Over the last few months with coronavirus, the world has essentially been brought to a standstill, especially in the personal training business…
Major league sports canceled.
Gyms are desolate.
And if you’re like most personal trainers, your in-person revenue stream was likely shut down as well. If you thought of at-home training sessions with clients, you had to consider personal protective equipment (PPE) and N95s.
Changing Times for Personal Training Businesses
This pandemic has brought about some interesting business changes that may have you rethinking your current strategy. You may be asking yourself the following questions:
- How do I create a digital experience that matches what I’m offering now?
- What audience do I want to market to?
- What medium will I use to market myself?
- Do I need to create a niche for myself? If so, what is my area of expertise?
- What metrics will I track, and how can I ensure my clients make progress when I can’t be with them day-to-day?
We’re in uncharted territory now. If your business is in-person only, get ready to adapt and conquer, or COVID-19 might wipe you out.
Social Media and Personal Training: The Double-Edge Sword of Marketing
Scroll through social media long enough, and you’re bound to get hit with a fitness or supplement ad. They’re everywhere because the barrier of entry into the health and fitness world is so low.
While ads can be annoying to some, you can use this tool to your advantage if you know what to look for and how to leverage it.
Let’s talk about marketing. Granted, this isn’t my field of expertise from an academic standpoint, but I’ve dealt with a very large number of diverse clientele in the industry over the last decade. After a while, you get a sense for what works and what doesn’t.
1. Solve a Problem
One of the biggest factors that will generate buy-in from (potential) clients is problem-solving.
“What’s your audience’s biggest problem?”
WHO are they, WHAT do they need, and HOW can you help?
Many trainers fall back on body composition – give someone the body they want, and they’ll gladly hand over cold, hard cash, right?
Well maybe, but when it comes to marketing, you may have to go deeper than that.
- Why do they want it?
- Who do they look up to when it comes to body goals, and why?
- What will their body composition give them that they don’t currently have?
- Why is body composition more important than anything else?
- What elements in their environment and lifestyle prevent them from changing their body composition?
These are the questions you may want to start asking when you’re formulating your marketing narrative for social media or any other platform for that matter.
You need to connect with your reader on a personal level. When you begin to build a relationship with potential clients, it opens their minds to the possibility that you may have what they want – knowledge in this case.
Remember, it’s easy to sell someone on a product. But, in this case, you are the product. Show people how you can help them, what you can fix, and how it will make their lives better. That’s how you engage them and ultimately get more clients.
2. Find Your Niche
Some people only care about numbers – how much can you squat, bench, and deadlift? If it isn’t more than three-quarters of a ton, you’re not ‘strong’ in their book. While their marketing is bold, it may actually backfire because of the limited number of clients who only care about powerlifting.
Sure, some thrive on smelling salts and the deafening sound of Metallica as the bar tries to crush them. But from what I’ve seen, most clients are primarily focused on aesthetics – the “look good, feel good, play good” common saying in collegiate and professional baseball.
You have to figure out which area suits you best. Are you more focused on rehab or mobility? Maybe you’re into CrossFit. Perhaps, you prefer working with endurance athletes.
Whatever specialty you prefer, cater your marketing to that population. No one can market to everyone because no one is good at everything. You’re one individual with a very specific skillset, so capitalize on that.
3. Instagram vs. Facebook
Today, both these social media giants seem to be the biggest contenders for traffic and views. Regardless of which you choose, you need to understand the algorithm and how to utilize all the tools each offers – content, pictures, live and recorded video footage, polls, groups, and stories.
From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem that Instagram is more catered to a visual population where short videos, high-resolution photos, infographics, quotes, memes, and picture descriptions work well.
However, when it comes to lengthy content and professional discussions, Facebook seems to be the preferred choice.
So, we need to loop back to points #1 and #2 – who’s your audience, what do they need, and how can you solve it? In other words, who are you targeting?
You could link both accounts so that you can post across platforms, but you may need to tweak the content slightly, depending on the platform and your audience.
If you want to use YouTube, you need to spend time on post-production and perhaps invest a little money. I’ve shot countless educational videos on an iPhone. However, I’ve also had the opportunity to participate and oversee video shoots with a professional film crew.
As you might guess, even if the content wasn’t useful or interesting, the professionally edited pieces still outperformed the lower-quality ones.
The takeaway is simple. If you want to use YouTube for simple exercise demos, don’t invest much. However, if you plan to build a lot of content, then it may be worthwhile to invest in post-production tools like:
- Wireless/Bluetooth mics
- Large expo board
- iMovie or Final Cut Pro
- Tripod for an iPhone or camera
- Digital SLR camera, if still shots are desired for social media
What Do You Track and Why?
Online training can often be more difficult than in-person training because you need to design a system to track biometrics with clients. When working with someone in person, it’s often easier to determine changes in mood, motivation, energy, recovery, and overall readiness. You can also ask simple questions about appetite, soreness, or joint issues.
But when you take away that face-to-face interaction, you need to determine WHAT metrics you’re going to track with clients and WHY.
Clients may view this as boring and unnecessary, but digital coaching requires multiple biometrics to understand what’s going on from a physiological level.
Use these simple metrics with clients to assess overall recovery from each training session:
- POMS (Profile of Mood Status) questionnaires
- Personal Recovery questionnaires (individualized by each coach)
- Total hours of nightly sleep
- Sleep quality
- Appetite changes
- Muscular Soreness Charts (see below)
If you’re dealing with large high school, collegiate, or professional teams, you might use any of the following to assess daily readiness:
- Grip dynamometer
- Maximal vertical jump
- Peak force analysis (via force plates)
- Reaction time (via light or sound-based monitoring systems)
To assess dietary compliance and daily progress toward a client’s goals, you might use any of the following long and short-term metrics:
- Daily caloric intake (weekly averages help to track and monitor changes)
- Morning bodyweight before any caloric intake or liquids
- Personal records (PRs) in any desired lift or athletic feat (running, biking, swimming, etc.)
- Measurements around the:
- Upper arm (bicep/tricep)
These metrics require 2 very important stipulations:
- The client MUST understand how to take specific metrics on their own and eliminate the potential for user bias, variability between measurements, and lack of specificity (aka are you actually measuring what you think you’re measuring?).
- Educate the client on when, where, and how to take the measurements, and why they need to take them.
- To do that, you need to know the external factors that could shift the measurements like the environment, electrolyte intake, total water content within the diet, time of day, circadian rhythms, level of activity, and stress. This deserves more explanation in a later post, but keep these in mind for now.
- As a coach, you must understand WHY you’re tracking what you’re tracking. If you love data but don’t know what to do with it, you’re going to frustrate your clients.
- Tracking data takes work: Everything has a cost, and time is our most valuable commodity. Make sure you’re using your client’s time wisely.
- Know your why: If your client wants to know why you’re tracking something and you can’t give them a specific reason for how that metric relates to the end goal, it may be time to ditch that metric.
Personal Training Taxes and Legal Considerations
When it comes to switching your business to online, the hardest part for most will probably be with the business logistics. Sure, coaching is fun, and working from home can appeal to many, but keep in mind that eventually, April 15th will roll around, and you will wonder how to file your taxes.
The best advice is to find a good CPA – someone who is a family friend or business partner who can guide you through the process. When you work from home, you can write off many business expenses, but most people aren’t aware of them.
If you work from home, you can write off the square footage of the area in your home where you conduct business as a “home office.”
Personal Training Business Expenses
Are you spending a lot of money on continuing education units (CEUs) and certification? Write it down and keep detailed notes. This may seem painful, but you can get a tax deduction on things like mileage, room and board, certification fees, and taxes.
Invoice Everything for Your Personal Training Business
Invoice absolutely everything. I understand that PayPal and Venmo are cool and easy to use. But when the IRS starts asking questions about the extra $6,000 in your account from undocumented online work, you will be sorry. Keep a digital paper trail to document everything for taxes. If you aren’t working for another company, you won’t have W-2s, I-9s, or 1098s, so your personal records need to be spotless.
If your business takes off and you can work full-time from home, find a really good accountant. This will save you much time and frustration.
Protect Yourself – Liability Is Key
Anything can happen, so it is in your best interest – personally and professionally – to include a liability statement on all aspects of your business, including emails, documentation, consults, and recommendations.
Ensure that client confidentiality is priority #1. Depending on your initial intake documentation, you’ll likely be dealing with an individual’s medical records and current contraindications.
Therefore, you need to understand HIPAA compliance from a social media, business, and personal standpoint. Divulging client information without prior written or digital consent could become a serious legal issue. Think through this before something major happens.
Depending on your knowledge, coaching format, and statewide legality, consider disclaimers but be very careful with the wording for nutritional consults.
Remember, you are not a registered dietician. The term ‘nutritionist’ is a little less strict and depends on your certification status. You cannot legally make meal plans or tell clients what they need to eat. You can make “suggestions” or “general recommendations” based on literature, but cite your sources and cover all your bases.
This varies by state, so check with your state governing body. Ensure that you’re not providing recommendations that can be used against you in a court of law if a medical issue arises with a client, and they decide to sue you.
You must be extremely careful when providing advice on supplements. Understand that nutrient-drug interactions are very real, and they can happen if you don’t have an understanding of pharmacology and immunology.
For example, some classes of medications warn about the consumption of grapefruit with the prescription because of the influence of grapefruit on cytochrome P450 isozymes in the liver.
Even if you stick with the basics like whey protein, creatine, caffeine, and beta-alanine, you still must understand the biochemical mechanism, how they affect physiology, and when they shouldn’t be used. If you need a quick refresher on these, see the glossary at the end of this post.
It may sound crazy, but people will sue you for nearly anything, so make sure your supplement disclaimer is lengthy and thorough.
You absolutely must have a waiver and physical activity readiness questionnaire (PARQ) as part of your intake process. This is one of the few documents that’s non-negotiable for anyone operating online.
Legally, your waiver needs to contain the client’s signature, date, a very detailed explanation of what to expect, and everything that you are not liable for if something were to happen.
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. You can often avoid many of these issues when you train in person, but when you’re interested (or forced) to transition online, you need to think about these things and legally protect yourself.
Obviously, running a business isn’t cut and dry. This topic could be an entire novel, but this information should be a sufficient starting point.
Personal Training Glossary
- Whey Protein: Often seen in the form of ‘isolate’ or ‘concentrate,’ whey is a powdered form of protein that can be added to any liquid for a quick, portable meal on the go.
- Creatine: One of the most well-studied supplements to date, creatine helps produce energy for high-intensity, short-duration activities.
- Caffeine: Caffeine offers a boost in energy by blocking the receptors in your brain that register that you’re tired. It is often promoted as an “energy producer,” but it doesn’t help you make energy. It only blocks your perception of fatigue.
- Beta-Alanine: Usually included within pre or intra-workout supplements, beta-alanine helps buffer lactic acid and other cellular changes that occur during training. By doing so, users can often complete more repetitions or maintain higher training volumes due to the fatigue-buffering effects.