Email Isn’t Dead: Starting Conversations That Lead to Sales at Your Gym

Email Isn't Dead: Starting Conversations That Lead to Sales at Your Gym

Chris Cooper (00:00):
Everybody on social media loves to talk about social media, but I built my personal training practice and then I built my gym and then I built Two-Brain Business on email. I’m Chris Cooper, and this is “Run a Profitable Gym.” And today I’m gonna talk through why I still use blog posts and emails and you should, too. You know, a lot of people look at Two-Brain Business as this massive media machine, but they should just copy what we do as an example. So today I’m gonna break that down for you. How to actually do what we do and grow the way that we grew. There are a lot of gurus out there telling you to build a personal brand and, you know, I don’t remember any of their names right now, but they’re sharing tips on Instagram and TikTok, but there’s a lot more to marketing than just getting attention, and that’s what email will do for you.

Chris Cooper (00:53):
So let’s start this talk by looking at your marketing funnels. So every marketing funnel is gonna have three basic layers. They might have four if you break it down more, but there’s at least three separate stages in your marketing funnel. So the top layer is to gather attention, and then you’re gonna have this second layer that builds trust or converts your leads into prospects. And then this middle layer is like the conversational layer, right? That’s where you get people to book a call or book their No Sweat Intro with you. And then the bottom layer of the funnel is that sales meeting itself. So get attention, convert, build trust, sell. Now many gym owners especially try to build a funnel that’s missing pieces. So they want to jump straight from that top layer, you know, Facebook, straight to the bottom, like “come in and do a free trial” or “come in and do an NSI.”

Chris Cooper (01:44):
So they’ll run Facebook ads promoting a six-week challenge. You remember those. And the ads will push people right straight from top of funnel into the sales meeting without building up any form of trust or having any kind of conversation. And so when that lead from Facebook reaches the sales meeting, they’re wary, right? They’re skeptical, they have no idea what you’re selling, and they probably aren’t gonna sign up. And if they do sign up, it’s because you’re super good at sales, but they probably won’t stay long. But if you take a different approach and you attract attention and then build trust with your knowledge and your help and have real conversations with people, then your sales meetings are actually pretty easy. They turn from this hard sell to a cold audience to coaching a friend into what they should do. So today we’re talking about that middle layer in your funnel where you build trust and affinity.

Chris Cooper (02:37):
And to do that you have to have a conversation. There are one or two ways that you can have that conversation effectively. You can start a free Facebook group in your community or you can use email. So here’s how I’ve used email to grow my training practice and then my gym and then Two-Brain. When I was a personal trainer, I was reading websites like, which later became T-Nation. And I was reading and I was reading every day for hours. And I saw guys like Joe Defranco and Christian Thibaudeau and Alwyn Cosgrove build their audience by blogging for those sites. And so I figured out how to write a blog, and I started putting up really technical articles on ATP synthesis and linear periodization on my free Typepad blog, but nobody was reading ’em. So then I approached a couple of online local news websites about doing a monthly column on fitness and wellness for ’em.

Chris Cooper (03:35):
And they were interested because online news was really trying to grab as much market share as they could. So they would feature stuff that the real newspaper wouldn’t print. And that got me quite a few clients. My first clients that I ever got for personal training came from meeting people in person at the treadmill store where I worked. But the next dozen came from referrals. And when I started publishing columns and blogs around 2001, I started getting these emails from strangers. But there were two problems with the online news sites. First, I didn’t own them, so I knew that they could pull the plug at any point. And second, my posts were hard to find. I wanted to get my message right in front of people. So I started collecting email addresses from the people who asked questions. They would comment on my article on the news website and then I would say, “Hey, if you want a deeper answer, here’s my email address.”

Chris Cooper (04:27):
I’d comment right on that news site, and some of ’em would email me and others would see that email address and then they’d email me about something else. And that literally filled my training book. I had 43 clients at once. Many of them were attending more than once a week. And I would work one on one with them every single time. When I realized that all the growth at the personal-training studio where I was working was coming from me, I decided to open a gym. And there were a few reasons. I mean, my family needed more money and I had some investors who were really pushing me to do it, but I wasn’t scared to open a gym because I already knew that I could work hard and I already had a working client-acquisition system: email marketing. So I wrote a blog post about my new gym, I put that on the news sites and I opened with just over 30 clients on day one.

Chris Cooper (05:18):
And then two weeks later I added a coach who was also on that email list. Now, you don’t probably have access to free public news sites, not anymore, but social media does that for you. You own the news sites now. You own the newspaper. And that is social media. And social media’s job is to get people to give you their email address so that you can take the next few steps that I’m gonna lay out for you here. There was a super bonus that kind of happened, and I’m just sharing this story to show you that you have to keep your eyes open to opportunities. So around that time in my city, the chamber of commerce published their annual guide, their business guide, and I got a copy. And on the back cover was the email address of every business owner in town.

Chris Cooper (06:02):
Email was such a novelty then, like 2006. You’d never get that now. But what you would get now is if you go to like your city’s chamber-of-commerce website or you look for publications, you’ll probably get their Facebook handle or their Instagram address, right? So you know, you can still get this information. You’re just gonna contact them differently and then move them to your email list. Now back then even I didn’t know how to email people directly. So I just opened up a free Yahoo email account, no joke. And I would copy 30 email addresses at a time into the address bar, and then I would write my email and I would hit send. And I’ve got a picture here of one of my first emails. This was from November 2006. And I used this email to fill up spin classes.

Chris Cooper (06:52):
I had these portable bike trainers. I would sit in front of about eight or 10 people at a time and we’d like ride our bikes in this crummy apartment that I was using as a gym, right? But it worked. I mean it made me probably $1,300 bucks, that email. So eventually after doing this for a while, somebody told me what BCC meant. Like I shouldn’t be sharing everybody’s emails with everybody else. So every Friday I would send an email to every email address that I had, and it kept building. Because I could only paste like 40 at a time, eventually it would take me about three hours. And every piece of communication that I got, every waiver, every sports team, every resume, I would add that email address to my Yahoo account. And when I would get really desperate for money, like the money that I needed to pay my first mentor, I would go to my email list—’cause that’s where the money was, and I knew it.

Chris Cooper (07:42):
And I would write an email with a strong call to action like, “Hey, click here to buy 10 personal training sessions in advance.” And I would usually generate $300 to $500 on an email if I gave a strong call to action. So when my first mentor said, “Hey Chris, you need to hire a cleaner and then use the time that you buy to grow your business,” I knew that if I wrote an email I could probably pay the $500 fee that he was charging me for that first session. And it actually worked. So then I started tracking my results that I was getting with my mentor through blogging, and I wrote this blog called It was in the same Typepad account that I was using for my gym by the way. I started just sharing that, and I was doing it for myself.

Chris Cooper (08:26):
I was writing that blog for me. I was trying to retain everything that he was telling me ’cause I couldn’t do all of it at once. And there were some really valuable lessons that I didn’t wanna forget. So I started writing the blog to myself, it was called Don’t Buy Ads because the first thing that he told me was “your business is not ready for new customers. You start bringing in new customers right now, you’re gonna lose ’em quick. Like your systems suck if you’re not there. The training isn’t great. It’s filthy. Like you need to be the one meeting these new people, and you need to give them a great gym. So don’t buy ads yet ’cause you’re not ready.” So I started blogging the results that I was having, but it was a public blog, and other gym owners started reading it and they started emailing me for help.

Chris Cooper (09:08):
This was 2009. And they would email me questions, and I would answer them. And then when they were asking really good questions or when the answers to those questions were less than a thousand words, I would just turn ’em into blog posts to save myself some time instead of answering the same question over and over. And that’s how the conversation went. And then other gym owners would read that blog post and they’d respond with the next question; the second question; the follow-up; the smaller, more detailed question. And then I would clarify, and then that would turn into a blog post, too. And these conversations built to the point where people were asking me for mentorship because they trusted me so much that they trusted my advice or my guidance more than they trusted their own ability to generate ideas. I never offered the service, and I had never talked about it on the site.

Chris Cooper (09:57):
It had never even occurred to me. What eventually grew into Two-Brain Business started in these conversations and these requests for help. And by the way, I see this with gyms a lot. They get people onto their email list and they started having these conversations and they have this epiphany like, “Wait a minute, the service that I’m offering is not actually the service that these people are asking for. I should instead just go back to them and say like, ‘Hey, would you like personal training?’ And then offer personal training.” Like the conversations sometimes actually reshaped the business. So back to Two-Brain and When I turned those blog posts into daily emails, people really started to pay attention. There was some stuff that was happening, like Google was no longer prioritizing blogs over everything else. And so Seth Godin wrote a great post telling us all we should let people sign up for our RSS feed, or, even better, sign up for an automatic email every day.

Chris Cooper (10:50):
And hundreds of people actually did. So they started getting my blog posts in their inbox. Sending an email makes these blog posts or these conversations a really active process instead of a passive one. So I don’t have to wait for people to go to my blog in the morning or go on Instagram or click on my site. I know they’re gonna check their email. You probably check your email before 8 a.m. And there’s gonna be a message from me waiting there. So it’s asynchronous. I don’t have to be online to talk to ’em. It gets a better response. A call to action in an email is way more effective than a call to action in a social media post. And you know, if you’re not really good at sell by chat, like texting people through Instagram or through Facebook, you should really be sticking to selling in emails because that’s where you can have a great call to action.

Chris Cooper (11:36):
So all of that is to say email is important. It’s still really valid. It’s probably more powerful than any social media. And now I’m gonna tell you exactly how to do it. Alright, so first you gotta clearly define your funnel. You know, rip the cover off my book if you need something white to draw on or whatever. Use a napkin. I just need you to draw an inverted pyramid, and we’re gonna map out your funnel. So at the top of that funnel, I want you to write down “attention” and then draw a line, and then go down to the bottom and write NSI and draw a line above that. And there’s gonna be a middle gap in between attention and NSI. Okay? So we’ll get to that in a moment. First, pick one thing that you’re doing to get attention.

Chris Cooper (12:16):
So maybe you’re good at Instagram, or maybe you’re better at Facebook. Whatever that is, that’s gonna be your attention layer. Now, if you’re doing a good job on those platforms consistently, then you probably don’t need paid ads yet. Okay? Now in the middle, that’s your collector, that’s where you have these conversations. So you can either start a free public Facebook group that all of your attention-getting media points to or you can set up an email list. The email list is easier and doesn’t require constant maintenance. Okay? So the top-of-funnel stuff, whatever that is, Instagram let’s say, should point directly to the mid-funnel stuff. And that’s it. That’s its job. So on your Instagram, you should be talking about your website or join your email list. If you’re brand new, you might be able to get people on your new Instagram profile to book an NSI and skip that middle step, but that’s not gonna last long.

Chris Cooper (13:09):
Those are just the early adopters. You need to get them into conversation. And your top-of-funnel media, whatever that is, has one job: to get people into conversations, okay? So that top-of-funnel media should not be talking about booking NSIs. It should not be talking about the value of the overhead squat. It should be saying “here’s something to help you join my email list.” It should all point to that, okay? Now the way that you get them on that email list is that you have a website that converts really well. So it should have places on it for people to either book an appointment or fill in a form. Why do you want them to fill in a form? Well, you know, maybe they’re requesting your pricing or they want information about your kids program or they want to get your free guide on stretching or whatever.

Chris Cooper (13:53):
But that form exists to capture their email address, and you’re capturing their email address so that you can add it to your email list, right? It’s there to collect email addresses and start building your list. Then every day you’re going to email that list with some interesting help. So keep it short and stick to basic HTML. Don’t use any fancy headers or images, and make it useful. Don’t send them an opinion or a long editorial every day. Like an email called “The Five Steps to Reducing Back Pain” is way better than an email called “Smoking Is the New Sitting” or whatever—why our culture promotes this kyphotic, rounded posture and how it’s hurting us. Like just tell people what to do, and always build the list, build the list, build the list. Add email addresses to that list at every opportunity. Ask for email addresses at every opportunity.

Chris Cooper (14:41):
The next step is to follow Gary Vaynerchuk’s “jab, jab, jab, right hook” strategy. So what you wanna do is have interesting, helpful content for maybe three emails in a row, right? Those are your jabs. Then you have a very clear call to action on the fourth email. That’s your right hook, okay? And jab, jab, jab, right hook forever and ever and ever. If you repeat that, you don’t have to get fancier. And that’s actually the next step in your email marketing strategy: just continue. Don’t stop. Delegate if you have to. But creating content is a skill that you’ll use forever, even when the platforms change, right? So once upon a time, fax machines were kind of the platform that you used to get attention. Then it was newspapers, and then it was online newspapers, and then it was Facebook. And if Facebook dies—psst, it’s not dead—and the new platform is like LinkTok, whatever, it doesn’t matter because you point your content from LinkTok to your email list. You own your email list, but you don’t own Facebook. Just like I didn’t own those free public newspapers, but I own that email list, and I can keep it forever. So here’s a picture of my email list for Two-Brain Business. There are 40,000 people on it. They didn’t all sign up on the same day. This list has been worth literally millions of dollars to me. Okay? Now here’s a snapshot of the email list at my gym. I’ve culled this list, so there’s only about 2,400 names on it. But if I went all the way back to when I founded my gym 18 years ago, I’d have 4,400 names on it. I know that because that’s how many people that I have in my booking and billing system.

Chris Cooper (16:22):
And if I was really desperate for new clients or really desperate to fill a class or a specialty program, I would go straight to that email list. Okay? When I need help, when I need money, when I need rescue, the email list is the place to go. It’s a gold mine. Social-Media posts are not a conversation. They’re a one-way blast. They’re a monologue. They’re yelling because you’re trying to get attention, and they’re at the top of your funnel. But hopefully you can get people to want a conversation with you. And that conversation is where the magic happens before you bring them into your NSI. So to sum up, your email list is where people come to like and trust you. Your email list is where most people sit until they’re ready to book a No Sweat Intro, right? Just because they haven’t booked right now doesn’t mean they’re never going to book.

Chris Cooper (17:12):
Next, you own your list. You don’t own Instagram. Also, the algorithm doesn’t change. Like spam filters get better, but if you avoid the obvious stuff like putting in pictures or headers or hidden text, then you’ll reach most people on your list. Like just keep it plain text. Finally, don’t mistake social-media posts for a solid connection in your hierarchy of communications. It’s not. Social media is always gonna be a crapshoot. You don’t know what’s gonna attract attention. Email is a far greater opportunity. And even if people aren’t interested in your service right now, with email you’ll stay in front of ’em until they are. I’m Chris Cooper. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” This week on our blog, I break this down for you even more step by step. And if you wanna talk about it, please just go to That’s our free public Facebook group. You can reach me in there, and you can ask questions. You’ll hear from 8,000 other gym owners. And that’s even the place to find me if you wanna start a DM conversation about mentorship. Thank you for your service.

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