As I browse through various fitness-related pages on Instagram or Facebook, I come across a lot of trainers, fitness celebrities, and…well, I guess you could just say “personalities” that have a lot to tell the world.  Usually these people are personal trainers, often times they hold down other jobs but have a passion for fitness that they want to share.

I often see a blip show up from these people whether in a post or an updated bio that they are “now offering online coaching!”  Ohhhhhhh, boy.

Let’s first talk about why this happens.  From my own experience getting my footing in this industry, I can say I’ve been through this process.  I’ve found what works and what doesn’t.  The proliferation of online coaches is largely due to some combination of:

  • The well-intentioned desire to diversify your business model as a personal trainer
  • Your inability to keep yourself busy with in-person clients
  • Your dissatisfaction with your current training arrangement
  • Thinking it’s an easy way to make some extra cash

I believe the thinking is “hey I’m good with people in-person, but why should I limit myself to people that are within driving distance of where I train?  HEY EVERYBODY, I DO ONLINE COACHING TOO.”

The problem is that these are completely different, separate, and basically unrelated services.  Sure you’re concerning yourself with the health and well-being of another human, but that’s where the similarities end.

You’re typically concerning yourself with a different type of client.  The way you go about handling each individual is very different than if you were seeing them in-person.  You have to have systems in place to account for the fact that you will likely never have face-to-face contact with this person.  It’s a lot to think about it.

Most importantly, online coaching requires a totally different skill set than training someone in a gym.

You need the knowledge, yes.  It helps to be able to motivate someone, yes.  But you also have to be able to teach someone how to do something without being able to demonstrate it.  You have to be able to convey the idea of intensity from afar.  You have to be a great communicator, which means more than just responding to emails (though many people can’t even do this).  It also means knowing what questions to ask, and hearing the answers that aren’t given to get a more complete idea of what’s actually going on in someone’s life.  Yes you’ve got to care about each individual person you’re working with, but caring isn’t enough – you’ve got to be able to identify problems and then have the ability to do something about it.

And then there’s the technology.  Oh, the technology.  Online coaching means you need a firm grasp on technology, or you’re going to confuse the hell out of your clients (best case scenario) or drown yourself (worst case).  How is your program being delivered?  I’ve seen online coaches who legit write up plans via email and just send them over, stream of consciousness style.  I’m sorry, how are you tracking this?  Are you keeping any records?  What’s your process, your methodology, your workflow?  How do you keep anything straight?

All that being said, let’s find solutions rather than just listen to me rant all day.  Here are some things to ask an online coach you are looking at:

  • How long have you been doing this? (experience)
  • What percentage of your work is online coaching? (dedication to the process)
  • How many clients do you work with?  (too many = spread too thin or very little detail)
  • What format is the program in?  (organization)
  • How are updates handled and what is the frequency? (some do not offer updates and that’s ok, just a different service – be aware of what you’re getting into)
  • How do I know I’m doing the exercises correctly? (is there a feedback mechanism for correction?)

Also look at response times on email, and be fair.  If I get an email from someone on Friday night it’s entirely possible I may not respond until Monday morning.  I see trainers with comments on the Instagram photos all the time along the lines of “I emailed you two weeks ago and haven’t heard back, please respond.”  Here, I blame the emailer as much as the coach – if 2 weeks pass and you haven’t got a response, move on.  It ain’t worth it.

To the online coaches out there, step up your game.  Do better.  Know if this is your thing or if it isn’t.  If it is, act like it, and commit to it.  If not, stay in the gym and find other, easier ways to diversify your business that are in line with your strengths.

The all those seeking a coach, all I can say is this:  expect more.  One marketing expert I heard once said something that stuck with me:

“Make big promises, then over-deliver on your service”

Is your coach doing that?

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