How NOT to Start an Online Fitness Business

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote:

“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” 
Ancient Proverb
Some Clever Bloke

It’s profound when you really think about it.

Learning from personal mistakes means that you are always limited by the passage of time. You can only do a certain number of “things” and make a certain number of mistakes each and every day.  It may take a day, month, year or (in our case) a decade to learn that the decision you made was the wrong one. 

However, learning from others who have been / are / have done what you are striving for means (essentially) you multiply time and what you’re capable of. Instead of spending a year learning something yourself, you can acquire the same information in a few minutes of listening or reading.

Yusef and I decided to assemble a list of the mistakes we made with PropaneFitness that we’d change in a heartbeat if we could. 

Here is that list:

When we started PropaneFitness, we made every single mistake in the book. 

We set up PropaneFitness back in 2010, initially, it was a blog that was designed to document our own journey and experiments of trying to get in better shape, drop bodyfat and reveal our abs for the first time. 

We set up a website on blogspot (which doesn’t even exist anymore) and the strategy was simply: 

1. Write an article. 2. Post on Facebook, hoping someone cared enough to click. 3. Wait for someone to inquire. 

Back in 2010, it was a much simpler time in the fitness industry and lack of information was the problem that most people experienced. Our hope was that in sharing the lessons we were learning (that are quite embarrassing to read over today) someone would be interested in working with us formally. 

We actually did make a few sales from inquiries (a handful each month) of a £9.99 programme (our first product) that involved 121 support and coaching from both of us. 
I know, I know. We aren’t proud of this. 

As I’m sure you’re aware – the online fitness world is a very different place these days. These strategies simply wouldn’t work at all today and to continue running the business (and built it to the point to coaching online full time) we’ve had to adapt and pivot out strategies several times. 

Looking back over the last 10 years, we’ve certainly done some things right (we’ve actually been living off PropaneFitness full time since 2016) but we’ve made far more mistakes. 
The purpose of this article is to share the key mistakes we made to help you avoid the wasted time in trying to move your services online. 

Mistake #1: Doing this JUST for money leads to bad decisions 

We’ve all seen the new wave of online coaches who seem like they’d happily work with anyone with a wallet…and do or say anything to get a new client. 

When it comes to starting and running your business you must keep one thing front of mind at all times: 

Who am I helping? What is the problem they’re experiencing or the goal they’re trying to reach ?  How can I create a product/programme/experience that makes the journey easier/quicker/simpler for them in exchange for a reasonable fee? 

This may sound simple but it’s the essence of successful business. 

Focussing on the customer and making a great product gives them what they need will set you up for long term success…it’s just that doing this isn’t sexy, exciting or likely to bring in new business by this time tomorrow. 

This is why we advise that you view the growth of your online business in a 1 year timeline. 

If this time next year your online business had 20 clients paying £100 per month (for example) who were loving the service – that would likely give you enough to make a reasonable full time income. 

Getting to this point requires making the right decisions and patience. Rushing things for the sake of making short term cash will always leave you in a worse place than if you’d taken the time to build things properly and ethically. 

Mistake 2: Build the model to suit your life

When we started, we offered only 121 coaching, totally bespoke and low priced (£40-60/month) because we felt: 

1. We had to deliver a lot of time to justify the price. 

 2. No one would pay more than that. 

These days we know that nearly every assumption you make (that isn’t based on numbers and data) is false and we see so many coaches building their online business in a way that will actually great a worse quality of life than their offline business. 
Let’s face it, most coaches build an online fitness business to have more flexibility in when, where and how they work. 

If that becomes replying to messages 12 hours per day, 7 days per week to work with 30 online clients for less than minimum wage…I wouldn’t say that’s an improved quality of life. 
Look at how you want to run your business first and then build the model around that. 

Right now, we operate group based online coaching that allows us to work with an (almost) unlimited number of clients without linearly scaling our time for every new client. 
Our marketing processes are largely automated. 
Our programmes and systems mean that clients always have what they need even when we aren’t working. 
This means that our revenue per hour stays at £200/hour+. 

Mistake 3: Audit who you listen to

I’m not in the business of naming and shaming business gurus here – there are a lot of great coaches in this space. 
However, there are also a lot who have never actually DONE what they profess to teach. 

We’ve worked with our fair share of coaches who we realised (after we’d paid) had never actually run an online fitness business.

They’d read some marketing books, sold business advice to PTs and now were teaching us to run PropaneFitness like a business consultancy. 

This lead to all the tactics you’ve likely seen before…
High pressure sales call tactics.Selling online fitness training packages for £3-5k.Lots of focus on the sales and marketing.

All we really learned from these methods is that they didn’t work for the average, aware, intelligent client who was weighing up whether to hire us as their online fitness coach or work with a personal trainer offline. 

With these strategies, we lost every time. 

Make no mistake about it. An online fitness business is still a business.You need to get leads and make sales, of course. But, you also need to deliver a consistent, quality service to your clients – beyond what they’re expecting. 

If you have any ambition to scale this means that this can’t just be you sending emails and Whatsapps, writing weekly programming from scratch and doing weekly check in phone calls. 

Because eventually…you run out of the only thing that approach is selling (time). 
When you’re building this business, find people who have done the whole thing. 

They have a brand you can see when you Google it, they have plenty of fitness testimonials and a track record of having actually DONE what they’re teaching you. 

You wouldn’t hire a driving instructor without a license. 
Or work with a trainer who’d never been to a gym. 

So don’t hire an online fitness business coach who has never sold to and worked with FITNESS clients online.

We made this mistake countless times and ended up needing to work things out (and fix expensive mistakes) ourselves. 

We went through this list in intimate detail on a podcast, and told some stories of our failures that you can hopefully learn from – listen to it right here:  

free video guide: ⬇️

The EXACT process we used to build PropaneFitness to 15k/month: