Turning a Career Into an Idea
Offering advice over the web.
Leigh Boyle, DPT, CSCS
Have you ever thought about earning an income from online coaching—advising injured athletes on recovery and self-treatment techniques? As technology continues to become an integral part of our lives (and the lives of our patients), the next logical step for our profession is headed in this direction. People are already using the Internet to search for advice, so the experts on rehabilitation should be the ones on the other end of the keyboard! I went from giving some free advice to fellow long distance athletes to having my own online business. One of the first questions colleagues ask me when they find out what I have developed is “Where did the idea come from?” followed by “How did I grow the site to what it is now?” Both questions always make me laugh to myself because the website was not a goal or a vision or a plan. The truth is that I started it as a way to help streamline my day.
In 2007 and 2008, I found myself juggling a career in private practice and training as a competitive long distance triathlete. It was an exhausting time (as anyone in private practice already knows), but I loved it. The combination was making me a better clinician thanks to the body awareness that comes from a physical job and 15-20 hour training weeks. Training also allowed me to advertise the clinic with local teams and race directors as both a fellow athlete and friend. Eventually that networking resulted in a consulting position with two large online teams in an injury prevention “ask the PT” role.
By early 2009, I was spending all of my free time either answering forum questions or digging through emails from local athletes. The problem was that it was not resulting in actual referrals. Either the athlete was not located nearby, or they would decide that they did not actually need formal treatment. I was running out of time to do both, and the clinic was top priority. However, I did not want to give up and lose that communication channel outright. Around the same time, I was tasked with starting a blog for the clinic, and the timing could not have been better.
Instead of looking at the blog as one more annoying piece of paperwork, I saw it as an opportunity to help make my day easier on the email front and a way to keep communication with athletes going. As an endurance athlete, I understood why they were not coming in for treatment. They were going to chiropractors and massage therapists, groups that were visible and spent huge amounts of time and money advertising what they did. At race expositions, those tents would be full and the little physical therapy table giving out pens and water bottles would be empty.
There was a definitely a gap between athletes and physical therapists. The athletes did not understand what we did, and clinicians did not do enough to educate them otherwise. As a clinician, knowing this and hearing things like “physical therapy is all leg lifts and wall squats” regularly from athletes made me want to help even more because that impression of our profession is just plain wrong. Out of the entire medical community, we are the most equipped to work on these kinds of injuries. These are overuse injuries resulting from muscle dysfunction and strength imbalances. Not only do we bring the hands on care they want and need, but we can also fix the actual cause behind that muscle breakdown.
If I could not draw athletes into the clinic, then I could try to bridge that gap and teach them how to effectively start self-treating with the tools available to them at every race expo and sporting goods store. If nothing else, it was a chance to advocate for physical therapists and to educate athletes on what their injuries were, why they were happening, what was okay to self-treat, and what required medical attention.
The first thing I did was map out what tools I wanted to use on the blog, which was easy because self-treatment was already a part of my life on a daily basis. I think some athletes assume that as physical therapists, we have access to all the hands on care that we need, which is not a reality. At the end of the day, we do not want to treat our co-workers any more than they want to treat us. I was certainly no different in that regard, and the result was that I spent a lot of time learning how to replicate what I did in the clinic at home with a foam roller, a tennis ball, and some resistance tubing while I watched television. As I started to make my list, I realized how much there really was to cover on a topic like self-treatment and how little there really was out there that talked about specifics.
The biggest challenge was deciding where to start. During the initial brainstorm, I determined that I could either focus specifically on injuries or focus on the self- treatment techniques themselves. I ultimately decided on the latter and started mapping out a five-part self-treatment system that utilized self-massage, stretching, mobilization techniques, kinesiology taping, and strengthening. I then broke the body into 17 regions and began writing articles and shooting videos.
When I first started the process, I was expecting the blogs to be seen by a limited number of patients and the athletes with whom I have worked, but it quickly spread past that audience. In six months, the self-massage videos alone had over 50,000 views. That early success prompted me to officially launch a website in January 2010. Four years later, the site has produced over 120 self-treatment articles and two e-books. Our videos have been viewed over 600,000 times, and our newsletter subscriptions are closing in on 10,000 readers. The website itself now sells e-books and coaching services (individual and team).
This growth did not happen overnight. In fact, it took three years for me to even prepare all the individual self-treatment posts. After I finished all of the technique posts, I could officially start focusing on how to put it all together and treat specific injuries, which was when the real growth started and people were able to see exactly how it all fit together.
That initial building process may have been slow, but something wonderful happened along the way. The emails started pouring in, and without even looking for it, I had a continuous feedback loop to try out new things and see what was working and what was not. That feedback allowed me to fine tune and further develop the system instead of waiting until it was done and then going back to fix it.
The best investment I made in the website was purchasing email marketing services. I wanted to find out who (and where) my audience really was. To do that, I focused exclusively on my newsletter versus social media. I wanted to know who was opening it and who was not. Who clicked on links in the email? Did those percentages change based on what time of day I sent it out or even what day? Once I started paying attention to that and making changes, the percentages started climbing. Once I was finally ready to start selling e-books and coaching services, I had an audience I could count on instead of an empty number.
I had several misfires. The site is very media heavy with hundreds of videos and three times as many pictures. In the beginning, I was trying to keep run costs at a minimum, which resulted in slow loading times and even site failures. When the opportunity presented itself to upgrade to a fancy new site and hosting services, I jumped at it. However, I did not realize (being a clinician and not a web designer) that making that tiny little change broke all the links on my site and subsequently plummeted me in the search engine rankings. The site looked great, but it produced months of extra work making fixes. Live and learn.
Where will my site go from here? We shall see! After four years of hard work, I can honestly say that I have reached the fun part. I have a steady stream of coaching clients and consulting work for teams, and my e-book sales are going well. As I say in every post…my goal with the site is not to keep people from their medical teams; it is to teach them when they need us and what we can do for them.
Leigh Boyle, DPT, CSCS is the founder of Athletes Treating Athletes, a website designed to teach athletes how to self treat. She is certified in A.R.T., Graston, and Kinesiology Taping. Prior to launching her online business, she worked for ten years in private practice in New Hampshire specializing in sports med and orthopedic injuries. www.athletestreatingathletes.com.