A powerful social media presence helped build MF Strong, a personal training business, from a one-woman operation to a network of professional trainers. After expanding into a brick-and-mortar training studio, owner Miriam Fried knew she needed additional support to grow her business and created her own Yelp Business Page with the help of Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick.
On the Yelp Blog: See the step-by-step journey of how Miriam created her Yelp Page and started attracting local clients.
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Behind the Review features conversations with business owners and customers who wrote one of their Yelp reviews. In our discussions, we talk about lessons they’ve learned that can be used by other small businesses to improve their own reviews…and their bottom line.
Occasionally, I also talk to industry experts who have additional insights into things like customer experience, small business technology, or general advice for running a successful small business. Today, I’m sitting down with Miriam Fried, the owner of MF Strong, and one of the 2023 Yelp and Luminary Fellows. A group of female entrepreneurs who were awarded a year-long membership to the Luminary network and the chance to work with me and the rest of the Yelp for Business content marketing team to share their story, grow and scale their businesses and network with other strong female entrepreneurs.
In this chat, Miriam and I talk about how she started and grew her business predominantly through Instagram, and then what the recent process was like to set her business up on Yelp, and how long it took to get that first client, without a single dollar invested. Let’s give our conversation a listen.
EMILY: I am so excited to be here with you today Miriam. I’m really excited to dig in with you because you have an interesting journey and you’ve been running a business without leveraging Yelp for years.
You’ve grown your presence in other online forums and platforms. And so I wanna start by talking about that. And then I wanna give our listeners that journey we went through together of getting you on Yelp. The easy parts, the not so easy parts, and the outcome, like already seen a return without any dollars invested.
Before we get to the good stuff. Well, actually, you are the good stuff. Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your business.
MIRIAM: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I’m Miriam. I am the founder and head trainer at MF Strong. MF Strong is a full service personal training business.
We operate both in person here in New York City, as well as virtually, and we offer personal training from a more inclusive, positive approach. So it’s fitness without the diet culture, without the shame and the guilt that we see perpetuating through so much of the fitness industry.
EMILY: And when you started, social media was one of the biggest platforms that you built for yourself, and it was a lot of just you being on there talking about what you were doing. Take us back to those early days and how you built that platform on social.
MIRIAM: Yeah, I mean, social media is pretty much how I grew my business, especially in the early stages. I started my own social media account back when I was an early trainer. I was working as a group fitness instructor actually. And it was like 2013, 2014.
And this was like the early days of Instagram. TikTok was not even a thought yet, you know? And everyone was saying at the time, for fitness, like you need to have an Instagram account like that is where you wanna be. Fitness on Instagram is huge. So I was teaching classes starting to privately train clients and I started my own social media account where I would just post workouts and healthy recipes, that kind of thing.
Cuz that was what we did back in the day. And I think my social media really started to take off because as I was working in group fitness, I like to say I had these kind of rose colored glasses on when I started working in the fitness industry. I started working in this industry because I was like, I wanna help people.
And I was like, fitness, it helps people. And it makes people feel good. And I wanna be a part of that. And then after working in the industry, I started to lose those glasses. And I was looking at it through a different lens because I was starting to talk to people and I was seeing the way that classes were being marketed.
It was very much from this… I didn’t have this language back then, but this diet culture perspective. Very much encouraging people and marketing to people through this idea of a bikini body or, ‘work off your weekend’ or ‘prepare for summer’. And it always just didn’t sit well with me.
And then it also, I would talk to other people and clients, and they’d be like, yeah, I really hate when instructors say those kinds of things. It doesn’t make me feel good. And I don’t like being a part of that. It’s never sat right with me. I’ve never felt comfortable.
And I realized there was this gap in the fitness industry that no one was really talking about. Where all these people, they wanted to exercise, they wanted to feel healthy, and they wanted to go into spaces where they were encouraged and supported. But they weren’t really getting that. They were only getting this, if you’re here to work out, it’s probably because you want abs. But reality was that most people actually weren’t there for that reason. And I realized that there was this massive gap. And this needs to be talked about.
So I went to social media where I was slowly building an account and started talking about these things, and that exploded my account because people were like, yes, I’ve been waiting to hear this from someone in the fitness industry.
I love going to classes, or I would love to go to classes, but I don’t feel I can get that perspective. I feel like I’m only getting this one side of things and it’s turning me off of fitness entirely. And that’s what perpetuated me to be like, okay, I think there’s room for me to start something. And start a business from this perspective, and to draw people in and give them this supportive system of training, but not perpetuating those same ideals I was getting in a lot of the classes that, in the gyms that I had worked in in the past. And so yeah, social media is what allowed me to grow and allowed me to talk about those things and get the interest and attention of people who were looking for something similar and maybe didn’t even know that they were looking for it. And that’s what allowed me to start my business.
EMILY: And the unique thing about your experience is you grew this personal account—your Miriam account, where it’s you showing up—talking and then you at one point had to make an MF Strong account. Yeah. Like a business Instagram.
And I just assumed you were running both because you grew this personal one. You know the deal. But that’s not true. You brought someone on to take that over. Talk to me about how, even as someone who knew how to do social media, that was a decision you made and how that’s been strategically working out?
MIRIAM: Yeah. Well, I mean, a big challenge in my business has been separating, like Miriam Fried from MF Strong. And so for many years I was just a personal trainer, Miriam Fried. I had my business, but it was just me. And then when I started MF Strong and I started bringing on other team members. I realized that I really needed to separate myself from the business a little bit. So that people were willing to work with other team members and that there was space for them and that they were being featured as well.
And so I didn’t really want to be a part of the MF Strong Instagram in the same way. I didn’t wanna be running it. I wanted it to be its own sort of account separate from myself. And also running my own account takes a lot of time and energy as well. There is a business aspect to my personal account, as well. So that’s a lot of energy. Running the business is a lot of energy and then running an entirely separate social media account is, that’s a whole other ordeal. So I knew that I wanted to bring someone else on to do that. Someone who was specifically knowledgeable about social media, about Instagram so that they could handle that, as well as a few other aspects of the business that I had no interest in doing myself.
So yeah, I’m really grateful to have that support. I feel like it’s just so important to be able to delegate and to be able to say you know what? I could do this, but it’s just a thing I don’t need to do. I don’t need to be running that account. And I think as a business owner, making those distinctions, it’s so vital for the business, but also for your own mental health to be like, I could do this, but I don’t need to do this. And where am I needed and where is it non-essential for me to be controlling the situation, you know?
EMILY: Yeah. I think a lot of business owners, when they think of social – in the beginning, they can come up with what they wanna say or how they wanna appear. But then the barrier is often to keep it up. Well, I already told them that, or we already said that.
How do you keep up the consistency and how do you come up with content because you’re really good at posting the same things over, but in a different perspective or to be digested differently.
MIRIAM: It’s so funny with social media because people do I think, feel oh, I’ve already posted that. But a big part of it is, especially if you use it for business purposes, is to be repetitive.
Because if you posted five weeks ago, a new person coming to your page might not scroll back to see that. I’ve always heard that you want your first few posts on your feed to really reflect what you’re about, what your business is about. So that anytime someone comes on, they could click on the first three because they’re probably not gonna have much interest past that and get a really good idea of who they’re following and who they might be hiring, essentially.
And so that’s what I always try to keep in mind is that I want the last few posts on my feed to give a lot of clarity into who I am, what I do, what I offer, and what I stand for. So I’m constantly talking about the same subjects obviously in different ways, and there are different ways to do that through reels or pictures or visuals. But just making sure that you are showing up and showing those values and lots of clarity into who you are.
EMILY: So social was obviously a big platform for you. Before you and I met, what else did you have going on? You had your website. Which has similar messaging on it. Were you doing any sort of email marketing to people? What else did you have going on digitally?
MIRIAM: Yeah. We also have an email list. We do regular newsletters and those kinds of things, but I would say social media has been pretty much our biggest driver of clients since the beginning.
We have a pretty strong referral network as well. I work alongside a lot of other wellness professionals, and we are constantly referring back and forth to each other. That’s a pretty great system to have, especially being in New York City where there’s so many people working in similar fields, but oftentimes their clients need support in ways that I can offer and vice versa.
I wanna recommend them to other people who can offer different support. So that’s been really important as well. But, those have primarily sort of been the way that we’ve marketed in the past.
EMILY: And what I love about that is you were doing great. You were very successful. Now to someone like me, I’m like, oh my gosh, how do you not have a Yelp page?
Even as an independent trainer, years ago, you could have had your own listing. But a lot of business owners don’t because they don’t know they can be on Yelp if they’re not a restaurant or if they don’t have a brick and mortar. Or they’re afraid of being on Yelp because they don’t know what kind of reviews they’re gonna get. Or they don’t know that it’s free to get yourself on there and to just get the basics of being a business that has information and can be found.
And so when we met and I was like, let me know when you’re ready to set up your Yelp page, you jumped on it right away, which was great. But we took this approach that was like, you already have everything you’re gonna complete the profile with. But we gotta sit down and do it right? Yeah. Do you remember how you felt when I asked you to do it? Were you excited? Were you nervous about setting up a Yelp page?
MIRIAM: I think my feelings about that is I’m always happy to have as many eyes on the business as possible. Whether that is like through Yelp page or through social media or literally just talking to people. I let everybody know what I do because you just never know who you’re gonna be speaking with.
So I think all the eyes on your business is always a good thing. I was very much down for it. There’s always a list of things you could be doing, right? I could be working 24 hours a day, setting up different funnels and doing different things for the business to grow.
But sometimes you do reach a threshold. I’d love to have a Yelp page. I just had never really sat down to do it. So it was good. You gave me that accountability of yeah, this is a good thing. We should have this. Especially because I haven’t spoken about it yet, but we did open our own brick and mortar studio this year. And having our own physical space, a lot of people in the neighborhood don’t know we exist, so having a really quick way to search, if anybody lives in the area and they’re searching for personal trainers. I always wanna be the first ones that show up for people, and Yelp is a really good way to do that.
EMILY: Yeah, and you and I talked a lot about what happened after you set the page up, but let’s actually dig into the process of doing that together. Because I used to help business owners in person set up Yelp pages all the time, but it had been a little while since I had done it.
And when we sat down, I was adamant that everything we needed, you already had. And I believe that’s true for every business. Yeah. You’ve already written an about you. Mm-hmm. Somewhere. How can we leverage that? We don’t need to start from scratch. Or you wanna have great photos of your business. You don’t need to hire a photographer to come in and do a professional shoot. You have an iPhone or another smartphone and you probably already have great pictures on that. So you and I hopped on together. We sat down. We booked 30 minutes at first. And we pretty much got it set up in 30 minutes.
Something that I thought was interesting when we were working on it together was, just a reminder to me of the core elements of a profile, especially when you’re a service provider. Like you are, which is: get in those categories. There might be more than one.
Or in your case, you’re in a category, personal trainer. But you offer something that is unique. So then we had to get specific on the page. Your about section, your photo captions. They had to clarify some of that stuff that sets you apart. Do you remember how you went about doing that? What keyword words or phrases were you trying to incorporate?
MIRIAM: I remember you had mentioned something when we were setting it up. To not use, like, we don’t do this. And sometimes when I talk about my business, I do say that, right? I’ll say we don’t do diet culture. We don’t do the shame and the blame and the guilt.
So it was very important for me to, oh, okay, I have to edit that and say what we do offer versus what we don’t offer. Because again, if someone’s searching, I want the stuff we offer to pop up. I was able to take all of these things I’d already written about the business and just adjust to make sure it was really focusing on what we do offer. So inclusivity, welcoming, positive, weight inclusive, all of those types of things. Just to make it really clear in case someone is searching for that. Or if they’re not searching for it and they’re just searching for personal training and they can click through and be like, oh! That’s amazing. That sounds great.
EMILY: Absolutely. And what I love about that reminder you just had about the don’ts is that applies to so much of your online presence in general. And I think business owners who maybe don’t understand SEO, search engine optimization, they don’t get that what is helping you appear is what you have that matches with what the consumer searched for.
And so if you’re doing that, don’t, the computer is not always able to distinguish. So that was a good reminder. I also think that for your profile, we needed to be really clear about hours you would see a client – even though you’re by appointment only. And for some businesses, that’s a really hard thing to understand.
We wanna put hours that you would be open to taking a client, even if you’re not gonna always do it. But. What are the operating hours you’d like to work within? Let’s add those. Make it by appointment only. Right. Because you wanna show up when people are searching for open at a specific time.
And that was a hurdle that I know a lot of my business owners were like, well, I don’t wanna say that. What if they show up? You’re a personal trainer. They’re not just gonna walk into the gym. Do you remember once you had set up the page about how long it was before a customer came to you and said, ‘Yeah, I saw your Yelp page!’
MIRIAM: Yeah, pretty quickly. It was a week and a half or something like that. We have a form on our website where people have to check how they found us. It was pretty immediate. And then I think even after that first one, there were several more that came through, just via, people saying that they found us via Google search, which is, again, pretty rare.
Most of our clientele come through social media. That’s our biggest funnel of clients. So I definitely take note when I see them coming elsewhere. And there were several people in a row who came through Google, and I’m gonna just assume that Yelp helped us get to people specifically searching for Brooklyn personal trainers helped us get a little bit higher on that Google list.
EMILY: Yeah. And the thing about what we did was all we did was put in the information using the free tools. Yeah. We didn’t start an ad campaign. We weren’t investing dollars. We were just putting the information there. And what a lot of business owners don’t realize is if your Yelp page is accurate, that information is pulling to Apple Maps. Yahoo, Bing. It needs to be accurate in a couple of core places and that it helps you be found online in general. Talk to me now about how you continue to follow up and track where these things are coming from, because I like that you mentioned you asked them, but you also have to look at your own metrics and try to connect the two.
What do you look for when you try to determine how these people found you? What do you logging into to look at it?
MIRIAM: Well, they literally fill it out. They check it? Yeah. Yeah. When someone inquires about training, we’ll ask ’em a few questions, where they’re located, what their goals are, what they’re looking for and a little bit about their fitness history.
And then we ask, how you’ve heard about us. So people have to specifically say how they found us, whether it was social media, google search, referral, that sort of thing. So I’m actually able to get the exact answer, which is really, really helpful. I wanna understand how people are finding us. To see the specific sort of answers that we’re geared towards Yelp or towards Google searches has been really interesting lately.
EMILY: It’s good that we talked about you asking for that because I think a lot of business owners skip that step and then it’s just a question. Yeah.
Where are they coming from? Let’s transition back to social a little bit. Because I know that takes a lot of time to be responsive and turn an interested person into a client. How do you do that on a forum that maybe is not always so clear that they could be someone who could come work with you in person?
MIRIAM: How do I navigate getting across to people? On social media, you mean?
EMILY: What I’m thinking is if they’re finding you on social, they probably have to take a couple steps to become a client. You’re trying to get them to your website or to reach out to you. How do you think you effectively manage that as a lead source cuz it kind of requires human oversight.
MIRIAM: Well it’s kind of like what we were just talking about. I think people are so afraid to be talking. I think people get afraid of feeling too salesy on social media. And I totally get that. It’s weird and I think it has to feel organic. I think that’s why showing up as yourself can be a really great way to do that. And just talking about what you do, sharing about, oh, my client had this. They hit a PR today. Or like they had this really great breakthrough moment. And celebrating that. And just continuously reminding people like, Hey, I do this.
I work with people in person. I’m located in New York City. We offer these services. I was working with a virtual client. We offer these virtual services. It might feel a little bit like, oh, I’m talking about my business again. But you do kind of have to constantly talk about your business. Yeah. Because otherwise people will just be like, oh, I’m just following this like fitness influencer.
That’s not what I do, I’m a personal trainer with a business. I wanna always make it very clear, that’s first and foremost what I do, and that’s why I have this page. It’s not just to share my own fitness journey. It’s to share what I know, share my knowledge as a professional and also, share what my business can offer you.
EMILY: I think to wrap us up, I’d love to just talk about management and kind of the big picture of strategy. Because you have this person now. You’re creating content. You’re paying them, and investing in that. And we have these other tools too, like chat GPT. And AI. And you’ve experimented with that a little bit and you’re starting to see some potential opportunities to scale and really take that presence and blow it up.
But you still have to have that human element. How are you balancing that?
MIRIAM: Yeah, I mean, we haven’t used it a ton yet. But I do think it’s this really interesting tool. I’ve talked with a lot of friends who are business owners as well, and I think a lot of people are scared of it a little bit. And I get why it feels like, oh my God is AI gonna take our jobs away?
But I kind of see it as something similar to like when the internet first became a thing. Yes. It was this amazing tool. Like I literally wouldn’t have a business if the internet didn’t exist in all of the amazing opportunities that it’s provided for me to get my business out there. So I feel similarly, AI is gonna provide us with all of these opportunities. And when utilized correctly, can be a really great tool to, hopefully for us business owners, take more things off of our hands, right? There are more things that maybe we don’t have to do. That we can delegate to AI. Or to let our other employees use it to give them more time and free up their time so they can help us with other things that we need help with. So I think it’s an exciting possibility. And again, I definitely need to do more, experimenting, but the team member who does all of our sort of marketing and our social media is very interested in it as well.
So we’re gonna be playing around with it and kind of seeing how we can utilize the tool to our advantage so that we all have more time to do other things
EMILY: And something I love about the possibilities with AI and chat GBT is, if you’ve already been getting your business out there and putting information about yourself, you can leverage that, to get AI and chat GPT right to tell you about yourself. Check out this Instagram account. Now write a post for me about my own business. And again, we’re not talking about having AI write 15 posts and you’re just copying and pasting them like. A human is reading them, modifying them.
But you did a lot of work and now it can spit stuff back at you pretty effectively.
MIRIAM: Correct! Yeah. I think it’s really cool and really interesting. I think obviously people are feeling a little bit hesitant about it. But I’m excited about what it can hopefully do for us as a business.
EMILY: Is there anything else you wanted to cover or talk about as it relates to everything you do offline and how you translate that online. Or conversely what you’re doing online and how you bring that into an in-person experience with your customers?
MIRIAM: I think it’s been really interesting, especially with opening a physical space, because one cool thing about what we’re able to offer is we do work virtually with clients, right?
So the internet allows that to sort of be global. We can offer services to anyone who comes across our page. But now that we have this physical space, it’s also creating clarity of where we are and like what our many offerings are. And attracting people who are actually physically near our studio.
So I think blending the two together is what we’re trying to do right now and trying to figure out how to make sure it’s clear that we still offer virtual services. We can work with you anywhere, but we are here, we are specifically in Brooklyn and we want people in the neighborhood, we want that community aspect.
And so bridging those two things I think is where we’re at right now and trying to utilize our social media platform to do that, to create partnerships and relationships with people who are local and other local businesses, so that we can build our community there. While also still making sure we’re speaking to our audience at large. And letting them know that we’re still available for all of them as well.
EMILY: And I think this conversation is so powerful for anyone who’s listening and thinks, well, I don’t have a Yelp page and I haven’t had one for years. And so why do it? There is value! It’s not social, so it’s not like you need to be posting right multiple times a week, but setting it up can really give you that natural SEO.
And we’re not talking about investing dollars, we’re talking about putting your accurate information online in a place that people are already searching.
MIRIAM: Yep. And again, just getting as many eyes on your business is always gonna be a positive thing.