Business Technology

Joe Wicks: The sprint from personal trainer to business sensation The Body Coach

13 min read

16 November 2015

Former deputy editor

The Body Coach is, without question, a fine example of how social media can propel the UK's entrepreneurs and small businesses to success. Real Business spoke with founder Joe Wicks about his journey from personal trainer to leader of a multi-million pound enterprise, which all started with Instagram.

If you’re a health-conscious social media user, you may be familiar with Joe Wicks.

Should the name not ring any bells, his alias and business The Body Coach ought to.

Wicks is a small business sensation, a man who has combined his sporting expertise with social media to generate more than 70,000 paying customers globally in little over a year.

As for his following on the social networks that have led him to glory, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter measure at 510,000, 260,000, and 78,500 respectively. That’s a massive monetisation opportunity sitting in front of him, just few taps on his phone away.

It hasn’t always been the case, however, but through innovative thinking Wicks has gone from an everyday personal trainer to an online coaching phenomenon.

Social media aside, what sets Wicks apart from others is his 90 Day SSS (Shift, Shape and Sustain) Plan, which is designed with a realistic approach to dieting. Recognising people don’t want to live on lettuce leaves, the plan lets customers indulge and sate their appetites, which is balanced with high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts to burn fat fast.

In Wicks’ words on the company website: “I’m a man on a mission to rescue people from the awful dieting industry. I am sick and tired of people struggling on low calorie diets and meal replacement shakes.

“I created this plan to educate people and give them the knowledge they need to get a lean, healthy strong body without going hungry. I truly believe this plan will transform your life and the way you see nutrition forever.”

With his following only continuing to grow, the title of New Business of the Year from Lloyds Bank and a book entitled “Lean In 15” – a famous catchphrase you’ll catch in most of his videos – Real Business caught up with Wicks to discuss his incredible journey.

“I always thought I’d be a PE teacher,” said Wicks. “After leaving college, I completed a degree in sports science and the plan after that was to go into teaching. I worked as a teaching assistant for a couple of months, but I wasn’t really cut out for it,” he admitted.

Having decided to put his aptitude for fitness to good use, South London-based Wicks completed a personal training course and set up almost immediately as a self-employed PT.

“When I graduated, I worked at a gym for three months to get experience, but really quickly thought that to make money in the industry I’d have to work for myself. I set up a website, got some cards and went on to become a mobile PT,” said Wicks.

As such, he could be found around Surbiton and Richmond running outdoor boot camps for groups or training individuals in their homes, gardens or local parks.

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After five years of personal training, Wicks decided to start experimenting with social media in 2014 and Instagram was his first port of call.

He recalled: “I didn’t really know how to build a company and had no idea to monetise a following, I was just having a laugh and using it to promote clients.

“I noticed I started to get a following and people asked lots of questions, telling me about their plans and depressing me with talk about their low calorie diets. I thought it would be a good idea to create an online plan, and I kind of imagined a few people would sign up, so I could do less PT.”

Given that The Body Coach operation officially started in September 2014, the desire for a “few” people rocketed beyond his wildest imagination.

With over 70,000 users of his 90-day SSS Plan, which costs £147, revenue is over £10m.

More astonishingly still, Wicks admitted that he’s disinterested in any outside investment because the business has such few outgoings that almost all income is a profit.

“I sent 20,000 tweets on Twitter before making a penny and over 1,000 pictures on Instagram. There are lots of online plans out there, but I just did it for me – just posting a couple of transformations a week. And when followers saw people getting good results, I soon had 300 people a day signing up,” Wicks revealed.

The Body Coach now employs 50 people in a new Richmond office. Continue reading on the next page for the incredible profit margins the company has, why Wicks has hired followers, and how eight publishers came to fight over him for a four-book deal.

The Body Coach now employs 50 staff in a new 5,000 sq ft office in Richmond, which has room for a further 50 people. Wicks anticipates more hires will take place after the Lean In 15 book launch, as he looks to set up a social media team as well as build on his customer service team – otherwise known as “support coach heroes”.

Discussing the latter role, Wicks said: “Tailored coaches are assigned to the tailored plans, which are developed and dedicated for the customers’ needs. They pick you up when you’re down or having a low moment.

“I hire people based on attitude. Although it’s a customer service role, they receive training about the programme and coaching. I’ve actually recruited some people from within my following. They’re people that are really passionate and it’s really important they care, that they love the brand and want to see it grow.”

Cost control is a key component of any business, but the nature of The Body Coach means that investment from venture capitalists and angels won’t be necessary.

“Because I started by myself, there are very few overheads. There’s the staff and the office, but as a company, we’re 90 per cent profit and there are very little outgoings. A lot of companies have tried to invest and whatnot, certain gym companies, but we haven’t needed to accept.”

And until October, over a year after launching, Wicks said he had “not spent a penny on social media”.

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“In the last few weeks, I’ve tried paid content on Facebook, but there’s been no strategy. It’s helping me boost certain videos to reach the US and Australia and the following has gone from 180,000 to 250,000 in a month by spending just £50 a day,” he explained.

He went on to say that while many users are from the UK, there are customers internationally, so paying to promote content will allow him to capitalise on that.

That said, Wicks noted the differences in using the channels: “Instagram is without a doubt the most powerful. Twitter growth has slowed down and Facebook is good for videos. But on Instagram I can post transformations and really get my personality across – without that there’d be nowhere near enough social media engagement.”

National Fitness Day, which was billed the “the most active day of the year”, took place in the UK on 9 September and a study found that half of Brits now believe it’s more important to have a healthy lifestyle than they did a year ago.

On the topic of the increased interest in the fitness industry, Wicks said: “It used to be guys who trained and girls felt embarrassed. But it’s now considered cool to go to the gym. Sure, people still party, but they want to take care of their bodies too. I think with cool brands like CrossFit and SoulCycle, it’s a really unisex thing. It’s no longer mainly men – and women are lifting weights too.”

With sales through the roof and his social media fame climbing alongside them, Wicks found a book deal fall into his lap.

In fact, despite admitting to interested parties he’s not a chef, eight publishers were bidding for the rights to sign him. A one-book deal turned into a two-book deal, to then double once more to a four-book deal. And despite a release on 31 December, it’s already number one on Amazon.

“It’s going to really help the business,” he said. “The book promotes the plan and it’s another piece of marketing.”

With social media and publishing conquered, Wicks has his eye on TV for 2016, confessing a desire to “get on TV and share my message and get everyone lean”. It’s perhaps been helped along with a guest appearance on This Morning, while he also aims to develop a solid YouTube channel too.

He noted that the New Business Award is a great asset to build consumer trust, but also acts as a certificate of approval when it comes to any potential B2B deals.

Beyond all else though, Wicks said: “My aim next year is to win an award for Best Employer. I want to get recognised as really cool place to work. Somewhere people really want to be.”

If the enthusiasm exhibited by SSS users is anything to go by, staff satisfaction will be a walk – or run – in the park.

Joe Wicks is founder of The Body Coach. At the end of November, a 30 Day SAS (Support and Sustain) Plan will launch as an monthly rolling programme exclusively for graduates of the 90 Day SSS Plan. You can keep up with Wicks on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.