Plenty of coaches and trainers are succeeding at both right now and more and more are moving online.
Others are doing a little of both or even the popular "hybrid" thing—which my friend Pat Rigsby has been teaching since 2006—where you coach the clients online but meet them at the gym (or even a coffee shop) once every 2-4 weeks to check-in.
I'm going to make some comparisons between online vs offline, and share something that's working for a lot of trainers right now...
... including a strategy some of those who charge the highest prices ONLINE are using—even though, the way many of them are doing it isn't a completely above-board way to get clients.
Before I get into some of the #s of online vs offline and what's working and what isn't...
I want to mention that, if you're like me, you value how you spend your days more than just how much you make.
Obviously, both are very important.
So, while we'll talk numbers in a moment, I first want to say that a lot of the decision whether or not to train online vs in-person should come down to personal preference.
Making a lot doing something you don't enjoy is an empty place to be. I've been there and it's no fun.
So let me ask...
Do you like working at home? The gym? The park? The coffee shop? All the above?
Do you like running a team of trainers at a gym? Does being a leader excite you?
Do you like being around the energy of the gym—the sweat, the endorphins, the high-fives?
Or do you prefer working at home or a coffee shop or wherever the heck you want, all from your laptop?
To me, there's nothing like working in one of my recliners in one of my two home offices with the sounds of my young children playing and giggling throughout the house. When I take restroom breaks I'll play monster and chase them around the house for a minute or two (at 6'6" 300+ pounds with a head like Shrek's, I make a good monster)
Wouldn't trade it for ANYTHING in the world.
But I'm introverted and, at 49 years old have a DEEP appreciation for every moment I get to spend with my children (ages 2,3, and 7 as I write this). These monkeys...
And I LOVE the freedom of being able to work anywhere I want from my laptop (which, for me, 95+% of the time is my home, because that's what I enjoy).
Every day I'm in awe of how awesome it is. This kind of life wasn't possible a few decades ago.
I like creating content that does much of the work for me.
Content that attracts followers, converts them to clients and stimulates referrals and retention.
For almost a decade-and-a-half now, my content has generated far more business for me than anything else.
Including content on the blog you're reading now and my personal blog that looks like this (clicking the screenshot will take you to it)...
Working at home or from a coffee shop would drive many coaches and gym owners nuts!
They want to be around loud music and positive energy and the smell of sweat.
They want to flirt and talk smack and cheer people on and do it all in-person.
They get off on social interaction much more than my fellow introverts and I do.
So, before we discuss some of the numbers between online vs offline, if you're like me and value time and experience over money, I can't emphasize how much personal preference should be taken into consideration.
Too many people don't factor it in and then up hating how they spend their days.
Either way, online or in-person, strategically building your business around your desired LIFESTYLE is the way to go.
But to me, and many of the people I work with, the lifestyle is EVERYTHING.
Even back before I hired my team of 15 personal trainers and fed them clients every day from the internet, I trained a consistent client base of over 60 clients in three 9-hour days (five hours in the morning and four hours in the late afternoon/evening) of groups of six people per session.
Since it was small groups instead of boot camps and I used my earliest cult-building strategies to charge premium prices, I able to charge $39-$59 per person, per session, depending on contract length.
Most small group trainers around me were charging $15-25 per client per session with $20 being the average. My average was $44 per session. Over twice the average small group trainer in my area.
Though some small group trainers trained 8-10 people a session. To me, anything more than 6 was a boot camp. So I capped it at 6.
Hourly I averaged $264/hour trained.
Not great compared to many of my coaching clients today. But for me, at the time, I was thrilled with it. Like, over the moon.
The lifestyle thrilled me even more.
I didn't have to train anyone outside of the hours. Three days a week, nine hours a day, that was it.
My assistant handled the admin stuff I couldn't stand.
The other days of the week I created content, developed marketing systems, studied marketing and influence, and built my online coaching business (as I talk about HERE).
For me, my small group personal training biz was a lifestyle business.
Then, I hired my team of personal trainers and my introverted side took over (though I've never enjoyed running a team, which is a big reason I don't own a gym).
But once I had my team in place, I stopped training people all together and began working exclusively from home on projects I was passionate about (mainly my information marketing business in the fitness industry).
THAT's what makes me happy.
What makes you happy I don't know.
But, if you're like me, I imagine it's...
1. Helping people
2. How you spend your time. That you're intent on spending your time doing what you LOVE.
Fortunately, our entire industry is built around helping people. So online or offline, you get to do that. You get to change lives (and for doing so, I commend you, by the way).
We're also in an industry where you have countless options as to how you'd like to spend your time.
Train at someone else's gym, own a gym and run a team of trainers, train at home in your garage gym, or train online from your home office or the coffee shop, or train people outdoors in-person at the beach or park.
Or do a little bit of everything.
I know coaches doing well with ALL these methods. I've also spoken with trainers struggling with each of these methods as well.
Now, if you're on FB, you're probably seeing a barrage of ads from gurus teaching how to get training clients, ESPECIALLY...
A. Online clients
B. Boot camp clients
Most of these gurus right now (not all, but most, and especially the newer ones) are teaching the same core strategy with a different wrapper.
If you join their program, you'll find it's this...
FB ads > Application > Strategy session system.
Now, I don't rely on FB ads like a lot of coaches do, but the above system is working well for getting clients for coaches who's models meet a few of the conditions I'm about to share.
Right now, more online trainers and high-ticket trainers are doing well with this strategy most boot camp owners are doing, by the way.
Now, by and I large, while I've run a lot of FB ads over the years—to the tune of 6 figures in FB ads—I prefer a more organic approach to getting clients than fiddling with ads all the time.
I actually do what many of the FB ad gurus sell AGAINST right now—I leverage content to generate business.
But most of the fitness marketing FB ad gurus don't know how to do that, so they sell AGAINST it.
One benefit of the ads is that the results are easier to measure than with content.
And that which you can be measured in your business, you can improve.
And I have to admit, a few months back, I lost money with a few campaigns for a boot camp.
Now, I've been marketing fitness and personal training for a long time, especially online.
And even though I don't consider myself an expert on FB ads—far from it actually—over 97% of the time, the ROI has been fantastic. Especially with info marketing and online coaching and ESPECIALLY when you factor in lifetime client value.
But I know what's it like to struggle with ads as well. That 3% of the time drove me nuts.
I even had a number of FB ad experts go into the failing campaigns, make adjustments they swore would work, and guess what?
With the exception of my buddy Kevin Hutto who's a behind-the-scenes marketing genius and knows more about paid ads than anyone in the space right now, all their results were worse than mine!
And these guys teach FB ads to the fitness industry for a living.
Four of them even own FB ad agencies a lot of gyms and trainers use (including some of the biggest gym chains).
In a few weeks, she had about 20 clients but ended up not enjoying boot camps and wanted to switch to online training (she's introverted like I am).
And our online training ads worked MUCH better (and I'll explain why in a moment).
Now, a big reason her boot camp ads had poor results is that her boot camp was SURROUNDED by other boot camps.
Including just about big chain the industry and a bunch of independent warehouse gyms.
And most of those other boot camps are charging rock bottom prices.
Their ads offered transformation challenges for zero charge (actually, as is popular now and I'm sure you're aware of, once the potential clients show up at the gyms, they're presented with a $400-$600 "deposit" they must pay that the can technically get back if they hit certain results by the end of the challenge).
But we didn't want to do that. The trainer didn't feel right about it.
I'm not making moral judgments about the strategy, as I have CLOSE friends and longtime clients who rely on that strategy. Who've become wealthy because of that strategy.
But to her, she thought it felt like a bait and switch (I'll tell you about another popular fitness industry bait-and-switch in just a sec).
Now, even though those gyms mention the deposit in the fine print on the bottom of their landing pages, she didn't want to go there.
Fortunately, with the online training ads, she didn't have to.
Now, depending on where YOU live...
... if you train in-person or own a facility, FB ads CAN be an adventure in frustration right now.
Online training and coaching are much easier than local-based ads IF—IF IF IF—you're local-based biz is in a saturated area and you don't have a high client lifetime value (MOST boot camps have a low lifetime value these days).
For example, in a town (like in Southern California) with boot camps on every corner, unless everything from lead gen > lead nurture > sales process > fulfillment/retention and referrals is dialed in TIGHT, well, you're experience may not be as fun as it was five years ago.
If it is, you're the exception, not the rule.
In fact, it's January, and quite a few boot camp owners have been sharing with me in private that they're experiencing LOW Jan numbers compared to just one year ago.
And a year ago, the numbers were lower than the year before that, which were lower than the year before that.
Many are moving to higher-ticket small groups and/or online training.
Some are selling their gyms and training people in their garage gym to save on overhead.
Now, depending on where you train, FB ad client acquisition costs are all over the place.
In some areas, gyms and trainers are still acquiring clients on FB for less than $100 each.
Back in 2015, it seemed everyone was getting clients for that.
Not so in 2020. At least, not in areas with a lot of boot camps and gyms.
But if the systems are dialed in, you can still make high client acquisition costs work.
For example, I have one client who lives in an area that's hyper-competitive.
About three times as many boot camp gyms within two miles of him as they're should be.
Most are hurting. Including one that's part of a chain that touts itself as the biggest, most successful boot camp chain in the industry.
And most are charging only $70-$180/mo and many are advertising challenges for nothing. Either no costs for $21 for 21 days.
Now, for his gym, his average FB ad client acquisition cost is $583 (not crazy high, but high compared to a lot of areas).
Because the cult building stuff he does enables him to charge premium rates as well as retain clients for a long time, AND he keeps his groups small compared to the giant boot camps, his average client lifetime value is a little over $5200.
That's a damn good average lifetime value per personal training client. Much better than the boot camps.
Most of it is because of the cult stuff I talk about HERE.
So he'll pay almost six bills for new clients all day long. Wouldn't you?
He who can pay the most to acquire a new client wins.
And he can pay A LOT more than the boot camps down the street.
So having a high client lifetime value is the way to win, ESPECIALLY if you're in an area with high client acquisition costs.
But a lot boot camps—with high turnover, high lead costs, high overhead, and slim margins— can't afford high client acquisition costs.
Right now, many of the trainers I know with boot camps in saturated areas aren't doing NEARLY as well as the high ticket online trainers who have almost no overhead.
In fact, I know quite a few boot camp facility owners who can't wait to get rid of their gym.
They're so over it!
Every time they see a high-ticket online trainer working from their laptop pulling 3-10X per client what they are with 3-20% the operating costs, it drives them nuts.
Here's my client AJ Mihrzad working on his lap top. AJ, known as the Online Super Coach, makes millions in his online coaching business...
And while I know quite a bit about FB ads—after recently taking years off from using them, I immersed myself in multiple crash courses to get back up to speed—as I mentioned above, I do NOT consider myself an authority on the topic, not like I do with the cult-building stuff.
Which is why I recently grilled over a dozen FB ad experts, successful online trainers, and ad agency owners to compare notes.
And across the board, the reason for their current success on FB is the same—targeting, targeting, targeting.
Doesn't matter if it's engagement ads, conversion ads, lead ads, or message ads—and different gurus swear by different ad types in strategies—targeting is king.
... in many cases, targeting people in a local area with anything other than the basics—age, gender, location—can make your audience SMALL.
So in a lot of local areas, deep targeting isn't practical.
If you did it, your audience size would be too small.
Not as well as a few years ago, but they're still seeing a good ROI because they have all their other systems dialed in.
I have one coaching client with gyms in the UK and the US—and depending on which of his US and UK gyms he's comparing—both his lead costs and client acquisition costs are 500-1000% more in the US than the UK.
It cost him five to ten times as much to get each UK client as it does each US client.
I told him to close down the US gym and open more gyms in the UK.
So if you're in the US, be wary of coaches and gurus in other areas bragging about their low lead costs.
Just because they're getting low lead costs where THEY are, doesn't mean it's replicable where you are.
Now, many online trainers right now are averaging $100-$300 in client acquisition costs.
And, while some only charge $97-$297/mo, with the right targeting, positioning, and sales process, many online trainers are able to charge $1800-$4800 upfront for 3-6 months of training.
The big craze with trainers charging these higher numbers is...
...advertising "get fit eating whatever you want."
Some boot camps are doing this, but online trainers with the $1800-$4800 price points are the most aggressive with it.
You'll see them in a tank top or with their shirts off, eating pizza and hamburgers and ice cream claiming "eat whatever you want and look like me."
Now, many don't tell the clients until AFTER they sign up that there are VERY few meals where they eat what they want.
Some online trainers admit to it during the strategy session (which they SHOULD do) but many are keeping their mouth shut about it until they get to the client to sign on the dotted line and process the client's payment.
Then it's surprise, surprise! 6.95 days a week you must eat perfectly.
It's a method popularized by one guru who teaches the FB ad > Application > Strategy call with heavy takeaway tactics in the application.
In some of these trainers applications for their strategy call, they ask if you'd be willing to take out a loan and max out credit cards to hit your fitness goals.
And if you aren't willing to, then obviously you're not "committed" to reaching your fitness goals. Huh?
Uncool IMO but each to his own.
Now, $1800-$4800 upfront for a few months of online training is a heck of a lot better than what most boot camps charge.
People expect boot camps for a fraction of that.
I mean, the leads see the ads saying they don't have to pay anything and will look hot in 6 weeks.
...many indoor boot camps have such low value in most people's eyes right now, and the overhead can be so high, that their margins are only 7-21%, with an average of 12-15%.
Online trainers simply don't have that same sort of high overhead.
Many don't even pay for online training software.
So online trainers often charge more, have much smaller client acquisition costs, and much lower overhead.
No wonder so many of them are so much happier than a lot of boot camp owners right now.
That said, as mentioned earlier, some gym owners and personal trainers LOVE training people in person, and that's something you just can't replicate online.
Being with a person and talking to them over video is NOT the same thing.
And the joy of training people in person is a respectable thing.
Now, either way, online or in-person, ramping up ticket price and lifetime value is key.
Especially lifetime value.
And nothing comes close to doing that than all the crazy cult-building strategies I'm always talking about.
In fact, contrary to what most coaches believe...
The value of your program (how GOOD it is) and the results you get your clients and customers aren't nearly as effective at attracting clients and multiplying client lifetime value and stimulating referrals as the cult-building stuff.
And building a cult is just sooo damn fun.
Now, I'm often asked about getting more boot camp clients...
...if you're looking to build your boot camp, I'm NOT the authority on the matter nor the coach to hire.
I'm connected with a number of FANTASTIC coaches who help trainers and gym owner build their boot camps, who are much deeper in the trenches of that particular business model than I am.
And there are some coaches I don't know who are supposedly pretty good at it as well. One boasts building a 7-fig gym every 11 days or something.
I don't know if that's true, but if so it's impressive. And it's NOT something I'm capable of.
I, on the other hand, help coaches, experts, info-marketers, gurus, online trainers, and entrepreneurs who are the face of their business build cult followings online of people who pay, stay, ascend, and refer.
The laptop lifestyle and building an online cult of devout clients and customers is what I have down to a science (you can learn more about it here).
I specialize in helping entrepreneurs build online empires with cults of clients and customers—read more about it HERE.
P.S. Discover how I built a cult of devout clients HERE.