What It Really Takes to Build an Online Fitness Personal Brand Business
You may not know, but two-thirds of the JillFit business is actually, uh, business coaching.
And oddly, I don’t write about it all that much publicly, though I’d argue it’s actually what I do best — not fitness, nutrition or mindset content (though I think we can all agree that mindset plays a major role in success in anything — including business). And I’ve gotten my reps over the last 6 years, coaching over 500 female fitness professionals in online business.
Anyway, one thing I’ve never shared are my financials. Mostly because it has not been as important to me as the actual content and tools, but I do think it matters in terms of credibility and so that you have all the information about someone you may listen to when it comes to business.
It’s also important for 2 additional reasons:
1) There’s a ton of smoke and mirrors in the fitness industry.
You’d think a fitness model on a magazine cover is making bank but literally they are struggling to pay their bills each month. Or, social media perpetuates the perception of “living large,” when in actuality much of it is for show, or people are in tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt.
2) Many “online business coaches” did not start making good money until they started, ahem, business coaching.
They may have started off in the fitness space or life coaching or something non-business, and actually never had success in it.
This is super common, and hey, it’s easier to sell people on making money, harder to sell people on things like liking their bodies or finding a partner. And so, for me personally, congruency is important. Having not only mastery of strategy, but also actual success in an industry I am helping my clients get a leg up in, is extremely important to me.
JillFit was a 6-figure business in 2011, before I ever started business coaching. And my direct-to-consumer fitness, nutrition and mindset programs STILL make up a third of my total annual revenue. I still have foot in the industry as an expert resource, the exact space I am helping people move in to.
That means something to me — selling fitness and nutrition programs and making a viable income online FIRST, before helping others do the same by building their businesses.
But I want you to have all the information to you understand what it looks like.
I started in fitness at 22, right out of college, running a university (my alma mater) fitness center, managing student workers just a year younger than me, and my annual salary was $23k. I was just pumped to have a full-time job in fitness when a lot of my friends had a hard time even getting any job, and … I had benefits! Ha!
Fast forward 6 years and it’s 2010, I’m making $30k at my full-time job now and another $30k personal training and teaching fitness classes in the mornings and evenings —total, I was working about 70 hours a week.
In late 2010, I launched JillFit as a blog, and blogged every single day for 2 years. Over the following year, I brought on 5 additional trainers to help me take on 1:1 meal plan clients (and yes, we were still doing contest prep back then) and at the height of our volume, we had about 100 clients a month — making good money, but totally tapped out time-wise, because while yes, we could create the programs from the comfort of our own home, everything was still customized and it took actual time to create and then correspond with clients.
So at the end of 2011, JillFit was at a crossroads.
None of the trainers nor myself wanted to take on any more clients, even though the business broke $100k in 2011, 100% via 1:1 fitness and nutrition programs. We were all burned out, and I needed to leverage my time and expertise better, but didn’t know how.
It was then that I contacted a potential fitness business coach, reached out and asked for help. She pitched me on her year-long business mentorship for $10k, and after I picked my jaw up off the floor (I’d never dreamt of investing that kind of money into myself or my business — I was always a figure-it-out-myself kind of person), I sat on it for 2 weeks, and finally decided to launch my own coaching program, The Best of You, for the first time in order to make the money I needed to hire her.
Back then, Best of You (BOY) was broken up into thirds: mindset, body and business. Content-wise, the education included everything from contest prep to fat loss to relationships and diving into feelings of not-good-enough, all the way to blogging and social media.
I didn’t know everything, but I’d been successful enough in each of those areas to get 14 people to give me $100/mth and I coached them like crazy for 12 months. I made $17k the first time I launched BOY.
Mid-way through 2012, I was making enough at JillFit (after launching the first iteration of the 10-Week Mindset Makeover — my first automated course and several lower priced DIY training programs) that I was able to quit my full-time job, at which I was making around $40k/year.
I was 31 years old.
Within the next 12 months, I tripled my income at JillFit, launched Best of You for year #2, brought in 30 women, earning $50k with that program, and continued to produce fitness and nutrition content. Meanwhile, it was now 2013 — a full THREE YEARS after launching JillFit.com as an online personal brand.
In the years that followed, my business coaching program has grown and grown, and is always two-thirds of my income, but one-off fitness programs like #treadLIFT and #FastPhysique have each produced over $100k in revenue, in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
IT HAS BEEN 7 YEARS since I launched JillFit.
Slow your roll, cowgirl.
I want to reiterate the time and effort it takes to strap in for the long haul.
Most people don’t get to experience the relatively “easier” side of this business, earned once you’ve created a body of work, stayed consistent for long enough and helped enough people, that your work can speak for itself. Most people don’t get to experience that time when enough trust has been built that generating leads is easier, writing marketing copy is easier, creating products and services is easier, selling is easier, you get more traction organically. And you even have the money available to invest even further into your business, which is now just a value system of mine.
Most people don’t get to experience the awesomeness that comes with this business because they give up during the grind, years 1 to 3.
Most people don’t have the stamina and the sheer love for the content enough to produce a shitload of it even when they’re not getting paid or they’re not seeing moment-to-moment dollars coming in.
Most people focus on the outcome instead of the process.
This is misery. No wonder people give up.
For the first 2 years of JillFit, when I was still working full-time and grinding it out at the gym doing split shifts, my mindset wasn’t misery. I wasn’t sitting around hating my job or wishing things could be different.
I was focusing on my passion and directing my purpose. I did it because it was fun and challenged me and I got to flex my creativity muscle. I would have done it whether I saw dollars or not. That’s how any blog begins, I think.
You don’t start an online fitness brand because you hate what you’re currently doing, or you hate your clients or the gym you work at.
You don’t start an online fitness brand because you think you’re going to be rich.
You don’t start an online fitness brand because it looks glamorous or because you think you need it in order to feel worthy.
This shit is no joke, so the ONLY reason why you should start an online fitness brand is because you can’t *not* do it.
You do it because it pains you that you’re only reaching a handful of people locally and you know that you have something that can help so many more — and regardless of whether you ever get paid for it or not — you are that compelled and that passionate that there are literally no other options.
Do it for the pursuit and for the service, period. No expectations.
And ironically, it’s the people who pursue it for the passion and purpose alone, and who LEAST focus on the money and the fame, that end up the most financially successful in the end.
Because it’s not about the destination, it’s about the process and the journey and the lessons and the puzzle itself — is a joy.
The pursuit is the point.
And when you become obsessed with serving and creating, then and only then, will the financial success show up. But you’ll have barely noticed because it was never about that for you — the joy in the work is what matters, and so you’ll be too busy creating the next thing to even care.
JillFit grossed over $500k in 2016 — with 2 part-time employees — after 7 years of grinding, showing up, doing the work, investing back in myself, working even when I didn’t feel like it and more. Because this has always been a viable business in my mind, regardless of the actual money coming in.
You have to treat it like it’s already viable, in order to do the things and produce the stuff needed to eventually make it so.
Good luck! Xo, Jill
Ready to get started? The easiest way is to start with #PassionToPlatform, my 3-hour virtual workshop going over the exact steps and tools to use for your first 3 months as an online fitness solopreneur. Get all the info here, and get started right away.