Freelance Fitness Instructors’ New Best Friend: Meet OnPodio


According to the BLS, the global fitness industry was worth $87 billion dollars (USD) in 2019. There were about 373,000 fitness trainers and aerobic instructors in the US. Fitness clubs and centers were busy and actively growing. There were, according to Statistica, 174 million fitness club members around the world. 

But that was then. The impact of the pandemic was immediate and devastating to fitness coaches and instructors who relied on work in facilities that were either shut down or abandoned by all but the most diehard ‘fitness freaks’ for fear of catching or giving others Covid 19. Here in the US, most states temporarily closed fitness centers; many are still not allowing gyms to operate. And, as freelance fitness coaches and instructors struggled with shut down gyms and fitness studios, innovators pivoted to online. 

Online fitness has been a thing, but sheltering in place requirements across the US and internationally has led individuals to online fitness coaching and classes en mass. A recent report estimated the online or virtual fitness market as expanding across applications and tech platforms, and estimates the size of the market as $59 billion dollars (USD) by 2027: It was just $6 billion in 2019, or less than 10% of the total fitness coaching market.  I asked Atlanta-based financial advisor and fitness fanatic Kasey Gartner for her general thoughts about online exercise:

“The rapid rise of online exercise apps makes perfect sense: people realize they need this outlet but have had no physical place to go. Longer term, people will be back in the gym. People yearn for community and gyms are important social outlets. But, online fitness will likely continue to grow as a part of the health and wellness ecosystem – not just for instructors but also for producers of content as a means of driving and keeping client loyalty, and generating additional subscription revenue.”

The pandemic won’t last forever. Vaccines are increasingly available and millions are being vaccinated as I write. Gyms and fitness studios will reopen. But, for many fitness coaches and instructors, it’s been difficult to figure out how to stay afloat financially and keep the business open and then take the actions that are needed to do so. 

Fitness coaches and instructors are, overall, a freelance force. There are multiple ways that fitness professionals participate as freelancers:

  • As individual freelance solopreneurs
  • As freelance entrepreneurial partners in a studio or gym where they teach and manage
  • As freelance instructors operating through a gym or fitness company e.g., Equinox
  • As freelance professionals in the larger fitness ecosystem, as writers, videographers, photographers, software developers and designers, educators, exercise curriculum developers, fitness equipment designers, and specialized areas such as working with seniors such as Age Bold.

But the larger fitness community is not the topic of this article: my focus in on the individual solopreneur or small freelance entrepreneurial partnership. And, as Covid 19 raged, they needed help.

There are certainly many fitness instructors, yoga teachers, coaches, that are smart and savvy business people. They know how to attract and retain their clients. They are online, they’ve got a website up and a Calendly or equivalent scheduling app to make it easy to set appointments. They show pictures on the website and videos of typical sessions. They provide a blog for their clients and potential clients that advises on exercise and other areas of fitness like healthy eating, taking care of oneself, and what you can do to stay optimistic and positive during challenging times. And, they have client testimonials on the website to reinforce their reputation. 

But a large population of exercise and fitness coaches and instructors were blindsided by the speed and severity of Covid 19. And, they weren’t sure how to shift their business from personal to virtual.   

That’s where onPodio comes in.  Amber Allan, the solopreneur of Tuff It Out Fitness in Halifax Canada, an onPodio client, explained it this way:

“It allows me to focus on what I love to do. Don’t like paperwork. Don’t like collecting money. I like to work with people and teach them, and onPodio  handles the rest. I was able to make the change quickly, and it would have taken months otherwise as I fumbled to make it work. During Covid 19, it gave me a safe way to earn a living: being in peoples’ homes virtually. And, it looks like many people want to continue the video approach, which saves me time and cost, and another aspect to the business that can grow. I don’t have to depend on just my local community now: my market is the province and the country.”

onPodio was created by Kal Jamshidi in April 2020. Jamshidi is a Melbourne based Australian former investment banker who, during a period working in the US Bay Area, was frustrated to learn that his fitness instructor was moving east. As he put it, “I realized how important the instructor was to my experience as a consumer – I went to that class specifically because of her, not necessarily because of the studio. It was the intangibles: the way she taught, the feedback, the music and sense of humor. She was leaving a town where she had a strong, but localized brand to a new town where she knew no one. It was obvious that with the right digital tools instructors could harness the power of their brands and customer loyalty to create their own amazing standalone online businesses.”

Jamshidi began with a plan to create a social network for fitness instructors, but it quickly evolved into the onPodio concept: creating a business in a box platform for fitness instructors that would give them the digital tools needed to build and manage their online business. Tools like setting up a website, automating bookings and the administration of payments, managing membership, organizing class packages, and allowing instructors to offer their class recordings on-demand.

OnPodio is not, strictly speaking, a marketplace for fitness instructors as, for example, UK Urban.co is a platform for Yoga instruction and massage. Rather, is it a service that provides individual freelance instructors and freelance entrepreneurial instructor teams with the tools they need to get online, market their offering, manage their business, and build their community. 

Jamshidi’s ambition for onPodio? He has grown the business to 550 instructors, and freelance instructor growth is expanding rapidly. He understands that growth requires continuous improvement of the business tools, and an expansion of services that help fitness instructors not just automate the admin of their business but that also help them attract and retain customers through community tools. On top of  Jamshidi’s priority list: reinforcing the community.  As his initial vision for onPodio was a social network, he recognizes better than most the importance of a robust community and network resources. He sees providing more networking as well as business tools, and offering stronger access to education and best practice over time.

What’s the potential size of the onPodio market? As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there were 373,000 fitness coaches and instructors in the US alone in 2019, most of them freelancers, and market growth is estimated by the BLS at 15% per year. onPodio currently represents .0014% of the US market and is growing internationally.  As Jamshidi says, “It’s infinitely scalable – and clearly global – as we continue to arm the fitness freelance entrepreneurs creating this new era in fitness.”

Viva la revolution!



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