Over the last few months, I’ve been a part of Canon Imaging’s launch of their new MAXIFY printer. They asked me to write a few articles that show small business owners how to leverage the power of print in their marketing and then select a winner from among my community of readers.

The Canon MAXIFY Winner’s Circle

Last week, I featured Joe Carson and Joe Matthews from CitySpeakez.com who shared how they used YELP reviews, Google and Facebook advertising and social media engagement to fill their foreign language programs.

This week, I’d like to spotlight another winner, Shawn M. Miller, CEO of FLEX Fitness Centers in Michigan (and a marketing expert in his own right who helps small business owners become celebrities in their market).

Here’s an interview I did with Shawn about the marketing strategies he uses to drive engagement and build membership for FLEX Fitness Center.

What strategy did you use to attract more ideal customers to your business this year?

We’ve used a simple, but very effective online strategy for FLEX Fitness Center. What we’ve noticed is that even more than the big Social Media sites, Directories are the top Search results (I assume because they are big sites with tons of credibility to the Search Engines). I include with this the Search Engine?s own Local Listings directories. We have found that by having fully complete and current data including images and videos in the Directories gives up easy local search dominance.

Secondary to that, we’ve asked our customers to actively engage in giving Reviews on those directories. Having many high mark reviews by obvious clients in their own language makes us really stand out and connect quickly with prospects who are similar to our best existing customers.

Give us a social media tip that you use to start conversations with potential customers?

Encouraging our existing customers to Post and Tag themselves in connection with our business begets people who are like our existing customers and who know like and trust them asking them about doing business with us. We can watch these conversations happening Feeds and Comment streams online. And sooner than later we’ll see that Friend show up ready to join with no more questions to ask, fully closed? by our existing customers.

Marketing Cheat Sheet for Fitness Centers

Shawn had a lot of great ideas and I’m going to break them down for you here so that you can quickly get some of them implemented in your business.

  1. Carefully choose your IDEAL customer. I know, you think your ideal customer is anyone who wants to get fit or lose weight — not so. Think carefully about exactly who you want to target and appeal to and structure your fitness center around THEM; their needs, what matters to them and some basic “cool features” that no other fitness center will have because they are NOT focusing on this particular ideal customer. Your choices are endless; body-builders, moms, teens, men, women, weight loss, strength-training. FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS. If you focus your message on a specific customer, they will start coming out of the woodwork. (pssst…. follow the “think carefully” link above and you’ll get the step-by-step process for this — and a worksheet to download)
  2. Craft a marketing message targeted to your ideal customer. Now that you have your ideal customer, start speaking directly to them by crafting message that will make them connect with you like magic. Take a minute and scroll up a little bit. Look at FLEX Fitness’ home page. Shawn is focusing on “Muscle Building and Fat Shredding”. CLEARLY he’s going to attract a specific kind of client. AND this frees him up to create a killer experience just for them. Wanna do the same thing? I’ve got just the outline for you — head back to the DIYMarketers home page and grab my magical messaging article and worksheet)
  3. Create an irresistible offer. If you’ve been struggling with this step, it’s because you haven’t chosen an ideal customer. Creating an irresistible offer is so much fun when you know exactly who you’re talking to and what is really important to them. I’ve created a mini-tutorial article just for that and it’s got a worksheet you can download as well. Grab it here.
  4. Become a celebrity expert in your niche. If you’ve been following my steps here, there is NO REASON on the planet that you cannot become THE celebrity in your niche. In fact, this is exactly what Shawn specializes in. “Don’t be too humble, getting awards/features from major media with big websites is really valuable. FLEX was featured by Bodybuilding.com in 2009 and that article is still 1st page on Google for FLEX Fitness Center.” says Shawn. Don’t hem and haw — I’m talking to YOU. You may not have faced it or admitted it, but you are an expert on something, you just haven’t focused on it yet and created a powerful message around it. In fact, Shawn is actually an expert on being an expert (see what I mean?!).
  5. Put yourself within arms reach of your customer. In the old days we call this DISTRIBUTION. The idea is basically the same. You have to be where your customers are. Take a play out of Shawn’s book and make sure that you are?listed in local online directories such as Google Places, Bing, Yelp, YP.com and Angie’s List. But don’t forget about other business directories like Manta and the Chambers of Commerce. And here’s a secret insider’s tip from Shawn — “If you get more than 5 positive reviews on Google, they will give you a GOLD STAR (as opposed to a blue star).You can go crazy with directories. I’m not directory expert, so I put myself in the shoes of the customer searching for a local health club and found this:
    If you’re EVER in doubt about what to do — put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer…what are they thinking, what worries them, what is missing for them? What might they do when they have a question? ?There is your answer.
  6. Be a helpful and inspirational resource.? Let me begin by saying that I don’t advocate giving stuff away for free — willy nilly. I do, however, support creating a channel or a funnel that guides your ideal customer toward you. Take time to stop and think about what you can provide and give away for free that will have your ideal customer seeing value and benefit in working with you. Make this something that is easy, cheap for you, doesn’t take time and yet provides incredible value for your potential customer. Consider providing short teaser workout videos on your site or on YouTube, share a single simple diet tip or exercise for the day. These should be enough to really provide value for your audience while whetting their appetite for more.
  7. Nurture a community.? All of these steps will ultimately lead you to a place where you’ve created a community or a space where amazing transformations happen. Nurture this community and it will yield word of mouth benefits. Use Facebook groups to keep the community together. This is a free and easy way to engage existing members while encouraging others to join the group. Soon, they will want to join the gym as well.

What you have here is a power-branding session in less than 1200 words. Need proof that it works — just ask Shawn.