Lessons from Three Years of Online Fitness Business and Blogging
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This is an update to a 2015 article summarizing what I learned in my first year of my online fitness business. I thought it would be interesting to give an update now that I’ve been in online business for nearly three years to see if my thoughts have changed or I’ve picked up any new tricks along the way.
It took me nearly two years to write the first post on my website. Not in the literal sense, the actual post took maybe 10 minutes. But the courage to start my site and start putting my thoughts out there for the world to critique took every bit of that time. I remember telling myself, “Wait until you finish college,” or “Wait until you’re certified. It will give you the credibility you need to make a difference.” And while those points were valid, I wish I would have started sooner, much sooner.
Fast forward a year – I have written over 50 articles for my site, among others. I have been published on sites that I read all through college and dreamed of one-day writing for, sites like Breaking Muscle, Fitocracy, Anytime Fitness, and STACK to name a few. I now get paid to write, and I actually make money online. Two things I never thought I’d be able to say. I’ve made some serious progress in my first year, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be as a writer or leader in my field.
Don’t get it twisted, the success I’ve had in my first year of writing was far from easy. For every article I’ve published, I have thrown two or three in the trash. I have a seemingly endless list of topic ideas that I can’t figure out how to put into words. I’ve been up at 4 and 5 AM writing while the world was still asleep.
My spare time has been devoted to reading, podcasting, or learning about writing or my expertise. I have sacrificed relationships, vacations, and Netflix at times to focus on my work. The past year has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’ve learned a lot over the past year – not only about writing but about business, work ethic, relationships, and life in general. Hopefully, by sharing what I’ve learned I can inspire or motivate someone to pursue their passion or provide direction.
With 50+ articles this year – that equates to around one article per week. Were all 50 revolutionary? Not a chance. Were all 50 even good by my standards? Probably not, but my writing and ability to concisely get my point across has improved tremendously this year. I consistently made it a point to sit down and write something every day and every once in a while, I’d come up with something decent.
Update: I’ve found being consistent to be one of the most underrated skills in business. The people who just show up, do the work, and battle the resistance will find success, if they haven’t already. It’s easy to abandon projects or shift your focus to other things, but the truth is, it’s impossible to tell when you’re nearing a breakthrough. If you build a body of work over time and repeatedly put in the work, something will pop. Trust the process.
IT NEVER GETS EASIER
Improving the skill of writing is a curse in a sense. I now find myself going back and forth between vocabulary and sentence structure. Not to mention that reading any of my past articles is absolute torture. I’ve found my experience to be a lot like training in the sense that as you get stronger you’re able to workout harder, and it never gets easier. The more I progress as a writer the more challenging it becomes, but I love the challenge.
I didn’t start sooner because I thought my writing would suck, and it did suck, for a while at least. But that was to be expected. I have no formal training, went through a mediocre at best public school system, and was taught more about how to format in MLA and APA than how to actually write. Finding my voice as a writer has been an exciting journey, a journey that’s only beginning. If you are afraid of the quality of your work not being up to par or even worse, failure, remember that everyone has to start somewhere. Get the ball rolling and your fears start to fall by the wayside.
Update: When doubt or worry creeps in, I remember that hard work always pays off. That may sound awfully cliche, but cliches are around because there’s something to them. Remember, action breeds confidence and inaction breeds doubt and fear. When you’re doubting things, just tell your mind to shut up and put in the work. Things will work out or they won’t. What more can you do other than put in the work?
DO IT FOR YOU
If you want to write or create something it should be for yourself before anyone else. Don’t get into writing or blogging because you want to make money online. Those people flame out and give up after a few posts.
This is also important because not everyone is going to like your work. For whatever reason people enjoy arguing and bashing other people’s work. You could create something flawless or 100% indisputable and someone will argue it.
More on developing thick skin in a minute.
Update: I stopped writing as frequently on MasonFit.com because I wasn’t enjoying researching/writing about fitness alone. Though my desire to share knowledge and educate never subsided. I tested the waters of writing about other interests like personal finance and business on MasonWoodruff.com. That work evolved into this site. Launching a new blog outside of fitness and MF meant starting over, but that’s okay because I’m doing it for me.
ASK (AND PAY) FOR HELP
Invest in yourself, not the stock market. I read this quote or something close to it from Jon Goodman at the end of 2014, and it really resonated with me. Let me preface this by saying I’m a fan of investing your money in “passive” income streams like stocks, bonds, and real estate. You’re honestly a bit silly not to invest and earn the average ~10% return. BUT when looking at the ROI of investing in myself, it’s not even close.
- I paid $500ish for my CSCS certification, which has paid off HUGE returns.
- I paid $800 for a business coach that wasn’t even that helpful but pointed me in the right direction. That ended up paying for itself in 1 week. Not to mention I met some awesome people and made connections through this experience. (We’ll come back to this in a minute.)
- Writing coach, books, continuing education, paid webinars and seminars, conferences, certifications, etc. >$1000 in 2015
- TIME – the most precious asset you have. Get off Netflix and video games and improve yourself.
- I’m still trying to justify the cost of college. Seriously, go to community college as long as you can.
Update: In my recent article, “Why You Should Stop Repaying Your Student Loans,” I cover the value of investing in yourself. There’s a clear difference in someone who takes their development seriously and someone who spends their weekends at a bar or in front of a tv. This difference only grows with time, either setting your apart even further or leaving you in the dust. What are your peers doing with their free time? Do more than that and over time, you’ll find yourself at the top. If that sounds ultra-competitive, it’s because it is.
Also, I now believe you should invest in yourself, the stock market, real estate, other businesses, or any other investment strategy that you find interesting and worthwhile. There are a ton of valid methods to invest money and put your dollars to work. The key thing is to put them to work and let your money earn you more money.
COLLEGE IS NOT ENOUGH
You should 100% go to college. Even with tuition at an all time high, you can apply for scholarships and grants, go to community college, and get out with minimal debt. Going to college will earn respect, show employers you can finish something, and teach you invaluable skills that aren’t related to your subject matter.
But don’t think earning your degree is all it takes. Degrees are a dime a dozen – an interior design major that has mastered Facebook advertising, web-based portfolios, and has real world experience is not. Look at someone who is doing what you want to do and replicate it. Set yourself up for success after graduation, not a job hunting free for all.
Update: See previous section’s update.
WORKING 9 TO 5 IS NOT ENOUGH
Whether your goal is building a personal brand, making money on the internet, or selling a product – it takes work. You may have to sacrifice a night out to put the work in or come home from a long day at work to start on more work. This is what separates the success stories from the people that will tell you it’s impossible, and why passion is so damn important. If you don’t love your work, there’s no way you’ll be able to show up day in and day out to put in the time. Wanna know the coolest part about this point? 99% of people aren’t hungry enough, and there’s not as much competition to stand out as you may think.
Update: Begin with the end in mind. How much do you want to work each week? There’s no way around putting in massive amounts of work in the beginning. Having clear expectations of what you want your business to become, however, will allow you to build the type of business that jives with your lifestyle needs. If you want to continue working a full-time job and earn an extra $1,000/month, that’s going to take a lot less hustle than building a seven or eight figure business in the next five years. Know what you want and work towards it.
DEVELOP THICK SKIN
Putting myself out there was and still is a scary thing. No matter how great an article is, there will always be critics – because haters gon’ hate. Learning to accept this and dismiss any negativity has been THE hardest thing to do in my first year of writing.
Dealing with negativity has also been one of the most beneficial skills to develop. Sitting back and allowing internet dummies to criticize my work and the work of my peers has given me a new level of confidence not only in writing but in myself in general. The little things in life no longer bother me, and I find that I’m optimistic nearly 24/7.
Update: Time and exposure seem to be the most effective remedies. Take pride in building resilience.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS SCARY
Everything is on your shoulders. Eve-ry-thing.
It’s a double-edged sword. On one side it’s one of the best feelings in the world and on the other, it’s the scariest thing you’ll ever do. The wellbeing of yourself, your family, and your employees if you have them depends on you busting your ass. It’s a lot of pressure and it can be extremely difficult to turn business off at the end of the day.
P.S. What is a weekend?
Update: This gets easier the longer you work for someone else and the more confidence you gain. You’ll come to realize that having everything on your shoulders is the safest and most logical thing you can do. And what’s the worst case scenario? Going to get another job?
RUNNING A BUSINESS WILL PUT YOU ON ANOTHER LEVEL
I truly believe they can’t teach you about business in school. Maybe the principles of business like accounting and marketing techniques, but you won’t really KNOW the stuff until you put it into action. Here’s a quick list of things I’ve learned through trial and error in the past year:
- Design – web, logo, images, advertising, marketing materials
- WordPress.com vs WordPress.org, web hosting, Nexus tax laws, domain names
- Finance – taxes, write-offs, incorporating, insurance and liability, money management
- Marketing – Facebook algorithms, targeted ads, social media marketing, search engine optimization, affiliate marketing, email capture, newsletter creation
- Writing sales copy, writing pitches to editors and other businesses, branding a business
I could keep going. It’s impossible to know what you’ll need to know until you need to know it.
Update: I feel the benefits here have less to do with the specific knowledge you’ll gain and more to do with the problem-solving skills you’ll build figuring everything out. It’s worth saying that in a world dominated by technology, knowing about these types of things will set you up for success. There’s a great chance you’ll be able to dominate any interview or meeting about potential opportunities by having base-level knowledge about tech-related things for a business.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF (AND DELEGATE)
At the end of the day, the quality of the information you’re putting out is all that matters. It doesn’t matter if your website looks great (although it’s a plus) or if your logo is perfect. I know I’ve wasted too much time working on design related stuff that I should have delegated to someone else, but I actually enjoy some of it. Learning what to delegate to others is an extremely important lesson to learn as a business owner or manager.
If you are putting out awesome information people will find you – though the plate you serve it on might make it happen faster.
Update: Unless you enjoy learning about things or part of your journey is skill acquisition. I’ve found this to be the case personally. While taking the time to tinker with logo or graphics design is time-consuming, I find it enjoyable and fulfilling for some reason. That’s an important part of life, ya feel me?
Learning to turn off distractions and focus on one thing has been HUGE for me. The mental benefits from focusing on one thing are unquantifiable. And it doesn’t have to be writing, you could read, exercise, meditate, cook, whatever – just get out of this extremely busy world for a while.
Update: Put the effing phone down and immerse yourself in something. Furthering the discussion on differentiating yourself, this is a HUGE opportunity. While everyone else is distracted by memes and Becky’s engagement ring, you can put in a little extra work every day. Before you know it, you’ll look up and be the owner of a Thriving business.
THE VALUE OF DEADLINES
Until I started writing for paid publications I never set any type of deadline. I only tackled a topic on my list when I felt inspired or was “in the zone” to write. Having deadlines has taught me the importance of time management, diligence, and persistence. Instead of throwing away an article or topic that I’m struggling with I’ve been forced to somehow make it work.
Having a deadline has all but removed procrastination from my life. Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand so as to fill the time available for its completion. So where before when I would throw something on a to-do list that needed to be done in the next month, it would take a month. Now, I’ll set a deadline for next Monday at 8 o’clock, and that task will be completed by Monday at 8. It’s like magic.
Update: Set them but make it your goal to find projects that you can’t stop working on.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It’s crazy how quickly things can snowball when you’re putting yourself out to the right people. Searching for opportunities has become opportunities knocking on my front door. Get rid of your scarcity mindset and embrace an abundance mindset. There is plenty of attention or business to go around. — Make new friends, always be happy for others success, give out compliments, do nice things without expecting reciprocation, always say thank you and show gratitude, and get out of your comfort zone.
Update: I dropped the ball on this one. When I was writing about fitness, I had a great network of other fitness professionals and writers in the space. As I drifted, I let my contact slip with a lot of them. More opportunities came my way via connections than I could ever stir up for myself. Build relationships, nurture them, show gratitude, and do your best to rekindle any lost connection. Brb, taking my own advice.
CELEBRATE THE SUCCESS OF YOUR PEERS
This is one of the most important takeaways – as you make new friends you will undoubtedly make friends that are more talented, work harder, and find success faster than you. If you’re the envious type, this will eat you alive. I have friends that are published in places I would love to be like Men’s Health, TNation, Bodybuilding.com, etc. and I couldn’t be happier for them. They are “hustling” their asses off pitching to editors, making connections, and putting in the time to write, write, and write some more. The same applies to anything else in life, instead of being jealous of the successful friend or acquaintance, use it for motivation or even copy their strategy for success. I know if I were to reach out for help from any of these people they would be more than happy to help, and I bet yours would too.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Update: This sounds a bit woo-woo reading it now. It’s so true, though. Envy isn’t a good look on anyone, and people can see it from a mile away when you’re feeling peanut butter and jelly.
BECAUSE THE ABOVE DOESN’T WORK FOR SOME PEOPLE
If you find success in your art or in business, you will lose friends – it’s inevitable. But did you really want those friends anyway?
Update: You’ll make better friends.
IT IS POSSIBLE
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Whether you want to start writing, make a career change, or start a business, you have to believe in yourself. As long as you’re driven by your passion you can make anything happen.
Update: Passion is overrated. Determine what you want to do and don’t want to do every day. It’s totally possible to design your work and life.
IT’S SO FREAKING REWARDING
Writing is more than a creative outlet for me. Sure, I enjoy that but what really keeps me going is helping people. That’s why I’m in the field I’m in – to help people. I remember the first message I received thanking me for writing an article and how much fulfillment it gave me. These messages come a lot more often now but each one is just as rewarding as the last.
Update: Take the first step. It’s the best move I’ve ever made.