“Email Is for Old People”—and Wealthy Gym Owners

A blue graphic representing "email": it shows a blue envelop and lines connected to contacts.

“Email is for old people.”

I heard someone say that with a belly laugh about eight years ago. So email was already blah in 2015.

But in 2023 I’ll be so bold as to suggest your mailing list might actually be more valuable than your gym’s social-media accounts.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

I recently heard a social-media expert call TikTok “a slot machine.” It’s a great analogy. Here’s why:

The chances of any business post getting huge organic exposure are almost zero. Your business will likely never go viral. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that even your followers will see your posts in their newsfeeds.

Organic reach—exposure without spending money—has been drying up since 2012. According to Sittky Media, organic reach on Facebook dropped from 16 percent to 6.5 percent from 2012 to 2014 alone. said it was 2 percent by 2016. Those numbers haven’t gotten better since then.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying you shouldn’t post to social media. I think a business must maintain solid social-media accounts—especially as more and more users treat these platforms as search engines and messaging services.

All that aside, I’d suggest that more direct means of communication are incredibly valuable.

For example, Mailchimp reported that the average email open rate for health and fitness businesses is 21.48 percent. Constant Contact reported in February 2023 that the open rate in the personal care services category is 36.09 percent—this is very close to the all-industries rate of 35.1 percent.

You can definitely turn your nose up at email and mention overflowing inboxes, ruthless spam filters, and bounce and unsubscribe rates. But if I wanted to get info to my audience, I’d send an email before I’d make a social-media post. In actuality, I’d do both. But I think it’s far too easy to dance with sexy partners like Instagram and TikTok while ignoring your mailing list.

And if you really hate email, get this: reported that SMS open rates are 98 percent. That’s a monstrous stat.

The takeaway: I would be very cautious about investing a lot of time building your social-media accounts without figuring out a few ways to build your email and SMS contact lists.

6 Ways to Build an Email List

So how do you do build an email list?

Here are just a few suggestions:

1. Put a table in a local business fair and collect email addresses in exchange for body-composition scans, printed or digital guides (“How to Eat to Build Muscle,” for example), prizes, etc.

2. Offer to do free fitness seminars for other local businesses and collect email addresses of attendees.

3. Hold an open house, bring-a-friend event or free seminar at your gym and collect the addresses of attendees.

4. Get an email address from anyone you talk to throughout the course of your day. If you look for ways to bring up your business, you’ll find them. To the barista: “Thanks for asking about the gym! I’d love to keep in touch. Got an email address?”

5. Get a lead magnet on your website that people can download in exchange for an address. The address should be fed into an automated nurturing sequence. (Many gym management software packages will do this automatically.)

6. Add the address of anyone who books a free consultation to your list—especially if the person doesn’t buy anything that day. (Many gym management software packages will do this for you and launch automated lead-nurturing campaigns.)

If you use some of these simple tactics to constantly build a contact list you hit regularly, I guarantee you’ll sell more services at your gym.

In fact, Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper used to be able to predict how much money his gym would make very time he sent out a newsletter. Every time I sent out a newsletter at my gym, someone signed up for something, too. It was like magic.

So build your audience on social media, but remember that you have a more direct route to new clients. Don’t scrabble in the digital dirt for a few likes when you could skip the algorithms and go directly to people who already know, like and trust you.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.