Ben is a personal trainer and fitness expert with a thriving in-person coaching business, but as he says, he’s stuck in the “murky middle.” He can only support so many clients directly before his attention gets stretched thin, so he’s been exploring more ways to build passive income through his training app and website, fitnesspenpal.com. As he looks to grow, he wants to know what direction to take and how exactly he can better expand his reach.
In this epsiode, we really explore why it’s so important to understand your brand in order to develop a marketing strategy that will attract the people who need to hear you, and only those people. The temptation is to be all things to all people, but that’s really not the best way to succeed, especially when you’re starting out or trying to grow. Instead, I get Ben to really clearly articulate his superpower, the thing he does in the space that makes him unique, and then we work from there to figure out what he should do to reach the people who might be interested.
The fitness industry is very crowded, so differentiation is always important. Everyone wants to eat better and get in better shape, so how do you figure who specifically to talk to? One thing we talk through is the thought process between guest appearances on podcasts or other media. You don’t just need to go on fitness industry shows to find people who might be interested in what you have to offer. We talk through strategies to reach out to people, and how you go from there to grow your brand.
Pat Flynn: What's up everybody? Pat Flynn here and welcome to Episode 1085 of AskPat 2.0. You're about to listen in on a coaching call between an entrepreneur just like you with me, who's here to help and serve, not just the person who's on the show but you because you can listen in and get some good advice as well. And today we're talking with Ben from fitnesspenpal.com. He's got a great brand, a lot of offline clients, in-person clients, but he's wanting to grow his online reach and he's—as he says, as you'll hear—in the murky middle. And I think a lot of us can relate to that. And so I ask him a lot of questions about, “Okay, you're in the middle, where do you want to go?” And then we talk about how to get there. So listen in here he is: Ben from fitnesspenpal.com Hey, Ben, welcome to AskPat 2.0 thanks so much for joining us today.
Ben Palocko: Hey, thanks for having me, Pat. This is, this is awesome. I'm just psyched to get this going.
Pat: Why don't you take a quick moment to share with everybody who you are and what you do.
Ben: All right. So yeah, I'm Ben. I'm from Cleveland, Ohio. And I run an online health fitness business, and in the past couple years, really the past five years, it's become my full-time thing. And I feel like I keep using the term or thinking of the term “murky middle” because I've got to this point where I'm running my own business, I'm paying for all my own stuff, I'm doing what a lot of people said I couldn't do. But now I'm at the point where, man, I want to keep climbing, I want to get bigger, I want to go up to that kind of next level. And I feel like I can't find the handle on how to do it. So that's, that's what brings me here today.
Pat: Cool. Thank you, Ben, for sharing that. And first of all, congratulations on your business, especially when you are met with people who maybe you don't believe that you could do it or even you don't believe you can do it sometimes. And then here you are, you've built a successful business, able to support your life, which is great. And so let's talk it through. I want to know initially, where do you ultimately want it to go? You said you're in the middle. What does the “end” or the other side look like to you?
Ben: Yeah, so like I said, I went to school for exercise physiology and I've always been taught to do things by the book, you go to school, you get your degrees, you do all that. And I have a master's degree now. I spent a lot of time studying the actual subject matter, and I feel like I know that so well, and I have a lot to present to people and a lot of value to offer. But I'm at the point where I have my own apartment, I live in the city, and I'm doing everything I want to do, but I want to just affect more people, really. I'd like to get a reach on a much larger scale because right now I do primarily individual coaching, which I'd say is about eighty percent of my income and that's awesome. But I work with, roughly twelve to twenty people in a given month. And I love those people, they're close friends of and they helped me do what I do, but I'd love to reach more people because I feel like I just have a lot to offer.
Pat: Now. Does that mean you'd be happy if you had twenty to forty clients or is that not the kind of more people you're talking about?
Ben: Yeah, that's definitely a good start. I mean what I kind of envision for my business, and Pat, I've been listening to your SPI podcast for a long time—well, since about 2015—and I've really been trying to get into more passive income streams because obviously, the coaching is pretty much direct time for money. There's some passive nature to it, but I've dabbled with Amazon associates, supplement affiliate sales. I made my first ebook earlier this year. So I've done things like that and I really want those things to take off because I feel like I can always get twelve to twenty people and take good, good care of them. And I think that's kind of my, I've settled on not being my strength number to where if I take on more, I feel like my work starts to kind of slack a little bit. It's like my sweet spot and I love that. But with those other things I've mentioned, that's what I'd like to really push to that I can eventually raise my price point for my monthly coaching and just earn more income doing what I'm doing.
Pat: Love it. Okay. So we're not talking more clients necessarily, but we want bigger reach and we want passive income through these things that you've created and other things that you can create sort of one time and continue to serve others with. And so I'd love to know a little bit more about the platform that you've built. Are you online or do you have a website? Tell me about your social, what's going on there so that we could see what we could work with to get more people to find you.
Ben: Yeah, I do. So quick backstory. I was a hockey player my whole life and I made this team after high school that was like you travel and you play to basically get college scholarships or looks from pro teams. And the coach told me after tryouts, he's like, “Hey Ben, I like you as a player, but you got to get bigger, man. You've got to get faster. If you're going to play at this level, you've got to hit the gym.” So I did and I fell in love with it. And actually, during my undergrad, I started doing what is now online training that was kind of new at the time. It was 2009, and I was just doing it over email, phone calls. There were no apps for it, there was no software. And then it wasn't until after grad school in 2013 when I started using some personal training software to really streamline what I was doing. That was a huge breakthrough because now with the software I use, you're allowed to custom brand it. So, essentially, as it appears to my audience, I have my own app, so I have full control of it. It's got my imagery and the business is called Fitness Penpal. So I have fitnesspenpal.com and then I have Facebook and Instagram/fitnesspenpal.
And the concept behind the name, other than it kind of being the first six letters of my name, because my name is Ben Palocko, so you flip that B down and you have pen pals. I was like, “Oh, I'm psyched on that idea. I've got to use that even if it's not appropriate.” The thing is, this is I guess one of my struggles, if you will, I'm confident in what I do as a practice, but I'm not a businessman by nature. So it's kind of been out of my comfort zone as far as all the marketing and the business side of things. I'm really trying to just learn as I go. I try to be active on social media and I try to post to . . .
I started a YouTube channel about a year ago. I try to post to that now once a week or once every other week. I try to stick to social posting and then just I'm responding to messages that I do get from people. I've toyed with some Google Ads to play my YouTube ad during videos, played with some Instagram Ads. So I've just been kind of dabbling, really. Anytime something comes across my desk, so to speak, or I'm listening to maybe SPI and I hear something that sounds cool, I'll try and implement it. But I just feel like I haven't really found anything that I kind of hit a home run on it, so I'll just kind of like, I'm up there swinging, just looking for something that's going to work for me.
Pat: Cool. Okay. And then the last question, I have a bunch of ideas for you, but the last question I have is if I were to ask you what your superpower is in the fitness space, what's the unique thing about you in the way you teach or what you have to offer versus others? What would you respond with?
Ben: Yeah, I was actually thinking about that question because I know that's something I've listened to on your podcast and I've thought about it before. And I really think I kind of looped that into my new branding when I went from just Ben Palocko Fitness to Fitness Penpal. Because going back to elementary school, I bet some people can kind of bond with this, but we had pen pals back in elementary school and there's something so mystifying and cool about having someone from somewhere else that you feel like you could just talk to, and start fresh, and kind of share your life, and really just place your trust in them. And I feel like I've always been a good listener. I've always been someone who's a friend to everybody. I was never part of a click in high school or during my younger days. I feel like I've always got along with people and I've really just given them a place to be comfortable and talk to me and be close with. So I definitely think that my listening ability and just my ability to communicate with people just like a friend and not come at them like, “Okay. Hey, this is my drill sergeant trainer here, going to make you do this, this, and this.” I have a very kind of chill, I guess, approach. So that's what I would say is probably my superpower.
Pat: Nice. I liked that and that, to me, does fit in the brand of pen pal. It's your pal, right? You're not in a drill sergeant. You're almost like the anti-drill sergeant, which is really cool. So a couple things here. Number one, if you want to grow your brand online, you need to know what your brand is all about. And you know that—you just expressed it to me. You know what your superpower is and what you can do for people, not just in terms of the health improvements and life improvements that you could offer, but the way you do it, right? The pal part of it, the anti-drill sergeant part of it. That has to be apparent the moment people find you on whatever social media channels you show up on and the website that you have.
So if I go to your website, how long would it take me to get that feel from you? And it should be immediate. It should be, especially on a website, within the first fifteen seconds I should see something that tells me that, “Whoa, Ben's a little bit different. He does it a little bit differently.” And that'll either attract people who are interested in that or filter those people out who aren't. And that's exactly what you want to happen. Where people get messed up is where they start to go, “Oh, well, I want to please everybody.” Like, “Yeah I could help everybody because I have this skill,” but it's the way you do it that's going to attract the people who want to be served in that way.
And then on social media, for example, you'd mentioned that you're kind of swinging at all these different things. What I would do is really hone in on one, maybe two of those platforms. I know a lot of fitness people who, for example, are really killing it right now on Instagram or are either all in on YouTube. And when you do that, you remove the energy that gets sort of dispersed across all these things. And then some of these things that you focus on will actually have a chance to have enough energy to, in time and care, to be that home run. And it's going to take a few swings, but if you take swings in this ballpark, and you take a swing in this ballpark, and you take a swing in this ballpark, it's going to be hard to know how to take another swing here because you're going to be continually moving across different places versus sure you might take a swing and even strikeout, but you're going to be at bat again at the same location, same place and try again.
And going back to what I was saying earlier about your personality and sort of what you have to offer there and how you offer it. For example, if you're on your Instagram, I should be able to scroll through and any post I pull up shows that listening, shows that friendship that you have with a client, shows or explains how you do what you do, such that now I go, “Oh this Ben guy's cool.” Like, “Hey, check out this guy. I like how he does it because he doesn't make me feel like I'm a shrimp. He's encouraging along the way.” And so that's just a little bit of quick insight on, just from my point of view, how you might be able to start building that brand and becoming known. Because what you want to do is have people talk about you in the way that you're talking about yourself, right? And that can only happen when people come across you and either share you or can get that feeling the moment they find you. What are your thoughts on that and how does that feel to you?
Ben: Yeah, it feels good. Recently, I have tried to pull back in more with branding and going back to the start, you notice, to make sure that I'm presenting things in the way I want to. Because I know myself and probably a lot of entrepreneurs, they want to do everything and it gets to the point where I feel like I was maybe trying to do seven different avenues in one week and probably not presenting as good as I should on just one or two. But yeah, no, I agree. I think another thing too is in an attempt to grow probably Instagram and stuff quickly, I just wanted to pump out as much stuff as I can, and not every day. But I'm a very kind of perfectionist person, like quality over quantity, but I even felt two or three times a week I was still having trouble putting stuff out because I wanted it to just look and be beautiful and be perfect. And all that did was kind of just like, “Oh, I'm not going to post today because this isn't up to my par.” It gets me thinking I probably do need to just be more within myself and show a little bit more exactly just what I do and try to keep the whole Fitness Penpal thing in mind when I'm posting.
Pat: Yeah. It should be just apparent in anything you do. And then when you even share some success stories with your clients, talk about how you uniquely helped this person versus how other people might do that. And featuring your clients, featuring your community is a great way to bring new people. It makes them feel great and it makes them realize that you care about them. And then along with your superpowers, I think it might be interesting, and this is pretty popular today, Seth Godin recently said that, “Podcasting is the new blogging,” and then I took that one step further and said, “Well, if that's the case then guest podcasting is the new guest blogging.”
And back in the day guest blogging was the thing to do because you can share information on somebody else's website and really help out their audience, which is really cool. But what was lacking with the blogging sense was the emotion and the personality behind it, and your personality, your how you do what you do is the superpower. And this is perfect timing because now if you were to, for example, be on another person's podcast and have that be a primary strategy to reach new audiences, you would not only provide some amazing information based on all the knowledge you have. I mean you have a master's degree and many people don't, but you also share how you nicely urge people to start fitness or to, in an anti, I keep using that word anti-drill sergeant, and I like that, how you do what you do and the style that you do it can come across in your voice in those guest appearances on your podcast or on other people's podcasts.
And I think that would be a cool strategy. That and/or, and if you have a YouTube channel already, maybe it's just YouTube that you focus on, and you're growing your YouTube platform because people can see how you do what you do and the style. But also there's a lot of fitness YouTubers out there who would love to collab and who, even if they're not huge, you can still get new audiences coming your way with little collaborations here and there. And utilizing other people's platforms where they've already built that audience and having people come to you because you have a unique style and a superpower, is definitely the way to go. That's going to be so much easier than, okay, blog for eight months and then search engines are going to finally pick up what you do. But you've got to make sure the keywords are perfect, and you got to say this keyword ten times in this post. That stuff is on its way out. I feel like what's in is relationships and collaborations for growth.
Ben: Yeah. I love that. Super quick, funny story I think a lot of your listeners will kind of get a kick out of. When I started listening to SPI in probably 2015, like I said, the way I do things is so methodical. My buddy told me about it, and I'm like, “Oh, I'll check that out.” And I had to start from the beginning, right? Because I'm a guy, if I'm going to play a board game, we're going to play by the rules, darn it. I started listening to episode one and I cruised through them, and I'm taking all these notes, and I'm doing all this stuff, and then it just cracks me up because I'm instilling these things and I'm really four years behind or three years behind. And I'm getting my blog going, I'm doing all this stuff.
And then fast-forward and I'm like, “You know what, I need to get with the times here.” Because I feel like I'm kind of instilling a lot of this stuff in the past, and not that it's not relevant now and it hasn't helped me, but, to your point, like you said, you feel like blogging is kind of going out and I just put so much time into doing that just because I felt like that's where I needed to be. And now, listening to more current stuff and getting more current material, I realize that things have changed and I kind of need to get with that program. But my question, Pat, is I love the guest podcasting idea and how you say it's like the new guest blogging, how would you suggest I become a guest on podcasts? Because I don't listen to many, personally.
Pat: You don't have to, you can go and do a little bit of research on iTunes. iTunes is actually on its way out, so if you're listening to this in the future, it's your Apple Podcasts app, and you can just go into the health and fitness space and see what is there. A great strategy is to look at the new and noteworthy section because those are new podcasters who are looking to keep up and looking to find new guests. And if you reach out to them, I mean they're going to be more likely to say yes versus somebody who, for example, is ranking number one and is already sort of got that attention and their guests list is huge already. So that's one way to go.
But I think another way to go, and this is a good strategy that a lot of people forget, is that you don't have to go into the health and fitness industry in the podcast area to find audiences. You could, for example, offer help and advice for . . . maybe there's mom podcasts, right, who have just a ton of amazing women who follow their show. And they have this trust with this host, and you come in and your superpowers teaching busy moms how to stay fit. And I imagine your style would resonate very well because a lot of moms don't want to be talked to and spoken to like a drill sergeant and you'd have this sort of softer, engaging, friendly tone to it. And then you can perhaps drive people toward your website, and get them on an email list, for example. Or drive them toward your ebook. I don't know if your ebook's on Amazon, but if it's not, it should be there because that's another way to reach new people too. And just kind of start having all these things cross-promote each other.
You start to see this reach that you have continued to grow sort of organically just through making these connections with people. So you don't always have to stay in the health and fitness space. And you might even not want to start there because some of those people may consider you like, “Oh you're just a competitor.” But if you're in another space where people need some fitness help—and of course everybody needs fitness help—if you could specialize for a mom on a mom podcast, or if you could specialize for entrepreneurs on an entrepreneur podcast, and just understand what their big problems and pains are, and what their unique circumstances are.
And if you can address those on the show, people are going to understand and go, “Whoa, Ben's somebody I could go to for help. How can I hire you?” And then you're like, “Oh well, I don't hire people, except those who are in Cleveland, but I have this program that you could check out online, or I have this waitlist for this program that might be coming out, I'd love for you to check it out, or I have this book that can get you started right now.” And I think that'd be a great way to go and start that. And really it's just about reaching out to those people. You find their podcasts and you can find them on social media too and just go, “Hey, I love your show, or I checked out your show. I thought it was cool. I noticed you haven't talked about health and fitness, which I love and I specialize in and I do in a very unique way that's friendly. If you're looking for somebody who can provide that information for your audience, I'd love to help you out with that.” That's the tone versus, “Hey, I'm looking to grow my reach. Can I come on your show?” Which, obviously, when you hear it you're like, “I wouldn't do that.” But interestingly, that's what a lot of people do.
Ben: Yeah, I imagine. No, I love that too. Actually, I really like that because with what I do, growing up studying this stuff and being so interested in the fitness industry, it's in my opinion so overrun now by flash and pizzazz, and, “Hey look at my abs.” I always wanted to be the other route with that where it's like, “Hey, I'm not going to post pictures of my abs every day, so if you're interested in that, there's plenty of accounts. But if you want to work with me, I really just want to make this easy for you. I want to simplify it as much as possible and just be your friend and help you walk through it.” So I think going almost outside the industry is a good idea, which I wasn't thinking of because it's so crowded, like a lot of things like, “Well, I don't know if I want to go in there and play that game and be on pumping iron podcast and try to convey my message.” Going outside that would be awesome and maybe people might be more attentive to it too if someone comes in and you're a listener of something different like a health fitness guy there. Because, like you said, I think everyone can benefit from it. It's one of those things everyone knows they need to eat a little better or work out more consistently, but yeah, that's good.
Pat: Yeah. Cool, man. I like that. I mean, I think you just need to lean into what makes you unique, and little phrases like anti-drill sergeant, own that. I'm not saying it has to be that one, but it could be, “Stop looking at my abs and start looking at my smile.” Like that kind of stuff, if you just say it again and again, and it becomes a part of your brand, and it becomes somebody who goes, “Oh yeah, you got to check out Ben. He doesn't show abs and stuff. He shows off his smile and that's what he does with his clients. Like he wants you to smile, or he's the high five guy.” And you only high five people when you're excited and feeling good, right? I don't know, I'm just making this up.
But this is like your shtick if you will. And you have to figure this out. And you've started that with your branding, with the pen pal thing. I was a little worried about that at first and I was like, “Oh the connection isn't really there.” But then when you said, “Oh, I'm the friendly anti-drill sergeant guy.” I'm like, “Okay, I like this now. This is all kind of making sense to me.” And so you're right, you're in the middle. And it's messy because it's just like where do I go? But, hopefully, all the conversation today has helped point you in the right direction a little bit.
Ben: Oh yeah. No, this has been really good. I mean you get so, like when you're working by yourself and for yourself, sometimes you stuck in your head. And I don't have anyone that works for me or with me right now. I really enjoy having control with what I do and it is very personal. I love that and I don't really want to lose that. So getting to just talk to someone that obviously knows their stuff like you do is just cool because I just don't have that many conversations with other entrepreneurs, and when you hear stuff it's like, “Oh, oh, yeah. That's a good idea. I don't know why I didn't think of that.”
Pat: Cool, man. Well, I'm glad to hear it and I'm excited to hear how you take this and take action with it. Do you mind if we maybe reach back out to you in the future and check in on you and see how things go?
Ben: That'd be awesome. Yeah.
Pat: Awesome, man. Let everybody know where they can go and check out.
Ben: Yeah. So my website is fitnesspenpal.com. And like I said, Facebook and Instagram are where I'm most active on socials and that's also at @fitnesspenpal. So I'll work hard to make sure, if we check back, it's exciting for everyone.
Pat: Cool, man. Great job and we'll talk soon.
Ben: Awesome, Pat, appreciate it a lot and keep it up.
Pat: Thanks, you too.
Ben: Alright. Bye-bye.
Pat: Alright. I hope you enjoyed that episode with Ben. You can find him, again, at fitnesspenpal.com. Thank you again for listening to the show. I appreciate you and hope you got a lot of good value out of that. If you did and you like what you hear, make sure, number one, you subscribe. Number two and leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you're listening to this podcast. That means so much to me. Thank you. And tell a friend about it today. We've got over a thousand episodes of stuff just like this. And if you want to potentially get coached, just like Ben did today, all you have to do is go to askpat.com and you can submit your application right there on that page. Thank you so much. I appreciate you. A little teaser here. The website's getting updated later this year, so if you haven't been in a while, you might want to check it out, smartpassiveincome.com. Because it's going to change. It's going to be different. It's going to be awesome. Thank you so much. Take care. Team Flynn for the win.