Marc Keys is a strength and conditioning coach with his own gym in Leith, Cast Iron Strength. On the podcast today, we talked about the good old days of blogging and Facebook, and how Marc has now moved to Instagram as a key way to promote his business. Marc has read so much about business and marketing that he has some really interesting insights to share. 

As well as the in-person coaching and the gym, a big part of Marc’s business is his online coaching, which started on the back of a blog he wrote for fun. “Anti-Bullshit Training” was founded on Blogger in 2008. In 2013 Marc decided he needed to monetise that audience and so moved the blog to his current brand name Cast Iron Strength, and started accepting online coaching clients. In the early days, he managed those relationships through email, and now he’s graduated to WhatsApp. It’s a great place to keep in touch with clients, and really easy to share video clips, which is perfect for coaching athletes from afar.

In Marc’s business, the measure of a good coach is always clear. The numbers an athlete can lift are the whole point of the sport. In rugby, for example, it doesn’t matter what a player can lift if they aren’t smart enough on the pitch. But in strength sports, you put the effort in and you get the results out. It’s a very direct relationship. Sometimes I wish marketing worked the same way! He references this famous (in the strength community) quote from Henry Rollins,

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.” – Henry Rollins

Whenever I run an Instagram training workshop, I always reference the Cast Iron Strength Instagram feed as an example of great marketing. Unlike a lot of my other examples, it’s not at all manicured. A week in the life of Marc’s Instagram, he tells me, is not at all planned or strategic. But it’s brilliant!

There’s a few reasons why this works so well. First, Marc’s success is very easy to see in videos of his clients lifting, and he has a lot of that material to share. Second, his feed, and his Instagram Stories, give a really honest picture of what it’s like to work with him, witty banter and all. When you’re in a crowded market, your personality and presence form a big part of the reason people will choose you over a competitor. Third, he has a really cute dog. Which always helps.

Because he’s read so extensively, Marc’s in-grained knowledge of good marketing really comes across in his posts. He references the book Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. Miller’s approach is that your marketing should tell a story that puts the customer at the centre. They, and not the service provider, should be the hero.

Gary Vaynerchuck and Grant Cardone are two other great business writers who Marc recommends. As he notes, they put themselves out there, so that people can get to know them. Marc tries to do the same.

Then I brought up Facebook. Marc’s reaction was probably my favourite from a guest yet! We talked about his first foray into Facebook Ads, with some impressive numbers! But things are very different now – so if you’ve been struggling with them too this may reassure you. At least his ads aren’t losing money, so I asked what kind of ads he runs. Images with lead capture forms seem to be the most useful, as long as the images are of lifters doing a good job!

In the future, Marc is hoping to improve his online offering with some group coaching and self-paced training courses. The typical model for an online business is to have a pyramid, with plenty of free content, some low-cost one-off products, an affordable group programme, and then more expensive one-to-one services. At the moment Cast Iron Strength’s online branch only has the free stuff, and the one-to-one coaching. So we talked about platforms to use for training. I’ve used a Facebook Group, with a small group where we all went at the same pace through a structured course, for the All-in-Whin Marketing Method. Then for lifetime access I also have the course set up in a membership area on this site too. However, that feels like a difficult model to scale yet, so my future plans are to investigate course delivery through Kajabi as I’ve enjoyed using that as a student in the past.

Before we finished up, I asked Marc for his best piece of advice for other business owners. Stay within your means. He encourages all aspiring entrepreneurs to keep their overheads low, and only take educated risks. Develop a minimum viable product, and crystalise what you’re offering and who it works for. Then customise your products towards your specific customers. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a good idea, or even if people say it’s a good idea. Don’t believe anyone until they give you money.

“The first rule of business club is Make Money.”

Get connected

To find Marc’s Minute of Bullshit and other classic content (including the occasional rude meme…) find Marc on Instagram @castironstrength or on the Cast Iron Strength website.