How to Build an Online Business in 5 Easy Steps

online business
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No one could have predicted where we are right now. The government mandated shutdown of gyms, social distancing and stay-at-home orders are something we’ve never experienced before.

Boxes have adapted by streaming workouts and lending out equipment. It’s a temporary fix and the jury is out on how long these methods will keep members engaged.

The good news is gyms will reopen at some point. Members are looking forward to returning to your classes and training with their friends.

Life will return to normal, but things won’t be the same.

This experience has shown us how vulnerable we are. We can’t say for sure this won’t happen again in the future. Or that there won’t be another major catastrophic event that leaves our Boxes vacant and our bank accounts vaporized.

Some owners and Coaches are learning that diversifying services can shield us from closures we can’t control. Are you one of them?

If your business relies 100% on in-person training, now is the time to lay the groundwork for your online training business.

Right. Now.

In this article I’m going to show you how to do it in five easy steps.

1. Choose Your Niche

Are you an experienced Ironman? A master at preparing clients for Strongman competitions? Skilled at weight cuts and knowledgeable of the rules of physique contests?

I’m not an expert at any of those things. 

And I don’t waste time pretending to be. I love training young football players, and I am masterful at breaking down and improving Olympic lifting technique, so those are the two types of clients I market toward.

I’m not saying you can’t take on the client whose goal is to lose 20 pounds and increase their energy so they can play with their kids longer, but in order to stand out in an ocean of Coaches, it absolutely helps to be known as the “something guy/gal.”

The mobility guy/gal. The macros guy/gal. The CrossFit Masters competitor guy/gal. The I-can-help-you-add-25-pounds-to-your-back-squat guy/gal.

Every client is not a good fit for you and you are not a good fit for every client. And that’s OK.

What if you’re not an expert at anything yet? Pick an aspect of fitness you’re passionate about and throw yourself into the research. This is the fun part.

When you’re trying to attract clients and build an online business, it takes more than just general knowledge. Not only will marketing yourself to a specific market get you noticed, people will pay a premium for experts who can help them get the results they want.

2. Create Detailed Repeatable Systems

Successful online trainers understand how to leverage their time.

The secret to optimizing your time and to work with as many clients as possible, is to create repeatable systems.

In the beginning it will take time — and thanks to the quarantine you’ve got plenty of it right now — to build these procedures, templates and processes. But once you’ve established these systems, you no longer have to spend time doing the same work over and over again.

Examples of common systems:

New Client Intake and Goal Forms

Create a physical activity readiness questionnaire to get to know your client and gather relevant information so you can make an educated decision on what their training/nutrition plan will look like. Are they short on time or can they do two-a-days? Are they generally healthy or on several medications?

Training Templates

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel for every client. Instead, create a few avatars of typical clients and their common goals. Then simply make edits to the program based on individual needs. 

Video Library

This is a great time to start filming, editing and uploading to your video library. These can be specific exercises, warm-ups, cooldowns, progressions, scaling examples, explanations of how your program works, an introduction video, etc. 

Communication Policy

Establish communication boundaries from the beginning. For example, you can let the client know the program includes a once per week Zoom call and you will return emails on a specific day or between certain hours.

Be cautious about spending too much time fielding questions that can be answered automatically in a well-thought-out FAQ guide. See more on this below in support your client.

Detailed Program Guide

This guide will save you tons of time and will be your most valuable document. Include subjects like how your program works, when and how clients receive their training programs, a thorough FAQ, payment info and a solid communication guideline would be a good place to start.

The more detail you put into your program guide the fewer questions you’ll have to answer later. As more questions come in you’ll continue updating your guides and templates.

3. Charge What Your Time is Worth

Determine how much time you’ll be spending working on your business. This sounds like common sense, but many Coaches believe online training is more of a passive business and they fail to add up how much time each client actually requires.

Here are a few options to consider when you are creating your online business offers:

After you’ve created your program, estimate the total amount of time per month it will take for you to work with each client.

Does your program include weekly or monthly Zoom or telephone calls? Emails, texts, phone calls and private Facebook group communication all requires your time, so factor it into your costs.

In summary, create your program, estimate how much time each will take for you to deliver, and remember to factor in time for you to review, adjust and follow up with the clients’ training program on a monthly basis.

4. Personal Service

Creating a regular schedule of communicating with your client is arguably the most important step to establishing a long-term relationship. 

A simple note congratulating them on completing a workout, a quick motivational video or just a short check-in call can make all the difference.

Depending on what software you choose you can have your clients fill out a weekly check-in form. This doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. You can easily create a set of questions your clients will answer and email to you once per week.

To maximize your time, set aside a specific day and time of the week to answer all of the emails at once instead of as they come in.

Have a policy in place if the client needs to get in touch with you for something pressing outside of their weekly video or emails but make it clear that it’s for special circumstances only.

If you are offering a weekly video call it needs to be structured so both of you get the most out of the time. Set a time limit of 15 to 30 minutes and create a standing, recurring schedule if possible. Ask your check-in questions you’ve created ahead of time and leave a little time at the end to answer any questions they might have. 

Establishing clear communication guidelines promotes efficiency and saves enormous amounts of time.

5. Landing Your First Client

If you are already an established Coach/personal trainer, then the first place to start is with your current clients. Create a simple hybrid package that includes in-person training and supplements with online training/programming/nutrition counseling.

If you are just starting off and don’t have any clients yet, reach out to everyone in your personal and online networks. Explain what your program offers, the benefits of online training, and follow up immediately and consistently.

Offer free consults to gain experience, adjust your program and get much needed testimonials.

Take advantage of social media. Any Coach or personal trainer serious about marketing their training business has to get out there and create their own original content online to stand out from the crowd. Whether it is for Instagram, YouTube or a blog, it takes time to create quality content that clients care about.

Focus on what problems they have and how you can help solve them. You can be the best salesperson in the world but at the end of the day you still need to get your clients results.

Document your best client stories, before and after pics, and don’t be shy about sharing them to attract new clients.

Summary

This is a unique time for our country and all of us in the fitness industry. Let’s diversify our offerings to serve our clients in a modern world with an online business.

The best piece of advice I can give you from personal experience is if you’re feeling anxious and stressed about the future, nothing feels better than taking action.

Just start. Don’t worry about your program being perfect. Experience is the best teacher.

Andy Parker
Andy Parker and his wife Kristie opened CrossFit Stamford in 2006. They were also business consultants, hired to assist launching Solace in New York City. In 2018 they sold their Affiliate and moved to Tampa, Florida. Since then Andy has founded Next Level Affiliates, a website dedicated to helping small gym owners and Coaches improve all aspects of their business. He’s also created the Business WOD, an affordable online business course created specifically to teach owners how to open, grow and eventually sell their gyms. For more details and to connect with Andy, please visit nextlevelaffiliate.blog.