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Coaching Without a Gym: Going Offsite

A coach timing a client doing pushups - going offsite

In this series, I’m sharing stories about and strategies for delivering your coaching practice without a physical location.

Today, we’re going to talk about coaching off site: in your clients’ homes, on their sports fields or at their workplaces.

But first: a lesson I wish I didn’t have to learn the hard way.

Winter and Wisdom

After coaching in the U.S. for a few years, I returned to Canada and started taking personal training clients in 2000. But I didn’t have a gym. So my first clients were trained in the back parking lot of the treadmill store where I worked, and in their homes.

After the store closed for the evening, I’d lock the doors and walk around to the parking lot. There would be an athlete waiting for me—my first niche was soccer players—and we’d pull equipment out of my truck: a homemade sled to pull, a rusty old barbell and some equally rusty plates.

I’d mark off a warmup route in chalk—maybe the “dots of death,” maybe a shuttle sprint—and find a level spot for the barbell. We’d do some lifting together and then walk down the road to a park where we’d do our conditioning.

I charged $45 per hour and kept all of it. I had no expenses.

Then it started to snow.

Training Clients in Their Homes

As I got busier, I’d go from one athlete to the next. But then I got my first non-athlete client: a woman with a home gym.

I was preparing to quit my treadmill sales job, so I wanted to take every client I could. I agreed to meet her in her home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She was easy to train and fun to be around, and she had all the equipment we needed.

But taking her was a huge mistake. I didn’t realize it at first, but driving to her house and back took time. She was only 10 minutes away, but I couldn’t book another client into the hour before or the hour after because of the drive. Her training hour actually occupied three slots.

Then this happened: I showed up at her home on time to find a dark house and an empty driveway. This was before cell phones were popular, so all I could do was bang on the door.

Finally, my third mistake: I didn’t charge for sessions in advance. So I’d have this awkward conversation with her at the end of the month. And when I tried to bill for her no-show session? No way.

You can guess what happened next: When she didn’t feel like working out, she stopped answering the door. Or she’d claim to “forget” about our appointment. This happened with increasing frequency until I finally said, “I’m too busy for this” and stopped training her.

Great person, wrong client.

What I learned:

  • If you’re going to train clients in their homes, charge at least twice as much as you’d charge to train them at your location. Your travel time alone is costly. And people will pay for the convenience.
  • Sell packages in advance. Don’t try to bill after the fact.
  • Set expectations really clearly on your first visit. Highlight the cancellation policy. Ask if they understand it.
  • Set up a three-month commitment. When you’re driving to their house, you’re not training other people—and you’re not working to find more clients, either. That’s truly dead time.

Other considerations:

Your insurance might not cover you in clients’ homes. Better find out first.

Training someone at home is a very high-value service. You don’t even have to work out each time—you can take them grocery shopping, take them for a walk and let them vent, or just clean out their cupboards.

The first video I ever watched in the CrossFit Journal was by a coach called Skip Chase. He was talking about showing up at a client’s home and throwing all of their processed carbs in the trash. Now that is service!

Training Clients on Their Fields of Play

I’ve trained hundreds of athletes at Catalyst. One of our biggest strategies for getting new clients is the “one too many” strategy of training an athlete’s entire team. (Two-Brain clients: this is on the Two-Brain Roadmap—Affinity Marketing highway, Milestone 2.)

For example, when a basketball player joins the gym, immediately make contact with the coach. Tell the coach your plan for the athlete and ask if they approve. You don’t really need their approval (they probably don’t understand what you’re talking about anyway), but it’s a great way to build a bridge.

After the athlete’s first month of training, offer to run a fun “combine” for the team. Bring the team to the gym and run them through a few physical challenges. Collect parents’ email addresses on waivers and add them to your email list. Finally, approach the coach about a preseason conditioning camp.

This has worked dozens of times at Catalyst and generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. But, of course, I screwed it up the first few times.

I could tell you stories about entire teams failing to pay, about parents failing to pay and trying to collect from them after the fact, about coaches “forgetting” to include the sales tax when they dropped off a check, about staff failing to show up for the sessions—they’ve all happened. My worst memory was a parent threatening to sue when I wouldn’t refund her kid for the sessions she’d skipped!

Anyway, here’s what I learned (you can listen to an early interview on Two-Brain Radio):

First, charge by the team, not by the athlete. Calculate your hourly group rate. Double it to travel off site for the reasons mentioned above. Produce a professional quote for the coach. Have them pay in advance.

One quick story here: Our rates are higher than many in town. Our city is filled with part-time “experts” (mostly just people who like to work out) who will train their kid’s team for cheap. I’ve stopped ranting about this now and just stick to our rates. More than once, a coach has chosen Catalyst over the “free parent expert” because we looked safer and more professional.

Second, train them once or twice per week and assign individual homework. Affinity Marketing works both ways: You can go from one to many, but you can probably also keep a few of the athletes long term after the team finishes training. Assigning homework is a good way to build 1:1 relationships even if the homework is the same for everyone.

Third, make sure the coach understands your cancellation policy: They’re the only one who can cancel or postpone a session. Kids aren’t individually refunded if they don’t show up because your coach is still there and ready to go.

Other considerations:

Make sure you have the permits required to train people in public areas.

You can sell an optional equipment package to the players on the team. If you’re prescribing them “homework” each week, you can help them by offering a package of jump ropes and mats and stretch tubing. This isn’t a hard sell; it’s just an offer of convenience. As a parent, I’d rather pay you $150 than drive all over town trying to find a yoga mat and skipping rope.

Training Clients in Their Workplaces

I’ve coached people in nursing homes, office boardrooms, bank lobbies and even empty staircases at a hospital. Back then, my technology was a bunch of PVC pipes tied together with stretch tubing so I wouldn’t drop them in the office lobby.

But now, the best off-site training leverages technology. And it usually centers around nutrition coaching.

(Two-Brain clients, your full step-by-step strategy for running corporate nutrition challenges is on the Roadmap—Nutrition Business highway, Milestone 7.)

Start with your best clients. Ask how you can help their coworkers. (Two-Brain clients: on the Roadmap, this is Affinity Marketing Milestone 3.)

Contact the HR department. Offer to do a free seminar on nutrition or stress in the workplace.

Then sell a corporate nutrition package. Deliver the first seminar in person, and then set up an online nutrition “course” that drip-feeds to everyone in the company who signs up. (Two-Brain clients: this is all included in the Nutrition Business section on the Roadmap, including pricing, emails, videos—everything you need.)

Book 1:1 appointments with people as necessary, and then convert them.

Considerations:

Measure attendance in your corporate classes (if you offer them), adherence in your program (exercise and/or nutrition) and every other metric you can. Present them to HR at the end. If you can get them, measure sick days or injuries. Re-sell the value of your program to the corporation with proof.

Make sure you charge enough to cover your travel time if you’re going off site every few days.

Run the challenge once yourself, record exactly what to do, optimize your delivery and then automate it where possible. This makes the process repeatable instead of just buying yourself a time-consuming client.

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