‘I’m more successful online’: Covid-19 has permanently changed the business model of these personal trainers
While Covid has proven crushing for many businesses, for some it has created new opportunities. KALTRINA KHAN meets two personal trainers who have experienced the triumph of their businesses.
When the first coronavirus lockdown struck, Lynsey Suzanne from Blandford thought the success of her beloved business would be at a temporary halt for three weeks.
But so successful has the transition to online training been, with her client base expanding to a much bigger pool, that the concept of returning back to in person training once all restrictions ease — is almost unappealing.
“I’ve moved on from in-person training. Online I’ve got so much more freedom and availability. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but I really do think that this was meant to be the way that I was going to end up in 5 years’ time anyway, and this has all been accelerated because of the pandemic. It did a wonderful thing,” she said.
Latest MarketLine research reports reveal that the United Kingdom gyms, health & fitness clubs market shrank by 4.1% in 2020 to reach a value of $6 billion. One report indicates that a growing substitute threat is digital trainers and online fitness studios, as online and social media host videos that are easily available could permanently replace many gym-based workouts.
From coaching 50 hours per week one to one in person, Suzanne’s business — Lynsey Suzanne Fitness, took an unexpected turn once the first case of Covid was discovered in her local gym a week before Johnson’s first announcement. She immediately moved her business online.
“It was almost like I got a weeks heads up. Instantly I moved all of my gym kit into my house, so that I could do classes online. I contacted clients straight away and arranged online classes. I’ve never heard of zoom and I don’t think three quarters of the country had heard of it. But because I expected lockdown to be temporary, I just thought to myself okay, what can we do to plug this gap.”
But soon after, Suzanne said, her online business started booming. Thanks to a combination of referrals, the return of old clients and relentless online marketing, she now sees more clients than before lockdown.
In February 2021 Suzanne also founded Fitness in Fifteen, which came about from a social media app called Clubhouse. It is an audio only app where users can listen in to conversations, interviews and discussions between interesting people on various topics. “I recognised that health and fitness was something that was constantly talked about for the performance of high achievers. However, we all say that we don’t have enough time to work out so I created marriage between the two, which is based around fifteen-minute workouts on Clubhouse.”
“We put this barrier up saying ‘I just don’t have time’, but if it’s fifteen minutes or less, it’s one excuse moved from the equation to just make it that little bit more obtainable. There’s something in our minds that notices a big difference between 99p and a pound — and the brain works the same when you think of the difference between thirty minutes and two times fifteen minutes. This is a way to get people to realise ‘actually, I can fit two fifteen minute workouts somewhere in my day.’”
Suzanne also works with Gift Fit who are a new initiative that offers free advertising for PT’s and other fitness professionals. Their main aim is to showcase the very best fitness classes and wellness experiences across the UK via an online directory and voucher sales site, so that consumers are inspired to seek out new and creative ways of becoming active and healthy.
Tom James, a PT who coached at PureGym in Portsmouth prior Covid, said the knowledge and research he attained which greatly helps his current clients, would not have been possible to grasp if it was not for the pandemic.
“Me and a colleague started a business called TeamBoost, offering cheap personal training classes. The first couple of weeks had really kicked off, but literally two weeks into doing that — boom lockdown happened,” he said. “I thought there was literally nothing I could do as a personal trainer. The furlough that I was receiving from PureGym and my part time job was minimal.
“So, instead of sitting around and waiting for stuff to happen, I started up zoom classes, doing different levelled workout with people — beginner, intermediate and advanced. I thought I’m not going to stay here and just wait for things to open back up, I still have to maintain my social media presence just so that people know I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.
“Covid ended up being a blessing for my business. Lockdown gave me the time to do so much research, exploring and really looking into the facts on strength training and weight loss. It gave me a lot of insight that you don’t necessarily get with a levels and postgraduate qualifications.”
Rather than lockdown taking his business away, it has in fact brought more referral business in for James, as he was given the opportunity and time to research into the right fields, look at different perspectives and ultimately make up his own mind on certain areas. The knowledge that he attained by using this technique has massively helped his current clients.
While personal training businesses are booming with their online business models, it is clear that their level of success is ultimately reliant on the way they market themselves online.
Alfie Green, digital marketing specialist and founder of Social Agency Monty highlighted that the pandemic has ultimately influenced the way PTs promote themselves. “Covid has shifted all of our priorities — more than ever we’re looking to Instagram and TikTok for inspiration on what to do from home, how to make the most of hacks, and better ourselves.
“The pandemic has allowed a lot of fitness brands to understand their core value, what customers really want from them — and how to streamline it to deliver a really quality product. And more so than ever, personal trainers need to bring their personality which will help them stand out.”
“In my experience of working with trainers and fitness brands, Instagram is a really clear money-maker. People get FOMO — fear of missing out, and it’s a great space for bragging. By showcasing your fun workout, class, or the environment you bring to you brand, really allows a user to get inside your head — before they’ve even potentially visited your website.”
Interestingly, Lynsey Suzanne’s success was attributed to self promotion via her Instagram. By providing enough free content, in particular content that she knows people would like to work with and need to read, it is a key way to boost engagement within her platform, as well as showcase her bubbly personality to the audience. This is what helps her business stand out.
“There’s always a lightbulb moment with fitness. It’s that ‘I don’t like how I look today. I’m going on holiday and I want to change my body’ and I’ll be on the top of their brains when they’re like ‘oh I remember Lynsey used to post about that’. And that’s really what I do. I make sure I’m consistent, I turn up daily and constantly deal with the sort of problems that I know my target audience are probably dealing with on a day-to-day basis. So far, that seems to be a strategy that has kept me afloat.”
“Ultimately, the pandemic did a wonderful thing. It has really educated people. Now I feel like I could take on most businesses, not necessarily personal training but I have a soft foundation on how to online market with a particular product. Whereas before I was heavily just a personal trainer without this particular skillset. I’ve really enjoyed this journey and it has really helped me level up.”
Top 5 digital marketing tips from specialist Alfie Green for fitness professionals
- Bring your personality. A successful digital marketing strategy comes from understanding your audience. What do they want to see from you, what would they find valuable. Considering platform, purpose and your audience will help you get to this point.
- Consider the content you are sharing. Is it all self promotion — or are you adding and giving back value to the users following you? Brands and personal accounts that consider this, and ensure their content is exciting and interesting, will see great results. No one wants to be sold to all the time — so think about yourself, your audience, and what content they’d like to see.
- Potential customers love a case study — but allow this to stand out. Take us on your journey with your client, let us understand their aims, concerns — as they may be the same as someone looking at the post!
- What is the platform, and why am I using it? Is my target audience there? For example, if you’re trying to grow a slightly older demographic you may find a Facebook Group or engaging in ‘local’ Facebook conversations useful to build awareness. Or if you’re after young people why not try a TikTok channel showcasing your classes or tips.
- See platforms such as Instagram as your ‘shop front’. If a user quickly clicked onto it — would they know: 1. What you do. 2. Why you’re good at doing what you do/success stories. 3. How you can help them.