Top Problems & Mistakes new online trainers make & how to overcome them to surge your sales (Interview with Stephen Whittier)

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Highlights from the interview

[14:00] – How to market, learn the arts of really understanding your market, and targeting your niche before taking your business online

[21:53] – Why just following a rigid script, and the normal Facebook groups strategy won’t work…and how to solve that

[33:22] – How long does it take to get an online fitness business up and going? And why you should get started even with 0 followers

[38:34] – How to get past the idea that your a slimy salesperson when first marketing your course


About our Guest

He’s done it all in fitness — a personal trainer, a fitness and martial arts gym owner, and is now a business coach to other fitness professionals

I am so excited today because we’re going to talk to Stephen Whittier.

He’s done it all in fitness. He’s been a personal trainer, a fitness and martial arts gym owner, and is now a business coach to other fitness professionals helping them 5X, 10X their business.

Using his fitness and the analytical background, he’s been helping fitness coaches since 2011 which is a while ago, and he’s helped them go from three to $5,000 a month to make it even $40,000 or $60,000 a month. 

With his main specialty being online training now, it’s really interesting to talk to him. One of his students, Steve McKinney, was able to actually 4X his investment with just one post. I think we’ve all been there where we can’t even get one response to some of our posts so it’s really interesting what he’s doing. 

He’s even served as an executive team member and acting Chief Marketing Officer for one of the largest online content networks. 

Despite the success, in his heart he still loves coaching, so he actually still owns and teaches at his own studio in Wareham, Massachusetts so I’m just dying and you probably are dying to know his secrets.


Edited transcription of Fitness Business Secrets Podcast, Episode 22

Kristy: I’m excited to welcome Stephen Whittier on the show. Thanks, Stephen for joining us. How are you doing today? 

Stephen: I’m great. It’s a pleasure. How are you doing? 

Kristy: I’m great, thank you. So tell me; if you could start with your story, because I think it’s really interesting what you’ve done in the fitness world.

Stephen: Sure. So, I started off as a personal trainer. First, I was a staff trainer and then there’s a lot of people, then graduated to going independent, and I was doing that. 

Then, I decided at the same time or shortly thereafter that I went independent, I did go back to grad school because I don’t know what I did want to do with my life.

Then, I really just got it. I passed my master’s, was working on my PhD and I just asked myself, what is it that I really want to commit myself to? It was fitness and also my martial arts passion. So, I opened up my own studio where I could be working with people on both ends of the spectrum and didn’t really know what I was doing.

From a business perspective, I really believed in what I had to offer, and we had something special on the training side. I worked really hard at it, night and day as people do. I was thinking, this was going to be the thing. This was going to be the move that really gave me leverage in my business because I was already burning myself out as a trainer.

So, I started the gym and I was thinking, now I can start to build something up, and then get employees. I’ll have trainers working under me, and it’s going to be much more leveraged. This is the dream, right?

I was still feeling just bursting at the seams. Then, I had my daughter and this whole other level of providing for her in the future and the family and everything. It was tough. It is affecting life at home and all these things that makes people start to feel stretched. There is a glass ceiling over you in terms of how much you can make at some point, how many people you can train, even if you have group classes.

So, I was looking for some other opportunities and my interest in marketing my own studio. At this point, everything was meaningful. It was online marketing for the most part. So, that led me into looking at people who were actually making an income online and I got really fascinated with that.

What I did was, I just started serving a particular market which I identified and felt that I spoke the language and I could get great results for.

So, I started studying and got some coaching. I decided that I was going to put out my first attempt at building an online business.

What I did was, I just started serving a particular market which I identified and felt that I spoke the language and I could get great results for.

Back then, it was an email list. So, I just started doing lessons and meanwhile, I’m working full time. So, I was doing this late at night or early in the morning. I was exhausted, but I felt like if this works, this could really lead to something. 

What I did was a low ticket offer program, and I built it up using the product launch formula, which was pretty tried and true back then. I did a release, and lo and behold, I did about $30,000 in four days. That’s not huge by internet marketers standards or anything, but for me that was unbelievable. I was shocked that it was that successful. 

Then that year, I did go on and pushed hard. I did a rerelease of that course. I started to put out a few more things. I had some affiliate opportunities, so I wound up breaking the six figure mark part time while still running my full time business.

It would just open my eyes to what was possible. Shortly after, that led people in my sphere of influence, my network, or people who knew people started to come to me and say, “Hey, this is really cool”, “I did some interviews done and everything”. So when they started coming to me saying, “Hey, could you help me do this with my thing?” That was really the start of my consulting business. 


How to market, learn the arts of really understanding your market, and targeting your niche before taking your business online

How to market, learn the arts of really understanding your market, and targeting your niche before taking your business online

[14:00] Kristy: Okay. I have some questions. What was the topic for your first product?

You mentioned that during evenings and weekends, you were working on this online product, and then people asked for more. What was that first product or topic?

Stephen: Right. So what that allowed me to do was to create a bit of a sweet spot where because I had the fitness background as a certified trainer, and I had the martial arts experience with a pretty great pedigree on coaching and everything like that.

I was able to focus in on a program that would help older martial artists within a certain micro niche of the industry to be able to keep up with younger, more athletic people, reduce injuries, optimize their fitness and their health, and also change their mental paradigm. 

I was able to speak to all these different facets, and it was a great way for me to not go head to head with a generic fitness offering, but to come in at a side angle that incorporated the martial arts aspect as well.

 Instead of just having a niche, it was basically drilling three tiers down, a smaller audience but I was able to really speak their language and that was the key to it. 

Kristy: Yeah, that’s big. So, very niche, people liked it. I’m not sure, how much were you selling that product for?

Stephen: That was only just under $150, believe it or not. It was a whole different ball game than doing high ticket, which is what I’m focused on now. 

So, I just did a release and basically built up to it. I did it on the fly. The knowledge that I was working with back then was very rudimentary compared to what I teach now but it was something that got me started. It was the fundamentals that we’re working back then.

I did a release, with a prerelease content and everything, built up some anticipation, and then I had the doors open for sale for about four days. Once that closed, sure enough, it was 30,000. It was very exciting.

Like I said, it wasn’t huge by internet marketing launch standards, but for me it was completely a new world and it really got my confidence that there was something here. 

Kristy: A lot of people would think that’s amazing so  you don’t have to feel modest about that. I know you do a lot bigger launches now. One other question I think we’re all wondering is, how did you get your audience to even start to be on your list?

Stephen: Well, back then was the day of the squeeze page before you would get Google slapped. This doesn’t exist anymore. You have to have different mechanisms. Back then, it was just a landing page that I was running cheap Google ad boards to, and just targeting certain individuals that would match that demographic, calling them out in a simple ad and then driving them for fairly short money to a landing page.

I just made sure that I really understood the market so that when they got on this page, it was a short video and a headline and some brief copy and then an opt in for their email.

I just made sure that I really understood the market so that when they got on this page, it was a short video and a headline and some brief copy and then an opt in for their email.

It laser targeted what it is that I knew was what they wanted or needed. My opt-in rate was good because I really focused on the market first  before worrying about anything else.

When I was writing the emails, I was really listening to the signals. I was getting back engaging with people and letting that inform what I was continuing to comment on or produce content on. I would just continue to speak to those points. 

It wasn’t that I had some gift with copywriting or anything. I studied it, but it was more really listening to the market and letting them lead the dance rather than me trying to just have this kind of hypothesis I was forcing them. 

Kristy: Okay, great. So, you find yourself in a slightly different space. You are at one point going to be a lecturer. Then, you became a trainer, then you opened a studio, and then you found yourself as an internet expert in a way with a launch. What happened next? 

Stephen: Yeah. So, that’s when I started to get approached by people and it was almost exclusively referrals for years. I was doing the consulting part time, so I was working with other gym and studio owners. I was also working with experts, so I had a number of different people from different industries. A lot of them were on the fitness or the martial arts side  that came to me. 

It was on a case by case basis for quite awhile. The only thing I was really doing with a professional consistency was helping the gym and studio owners. 

I’ve had people that I’m very proud to say, went from maybe making $5000 or $6,000 a month gross revenue to doing $60000, $65000 plus. I’ve got some people that have gone on to build seven figure businesses and I’m really proud of that because it’s one thing to put that on your website as a testimonial, but it’s another thing when you actually have somebody that you care about. 

When you actually are able to get together in person and they come up and give you a hug, like another alpha male giving a kiss on your head and just says, “Brother, thank you for helping me change my family’s life.”

Recently, I’ve had a couple of people I’ve helped out that are working on a relationship niche and things like that, but mostly it is fitness professionals with the occasional nutritional health coach, things like that. 

I really just zeroed in on primarily working fitpros, personal trainers. That allows me to just get really honed in world-class on one thing, and started to get out there beyond just referrals for myself and start to work sleeves rolled up on the front lines with my niche in the market knowing what’s working, what’s no longer working, where we need to be going next. That really became my focus. 

Being Niched in what you do

Kristy: So you brought back the whole focusing on a niche for your own consulting or coaching program. 

Stephen: Yes. I think that’s important because this is the long and short of it. We like people to be well rounded. 

You have to also be a student of business. You have to be able to market, learn the arts of really understanding your market, targeting, persuasion, and all these things, and then you can really figure out the ways to grow.

A lot of times people just say that because that’s code for, I’m not comfortable doing those things, I don’t really know about them, it’s foreign to me, so I’d rather just say you don’t need them. 

Luckily, I have been able to break through with some people that had enough intellectual curiosity where they said, “Okay, I’m hesitant but I’ll listen to you and we’ll try this.” Then, they wind up speaking that language and they’re very glad that they moved forward.


Why just following a rigid script, and the normal Facebook groups strategy won’t work…and how to solve that

[21:53] Kristy: So, I think we’re all dying to know what exactly is the program that you help these trainers do so that they are able to have more time and increase their revenue.

Stephen: Sure. In a nutshell, I help personal trainers and occasionally other types of fitness professionals, primarily personal trainers to either create an online program to do online coaching themselves. 

I helped them either create that virtual coaching program, which is more time leveraged and allows them to obviously serve people all over the country, the world, wherever they’re at, and really increase their impact, and as a result, be able to earn the right to make more in a leveraged way. 

So, more financial freedom, kind of breaking that glass ceiling and more time freedom once you have the machine built and you still have to put energy into it. 

Kristy: Okay. So I think I’m going to think about some trainers who aren’t even familiar with having online content. So could we do an example, whether it’s not a real person or a student that you have and walk us through what they did through your program?

Did they create videos? Then, do they sell the videos? Once we train them, is it a book or emails that they get and how do you help them create this funnel into their inbox?

Stephen: Right. So, this is where we get into the good stuff because what I’m seeing in the industry right now is, it’s always good to look at what people are doing successfully, right?

So when you see people that are getting great results for their clients like I do, it’s good to take a look at that and there’s going to be some similarities. So there’s going to be some crossover because they are tried and true principles, tactics and things like that, that work.

So, you’ll see people adopt these tactics and just put their own flavor into it. What happens is when you see some dominant modes of doing business, when you start talking about sales funnels, which type of software, things like this, what you see is that something becomes a new modality. 

So, if you go into most programs, and I even have a free starter program that will offer to get people started. It will help you choose your niche, and then there will be an exercise for creating your avatar, your ideal customer profile or client profile. 

What happens though is that this gets commoditized to the point of delusion because everybody starts to focus on, “Okay, I’ve got my niche and my avatar. Now, I’ve got my script to be able to engage people,” then they go into groups, put a few little posts out and then say, “Hey, let’s jump on a call.”

Then, they start friending you and hitting you up a messenger with this rigid script to get you on a call and join my program. So, when everybody starts doing the exact same thing without really deeply understanding the market, they’re just going off this niche research and avatar sheet.

It’s like losing the connection. It’s going in the wrong way. It’s losing focus. So, just to pull this back to your original question, what I try and do whether it’s in fitness, martial arts or something, is to look at everything from a principles-based mindset and be agnostic about the tactics you deploy.

You want to look at how things work, what makes the engine run, and always working backwards from what’s going to be the ideal result for your particular client, or for your market, and engage and listen to them in a deeper way than most people are talking about.

You want to look at how things work, what makes the engine run, and always working backwards from what’s going to be the ideal result for your particular client, or for your market.

Then, you deploy whatever at any given moment in time is going to be the best mechanisms to get to them.

What I find a lot of times is that everything is sort of a copy and paste. Here’s my organic funnel, my paid funnels, this and that, and they are putting up this invisible wall between themselves in their market as opposed to going closer to their market, if that makes sense.

Kristy: Okay. So it sounds like you just gave us a really nice, very high level of view of. an argument to get closer to the market, be very focused on the ultimate principles of the market to not lose connection overall, when developing some type of any strategy, but especially with an online business.

Let’s just say, they’re going to come in with their own, just super general things. We don’t have to go into tactics and marketing, but what are they doing online?

Stephen:  Let’s say that the student, one of my clients who is a personal trainer, has  a workout program that will be provided to a certain very dialed in market. It’s usually going to be a micro niche or just a niche.

Then, it’s going to incorporate some nutritional expertise as well. So, it’s going to incorporate a physical training to get that client to a desired result. There’s going to be some nutritional guidelines or components, and I will try to match up who you are very well equipped to serve at a high level.

A lot of times this has to do with your experience because one thing I discourage is for people to jump into online training if they don’t have enough time in the trenches to have a real proof of concept for their process. Otherwise, it’s a bit backwards. 

How can you choose a niche to go after and give meaningful results if you’ve never done it. So, you should be doing it for some amount of time meaningfully and have some case studies live before you jump into online. So that being said, you match what it is that you enjoy doing, that you’re very expert at; and by expert don’t compare yourself to others, you just have to know. 

You have proof of concept that you can get people great results. Then, ask yourself in a virtual environment. Can I give them everything they need to attain these desirable results? If you can check all those boxes, then you have something to work with.

You’re going to build your program backwards essentially from what those results are and the step by step process through this virtual format to be able to coach them.


Different Ways to Offer Your Online Training Services



Stephen:  Now, some people may just provide the workouts, depending on the level of sophistication of their particular market, because that can vary. They might just provide the particular sequencing, the accountability structures, the nutritional guidelines, and sometimes the specific meal plans.

Sometimes, they will actually have the video content which will lay out every single technique of each exercise in a program to follow. Sometimes, people do build in a live component where they’ve got it such that, at certain intervals they can get on a Skype or some other type of video share application and actually do some corrections, take questions, things like that.

One of my clients created, instead of a fancy software, created his entire program with Google Drive or G Suite. It wasn’t that fancy, but because he was very results-oriented with his clients, nobody cared about the software.

They were just very happy. He had it extremely well laid out. They got great results. So, the fact that it wasn’t as streamlined as a custom platform, or as a membership platform like Kajabi, didn’t really matter to them. 

It was what he was comfortable working with because he used the Google Suite in his business every day so he was able to just put it together quickly.

Kristy: I like that example. I wonder if we could just talk about that person’s example, just because a lot of people do use Google docs. So, did he put together some videos, some workout plans, and then when they signed up, he would just send them a link?

 Stephen: Yes. So they’d have their own unique link to go in. Then, everything you could really want, to get to that desired result was laid out, between the videos, the written content, the guides, for what to eat and when. We went into nutrient timing, and all these things, went into a recovery, and everything you want in it. 

He’s been doing it for a good amount of time. He’s an expert, so he knew exactly what the protocols were for his particular audience to get to these results that he knew they were looking for, and what he was marketing.  We were able to drill down what he would need to put out there as messages to his market to attract them.

How he and his clients use Facebook groups to grow their business

Stephen: The other thing he did really well was the support and accountability. He knows his market intimately from working with so many of them. He created his private community with Facebook.

Now, we’re looking at some new modalities, which are proprietary but very cool. It’s kind of the next iteration because everybody is already looking one dimensionally at how to use Facebook groups.

With his Facebook group, he was creating an amazingly supportive, not just from him providing support, but amazingly engaged community. This is one of the main things that I teach as well, because one of the things that really helped my B to C business tremendously was my ability to create thriving communities, and not just go in there and use them as a sideways angle to pitch people.

I sprinkled a little value than I asked for something but really went in and created a community; created a tribe, hence the name of my program SatoriCoach [note: Stephen’s program is now called SatoriCoach]. Everybody is creating their own dedicated tribe where you get up close with your community and you become one of them. 

You’re just out in front of it. You’re a leader. You have some experiences and insights that the rest may not have, but they understand that you really have lived what they’re living. 

So, this particular client did a fantastic job with that, and still does to this day.  Now what happens is, you get other people coming into the group that aren’t clients yet, but they’re part of such a high degree of quality and vibrancy, with the engagement and the type of people that are in there. 

The next thing you know is them asking, how can I be a part of this too because everybody else in here sounds exactly like me and they’re achieving exactly what I would like to achieve. So it just works. 


How long does it take to get an online fitness business up and going?

[33:22] Kristy: How long does it take for someone to put together something like this? I’m sure it depends, but can you give us a range? Does it take about a few months?

Stephen: Yeah. Within a few months you’ll have the fully operating system. I can have somebody up and running with an online business easily in a month, but fully fleshing it out with the insights usually takes a few months of hard work.

Time freedom is a huge goal for a trainer who wants to have more time and energy to be able to create something. It seems like a chicken and the egg scenario.

What I’m saying is, you’re not going to be able to continue doing what you’re doing expecting a different result. So, let’s look at how we can reallocate some of your existing efforts. Free up a little bit of time and make sure that you block out some time to start working within the frameworks of the training that I’m giving you as though it were your most important client.

You’re not going to be able to continue doing what you’re doing expecting a different result. So, let’s look at how we can reallocate some of your existing efforts.

Then you really have something you can build off of. 

Kristy: So how much time should they set aside each week to build this program?

Stephen: Yeah, I mean, I’ll work around anybody that’s really making the effort, but I try and get them to think at least 10  hours a week. In some cases, you have to get through all the crap in their head about limiting beliefs and other things.

We’ll have conversations like, “How about freeing up 25%, 30%, or 50% of your time knowing that you’re going to lose that, but the increase is going to offset those losses? Would that make sense to you?” “Well, that wouldn’t work.” “Okay, but let’s look over here because I can show you that it has worked for this person.”

 Sure enough, they’re like, “Oh my God. Like it actually works”. All of a sudden, they start changing their operating system.

 There’s a lot of fitness marketers out there that just decided to choose health and fitness as a niche. However, some of those who came from a personal training background have not done online. 

Kristy: It sounds like we have to get really close to the customer, do a lot of  research, and speak to them. That’s the primary thing. 

Why you should get started even with 0 followers

Kristy: Now this is going to go, this might sound like I’m going to consider everything you’re telling me right now, but if we could also still take a step back for people who think to themselves, okay, I am just learning about putting up a course, but I don’t have a following.

I don’t have an email system. How do I even get anyone interested in, do I just sell this to the current people like my current clients? Like exactly how am I going to sell this? How am I going to get prospects interested in my profile? 

Stephen: Sure that’s the question, right? So, the thing is you don’t, this is one of the big misconceptions is that people will look at your following and they’ll compare themselves to influencers.

Well, I’m not an influencer. Like I, I’ve built up some, some assets, but like, if you look at my Instagram or something, I don’t have much of anything. Right. It’s very small. However, I have clients who have, you know, 70,000 plus Instagram followers because that’s the mechanism that served them for their particular market.

But you pick one or two of the primary social media where you know, your people are, a lot of times it’s going to be, for instance, Facebook and Instagram. But again, it’s just my little disclaimer. Let’s say the one thing you already were doing and had been doing for some time was putting up some great content on, say, a YouTube channel.

And you’re content, you’re starting to test for signals, not just arbitrarily throwing out things, but you’re answering questions. You’re putting out some content that is going to self identify. And what happens is you start to gradually increase your sphere of influence. And of course, you can also create your own community.

So they may be in that other group, but now they’re aware of you. They start to check you out. Then they go into your group. You can further the relationship. and if you look at it more just in terms of human relationships, it makes much more sense. 


How to get past the idea that your a slimy salesperson when first marketing your course

[38:34] Kristy: So, when you’re talking about the Facebook groups, how did you get people to build your audience?

Stephen:  So, you know what, I just like to keep it much more organic and I find that it builds, it feels more natural to people, especially people that are non-techie people that are, you know, really don’t like the idea of pressure sales and all that stuff.

Then immediately they’re like, I mean, I just recently had conversations like this. 

One of my clients is a physician who’s turned into a fitness and health consultant and really kind of freaked out about the idea of putting herself out there in the digital format and kind of hard marketing.

So, you know, fast forward a few weeks and she’s like, you know, built her first version of a program.  And she’s like now putting out content and much more comfortable. And she’s just like, wow. Like my whole demeanor had changed.

And so this is enabling her to connect. And there may be a little bit of a slower build in the beginning, but she’s doing all the steps. To really start to develop like an exponential growth. And this is what I love to see, you know, because a lot of people, again, they don’t have a following. They don’t know where to start.

Like in their thought process, what, what’s the previous baggage they brought to the table, right? And you start to learn how to work with these people as full humans, not just as bodies to produce this physical result, right. Or health results. And, so when we look at applying that same type of sensibility to building an online business.

I think it resonates much more with people and they’re able to really see the potential of being able to build an awesome business as an extension of what I already love to do, but it serves me and it serves them and it gives me way more.    

Kristy: I love it. I love it. So, organic relationships, deep, deep research and listening.

And I mean this, this has really been a great conversation on costly mistakes and misconceptions that trainers make when trying to bring their program online. So I think there’s a lot of value. 

How can people reach out to you if they think that if they want to bring their program online. 

Stephen: Sure. So, you can find me in a number of different ways.

I have a basic, Stephen with PH. I also have the on my site, which is the actual program. That’s the name of my program. 

But you can also find me, if somebody wants to come in and check out my group. If you’re a personal trainer, you can go on Facebook and search for Scale Your Online Personal Training Business. And, that’s the name of the group. You can join the group.

And, you can also find me and add me as a friend, on Facebook or Instagram, Stephen Whittier, pretty easy to find. So a few different ways, but ultimately, yeah, it’s just, it’s just about getting the right people in, you know, if people are interested in this idea of building a business really connecting and not just being attached.

If they’re entrepreneurial and willing to think outside the box a little bit and not just try to  force two or three or four year old tactics down their prospects throats, but kind of evolve, with the times so to speak, then yeah, I’d be happy to help you out and have a conversation. 

Kristy: Nice. Awesome. Well, it’s been amazing having you and thank you for the broad overviews and even deep insights and I think the listeners will get a lot out of it.

Stephen: Fantastic. Yeah, thanks so much for having me on and it was a pleasure speaking with you.

Kristy: Thanks. Take care.

Connect with Stephen!


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