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Erik Charles Russell Talks Strategies for Selling Online Memberships


Now that gyms have moved online, how do they acquire new members?

In this episode, previous guest and gym sales expert Erik Charles Russell gives us some answers to this question, as well as tops tips for putting on online classes and his thoughts on where the industry will be in the future.

Check out his completely free COVID-19 Membership Sales Success Pack here:


Kevin:How’s it going everyone? Welcome to The Fitness Founders Podcast. I’m Kevin Mannion, VP Marketing here at Glofox. This week we unpack to Erik Russell, author of The Art of Selling Memberships. We spoke about maintaining a positive mindset to sell memberships when your gym is closed, the art of online classes, and how to get ready for the bounce back. Let’s have a listen. 

Hey, Erik Russell, welcome back to the show. 

Erik:Thanks, man. I guess I did alright the first time you got me. You asked me to come back. 

Kevin:Yeah, you made it to the next level. Yeah, no, obviously been looking to talk to some of the experts in the field over the past couple of weeks so that we can create as much content as possible, and your name was really in the back of my head. You’re really strong when we spoke to you last year around sales tactics for memberships and the mindset and methodology behind that. I was really interested to see if your perspective has changed on that or if you’re just really doubling down on what you believe already. So, you know, really looking forward to getting started with that. 

Okay, so maybe to kick off lots of gyms and studios right now recently close their doors. Not sure when they are going to open. What are your survival tips for the period that we are in now?

Erik:Well, survival is an interesting term because a lot of times we think survive and we think conserve. We think hold back a little bit, right. We’re built to survive. This is why we get anxious and we have anxiety about these things, and why there’s some fear and uncertainty that goes on because you get scared. I could lose everything, so I’ve got to hold on to what I’ve got and I’ve got really hold back and kind of think of about saving as opposed to being aggressive and continuing to build our business. It’s a natural thing. It’s not something that I think as humans we just naturally go, “Oh, adversity? Let me wake up and kick the world’s ass now.” You start to get that anxiety. The response to it ultimately I think has to be conditioned and you have to make sure you are maintaining your focus on the right response. And hiding and conserving are not ways to survive. We have this natural survival instinct to be conservative, to hide when there is a threat. In business, it is not a good mindset to have. What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to find ways to not just maintain what we’ve got but to grow it. How can we expand what we are doing? Instead of having a shrinking mindset, how can we expand it? When you start asking yourself those questions, you start coming up with those answers. If you get the shrinking mindset, you start going, “Okay, how can I cut cost? Well, I can do this. I cannot pay this. I cannot pay for that.” As opposed to how can I grow my revenue. Now, there is a reality to cost cutting and those things and not being naïve to that. However, the focus is on the growth side of it. Where can I improve? How can I use this situation and make my business better than it was before I got into it?

Kevin:I think that’s a very good point and I think you’re definitely firmly of the belief that the biggest problem the people are facing now is probably getting their own mindset how they can come to terms with what just happened to them, and how they can turn a corner on that. 

Erik:Yeah, and you know what, you don’t even get to come to terms with it. It doesn’t matter why you ended up here. You’re here. Now, we got to take the steps, we got to do the things that are going to move us forward. 

Kevin:Yeah. I supposed practically now when you are talking to gym owners and studio owners and you get down to tactically what they can do today. What are you recommending and how are those conversations going?

Erik:Well, we know first, we’ve got two aspects that we’ve got to really make sure we are taking care of here. One is the people paying us. They are paying us right now. Do we go, “Hey, we don’t have a facility you can come to so boom we’re just going to stop that whole tier revenue stream, and we are not going to offer anything.” I don’t think that’s anybody’s mindset. But it’s like, well, it’s not the same thing. How can we still keep our members dialed in? How can we still keep them engaged? How can we still provide value to them? Almost everybody is shifting to online. A lot of people started doing it anyway and different aspects of it. We have member portals for clients where they offered those kind of things before this stuff even started. But that’s the big shift is going online because now you can do it from the comfort of your home, and I can still provide some value to them. But, see, that’s not enough because that’s not why they came to you is for this digital thing. You have an excuse to be able to do it now because basically the government is everywhere telling you, “Hey, you got to shut it down”, so you have an excuse. But you can’t take that for granted that that’s going to be enough, so what else can we do. What else can we provide for our current members? Well, can we offer some coaching that’s over and above the workouts? Some nutrition guides? Things that we could literally do over a computer now. I don’t have to commute to do it. They don’t have to come see me and I can do it in a group setting or I can even do someone I want. That’s for paying members. Maybe we are going to do some things where when we open back up. For as long as we are closed, we are going to offer everybody upgraded memberships for two to three times that amount of time. So if we are closed for a month for example, when we open back up, you are automatically be upgraded to our highest level membership for three months at no additional charge. That’s an idea. Maybe we have big freaking big plaque made, and everybody who’s stuck with us through this deal gets their name on the plaque as recognition, right. I have these little boot camp things. I do a workshop called the Membership Sales Boot Camp. It’s an 8-hour, intensive, only on membership sales, and at the end of it I have these little dog tags that I give people. And it says, Membership Sales Boot Camp, and the whole deal. They got the little gold, so it’s like a little piece of jewelry, right? But they cost me about a dollar or something. People love these things. It’s like a little piece of recognition that they went through this boot camp, right? I’m bringing that up because how can we recognize the members who stuck with us in a special way. Maybe we can get a lanyard that has a laminate on it, like you go to a concert when you are a VIP, and they get a recognition for sticking with us. And they get their name on the wall, and they get this extra upgraded membership, and maybe we do some extra classes for them based on whatever your service offerings are. What can I do extra? What can I do to keep them engaged? And what I can do now also? So I do my online thing. I’ve got live content. I’ve got recorded content. But, you know, one big thing is talking to people and reassuring them that, “Hey, things are going to be alright. You’re going to get through this. I’m going to be here.” Now is not the time to slack on your goals just because you’re not stepping your foot inside the gym, and I’m going to do my part. 

Kevin:Yeah. I think that’s the most important thing. Tell me about, maybe this is a challenge for you seeing as you are an expert in this stuff. When we go beyond holding on to people who we have now, how would you go about selling a new membership today?

Erik:There’s a lot of ways that you can do it. A couple of examples, so one, we are offering online sessions, right. You could start out with no recorded content. Do your live stuff, record it, and now it’s in the bank for other people to come through. So you can offer different levels. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say I start on I say, “Okay, I’m doing free online live workshops.” Now, you got to be careful with this because why are your members going to continue to pay you if it’s free for everybody. 


Erik:Okay, so you got to be careful with this and you got to listen to what I’m telling you here because there’s got to be a differentiation between what’s being paid for and what isn’t. I’m a member of a website called Creative Live. They have photography classes. They have all kinds of stuff. It’s a great website for learning stuff. There’s all kinds of different experts on there to teach courses. And what they do, and I love this idea and it’s what got me into it, is they go live. You sign up for it, you can watch it live. Then if you want to be able to have access to it later you got to pay. One thing that you can do is you can do your workouts live, but then if you want access to meal plans, nutrition guides, shopping list, sample recipes, recorded content that you can access at any time, review of these workouts later, that’s when you pay while members are going to automatically get it. Now only that but you can do your live workout boom, bam, bing, I’m doing my workout. I’m lifting my arm. I’m doing all the exercises. Hey everybody, if you love that workout and you want to have access to it after we’re gone and we’re off air here, then let me share with you how you can do that. And by the way when you do it you are also going to get meal plans, you’re going to get this, this, this and this. All you got to do is click the link and boom. Now there is a member portal that they are offered. Maybe you can do $1 for the first week, and then $19.99 every week thereafter. We are playing with different price points right now. 

Kevin:Yeah. I think we get to a little bit more… It thus sounds that nearly when this is all over the free trial of a gym is probably going to be some sort of online workout or some sort of live workout. That’s the way it’s going to go. 

Erik:Yeah. And you know what’s cool? Here is the thing, I’ve been saying this for years that people are afraid to come to the gym. They want to. They want to get in shape but they are afraid to come to the gym. We know this. Studies are now backing me up on this. I’m not saying I’m some like fortuneteller or anything. The only reason I knew it is because I was in the gym and I was hearing it. I was recognizing this, so we know people are afraid. This can be another tool for us to get people comfortable, to get people who are afraid to show up no matter I say to try us out. 

Kevin:I think it is the same for any type of new studio, or gym, or class that you’re going to go to. You’ll never know what you’re going to expect and there is always that fear that you’re going to be the odd one out. 

Erik:Right, a 100%. Now they can do it, and here is the other piece to it. Now that I’ve got them in my online portal there are certain things they are not going to have access to. Now is my chance to upgrade, so now I’m calling them. So somebody is paying me $15, $20 a week, whatever it is. Now I have a program that I could recommend for them that’s a little more personalized that gives them access to the live workouts, some other. You have different pieces that’s in there. So maybe when you buy you get the recorded ones, but you don’t get access to the lives ones or vice versa.

Kevin:Or the other way around, yeah. 

Erik:But you set it up.

Kevin:Yeah, there’s different. Everyone is going to be experimenting this stuff and we’ll figure out how the best way as to structure it. But it sounds to me if I have to summarize everything you’ve told me so far in terms of conserving your existing members, just get these workouts going, get these online workouts going, use up all your day, get the one-to-one sessions going but don’t just think about that. Think about growing as well a little bit and how can you reuse all this online content to start building a little bit of a funnel when you’re back up and running or for attracting more people in. 

Erik:Yeah. I mean, totally. And the thing is when you are looking at this it’s about how can I still deliver. Just because I’m not physically going to a gym and sitting at that desk or walking around the facility, somehow now I can’t do it. 

Kevin:I think the other question is what are these people really buy when they bought this membership?


Kevin:Was this gym different to the next one. They probably bought the trainer that they match or the setup that you have.

Erik:They bought you, period. It doesn’t matter whether you are using Hammer Strength, Rogue, Nautilus, whatever, NordicTrack. I better get them all in there before they complain. But it doesn’t matter what you were using. What mattered was you. They bought you. That’s the difference. 

Kevin:I think that’s a good thing for people to remember and takeaway. Let’s just move a little bit. There’s so much to this and so much of it is new. But give me two or three key things people need to consider now as they start building out their online programs and their live classes. What mistakes have you seen people make already and how can we help people skip over some of those mistakes? 

Erik:Well, first and foremost don’t ignore quality of what you are doing. You know, there’s so many gurus, “Oh, you got an iPhone.” I’m like, get out of my face. Is that you? Are you really that level of a brand where you’re going to put content out that’s iPhone. No offense to Apple. But, you know, get a setup that has audio, have lights. You don’t have to get expensive with this. I literally just went and did a setup for somebody. This is the setup. You have your computer in front of you, literally bought computer, Lenovo, all in one, touch screen. It cost $539 U.S. at Walmart which is the only place open around here. Okay. That had a webcam on it. We set it up at a six foot folding table, so it was about torso height. There is a light on each side of the webcam so that you’re lit up. Okay. Then, we get a little Plantronics Bluetooth headset. I forget what it was called. I think it’s 52 Bluetooth, something 52, the model number. But it goes in your ear and it’s got a little microphone. So you can hear people and you can talk to them and it is quality. It sounds good. It can be 33 feet away from the source of where it is going into, Bluetooth.

Kevin:How much you pay for that?

Erik:That was $30.        


Erik:And the lights were $40 apiece. Then you get Zoom, $15 a month, and you’re going to stand back probably about 10-12 feet from the webcam. You’re going to be in full view. You’re going to be totally lit up. You want to have a light overhead too so you want to kind of be underneath that so you got some back lit there. You’re going to look amazing. You’re going to sound amazing. And you’re going to get all that done and you’re all in for under $700 or something. 

Kevin:If you already have a table it’s less than $700. 

Erik:You’re looking professional and you’re sounding professional. You are not having this echo thing or grainy look. I mean, you can have a decent setup for very low cost but we don’t want a skimp. I’m seeing a lot of people dropping their iPhones on a freaking tripod hoping that that’s going to do it, you know. Not only that but you could add one more thing to that. You could add at TV with and HDMI cable out to the TV, a big TV, so that you can see everybody really, really well. And that’s going to cost you another couple of $100. So under $1000, you’ve got the whole setup plus a huge TV to see everybody and already most gyms got those TVs already in there. Take it off the wall and do a different setup with it. It’s a basic 3-point light system. You got good audio, good video, they can see you, they can hear you, you can interact and you can rock and roll. My whole point is this. It’s not hard to do a quality thing. Sometimes we think, “Oh well, it’s either iPhone or $10,000 camera.” No it’s not. That’s not what you got to do. That basic setup will take care of you.

Kevin:I think this is just really simple for somebody who is literally at home now who closed a week ago that doesn’t that anything. They can be up and running for literally a couple of days’ work, few hundred dollars, and they are up and running. And it’s not a massive technical jump that you need to make to be able to make this happen.

Erik:A 100%.

Kevin;You can find it online. You can read in a blog. It’s all there and it’s just a matter of doing it.

Erik:Yeah. And the guy that I set that up for he didn’t know how to use Gmail when I first met him. Understand? So you definitely don’t have to be technical at all. Another thing that I’m going to point out with this. If you’re running classes, okay, continue to run those at the same time. Don’t go, “Well, everybody is home now so instead of doing 7 o’clock at night. I’m going to do it at 1:00 in the afternoon.” Keep the routine going. Keep them on their schedule, oaky. It’s important for that especially when you open back up. 

Kevin:The last thing I want to cover off today is, you know, few months’ time touch to what when this is all over. How do you think fitness industry will have changed? How people go about selling memberships and the journey that people go on from talking to you first to becoming a member? How is that going to change and how can people set themselves up for that while they might have a little bit more quiet now?

Erik:I think what’s the industry is going to change as a whole is rewind a month ago. You have online fitness people and you have brick and mortar fitness people. Those people weren’t the same, right? Brick and mortar people hated online fitness people. It’s like you guys are taking business… You are not doing it right. It was like two different people. Now, those two people are going to be one and the same. Because you are going to know as a brick and mortar, and I think brick and mortar has a huge advantage here, because they have a physical location to go to. And that’s always going to be something people are going to want. I was watching a show 60 Minutes and they are interviewing people. There was a lady that was in quarantine the are interviewing, “What’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get off quarantine.” She is like, “I’m going to the gym.” Our industry is going to bounce back bigger than the freaking stock market. I mean, we’re going to have a huge boom because people are cooped up. They are going to want to be around people. Brick and mortar has a huge advantage in that sense. Whereas, online fitness people they don’t have a place to go to. I think what’s going to happen is and should happen is we’ve been forced to create this online content, this online training, and we need to continue to do that. When we open back up it’s going to help bring people into it. Because it’s going to give people, you know, it’s like instead of diving into the swimming pool they can tip their toe and see if the water is good enough to jump in. Then they can jump in because they have a place to jump in at. Right? And so when we open back up, now, instead of doing this content and class is separate, I can do my live class on the internet, at the location, and at the end of class I could say, “Hey, everybody thanks for joining us. Everybody who is in class today. Everybody who is out there in the digital world if you love this workout…” And boom I got a pitch at the end, you know.

Kevin:That makes a lot of sense. Two things, so, first of all definitely in terms of all this online content is now your marketing and it’s probably your free trial. But I think also, what you said, it’s really important that people need to remember is about this bounce back and getting the timing right that you’re open for business when this bounce back happens. All those people who maybe went off somewhere else, you know, left awhile back. How do you get back in front of them when they are ready and they want to go somewhere and all those other people in the market that want to go somewhere that isn’t their house? And you got to be there when that starts to happen.  

Erik:One other quick thing about getting new members that I didn’t mention and I want to mention. We have past prospects that never showed up. They said they want to workout. They become a lead somehow. They never showed up. Go back to them right now and say to them, “Hey, I have this exciting thing for you. You weren’t able to get here for whatever reason three months ago. Not a big deal, I understand, but I have something so exciting for you. I want to share this with you. We now have some online training that you can literally do from the comfort of your own home. I’d love to talk to you about that and share that with you.” That might be the thing that gets them in. Now everybody is losing their job. Not everybody is not going to have income. There is a percentage of people that will. But they are not going to be prospects for us anyway so don’t be ashamed or feel weird about going back to somebody whose life you could have changed but they didn’t show up. Because now all they got to do is show up in front of their monitor. 

Kevin:Yeah. Now they have the time. 

Erik:Yeah, the time, the location works. What’s the excuse now?

Kevin:There is none. Okay, Erik, you are an absolutely gold mine of insights. And I hope we did you just on the listeners got some of this and understood some of the ideas that you here. Thank you very much. My last question is what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the last couple of weeks.

Erik:I kind of alluded to it earlier is about telling your story. I’m such a technique guy. I’m such a, “Hey, this is how you deal with the… I need to think about it. This is the steps you take.” That I don’t really get into my story in a sense that I think a lot of us tend to do that where we’re just so focused on getting somebody from point A to point B that we don’t realized that our story can help get on point A, point B too. And how inspiring it can be to hear about somebody who struggled with something and overcame it. I think that’s a big thing that I learned and just talking to clients who were freaking out at first. I mean, your business is boom especially in the U.S. business was booming here. And it went from booming to zippo. Our industry literally, nothing… I don’t know if that’s ever happened except for drug dealers that get busted. Right? Their business goes to zippo because they are in jail. Our business went to zippo for no reason of our own. We had to deal with it, you know. But that was a big eye opener to me. Especially as it related to my personal story because I don’t share that with people very often. For me, it never seems relevant to talk about what was me stuff and the things I overcame, or the struggles I had as a kid, and all these negative things because to me they are negative. To a certain degree I turned them into positive. But, yeah, I don’t want people to think like I’m complaining about something or what was me or that kind of thing. That was a big lesson I learned for sure, so I encourage everybody to do that. Share your story, tell people what your journey has been like, so that they can be inspired to continue their journey. 

Kevin:Okay, we’ll leave there because I think you’re right. Everyone needs inspiration for where we’re at right now. Okay. Listen, Erik, thank you very much. Just give us ten seconds before you go how people get in touch. I’m sure there’s going to be some people with some questions. How can they found you out?

Erik:Sure. Well, thanks for having me again. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to your audience. You can find me any social media, Erik Charles Russell. The book is called The Art of Selling Memberships. Also, if you like, we can actually… I’ve been asked for this stuff. I have a kit that I put together called COVID-19 Membership Sales Success Kit, and I’m giving it away. I’m not charging for it at all. So you’re not going have to go pay a dollar, nothing. You just go tell me where you want me to send it. You don’t have to give me your phone number. Nothing. Just tell me where you want it to go and I’ll send it to you. It’s a press release to your online classes and we’re already seeing success with this where you’re releasing it to the media. It’s a positive story about a business that’s been literally forced to close and we’re seeing action on that. News stories, gyms getting covered for that. It’s a Facebook ad to get people into your online, your sales funnel, to get you to the online classes. It’s a sales script to sell them, to upgrade the programs afterwards. And it’s also email series so if they come into your site and they don’t become a member, you are reaching back out to them. All written for you. That’s all included in addition there is a link to get a complete sales funnel. It’s already done and built, and a membership as well, already done and built. You just put your content into it. Totally free. 100% no obligation to do anything. If you’d like to get that, that you can go to

Kevin:Erik, I hope we talk again soon and stay safe in the meantime, and thank you very much.

Erik:Thank you, man. I appreciate it.      

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