When I was first asked to write a piece about online marketing for fitness professionals, it seemed easy enough. I mean, that's what I do for a living, right? I consult with personal trainers and others in the industry to bring their marketing efforts out of the dark ages (2004) and into the rapidly changing, technologically driven marketplace of today.

But when I sat down with my cup of green tea to actually start writing, the laptop and I just sort of stared at one another for a good long while. You see, it's almost like asking a history professor to explain European history in a few pages or a botanist to toss together 2,000 words on plants. There's just so much that goes into the subject, it's extremely hard to summarize or do justice to the topic in such a short amount of space. Marketing in 2008 is no different, so we're going to walk through what your starting point should be with your marketing efforts.

To keep it really simple, I like to tell people they should always start with ACT-ing. No, not acting like on a soap opera. ACT is the process I came up with to remember where your focus should always be with your marketing, and it stands for Audience, Conversion and Traffic.



The first thing you always need to tackle, before you begin anything else, is to understand who your audience is. That is, who is your market? Who are you going to talk to?

A mistake many, many, people make is attempting to market to everyone. You can't be all things to all people, at least not at the same time. Your marketing material has to speak to the right audience to be effective, and it has to push the right buttons. If you're marketing yourself as an expert in powerlifting technique and training, you're probably not going to capture too many moms who want to lose their last 10 pounds. If you market yourself as a trainer for endurance athletes, you're not likely to corner the bodybuilding market with the same message. If you think you can capture bits of all the markets, you'll usually end up alienating them all.

Each marketing message needs to serve a particular demographic — the tighter, the better. If you know that you want to serve the weight loss market, good. If you know you want to serve the female weight loss market, better. If you know you want to serve the weight loss market for busy female executives between the ages of 24 and 40, better yet. That's not to say you can't have two marketing messages for two different audiences, but it needs to be in two different marketing campaigns. You need to get into the head of your prospect so you can talk to them specifically and address their needs and fix their pain.
Conversion is how many people you are able to convert into taking a desired action, and it's where your money is made. It's usually expressed as a percentage of the number of people who saw your message versus the number of people that responded. So if you sent a letter out to 100 people and your desired action was for them to pick up the phone and call to schedule an appointment, and three did, then your conversion rate is three percent.
Trust me, I avoid math whenever possible, but you have to know if your marketing is working. It can't just be decided by pure volume of response, either. Maybe you sent out 1,000 copies of an ad and had 100 responses, then the next week you send out a different ad to 500 and only have 75 responses. Many people would throw out the second ad and keep running the first since it had more responses — wrong! The first ad had a 10% conversion, but the second had a conversion rate of 15%, although it was sent to a smaller number of people and therefore had a smaller response. If you sent that second ad to 1,000 people, you could expect 150 responses.
Not convinced it's a big deal? That's a 50% increase. That means if you train 20 people now, you could train 30. If you make $1,000 a week now, you could make $1,500. It's huge. Get a calculator. Track it.
The last thing we look at is traffic, and funny enough, it's where most people start. When it's done right, it's a step-by-step process. First, you figure out who you're going to talk to, then you make sure you're talking in a language that motivates them. Only then do you go recruit more people to talk to. 
What most people do, especially online, is throw up a website or some other marketing tool (yes, your website is a marketing tool) and then spend a boatload of money on search engine optimization, banner ads, pay-per-click advertising and a whole bunch of other expensive and confusing things to try to get a lot of people to see their marketing message that wouldn't inspire a mouse to eat cheese.
Some trainers will brag that they get 10,000 hits a month to their site, but if none of the 10,000 visitors give you any money, what's the point? I'd rather have only two visitors a month, as long as one of them writes me a check. Don't worry about traffic until you're converting, and don't worry about converting until you know who you're talking to.
That's a crash course, huh? Don't take it to mean that now you know everything needed to go out and take over the world, as there's a ton of techniques and subcomponents to learn and become very good at, if you want your business to survive.
With the speed at which the world moves today, the technology available and the ease of research for the customer, there's no way you can ignore this aspect of your business and expect to be around in the next couple of years. The trainers that know and use this information for their marketing crush their competition; once you know it, it doesn't even seem fair.
Rich Butkevic, CFT, is a personal trainer and consultant to fitness professionals and author of Search Engine Muscle: SEO Secrets of Elite Fitness Professionals. He will soon be releasing the Trainer Traffic System, a step-by-step marketing system for fitness professionals. For more info, visit www.TrainerTraffic.com.