Online Business Expansion of a Personal Training Company

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This proposal focuses on a fitness company that provides personal training and analyzes its potential for online expansion, the competitive market for these services, online social marketing strategies that can and should be used to promote its services, and social media tools that might be utilized for the online marketing strategy.

The fitness company is currently a rather small enterprise: it was started by three friends who were personal trainers at a gym together. After many months of strategizing, which included the development of a simple business plan, the friends left to start their own company. For confidentiality reasons and for ease of reference, it will be referred to as Training Inc.

The trainers still work with some of their loyal clients from the old gym and have gotten many more through word of mouth. The services provided are mainly one on one training sessions at the clients’ homes or at parks outdoors. This keeps the overhead costs low, since there are no usage fees to be paid to a gym. One of the big money makers for Training Inc. is a boot camp they put on in a set location a few times a week. One trainer leads a number of people—the number varies but can be up to thirty—through a rigorous workout. The individual client fees associated with the boot camp are lower than those for personal training sessions because the clients aren’t getting individual attention, but there are enough participants that the total amount of money earned from boot camps ends up being much higher than those for a personal training session with one client.

Up to this point, Trainers Inc. has advertised mainly with flyers on telephone poles in the general location of the park where the boot camp takes place, word of mouth, and Craigslist. Trainers Inc. has a very basic website that mentions the personal training sessions, the boot camps, the phone number of the lead trainer, and the company email address.

While clearly the online marketing of this company can easily be transformed, there is also viable online business functionality that is not currently being utilized. Looking at other personal training companies, there is a developing trend to allow the client the option of working with a trainer online via a connection such as Skype. This allows clients who are out-of-town—or who find it more convenient to connect online— to complete their ongoing workouts with continuing oversight and instruction from their personal trainer.

This means that the company could theoretically perform most of its functions online. The website could accept payment, allow for interactive scheduling, and even serve as a conduit for Skype training sessions.

In its simplest form, the online training sessions would be one on one. Overhead costs would be very small and would mostly go toward web design and programming costs. It could save trainers from the necessity of traveling to different homes and locations for each individual session, giving them time for more individual training sessions. It would also save them costs associated with traveling to different locations. Because of the current business model for Trainers Inc., keeping the overhead costs as low as possible is the easiest way to increase profits. Once the business begins to grow more quickly, a new model may need to be developed.

There is current market demand for online personal training. People are becoming increasingly comfortable speaking to loved ones via Skype over the internet, so this step-in personal training was bound to follow. Some high-profile celebrities known for being in great shape have discussed doing training sessions online when they are away from home This has whetted the public’s appetite for easy access, bespoke online training sessions for themselves.

The assessment of potential competitors revealed a new company called Wello that offers the technological capability for 3–5 friends to workout with one trainer via webcam from up to five unique locations. Each of the friends can be anywhere in the world and they can all workout together with a trainer and can split the related costs among themselves. The website is mainly a conduit to allow trainers to match up with clients: it allows trainers to book clients during their slow periods because they can get clients from anywhere in the world, and they then aren’t bound by geography or time of day or night. The workouts are presented as being incredibly affordable, and the site makes splitting the fee among the group of friends very simple.

Comparatively speaking, Fitness Inc. has the advantage that—at least for local clients, which is all they currently have—they are available to meet in person if needed. They can get to know their clients in a more personal way and can therefore provide higher quality workouts attuned to the needs of the client. It’s the equivalent of a boutique service when compared with Wello’s budget service. By marketing the Skype capability as an enhancement of its highly specialized personalized training adapted to the needs of each client, Trainers Inc. can differentiate itself from the budget competitors.

A competitor more equivalent in size to Trainers Inc. would be a company called Define Fitness in Alexandria, Virginia. This company runs boot camps and offers training sessions at the home or office. It allows small groups to use a trainer and divide the cost among 2–4 people. There doesn’t seem to be an option for Skyping and there isn’t much in the way of tracking progress online or scheduling online, though there is a link to PayPal for payment.

By offering online personal training, Trainers Inc. can differentiate itself from other small personal training companies such as Define Fitness. Especially in urban locations, where clients work long hours and might have long commutes, offering the online option makes sense and will set Trainers Inc. apart from its competition.

In addition to changing the nature of its services to allow for online training, Trainers Inc. needs online marketing strategies as well. It needs to improve its website, partly because its online presence is the main “location” of the business. If well designed, the website can communicate to potential clients that Trainers Inc. is a solid, respectable, financially secure company with many satisfied clients.

The target audience for online training sessions will necessarily be technology savvy, so marketing for this group must include the most up-to-date online strategies. In addition to ensuring that the website, itself, is user friendly, Trainers Inc. should consider including interactive features on the site, including some type of personalized dashboard that allows clients to track their progress toward their fitness and health goals. It should also include a feature allowing them to schedule with a personal trainer and, perhaps, instant message with or leave posts for the trainer.

Additionally, a company blog with periodic, well-written postings related to fitness and health would attract current and potential clients to the site. Because the target audience is internet-savvy, the blog should—at least part of the time— include analyses of some of the latest technology-related crazes in fitness and health. This will help feed the audience’s hunger for the most up-to-date and cutting-edge information and technology and will keep clients coming back to the website to view new articles. Blogs are relatively easy to design and not difficult to update. The main investment is time on the part of the blogger. One of the best ways for sites to get recognized by search engines and propelled to the top of the search results, is for other sites to link to a site. If blog posts are well-written and contain snippets of useful information describing the real-world use and application of new health and fitness technologies and then analyzes them, there is a fairly high chance that other sites will begin to link to Trainers Inc.’s site. Blog postings might also mention clients who have reached specific goals, thus encouraging clients to view the blog.

The company should set up Facebook and LinkedIn accounts—partly so it can analyze attributes of its clientele so it can target the right demographic with its marketing strategies—and they should include links to new blog postings and Tweets. By emphasizing that it wants to share its wealth of fitness and health information and its enthusiasm for helping people, the company can encourage clients to show their support for the company online among their friends. It is important to note that search engines have increasingly sophisticated algorithms for analyzing hits and linkages between websites and that links from social media are increasingly discounted by them. This doesn’t mean links from Facebook and LinkedIn are not important for the company, but it means that the company’s expectations should be in line with the reality.

Internet-savvy clients would also expect the company to have a Twitter account, which will give instantaneous information to clients. This feature will further reinforce the image of a cutting edge, progressive company. Tweets can include positive reminders about fitness and health goals, links to new blog postings, and links to articles on fitness and health. To encourage clients to follow the company on Twitter, updates to the boot camp schedule and location and other information that might be needed by a large group instantaneously should be Tweeted. Clients will become accustomed to checking Twitter for updates from Fitness, Inc. Clients can Tweet questions to trainers and trainers can Tweet responses, creating a highly interactive environment with clientele.

Additionally, Twitter is the perfect marketing venue for small businesses. According to Claire Cane Miller in a New York Times article (2009), small businesses get more than half of their business through word of mouth and Twitter is an online manifestation of that phenomenon (p. B6). The article goes on to illustrate through examples how small businesses reach potential customers, suppliers and distributors through Twitter.

Part of the reason a small company’s Twitter presence can be so vital is precisely because of the word of mouth nature of the networking service. Because users are already connected to networks, when they connect with a company’s twitter account, they are also sharing those connections with the company. According to an empirical study carried out by Michael Trusov, Richard Bucklin, and Koen Pauwels (2008), the elasticity—or measurement of how one economic variable affects others—of social networking is up to twenty times higher than other marketing events and has a longer effect (p. 6). This might be attributable to the fact that recommendations made by friends overcomes the resistance to marketing that normally occurs and is more likely to influence people into trying something new. Keeping this in mind, Training Inc. should make use of this highly effective tool.

Pinterest has become one of the fastest growing and most popular social media networks over the past year. For a company specializing in improving clients’ fitness levels and promoting new workouts, a service such as Pinterest can be incredibly useful. Even something as simple as posting before and after pictures of clients would be compelling and very easy to accomplish. Pinterest has also recently developed analytics, so companies can now track interactions with their websites, making it a more useful marketing tool.

Offering training sessions online—along with improved online marketing and an updated, interactive website with scheduling and payment capabilities—will transform this business into a more modern concern. It will be important for Training Inc. to analyze social media usage, clientele demographics, and effects of promotions via social media to refine social media usage and promotional strategies.

References

Miller, Claire Cain. (2009, July 22). Marketing small businesses with Twitter. The New York Times, p. B6.

Trusov, Michael , Bucklin, Randolph, & Pauwels, Koen H. (2008). Effects of word-of-mouth versus traditional marketing: findings from an Internet social networking site. College Park, MD: University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business.