Online Coaching: Ideas for Transitioning from In-Person

No one has ever been through anything exactly like THIS.

It’s so universal, we don’t even have to name THIS.

Everyone just gets it.

Of course, we want to tell coaches… “We’re here to help.”

But frankly, that phrase jumped the shark about two days ago.

And you’re probably sick of it.

So what good advice can we offer?

We’re not really sure. The truth is, we’re figuring THIS out as we go, too.

And there’s no cut-and-dried 5-step “how to” article we could create for THIS. (We tried.)

So we won’t presume to tell you we have “the answer.” 

Or any answers.

Instead, we’re going to provide precisely what the COMPLETELY UNCOMPELLING headline of this story promises: a few ideas.

That’s all.

Oh, and a big apology if we say something stupid.

P.S. We really hate THIS too.

+++

Everyone’s canceling… the gym is closed… and now we’re in self-isolation.

This is about you, of course.

But it’s also about every single one of your clients. 

Some can’t wrap their minds around what’s happening in the world and feel completely frozen.

Others have just lost their only source of income and have no idea how they’ll buy food, not to mention pay you.

Still, others are getting paychecks as usual but just got a mandatory “work at home” order. Now they’re going out of their minds trying to balance their new work-at-home life while surrounded by toddlers, dogs, and dirty dishes.

In other words…

It’s hard to know exactly what clients want or need—unless you ask them.

So reach out.

And be human.

Jonathan Goodman, founder of the Online Trainer Academy, says don’t overthink it. Instead, he suggests this “nine-word email” (including the subject line).

+++

SUBJECT: Hey

BODY: What do you need from me right now?

+++

“What you need to do is just be there for people and show up for people,” says Goodman.

He believes some folks will tell you what they need.

Maybe they’ll ask for help with their eating habits. Or home workouts.

It could be they just want you to give them permission to do the bare minimum right now.

Every response is valuable.

That’s because it allows you to build a relationship. That may or may not include a business relationship, but it matters regardless.

Because relationships always matter.

If a nine-word email doesn’t feel right for you…

… consider how you might reach out in your own way.

Jonathan Pope, a Precision Nutrition Level 2 Master Coach and the co-founder of Ethos Colorado, defaults to transparency. Pope had to close his gym, which serve 200 members and has 3 employees.

“We told everyone that their membership fee for April is optional. But we also said that we have employees to support. So if they can afford to pay it, please consider it. If they can’t afford it, please don’t pay it,” says Pope.

“The response has been really positive. Most people opted to keep paying their membership at full price.”

It’s not just a one-way street, though. 

Pope says that those who are taking pay cuts or losing their jobs will be able to train for free when the gym reopens for as long as they need.

That’s living with a “we’re all in this together” mentality.

And yes, that’s another COVID-19 cliché. But it becomes powerful when your actions support it.

If you’re someone who trains clients on your own…

… you might just tell clients how much you love the work you do with them. And offer to continue to help.

You could say something like:

“I got into training because I love to help people reach their goals. I know things are uncertain right now, but my commitment to you hasn’t changed. If you’re still interested in training, I’d love to continue supporting you remotely.

And if you’re not interested in training right now, I totally get it. These times are pretty chaotic, for sure. But know that I’m here if you need me.

Please don’t hesitate to let me know if there are ways I can continue to support you.”

It might also help to show them that you’ve “got this” even if they’re not sure what they need.

“I’ve committed to serving you as a coach, and I want to do that in the way that makes the most sense for you. Do you have any ideas about what that might look like right now? It’s okay if you don’t. I can come back to you with ideas.”

Let your clients’ answers be your guide as you determine what you offer, what to charge, and how to deliver your services.

+++

If you’re looking to transition to online coaching…

… changing the way you operate might be causing you concern and frustration.

That’s normal. Especially if you’re being forced to do it.

When researching this article, we talked to dozens of experienced coaches about making the move from in-person to online coaching.

Everyone said essentially the same thing:

Don’t worry about figuring out the perfect solution right now. 

You can always do that later.

Carolina Belmares—founder of Sweatglow Fitness—who trains clients both in-person and online, shared a simple belief based on her experiences:

“If you know how to send an email, you can coach online.”

“Yes, there’s software and platforms and social media. There are tools and apps you can use,” she says. “But if making decisions on which to choose is freezing you into inaction, this is your permission to let all of that go.”

“Because all you need for effective, impactful coaching is communication.” 

Likewise, Kate Solovieva, a PN Master Coach, has a similar take.

She says that, ultimately, you really just need to do three things to make a living as a coach, whether it’s in-person or online.

  1. Communicate with clients
  2. Share content with clients
  3. Take payment from clients

That’s a pretty simple list, and she advises you keep the tactics simple, too. Ask your client: What’ll work best for you?

Let’s say you’re taking your coaching business remote.

Yes, you can use Zoom or Facetime for video calls.

But you could also communicate through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, a regular phone call, or get this: snail mail. That might sound ridiculous, but it actually works well for certain clients.

“It’s been used as a real solution for trainers who see older folks in their homes but need to shift to online,” says Solovieva. “Those folks aren’t always tech-savvy, so some coaches send them postcards once a week.”

The same goes for taking payments. Sure, there’s Stripe, Paypal, and Venmo, but some people still write checks. Cash in an envelope works too.

The important thing is the support you offer. Not how you deliver it.

Remember…

What makes you a great coach in the gym will make you a great coach online.

“You may see yourself as a trainer who, until recently, worked at a gym,” says Brad Overstreet, a PN Level 2 certified coach whose gym closed suddenly a few years ago—giving him no choice but to take his clients online.

“But to your clients? You’re more than that. You’re a therapist, a counselor, a confidant, a safety zone.”

Whether they realize it or not, people don’t just hire you for your deep knowledge of nutrition or proper squat form, or for your access to fancy gym equipment.

They hire you for the human-to-human support that only you can offer—because you’re you.

+++

Even if you start simple, there’s no way around it…

… setting up an online business requires some trial, error, persistence, and growth.

You’ll make mistakes, and you’ll learn from them.

Just as you did with in-person coaching. 

And in the short-term, there may be no more anxiety-producing topic than pricing.

If you’ve already sold session packages or if you work with clients whose finances are still steady, you might not have to make any pricing changes right now.

But in other cases, you may need to reevaluate.

If you normally work with clients in a state-of-the-art facility, acknowledge that they’re used to getting a certain experience.

This is one situation where discounting your prices might make sense, says Adam Feit, PhD(c), a PN Master Coach.

You might say something like:

“I’m doing the best I can with online coaching, with the understanding that this may not be what you’re used to. I want to recognize that, and give you a small token of my appreciation by discounting my coaching.”

Your client may not even take you up on it. But consider the good feels you’d have if you were on the receiving end of that approach. It’s considerate and professional, and it also says to the client: “I like working with you.”

Another option, from Belmares, is to let your clients choose their rate. To make this more comfortable for the client, you could have three payment tiers.

You might present it to them like this:

“Given the present situation, would you be more comfortable paying in the $20 to $50 range, the $51 to $100 range, or $100+? Anything you contribute helps me continue offering my services to people who are deeply struggling, so thank you for your choice, regardless of what it is.”

Something else to factor in: You might find, in certain situations, that you’re able to coach more clients in less time online than you could in person. If that’s the case, you may be able to offer your services at a lower cost.

Or, if you have the ability, you could consider adding in something extra—like another session or month of coaching—for clients who are paying full price, says Dominic Matteo, a PN Master Coach.

“Why not make them feel valued, and earn a customer for life?”

+++

Online coaching doesn’t mean out-of-touch coaching.

About 5 years ago Jeremey Fernandes was training clients in a gym.

Then a few clients moved and were too far away to train in person.

So Fernandes created programs for them to do on their own, offering to check in a few weeks later.

That’s when he learned an important lesson (that probably won’t come as a huge surprise).

“Most people would do it for a week or two and then fall off,” he says.

In person, of course, he could tell when a program wasn’t working. As someone was doing an exercise, he could ask, “How does that rep feel?”

But now that he couldn’t see his clients, he had no idea how they were progressing—or even whether they were doing the program at all.

That experience taught him to…

Check in frequently. What’s manageable will depend on your client load. If you have only a few clients, you might have time to check in as often as every day.

If you have 20-40 people, that’s more difficult. Fernandes aims for once a week.

Seek feedback. You might ask:

  • How many training sessions did you complete?
  • How did your sessions feel?
  • How many reps and sets did you complete for each exercise? And what was the load?
  • Did you feel any discomfort?
  • Did you feel stronger? For example, could you go deeper in a squat? Or lift more explosively?
  • What was your energy level during the week?

This human factor is what truly makes coaches valuable. 

The frequent check-ins can help you to keep clients engaged and feeling supported.

That ultimately helps them succeed. As clients adapt to ever-changing circumstances, those check-ins may be even more crucial. (And valuable.)

+++

There’s one more idea we’d like to share.

And it’s this: Focus on relationships.

This advice is from Dan Sullivan, the founder of The Strategic Coach. You’ll probably notice it fits a recurring theme in this article.

What we really like about it: It encourages coaches to do… what coaches do.

We believe, if you build good relationships, you tend to benefit. No matter if it’s in business or your personal life.

Sometimes, in ways you never even imagined.