How Building A Digital Community Of Combat Athletes Led Us To An $8K/Month Business

Published: April 25th, 2023
James de Lacey
Sweet Science of...
from Austin, TX, USA
started September 2020
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m James de Lacey and I own and run Sweet Science of Fighting. My main product is a membership with training programs, online courses, and a private community for combat athletes looking for strength & conditioning.

These training programs span the different combat sports with separate programs for strikers, grapplers, and MMA athletes. The reason my programs are so different from the typical fitness site is I have a decade of experience in professional sports and hold a Master’s degree in sport and exercise science so I can leverage my experience of training in high-pressure environments.

Further, I’ve brought in world-class coaches to create some programs like the lead performance coach for the Dutch Judo Olympic team to provide his expertise for the Judo program.

My community has approximately 80 members and growing week to week as more fighters find my content through Google, YouTube, and the podcast.

Outside of that, I’m an affiliate for different martial arts products. These products include various boxing gloves, rash guards, training shorts, and fitness equipment related to combat sports. Currently, the site is making $8000/month and growing.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

This idea has been 2 years in the making but really, 14 years of gaining expertise and experience in the area of strength & conditioning training. My previous career was working in professional and international rugby league, rugby union, and rugby sevens.

I graduated with my Master’s in Sport & Exercise Science in 2014 after 5 years of study and went on to have a career training professional athletes. During the pandemic, a loss of contract and being stuck overseas led to finding new ways to make money.

My wife and I were stuck in Romania from April to December 2020 with a small amount of money coming in from freelancing. I had to find a way to make a living outside of physical coaching.

Combat sports have been a long-time passion. I train and compete in BJJ and thought combat would be a good niche to position my strength and conditioning knowledge as the competitive arena is relatively new.

Further, the level of knowledge of S&C best practices in this area is poor. Hence, I thought I’d have an advantage over some of the competition. So learned and applied everything I could find about SEO and blogging and started hitting the keyboard.

A couple of years later and I’m getting 130,000 people visiting my site every month and making a living from it.

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

My first products were strength and conditioning programs for strikers, grapplers, and MMA. Everything was produced on Google Sheets and PDFs which were distributed through email after purchase.

These strength and conditioning programs took a few days each to create and write the accompanying eBook with instructions and rationale behind them. Here’s an example of how the program looked in the Google sheet. Customers had the option to pick exercises from a drop-down list making it infinitely customizable.


The only resource invested was my time. I have the knowledge and expertise to create programs for many sports having worked with many athletes. If you’re looking to start a business and you have expertise established from a previous career, leverage it!

Your competitive advantage is so large in the online space since there are so many weekend warriors trying to give advice in your niche.

These consisted of separate strength programs and conditioning programs for each category. They were sold separately, upsold, and bundled to reduce buying resistance. When I launched my programs, I was already getting traffic to the site. So adding digital products was an instant increase in revenue on top of affiliate revenue.

The content I started with was purely informational content covering anything within combat sports that related to training or had some form of science underpinning it. Various strength, conditioning, and training articles are where I started with additional comparison articles comparing different martial arts since they have a high search volume.

My current strategy would be the same if I was starting again but because I’ve covered most topics within my space, it’s a mixture of updating articles to keep them ranking high and relevant and building the YouTube channel for an additional traffic source.

One SEO tip I can give to new entrepreneurs is learning how to structure content that ranks. You don’t need to write it for yourself if you have the budget to outsource. But you can’t find a good writer if you don’t know how the article should be structured.

Basic heading structure and what the headings should consist of is a small skill to learn to maximize your content writing.

ThriveCart was my shopping cart which was a one-time cost of $495. No subscription fees made creating funnels a breeze. I built my landing pages using Thrive Themes which has pre-built templates.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Funnily enough, I started my website with one article between jobs in 2018 not knowing a thing about SEO or digital marketing. It sat there until I no longer had a contract in September 2020 and I saw it had traffic.

Create an audience through social media, blogging, YouTube, or another medium before spending time creating something to sell.

So I doubled down from there. Everything was bootstrapped and cost me next to nothing outside of hosting. The biggest thing I learned during the process is you can’t sell anything if you don’t have an audience.

I had plenty of failed businesses and websites in the past but the content I was writing was not being found. I had no idea about SEO at the time so what I was writing could never rank. I couldn’t sell anything because I had no eyeballs. The difference with my current project is I’m getting hundreds to thousands of eyeballs on my website every month by focusing on content that can rank and get traffic then funneling that traffic to convert to various offers

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

One thing I’ve implemented is the one-time offer page which drastically increased my sales. I got this idea from digital marketer Miles Beckler. It works by having a lead opt-in to my email list, and they are redirected to a thank you page.

This thank you page presented a one-time offer for a training program at 50-60% off. The goal was to offer something so attractive that hot leads would purchase on the spot. This thank you page had a countdown timer for 15 minutes so scarcity was a factor.

Another tactic to increase my average order value was to add a bump offer. This offer was a simple supplement guide they could add to the program. After this, they would continue down the funnel and be presented with further discounted offers for programs and online courses.

To increase the number of leads, I continued publishing blog posts targeting strength and conditioning keywords for combat sports. More traffic equaled more potential for leads.

But to convert these leads I had to be strategic. I couldn’t have the same lead magnet across all verticals as a guide targeted toward MMA athletes won’t convert to the same extent as something targeted towards BJJ athletes on an article about training for BJJ.

So I created separate strength and conditioning lead magnets for each category. I currently have 9 different lead magnets for my articles to increase opt-in rates.


How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

As of today, I’ve moved to a subscription model. I did this to reduce the volatility of one-off sales. I’ve doubled down on affiliate content as a way to supplement this subscription income.

All sales are done through a third-party app that hosts my training programs and courses called MyStrengthBook. Payments are run through Stripe and money is rev shared with MyStrengthBook.

This way, I’m not paying subscription fees and I have my white-labeled app. I also have my own branded martial arts gear in partnership with XMartial to further promote my brand with physical products.

The future for Sweet Science of Fighting is to grow the YouTube channel. This is another traffic source to funnel into my membership and diversifies away from written search traffic.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One of the best things I’ve done for my business is starting a podcast. My network has expanded exponentially and I’ve even recruited many of my guests to be part of my business as expert coaches.

Having this medium for content also gives more personalization and a face to the brand where potential customers can get to know you better. Also, being associated with leaders in the field elevates your brand.

The other big lesson is to get on the phone or video call with vendors you’re an affiliate for and turn the affiliate relationship into a mutual partnership. It is far more beneficial for both parties than a purely transactional relationship.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

WordPress is my CMS of choice for its simple integrations, plugins, and ease of use. I use Thrive Themes since it’s an all-in-one theme, page builder, email capture, countdown timer, and A/B testing software.

My shopping cart was initially ThriveCart which hosted my digital training programs and online courses. I had multiple funnels based on various martial arts to make offers to potential customers that would convert. The great thing about ThriveCart is the lifetime deal so you’re not paying subscription fees.

I use Mailerlite for my email marketing platform. That was my entire tech stack scaling my business. I kept it very simple. Now that I have moved from one-off digital product sales to membership, I use MyStrengthBook which allows me to white-label a training app.

My training programs and courses are hosted on this app so customers must be subscribed to access them. My private community is on Discord.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Niche Website Builders - A niche website/digital marketing podcast I listened to religiously and somehow managed to start hosting it.

Miles Beckler - I modeled my entire business from his teachings on YouTube.

Income School - This is how I got my start in the blogging world. Learned how to structure and write blog posts because of these guys.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The number one piece of advice is to create an audience first. I see it all the time and was guilty of it myself where I’d create something to sell but have no one to sell it to. Create an audience through social media, blogging, YouTube, or another medium before spending time creating something to sell.

When you have the attention of an audience, businesses will come to you. They’ll want you to promote their product and will even send you their products for free. But you need the eyeballs first before any of this happens.

Where can we go to learn more?

James de Lacey, Founder of Sweet Science of Fighting
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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