Find out how you can learn from some of the mistakes we’ve made over the last thirteen years as online fitness coaches.
By Jonny and Yusef
You must learn from the mistakes of others. You cannot possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.Samuel Levenson
They say that the best teacher is your last mistake, so we’re sharing some of the stupidest business mistakes that we’ve made in building and scaling Propane Fitness, to help you avoid making them yourself.
When you’re an online fitness coach, you will always end up paying for something one way or another – whether that’s with time, or money. When we’re discussing Propane Business with someone, they might say to us: “The program sounds great, but I think I can do this on my own.” There’s nothing you can say to change someone’s mind once they’ve made that decision. And they will figure it out on their own, but it’s hard to communicate to someone the days, months and years of time it takes to do that.
We spent 14 years figuring things out, and it was around six years into our own online fitness business that we decided to find support from a coach.
Mistake #1: Selling coaching as a single package
When we were starting out as online fitness coaches, we believed that coaching was a ‘one and done’ thing. All this meant was that we’d find customers and take them through the programme… and then once they’d finished, there was no way to follow on from that. They’d complete the programme and then leave, because what are the chances of that customer wanting to buy the exact same programme again?
At the time, we felt like there was a limit to what we could give. We’d teach somebody about, for example, a correct diet and barbell technique, and think you’d taught them everything they needed. At the beginning, you assume that coaching is just teaching someone everything you’ve learned yourself, and then that’s it once they’ve paid for the service. But the fact that we both still have coaches now makes us realise that it’s very feasible for someone to work with you for years. And we have clients who pay monthly and have been with us for years. We had misunderstood the value of coaching. It’s about far more than delivering the information.
We follow three pillars of coaching; information, accountability and objectivity.
The last two are probably the reasons that we hire fitness coaches at the moment. We have coaches in most domains to try and accelerate our learning process, because we realise that trying to do it on your own takes far too long and time is valuable to us.
Whether hiring a coach is more about learning or accountability for you, or you’re doing it to avoid making wacky decisions yourself, if you spend money on something that works and helps you launch your own online business correctly, you will get that money back. And the best thing is, reinvesting is likely to bring you even more money.
Unfortunately, you can’t say the same about time. You spend your time until you have no more of it. And if you misallocate time, it’s gone for good. Using some of your money to buy solutions to problems could potentially save you from spending years learning or perfecting something.
So, remember that when you’re coaching a client, you’re not selling them information – you’re selling objectivity and accountability, you’re a regular source of help and advice for them throughout the journey to their initial goal, and beyond.
Mistake #2: Trying to scale our one-to-one coaching
Propane Fitness started as the two of us. There were actually three of us at the beginning. Jonny used to close one laptop after finishing his day job as an accountant, open another one straight away when he got home, and he would be up until 3am some days replying to clients’ check-ins. We were exhausted, responding to pages and pages of check-ins while trying to build the business to a point where we could become financially independent.
When you’re charging £60-£80 per client, the actual income per hour doesn’t work out to much when you’re sending out check-in forms, writing the programme and spend time on one-to-one calls. You also end up dealing with requests while you’re meant to be having time off.
We tried to get around this by hiring other people, but quickly realised how much this would eat into our income. Another problem was that there was no incentive for another personal trainer to work for us. Why would they take 60% of what we charge, when they could be charging the client more than their salary for coaching and still undercut us? Add to that the fact that there’s also tax to take into account, and you get to the point where you realise that you’re working really hard, but ending up with hardly any income left over.
Mistake #3: Putting all our hopes on
When we were still quite new to online personal training, we were convinced that we’d make lots of money by selling E-books. Jonny wrote a fat loss E-book and I wrote a muscle gain one. They are still selling now, and we’ll often sell a couple a day, so this wasn’t a complete mistake.
It sounds odd to say now, but at the time it was really difficult to get a PDF across to someone. A customer would buy an E-book and we’d have the stress of figuring out how to actually send it to them. Google Drive wasn’t a sustainable way to do it, there was a limit to the amount of downloads we could use on Dropbox… We launched the e-books and sold quite a few, but imagine pointing all of your marketing efforts at something, and hanging all your hopes on it. We were hoping that the e-books would mean the end of one-on-one coaching, but it ate into so much of the time we could have been spending building our audience.
Mistake #4: Holding live workshops
After we’d tried out scaling our coaching, and writing Ebooks, we then decided to have a go at live online workshops. There was one evening when Yusef was in the middle of his medical degree and we had eight people signed up to a class at about £12.99 per person. We gave this three-hour presentation on powerlifting, made the slides and a Q&A, and thought we’d be able to sell the recording. And we don’t remember selling a single recording. We tried it all again, but without much success, so we’d ended up spending a huge amount of time preparing everything without much return.
Mistake #5: Choosing the wrong software
The next thing we did was to set up a members’ area of passive products with group coaching. We were moving in the right direction, and that’s actually still the the model that we recommend. The mistake we made was moving all of our existing stuff into a piece of software called OptimizePress.
We paid a freelancer to move everything over and set up a website – a big project which took around 30-40 hours, which really adds up in terms of cost. He got everything done and then asked us if we’d considered ClickFunnels. He had to explain to us that it was the members’ area platform that handled landing pages and payment collection. After looking into it and realising that we should have done this in the first place, we moved everything over again to ClickFunnels, but we had our emails and ActiveCampaign all synchronised.
After a year or so on ClickFunnels, seeing that everything was working well, we moved everything across to them and upgraded to a much higher subscription fee to use their email automation. So we then had our entire business in ClickFunnels, but quickly realised that doing things this way wasn’t fit for purpose. It cost us £1,500 for migration. We’d been trying to use this all-in-one solution, but it just wasn’t built for what we were trying to do.
As well as all the hassle and cost of moving everything, we also had to go back to ActiveCampaign to move back to them for our emails. We then had GPDR to think about, so ended up having to delete a list of about 20,000 people and start all over again, asking everyone to opt back in to emails from us.
GPDR was a headache in itself, costing us a lot of money in conference visits to seek advice from professionals about how to handle it. But it was such a confusing topic for everyone at the time that a couple of conferences later, we were still none the wiser.
The cost of our mistakes and how to avoid them
Hopefully, this all shows you that the cost of some of these mistakes has been pretty high for us, both in money and in time, as well as taking up energy that could have been spent on clients. There are so many different aspects of an online coaching business that you’ll think are going to be fairly easy and straightforward to do yourself.
In reality, if you’re making all the decisions on your own, you might find yourself spending lots of time, effort and energy that you won’t get back trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Finding a coach that has been there and made some of these mistakes could really help you cut out some of this work, and make sure the time you put into your business is helping it move in the right direction.
How we can help
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