How Tone It Up Turned Free YouTube Workouts into Multi-Million Dollar Fitness Brand

Tone It Up is a company run by two young women - Karena and Katrina - who had a vision for healthier living. Both women felt a need for community and wanted to start their own business, but they never dreamed that it would take off as quickly as it did, or be as successful as it is today.

The beginning

Katrina Hodgson and Karena Dawn met in college (at the gym, obviously), and thus bloomed an instant friendship. The two became roommates and workout buddies, formulating a diet and workout plan to help Katrina get into the shape she wanted. As a heavier child, Katrina worked hard with Karena in order to lose excess weight and become an inspiration to millions of women around the globe.

Karena, who grew up with Jane Fonda and a healthier family, began her fitness hobby at age 12 by participating in triathalons and running marathons.

To start, the two created a YouTube channel and series that promoted healthy eating and exercising through free workout and diet videos. They promoted their website,, which provided free nutrition and fitness content to readers and viewers worldwide.

Neither of the two ever attended any sort of business school or any formal entrepreneurial training, but they created this multi-million dollar brand by following their passion and creating consistent, quality content for their viewers.

Once the community grew large enough and Tone It Up became a more notable brand for fitness, they picked up sponsors such as Oakley’s and made appearances in magazines like Self, Marie Claire, Oprah, Fitness, Vogue and Women’s Health. They often collaborate with Lauren Conrad on recipes and healthy workouts.

How they did it

Tone It Up is so incredibly successful because of its community and its connectedness. Karena and Katrina work with a small company in California to create daily and weekly videos that motivate women to workout and eat right. Of course they now offer products such as a nutrition plan, which offers guidelines for eating and healthy recipes, a protein powder that comes in a wide variety of flavors (and is also incorporated in many of their recipes), jewellery, clothing, and more.

Tone It Up’s strategy of creating community-oriented goals and products creates this great feeling of connection. Even if most of the women never meet each other (though the company offers a weekend-long retreat for members), the fact that women can by t-shirts and bracelets with the Tone It Up logo means they’re more likely to feel emotionally connected to the community and get their friends involved. Plus, it’s a great way for community members to meet each other in public settings, where they may not have even known they had Tone It Up in common.

However, even though the products and nutrition plans vary in price, these purchases are optional. All of the workout videos that Tone It Up makes are hosted on YouTube for free and anyone can view them. They have an active following on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which allows for them to share even more free content with members. The model of offering special products that consumers can buy, while still offering free content for viewers is an extremely successful one, especially for companies with a major (if not exclusive) presence online.

Tone It Up is great inspiration for those who want to start a business but haven’t necessarily gone to business school (or even graduated college). In today’s world, Karena and Katrina are the perfect example of starting a big business in a surprisingly small way.

They’ve been active on YouTube since 2008, and currently have a little over 438,000 subscribers, most of which are women who tune in every day to get their fitness fix in. 

Thinking of starting a business this way? Consider these tips:

  • Consistent content is key. Karena and Katrina often do one or two videos a day, almost every day of the week. They are constantly putting out content. Readers and viewers will lose interest if they forget about you.
  • Promote yourself and your community members on social media. The community will feel really connected with you if you acknowledge their activity with your brand.
  • Free videos are a superb way to offer your target audience something they can interact with for free. Considering styling videos, how-tos and more to engage them without forcing them into a purchase.
  • Remember that making free content does not hurt business. Free content means more people have access to your stuff, meaning it’s far easier to spread and promote your brand. It’s okay to make freebies!

 If you have a business idea in mind, consider starting off with a website offering free information and promote it heavily. Once you have gained enough reputation in the industry, you will be able to seek out sponsorships much easier and therefore make money!

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