Jay Dang is a personal trainer and founder of 5 Star Fitness, an Arizona-based business that offers personal training, group training classes, one-on-one coaching and online lifestyle fitness coaching in four cities across the state—a rapid expansion that happened in just over a year, thanks to the power of social media.

A lifelong athlete, Jay Dang’s career in fitness really began when another career aspiration ended—after he’d earned a full college football scholarship and had realistic hopes of playing for the NFL, he injured his knee. But he kept his focus on fitness and bodybuilding.

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Jay Dang

My heart has always been in the gym, so I decided to pursue a career personal training full time.

Instagram felt like a natural outlet to share his passion for fitness and IFBB competitions. Bodybuilding is a close-knit community of people sharing how they get results—what they eat, how they work out, what protein powders they use. Instagram quickly evolved into Jay’s main marketing platform for his personal training business.

He rotated between motivational posts, nutrition posts, client stories and lifestyle photos. From that early beginning, he found his first 40 clients—which was too many for one trainer to handle. So he hired a second trainer.

Just as he was about to invest in a studio, Jay saw a Facebook ad for a business mentor. He credits that mentor with teaching him how to use paid advertising strategies on Facebook—a lesson that helped him grow his business five times larger within that same year.

He’s kept that momentum.

In the last 90 days alone, Jay’s company, 5 Star Fitness, has had more than 6-figures in sales through social media marketing.

At this point, Jay says about 20% of his clients come from referrals, 50% from Facebook, and 30% from Instagram.

Now, Jay helps other personal trainers launch and scale their businesses using Instagram and Facebook as their primary marketing platforms.

In this interview, Jay Dang shares exactly how he uses Instagram and Facebook to build a following of local fitness fans, and how he’s changing his approach to Instagram to continue to expand his business.

Start with your personal account

Jay Dang’s personal Instagram account dates back to 2013 when he’d been developing a training program that was just about ready to launch. But...

“I knew people wouldn’t buy from some random person on the internet. I wanted to build rapport and an audience before I launched my program.”

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Why Instagram?

“When choosing a platform, you have to know where your ideal clients hang online or in person. More millennials are on Instagram right now, which is mostly my market.”

And, as Jay admits, “Fitness is a little superficial. It’s primarily about looks, and Instagram is all visuals.”

The first thing you’ll notice about Jay’s Instagram is the sheer amount of body shots—mostly his, but just as importantly, photos of his clients. Before-and-afters, competition photos, workout photos, lots of pictures of people showing off 6-pack abs and biceps the size of cantaloupes.

In marketing terms, these are called ‘end-benefits’ or ‘ideal outcomes’—the results clients want for themselves. Jay Dang’s feed is bursting with them.

It’s not all muscles—there are lifestyle photos in there too. Jay looking buff on the beach. Jay looking buff on a motorcycle. Jay looking buff in front of Machu Picchu.

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Jay Dang's Instagram stream

It’s aspirational marketing made personal—because Jay Dang’s feed isn’t about about showing off; the message is: “This is what you can get when you work hard enough—and I can help you get there.”

The photos show the promise, but the comments Jay writes on each photo he posts forge a deeper relationship.

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Instagram post shared by Jay Dang

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This mix of inspiration and personal connection skyrocketed Jay’s business by 1,250% (that’s more than 12x growth) in 2016, with one-third of new clients coming to him from Instagram. Here’s the most fascinating part of Jay’s Instagram strategy—it looks like it’s all about him (or almost all about him), but it’s really all about his target clients. His rule of thumb: “Focus on the end user and share what you’re passionate about.”

And always provide value.

“It starts by posting content they’ll be interested in. You have to provide value first and follow up. Deliver good content so they wonder how good it will be once they pay you.”

He keeps his content calendar simple:

“Monday Motivation, Tuesday Transformation (and tips with actionable advice), What’s Cookin’ Wednesday (a pdf from one of my graphic designers of a recipe and a video of me cooking the meal). Thursdays I do a trainer spotlight or a client success story. Flex Friday focuses on the clients, and on weekends, a live post.”

The live posts on both his Instagram and Facebook are important, not only to get top placement in followers’ feeds but also for customer research.

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Jay Dang's Facebook banner

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“Going live is the only opportunity for the audience to ask questions and engage with you. If you’re not asking questions when you go live, you’re not getting the most out of your live feeds. Give them reasons to respond and you’ll find out what they want to learn and what they like. Then create content around the questions people are asking.”

For businesses who are looking to build a local following, Jay has this advice:

“Engage with locals on Instagram. ‘Like’ their pictures. There are ten gyms in my neighborhood alone and if I like every picture tagged at those gyms, those people are going to check me out. Just start by liking pictures that are tagged near your location.”

And, use hashtags:

“One thing I nailed early is using hashtags to position myself. Narrow it down to a few—three to four. Let them know you’re a #trainer and you’re local; that gives you credibility. Always consider who your ideal audience is, what they care about, and let them know what you do.”

This runs counter to the current wisdom to “use as many tags per post as you can, or close to it” (Forbes)—but it is aligned with a deeper wisdom: creating content around your clients, rather than for an algorithm. Jay’s goal is to empower healthy lifestyles, educate and motivate and social media is his outlet. Thirty hashtags doesn’t get him closer to that goal.

Instagram may only deliver about 30 percent of Jay’s clients, but that’s all organic traffic—no paid ads, nothing artificially boosted—but for “5x” growth, a little boost is necessary, which is why Jay also invests in Facebook.

From Facebook to 5x growth

Jay Dang makes advertising on Facebook sound easy: “It’s getting the right content in front of the right people at the right time.”

“There’s times you scroll through your Facebook feed and you see a paid ad that either appeals to you, because you have that issue, or it doesn’t.”

Facebook lets you choose demographic and geographic targets for campaigns, and Jay says it’s well worth paying for more exposure.

Content-wise, there isn’t much difference between Jay’s Instagram and his Facebook account. It’s mostly the same pictures, similar, if not the same videos, and just a bit more commentary.

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Facebook post shared by Jay Dang

The difference in results between the two platforms is because Facebook makes it possible to promote some of that content and turn it into a lead generator and sales funnel.

Once someone in his chosen demographic and in his geographic area sees his promoted post, they’re prompted to fill out an application.

“They fill out an application, an assistant will contact them, and they’ll get an appointment to meet with me or one of my other trainers. And we prove we can solve their problem by solving part of it for free.”

That first session is the real selling point. He says, “Most people don’t know how to work out. So we take them through a workout session and nutrition consultation.” It’s a quick win Jay and his team can deliver that quickly gets prospects hooked.

After all, they want to be on that beach, posing for the camera, totally ripped.

Personal Instagram v. Professional - why Jay is changing his strategy just a bit

Currently, Jay Dang has two Instagram accounts. There’s his original personal page, which features a lot of posts of him, and a lot of posts more geared toward his competition-level body building clients.

It’s impressive, without a doubt. But if you’re not looking to compete, it can also be intimidating.

Which is why there’s also the new account, #5StarFitnessAZ, which has a very different feel.

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5 Star Fitness Instagram stream

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The demographic he’s targeting with this Instagram feed is entirely different—millennial women. There are a lot of before-and-after photos, pictures of fit young women in the gym and in beautiful locales, and nutrition tips and how-to’s like “Fit Tacos” recipes.

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Posts from Jay's second instagram page

With the addition of this second Instagram page, Jay’s Instagram strategy is shifting.

“Now, my personal page is about my lifestyle, which acts as a credibility enhancer. People want to know you’re living the life. But the business one is separated and focused solely on my ideal client.”

Maybe it isn’t shifting that much after all, because Jay’s number-one rule still holds true:

“Everything you post, you want to post as an authority on how to solve the problem of your ideal client.”

Successful marketing on any platform really just comes down to that.

And great pictures don’t hurt.

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Instagram post shared by Jay Dang

For fitness tips and inspiration, you can follow Jay Dang on Instagram here and here, and on Facebook.

Community Growth at Zest.is. Moderator at Product Hunt and Growth Hackers. Previously: Growth at Inbound.org. I teach SaaS Founders how to build, engage, and grow communities for their SaaS products. Check out my book: The SaaS Growth Playbook.