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Online personal training is one of, if not the fastest growing careers in the fitness industry. All you have to do is look at social media and you will see the abundance of people advertising their coaching. As a coach, I believe this is a great thing. Not only are more people able to make a living doing what they love, clients now have a greater chance of finding the right coach to work with.
However, with that being said, the ease of entry is worrisome. There really isn’t any set qualification standards one needs to meet, before becoming an online trainer. The only real restriction is the ability to find paying clients. As long as someone is willing to pay you for your remote fitness advice, you are essentially an online “coach”. I use the word “coach” in quotation marks because, quite frankly, coaching is a lot more involved than just providing fitness advice. I know a lot of people flush with fitness information, I know far less good coaches.
Next year will mark a decade of working in the fitness industry for me. In that time, I have watched a lot of people come in and out of the online market. It’s relatively easy to make a few bucks online, but it’s very hard to build a sustainable career. I started Hunt Fitness while I was in college. In 2010, online coaching wasn’t nearly what it is today. I had to convince my first few clients online coaching was even possible. It was such a foreign concept at the time. I caught it at the beginning. During my four years of college, I sacrificed a lot to build the business. However, at the time, I didn’t think of it as a career. I just saw it as a really cool college job. While all my friends were working on campus or in a local bar, I was sitting at home designing workout plans. By the time my last semester rolled around, it became evident that I created something worth pursuing and, the rest is history.
Over the better part of a decade, I have gathered some information on what I feel it takes to be a successful online coach. So without further ado, here are seven ways to not only be successful but to set yourself apart and be looked at as one of the top coaches in the crowded space of online fitness.
Number 1: Specialize
I’m sure you have heard “niche” one thousand times by now. But the question is, how specific are you?
It took me awhile for this idea to really set in. I wanted to be the jack of all trades. I wanted to work with team sports athletes, bodybuilders, soccer moms, sedentary dads, powerlifters, the list goes on. It wasn’t until I started seeing the drawbacks of catering to everyone that I started to nitch down.
After you get a few clients under your belt (or a few hundred) you will start to see a trend. You will notice that some clients elevate your energy, are a joy to work with and generally make your day better. On the flip side, you will also encounter clients that are a struggle. You feel like you can’t connect with them. This is perfectly ok, don’t fight it. Don’t try to be a powerlifting coach AND strength and conditioning coach AND bodybuilding prep coach AND kettlebell guru AND functional fitness expert AND speed coach AND transformation expert, etc. Pick one or two and go all in.
Pay attention, over time you will realize your entire list of “best clients” share a lot of similarities. Sometimes what you find will surprise you! These will be the type of clients you begin to focus on. You have to aim marketing efforts, products, and services all towards this specific group of people. On the surface it can be hard to understand how limiting yourself to a certain demographic, can actually open the business up for better results. The fact is, it’s harder to get clients when you don’t focus on what you do best.
Think about it, when you have a specific health problem, you see a specialist. If you need brain surgery you are not going to see a family practitioner, you are going to a brain surgeon. The specialists are also some of the highest paid people in the medical field! Become the foremost expert in one area and you will have clients for life.
Since I know the question will be asked, I will just bring it up. If you can’t be selective right away because you need to make a certain amount of money, do what you gotta do. We have all been there. Work with everyone, in the beginning, the experience will be good. Just aim to nitch down as your career progresses.
Number 2: Look Beyond the X’s and O’s
In order to be a great coach, you need to go beyond what most people consider “coaching”. Like I said in the beginning, there is a lot more to coaching than just providing the blueprint. Remember, there is a real person on the other end of the email. That can be easy to forget. Real people have real issues and setbacks. Money gets tight, relationships sour, family members get sick. It happens. As a coach, you need to be able to adapt.
Try to make the online experience as personal as possible. Offer Skype consultations, phone calls, etc. Be there for your clients at all times. Look, all trainers believe they have “elite” programming. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. The point is, it doesn’t matter. Do you give everyone a custom program? Do you make sure the plan fits each client’s specific goals? Do you use periodization? Good, that’s all required. You start there. Trust me, I have been down the road of trying to base my business success entirely off from having the best damn programming in town (or online in this case). That’s usually not enough. If you want to be successful, you can’t just offer the same service as everyone else. This goes for any business, not just online coaching. You need to have something that makes you different.
You know this but it’s worth repeating; as a coach, you are in the results business. Your clients are not going to care how amazing your programming is if it doesn’t give them the results they are looking for. The program might, in fact, be the best one in the world on paper, but if the client can’t follow it, it’s trash. The best program on paper is not always the best program in practice. Build a relationship and connect with clients on a deeper level. Get to know them, really dig into each client and try to find his or her “why”. Find out what they really want and deliver. This will require some work, but no one said online coaching is “passive income”.
I find people who have experience working with clients in person grasp this much easier. I wouldn’t say working as a personal trainer or coach in a gym setting is required to be an online coach, but it definitely helps.
Number 3: Offer Full-Service Coaching (Nutrition + Training)
Ok, I recognize this may go against my first point. However, a great way to set yourself apart in the crowded field is to not only offer training but offer nutrition coaching as well. Nutrition is a huge part of the puzzle. As trainers, we all know clients who kick ass in the gym all week but still can’t make results. Usually, in that case, it’s because their nutrition habits are terrible. It’s extremely hard to make progress that way. It doesn’t matter what area of training you specialize in, nutrition will play a huge role in your client’s success. If you don’t want to offer it, link up with a nutritionist to ensure your clients are being taken care of.
Early on in my fitness career, I was fascinated with nutrition. I was probably more into nutrition than even training. Because of this, it seemed natural for me to offer nutrition coaching along with my training packages. In fact, I was really surprised that most other coaches didn’t do it as well. Training and nutrition go hand in hand. The best results come when the total package is optimized. Most clients who are serious about getting results are going to seek out nutrition advice anyway.
This means you need to educate yourself. Just as the science of training keeps advancing, so does nutrition. I’m not saying you need to be an expert, but you need to be able to analyze and explain nutrition in a way that makes sense to the average person. The hardest part of this is keeping up with fad diets. The media does a good job putting out information that is misguided or flat out wrong. As a coach, you should be able to explain the pros and cons of Keto, Intermittent Fasting, Flexible Dieting, Low Carb, Paleo, etc.
Note- It is very important that you do not call yourself a dietitian. A Registered Dietitian (RD) is a trained nutrition professional who has met the strict educational and experiential standards set forth by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).
Number 4: Turn Pro
What does it mean to “turn pro”? Typically there is a money factor attached. In athletics, we define turning pro as an athlete that get’s paid to play their sport. College football players are amateurs, but NFL players are professionals. In online coaching, that definition doesn’t apply. You can get “paid” to be an online coach while still being an amateur.
According to Steven Pressfield, author of the book “Turning Pro”, he writes “the difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.”
What are amateur and professional habits? Again, going back to Pressfield:
- The professional shows up every day.
- The professional stays on the job all day.
- The professional is committed over the long haul.
- For the professional, the stakes are high and real.
- The professional is patient
- The professional seeks order.
- The professional demystifies.
- The professional acts in the face of fear.
- The professional accepts no excuses.
- The professional plays it as it lays.
- The professional is prepared.
- The professional does not show off.
- The professional dedicated himself to mastering technique.
- The professional does not hesitate to ask for help.
- The professional does not take failure or success personally.
- The professional does not identify with his or her instrument.
- The professional endures adversity.
- The professional self-validates.
- The professional will reinvent themselves.
- The professional is recognized by other professionals.
People who are unfamiliar with what it takes to actually run a successful online business will often say things like, “man, it must be nice to be your own boss and work whenever you want”. To an extent that is true. I don’t have a boss telling me when I have to start work. However, in order to be successful, I hold myself to a standard. I wake up early. I start my day at the same time every day. I study every day. I write every day. I work every day. I spend a lot of time in the office. I live at the beach, I could skip work and head outside every nice day if I wanted. I’m not required to be at my desk, but if I did that I wouldn’t get anything done.
If you want to be successful as an online coach you need to treat it with respect. This business is not for everyone. If you are not self-motivated, you won’t make it. If you need someone telling you what to do and when to do it, you won’t make it. If you have an amateur mindset, you won’t make it.
Number 5: Education / Never Stop Learning
You need to know the information…I mean really know the information. With the barrier of entry to online training so low, a great way to set yourself apart is through education. The truth is, the average Instagram online trainer is not going to have the education to back up their business. They are going to let their physique (or strength) do the talking.
A great place to start the educational process is actually with college…strange, I know. In the entrepreneur world, it’s “cool” to put down formal education. I disagree. Is a college education in 2018 the savior it once was marketed as? No, not at all. However, going to school and getting a degree in exercise science is a perfect way to set yourself apart. Just know, going the exercise science route is not immune to flaws. Your education really just starts with a Bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t end there. Just because you have an exercise science degree does not mean you are automatically going to be a great trainer.
There is a ton of information available for everyone to consume. We live in an amazing time; it truly is the information age. However, with the influx of information, it can be hard for you, let alone your clients to decipher what is quality and what is garbage. With a strong science background, you can pass everything through the test – does this make physiological sense? The background (science) information you receive in a college degree program is what I call the “bullshit detector”. Going to college is not foolproof, but there is no way a college educated trainer would promote things like sweatbands, waist trainers or detox teas.
I realize college is not for everyone. That’s ok! There are tons of other resources for continuing education. You don’t have to go to college to learn anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, programming, etc. You can absolutely learn that on your own. You can attend online courses, seminars, and certifications. These will not only open you up to new ideas, it will also serve as an excellent marketing tool.
I really don’t care how you decide to learn, the most important thing is that you do it and do it consistently.
Now, the education process does not end with just fitness and nutrition information. As an online coach, you need to wear many hats. You need to be proficient in psychology, sales, marketing, and personal development. At this point, I would even go as far as to say you should spend twice as much time to learn business just to “catch up”.
Number 6: Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
When I started Hunt Fitness in 2010, social media wasn’t nearly what it is today. In fact, the only social media platform I was on at the time was Facebook, where I was connected with about a hundred or so friends from high school. I didn’t realize this, but it forced me to build an actual business the semi-old school way. I had to learn how to connect with an audience through blogging, email marketing, referrals, and in-person conversations. I was about a year in before I started playing around with YouTube, Instagram, etc. By that point, I had already worked with a bunch of clients.
In today’s landscape, it’s the other way around. People can start an online business without really starting a business. The process is pretty simple, you build up a big social media following and then just capitalize off from it by providing goods/services your audience wants. For fitness influencers, offering coaching is a natural progression.
However, what happens when the social platform you built your following on changes? When Facebook changed its algorithm, which made Facebook pages essentially useless without paid advertising, people lost a ton of attention. I know people who lost thousands of dollars because of this. The same thing happens everytime Google changes an algorithm with ads.
You don’t want to only use social media to gain clients. And you especially don’t want to only use one social media platform. Most people would be surprised to hear, I get less than 10% of my clients from social media. For every ten new clients, I might get one from social media. (unless you consider the podcast social media?)
Diversify your marketing portfolio. Use all of the following:
Unpaid and Paid Social Media
Actually, talk to people at the gym.
At this stage of my business, I get most of my clients from referrals. I have worked with over 1,000 clients. If you do a great job, and each client tells one friend (usually more), do the math.
Number 7: It Can’t be About the Money
A problem I see in the online fitness space right now is that young “coaches” see online training as an easy way to make money. Now, don’t get me wrong, online coaching can be a lucrative career, it’s just not going to be easy. Like I said, when I started my online business, online coaching was in the initial stages. I had to convince my first group of clients that it was even possible to train them online. Now it’s a huge part of the industry. I didn’t have a social media following to get clients from. All I had was a Facebook page with a couple hundred friends from high school on it. I had to actually build a business.
Since online training was so new when I started, in the beginning, I didn’t see it as a way to “get rich”. I just knew I had a passion for fitness and wanted to share my thoughts and ideas with other people. The business side grew organically. I didn’t have a business plan, a marketing budget or really any structure to what I was doing. I just worked unbelievably hard at providing a great value. I’m not recommending you treat your online business as a passion project, actually quite the contrary. But what I am saying is don’t focus on just the money. Don’t look at your clients as money signs. That will not create the type of lasting results you want.
Making money is different than building a business. You can make some money online without a lot of difficulties, but actually building a career online is incredibly difficult. To build a career you need lasting success. If all your buttons are not in a row, you will be exposed. Luckily, in the past few years, a few well known online coaches have been exposed for selling a bad product.
If you want to get rich quick, online coaching is not the business to get into. It will take a long time to build up a client base and once you fill your roster, most of your time will be spent staying on top of it.
Exposing Bad Coaches:
Bonus: Take Massive Action
I wanted to throw this on at the end as a bonus. People love to feel motivated – I love feeling motivated. We read articles like this and we nod our heads as we go down the page. But what happens next? We click off the site and move on with our day. No action is taken. If you really want to set yourself apart, start taking massive action! Do the little things that the rest of the crowd is not willing to do. Read every day. Take notes. Implement. Learn. Focus on getting better. This is going to be hard, it’s going to take work. But in the end, it will be a gratifying experience.
Hopefully, this article/podcast provided some useful advice.
If you have any other questions about becoming an online coach, feel free to send me an email at KyleHuntFitness@gmail.com or a DM on Instagram @HuntFitness
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