This is the reality of what it takes to make it in the online fitness industry. It's probably not what you think...
Almost weekly I get asked one of two questions. Either 1) how do I get myself in the position you’re in? or 2) how do I “make it” in the online fitness industry. I’ll warn you from the outset, this probably won’t be what you’re expecting.
1. Get Good
This probably isn’t what you wanted to hear from the outset, but it’s necessary advice. Spend at least an hour a day for 5 years reading things that challenge you. Don’t just read information that reiterates your thoughts but seek out different advice from experts with varying opinions. Go in with an open mind and allow yourself to be challenged. thePTDC has a book list that’s a good start.
It’s easy to parrot information from other sources. You may think it’s neat, groundbreaking stuff, and you may find 30 readers who agree, but most people will check out your site once, realize you’re not adding anything to the conversation, and leave.
Good design and marketing ARE important (more on that later) but people typically won’t stick around without solid, original information, or at least cogent opinions that actually add something to the conversation about current and relevant topics.
2. Start writing
A lot more goes into writing in the online fitness industry than most people realize. You need to be able to communicate things on a level that your audience will understand. Unless you’re writing specifically to other fitness professionals, that often means you need to be able to distill complex scientific processes into language that the average gym bro can understand, all without sacrificing the actual message.
It took me at least 6 months to develop a “voice” that’s, I think, at least readable. Another benefit of writing is that it’s the best way to learn. Jon Goodman, thePTDC’s head coach, often talks about his first terrible blog that acted as nothing more than a place for him to test ideas. It wasn’t about reaching millions, more about helping him learn the material he was studying.
Putting pen to paper makes you immediately aware of assumptions you’re making and gaps in your understanding. The internet is also a harsh and unforgiving place. If you say something stupid, you WILL get feedback about it. Don’t take it personally. Use it constructively to better understand the subject.
3. Make connections
The more people you know, the more doors you can open, and the more green you can make.
If you want to stick around and not instantly be labeled as a shill and an overly ambitious but ultimately vacuous social climber, building a network is essential for having people to bounce ideas off of.
You can’t be an expert in every facet of fitness. Strength is my thing. I’d like to think I understand programming, specific adaptations to various training stresses, and the squat better than most people in the industry.
I have a decent grasp of nutrition, supplementation, recovery modalities, corrective exercises, biomechanics but they aren’t my specialities.
I have friends who ARE experts in all those areas, though, so if I want reading material about a specific topic, or if a client asks me a question and I’m not 100% sure about the answer, I can ask someone who REALLY understands the subject.
Likewise, they come to me with questions about things in my wheelhouse and together, we can help any person and solve any problem.
A lot of people in this industry are open to discussing their areas of expertise and building connections, as long as it’s obvious that you’re legitimately trying to learn and not just trying to freeload and get their programming/diet/consultation services for free.
Being a good coach is 100% about constantly learning, and the more experts you network with, the more information you can be exposed to.
From Jon: I recommend a minimum of 5 strategic partners. In every industry there are at least 5 subjects that must be covered. You are likely an expert in one. Seek out 5 others who are experts in the other pieces of the puzzle and create a strong connection with them. Help them succeed and work together with them. Take some time today to identify your 5 strategic connections to help direct your efforts.
4. Learn basic design skills or make friends with someone who has them
This part sort of makes me sad. For a long time, my blog was black text on a white background with very few pictures or videos. I’m an unrepentant bibliophile, and I have a peculiarly strong affinity for the power and elegance of the written word.
However, this is a world inundated with multimedia, so my simple ways eventually had to change. I changed my layout to one with more color and tabs, started focusing on adding pictures or videos regularly, and my regular readership doubled in the span of about 2 months.
Quality of information will always be #1 but a good design will communicate quality before people decide to take the time to read your material. As you start making a little money, don’t be afraid to invest some into website improvements, HD video capability, some professional-quality pictures for things you send out to people, etc.
From Jon: We’ve put together a free premium resource called the Start a Fitness Blog Blueprint with all of this information laid out.
5. Coach people
A lot of things seem to make sense in your brain, but application is what really separates the useful stuff of the interesting-but-ultimately-worthless theory. It’s unlikely that your blog will make money at first.
Seek out internships with coaches who work with the populations you want to work with. Coaching is a skill that must be practiced. More book knowledge helps you have a broader base of understanding from which you can draw when you’re writing programming or needing to make tweaks to a workout on the fly for various reasons, but it doesn’t motivate people, or instill confidence in your athletes, or build the type of relationship necessary for your athlete to benefit the most from your guidance.
6. Don’t expect to make any real money for quite some time
I’ve been seriously studying various aspects of strength and fitness for about 10 years now. I’ve been running my blog for almost 2 years. However, I’m JUST now starting to make any real profit.
Using conservative figures for how much time I’ve invested reading, coaching, getting experience under the bar, writing programming for free, and being mentored by coaches I looked up to, I’m making about $0.40 an hour so far.
Now, to be fair, a lot of that time was while I was a teenager, and most people don’t want to pay a 15 year old for programming (though, for context, the two things at the top of my Christmas list when I was 15 were Supertraining and Science and Practice).
Between continuously building a knowledge base, getting internships, growing an audience, doing pro-bono work for experience, etc. you should expect to work a lot for very minimal pay for at least a couple years. You can “cheat” the process by taking a personal training certification course and, within a month, get unwitting clients at a local gym to pay for your “coaching,” but in my opinion that’s deeply unethical.
Don’t do something just because you can make money off of it if you don’t think you’d be providing a quality product or service to the consumer. For example, I just started really selling programming about 2 years ago, but for 6 years prior I’d been writing programming for free for anyone who wanted it, just to get practice so I’d be able to eventually provide a service I deemed good enough to put on the market.
If you have a decent sized readership and you market your services, some people will probably buy them whether they’re good or not. It’s on you to be honest with yourself about whether you’re charging someone for a product that’s worth the price tag.
7. Learn to value respect over profit
This is one that most people don’t get. It’s not hard to make a buck. There are a lot of suckers out there who don’t know any better and will spring for a product as long as it’s marketed right.
Talk about how your system is “revolutionary,” sprinkle in conspiracy theories about how other coaches don’t want people to find out your “one secret,” and promise to help people reach a common goal (add 2 inches to your arms, 50 pounds to your bench, get a 6 pack, lose 30 pounds, etc.) in a ludicrously short amount of time.
If making money is your only goal than learn how to design a sales page, make up testimonials, and write crappy Ebooks. Conversely, if you want to be taken seriously by other professionals, you need to learn to count your value differently: in how often your articles are shared or how often you’re quoted as an expert source of information and not in profitability.
Profitability comes much stronger if you build your value first. Spamming an Ebook promising “secrets” is a short-term solution that might make you a couple bucks, but once the blip is done, you’re left searching for the next “secret” and the cycle continues.
Gaining respect must come first and it’s more satisfying as well. When someone comes to me for programming or a consultation, I think it’s because they can tell I legitimately want to help them and that I have the knowledge and ability to do so.
8. Don’t stir the pot just for notoriety
Controversy sells. If you talk junk about a prominent coach, people will read and share what you write because they know it will brew a poop storm, and poop storms are fun to watch. If you want cheap page hits, then be my guest. If you’re playing the long game, then behave professionally and never burn any bridges unless it’s absolutely necessary.
And “so-and-so says something I don’t agree with” isn’t a reason that constitutes necessity. Behave civilly. If you have a problem with someone personally or something that someone’s saying, handle it privately or block the person from your networks and forget that they exist.
From Jon: The name of the game is traction. Creating controversy surrounding hot topics, arguing with other coaches, or generating massive lists (all of these tactics are called “link-baiting” in Internet speak) generate a lot of traffic, but very little traction.
If you want to sell low-priced products and programs based on fear and emotion (generally cheap Ebooks and supplements) then it’s a pure numbers game. To sell higher-priced and higher-yield products and programs like coaching or courses, you need repeat readers and lots of traction, even if it’s from less total visitors.
9. Deal with people as individuals, not as merely part of your “audience.”
It upsets me every time someone adds me on Facebook, messages me a question, and then is surprised when I actually answer it, because they’ve asked other people who never took the time to get back with them.
Ostensibly you’re in the fitness industry to help people. If you ever get to the point where you see yourself as Moses on the mountain delivering the Truth to all the insignificant people below you, then your priorities have become skewed.
If you get popular, you will get busy, but never forget that any success you achieve is because of the people who helped you, and the people who read you work and buy you products and services. If someone’s asking you a question, they’re probably one of the latter (or strongly considering it), and they’re giving you an opportunity to be the former.
10. Pass it on
I’m just now getting to the point where I can start doing this, and I love it. Most of the time, getting a leg up in the online fitness industry is about whom you know in addition to what you know. I have no problem admitting that I didn’t get where I am now on my own steam. Lots of people mentored me or helped me get exposure along the way. That’s how it is for everyone.
Once you start becoming “somebody,” help out other people who are trying to come up:
- Give them constructive criticism on their writing, videos, or website.
- Help set them up with editors of fitness websites.
- Help them get guest posts on blogs of people in the industry.
- Share their stuff around to help them get exposure.
- Don’t rise up and then try to keep others from doing the same to stifle competition.
A high tide raises all boats. The more talented people there are in the industry, the more people we can ultimately reach and help.
Note from Jon: If you’ve done all of these and would like a comprehensive resource for writing in the fitness industry, I recommend Writing Domination in the Fitness Industry. If you’d like to know more about online personal training, feel free to head over to www.1kextra.com to learn the exact systems for building and growing an online side or full-time business.