2016 is one of the most exciting years to be a small business owner. Never before have so many tools and trends existed to help you grow your fitness business through intelligent marketing. We work with hundreds of small businesses across the country and many of them are in the fitness industry. This is the insider scoop on what works best for brand development, customer relations, employee retention, in order to grow your fitness business this year.

1. Know Your Brand

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People process brands in the same area of their brain as they do people. Remember – you’re building a relationship with your clients, so you need to have a strong sense of self. Think of your brand as a person, with a mind, soul, and body. There are thousands of gyms, bootcamps, pilates, and yoga studios in every market. Understanding your brand is the most important first step in connecting with your clients. Those principles break down as follows:

Mind: Your people, process, and product.

  • The “mind” is the core of your business, the thing that really makes everything work behind the scenes. Your people are not just your trainers and clients, but they’re also your influencers and suppliers. Reframe your understanding of yourself and your staff as being a provider and facilitator of other people’s knowledge and products to serve your unique target client base.
  • Your process: Don’t get too technical, this is a branding exercise to be kept in the back of the mind for the rest of your marketing efforts. But it’s important to think of your process of how you provide your service in the most basic and fundamental steps. It can be as simple as something like “Inspire, assist, measure results, repeat.” Once you have that understanding of what you’re actually doing for people, you can train your entire staff to carry that flag.
  • Product: it’s important to understand what you are really selling. Every business satisfies an emotional need. Understanding what that is will serve as the bedrock of everything else you do. In most cases, it’s something very simple for the fitness industry. It may be your clients’ needs ” to feel sexy,” or “to feel powerful,” or even “to have a better quality of life.” Each fitness business is serving different emotional needs of its clientele. Once you understand what that is, and you combine it with a solid understanding of your people and process, you now can begin marketing.

Soul: The backstory, personality, and repertoire.

Just like people, businesses have a story. They have a reason for being, a personality that is influenced by those as well as the people with whom it has a relationship. These in turn dictate tone, voice, vibe, and other “bodily” pieces of brand.

  • Backstory: People want to know who you are and where you came from. They want to know why your businesses exists, why it was founded, and why your trainers and coaches do what they do. This builds a personal connection that results in loyalty when it resonates. Honesty is key. 
  • Persona: We all wear many faces. Think about your team’s attitude, independent of everyone else, personality in the community when interacting with non-clients, and customer relations attitude. If it helps, try to frame these in terms of a movie character or famous personality that you feel most represents the different facets of your businesses persona.
  • Repertoire: All other steps up to this point give you a catalogue of what you really have the authority to talk about. There are essentially three types of content including original content based on your expertise, sharing sources, which is based on your influencers that directly relate to your services, and commentary, where you can elaborate or critique the work of others in your industry.

Body: Finally, this is how people perceive you with their senses. It should be educated by a solid understanding of your brand’s mind and soul. The result should be intelligently thought out, sensory presentations. While these normally fall into style guides, messaging guidelines, and packaging, you can elaborate to carefully and intentionally choose every element of sight, touch, feel, and smell (only restaurants should worry about taste as part of brand). But if you’re providing meals, or refreshment, consider it carefully as part of a client’s entire relationship with you.

2. Have a Great Website

kinesia pilates website

Think of your website as the center a bicycle wheel of your brand’s digital footprint across the web. It should be the central point that all social media, directories, and news articles point back to. Because of this, you want to make sure that your website is a strong and accurate representation of yourself. Following a few basic rules of thumb for optimal usability is important:

  • Use a reliable Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, Weebly, or Squarespace, so you can quickly and easily make updates, keep things fresh and accurate.
  • Make sure your site mobile-friendly. Not only will Google not display your website in mobile searches if you’re not mobile friendly, but a site that doesn’t work well on a phone has a much higher bounce rate and will cause potential new clients to simply move onto the the next fitness business that has a better presentation. You only have a few seconds to make an impression and speak to your potential clients, so you have to make it count.
  • Have a clear and simple call to action. In addition to making basic information like name, address, phone number present and clickable in the header of your website, you should also identify the primary and secondary goals of your website, such as getting people to sign up for a free class, or take a tour. Ask people to test out your website to be sure that they naturally navigate to the right areas of the website and accomplish those goals. (Tip: you can setup these goals in Google Analytics so you can track your conversion rates.)

3. Manage Your Reputation

people hate us on yelp

One of the biggest things that gyms and fitness centers struggle with is a good reputation, beginning with Yelp. Yelp, like Google, is a search engine. It operates on an algorithm that rates the profiles of its listings by a combination of average rating, details of the reviews, number of check-ins, strength of the contributing review profiles, completion of your profile, and finally yes, if you are paying for ads.

Yelp also has a pretty strict set of terms and conditions but it – like Google – is built on the concept of authenticity. Because of this, they do filter reviews from individuals who lack strong profiles. Weak profiles typically have few friends, not many reviews, and little profile information filled out. If you have great reviews that have been filtered, reach out to your clients who have written them, and explain that they can’t just review YOU, they have to establish their credibility by reviewing others and interacting in the community.

Because of Yelp’s terms and conditions, certain bad reviews can be requested to be taken down. Become familiar with the rules so you know how to flag reviews that are hurting your average rating. However, nothing replaces simply learning from your clients feedback, addressing any particular issues they bring up, and always having the humility to grow and change. Customers will always appreciate that.

In the coming year, Google Maps reviews and Facebook reviews will become increasingly important. Google Maps reviews are now also having their content indexed, meaning that not only is it important how many stars a client give you, but also what they write in the content of their review. The emotional responses will be measured, as well as the services mentioned the post will train Google Maps to qualify you for more specific keywords with regard to your classes, equipment, facilities, and expertise.

Facebook’s big announcement in late 2015 was a move to infiltrate Yelps authority, transferring the Facebook Business page to allow for crawling of reviews for easier display in Google searches. With the price of Yelp’s stock taking a hit in 2015, Facebook will likely take more action to infringe on their market share in 2016. In other words, pay close attention to your Facebook profile, reviews, comments, and anything else that can influence a casual viewer’s impression of your business on that platform.

4. Brand the Trainers

sound strength trainers

When you have trainers and staff that work with your clients on one one, it’s important that you make them visible and highlight their experience and expertise. This can be done by building out their profiles on your website and assisting them in building their personal brands as well.

Keeping a happy team often means that should they ever leave your employment, they should do so with better expertise and reputation than they can in with. Not only does this mean training, but a also promote their personal Twitter, Google+, and Instagram accounts. This encourages an ongoing relationship with your team that continues after they leave your gym or studio.

5. Have a Powerful Membership Platform

The biggest key for a strong business is residual income through monthly memberships. There are dozens of great platforms that help not only with the billing process of managing these memberships but also assist in the maintenance of your relationship with your regular customers.

  • MindBody is probably the most popular and versatile platform. Their system can integrate directly with your website so members can see class schedules, manage their membership, receive push notification updates, and even download an app specifically for your gym right onto their phone.
  • Zen Planner includes many of the same services as MindBody, but also includes advanced workout tracking.
  • Jonas Fitness is a great solution for simplicity.
  • GymMaster is used by many big names including the YMCA, Gold’s Gym, and more. They also offer 24/7 Gym Access control.
  • More membership platforms are listed here.

Ultimately whatever solution you choose, make sure that it’s both intuitive for your members and serves their needs. If you’re not sure which to select, pull aside some of your best clients and get them to answer a brief survey of what they would like as far as functionality and user experience. This can be done by simply going to the main features pages on each of the membership platforms websites, and creating a multiple choice survey using a service like SurveyMonkey or Google Survey. Remember – it’s not just about usability for you, it’s about usability for your clients.

6. Use Facebook to Boost

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You’ve probably noticed that your reach on Facebook is pretty low compared to the actual number of people who like your page. This is due to several factors, the first being that not all of your clients are on Facebook all the time, but the bigger issues is that Facebook curates each persons’ News Feed based on previous interaction with Posts and Pages, personal preferences and interests, what’s currently trending, and how that may resonate with that individual. In the case of Businesses Pages, you’re more likely to see an update from a business that you’ve checked in at, you’ve liked or commented on a post in the past, or you have several friends who also like the page and interact with it. Because of this, the average reach of a Facebook post is only 7%  (at best) of your existing audience.

Facebook does allow a way around this through their “Boosted” posts. This is the ideal way to get around the Facebook’s limited visibility. The first step should be to create a custom audience based on your ideal client’s age, geography, interests, and any other commonalities you find between your ideal clients. The optimal target audience should result in being about 10,000 people. Anything smaller than that would result in the advertising engine displaying ads outside of your target demographics to meet the spending quote.

A rule of thumb is to spend about $50 per boosted post. This will help ensure that the quality of your post is good enough to garner the results you’re looking for. A good Promoted Post will have a compelling and relatable image. If you lack Photoshop skills (or an Adobe license), a wonderful free tool called Canva is your best option. However, you’ll have to adhere to Facebook’s ad approval regulations, which require that less than 20% of the image be text. You can use this tool to check and see if your post meets those guidelines.

Here is where Google Analytics goals come in. Within Analytics, you can connect a goal to track the clicks on your ad from Facebook and see how many of them convert. This way you can track your return on investment from every post. And if you want to get really fancy, you can use a heat map tool like Crazyegg to track people’s actions on the landing page you link from Facebook.

If you don’t have the budget for regular promoted posts on Facebook, a good alternative is to get your clients’ permission to tag them in photos of life at your fitness studio. The best way to do this is to connect you Instagram account to Facebook. After the images are published, you can switch your user to your personal account as the active user and then tag yourself, your team, and your clients as friends in posts from Instagram after they are syndicated to Facebook.  

7. The Power of Instagram

While most social media posts can be prescheduled using tools like Hootsuite or Buffer to ensure everyone is up to date on schedules, events, and specials, no amount of planning and strategy can compare to the authenticity that is brought to the table through Instagram, which was probably Facebook’s best investment in 2012.

Instagram is a network that is designed entirely around the idea of “sharing your moment” Rather than a traditional Facebook posts, which is typically more planned out, Instagram forces the users to show everyone “what is happening right now” and empowers you to do so from your phone in a beautiful way.

Because marketing in 2016 is all about authenticity and relationship, Instagram is a powerful ingredient in staying true to that philosophy on a daily basis. Some of your team will be more savvy than others, but it’s a good idea to always have someone on-site who has your Instagram account on their phone.

8. Setup Referral Programs

Referral programs should not be just for your clients who refer their friends, but for a way to incentivize your existing clientele. Establish a standing policy for kickbacks to your clients for referring a friend.

Identify if the majority of your clientele is coming to you directly from work or directly from home. Why? Partnering with businesses that are nearby can yield rewarding results. This can be done by either giving a setting up a corporate wellness program, which provides incentives for a company to refer their employees to work out with you. By offering to do boot camps on location or for less-mobile fitness companies, simply providing information that can be kept in lunch and break rooms is enough to build awareness.

Never neglect apartment complexes or established communities that are paying HOA Dues. Many successful fitness clubs work out deals in which membership can be included in the various housing fees people are already paying.

9. Make Videos

Video production has never been easier, which makes video among the most visible content online. In fact, 2015 trends show them as the highest-viewed and most successful form of content. Most videos can be made right on your phone using Instagram, Facebook, your phone’s built-in raw editor, or additional programs like Fly, which was acquired by Google last year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mffuxVSjz3A

Great formats for videos include:

  • Instructional videos
  • Testimonials
  • New instructor introductions
  • Events or competitions

Make sure that you not only post the videos to Facebook, but also to upload the videos to YouTube so they can be referenced later, embedded on your site, or simply available on YouTube, which is the world’s second-largest search engine. People all over the world looking to be entertained, educated, or just because they’re bored – you never know who you’ll connect with.

A tip for getting better visibility for videos after you’ve uploaded them to YouTube is to make a Creator’s profile. Second, write a long description (300 words+) of what the video is about, include links for more information, and always ask people to subscribe to your channel.

10. Incentivize Year-Round

January shouldn’t be the only time people feel that they need to get their workout on. There are reasons all year long for people to get and stay fit, whether its wedding season, bathing suit season, or simply trimming down for the holidays. Each season has its own reason for people to care about and work on their physical wellbeing, the trick is to make it not just top of mind but also fun.

Woobox and Rafflecopter are great tools that can be used to create sweepstakes, contests, and incentives to come to the gym, try more classes, share your training studio with their friends, and even compete with some of your other clients.

While these are all great tools, you can also have some evergreen policies and contests by leveraging apps people already use like Foursquare check-ins, which have now brought back Mayorships.

11. Reward Social Newbies

Clients are most likely to leave a review in the first few weeks of their membership once they’re in the honeymoon phase of their relationship with you. This is the perfect time to ask for a review on platforms like Yelp, Foursquare, Google, and Facebook. While most of their terms and conditions restrict businesses from “buying” a good review by providing free services in exchange for a certain star-level of review, there is nothing wrong with providing instructions to people in the first few weeks about how to give reviews on certain platforms.

Whitespark is an SEO tool that helps provide templates of instructions that you can print out and hand to people. Leaving leaflets in any locker or changing rooms or simply at the front desk go a long way to remind people that their review and feedback is important.

A good standing policy is gratitude for their review or social share is something that should be well-advertised throughout the workout space. Placing posters or signage about social incentive programs in front of people while they work out will help craft a culture of community, which keeps people coming back.

12. Feature Your People

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Most people don’t even know the owner or managers of their fitness facilities. Rather, it’s the girl at the front desk, the spin instructor, or the personal trainer that they build the relationship with the most. They are the ones that keep your clients coming back. So the best thing to do is to show them off and tell their story.

While people do check out bios on your website, most bios fail to provide a sense of connection because most are carefully contrived and ultimately static. The best way to move past this is to empower your team to tell an ongoing story that can be followed.

Let them contribute to the the blog on your website, telling stories about success, personal struggles, research, and training they’re doing, and more. When you provide them this very public platform, your team then has an even greater investment of personal pride that goes into their contribution. The result is that they end up sharing their written work on their own personal social networks, not only expanding your reach to their friends and family, but it also spreads your brand authority to many more people, especially of the blog posts are discussed and commented upon.

If you do create videos, always let them say their full name in the introduction. Trainers are building their own brand and if you allow them to do so through your business, they’re much more likely to stick with you.

13. Blog About Common Questions

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Blogging is good for SEO” we’ve heard this for years, but now I’ll tell you why. Google’s goal is to provide the best possible referral to fulfill a searcher’s request. If they’re looking for “gyms near me,” Google wants to provide, in sequential order, the websites of gyms that have the best reviews, reputation, community followers, engagement, and original content. All of these contribute to the notion that not only is the most authoritative source they a good business, but they are also a leader in their industry.

At the University of Washington, I was a student representative on the Tenure Review Committee for professors. It was our job to consider candidates for tenure over the course of their probationary period. We looked at students’ average grades, reviews of the professors, and how often they were publishing new and original work. The reason behind this is we wanted individuals who contribute to the overall authority of the institution. Blogging works the same way to search engines. By contributing original, thoughtful work, Google considers you to be an authority in your field.

There are many side benefits of blogging, including greater keyword qualification, as each post expands the topics in which search engines recognize your expertise. It also increases traffic for people searching for answers to questions you’re answering. As a side effect, people will naturally link to your blog post as a citation. That link will build your domain authority and generate even more natural traffic. Finally, it provides great content to be shared on social media.

So what should you be blogging about? Ask yourself: what are your customers and potential clients wondering about? Answer questions about nutrition and workout regiments, techniques, myths, and explain not only how certain exercises are done, but why they are done. More and more consumers are becoming more intelligent about how they consume because so much more information is available to them than ever before. Because of this, fad diets and exercise trends are being adopted only if there is solid rationality, research, and convincing case studies that support it. After all, exercising is hard, and people want to ensure their time and effort invested is going to pay off. It’s up to you to provide them that assurance.

14. Stake a Flag in Your Community

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The very nature of the fitness industry is rooted in the physical. In the digital world, physical is rooted in the concept of local. Not only do you have be visible in every local directory, be well-marked with signage, but people see fitness businesses as a valuable part of the community.

Join your local chamber of commerce. Not only is the link on the website beneficial, but showing your face at events for business owners is the the fastest way to embed yourself in the local economy. Bring businesses cards or host an event once in a while if your physical space is conducive.

Participate in neighborhood activities like street fairs, trick-or-treating, any anything else that is community-oriented.

Other organizations that are always good to participate in are BNI, and Le Tip, as those organizations carry the expectation of referrals and categorical exclusivity.

15. Provide Meal Plans

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Remember you’re not your client’s whole lives. They’re busy, active people who are trying to balance work, life, and family, so you should make things easier on them by providing ways to streamline their hectic lives. One of the best ways is to create strategic partnerships with other businesses that relate to their physical wellbeing. While this can include physical therapists, doctors, and nutritionists, it’s always very helpful to offer a way to get their foot in the door by suggesting meal plans that compliment their workouts.

These meal plans also serve as great content to be shared on your social media and blog to prove that your business cares about them reaching their goals and not just collecting their membership dues.

16. Advertise with Intelligence

Your money is valuable, and with digital marketing technology you no longer have to be subject to that old adage of “knowing you’re wasting half of your marketing budget, you’re just not sure which half.”

Start by calculating the total value of a client. You can do this by finding the average length of membership and multiplying that by the average membership revenue. Here is where the math gets a little intensive. You’ll want to budget 6% of the value of the customer, and earmark that as your ideal cost per acquisition of a new client. In other words, that number will tell you how much you should be spending to acquire just one new customer. Then multiply that by the number of new members you hope to get each month, and the result will be your advertising budget.

One pitfall most fitness business owners make is blindly spending money in Valpac, local blogs, Google Adwords, or Facebook. But without knowing your ideal cost per acquisition you’ll have no idea if your advertising dollars are paying off.

When advertising online, you must be aware of what your cost per click is. You have to keep in mind that a click does not equal a new member – it just means they visited your site, landing page, or offer. You’ll need to track the percentage of people who visit your site who actually sign up or contact you. The result will be a calculation of your ideal cost per click. This is where the gold is.

Platforms like Yelp have a straight up cost per click rate that is normally between $4-$10. Sites like Google Adwords are variable based on the keyword you’re bidding for. Judging your ad methods should always begin with making a decision based on the cost and value of one click. Knowing those numbers will let you know if an ad purchase on any given network is the correct investment for you.

Once you have the clicks it’s vitally important to monitor the effectiveness on a regular basis. If your conversion rates begin to slip, you should find out why and make the adjustments. The greatest thing about marketing your fitness studio in 2016 is that all that data is available to you in one form or another if you use the right tools or have the right training.

When understood and utilized intelligently, consumer trends and digital marketing tools have made the fitness industry ripe for growth. As a small business owner, all you need is the knowledge and technology to leverage them. Have a great year!

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