Due to the global novel coronavirus pandemic, the face of business has changed. As an entrepreneur, this can be frightening. Fitness entrepreneurs face a unique challenge in that the cornerstone of their business model is usually face-to-face contact with their customers.
It is a necessity, however, that we all learn how to operate online as much as possible while we’re navigating this unprecedented event. For those in the fitness industry, there are three main pillars to migrating your business to a digital format successfully.
1. Everything is now digital.
The good news first: People still need coaching services. The bad news: Touch points you used to rely on aren’t available right now. Before, when someone walked into your gym, you could have a quick conversation with them to gauge their needs and figure out how best to serve them. That can’t be replicated right now.
The way you can develop that same sort of rapport is with a closed Facebook group. Coaches can go there to engage with customers and encourage the same type of conversational community that existed at your gym. It will help your clients stay plugged in to what you’re doing and feel connected to their coaches.
Another key service normally provided inside a gym is movement technique and correction. Coaches watch clients and show them ways to become more efficient with their movements and prevent injury. That can’t be done when you’re delivering a workout routine through text or email.
The best way to digitize that service is through video. This can be done by posting your workouts to YouTube or other social media channels or even sending them directly over text message. Reach out to clients to get a feel for the channel(s) they use most, and meet them there.
Lastly, consider the practical stuff surrounding how you transact and take people’s money. Before, you could take cash, checks or cards. Now, virtually 100% of your transactions need to be digital.
You’ve gone from being a brick-and-mortar to being an e-commerce business. You’re still selling and trying to win business, but you have to digitize things like your waivers, contracts, insurance documents, etc. From top to bottom, you’re now a digital business.
2. Beef up your video skills.
You’re not going to get away with just selling written workout programs right now. Workouts are available for free all over the place, and no real value comes from simply writing them down. The value is in the experience you give the client.
Currently, that’s going to have to be done over video. Peloton is a brand that does this well; it has a great visual experience. That’s obviously a level not everyone will be able to reach (nor do you need to), but it gives you an idea of where the bar is set.
You need to serve your community, which can now include nonlocals. If you execute this well, it could be a piece of your business in the long run. But you’re going to have to get really good at doing video to deliver an experience people are willing to pay for.
The most important aspect of this is where you do your recording. Find a clean spot with proper lighting. It should be quiet, with minimal wind and background noise. An iPhone can work well for recording video.
Audio quality, however, can really make or break a workout experience. Bluetooth headphones allow the speaker to stand away from the phone and still be heard. You may also want to invest in a directional microphone with a wind muff. Make sure you test all your equipment first, as the kiss of death will be if people struggle to hear you. You’ll be given some tolerance for technical issues at the start, but people won’t continue to tune in if your quality doesn’t pass muster.
Lastly, make sure whoever is recording your videos brings some personality to the table. They should be comfortable on camera and excited to be there. Good energy translates through video. This is a different skill set than what you might look for in an in-house coach, but we may be doing things digitally for a while. Consider what staff you want to have in place.
3. Focus on communication.
A lot of people are old school: They want to come into the gym to sit down and chat. But that isn’t possible right now. We need to understand other ways our clients might want to communicate. Just because you prefer text, Facebook or email doesn’t mean that’s everyone’s preference. You’re unlikely to get everyone in your community on one single platform together, so you’re going to have to get good at different types of digital communication.
If you don’t already have a presence on Facebook, I suggest you develop one because that’s where a majority of people congregate, in my experience. Both business pages and private groups can be useful in reaching audiences there.
You should also have a direct email list. As much as we don’t necessarily engage with email these days due to the sheer volume we receive, this remains an effective channel for getting your message across.
Lastly, look at text message support. Lots of marketing platforms support automated text messaging. A mobile-centric marketing strategy might be overkill for a small gym, so consider having your coaches text and follow up with members on a daily or weekly basis.
Figure out what type of communication your members want to have. You’re going to have to send every message out across multiple channels in order to reach everyone. Developing a good process for how you manage that — as well as the queue of responses you receive back — is critical.
These three areas of focus are essential to putting your fitness business on the digital road map. Even in these uncertain times, people still need exercise. Fitness is not canceled. Transitioning your business to a digital model will serve you well not only during this crisis, but in the long run.
This article first appeared on forbes.com on June 2, 2020