I’ve been in the online business game for at least twice as long as the title of this post indicates. But for the last 7 years it’s been all of my business. The lessons have come faster and harder in that time.
Things I’ve learned in 7 years of online fitness business
Imagine you own a fitness center. You have to greet customers who come in the door, send an email out to your members and clients, and those who drop in today with this:
Welcome! So glad you’re here! We’re open but the treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes aren’t working today. Have a good workout!
Yep. Sometimes that’s what it feels like when you run an online business.
Your blood pressure and cortisol go up.
Some things are out of your control.
Which is hard if you get into business, because you’ve probably chosen to be an entrepreneur because you wanted to have more control over your effort and rewards, and your customer service and delivery of services!
And it’s exactly what happened to me this past weekend.
Fortunately, (oddly enough), it’s not the first time. I’ve gone through growing pains creating my first website, transferring that to a different web development team, making a custom-built site, getting designs done on time, creating membership areas, adding a store and payment processor, a blog and podcast, and there are constant updates happening that can deem any of the tools you’re using ineffective or to not play well with each other. It’s frightening the first dozen times. Then you learn to expect it.
Things I’ve learned from 7 years of 100% online fitness business.
And I should clarify 100% online fitness business. That is misleading, because truly none of us are 100% online. I reach people in person and online. I call people and meet with them live in groups and I speak to audiences of all sizes. Yet, yes, some component of my business with someone requires I either use my website and software or I bypass my website and still use digital forms of collecting payment and serving clients. Technology is always a part of the process.
That’s true for you if you meet people in person. YOU have an online business presence. You reach them, serve them, communicate with them, and or provide value to them online too. You’re cash register may be online.
1). The wheels will fall off the bus.
Technology will be a problem. Servers will go down. You’ll lose electricity. You’ll be traveling and without internet access when you need to do something online. You’ll be in the middle of a sale or driving traffic to your website with paid advertising and realize that you’re site is down.
Be ready for it. Watch what your team does and how they communicate with you. Watch if they don’t share with you what’s happening and what the ETA for a fix is. If you don’t hear from them, chances are you’re not their top priority.
Your customers will want to work out on the weekends so never do website changes on the weekend just because it’s more convenient for your contractors. If your customers lose access or can’t buy when they want to, they won’t be happy and they won’t come back.
2.) No one cares as much as you.
For anyone working on your site, or at your business, it is one of many things they do. For you it’s the only thing you do. They miss a deadline for you and it doesn’t matter to them, they’ve got plenty to keep them busy.
For you, it’s a difference between paying the bills and not paying the bills. You have to have a back up and an emergency fund.
It’s not unlike dogs.
To you, your dog is with you for part of your life.
To your dog, you are his whole life.
3.) Have a list of people who can replace your current contractors or employees.
You always want to have a circle of resources that you can ask for help. Who are they using? Have they got someone who’s looking for more hours? Do they love them? What are they paying them? When you start doing business online it’s often isolating.
If you’re not in a group or mastermind or forum you want to be. Find colleagues doing what you’re doing. The world is your pool for good support once you’re online. You don’t have to hire locally and it’s often a poor choice with people with limited skills and higher rates.
In the online fitness business space it can be hard to have a good network of people who you can go to for support. Don’t wait until you need it to start cultivating relationships.
Know what you would do if you reach your toleration level or someone working with you currently is no longer able to support you in the way you need it done, or the time you need things done, or at the rate you need it done.
4.) Know when your business is not viable.
If you’re bleeding money to support new websites, and pages, and designs and SEO and great ideas and you’re not making the money to justify the cost of the dog and pony show, you have to know when to call it quits.
Business is business. No matter how passionate you are about it. No matter what a good idea it is, the end of the day is about profit. There has to be profit that goes back into build the business and that sustains the lifestyle you’re living.
5.) Start your business the way you want it to be in 5 or 10 years.
No one gets into business to work around the clock and barely make ends meet. As a trainer if that’s what you’re doing, look closely at what you’re charging, and who you’re attracting because that’s what you’re charging.
If you build your business on survival mode, so that you barely make ends meet and you scramble to make ends meet or couldn’t sustain this without a “real job” elsewhere, you will still be in this spot in 5 years. Build it with the end in mind. Profit first. Which would be a perfect book recommendation right here.
Now and Later lessons from building an online fitness business
I spent 14 months in front of a computer screen when I went 100% in for an online business. I took courses in building courses and designing websites. I tool more courses in marketing and copywriting, and spent time learning email marketing and how to start a blog then a podcast, then promote them.
Then I did them. It was slow and clunky in the beginning. What takes me minutes now took hours then. And after that period I realized somewhere about 4 years into it that I was still working around the clock the way I had when I started.
You have to stop the habits that are going to drive you to hate what you once loved. You want to do it before that happens. Start at the beginning -or now if you’re not just starting out – with the end in mind. It’s a Stephen Covey statement. You may have to do some “extra” or more work but you want to be able to identify it when you’re doing it. Know this is temporary.
Plan. Have a date when you’ll stop doing it. You’ll increase your success by 50%.
Tell someone your plan. You’ll increase your success rate by 65%.
Regularly report to a coach or a group and you’ll increase your success rate by 95%.
So if suddenly you no longer have that Monday morning staff meeting, find a group to meet with regularly. Look back at your last week and check in on your progress. Set goals for the next 7 days. If you don’t 7 years will go by and you may be in a very similar place.
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6.) If one weekend is going to make or break you, you’re living too close to paycheck-to-paycheck.
Sure 4+ days of the month when your site looks like a dime store and you’re trying to attract people who shop for shoes at Nordstrom’s and Von Maur is not comfortable. But if you’re feeling like a nervous breakdown, then you’re living a little too close to the edge.
You’ve forgotten that you consistency and regularly need to be promoting, selling, and making an offer to people. You need to constantly be recruiting more of the right people.
You should feel like this is a temporary setback and then get on with your plan for recovery.
7.) If you have a weak stomach or thin skin you might want to reconsider.
If you are the type to sit back and criticize a boss for not paying you enough, not making the decision you wanted, you’ve probably never had to make those kinds of decisions the boss has.
If you worry about what the neighbors think, you take criticism from someone on social media personally, or you’d lay awake at night if something went wrong and you made a mistake or felt you were “wronged” then stick with your regular paycheck.
People will criticize you. People who probably never took a risk or who don’t understand you didn’t want to make some decisions you had to either will think it is their right to knock you down. Their comments may be a reflection of their own self-doubt and harsh inner critic but it will still sting if you let it.
Realize that for every small-minded person who thinks you should never charge more, there is a group of people who think you should double your rates and wonder what you’re waiting for. Find them. You will outgrow people.
8.) People will attempt to give you advice when they’ve looked at your business for 5 minutes.
If it doesn’t feel like a good fit and it feels like a sales job it is a sales job. Move on. Don’t look back except to use that as an example of what you never want your customer to say about you. Whether you’re in an online fitness business or not anyone trying to sell you something that you only hear from when they’re trying to sell you something should probably be a “pass.”
Keep in mind you don’t want to be that to your customers either. Do you nurture the relationship and give them value between offers?
9.) When everyone else is doing X, do Y.
If you don’t stand for something and just go along doing what everyone else is doing you’ll blend in. If you want to lead, you have to start leading.
An example for my and my online fitness business has always been before and after pictures. I can’t stand them and I don’t care if they sell. They don’t share enough about the benefits of exercise that are most immediate and most lasting. You can never see inner strength in an “after picture.” Someone doesn’t have to lose 20# and bare their midriff to get that. I believe we belittle our industry by showing those before and after images of unless we’re very, very careful with them. I show after and after of clients crossing finish lines and getting to the top.
Other posts you might like:
15 Confessions of a Self-employed Personal Trainer