About a year ago, I received an email from a girl I went to college with. We weren’t really friends, but we had a few classes together and were Facebook friends–so we knew of each other.
She had seen the Facebook page for my business, read some of my blog posts, and reached out to me to see if I could help her lose weight. Ecstatic, I said yes.
And just like that, she’d become my first online coaching client. The rest, as the tired cliché goes, is history.
Since then, my online coaching business has grown a lot, and with it, so has my knowledge and opinions of both coaching and running an online business. If you’re thinking about moving your business online, allow me to first share some key insights about making the jump to digital.
1. The experience gained from coaching in a gym first is indispensable.
If you want to be a good online coach, you need experience coaching people in real life. Frankly, I don’t like coaching people in person as much as I do coaching them online, but the experience of working with real people and in a professional environment taught me three main things.
First, coaching in-person teaches you how to visually assess client movement patterns. This is a major advantage because we know that everyone is going to move differently. Once I actually saw and coached several different people through a movement, it was a lot easier to recommend a squat stance and make adjustments, even for online clients.
Second, you get comfortable dealing with people. It’s one thing to chat with people over email, but another when you’re talking to someone with whom you can connect face to face. And depending on your gym, it also helps get you comfortable with the sales process.
Some gyms really require you to work hard to sell training sessions. While that may not be pleasant at the time, you gain a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t (building rapport versus being overly pushy). Being able to sell yourself and your service is critical to your coaching success, after all.
On the internet, however, people can’t see or hear you, or talk to you in person. You need to be able to explain to people why they should not only trust you with their health, but give you their hard-earned money as well. If you have some idea of how it’s done in person, you can at least be comfortable selling yourself and earning your potential customer’s trust. For example, in an online environment, you can use the principles of “activation” to convince your client that your services are worth it.
Lastly, coaching in person made me realize what my time is worth (we’ll get to this more later). Basically, what I’m saying is that if you have to start off in a big commercial gym, learn as much as you can while you’re there.
2. Remember that online coaching is still a business…and you’re it.
If you’re working in a gym, there’s a team of people running all of the operations, such as marketing, sales, and accounting. However, when you’re running an online business, you’re both the employee and boss.
You need to learn how to manage expenses (Mint is a great, low-cost way to manage personal and business-related finances, by the way), do marketing, run a website, learn accounting, set up operational systems, and all that fun stuff that goes with managing your business.
Of course, it’s all trial by fire; you’re not expected to be awesome at it right away. You’ll probably make many mistakes, but learning what these mistakes are (or reading about them) will not only save you money, but they will help you become a better decision-maker down the road.
When I first started, I made a list of the online trainers and coaches whom I looked up to and reached out to them. In this age, you can find their contact info easily–usually on their Contact pages on their websites, their social media, or through a bit of Googling. Many of them were more than happy to share tips and steps with me on how to get started.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who are doing what you want to do, but be specific with your questions and offer a bit of value in return. An example is What was the first thing you did when you decided to be an online coach? versus How do I get started as an online coach? The former helps them focus on a more helpful reply.
At the same time, don’t be offended if they don’t answer. They’re busy people too.
3. Learn how to write copy.
Writing copy is an extension of selling yourself. You need to convey your value and the benefits of your program in a way that connects with the reader.
Bad copy will clearly come off as that: bad, falling flat, and “too sales-y,” as many coaches often fear.
Good copy, on the other hand, is more that just selling a product. It’s taking the reader through a journey. It starts with a problem that needs solving and the frustrations associated with that problem. Then you explain why your product can help solve or alleviate that problem. By the time they’re done reading, the customer should feel like your product may really be the answer they’ve been searching for.
Check out guys like Dan Kennedy, Craig Ballantyne, and Ramit Sethi to get a feel of what great copy looks like. According to Kennedy on Copyblogger.com, you need to make the customer go through these five mental steps:
- Awareness of a need or desire
- Picking the thing that will satisfy that desire
- Picking the source for that thing
- Accepting the price/value argument
- Finding reasons to act immediately
For example, on your product copy page, you can have pictures of six-pack abs to spark desire and more pictures of fit people lifting to reinforce the longing. Back up your information about the uniqueness of your product or services with testimonials from previous clients and social proof, and then include a limited time offer that gives the prospect a reason to take action.
Writing good copy can be learned to a certain extent, but the best way to get better is to keep doing it–over and over again.
4. Find your avatar.
An avatar is essentially your ideal client. You must provide this avatar as much detail as you can, as if you were describing someone you know. Avatars are important because you can’t try and be everything to everyone. By finding who your ideal client is, you can focus on targeting this group of people.
Maybe your specialty is post-pregnancy women in their 30s and you can help them shed their baby weight. Or maybe it’s 40-year-old men who used to be bookworms in college and now want to get stronger and build muscle. Having a clear picture of your ideal client will not only help you create a targeted business plan, but will help you become the “expert” or go-to guy for this group of people.
If you don’t know who your avatar is, start paying attention to the type of people who come to you, or who you enjoy working with the most. Chances are, these people are your avatar. If so, write it down and tweak it as you need to. You can include information like interests, personality traits, income, current career track, and so on and so forth–the more details, the better.
5. The cream rises to the top.
“The cream rises to the top” is a saying that implies a good or notable person cannot remain unnoticed forever. That is, if you put in the right amount of hustle. You may think it’s easy: just set up a blog and a coaching page, and watch clients flock to you.
Even if people can’t see your face, it doesn’t mean you can bullshit your way to success. If you don’t produce results or help people the way you say you can, people will eventually find out, and you will fall by the wayside.
The most successful online coaches are the ones that can produce results and consistently put out great content.
If you can’t do that, eventually you’re just going to be known as just some fitness dude, rather than a coach.
6. Find your writing voice.
You need to learn to write. This is different from writing copy. This is about transmitting the ideas in your head to a written format. There’s no better way to show people your knowledge than putting out free, high-quality content, even if it’s just actionable and shareable Facebook posts.
A blog with free great content is your best marketing material. Invest the time into finding your writing voice (which is basically the way you talk, but more refined) and hone this skill. The only way to do that is to keep writing and actively learning from people who do it well, even if you think no one is reading.
When you keep writing, you not only get the practice, but you accumulate a large body of work that you can use to convince larger media outlets that they should pay you for your writing. Very rarely will a site accept posts from people with no writing history, so build up your content and use it as your resume.
7. Find your hourly worth.
As an online coach, you don’t have anyone setting prices for you, so you need to determine what you and your service are worth. What you charge is as much about your confidence and mindset as it is about ability or service.
–> ALSO READ: How Much You Should Charge For Personal Training
If you can make people believe in your service–ideally through your sales process and how you demonstrate value–you can get them to pay whatever you want to charge. The three best ways to demonstrate value is through the content you provide, creating effective sales copy, and of course, providing results. There are other subtle ways to communicate value as well.
For the big things, provide value by showing off your knowledge through your blog posts, newsletters, YouTube videos, and whatever other medium that lets you connect with your customers.
Once you have them interested in you and your background, you use your sales copy (which we talked about above) to show them what your service can provide. In other words, you’d better be able to give them what they want.
To that end, you can use testimonials to show potential clients you can deliver results.
As a result, my hourly worth with online coaching is much higher than my hourly pay at my old gym. This is a big reason why I prefer coaching online to in-person coaching. In my case, I can work with more people at one time and increase my hourly worth (while providing value), unlike working at a gym where the prices are likely set for you.
8. Don’t discount yourself.
Don’t discount your services just to get clients. Just don’t. If you do so, you’re essentially telling potential clients that you’re not worth what you’re charging.
Set your prices and stick to them.
One thing you can do is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book. Set up three pricing packages: a low, medium, and high price for your services, and present them side by side on a sheet of paper. The low one sets the baseline, or anchor, while the high one makes the medium seem reasonable.
When the client sees this, most almost always choose the medium middle option.
9. Learn how to connect.
People buy coaches, not coaching. Coaching is as much about creating a connection with people as it is writing programs.
You need to be able to connect with your clients to help them get results.
Some online coaches only answer emails at certain times or limit how often their clients can interact with them. And while I can understand that, it’s not something I agree with. If a client emails me and I have a few minutes to reply, I’ll reply, no matter when it is. That’s just another layer of excellent customer service.
You need to be able to empathize with your clients and show them that you understand their struggles, why they binge eat, and why they skipped their workout today. Ask questions, find common interests, and create a connection beyond just writing them a program.
To create connections with your clients, you need to be in communication with them, and sometimes that means jumping on a phone call at 10 p.m. and talking things out if they need to. By staying in regular communication, not only will you build better relationships with your clients, but you’ll help them get better results.
This is infinitely more important online because you can’t personally hold your clients accountable, and you may not even see them (online) every week. By understanding what they go through, you can better help them address these issues head-on.
10. Remember that time is your number one asset.
Time is the one thing you can’t get back, and you can’t make more of. It’s the biggest reason for my switch to online coaching: to provide and get a lot more value for my time.
There are a lot of trainers out there that scoff at the idea of coaching people online, but it may be because they haven’t recognized the value of maximizing their time. The key to creating a successful business is to devote the time and focus to it. Spending 40-50 hours a week working in a gym for someone else does not help you toward that end.
By having moved most of my business to the digital world, I’ve been able to help more people and also produce a larger income than I would have had I been solely coaching clients at a gym.
Online training is a viable and effective way to help clients get results and to make money. Heck, you can use it as a second stream of income and stick to in-person coaching if you want. That’s the beauty of the internet.