What’s Your Digital Direction?

An online element is the new baseline for fitness operators: but how do you find a version of digital that works for you, your business, and your clients?


Recent events have forced fitness businesses online, simultaneously levelling the playing field and reinventing the rules in a way that none of us could have expected.

For many of us, this has given us a short sharp shock as we’ve found out the hard way that our businesses aren’t nearly as resilient or adaptable as we thought they were. Some of us may also have discovered that the online side of our operation leaves much to be desired. Post-Corona, a solid digital offering will be a minimum in a newly competitive landscape, and now is the time to be establishing this.

But for those of you thinking that online training is an easy way to make a quick buck, think again. The principles of success remain the same – your product, your people, and your place (whether this is the gym floor or a studio recorded on an app) still need to be consistently excellent if you want to stand out and thrive. Plus, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair. What works for one setup and client population won’t work for another, and vice versa. You need to be planful, systematic, and realistic in your approach.

So why is having a digital element to your offering more important now than ever before?


Coming out of the pandemic, one thing is certain: people will expect at least the basics of digital support. Whether this is because they don’t fancy coming into the gym, because they’re shielding, or because they’re travelling, the capacity for your offering to be delivered flexibly will be a clear expectation of the post-COVID client.

“Whatever happens, you need to build in the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.”

Client sophistication

This call for a flexible offering will be a part of a bigger picture; one where the client has much higher expectations of the service overall. Lockdown has shown people what gyms (and businesses in general) can do with an online-only offering, and they’ll expect to keep a great deal of this functionality as an added extra when the brick and mortar element reopens. A digital element becomes the new baseline for competing in the market in any meaningful way.


We don’t know what the industry will look like as the lockdown lifts. But we do know that it won’t be the same – there’ll be new areas of need and new opportunities. Now is the time to diversify your offering to cover these different bases. This makes your business more resilient to changing market forces as you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.


Whatever happens, we’re not going to be up and running at full capacity immediately. Having additional revenue streams allows you to make money from several offerings at once; it also makes you a more attractive prospect to potential clients.


Covering all these bases makes your business more agile. This means that whatever happens – whether there’s a second lockdown, a competitor opens up in the next street, or the industry goes through rapid changes, for example – you will have built in the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. This requires a robust Cycle of Action where you research, plan, implement, and evaluate, allowing you to course correct as you grow.

So you’ve decided that a digital element of some description is vital. But how do you decide what this looks like?

Here are the five ‘tiers’ or versions of digital that are viable, profitable concepts to enhance your business approach.

1. Wraparound

The most basic version of digital experience is a wraparound element that complements your bricks and mortar offering, but doesn’t stand alone. This will be in the form of a portal of some kind – either in an app or online. It could include resources like recorded videos on nutrition, wellbeing, and mindset, for example; and some live classes at limited set times. This basic digital wraparound isn’t a revenue generator but increases the value of the experience for your member, drives retention, and raises the standard of your product overall.

2. On demand

An in-demand digital offering allows you to both enhance the experience for your current members AND create a separate revenue stream. This will almost certainly be in app format and include recorded sessions that can either be charged at a one-off fee or pay-as-you-go. This follows the model of many other existing offerings on the market and sits at a lower price point.

3. Group programming

Another additional income stream offered to non-members, this digital offering is based on giving groups of people a course of programming to follow. Normally involving a Facebook group with a supportive community, a daily workout sent out to all subscribers and an appropriate platform for delivering the programming (like TrueCoach for example), this offering sits at a middle price point.

4. Personalised programming

This is like the group programming above, but tailored to the individual. Personalised programming is more resource heavy as it involves writing a programme based on the specific needs of the client and checking in for regular review of their progress and goals. For this, you’re looking at a middle to high price point.

5. Online coaching

The most sophisticated of the options open to you, online coaching is the entire gym experience, moved to an online format. Open to existing members as a value add, this can also be offered as a separate revenue stream and involves almost everything you’d get from the in-person gym experience: regular live workouts with real time feedback, an active community, the digital wrapround mentioned in option one, the personalisation described in option four – the 360 degree experience. The price tag here will depend on your current membership prices but will sit in the higher end of the pricing range.

Don’t forget that each of these market sectors will already be busy with competitors, both new and established. If you’re considering a stand-alone app, for example, how will you compete against the established players? If you’re offering option five – online coaching – where will you locate your studio for all the digital sessions you’ll be running? None of these paths to digital should be entered into lightly.

“Done right, the shift to digital represents a significant opportunity.”

Here are some key considerations as you move forward:

Choose wisely

The level of digital you choose to adopt shouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction to the current situation – it needs to be carefully thought through. How does it fit with your current philosophy and core values? What level of digital do your target audience really need or want, based on their key demographics and psychographics? How does your current staffing arrangement work with the various digital options? Do you have sufficient resource to deliver a high-quality version of whatever you’re aiming for? What are the ongoing costs and operational implications?

Have a plan

Once you’ve answered these questions (and more) you need to make a solid plan that plays out the broad strokes of your decision into the nitty gritty financial details. Sit down with your business plan and approach this additional strand to your business logically. What needs to happen to put it in place? How much will it cost? Make financial forecasts based on two or three likely scenarios so you won’t get any surprises down the line.

Invest properly

Whatever you choose to do, you need to do it well. The Modern Training Gym is a model based on a premium experience, and consistently outstanding standards across the board. One of your trainers working out in their front room in front of their iPhone camera might be OK for the first couple of weeks of lockdown, but your clients will expect a lot more than that in the medium and long term. How do your standards apply to your digital offering? How do you go above and beyond to put the client at the heart of the digital experience, however basic or elaborate it is? How do you match the digital element of your offering with the bricks and mortar foundation?

Done right, the shift to digital represents a significant opportunity for those of us dedicated to excellence to rise to the top. But like anything in business, good intentions aren’t enough. We need to be both considered and bold; both innovative and methodical; both adaptable and focused if we want to use the shifting landscape as a springboard to greater things.

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