Common Questions + Advice I’d Give Myself Before Writing About Fitness On The Internetz

The amount of questions I get from emails, Facebook messages, and even local trainers about how to get started writing, setting up a website, how to find your voice, how to network, and how to actually get anywhere with online fitness stuff is overwhelming.

I must say that I’m incredibly flattered to get asked all the time, but if I were completely honest with myself, the way I got started is not the way I’d ever recommend anyone doing it.

In fact, there’s a ton of crap I did along the way that could’ve been avoided if I weren’t so damn stubborn.

However, I did learn a lot through the process, and I’ll explain what I learned, and why I may have done things differently if I had the chance to.

For this post, we’re going to just throw out questions I get, and I’ll answer them below.

How did you find your voice? When did you finally become a decent writer?

By far, this is one of the most common questions asked. My answer is usually fairly simple, but I figure I’d elaborate a bit more here.

First off, writing is hard. For me, it’s hard to process all my thoughts at once, and it’s even sometimes emotionally trying, depending on what I’m writing about. If you read my fitness blog, I tend to cover fairly personal stuff from time to time.

Take the hard part, and combine that with the fact I hated everything about english class. I hated reading, and doing research papers.

5-6 years ago, if you told me I’d build a platform as a writer, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But things change. We evolve, and that’s what my journey as a writer has been – an evolution, of sorts.

How I Found My Voice

To put it simply, I wrote a TON of crappy articles. When I was still living in a cramped apartment on the east side of town with mama Deen back in 2008, I’d furiously write 2 articles a week and have her proofread them for me.

She would make grammar checks, and give me her input on the style and structure.

I posted my material without caring too much about what people thought.

I would write and rewrite each article until it felt just right.

Keep in mind, I’d pretty much forgotten most of the style and grammar rules I was supposed to learn in high school and college.

I simply tried to write how I’d speak.

That’s my secret.

I’ll typically produce some word vomit, and then return a day later to clean it up.

Finding your voice is about repetition (writing a lot, and often), and being open to critique. I’ve learned a ton from editors comments and critique.

It’s also about becoming comfortable with who you are and what you’re doing. Back in 2008-2009 while I was still in college and working various jobs, I didn’t think too much about my writing. It was more of an outlet for me, and eventually became something much more than that.

Don’t over think it.

One thing I must say is I’ll never call myself a great writer, but I do believe I’m a great communicator. I don’t craft the best prose, but I know how to get my message across.

This was apparent to me back in my marketing and sales classes at MTSU. When it came time to pitch our product, I felt good about it.

I also learned this most recently the last year as I’ve had the chance to speak to various classes at Belmont and give lectures about fitness here in Nashville.

That’s another tip – write an outline for a table talk, or lecture, and then actually commit to doing it. It will force you to craft something you can stand on in your lecture to keep you on point, and hopefully, keep others engaged.

Enough rambling about this. Want to find your voice? Squash the negative voices inside of you, and just write with reckless abandon. Don’t care about what you come up with initially. Revise until it’s what you want, and move on to the next one.

How Should I Go About Setting Up A Website?

This one is easy. I began using Blogger, and then someone from the depths of the internet introduced me to self-hosted WordPress software and it completely changed the way I published my content from that point forward.

In fact, WordPress has come so far in its abilities in the last 5 years when I began using it.

Any time someone asks me what to use for their website, I always tell them WordPress, hands down.

For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, WordPress is the software that allows you to create content in the form of blog posts and individual pages. In fact, according to Forbes, 17% of the web uses WordPress as a content management system.

Not only is it an amazing software to use for publishing, it’s open-source, meaning completely free, and very stable with a ton of developers in a community making sure it’s robust and, ummm, didn’t I already say it’s amazing?

Next we’ll cover design, which actually was a big obsession of mine for a while (and still is, to be completely honest).

What’s a WordPress Theme?

Most people look at a simple wordpress install and call it ugly. I get it.

I did the same. Luckily, there are these neat concoctions called themes, and it means you can literally make your blog/site look like anything you want. Cool, right?

Yes, it’s very cool, but the thing I warn against the most is trying to have a really cool website designed when you have no content.

In fact, I discourage people to look at themes, or even get the idea of having a professional design created until they’ve stuck with writing consistently for more than 90 days, and have produced at least 20 solid, original articles.

No, I’m not talking about generic One Weird Trick, or 7 Tips For Flat Abs type of articles, either.

I mean really, really good, well-thought-out writing.

If you can’t produce this much content, and feel good about it, then bloggin might not be the best medium for you, and it simply doesn’t make sense to waste a ton of time trying to make your site look super pretty, if you’re not going to be updating it regularly.

Luckily, today we can produce content in the form of video and podcasts, so if that medium is better for you, have at it.

The reason I always suggest against getting a killer design right off the bat is because it takes attention away from where it needs to be, which is the writing.

Also, it’s something that’s easy to become obsessed about. In fact, I even taught myself how to hack and design WordPress child themes – so much that I taught myself HTML, CSS, and even how to hack some php on occasion.

I even did some freelance design for extra cash when building my fitness business.

While those days were fun, it was a lot of time spent that could’ve been used on producing content, creating products, or what have you.

This is my being plagued with an intense interest in many things.

I am still very interested in great design, especially the relationship between design and trust, especially when it comes to conversions.

But we’re not going to go down that rabbit hole today.

So if you don’t focus on design first, but master your content, what then?

Then you decide on the next step, which is whether or not to have a design created (by a professional), and then pursue building and shaping a brand.

Developing A Brand – What Does It Take?

I was hesitant to write on this, but what the hell? There’s a big difference between a fancy web design with a great logo, and a true brand.

A great design doesn’t equal a brand.

Many people ask me, “don’t I need a great looking website if I’m going to be publishing all this content?”

My answer is always “no at first, but eventually, yes, well maybe.”

The reasoning for this is when you’re starting out as a writer, you have no clue about who you will become in 6 months.

Your ideas and writing will evolve, and this is natural. Many things are going to shape you over time.

People’s feedback, response rate, interaction on social media, etc., are all important factors when it comes to how you evolve as a writer.

Some people grow into a role, or a character of sorts. Starting off, this is impossible to predict, especially if this is your first stab at this stuff.

So this is why I always discourage people to have a design created initially. You must take time to allow your persona, and eventually your brand (if you want this) to develop, so when the time comes to chat with a designer, you can explain who you are, what you do, and what your business is about without any guesswork.

They then take your info and create a design that communicates that to outsiders who’ve never met you, or read your work.

Design – Is It Really That Important?

Right now I’m reading a book called Seductive Interaction Design and it’s ALL about designing pretty and useful user interfaces that encourage engagement and make using apps and sites pleasurable (even if you don’t realize you’re getting a hard-on from it).

I love this book because it’s qualifying a bunch of ideas I’d already been thinking about, especially since I redesigned the LGN365 site earlier this year with some of these ideas in mind.

Some of the statistics are unsettling though.

In the book, the author talks about a study that proved users are more apt to trust a really well-designed site with subpar content, over another site that was less aesthetic with the best information ever.

It kind of burns when your competitors with less-than-stellar info are outselling you because their design is amazing and yours blows.

But this is the way of the Internetz. You evolve or die.

And it’s because of this that I pay a lot of attention to the design, and it’s function. Is it easy for someone to navigate? Do they know what they need to do? Is the site viewable on various screen sizes.

I just saw the mockups of the brand new JCD Fitness site soon to be launched, and woo lawd, it’s so much better. I also took the time to find a really talented UX/UI designer to take care of it for me. (thanks to Dustin of Noxxten Creative for all your help!)

In short, design is super important when it comes to displaying your content, and getting people to sign up for your newsletter, buy a product, or use your app. It’s important because you want your brand presented in the best way possible.

But in the beginning, when you’re just writing content, and have nothing to sell, you’re better off using a standard blog template, and letting your work speak for itself. If it’s easy to navigate, read, and extremely valuable, people will share.

I should also mention that great design will cost you a pretty penny. In fact, when I was shopping around for someone to completely overhaul of JCD Fitness, I received quotes upwards of $14,000. So if you’re needing something impressive and functional, you can expect to invest.

How Did You Make So Many Friends?

I love meeting people, actually.

This is true networking. A lot of people ask what’s the best way to network, especially with people you know online.

My advice is always the same. Go to wherever they are, shake hands, and be interesting. Drink with them. Go out and spend time with them. Sleep at their place if they offer (seriously, I’ve done this so many times).

But above all else, be genuinely interested in them, their work, and being their friend. Never go into a situation expecting someone to scratch your back, or exchange favors.

Out of all the people I’ve connected with IRL from the online world, all I ever wanted was their friendship. Never have I went into a venue to meet someone because of what they could do for me.

First of all, that’s just not me. I’m genuinely interested, remember? And second of all, people can sniff this out immediately. It’s easy to spot a fake. No one wants to be friends with a fake person, and they sure as hell won’t want to work with them down the line.

If your sole intent of taking someone out for a drink is to manipulate them into working with you, or promoting your product, you’ve got it all wrong.

A perfect example of this is the relationships I’ve built with John Romaniello, Alan Aragon, Dick Talens (Fitocracy), Roger Lawson, and many more. I was simply drawn to these people because we all had something in common.

I eventually traveled to meet all of them to strengthen the bond we’d created online, and became friends with all of them. I chat with most of them weekly, and sometimes daily.

You have to go out and shake hands. Messaging over Facebook isn’t enough.

Go to seminars. Go to workshops. Go listen to them give lectures. Do whatever you must.

How Did You Do [Achieve Something Significant]?

Lastly, I get a form of this question all the time. Perhaps it’s how did you build an audience, or how did you finish your first book? How did you get through all the struggles and hurdles you dealt with?

My best answer is that I had no other choice. I quit a job back in 2010 because I had to so as not to lose my college scholarship. I wrote extensively about this here.

I had 6 months worth of savings and a drive to not go back to that job again.

I was passionate about fitness, and helping others, so I decided to make that my profession, without a ton of other options or ideas at the time.

I learned how to make time for what needed to get done, and put my head down and worked for it.

Anything worth having takes time, and effort.

Lots of people think that since it’s the internet, you don’t have to work hard, or do much. But that’s far from the truth. In fact, a TON of products are created in the internet marketing niche to make you believe something is so easy a monkey could do it to lure you in for the sale, only for you to realize you’ve been duped and taken advantage of.

What Makes You Stand Out?

The first article I ever wrote that put me on the map so to speak was the notoriously titled Clean Eating Is A Scam. This is actually on the first page of google for the search term Clean Eating.

I still get a lot of daily traffic from people hoping to find the typical clean eating resources on the internet.

This article actually got a lot of attention because it has a sensational headline, and the content was slightly controversial. it created a divide – either people loved and agreed with my view, or hated it.

I got my fair share of hate mail, and praise from readers all over. Some bloggers even wrote bad things about me in various corners of the Internetz.

This was in 2010 and was the first bit of traction that I received.

I then continued to write, publish, and build my audience slowly offering a ton of free content without ever asking for money, or promoting products (mine or affiliates).

Eventually, I was featured in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Huffington Post Live, Forbes, AusFit Pro, Bodybuilding.com, Livestrong.com and various other outlets majorly due to John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein giving me a shot to write for the Men’s Health book that came out last December, The Men’s Health Big Book of Abs. I am forever indebted to them for believing in me.

Another thing that makes me stand out are my marketing tactics.

I wrote a post about this previously titled the The Fitness Industry: False Promises, Frustration, and What I’ma Do Differently and I discuss some of the major problems with marketing and how consumers feel toward fitness marketing and products, in general.

I made a case for LGN365, and how I chose to market it, recruiting almost no affiliates, and over delivering without selling too hard to my list of email subscribers, or blog audience.

You Gotta Be Interesting And Stuff

People aren’t interested in a bunch of rehashed content.

They’re interested in unique takes on certain exercises, or ways to manage your diet.

They want know how to make fitness a part of their lifestyle, and not just something they struggle through.

Be really F8%$ing interesting, or you’ll fall off into the internet abyss with everyone else trying to run a blog.

And now I should wrap up…

Advice I’d Give Myself (or to anyone wanting to get started)

1. I’d have written more than I did. My voice improved and gained maturity the more I wrote. I’d also vow to read more as this dramatically improves your style and vocabulary.

2. I would’ve stuck with a plain WordPress template for the first 3 years. Doing this would’ve allowed me to focus 100% on writing, building an audience, and learning more about my brand and who I was as a writer/coach.

Instead I spent a TON of time learning how to code, design in Photoshop, and changing/building my own themes, instead of focusing on what I should have been.

Now that’s not to say what I learned is not valuable, but I think my time would’ve been better spent on writing articles, and creating products.

3. I would’ve studied more marketing and copywriting after my first year. Most of the time when I wrote an article, it was to address something I thought was worth writing about, however while I did really well with some of the headlines, I missed out on a TON of traffic because I never really thought much about headlines or my copy.

If I’d have paid more attention to these things, I could’ve grown my audience faster.

4. I would’ve joined Twitter and Facebook earlier than I did. For a few years, I wasn’t really active on Facebook, and didn’t even have a Twitter account. I must say that I personally feel Social Media sites are ginormous waste of time. But they can be extremely useful for driving traffic, building your brand, and garnering social proof.

Of course, there are many avenues to choose from when you’re picking your social media outlets, but just remember that, for the most part, social media is about hanging out and sharing, rather than marketing and selling.

Nothing is more off-putting than someone adding you and sending you a PM asking you to ‘like’ their page, especially if you’ve never met or chatted with them before.

5. I would’ve quit college once my scholarship was up. Unfortunately, I stayed another year and used loans to pay my tuition. This is something I regret more than anything because I was bored in class, and only going because I felt pressure from family members to finish, even when nothing I learned in school has helped me whatsoever in my professional, or personal life.

It wasn’t until my mom and I were discussing my initial success with fitness writing that she looked me straight in the eyes and said “you need to quit school. It’s not serving you. Who cares what others think about you having a degree or not?”

I’m not suggesting you drop out of college if you’re gaining something from it. However, if you’re like a majority of college student racking up debt, partying on the weekends, and hoping to land a cushy job right after college, you might want to rethink your strategy because those days are pretty much over.

I’d love to answer your question in he comments if you have any about getting started with fitness writing, or if I failed to cover your questions above.

13 comments

  1. Peter Curcio · June 6, 2013

    “This is my being plagued with an intense interest in many things.”

    Me, too. How do you manage it? Or is that a story for another day?

    Great thoughts, JC. They certainly made me think (so TY). Eager to see the new site design.

    • JC Deen · June 6, 2013

      That is a story for another day, but here’s the gist of it.

      I’ve basically decided to focus on 2 things at this point, and anything else that doesn’t truly add to my getting better at them, I try to limit in terms of time spent.

  2. Jake Johnson · June 6, 2013

    Perfect timing JC, I badly needed a kick in the ass.

    Thanks for all the great work you’ve put in over the years, and I look forward to seeing how your site progresses. I’m sure it will continue to be awesome.

    Jake

    • JC Deen · June 6, 2013

      Thanks for commenting, Jake. I’m glad this post was the ass-kicking you needed.

  3. Shiggi · June 6, 2013

    This has been something I’ve been pondering a lot about lately, especially as – like you – I’ve got a habit of hugely investing my time and curiosity into a vast range of things that I end up with getting nothing done. Much to the frustration of my mum.

    I’ll go through phases where I’ll post about things, and then months where I feel like I should then don’t. The amount of unfinished posts I have in the backend of my site is, quite frankly, embarrassing.

    Have you ever found times where you start to write something but for whatever reason have to leave it (anywhere from 30mins to a day+) then when you come back just can’t get back into the style/voice or even point you were trying to make with a post?

    I get this *all* the time, even if I’ve written down an initial thing I wanted to write, how to get to it changes….so it either gets saved as a never-revisited draft or deleted :-/

    • JC Deen · June 6, 2013

      Shiggi,

      I’ve experienced the same thing. Basically, I will try to rewrite it altogether when that happens, or if I think necessary, trash it.

  4. Jordan Ayres · June 6, 2013

    Whenever you get personal, I enjoy reading. Why? Because—secretly—we all love when somebody is vulnerable, because it allows us to be vulnerable, too.

    Thanks, man.

    • JC Deen · June 6, 2013

      haha. just pouring out my thoughts, man! thanks a lot for that.

  5. Clement · June 6, 2013

    Great article, JC. Another thing I should probably add about successful people in the fitness industry is that they never expected to be pampered or asked for the cheat codes. Sure, you’ve asked for advice, but you interpreted it your own way. Loved reading that change blog article again.

    As for fitness blogging, when do you think is the right time to start? I have some knowledge of what I want to write about, but I haven’t really gotten phenomenal results with my clients yet. I was thinking of waiting a few years until I’d built up a steady portfolio before delving into fitness blogging. However, do you think that a lack of experience and results at present shouldn’t hinder me from starting my own blog?

    • JC Deen · June 6, 2013

      if you want to write, write. I don’t see any point in waiting if you have a desire to write. Writing well takes lots of practice, so if you have things to say, say them.

  6. Chuck · June 6, 2013

    I definitely need to write more. Thanks for giving me a good starting point. Great to catch up with last month man, I hope to cross paths with you again soon

    • JC Deen · June 6, 2013

      Yeah, it was fun hanging out again. Glad this was a push for you.

  7. Dan · June 6, 2013

    Hey JC, Thank you for this honest post I find this is very helpful and not b.s.

    I’m adding content on my website now and I agree with what you said 100%, starting writing is extremly not easy. Its easy to talk about fitness but once its online its harder to type it in I find.

    Dan