The fitness industry is booming, bringing in billions of dollars each year.
The catch? Most of this revenue never reaches fitness professionals. But, the industry is changing. And fitness professionals are set to benefit.
If you’re ready to capitalize on this shift, this article is your road map to building a thriving fitness business in 2021 and beyond.
The Rise of the Fitness Creator
As a fitness professional, you no longer need to rely on gyms and studios for income.
And for many fitness professionals, the best path forward is to develop products and services that you can sell directly to consumers — both online and offline.
“Like filmmakers on YouTube, writers on Substack, and independent podcasters everywhere, fitness professionals are waking up to the fact that they hold a disproportionate share of the value,” says Anthony Vennare of Fitt Insider.
“It’s now like you are your own boutique fitness concept,” says fitness entrepreneur Kyle Axman on how the industry is adapting. “Before you would go to Barry’s website, you’d go to Flywheel, SoulCycle, Rumble, and book a class. Now you’re going to that instructor’s platform and booking a class through them,” he adds.
The power no longer lies with the gyms and studios, it lies with fitness creators and entrepreneurs. And with this shift comes a world of opportunity.
Every Way Fitness Professionals Can Make Money in 2021 (And Beyond)
Good ol’ fashioned personal training is still a great option for fitness entrepreneurs to make money. It also helps to build a solid foundation for any other business endeavors you may take on
“You gain so much knowledge in being hands-on with clients in the gym, teaching group fitness or teaching privates in real life,” says Axman. “What I’ve built is successful, because I have the foundation.”
If you’re starting out in personal training you’ll need to get certified to show gyms and potential clients that you know what you’re doing (and haven’t just picked up all your knowledge from Instagram).
Here are some of the best places to study personal training:
- International Sports Science Association (ISSA)
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- American Council on Exercise (ACE)
- National Strength Coaches Association (NSCA)
Once you have your qualifications, start speaking to local gyms about opportunities to get started and work directly with clients. The lessons you learn in the gym will help you to succeed with every other way to make money listed below.
“Build once, sell twice” is the mantra Jack Butcher used to create his $1m+ digital product empire. And while Jack is focused more broadly on the creator economy, his message is just as true for fitness entrepreneurs.
Let’s say in one month you spend 40 hours doing personal training sessions at $55/hour. By the end of the month, you’ll have made $2,200.
But here’s the catch…
To make $2,200 again next month, you’ll have to reinvest those same 40 hours.
With digital products, you invest the bulk of the effort upfront to create the asset and then each month you focus on marketing and selling that product to your audience.
Essentially digital products enable you to create an asset once and sell it multiple times, helping you to break away from selling your time for money.
For an example of a fitness entrepreneur who is growing their business through digital products, look no further than Gabriella Guevara. Guevara is the founder of The Cadence Club, and she says “making the decision to create exclusive content on an app has been the best business decision I have ever made.”
Guevara’s app enables people to access her spinning workouts on-demand and has been key to her business growth. “I am able to reach an unlimited audience and the possibilities are infinite as far as growth,” she adds.
Another great example of a digital product is Mike Vacanti’s ‘Look and Feel Better’ guide:
Vacanti designed this 12-week program (with options for both men and women) and through his online store is able to sell it over and over again without having to create a unique program from scratch for every customer.
Digital products tend to work best if you already have an established audience that you can sell to (think: an email list of social media following). But there are also options out there no matter what stage of your entrepreneurial journey you’re at.
Platforms like Teachable enable you to create digital courses and sell to its pre-existing audience. With this model, you’ll share a percentage of revenue with the platform but it can be a great way to launch your first digital product if you don’t already have an owned audience.
For example, Paris James sells a ‘Yoga for Beginners’ class on Teachable for $80:
When you run classes in person your growth is limited by your zip code or the number of people your gym allows per session. And for your clients, it means trying to wrestle free some time in the day to attend.
With online coaching you can break free from those restrictions — and you can even get started for free.
When fitness entrepreneur and professional squash player Nicole Bunyan initially started coaching online she helped her first client without spending a dime on tools.
“I shared her programs via Google sheets, which meant I had to search Youtube and include links to specific exercises, or video myself doing the exercises and send them to her,” she explains. “It sounds like a patchwork program, but it was effective.”
And for Kristina Girod, founder of Power+Flow, online spin classes have started to drive a significant amount of revenue for her business.“My On Demand income is my second largest piece of income right after my studio income,” she says.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when you start coaching online.
Bunyan started to grow the online coaching side of her business by moving her in-person workouts into an online setting. “I originally began with strength-based workouts,” she explains. “And now include on-court squash specific movement sessions as well.”
This is exactly how Guevara got started with her online coaching too. “When a few of my best and loyal customers found it difficult to attend my physical classes due to their busy schedules, I decided to upload a video to YouTube for them to try at home,” she says.
For many businesses, monthly recurring revenue (MRR) is the North Star.
MRR is the revenue that you can expect to receive at the end of each month. It might not include all the revenue you generate each month (for example, it doesn’t include one-off sales). Instead, it’s focused on regular payments you generate from subscriptions.
When you have recurring revenue, you’re not starting from zero every month and chasing new customers to make ends meet. And when you know exactly how much income you generate each month, it’s much easier to plan for the future and think about how you can scale your business.
For example, if you have 40 customers paying $30/month, you’ll have a baseline $1,200 of predictable revenue each month.
“Having recurring monthly revenue is certainly an upside to running a membership-based business,” says Bunyan. “Traditionally, in-person training and coaching is only paid by the hour, which is less predictable.”
If you’re looking to grow your online fitness business, offering a subscription product is one of the best ways to grow your MRR.
So what do subscription products look like for fitness entrepreneurs?
Jordan Syatt made a name for himself as a personal trainer for entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. But now, instead of solely focusing on client work, Syatt has built out the Syatt Fitness Inner Circle, a subscription product focused on helping people to reach their fitness goals.
Another example of a fitness subscription business is Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s premium membership subscription which includes:
- A private podcast feed (which helped Patrick’s FoundMyFitness business to double its monthly revenue)
- Exclusive AMAs
- Access to research summaries, background notes, and private articles
Bunyan also offers a monthly subscription to her ‘Daily Squash Athlete’ training program which includes 3 new workouts and one live session per week.
Bunyan believes that a membership model is a win-win for both the client and the coach. For the client, it’s often a lower price than booking a block of PT sessions and for the coach, it can lead to a bigger overall return from each client (if they stick around for a while).
“Training isn’t something which a client learns once and is then ‘done’, like taking a course,” she adds. “A membership-style model encourages the client to keep improving, month after month.”
“Now’s the time. Content, content, content,” says Axman, who has built up an audience of over 9,000 followers on Instagram.
Content creation is a fundamental part of fitness entrepreneurship and if you want to grow your business, you need to regularly create and share unique content to help build up an audience.
An engaged audience gives you direct access to people who are likely to be interested in buying from you. If you’re exploring some of the opportunities above like online coaching or selling digital products, content creation helps to build awareness of your personal brand and that you’re selling too.
Not only can having an audience help with selling products directly to consumers, it also opens up a bunch more revenue opportunities. For example:
- YouTube channels can earn money through its Partner Programme
- Bloggers can drive revenue from Google AdSense of affiliate links
- Instagrammers could form brand partnership deals and share sponsored posts (more on this below)
And even if you don’t directly monetize your content, it can still help your business grow.
“I have discovered that giving away content will always yield more paying customers,” explains Girod who has a YouTube channel focused on workouts and spin sessions.
But where should you start?
Axman’s advice is simple: “Be authentic and be yourself.”
If recording workout videos comes naturally to you, then go for it. But for Axman, that’s not authentic and he prefers to keep his Instagram page focused on lifestyle content rather than sharing workout routines and fitness advice.
To get started with content, pick a channel — for example, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube — and start experimenting with different types of content and posts until you find something that works for you.
With affiliate marketing you earn a commission by promoting other company’s products.
For example, Reebok pays affiliates commission of up to 7% and has an average order value of $100. So for every $100 sold, you’d make $7. That might not sound like much but it can soon add up, especially if you have a good-sized audience online.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to generate a little extra money from your website or social media profiles. For example, Matt Fox uses his Instagram bio link to drive traffic to a page listing a bunch of brands he works with:
It’s likely that a number of these links are affiliate relationships so Fox will make a commission for every sale. It’s also quite common for brands to offer discount codes to affiliate partners as a way to generate more sales (for example the ‘FOX10’ code for discount with Life Cykel in the screenshot above) .
When it comes to affiliates, it’s best to work only with brands you know, trust, and ideally have experience with. When you add a link to a brand on one of your social media profiles or your website it’s effectively a co-sign that you’d recommend that brand and it needs to feel authentic.
To get started with affiliate marketing, make a list of your favorite brands or brands you’d love to work with and see if they have programs you can apply for.
The best ways to uncover affiliate programs are to:
- Check the footer of a brand’s website (you’ll often see an affiliate link there if they have a program)
- Google ‘[brand] affiliate program’ and if they have an affiliate program, you’ll find it in the search results (this is how I found the Myprotein affiliate program)
It’s expensive for fitness brands to reach consumers. And in an industry that’s hyper-competitive, every brand is looking to find an edge and a way to connect with consumers that feels authentic.
One of the best ways for brands to do this is through partnerships with fitness entrepreneurs and influencers who have built up their own audiences.
So how do partnerships work?
Brand partnerships are essentially relationships where fitness entrepreneurs will help a brand connect with their audience through sponsored content on channels like blogs and social media platforms.
For example, occasionally Axman will work with brands on sponsored social media posts with brands he’s excited to work with.
“I want the content to be good,” says Axman who will only work with a few select brands to ensure his feed doesn’t turn into a constant stream of sponsored content. “I try to do one a month or one every other month and still post enough content to where it doesn’t look like all ads,” he says.
Brand partnerships can be arranged in a number of ways, but almost every deal will be a one of or a combination of the below:
- Sponsored content: Brands pay a flat fee for a designated number of posts (e.g. $1,500 for two Instagram feed posts)
- Revenue share: Similar to affiliate marketing, partnerships can be structured in a performance-based way (e.g. 25% commission on all sales generated from the campaign).
- Free products: Sometimes brands will gift products to fitness entrepreneurs in exchange for coverage. (e.g. a 6 month subscription in exchange for a review on a blog).
For partnerships to be successful you need to build an engaged audience. And though sponsored content might only make up a part of your content strategy, it’s everything you do around your sponsored posts that will make them successful.
“People think, ‘you’re getting paid that much for a post and a story.’” says Axman. “’I’m like, ‘Yeah, but it’s not just the time that it takes to take the picture, it’s all the work that I’ve put in, in the last few years [that makes it successful].’”
If you’re open to partnerships it’s best to make that fact clear to any brands that might want to work with you. You could add a link to contact you in your social media bios or create a page on your website about partnerships like Jenifer Cohen:
Retreats and Events
Digital products and revenue streams might be all the rage right now. But in-person meetups, and fitness retreats and events are still a great way to help your customers and clients reach their goals and grow your business revenue.
Fitness clothing company Rhone often holds events and Axman works closely with the brand to coordinate its activities in New York city.
“So people think Rhone, they think men’s clothing, but I think of it as way more than that, it’s really a community,” says Axman.
Not only are events a way to grow your business revenue they also give you the chance to build close relationships with your clients, customers and audience members, which in turn helps to grow your long-term revenue.
Attending events is also a great way to unlock more opportunities. “It’s all about networking in the fitness community,” says Axman. “And that’s exactly what the Rhone events provide us. I’ve had so many opportunities because of those events.”
When it comes to events as a revenue stream for your business there are a couple of options you could look into.
Like Axman, you could partner with a brand to help organize and run branded events or you could host your own boot camps and events. For example, Ollie Frost hosts movement training workshops to help people learn more about joint health, movement and stretching.
Creating your own range of physical products can be a real money spinner for your business.
For example, Hanna Öberg has developed a range of resistance bands to complement her OWNU app and training plans.
You can also look at fitness-adjacent products that could be a good fit with your business. For example, Joe Wicks, who rose to fame by sharing healthy recipes on Instagram, has a range of cookware products.
This is certainly one of the more complex ways for fitness entrepreneurs to make money as you need to take manufacturing and shipping costs into account. But if you can balance the books, it’s a good layer to add on top of your existing business.
You can start out small with lower cost items like water bottles and resistance bands to test the market and gradually add more ranges after you’ve validated physical products as a good way to increase your revenue.
Merchandise is another type of physical product that can prove lucrative for fitness entrepreneurs. And as a bonus, people repping your brand out in public is also a great way to market your business.
“My branded merchandise is the third and final leg of my income,” says Girod who has developed a range of customized Lululemon clothing for Power+Flow. “It’s so fun seeing people from around the world (including in Singapore) rep my business,” she adds.
Merchandise has also become an important part of Guevara’s Cadence Club brand. “I felt that making merchandise would further bring the online community together by allowing them to associate with our logo that they could wear. It is definitely beneficial to have an additional stream of income in the form of a physical product,” she says.
The Need for Multiple Revenue Streams
As your fitness business grows, you’ll likely need to figure out multiple ways to make money. This is something that every entrepreneur we’ve featured in this article has done.
“Personally, I am in favor of having multiple revenue streams, because it gives me some variety and keeps me on my toes,” says Bunyan. “It can also be a more financially secure model since you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket.”
For example, Bunyan explains, if you have 10 customized clients, and two decide not to renew, you’ve immediately lost 20% of your revenue. “If you can set up systems that allow you to do customized coaching, small group coaching, and also scalable training, I think that is ideal,” she adds
And for Axman, his main motivation for having multiple revenue streams is less so the money, and more the chance to keep learning, pushing himself and trying new things.
“Would it be nice to be doing one thing and getting one paycheck and not have to worry about all the others?,” asks Axman. “Yeah maybe, but then it gets boring and stale” he says.
Find What Works for You
Just because there are tons of ways you can make money as a fitness entrepreneur doesn’t mean you need to focus on all of them.
The best fitness entrepreneurs tend to thrive by focusing on a few key product offerings. For example:
- Kristina Girod’s Power+Flow offers in-studio and online classes as well as merchandise
- Kyle Axman does in-person/online coaching and works on partnerships with brands.
- Nicole Bunyan offers a subscription training product as well as coaching individuals online.
What’s important is to find out which income streams work best specifically for you and your customers.
“I really enjoy the live experience and actually communicating with people,” says Axman, who has decided to focus his career on in-person training and group coaching.
So if you love teaching classes but don’t really enjoy the business admin-type work, then group or online coaching might be for you. Whereas selling physical products (where you need to deal with orders, manufacturing, shipping) might not fit so well.
But you might not know what makes sense for your business right away. It’s all about testing and iterating until you find something that sits in that sweet spot between what you enjoy and what your customers need.
“Like all entrepreneurs, I have had to test, assess, and pivot,” says Bunyan on her process for exploring new revenue streams. “Essentially, I think of an idea (or several) that I think would be useful, I ask my clients/social media audience for their opinion, I offer it, test it, and then pivot as needed,” she explains.