Solopreneur Vanessa Liu tapped into technology to turn her passion for fitness into a six-figure business.
If you’ve been dreaming about escaping the doldrums of your day job, the new year might feel like prime time for reinventing yourself. During the Great Resignation, many have been joining the remote work revolution, and turning side hustles into full-time careers.
But if your customers place a high value on seeing you in person, shifting completely to virtual work can be tough. As one fitness trainer discovered, new technology is helping more experts turn their offline skills into online offerings.
Like a lot of us, Vanessa Liu had to radically rethink the way she works over the past two years. As an employee at Equinox, she had formed strong relationships with her clients through face-to-face interactions in the gym.
But by the end of 2020, she realized people were going to stay at home for much longer than anyone had anticipated. That became the catalyst for creating her own online business.
Notice where you’re investing your time and attention
Liu is no stranger to pivots. In fact, long before lockdowns motivated her transition to online training, she’d already made an even more radical career change.
“In my 20s, I worked in software sales,” she explains. “Health and fitness wasn't something I thought I would go into. I studied it in college, but I ended up working in tech.”
Liu says she eventually experienced burnout from trying to meet her monthly quotas. “I felt like I was putting in so much emotional, mental, and physical energy, if this wasn't something I was passionate about, it just didn't make sense for me to stay.”
Then family illness and a personal crisis brought on a dark period that caused her to reevaluate her life and career. “My boyfriend of 5 years broke up with me and my dad was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer,” she explains. “I was devastated and developed very unhealthy habits. I would literally just stay in bed all day and scroll on my phone. I had zero drive because I thought I was a victim of my circumstances.”
Liu says turning to health and fitness eventually gave her confidence in her ability to change.
“Weightlifting gave me a sense of accomplishment. Eating healthy gave me more energy. My body became leaner and physically stronger.”
“The confidence you develop carries over to every other area of your life. It improves your relationships. It improves your work life.”
Then her physical strength started to translate to mental and emotional strength. Liu says that breakthrough led her to stop feeling a victim and take ownership of her life again.
“I’m someone who believes the confidence you develop in the gym carries over to every other area of your life. It improves your relationships. It improves your work life,” she recalls. “That inspired me to become a fitness trainer so I could help others experience the same breakthroughs.”
One day, while working at her desk job, Liu started to notice how her mind would wander away from tech sales. “I remember sitting in my office, and I’d spend the entire afternoon creating a Google Spreadsheet for nutrition and fitness [plans.] I had a monthly quota to hit. Yet, here I was doing health and fitness. That was the moment I realized: This is the passion I want to pursue.”
As she was preparing to change careers, she tapped into a few specific skills that set her up for success.
First, she’d developed crucial customer relationship expertise during her time in the tech sector.
“Working in software sales was a lot of discovery calls, where you sit down and talk, and try to uncover their problem and discover if you have a solution for it,” she explains.
She began applying those skills as a personal trainer at Equinox. Then, as gyms closed during the lockdowns, she saw an opportunity to make a new leap, by becoming a solopreneur serving clients in the tech industry.
“I had background in building rapport with people in assessing them for fitness,” she says. “Now that I'm in my own business, I've been able to build myself to become a full-time private trainer, because I'm able to do Zoom discovery calls.”
Customize the way you communicate with clients
Because of her background in tech, Liu focused on building her client base from connections she made in the industry. It’s been an advantage not only because of her deep understanding of their schedules, lifestyle, and needs, but also because they appreciate her expertise and awareness of recently introduced visual communication and digital content monetization tools.
“Being able to come across as tech savvy to clients, knowing how to speak their language, and knowing these apps and platforms has been really helpful,” she says. Instead of sending an email reminder to clients, Liu records a video herself with Dropbox Capture, a new visual communication tool that lets you send short, simple videos that are easily recorded right on your screen. “I’ll say ‘Hey, Amanda, looking forward to our meeting tomorrow.’ It just comes across a lot more personalized.”
Liu also uses Capture to walk her clients through their workout program and explain her thought process of why she assigned them a specific exercise. “That way, they get a more complete picture of why this exercise is important for their body type or fitness level,” she says. “Clients appreciate that context because when they have clarity on how this will personally benefit them, they’re more excited to do the workout.”
Though most of her online sessions have been live video workouts, Liu has started to offer nutrition coaching for her clients using Capture and Dropbox Shop, a new platform that allows creators to easily sell content directly to their customers.
Liu says Dropbox enabled her to expand her offer to include nutrition, which set her apart from other trainers and attracted clients who wanted nutrition coaching to go with their workouts.
“I typically have clients take photos of what they eat and put it into a shared album,” she says. “With Capture, I can pull up the album screen and provide video feedback, so it’s easier for them to digest. Capture allows me to show the client exactly what meal I’m referring to, comment on specific foods or portion sizes, and make recommendations more quickly and clearly. I can pull up a screen recording of their breakfast, and say, ‘In this meal, great job on eating the eggs to get protein for breakfast. Next time, reduce the syrup on your pancakes by half.’ It’s very helpful for a client, because clear, specific feedback is actionable feedback, so they know exactly how to eat healthier for their next meal.”
Liu says she’s also piloting what she hopes will be a scalable offer: an online course showing clients how to develop habits to eat healthy consistently and work out effectively. “What I’ve seen is that people want transformation, not just information,” she explains. “The transformation they’re getting is a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. I’ll put different aspects of the online course on Shop, then send the links to my pilot program.”
“We have so many tools at our disposal nowadays to run a profitable online business.”
She’s also used Shop as a payment processor. “If I had a new client who wanted to buy a pack of 16 sessions, I just created a listing. The third way I've been using Shop is for clients who weren't ready to invest into training with me. I created what's called a ‘tiny offer,’ a small $27 offer, which I put as a listing on Dropbox Shop.”
Focus on customers, not followers
Now that her new business model has proven to be so convenient and beneficial to both her and her clients, Liu plans to continue training online indefinitely.
“I don't think I will ever go back to the gym,” she says. “We have so many tools at our disposal nowadays to run a profitable online business.”
To aspiring solopreneurs, Liu says this: Don’t wait to build up a big following on social media—start with what you have right now. Before she quit her job at Equinox, the biggest thing holding her back was the belief that she needed to have a big audience. Liu encourages creators to remember that the goal is building a profitable, sustainable business, not growing your vanity metrics.
“I don't have a lot of traffic coming into my social media, yet I have been able to build a six-figure business,” she says. “So my advice would be: anyone can get a like or a comment or a follow, but you have to be really good for someone to hand you their credit card.”