After spending 20 years working for others as an employee, Johnny Shelby made a big decision. An avid exercise enthusiast his entire life, he decided to make the move and become a self-employed coach, fitness consultant and metabolic specialist. His goal? To help competitive cyclists, marathon runners, swimmers and triathletes perform at their peak. In 2008, Johnny opened his full-time, one-man business, Third Coast Training.
Fast forward a few years, and Johnny now runs three Third Coast Training locations in the greater Houston area. He and his small team provide individualized, one-on-one endurance training, sport-specific testing and weight loss plans for customers looking to train smarter – not harder – by knowing how each client's body responds to exercise. He also works with coaches, teams and athletic clubs on a variety of customized programs.
As time went on, Johnny found more and more training studios pop up in the area. "I had lost a little of my niche," he says. The demand for professional trainers was growing, and bigger players entering the market were overshadowing his small business.
Ever the competitor, Johnny quickly sought out ways to differentiate himself. He started using VerticalResponse email marketing as a way to build loyalty and referrals among his clients. "I didn't have a lot of dollars to spend on marketing, so email and VerticalResponse gave me the biggest bang for my buck," he says.
Johnny soon came face to face with another hurdle: Social media.
"Facebook really hit me in 2009," he says. "I thought it was pretty interesting stuff. But I felt like kindergartener among the collegiate crowd. It was painfully obvious that I was a novice, and I felt out of my league."
Despite his lack of social media expertise, Johnny signed his business up for Facebook and Twitter because he knew they were essential channels for building word-of-mouth. Still, he felt he was slowly lagging behind because he simply didn't have adequate time – as a small business owner – to dedicate to social media.
"I was thinking, where do these people find time to publish all this stuff?" he says. "I didn't want to be the company that posts and sends things for no reason. At the same time, I realized that with social media, you need to do it more often, but still keep it relevant, useful and fun."
Cumulatively, Johnny was setting aside at least three to four hours per week to brainstorm content, search for articles and decide how and where to broadcast it. "I was really struggling," he remembers. "Doing all of it myself, there was a lot of missed opportunity. The time consumed to market my business with this media was ridiculous."
In June 2012, Johnny began receiving emails from VerticalResponse about its new offering, VerticalResponse Social. He signed up for a free trial immediately.
"When I found out about VerticalResponse Social, it was like the man upstairs answered my prayer," he says.
The VerticalResponse platform enables users to create and schedule their social media posts up to 30 days in advance, track engagement, and respond to comments, all from one integrated dashboard. For multi-day or multi-week campaigns, VerticalResponse Social provides recommendations on the ideal number of links, questions, quotes or status updates to publish over the campaign duration.
For Johnny, one of the key benefits that attracted him to VerticalResponse Social was the content library. He gets up-to-the-minute content from popular health and fitness news sources fed directly to his VerticalResponse Social dashboard, eliminating the need to scour the Web for content to share.
"VerticalResponse really makes it so easy," says Johnny. "I can sit down and crank out a campaign in minutes."
Using VerticalResponse has translated into real dollars for Third Coast Training. Johnny says the time savings alone equates to one paying client, which on average brings in about $300.
Recently, a client who had just completed a one-on-one swim instruction session with the company returned a few weeks later for a performance test to train smarter. What prompted her to come back? She had subscribed to Third Coast Training's Facebook page, and the steady trickle of social media posts piqued her attention enough to return for more. This directly led to an additional $450 in business revenue. A week later, her friend scheduled an assessment as well – another $275 in revenue.
Johnny likens his posts and tweets to "little messages that tap my clients on the shoulder and remind them to get back in the game."
"VerticalResponse Social makes me look like one of the big dogs," he says. "My competitors aren't all that active on social media, so it gives me the edge."
Stretching my marketing dollars. There have been times I was just fishing with an empty hook getting no return for my investment. I've done TV, print, Yellow Pages, newsletters, Internet ads and much more. I like my marketing dollars to have bang.Biggest lesson you've learned as a small business owner:
Being patient and work your plan (business plan). Staying focused on what I do best has allowed me to increase my sales year over year. The times I veered off track from my plan, there was a traceable drop in sales. Also, having a plan allows you to know where you want to be. Not having a plan leaves you with only knowing what you have done. Who wants to drive with only a rear view mirror?What do you like best about your work? What keeps you going?
I enjoy helping clients understand what they need to do to break their plateau, whether it be weight loss or athletic performance. All of this is based on their performance assessment using a metabolic cart and lactate analyzer – just no-nonsense, science-based training and testing.
As far as what keeps me going? Getting a call or email from a client that they've hit their goal or pr'd (new personal record) on their last race. This motivates their friends and peers to give me a call and the opportunity to do the same for them.