How to Compete with Free Fitness Content and Big Brands

May 7, 2021

Much of the fitness industry has now moved online. 

The shift to digital has been a long-simmering trend in the industry, though. And if you’re starting to move some (or all) of your business online, you’ve likely found a lot of competition, with fitness entrepreneurs offering tons of free content and big brands throwing big budgets behind theirs.

It might appear overwhelming, but outshining competitors—both big and small—is 100% possible. Below, we explain how you can capitalize on the opportunities offered by free content to build a profitable, sustainable digital-first fitness business.

Free fitness content is everywhere (but great free content is still hard to find)

With all the free fitness content online these days, the idea of building an audience and growing your fitness brand can seem daunting. But here’s the truth: Despite the sheer volume of free content out there, high-quality fitness content is still quite hard to find. And that’s the biggest opportunity for your business. 

Free content is a way to build relationships with new people, and if you can create free experiences that are enticing, educational, and maybe even entertaining, you’ll be able to grow your audience and get more leads into your funnel. With more people engaging with your content on a regular basis, this opens the door for more paying customers. 

To see this done effectively, look no further than fitness entrepreneurs Gabriella Guevara and Kristina Girod, who have both used YouTube to put out free content and grow their businesses. 

“YouTube is currently the platform that gives me the most exposure,” says Guevara. “I try my best to funnel potential paying subscribers by offering free, (limited) classes.  I also use live YouTube rides to attract new customers as well.”

And Girod has found that “giving away content will always yield more paying customers” and says that “if a client can't pay for the content – the exposure is still a win.”

Both Guevara and Girod have mastered the art of creating free content that drives results for their businesses. Because if your free content isn’t generating business growth, it’s hard to justify sustaining at a high quality. 

It takes time to create great fitness content, and if it’s not helping you grow your business, then you won’t be able to maintain content quality or publish on a consistent basis for very long. 

When you start out with free content, think about how it will ultimately help you grow your business. For Guevara and Girod, sharing free workouts gives viewers a taste of what they can get in their online and in-person classes—so the line between free content and revenue is fairly straightforward and easy to measure. 

Most people fail with free content because there’s no clear vision or plan behind it. You should always try to think about your target audience, how your free content can help them to make progress towards their goals, and, importantly, how free content helps to move people through your sales funnel. 

You should also think about each platform and the use cases and limitations for your audience. For example: 

  • It can be hard to follow a complete program on YouTube, so maybe you could create a playlist for people to follow or upload one-off classes (with a call-to-action to sign up for your app or mailing list to continue).
  • On Instagram, people might want quick tips or advice.
  • TikTok might be a place for behind-the-scenes and fun content.

Wherever someone is interested in your free content, the experience needs to be great (something we’ll break down in more detail below). Both good and bad experiences compound in the mind of potential customers, so the more positive free experiences and interactions you can create, the more likely they will convert into customers. 

How to compete with big brands

Other fitness entrepreneurs aren’t the only competitors your digital business will face. Big brands like Equinox, Peloton, and Nike are also focused on connecting with consumers through free fitness content—and unlike many fitness entrepreneurs, these brands have budgets as big as their names. 

No matter where their content falls on the cost scale, the idea of competing against that kind of name recognition, marketing expertise, and financial clout can feel like a very steep uphill climb.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t compete with, or even stand out from, these big-name brands. 

Content from bigger brands has its limitations—there are some things that a huge company simply can’t do—and many of those things are core competencies for smaller fitness professionals like you.

One weakness of big brands flows directly from their size: They’re trying to be everything to everyone. In order to win the number of users that justifies giant budgets and keeps a huge brand growing, companies need to target a large segment of the market. That makes sense in theory, but in practice, it often means they don’t resonate with any particular niche very well.

When you can’t relate well with a specific group of users, the customer experience inherently lacks a personal touch and sense of community—two of the biggest factors for long-term retention in the fitness industry.

Those weaknesses are a big part of the reason the industry has been moving toward “boutique” “boutique” offerings—small gyms or studios that specialize in one form of exercise—for years now. membership to boutique studios grew by 121% between 2013 and 2017. This isn’t a pandemic-inspired trend—it’s a seismic shift rippling across the entire fitness industry. And it’s a ripe opportunity for savvy fitness professionals to capitalize on.

How to make your free content stand out

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to give your existing free content a refresh, here are three key steps you can take to stand out against other fitness entrepreneurs and big brands.

  1. Get your mindset right
  2. Focus on providing users a good experience
  3. Be your authentic self

1. Get your mindset right

Step one in effectively competing against purveyors of free content and big-name (and budget) brands is to get your mindset right. That means going into this venture with the mentality that you are building a business.

Growing a digital fitness business is a long-term thing—you can’t compete against big brands that are in it for the long run if your mindset around digital is all about making a quick buck. 

This step is vital, even if it doesn’t feel like changing your mindset can make a big difference. Thinking about your fitness brand as a stopgap or a side gig leads to some very real, tangible effects like:

  • Constantly looking for shortcuts
  • Following a short-term strategy (or no strategy at all)
  • Hesitation to invest (time and money) in building out your infrastructure and brand
  • Overwhelm at the thought of out-competing all free content available on the internet

Refocusing your mind on building a long-term business goes a long way in avoiding those traps—but on top of that, you need to take steps to legitimize that mindset and to infuse it into every step you take to build this business. Enacting that can take several forms. Some of them include these quick actions you can take to set your business up for logistical success:

  • Know your brand and decide whether you’re building a personal brand under your own name or a separate fitness brand.
  • Understand your marketing funnels to help you convert people who consume your free content into paying customers. 
  • Find the right infrastructure around collecting payments, signing up subscribers, and other business logistics. Choose and get started with the key software you’ll need to make this business run.

Other ways to legitimize your new mindset involve more long-term planning. These are your next steps:

  • Create a plan for how you’ll attract new subscribers. Drawing up a marketing plan is a great way to do this. The linchpin is how you’ll convince new clients to open their wallets and pay for what you’re offering. For example, you could offer something for free on social (as lead generation) in order to bring new users into your brand, or offer a free first class or time-based trial.
  • Set a long-term strategy for building up your on-demand library and digital brand. A robust, high-quality on-demand library is what separates successful digital fitness pros from the pack. Taken in one big gulp, the idea of building a large library like that can be really overwhelming. Sitting down and plotting out a longer-term strategy makes it easier to stop winging it and start actually making meaningful progress in a bite-sized, approachable way.
  • Set a long-term strategy for retaining subscribers for the long haul. Once subscribers start paying for your content, it’s your job to give them a reason to stick around—great content is just the start here. You also need to define a strategy for retention that keeps users coming back and actually using their subscriptions. That can look like push notifications and reminders, longer-term structured programs, community-building and accountability, and more.
  • Think about ways to diversify your income streams. You can earn money as a fitness pro in more than one way, and diversifying your income makes for a more sustainable business. Look into things like affiliate marketing, merchandise, different pricing structures, and other revenue streams you can leverage.

2. Focus on providing users a good experience

One of your best assets for outcompeting free content, in particular, comes down to the experience you can offer clients. 

By and large, most free fitness content is hosted on platforms that aren’t built for hosting fitness content. Instagram and YouTube are prime examples of this—they aren’t built for the digital fitness space and the user experience reflects that.

Think about the last time you tried to do a workout based on content posted to Instagram:

  • There were constant distractions because the social media site is built to keep you repetitively scrolling—not let you focus on one thing for 20 minutes at a time.
  • You were at the mercy of whatever content had been most recently posted, with no reasonable way to search for the specific content you want.
  • Even if you found a workout you loved, a few days later, it gets farther and farther down the creator’s profile—making it harder and harder to find again.

That’s a bad user experience, plain and simple. So, your next step is to create an experience for your subscribers that’s way better than that.

Step 1, as you may have guessed, is to get your core business off of social media. You can still maintain business accounts there and even share fitness content, but social media should be a tool for building your business, not act as your whole business.

Find a place to host the bulk of your content that is built for hosting fitness content. That starts with finding a solution for the business side of your operation. A tool that:

  • Offers a smooth sign-up and payment process for your customers
  • Prioritizes discoverability and search features
  • Supports long-term programs and progression
  • Offers a way for you to build a community around your content

Look for a platform that prioritizes the user experience, too, offering features like a mobile app, search functionality, coherent programs, account creation, calendar features, saves, and more.

Note: We’ve built Core to be the all-in-one solution for digital-first fitness brands. Learn more and join the beta program today.

The other side of building a great user experience comes down to content. Everything from the production quality of your videos to the consistency of your content impacts how members experience your brand.

The first step here is to invest in the tools you need to produce high-quality video content—and these days, if you have a smartphone, you basically have a mobile production studio on you 24/7.

You also need to think about building out a library of content to give any new customers or free trialists a reason to stick around. A consistent on-demand library is the bridge between a floundering digital fitness business and taking it to the next level. So, once you have the tools, get to work and build out your collection of content.

Live classes are the other user experience lever you can pull. By turning regular live classes into can’t-miss experiences, you can encourage engagement and retention from users. While many fitness pros frame live classes as a class they teach every week, really successful pros frame them as a one-time experience—members can’t just tune in next week for the same thing.

Cycling instructor Gabriella Guevara is a great example of this, framing every live class as a unique “ride.” Gabriella uses live classes to build a sense of urgency, variety, and FOMO that encourages members to tune in every week.

3. Be your authentic self

You may think this cliché, but this isn’t feel-good advice—it’s the only way to differentiate yourself from all the free content out there and the big brands. YOU are the differentiator.

When it comes to building a brand, most fitness entrepreneurs look outwardly and focus on what everyone else is doing. Instead, you need to look inwardly and focus on yourself. Think specifically about what content you can create that no one else can. 

Your brand has to be your authentic self. If you’re just trying to copy what works for someone else or build the “perfect” fitness brand, it isn’t sustainable and users won’t buy it. That’s a fact.

While that advice can sound a little ambiguous and hard to nail down, it’s easier done than explained. You don’t need to appeal to everyone or be everything. Find your niche instead.

Consistently create content that you love and your people will find you—your tribe will grow. Be real and honest, and human above all, and they’ll stick around. As a digital fitness professional, you’re much better off with 100 really engaged subscribers than disloyal viewers that never interact with your content.

Health and wellness pro Melissa Wood is a great example of this. Melissa prioritizes being real, sharing both her inspiration and her challenges with followers.

Start building your business with free content today

There’s a lot of free fitness content out there—some of it is from upstarts like you, some is peddled by massive brands. But both free content from young businesses and big brands are fallible. They have their weaknesses, and successfully out-competing them for your share of the fitness market is 100% doable with the right strategy and tools in place.

By providing users with an easy, accessible platform and real, authentic, and high-quality content, you can carve out your own profitable and sustainable niche.

To succeed with free content, you also need to clearly understand the type of business you want to build, and this should be reflected in your pricing strategy. If you want to have a lower price point, then your free content will need to reach and resonate with more people. But if you want to charge premium prices, you don’t need 10,000 subscribers.

Being your authentic self and knowing your business are essential ingredients in the fitness entrepreneurship recipe, and a key third element is logistics. That’s where Core comes in... 

Core includes everything to launch and scale your digital fitness business, all in one platform. Create a custom web, iOS, and Android experience, publish-on-demand programs and classes, host live events, sell merchandise, review analytics, manage your client base, and more. Sign up for the beta program today.