty much the same. I mean, you’re still trying to get people to go through a training effect. You’re still working with the same anatomy, physiology, understanding people.
The biggest challenges are primarily: I’m not there to help the person reposition or readjust to get a better workout or to answer questions live. A lot of the feedback I might give them is retroactive in that they’ve done the workout.
They’ve filmed themselves. They’ve sent me a video of it, and then I have to tell them what they can do to get better at that exercise after they’ve already done the exercise. So, it’s sort of like, the second go-around when they do that exercise series.
That’s when they can actually apply some of the corrective measures that I’ve told them about. Maybe it’s: Move your knee here or your foot here. Put more weight on that, do something different.
But after the first workout, they don’t get that specific benefit. They’re kind of flying blind on it. Whereas, if I was with them in person and I saw them doing something wrong on rep two, I can tell them how to fix it for rep three. So, that way, it would be more proactive versus retroactive.
And then, online communication is definitely different than when you’re working with somebody face to face. You don’t get a chance to read body language or pick up on syntax or whether somebody’s sarcasm meter is going off.
So you have to rely on really having that written communication skill set down unless you’re doing things like a Skype consult or a Google Hangout or something like that where you’re able to do something face to face and pick up on body language.
But then there are also cultural differences, like if I’m working with a client who’s in Asia and English is their third language, or somebody who’s in Europe and English is their second language, or somebody in England and English is their first language but it’s not my type of English — it’s their type of English — I’ve got to try to figure out what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, and what it means, so that I can offer the best kind of advice possible to what their situation is and how they’re going to be able to pick up on that.
And if they’re churning out some type of slang that I haven’t heard before, like, England has so much amazing slang. I have no idea what half of it means, and then they’ll say something, and it’s like, what just happened here?
I’ve got to go on, like, Urban Dictionary and figure this out, but it’s like Urban Dictionary made for whatever it is in the English version.
Cameron: So, Exercise.com and Urban Dictionary — those are the only two websites and software that you need.
Kellie: That’s all you need.
Dean: Pretty much, yeah. And Google Translate maybe.
Let the team at Exercise.com show you how to grow and manage your fitness business better!
How To Avoid Mistakes As An Online Trainer
Cameron: Alright, Kellie. Next question I would love to ask you to start with: What are some mistakes that maybe you made early on with online training that you would caution someone new to watch out for?
Kellie: How much time do you have? My biggest takeaway from all of this is I feel that a lot of people when they come online, especially in fitness, is they don’t value their work, and so they end up underselling what they have. They end up charging too little.
And then they’re working so hard just to make ends meet that they’re not able to serve their people. So I see it all the time: these guys that have cookie cutter programs and they’re just running in circles all the time working 15 hours a day trying to service 100 people because they’re not really valuing what they have to offer.
So, if you’re coming into this, I want you to plan out exactly what you want to offer your clientele and then figure out how much time that’s going to take you, how much time you’re worth per hour. And that’s what you need to charge.
So many people come into this industry and they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to offer online training for 80 bucks a month just because they want to get people in the door, and all of a sudden they have 30 people, and they can’t keep up and nobody’s getting good service.
Where, if you came in and you said, “This is how much I want to make per hour. This is how much time I’m going to devote per client. This is what I need to charge,” I guarantee you’re going to make a lot more money because people are going to see that you’re worth whatever price you put on it.
I’m not going to say a price because I don’t want you to get a number fixed in your head. I want you to come up with that number. But the more you charge, the more value you’re able to offer because you can give so much more of yourself to your clients.
Jeff: I think that goes really well with like…a lot of times, what our CEO does is called the 80/20 rule. Like, are those 20 percent of your clients, like 20 percent of your business, really taking 80 percent of your time? If they are, you’ve probably got to readjust that and think through it.
Cameron: Man, this is such great advice because it’s like, if you guys could look back and talk to yourself when you were starting online training, what would you tell yourself to do differently? Tony, Dean, real quick, what would you say one mistake you made?
Tony: For me, there’s two things I think — piggybacking a little bit. And Kellie…I give myself a limit of how many clients I have.
Tony: And I stay pretty strict on that. There’s a delicate balance of work life, having a life, and now that I have a kid.
But I have a cut-off point of how many distance-coaching clients I want because I do feel like once I get above that, the quality of programming declines, and it is important to me that people get a good experience.
And I also think you need to set boundaries as far as emailing and texting. I don’t give my phone number to distance coaching clients because the last thing I want is them texting me from the gym like, “Hey, what is this exercise?”
Kellie: At 3 in the morning!
Tony: Yeah, yeah, I nipped that in the bud. The expectation is like: No, that’s not going to happen. And I usually say there’s, like, a 24-hour window of me getting back with e-mails. I’m usually pretty quick with it.
But I set the expectation that: “Listen, you’re going to have to at least give me 24 hours to get back to you. And then I’m going to get back to you. Just relax, unless you’re having a heart — if you are having a heart attack, I’m not the person you should be calling or emailing anyways.” But, so yeah, those are just little quick ones I’d add in.
Cameron: Yeah, that’s good. Dean, anything else you would add?
Dean: No, I think the biggest thing is just understanding what you’re trying to offer and then sticking to that. I mean if you’re trying to be everything to everyone, you’re going to be nobody to anyone.
So being aware of what your core values that you can do really well are, even just better than average, and then trying to really hone in on that kind of stuff versus trying to say, “You know, I’m going to keep people for a figure competition and a powerlifting meet and get them ready for football combine and lose thirty pounds in their office job.”
Those are great. All trainers should have the ability to do most of that. But what do you feel confident doing online versus trying to do everything for everyone? If you have a specific area of expertise, focus on that, and do that incredibly well.
Cameron: That makes complete sense. So, set your expectations. Know your niche. Deliver a good product, you know, that you’ve planned out beforehand.
This is great. So, what would you say is one thing, you know, if you could…if somebody was asking you, “Hey, online training…tell me the one thing I need to know about online training.” The one thing. Tony, what is it?
Tony: Oh man, I get to start this one out? You know, I think it’s not easy. I think the inclination is that online training in some ways is easier and that it’s a cakewalk. And that it’s, oh, all I have to do is put on my computer, I can travel the world, and, I’m just going to be refreshing my bank account and see money.
And in a lot of ways, I think online coaching is harder and more time-consuming. So, you definitely have to have that expectation because it is, you know it does get easier. But to think that it’s just going to be this little cakewalk and, you know, that it’s easy, I think is a false assumption.
Cameron: Yeah, yeah that makes sense. Kellie, what would you say?
Kellie: First off, know yourself and know if this is the right space for you because it is a lot different. You’re sitting at a desk, and you’re answering questions. And you know, it’s not for everybody. Not everybody wants to be sitting at a desk.
But, also systematize it, like get all of your systems in place ahead of time, your financial systems. How are you going to communicate all your documents that you’re going to send out, your templates?
Everything has to be systematized so you’re not spending three hours at a time every time you have to write a new plan and then you’re trying to figure out your bookkeeping at the end of the month because you can’t remember who paid you what, when.
So get all of your systems in place before you start, and then take the time to update those systems as you grow. You know, you might learn things about yourself. Take ample notes of everything that you do: what’s working, what’s not working. And always tweak.
Editor: More about systems and processes below:
Kellie: Yeah, you have to treat it like a business. I mean, I know all of us kind of, we were thrown into the fire because everyone’s like, “Hey can you do this thing for me?” We’re like, “I don’t know what that thing is, but sure, I’ll figure it out.”
But now, there’s so much information out there that you’re capable of putting together your business online before you start it. And that’s super, super important.
You have to know your mission. You have to know what you want to offer. And you have to create those systems before you put yourself out there in the world.
Transitioning from In-Person to Online
Cameron: Dean, what would you say was that shift? Was it chaos? Was it overwhelming? Was it exhilarating when it went from: “Okay, I’m in-person training and just in-person training” to “Holy cow! I could train anybody in the world, like somebody coming to me and wanting my training in a different area.” What was that like for you?
Dean: It was a cool experience. But more than anything, it was just a new challenge. So, it wasn’t something that you take any kind of courses or schoolwork, at least not when I was in school way back in the time before social media happened. But it was something where it was just…
Kellie: You make us sound so old.
Dean: Well, I mean, I graduated in 2004. That was before social media. I mean, think about how many people are going to be listening to this who are in their early 20s. That was a bit of an eye-opening experience to be able to say, “Okay, here’s some potential and possibility,” and that was one of those situations where I was like, now what?
What do I do with this potential? What do I do with this possibility? That was still in a relative infancy phase of online training where not too many people were doing fairly specific individualized coaching, and if they were, they were doing it either exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly.
And there weren’t many platforms available for people to host stuff, so it was a lot of Excel files and PayPal emailed invoices.
Monthly billing didn’t exist, so I had to chase people down monthly to be able to get stuff from them, but at that time also just building up a content library of video exercises that I could send to people, rather than trying to draw stick figure diagrams of: Okay. Here’s a deadlift. You know, how do I get this to you?
Well, a video would probably be better. How do I film a video? Oh, the audio quality on that sucked. It was blurry. My cameramen turned it sideways in the middle of the video and now I’ve got to [turn my head] to see it.
So, figuring out all those factors was eye-opening, but it was also one of those: Okay, well, every individual component of online training you had to kind of figure out on your own and figure out what worked for you and what didn’t work for you.
How To Leverage The Internet for Growth
Cameron: Yeah, for sure. So there was opportunity, but there were challenges at the same time.
Dean: Yeah, it was pretty much just like a blank slate. It’s like: Okay, here’s the potential. What do you do with this? I had no idea, so at that point I was just trying to figure it out on my own and figure out what worked well for me and what didn’t work well.
And like Kellie said, just figuring out what I was willing to do and not willing to do and then just piecing it together and evolving over time.
Cameron: Yeah, that makes sense. Now, Tony, question for you: Now that everyone with an internet connection can train with you, follow your workout plans, etc. how has that changed the way that you market yourself?
Tony: I think I take a very organic way of marketing. Like, I very much am more of a: my-content-speaks-for-itself kind of guy. I think, my website alone, I have over 2000 articles just on my website. That’s a lot of freaking writing.
Jeff: That’s tons!
Tony: I’m not, I don’t like to glorify myself. I’m definitely not, like, a me-me-me guy, like if you check out my Instagram, Twitter, it’s probably more about my clients and about my cat than it is about me.
So, you know, I feel like I take a very organic approach to my marketing process in the sense I have this big conglomeration of content that I’ve put out. And I think it speaks for itself. And then I practice what I preach.
People can watch me on social media and my videos, like, you know, I take pride in the fact that when I write programs, 95 percent of the time, I’ve done what I’ve programmed myself. So I think people realize that and it’s just about being authentic, and…that’s just my approach to it.
Editor: More on Organic vs. Paid Marketing
Cameron: Yeah. Stuff to read while you pretend to work. That’s some of my favorite stuff.
Tony: I just take other people’s stuff and say, “Go read this.”
Cameron: Oh, that’s great. Kellie, what would you say, now that everyone has an internet connection, everybody can train with you for all your workout plans, etc., how has that changed the way you market yourself?
Kellie: Yeah, and I love the fact that Tony mentioned authenticity. That’s so, so huge. You want to show up as you are and not create this sort of persona of who you think people want you to be because people are…people buy trainers. They don’t buy programs.
As much as we spend our time catering to, like, write the best programs in the world, they’re purchasing you.
They’re purchasing an experience with you. So if you have this caricature of yourself online or you have this presence and then all of a sudden you become a coach and you’re a totally different person, people are going to feel, you know, like bamboozled, like wait I bought one thing and I got another thing.
And then as Tony said, his strength really is content development, particularly writing.
So find your magic and run with that. If you’re not a great writer, you don’t have to write.
If you’re great on camera, then go with that. If you take amazing selfies and you’re hilarious and really shine on Instagram, make that your thing. So, find your own magic, and don’t try to copy other people because you’re just going to flounder, and you’re going to waste a lot of time.
Cameron: Yeah, and you’re going to just get lost in the market. So yeah, now I definitely see how it’s extremely important so, Tony, back to you real quick.
Let the team at Exercise.com show you how to grow and manage your fitness business better!
Building Your Brand
Cameron: You know, we’ve talked about finding your niche and how the niche is so important, and now we’re kind of talking about marketing yourself. But, the brand, you know, the Tony Gentilcore brand: Can you talk about just…the importance of building that up for the online fitness industry?
Tony: Yeah that’s… I get asked that a lot. I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t get an e-mail from somebody saying, “How do I get to your level? What do I need to do to write for so-and-so?” or you know, anything of that nature.
And I always say, “I’ve been doing this for 15 years” maybe 17 years, give or take. I forget where I’m at now. And it’s just unrelenting patience and putting in the work. And then…there’s no sexy, glorified answer to this. You’ve got to do the work.
You’ve got to develop. You’ve got to build career capital. You’ve got to gain experience.
And, you know, I think a lot of younger trainers do kind of fall into the trap of trying to develop a brand first, when they don’t have a brand to develop in the first place. Like, if you just graduated college, who are you? You know, don’t worry about that.
Go gain experience.
Like I always tell trainers, you should spend the first one to five years, probably more along the lines of five years, training in a commercial gym. I did it. Dean did it for years and years and years.
We all did it. And it’s only going to make you better. You’re going to learn your niche, and, you know, by working in a commercial gym. Because you’re going to get access to so many different personalities and so many different backgrounds and so many different injuries and you’re just going to you’re only going to get better.
That’s going to be the number one way of building your brand and then it’s just being, and Kellie nailed it, too, that’s just being authentic. Don’t be somebody you’re not.
Cameron: What would you say…what is that thing that, like Tony, you probably get asked all the time? Building your brand: How do you set yourself apart there?
Dean: Oh I think part of it with any brand comes down to who’s the individual behind it. So, if you can showcase your personality in a way that conveys authenticity but also something that people would want to hang out with [that is key].
So if you’re a dry, dry, dry personality, cool. Make that part of your shtick. Make that part of who you are as an individual. Put that into your writing or your content. If you want to be a class clown, awesome. Put that into whatever personality you’re trying to put out there.
But people want to hang out with people that they would want to hang out with, and whether they want to buy a training program or keep coming back to the website or doing whatever, make it something where people actually enjoy the process versus reading stereo instructions.
So in the fitness industry, it should be expected that everyone knows what they’re talking about or has a baseline amount of knowledge. Unfortunately, some people do, some people don’t, but for the layperson out there, they don’t know.
They don’t know what some of these knowledge bases should or shouldn’t be, unless they’re reading a lot of the same textbooks. So, if you know what you’re talking about, great.
Convey that in a way that’s somewhat interesting and entertaining and then also, try and work in more of a problem-solving mindset.
Why are you here for people? It’s to help them overcome something. It’s to help them understand where to get from A to B.
Dean: So, help them to see where those problems exist and how to overcome them. A lot of what I do, it’s: Okay, your knee hurts when you’re squatting. Well, try these different things to see if that helps out. Your back’s sore whenever you go over to pick up your kids.
Okay, try doing these different things as you’re going through that. I don’t need to specifically explain the mechanisms of hydraulic pressure on the posterior disc for them to understand: Okay, if you do this differently, you might have a better result — something that they can take with them into action.
They might not be reading MRIs, but now they’re actually buying into the thought process. Okay, this guy knows what he’s talking about because he gave me something that I can put into practice and is actually beneficial to me. And I want to listen to what that individual is saying. Maybe I should get training from them in the future.
How To Stand Out From The Pack
Cameron: Yeah, no, that’s great. And, Kellie, how would you say, you know, in this huge market — Tony and Dean just kind of touched on it — but huge market with a ton of buyers.
You know, everybody looking to get in shape, be the best version of themselves. There’s now just a ton of trainers out there. How do you set yourself apart?
Kellie: My biggest advice, which really, really helped me a ton is: Put on your blinders. Turn off all the noise. Don’t look at your competition. Just be you. You know, if you have an issue where you get that Imposter Syndrome, right?
You feel like: You don’t fit in, you’re not smart enough, you’re not educated enough, you haven’t worked with enough people, you don’t train celebrities — whatever it is, turn that off.
Focus on being you and being the best version of you that you can possibly be because that’s what people buy.
Cameron: Yeah, there you go. You be blunt and set yourself apart. Tony, can you tell us: What are some of the online tools that you’ve used to…grow your online fitness business?
Tony: I mean, if we’re talking back in the day, it was: What is this digital camera? And like I’m horrible with Excel…but usually, that’s what it was. It was email, Excel, digital camera, and, once YouTube came into play — that saved me a lot of time. But yes, I mean, I think it would be asinine for me not to mention Exercise.com.
Cameron: Hey, thank you. Appreciate that.
Tony: You’ve done a pretty stellar job of making my life infinitely easier and more organized and making everything into one spot that I can send people to. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place to do business, so there you go.
Jeff: Kellie does some cool stuff. I think Kellie leverages, if you guys, I don’t know if you’ve ever much followed Kellie, but Kellie, it seems like every time I check something out or I’m working with you on something, it’s like, oh now she’s leveraging this thing. I’m like, click…
Kellie: Yeah. So I mean, the number one thing when you’re thinking about your systems is you have to look at your budget, right? Like, what is in my budget? What can I afford? And at minimum, you have to have some way to collect money from people.
Hopefully, you’re not asking them to mail checks, but you know, if you use a system like Exercise.com, that payment system is built in there for you.
You have to think about how you’re going to deliver your content to people and then how you’re going to attract people, so some type of sales page system and email marketing.
You don’t really need an email marketing system, but that helps tremendously because you don’t want to be writing, like, individual emails when you have a promotion to a thousand people or whatever. So like, for me, I use clickfunnels, and you can build out as many sales pages as you want. Yes, I have a membership site with a big website, but you don’t need that.
You need one sales page to tell people what you offer, and that’ll send them to your cart. So, and then as your budget expands, you can certainly add things to that, but don’t think that you need everything in the world in order to succeed.
You don’t need to spend $10,000 a month on all these different systems, you know, and Facebook ads. And don’t get in over your head if you’re not at that level and you don’t know what you’re doing because you’ll end up losing a lot of money.
How Has Exercise.com Helped Your Online Growth?
Cameron: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, there are so many different software options and technologies out there today. I think it’s easy for somebody new to the business just to get overwhelmed and think they need to use them all, when you’re saying…I feel like one of the recurring themes throughout this has been:
Start small. Start-very-specific-and-grow-as-you-go kind of thing. So yeah, make sense. So, if the secret hasn’t been exposed yet, all three of you guys use Exercise.com for your web platform and apps to deliver your training and all that.
You have fully custom-branded apps and web platform that you’re selling your training through.
So, Dean: What would you say…what is, you know, maybe the top one or two things that you felt our platform and apps have really helped you on the online side?
Dean: Primarily usability and experience for the person who’s purchasing the programming.
I mean, if they’re able to take their phone onto the gym floor with them, look up an exercise, click a button, and see a video of it in real time while they’re going through the exercise, that makes it a lot easier for them.
Just having that real-time element plays a huge role in having a client have a better quality workout and a better experience overall with it.
Cameron: Yeah, absolutely. That makes sense. Tony, anything you would add to that?
Tony: My number one thing would be Jeff himself. You know it’s really cool to have the support. I can email Jeff about this or that and like, “Hey what can I do to better leverage my marketing? What can I do about this? What do you think about that?”
And he goes above and beyond to help me. I don’t even know what I don’t know. He’s definitely my secret weapon, and the whole Exercise.com team to be honest, but certainly having the ability to email Jeff and glean his insight and expertise is great.
Jeff: If I wasn’t red enough with the hair, now my face is.
Cameron: So, if you’re a trainer listening and you’re going to…you’re thinking about getting signed up, you will have your own Jeff Crews designated to you to help you get going.
Jeff: No pressure. I love to help whoever I can, given the opportunity.
Cameron: To just kind of wrap things up we’d love to hear just any closing comments, you guys. You know, if somebody, if a trainer says, “Hey, I want to move online” or a trainer’s thinking about it, any closing comments? Any last words, recommendations, anything you want to mention? And then we’ll kind of wrap things up and head out here.
Kellie: Yeah, I definitely encourage people: as long as it’s right for you. So, take a look at your knowledge base. How much time do you spend online? How do you interact online? Will this be something that you’re capable of providing service to, like, through? So that’s hugely important.
A lot of people try to come online, and then they realize it’s not what they anticipated. It’s not super sexy. It’s not glorifying. In fact, half the time, I look like a homeless person. You guys got lucky today. I look human.
Yeah, you just make sure that it’s right for you. And then dive in headfirst. And you don’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s why it’s always good to start small. Take ample notes; constantly refine.
Jeff: Yeah, and the perfection thing’s key, too. You’re going to mess up and you’re going to learn from it. It’s going to make you better.
Kellie: Yeah, you make a lot of the same mistakes that you do as an in-person trainer. I know Tony’s been great about telling stories of when he first started and that, you know, the things that he looks back on as a young trainer, that he screwed up. But by making those mistakes and acknowledging them, you grow from them, and it’s the same thing online.
Tony: I think what I would add is: You need to learn how to fail well because you’re going to fail. So, you know, that’s part of the process. There’s a book that I reference a lot by Chip and Dan Heath called Decisive, and they talk about this thing that they call an “ooch.”
And I would encourage anyone interested in pursuing distance coaching or online coaching to “ooch” into it. And that could be, selfishly, purchasing programming from one of the three of us and trying it out and seeing what we do and what the process is and what the interactions are like and what kind of videos we shoot.
And to see if that’s something that you would/can emulate or not emulate but do yourself. So, I just think that sometimes you’ve just got to do a little taste test, or like I said, an “ooch,” to see if it’s something you think you’d actually be interested in doing. So, that would be a good piece of advice I would give people.
Dean: For me, I would say, that growth is probably going to be best measured in drips versus tidal waves. It’s not going to be something where on day one, when you first set up your sales page, you’ll have 100 people knocking down your door to try to give you money hand over fist.
You might get one new client in the first couple of months and then another new client a couple of months later. And then eventually, you might get to a point where you have onboarding, marketing funnels, all that kind of stuff. But, growth is going to be slow for the first little while.
Expect it to be slow, plan for it to be slow, and then if it’s not slow, great. You’ve exceeded what your plan should be, but a lot of the time, people will get into online training and say, “Oh, I’ll do online training,” and then they give up because they only got three clients in a year.
Maybe it was because they just didn’t have enough of a process beforehand or people weren’t finding them, or they were putting all their eggs into that basket and saying, “This has to be successful. If it’s not successful, I have to give it up.”
So, having a Plan B to fall back on, like in-person training or writing or something different makes it so that as you build up an online catalogue of resources and the clients that can pay different things, that allows you to have that growth process get to a point where you can actually be sustainable with it.
Cameron: Yeah, absolutely. That’s great advice across the board. This has been awesome! It makes me want to go into personal training and start on my own brand.