Before I begin with this post – I must warn you: The story is long. Trainerlisting consumed almost 8-12 months of my life. There were many failures and not very many successes – but full of lessons, and yes, I would do it all over again.
Trainerlisting is a simple to use, self service, Australian Personal Trainer directory. The Personal Trainer profiles on Trainerlisting are filled with standard profile features: photos, videos, comments, ratings, etc.
The initial concept for Trainerlisting was born while I was running on a treadmill at my local gym. I noticed a pin-board of A4 printed PT profiles – and many gym goers huddling around trying to learn more about their potential PT. My thought pattern went something like – “Why would you huddle around, cramped, and squinting, trying to find out about a PT, when you could just go and check out the website, right?”
Wrong. The gym website didn’t contain any PT profiles! Why? There’s one reason I can think of immediately – PTs come and go. If you didn’t build your website with a CMS solution in place, you’d have to pay a developer every time you wanted to make changes to the PT profile pages.
It seemed like a great opportunity – build a site that would:
1. Give gym owners/managers/PT managers an easy way of adding/modifying/deleting PT information from their website.
2. Modify this information in one place only and have it immediately push out to all connected sites.
3. If they have that information on their website, pull it into a directory and give the business another marketing outlet.
The idea seemed plausible, in fact, it still does. So what happened?
Research in this case meant researching PT directory sites and their features. Wait – what? Can anyone see a problem? Without even realizing it, I skipped point 1 and 2 and went directly to point 3! First mistake, and first lesson – before even beginning development of the site.
I had a look at several competitors, one in particular established competitor that had years on me – albeit their focus was more on Gyms than PTs. Much of a muchness…
Even with these early signs (losing focus, an established competitor, not enough research) pointing to trouble – I continued. I was going to be an entrepreneur dammit, and nothing was going to stop me!
The short: The site took months to build, had a few clients, made some money, took lots of my time and brain power, and then it was shut down. Was it as a success or failure?
The site took months to build. I built every feature that I could possibly build into it, so that when it came time to demo it to PT studios/Gyms/etc, I could win them over with its feature richness. Mistake 2.
I did the usual stuff that came with building a business. I created a brand which consisted of an easily recognizable logo, a couple of tag lines and two PT characters (thanks Age and Brett). These elements were consistent across the business cards, marketing material and promotional material.
Once the site was built, I began the SEO strategy. I didn’t quite know the importance of SEO until a couple of months later. Searches for PTs keywords I deemed important was low, so being first or second in search results mattered – it mattered big time!
Finally I began marketing and going out and seeing potential clients. I did letterbox drops of marketing material, mailed marketing material out, emailed gyms/personal training studios, started an SMS campaign (thanks Damian and Andy) and eventually got out and visited potential gyms/personal training studios. But what was I selling? Why was I doing letterbox drops? Remember the 3 features? Other than building a simple widget (which was the simplest implementation of the initial idea), features 1 and 2 were forgotten about.
At this point I had almost completely lost focus and forgotten about my initial target market – Gyms/Personal Trainer studios – not small ones – but medium to large ones – ones that didn’t have PT information on their website.
Trying to find the right way to monetize Trainerlisting was one of the toughest parts of running this small business. Initially I followed the competition’s strategy (see the section about being focused) – and as an outcome the monetization strategy was very simple, a yearly fee. This was the only way a PT would get a profile on Trainerlisting, no trial for you (Reminds me of a particular Seinfeld episode involving the Soup Nazi). In hindsight I was pretty naive to think that anyone was going to signup at a yearly fee, without even being able to try it first.
The second iteration, of figuring out a decent way to monetize, yielded the (common) freemium strategy. I offered free registration that gave PTs the minimum set of profile features. I chose a different route to my competitors – mostly, they gave away the profile for free, but charged depending PTs on how many postcodes they advertised their services in (again with the focus thing – selling to PTs directly wasn’t the idea). I decided that postcodes weren’t the right way to sell membership – it seemed, well, fickle to do so. At this point though, the yearly fee still stood.
Third iteration of the strategy was to still go the freemium route, but change the yearly fee to a recurring monthly fee. This was by far the most successful strategy as it produced reasonable results – more signups. It was at this stage that I built more features for the premium subscribers. I thought that if I was the produce the most compelling reasons to signup that more PTs would. Unfortunately it wasn’t the case.
There was another business case that targeted PTs which wanted to start their own small business – I would set them up with their own custom blog setup which included a subdomain, a wordpress setup, business cards and help on getting started. Where did this come from? Why was I doing this? I’m definitely sitting here feeling frustrated writing this. Needless to say, this strategy had no legs. The price point was wrong, the market was wrong…
Overall, I found selling to PTs, especially on why it was important for them to have an online strategy, very difficult. PTs are more concerned with the real world, their clients and how to up skill themselves to get more clients – online sales strategies are somewhere at the back of their minds.
So what happened to the original idea of selling to PT related businesses – well, that came a very distant third on the list – it should’ve been at the forefront of what I was trying to achieve. I did try – not very hard – but I did try, however, by then I was already on a path of destruction.
Where do I start…
- Don’t lose focus! This was by far the biggest mistake that I made. If I had stuck to my original plan and idea, maybe I wouldn’t be writing this post. The idea had legs, it solves a problem, but by losing focus, the idea morphed into something I that shouldn’t have been pursued for so long. The message here is very clear.
- Iterate and iterate often. I quickly found out the reason PTs weren’t signing up – and I changed the model. Granted, I probably should’ve figured it all out a little earlier than I did, but I eventually got there.
- Get out there and talk to potential clients about what you’re trying to do, how much they would pay for your services, etc. In this instance, PTs were not willing to pay, not matter what the feature set for the premium account was – maps, analytics, commenting, ratings, searching, flickr integration, youtube integration, personal blogs, etc.
- Just because marketing material is cheap in bulk, doesn’t mean you should order 1000 of everything. In fact I’ve still got a pack of 100 A4 pages of marketing material that hasn’t been opened. Refine your sales pitch, refine your marketing material – get the bare minimum to get started.
- Get out there and get as many NO’s as possible – it will teach you things that you can’t learn in front of a PC. I still struggle with this today. I’m a relatively confident person but getting out there face to face with somebody and trying to sell your warez doesn’t come naturally.
100%! An absolute given. The problem about hearing about the success stories is exactly that – you rarely hear about the failures. I learnt the hard way and I wouldn’t trade those lessons for anything. In my case I spent a few months without a full time job, spent a little bit of money, but learnt many, many lessons! In the scheme of things, this was a massive success.
Get out there, make mistakes, because standing still will get you no where… :)