There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of many individuals around the globe. For the fitness world, this has been great news. In fact, 40% of respondents in a 2020 survey said that they began to work out at home thanks to the pandemic.
Even better, 65% of respondents claimed that working out at home boosted their confidence and increased both their physical and mental health. As a result, more and more fitness trainers of all types are switching to teaching online to meet the demand for at-home training in preference to in-person sessions.
If you are wondering how to start an online fitness business in a world that continues to evolve digitally, you are in luck. Fitness trainers have more resources than ever to launch their online businesses — including physical and virtual equipment, programs to keep track of clients and billing, and information on using social media and email marketing to promote businesses.
This guide will show you how to make the most of these essential resources so that you can attract a plentiful client base and create a booming online business.
Choosing your niche
If you are completely new to fitness training, the first step will be for you to decide on a niche. To figure out what type of fitness to teach, you must consider a few factors — including your strengths, current trends in the fitness market, and what makes you stand out from the competition.
You can start by examining some common fitness fields such as endurance training, strength training, yoga, rehabilitation, or mobility training. Choose a field in which you excel and about which you are reasonably well informed.
After choosing a specific field to pursue, you can narrow down your options within that field. You can do this by researching current trends to find out which markets are hot right now or have untapped potential. Read fitness blogs, news sites, and social media pages and watch YouTube videos to gain some inspiration. You may find a certain audience that hasn’t been catered to just yet or a type of exercise regimen that is up-and-coming.
Nailing down your ideal client
Deciding what your ideal client looks like is another key consideration when you are planning how to start an online fitness business. The clients you choose will depend on the niche you are thinking about pursuing and the people you would like to work with.
What type of clients are there for fitness businesses?
Among the clients who work with fitness trainers, some of the most common groups are new mothers, the elderly, young athletes, and middle-aged individuals who would like to stay in shape. You can also benefit from narrowing down within these demographics.
For instance: If you decide to target the category of middle-aged people, you can further specify a particular gender, body type, lifestyle, or even diet. It is safest to focus on one or two types of clients at most to avoid going too broad.
What kind of virtual training is there?
When it comes to the types of virtual training sessions available, you have plenty of options to choose from, depending on your preferences for class size and style. These are some of the most popular types of sessions:
- One-on-one classes. In these types of lessons, as in one-on-one in-person training sessions, you focus on one client at a time through video calls.
- Group live stream classes. Here, you are leading a group of individuals through exercises on a live stream call. The number of clients you can have in a live stream most often depends on the video streaming service you choose to use.
- Prerecorded classes. These types of classes allow you to upload prerecorded material for clients to purchase — exercise videos and photos or written training programs, for example. Training programs can include health and fitness assessments, weekly or monthly nutritional schedules, or learning modules on various types of exercise and their benefits.
Each class type has its advantages and disadvantages. Some online fitness trainers prefer prerecorded classes, which give them total control over the types of fitness they focus on without the need to adapt to new clients. On the other hand, prerecorded classes typically don’t generate as much income as regular clients and take a hefty amount of online promotion to get started.
You can consider combining different kinds of classes to offer something for everyone seeking fitness training online. This will expand your audience base and your income.
For example: You can offer regular one-on-one classes and downloadable health and fitness challenges that clients can buy as part of a program or as an individual product. This kind of ‘hybrid’ method opens up a wide range of possibilities for both you and your clients, an important aspect to consider when you are exploring how to start an online fitness business.
Sourcing the equipment you need
When you are thinking about how to start an online fitness business — once you know which fitness program you will teach, which demographic you will target, and what type of virtual class you will offer — the next step is to check the list of essential equipment.
One essential piece of tech you will need is a camera to record your classes. Fortunately, most computers, cell phones, and tablets these days come with a camera ready to go. If you decide to go with a cell phone or tablet, consider investing in a mini tripod to ensure that your device remains upright during your lessons. You can easily attach the tripod to the bottom of your camera.
In addition to the device you use to record yourself, you will need another device to keep track of important information such as client records and exercise information. Most trainers use their computers for this. Alternatively, you could also use your tablet or phone if you are not using them as a camera.
For inputting client records and other relevant information, there’s no need to get too technical or shell out lots of cash. You can easily use Google Docs or Microsoft Word to keep track of things like client workout details or contact information. If you want to invest in software with even more functions, you can try out a few software programs to see which one is the best fit for you. Two popular choices are The Training Notebook and True Coach.
When you are choosing which fitness equipment to use, you can opt to keep it simple. Your clients will most likely have equipment of their own. The National Federation of Personal Trainers recommends a basic set of dumbbells, a yoga mat, and a portable bench to start. The fitness equipment you will need will also depend on the type of fitness you will be teaching, but these pieces are a great start.
Preparing your environment and lighting
Besides having the right equipment, you’ll also have to keep your environment and lighting in mind when getting started. A poorly planned space or bad lighting could be a hindrance for both you and your client.
Environment: Space and atmosphere
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when setting up your environment:
- Do I have enough room for my devices and equipment? You don’t want to run the risk of being overly cramped in a tight space or, at the other extreme, spreading out so much that you can’t access your equipment without leaving the frame of the camera.
- Do I have enough space to perform my exercises? Ensure that you have the space to perform your exercises without having to sacrifice form or ability.
- Is my environment clean and professional? In the age of virtual calls and classes, it’s easy to forget that what’s going on in the background may distract clients. You can also consider using a fun-themed background, such as a poster or a picture of a gym.
- Will I be interrupted during my classes? Sometimes, interruptions by other family members or pets are simply inevitable. Still, it helps to be as prepared as possible to limit the interruptions you may encounter. Choose a space where you can have privacy in case other members of your household are around.
Lighting: Natural or artificial?
For many, lighting is not a major focus — but it can be make-or-break for some clients. Natural lighting is preferable.
If you have enough natural light in your space, ensure that you position yourself opposite the light source. Standing in front of the light will lead to unwanted shadows. If natural light is limited, try covering windows and using artificial light to illuminate yourself and your workspace. Ring lights create a halo effect around the subject and are a popular choice for attaching to one’s laptop or smartphone.
Dealing with finances and your business
Finances are a big part of setting up your fitness business. You need to know how much to charge clients as well as how to keep track of all the transactions. By taking care of financial planning well before you launch your business, you will ensure that things run smoothly for you and your clients.
Charging your clients
Perhaps the most common question, when it comes to how to start an online fitness business, is how much you should charge clients.
This will depend on several important factors — including your experience, whether you have qualifications or certificates, and the kind of training services you will provide. Still, the average earnings for online fitness trainers are close to $23 an hour. Keep in mind that virtual trainers typically make slightly less than in-person trainers do, so you should probably charge clients about 20% less than you would for an in-person session.
There seem to be endless billing options out there for online businesses. For the best consistency and security, opt to use a payment processor rather than a third-party payment app. Common payment processors include Stripe or Square, which are used by millions of businesses. These can be integrated easily on your website so that your clients can easily click and pay with no further action required.
Although some of your clients may prefer using certain third-party apps, these come with several disadvantages. First and foremost, some clients may be uncomfortable using them for privacy or security reasons. The second disadvantage of these applications is that they typically have higher fees, including merchant and chargeback fees. You can make exceptions for your clients who feel strongly about paying you through a third-party app but try to limit how often you do this.
Keeping track of finances
Keeping records of your transactions is essential, especially when tax season rolls around. Many online trainers prefer to keep track of their financial records using Microsoft Excel. The program offers formats to track sales, budgets, and financial transactions for both personal and business use. Alternatively, you can try accounting and bookkeeping software programs such as QuickBooks Online, Xero, or FreshBooks.
Taking care of business legalities
Legal paperwork is one of the mundane parts of figuring out how to start an online fitness business. As with all businesses, your online fitness business will require the proper legal documents to protect both you and your clients. This will include the following:
- A liability release. This is perhaps the most important document you will need. A liability release protects you from any legal proceedings such as a lawsuit if a client is injured during training.
- A safety waiver. A safety waiver is another imperative document — in this case, concerned with safety during training — to protect both you and your client.
- A contractual agreement. This contains all information on additional fees, late and cancellation policies, and an overview of your services.
- A physical activity readiness questionnaire. This questionnaire gives you an idea of your client’s health and physical status as well as any illnesses you should know about going forward.
- Contact information. While this does not necessarily fall under the ‘legal’ umbrella, it’s best to have contact information for each of your clients. Emergency contact names and numbers can help you in emergencies, should these ever arise.
These forms can easily be sent as emails to your clients. You can then keep forms you receive on a word processing program, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
Promoting your business
When you’re getting to grips with how to start an online fitness business, marketing is one of the most important elements to consider. The promotion of your online fitness classes is the cornerstone of your success.
Thankfully, this series of steps don’t require advanced technology or a marketing degree. Instead, you’ll need a basic understanding of the top promotional tools and the right resources to get you to the top of the online fitness game.
Build your website
Building a website may initially seem like a daunting task, but the process doesn’t have to be scary — you can use website builders from platforms like Wix. All you’ll need to do is answer a few questions, and the website builder will create a custom-designed website for you.
On your website, you will need to make sure that you have the right content pages up so that clients can easily find out about your services and book lessons with you. For a fitness website, you’ll want to ensure that you have the following pages:
- Homepage. This is the first page that clients see. On it, clients should be able to read about everything that you have to offer, including what kind of fitness you teach, what types of classes you run, and where they should click next. A call to action is essential here. For instance: You can provide a link with the words “book here” that takes people straight to your booking page.
- Schedule page. Your schedule page gives information about which classes you teach, on which days, and at which times. This provides clients with a good idea of the time slots available.
- Classes page. Here, you can include more detailed descriptions of the types of lessons you offer. List all of your classes and the respective formats — whether they are taught as one-on-one or group sessions, or a combination of the two.
- About page. This is your time to shine. Give clients a brief introduction to explain who you are and how your business came to be. This is your opportunity to showcase what makes your fitness classes stand out. You can also add an FAQ section here to cover general questions — for example, about the logistics of your courses as well as the cost.
- Contact page. No website is complete without a contact page. Include your name and how clients can contact you — including via phone, email, or social media messaging.
Of course, your fitness website isn’t limited to just these five pages. Other ideas could include client testimonials, an event calendar, a special offers page, or anything else that shows off the best of your business. You can then promote your website on social media channels as well as by email.
Develop a social media presence
Your social media presence plays a major part in answering the question of how to start an online fitness business. After all, nearly four billion individuals all over the globe use social media — more than half of the world’s total population. The question is which social media sites or applications should be your focus.
Which channels you choose will come down to your target demographic. Fortunately, thorough research has been done on the apps most likely to be used by various age groups. If your target demographic is younger than 30 years old, consider focusing on Instagram, Snapchat, or Tik Tok. If your audience is aged 30 years or older, you can promote your business on Facebook and Twitter.
No matter which social media page(s) you decide to use, you’ll want to promote interesting content. Effective marketing strategies for your fitness site could include pictures of your workout or workout space, brief clips of your class, client testimonials, exercise and health tips and tricks, and information about yourself.
The key to successful social media marketing is consistency, above all else. Aim to post at least once a day, and encourage your followers to share their own experiences with you to increase engagement.
Make use of email marketing
Email marketing is the perfect way to keep your regular clients engaged with your online classes. Weekly or monthly newsletters provide you with plenty of opportunities to inform clients of upcoming events, special offers and discounts, new classes, and updates on your own life. You can also encourage new clients to join by creating referral programs. If a current client refers a new client to you, offer them a discount on their next class.
Besides distributing newsletters, you can get clients involved by sending out emails with general information on the fitness business. This could include content like fitness trends, the newest research in exercise routines and diets, and comparisons of the most recent statistics on virtual classes versus in-person classes. This shows that you are just as invested as your clients are in keeping up-to-date with the fitness world.
Getting those clients and starting your business
The online fitness boom looks set to continue for a long time to come. Whether you are just learning how to start an online fitness business or are looking to switch over your established business to a virtual format, there has never been a better time to achieve success.
Now that you know about the equipment, technology, software, paperwork, and promotional methods you’ll need, you are ready to start marketing your business, acquiring your ideal clients, and teaching what you love — fitness.
Need more guidance when it comes to digital marketing and promoting your fitness business? Check out The Download. You can also explore tips on creating a fitness survey to understand your customer’s needs on a deeper level.