Over the next few days I am going to be sharing with you my interview with Ryan Lee, who is the godfather of fitness marketing. He’s helped numerous people to build six and seven figure businesses and is one of the Top 100 Fitness Entrepreneurs In The Industry.
Craig: Hey everyone, this is Craig Ballantyne from Financial Independence Monthly and Internet Independence. I’m here with one of my mentors, old friend, probably the guy that I met the longest on the internet. It is Mr. Ryan Lee, the one and only. Ryan, welcome to the call.
Ryan: Craig, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here. It’s an honor and I’m proud of everything you’ve accomplished and let’s just rock and roll.
Craig: Yeah, well same as you, my friend. We met way back in 1998, so why don’t you tell us what you were doing on the internet in 1998?
Ryan: 1998, yeah that takes us back a long time, over 15 years. At that time, I was still working full-time in the children’s rehab hospital and I was a recreational therapist. But on the side, I was a personal trainer and I had a personal training business.
My personal training business was essentially specializing in training athletes. So I would train mostly young athletes, some college kids and I wanted to build a little website just to promote my training business.
Now I didn’t know anything about the internet I wasn’t a techie so I hired my neighbor, Jonathan, who is 12 years old, literally 12 years old, and lived across the street from me, and I bought a program called FrontPage 98, because it was 1998. That was the big thing. I paid him, I don’t know, maybe $20 or $30 and he helped me set up the site.
The whole site back then was just information about my training company and a lot of training articles. I was writing articles, how to improve your speed and vertical jump and all that kind of stuff.
Then Craig, you were the first guy that essentially started working for me. You started writing articles. I don’t remember if I posted an ad at the NSCA website saying hey, I’m looking for writers. You were the first guy to respond and you just became really reliable. If you remember, the first way I started to monetize it, I started to do online training programs for athletes. After a while, I couldn’t keep up so I actually hired you and you started creating training programs for them.
Craig: Yeah, we did a few.
Ryan: Yeah, we did a few and then I hired a couple of other guys to start doing training programs. So the way I monetized it back then was through training programs, I started selling training equipment like medicine balls and bands. It was all drop-shipped and then started doing digital products. That’s really how I got started.
Craig: Yeah, and then you kind of moved in to more working with the trainers as opposed to the end users, right?
Ryan: Right. So then if you fast forward, I’ll sum up four years in about 30 seconds her because I don’t want to bore people with details. So the site started going well and then fast forward to about year 2000. I was still doing this part-time, working in the Children’s Hospital, at a company by the name of E-Team saying, “Hey we want to buy your site.” This was right before the dot com bust. Everything was, you hear about all these IPO’s and you know people making millions and millions of dollars. They said, “We’ll give you $500 in cash but we’ll give you all these stock options.” They showed me fancy graphs and they said it’s going to be worth millions and millions of dollars and they gave me a really nice salary.
So I left the job at the hospital, started working for them, and then about three months later, the whole bust happened and they essentially let everybody go. So I had to scramble find another job and then I went to work at an internet publishing company called internet.com and it was just not a very good experience. Some people are not meant to work in a cubicle and I was one of them and it was apparent within about five minutes of working there. I had to commute on the train. It was just not good. My boss and I just did not get along. It was not a very good fit. I remember during the interview they were like, “Well, you’re going to be editing the site. Do you know HTML?” I’m like oh sure. I didn’t know HTML. I picked it up learning on the way so obviously not a good idea to say.
Craig: You should have learn it on the train.
Ryan: Yeah, exactly. So I was still building sites on the side while I was working there. After seven months, I was let go, the first time I was actually like fired. And then I got a job right away back in my wheel house I became a gym teacher. Again on the side, I was always building my website and trying to build some revenue.
Then when I became a gym teacher, that’s when I really became serious about the internet and I built my first paid membership site at the end of 2001. The first month out of the gate, it brought in about $5,000 or $6,000, and then I had about six to seven months of consistent income, $5000 or $6000 a month, and then I told my wife look, this is going really well. I’m making more than I’m making as a gym teacher. If I do this full-time, I might be able to double it and maybe even make $100,000 a year. That would have been like a dream. We didn’t have any kids at the time so she was so supportive. Again, that was back late 2001, early 2002, and now I’ve been kind of jobless for the past 11 years.
Craig: Right I remember back when right around that time, maybe a little bit earlier, I thought $100,000 was the dream ticket as well. Now what was your big breakthrough in terms of what actually worked for you? Maybe even go a little bit further along the lines after this where you’ve gone full-time now and talk about what the next big step was for you.
Ryan: Okay, yeah. So that was that paid membership site that one that really gave me the ability to leave my job. What I recommend before I even go any further is that I never tell my clients to quit their job. Some people are like well, I quit and I’ll burn all the bridges. No, do not do that. These are things you can do on the side. I did it when I was working in the school and we had no internet. The school is in the South Bronx. Anyone who know South Bronx and the Hunts Point, it’s the worst area. So I used to walk to the public library past the drug dealers and the gang members to go to the library. So if I could do it, you guys could certainly do it.
So that was kind of the first breakthrough but the next level breakthrough—that was again training coaches and athletes on the training—the next breakthrough was about a year and a half, two years later, I had enough fitness professionals saying to me, “Hey Ryan, if you could do this, if you could make money online and build a membership site, can you teach me how to do it?” And they started on the forum, it was really interesting, in the community a lot of people started asking more business-related questions than training.
Then I said let me do a program teaching other people how to do this because my personal training business had gone pretty well and I feel like I always had a good head for business. So I started teaching it and that was like the first kind of launch breakthrough. It was a $200 training program and I was really nervous on how to charge so much. Oh my god, it’s $200. Are people really going to pay for this?
To show you how long ago this was, I was still torn between offering it as CDs or cassettes. I remember looking at catalogues, looking at cassette duplicators saying okay, I might just do cassettes because that’s what people still have. So I sold it for $199 and I did it on a teleseminar and I sold all hundred spots out. So that was $20,000 over the course of like three days and that was just mind-blowing. That was kind of the next big breakthrough, it was going for a premium-priced product and getting away from the end-user and going more towards a niche market, specifically a profession. In my case, it was fitness professionals.
Craig: What’s kind of funny is that you went—this is a little off topic from the questions I sent you—but you went and then did years of live events and now you’re back to doing virtual events. I know that I didn’t prepare you for this but can you maybe talk a little more about that right now, about what you think about live events versus virtual events?
Ryan: Absolutely, and by the way Craig, you don’t have to stick to the questions because I looked at them for about three seconds. So don’t feel bad. I love going off the cuff. The question is then the difference between live events and virtual events?
Craig: Yeah. What are the pros and cons of each, I suppose?
Ryan: It’s a great question and I’ve done a lot of each. The live events, there’s still something very special in doing a live event and by live I mean in person, face to face, belly to belly. It’s just such a great way to build great relationships, to get to know people, to get to know your members, to build a sense of community.
My first big live event was 2005 or 2006, my Ryan Lee Boot Camp for Trainers and people still talk about it. If you look at the picture of people who attended it, like Mike Geary, Vince Delmonte, all these people who’ve become really successful, a lot of them date their relationships and the people they met back to that event, Alwyn Crosgrove, Zach Even-Esh, and all these different fitness professionals.
So there is something still special about a live event. They could be really good paydays if you do it right and it’s just I personally enjoy it. I love being on stage. I love entertaining people. It’s a lot of fun. It does take work. It does take effort so the advantage is that you’re not going to have a lot of competition because most of your competitors don’t want to put the work in.
On the flipside of that, the disadvantage is there’s nowhere to hide. If you do a virtual event and it’s a bomb and you get 20 people, or you have a digital a product and you sell only 30 copies of your ebook, okay, no one really has to know. But if you have a live event and you get 18 people to show up and you have speakers and all these expenses, it can not only cost you a lot of money, it looks terrible.
I’ve been asked to speak at events. I was asked to speak in an event about three years ago and I said no, but this was a guy who used to pack rooms with 300, 400, or 500 people and he said registration is really low. I said no, I really don’t want to speak at that event. I know the guy who took my place and he said they had a huge room and there were eight people who attended and multiple speakers and two days of training. There’s just nowhere to hide.
Again, it can be expensive if you’re not doing it right. There’s cost for space and you can get the space for free if you guarantee a certain number of rooms. If you’re going to be recording it, you’re going to have the audio/visual crew, which can be thousands and thousands of dollars. There’s some staff you’re going to need. There’s little things like badges and handouts. There’s just a lot of stuff to coordinate. There are a lot of advantages and there’s definitely some disadvantages and you could lose a lot of money.
The advantages of virtual events, they’re just so easy to do. All you need is a computer and internet access and you’re off to the races. There’s a really low barrier to entry. I’m going to be doing two more live online events over the next three months that I’m really excited about. I just like it because you can just reach so many more people and it’s almost all profit because like I said, there is no cost. There’s really not a lot of risk. It doesn’t have the same feel as an in person event and because there is such a low barrier to entry, there is going to be more competition. So you just kind of see what your goal is. Is it to reach more people? Is it to bring in more revenue? Is it to just build relationships?
I’m trying now, this newest event, this Work Anywhere LIVE! event, I’m trying a combination where I’m doing a small live workshop on one day but I’m streaming it live on the internet for free. People can buy the DVD.
Craig: Oh that’s a great idea, man. That’s really great.
Ryan: So I’m doing that, depending when you’re listening to this, in a week. I’m always willing to push the envelope and try new things.
Craig: Yeah, definitely. Just to sum up on a couple of things you said there, when my friend Jason Ferruggia got married last year, all we talked about at the reception—it was me, Zach, Allen and a bunch of other guys—was 2006 events in Stanford Connecticut. So it’s like you said, you really do bring people together.
Even if you don’t talk to the people for years, they still remember it and the live event is a really, really big thing. I’m doing a live event this weekend for Turbulence Training. We have 175 people coming, it’s going to be really great, and I know it really impacts people tremendously but I think what you’re doing with the small group combined perhaps is the wave of the future.
Then you said something that really impressed me and I think that’s why you’re successful, it’s that you’re willing to push the envelope.
Thank Ryan we’ll end it here for today. Join us tomorrow for more great advice from my friend and mentor.
Craig Ballantyne, CTT
Certified Turbulence Trainer