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Apply Yourself: Smartphone Apps for Gyms

Apply Yourself: Smartphone Apps for Gyms

“We’ve got an app for that.” 

For gym owners, this is no longer just a trendy catchphrase—in fact, they now can utter those words with confidence. A growing number of all-star programs are recognizing the popularity and usefulness of mobile apps by developing customized apps specifically for their gyms. And the timing is right: more than half of mobile subscribers now use apps instead of Web browsing on their smartphones, according to Internet marketing research company comScore.

For the tech-challenged, a mobile application (or “app”) is a program designed for mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers. Apps are distributed through application distribution platforms that are operated by the company behind the device’s operating system. For instance, iPhone users download apps from iTunes and the Apple App Store, and Android users download from Google Play.

How does this all play into running a cheer business? Most gym owners create an app to meet two main objectives: communicating with existing customers and marketing to new ones. Find out how it works—and whether it’s worth it.

Just the Push Your Clients Need 

At Future Extreme Cheerleading in Loganville, Georgia, gym owner Micah Redden is currently developing an app that he hopes will help ease his workload. Not only will he be able to notify parents and students of schedule changes and class openings, but the app will also update the online schedule so that he doesn’t have to maintain the gym website separately. Since Redden needs to communicate with various groups, the app will also allow him to choose what information to send or “push” to selected people. “Basically what gym owners want from an app is to advertise, publicize and notify,” says Redden.

Like Redden, many gym owners use push notifications to alert their app users of special events, schedule changes, promotional offers and other updates. The perk of push notifications is that they get more attention than emails and texts, since they automatically appear on a user’s smartphone and demand instant attention. Depending on the app’s design, gym owners can either schedule a specific day and time for the notification or send it themselves.

Another increasingly popular feature is the Quick Response (QR) code, a square bar code that can be scanned by smartphones to quickly access a website. Tanya Roesel of Midwest Cheer Elite in West Chester, Ohio features QR codes prominently when advertising to potential athletes. QR codes are on many of Midwest Cheer Elite’s marketing materials, offering easy access to event information, promotional discounts and links to social media. “What’s great about QR codes is that they don’t take up a lot of space and they provide an automatic link to us,” Roesel explains.

To DIY or Not to DIY? 

Though it may be tempting budget-wise to attempt designing your own app, most experts caution against it. Do-it-yourself mobile app classes are readily available online, but it’s best to hire a professional for apps intended for business use. Apps created in DIY courses are generally based on standard templates, resulting in a somewhat cookie-cutter look; also, gym owners who want their app to be available to iPhone users (currently about 53% of the U.S. market) will need to get approval via the rigorous Apple Review Process. Since Apple prides itself on beauty, design and functionality, they usually will reject any app that looks like a template. (Android phones are less discriminating; they approve and accept all apps.)

When choosing an app designer, it’s also key to hire a company that offers ongoing service support in light of the ever-changing market. Whenever new devices or updated versions of smartphones are released, they require updates in order for an app to work properly. So, unless you’re a software wizard, most would advise leaving the design and maintenance to a professional.

Another advantage of hiring a mobile app developer is the ability to check analytics. “My customers like the easy access to usage reports that can tell them how many people have downloaded and used their apps,” says Gene Cook, owner of 1BoxApps, a mobile app design company in Temecula, CA that has designed apps for Matrix All-Stars, Cheers Unlimited and Five Star Athletics.

Depending on the company, Cook estimates the cost of most apps (including development, design, Apple submission and maintenance) to be between $500 and $700. Though the investment can be steep for some, any business owner knows that long-term profitability means adapting to new technology and keeping up with the evolving times. As for whether all gym owners will eventually adopt apps for their gyms, Roesel predict, “The smart ones definitely will.”

What a Powerful Web We Weave

What a Powerful Web We Weave

It’s a lot like the proverbial tree falling in the woods: if a cheer gym doesn’t have a website, is anyone going to hear its marketing message? Not in today’s digital world, according to Jason Silverman of AllStarCheerSites.com. He says that having a dynamic online presence is just as pivotal as having a physical gym—and most potential clients and athletes are going to find your virtual doors before they step through your real ones.

“We all know that you only get one chance to make a first impression,” says Silverman, who is also CEO of Powerful Words Character Development. “When your site is easy to find and easily navigable, your prospects will appreciate it and you’ll be rewarded with a higher conversion rate.”

Ready to turn your website into an unstoppable marketing force? Follow these simple five steps:

Get a Professional Involved
As your first point of contact with potential members, your website needs to effectively reflect the professionalism of your program. The best way to accomplish that is to enlist a skilled web professional to create a visually appealing and easy-to-navigate website. As for content, Silverman says the top priority should be sharing information that potential athletes (and their parents) need to make an informed decision about whether your program is right for them—and vice versa.

Hiring a professional doesn’t necessarily have to cost a fortune, either. For gym owners on a tight budget, utilizing a template can be a cost-effective solution. Template-based websites are often easier to update and typically cost much less to set up than something designed from scratch. “One of the biggest benefits is the speed at which you are able to get the site up and running,” says Kim Smith, customer service manager for JAM Web Designs, Inc.

As for concerns about originality, rest assured that you can still achieve a unique look even with a template-based site. “Not only do we work with new clients to ensure their site differs from local competitors, but we also retire popular styles that seem to fly off the shelf,” shares Smith.

If you truly want a one-of-a-kind site but have to be mindful of budget, consider a happy medium. Services like St. Louis-based Vault Media offer a custom-designed, SEO-optimized website and one year of web hosting for a package price of $1299 (a fraction of what many web designers charge for a site designed from scratch). They also teach newbies how to use content management systems like Joomla and WordPress so that you can update your site on its own once it’s up and running.

Set the Stage for Success

Design is just the first bridge to cross, as your site also needs to be search engine optimized and meet certain keyword criteria. Silverman says that, generally speaking, parents will research activities for their children by Googling a term like “cheerleading for kids Randolph, New Jersey;” Google will then produce a bunch of results that best meet that criteria—and the higher your website shows up, the better.

For those who want to go the DIY route, there are numerous ways you can ensure your own success with search engine optimization (SEO). Silverman says that using a WordPress site is a “must” for being SEO-friendly, as is installing Yoast’s WordPress SEO plug-in. It’s important to keep your site active by updating your blog regularly and including strategic keywords in your posts. “Think about what a mom would enter into Google when she sits down at her computer,” advises Silverman. After posting, share the link across your social media channels to give it maximum exposure among your audience.

However, Chris Quarles of Vault Media cautions that professional SEO assistance may still be necessary, especially if you live in a market where the all-star cheer business is competitive. When developing their new program, they reviewed almost 500 gym websites and learned that 80 to 90 percent are not properly set up for search engine optimization. “Working with someone who knows how to code properly on the backend with SEO and proper keyword relevance in mind can really help gyms be on top of their game—and on top of the results for their market,” says Quarles.

Don’t Fall for Common Mistakes
Just as important as what to include is what to avoid when designing your site. A common mistake website gym owners make is choosing design over function. “Many of the sites in the cheer world use overly flashy designs, which actually take away from the job that the website is trying to do—get prospective members interested in your program,” explains Silverman. For instance, Flash sites look pretty, but can’t be viewed on Apple devices—frustrating a significant sector of mobile users.

Another common faux pas is not including some sort of “road map” to help visitors get around your site and find information quickly. “Most people don’t know what to do when they get to your website,” shares Silverman. He recommends creating a helpful welcome video that tells them exactly where to go and what to read first, citing PrideCheerGym.com as a great example of this in practice.

Include the Right Elements

From Smith’s perspective, balance is the key to every website. “When selecting a style, you want to make sure to find one with the right type of cheer flair for your gym, so that it compliments your identity,” she advises. Sticking with a clean color palette is extremely helpful as well; Smith says too many colors outside the realm of your branding doesn’t add “pop,” but is actually disruptive.

Silverman believes a lead generation tool/opt-in box is an essential element in any successful cheer gym website. With this tool, potential clients fill out a form with their name and email address, and in return, they get a special report or other information that parents will find helpful. For instance, Tracy, CA-based Athletic Perfection offers a free PDF on “Building Champions from the Inside Out,” while Macon, GA-based Middle Georgia Cheer Extreme offers a free video on improving jumps.

“We call it a ‘shy yes,’ as it’s a way for a prospect to say yes to an offer you’ve made without having to choose whether or not to join your program,” Silverman says. “The key here is that the opt-in box must be in the right place, have the right offer and ask for the right information, or the effectiveness is worthless.”

Promote Your Site
Even the best website in the world will do nothing for you if people can’t find it. Silverman points out you have to “train people” to visit the site often. “We normally suggest blogging at least one time per week, and optimally, three times per week.” Silverman explains. “Get people used to looking for your blog posts.”

When it comes to getting the word out, social media is key. Posting on Twitter and Facebook regularly will drive people from social media to your website—where they can take the next step to joining your gym. You can also encourage athletes to “check in” to your gym on FourSquare to build further awareness. And after that? Just promote, promote, promote. Smith suggests making your web address visible in every possible aspect of your life: your email addresses, signage, bumper stickers, T-shirts, flyers and any other marketing materials.

Quarles agrees: “Social media is where the most eyeballs are at—use it to drive people to your website that way as much as possible. Your website is the tree trunk of your digital presence, and social media acts as branches and little twigs. It all counts.”

Follow these tips, and your website is sure to “click” with its intended audience.

-Diana Bocco

Get Creative: Outside-the-Box Ideas for Getting New Customers

Get Creative: Outside-the-Box Ideas for Getting New Customers

Whether you’ve just opened your doors or have been in business for decades, one of your primary business concerns is probably attracting new students. Traditional marketing strategies like radio, television, or billboard advertisements can certainly be effective—but they’re also expensive and not guaranteed to get results. Luckily, there are better, more affordable ways to advertise your gym and bring in new business. Here are a few ideas to kickstart your recruiting process:

Snag them in a flash. Boost excitement and curiosity in your program by planning a “flash mob” (a surprise impromptu performance). Partner with community events or festivals, or find a venue that will let you stage your own flash mob—and make sure you have flyers on hand for audiences after the show! It’s also important to time the event strategically (such as around tryout time); for instance, the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders were able to boost attendance for their annual “Making the Cut” auditions by staging a flash mob at Baltimore’s popular Power Plant Live! Entertainment complex just days beforehand (see picture on left).

Build a virtual tour of your gym. When visitors find you online, letting them “see” your gym can go a long way toward bringing them in for a visit. Many companies offer virtual tour software at reasonable prices or can build and install an interactive tour on your website. Another option is to follow Cheer Extreme All-Stars’ lead by filming and hosting your own tour on YouTube; hosted by owner Courtney Smith-Pope, their upbeat video currently has upwards of 23,000 views.

Get active in localized social media. While sites like Facebook and Twitter are great for national exposure, they’re also an extremely effective means of building a strong local network and keeping your community up-to-date on happenings at your cheer gym. (And did we mention they’re F-R-E-E?) Offer sign-up specials for brand-new Facebook friends or Twitter followers, and encourage your faithful clients to write reviews on Yelp. A recent Yelp study found that 27% of consumers read online reviews when making purchasing decisions, and 85% of consumers are relying on the Internet to find local businesses. Don’t miss out on being part of the “click!”

Give potential cheerleaders a taste of the all-star life. Contact local schools to find out if they have a “try it” sports program; you can also offer to participate in their physical education curriculum for tumbling. (For instance, the Pflugerville, TX school district offers off-campus credit for students who participate in Texas All-Star Cheer’s program.) Also, get connected with the Girl Scouts troops in your area via the national website’s “Find a Council” directory; many troops offer a “Try-It” badge for girls who want to try new sports.

No matter which method you ultimately use, make sure to maximize the opportunity to meet your intention: getting new business. At every event or appearance, it’s crucial to have plenty of promotional takeaway material on hand for potential customers; possible pieces include business cards, class schedules, flyers, postcards, and/or bumper stickers. On social media sites, make sure your website and contact information are clearly listed, and choose photos that best represent the ideal image of your program.

Put these smart strategies into practice, and watch your classes fill up in no time!