// Low-cost and no-cost lead generation and marketing

By tapping into the convenient and cost-effective world of online marketing you can build your business profile and boost your membership says Valerie Khoo.

When it comes to the business of fitness, it’s important to trial the latest equipment, offer new workout routines and explore developments in nutritional research. However, it doesn’t matter how clued up you are if no one knows about your expertise and the services your business provides.

Some club managers seem to think that by being good at what they do and running what they believe to be a top-notch facility, success will be automatic; unfortunately this is fantasy. The reality is that if you want to build a sustainable, profitable business, you need a strong member base and, most importantly, a full member funnel so that you have a steady supply of new business.

In order to fill your member funnel, you need to do three things: marketing, marketing, marketing. To some fitness professionals who have become club owners or managers, the word ‘marketing’ causes them to break out in a cold sweat. After all, you got into this business because you’re interested in helping people with their health and wellbeing, not to become a marketing expert. However, as a gym or studio owner, or self employed personal trainer, marketing has to be a core part of your business strategy.

Online marketing

The good news is that it’s not hard to get the ball rolling with the marketing of your business. Even better news is that, these days, it doesn’t cost an arm, leg and your first born. Just 10 years ago, you would have faced expensive advertising fees in your local paper, Yellow Pages charges or hefty printing costs to do a letterbox drop. These days prospective members are not as likely to be letting their fingers do the walking, scouring local newspaper ads or searching their letterbox for local health club flyers.

Although these traditional marketing methods are valid, online marketing can be a powerful and cost efficient alternative – if you do it right.

Think about it. When most people look for a gym or personal trainer, they will typically do one of two things: ask their friends for a recommendation, or search on Google. In fact, searching online is likely to be their first choice because it’s easy and instant. The key is to ensure that you are ‘findable’ when they are searching.

The essentials

So what are the key things you should consider when planning your online marketing strategy? It’s actually not as hard as you might think – and you don’t even need to invest in a fancy copywriter or web strategist. These days there are a multitude of social networks, fitness directories and online strategies promising that a world of customers is just a click away – but here are the five essential factors you should consider when marketing your fitness business.

1. Website

It goes without saying that if you are serious about your business, you should have your own website. It doesn’t need to be fancy, you don’t need lots of pages. However, you do need some fundamental information such as: the type of fitness services you offer; your typical member/client (particularly if you specialise in a niche demographic); your location or an indication of where your training services take place; and what results members can expect if they join.

In the past, websites cost a lot of money, so many smaller facilities, studios and trainers paid to be included in online directories. While these directories are very useful, it’s a professional move to have your own website. And, today, it’s a relatively inexpensive endeavour. You may need to pay for hosting (which can be less than $200 per year with a provider such as Netregistry) or you can create a simple Wordpress site for nothing. If you want options such as a blogging platform and e-commerce, you can use a system like Pretty Pollution’s Business Catalyst.

2. Twitter

Michelle Bridges does it. Jillian Michaels does it. Bob Harper does it. They Tweet everything from smart fitness tips to the minutiae of what they are doing each day to thousands of people around the world.

You don’t have to be a celebrity to use Twitter to your advantage. Rather than write it off as a self-indulgent activity, consider its potential as a wonderful way for a community of people to get to know, like and trust your business. Via short Tweets you can give members and potential members bite-sized insights into who you are and what you have going on at your facility. It’s a great way to keep your club at front of mind, reinforcing your value to existing members and subtly marketing to prospective ones.

3. Video

Due to the physical nature of what goes on at gyms, video is one of the most powerful tools you can use to market your services. Unlike a lawyer, plumber or cleaner, the key features of your business are the energy and activity that are in constant evidence. The best way to showcase this movement is with video.

So, with members’ and clients’ permission, film snippets of group exercise classes, gym floor equipment being used and personal trainers conducting sessions with clients. Get your superstar trainers to talk to camera about the service they provide and explain the results clients can expect from training with them.

The good news is that you don’t need to be friends with Steven Spielberg to create a video. With inexpensive camcorders, digital cameras and smartphones now providing higher quality recording options, you can shoot a video for next to nothing. Just be authentic, make sure staff dress and act professionally and try to shoot in well-lit areas of your facility. You can then upload your masterpiece to video-sharing sites such as YouTube and embed it into your website for free.

4. Google Adwords and search engine optimisation

You need to ensure you can be found on Google. At the very least, that means making sure your website contains the keywords that people search for. Some business owners get excited because the nature of their business name means that they appear in Google’s search results when their name is searched. But, unless prospective clients already know about you, the reality is that most people will be searching using generic terms such as ‘ladies gym Lane Cove’ rather than ‘Venus Fitness‘.

When you first create an online presence, it can take a while before Google recognises that you exist in their natural search results. In the meantime, you can use Google Adwords to ensure that you are listed in the sponsored search listings. The beauty of this is that you can set a limit on your daily spend on Adwords, which can be as little as a couple of dollars a day. This can prevent your advertising costs from spiralling out of control.

5. Email newsletter/blog

You should consider structured, regular communication with your members and prospects. If your business plan is to grow your membership base or increase your group exercise class schedule, an email newsletter/blog helps you stay connected with your ‘community’ and builds your tribe.

It’s a great way to showcase the expertise of your team, so you should be generous with the information and advice you give, offering tips and interesting resources that you think readers will find useful.  Over time, this will help to build the ‘know, like and trust’ factor with your community so that when they are ready to sign up for your fitness services or increase their fitness spend, you are top of mind. And what’s more, newsletters or blogs tend to be either free or low-cost to produce, using blogging platforms such as Blogger, Wordpress or Typepad, and email newsletter programs such as www.newslettersonline.biz and Pretty Pollution’s Business Catalyst.

The kind of marketing that you once had to do face-to-face can now be done online – often more effectively and efficiently. The sooner you implement your online strategy, the sooner you’ll see results. Ultimately, that means you’ll build your business and boost your bottom line.

Valerie Khoo
Valerie is an online marketing expert. She is director of the Sydney Writers’ Centre and host of the Online Business Booster Bootcamp. You can subscribe to Valerie’s personal newsletter on life as an entrepreneur at www.valeriekhoo.comClub Network • Spring/Summer 2010

Club Network • Spring/Summer 2010