How I Vibe: Ian Westermann, Founder of Essential Tennis
Tennis coach and business owner Ian Westermann created a unique position for himself. What began as an everyday job as a tennis professional gradually evolved into a business that relies heavily on social media to grow, build, and maintain an active audience in the tennis community.
Through the sale of online resources and one-on-one coaching sessions, Westermann has established himself as a reliable and dynamic resource for improving your tennis game. So how does an interactive digital whiteboard fit into Westermann’s overall approach to business? Read on to see how adding Vibe to the lineup created more opportunities for Westermann to engage with his audience and reach more tennis players than ever before.
Laying the groundwork for entrepreneurship
Westermann, who has played tennis since he was around 10, graduated from college in 2004 and immediately started coaching. While he was certain of his career field, he quickly realized that being a tennis pro could take its toll further down the road.
“I was a normal on-courts tennis pro from 2004 on…but I saw that I was going to have to sacrifice my body if I wanted that to be my job for the next 20, 30, 40 years,” he explained. “I wanted to spend more time with people who really had a passion for challenging themselves and growing, and really pushing themselves and improving.”
Driven by his aspiration to help tennis students grow as both people and athletes, Westermann moved his platform online in 2008 with the goal of connecting with more people who wanted to improve their game. After publishing content online for three years, Westermann knew how to monetize well enough that he could quit his job and devote all of his time and attention to Essential Tennis, LLC.
Westermann has accomplished a lot with a relatively small team. “Until recently, I had two other coaches on staff. They left at the beginning of the pandemic, unfortunately, so right now it’s just me on the coaching side, but I employ two production people full time and an administrative/customer support person full time.” He also employs a web developer and marketing specialist part-time.
While Westermann’s vision for Essential Tennis is clear, even he had to adapt to swift and major changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. His team had established a good system for creating and publishing content online, but when his two staff coaches left at the start of the pandemic, Westermann saw that the system had to change.
“When I found out that it was going to be down to me—which is how it started, making content on my own, and coaching on my own without other coaches with me—I knew I was going to have to make some kind of pivot or shift in how I created content, how I coached, how I interacted with my viewers and my students who come work with me in person,” Westermann said.
He still wanted his content to be engaging, but not having multiple touchpoints, voices and personalities appearing in the videos anymore made that a challenge. “I felt like I needed something to help make the shift in a more dynamic way to things being focused only on me again,” he explained. “So that’s when I started researching smart boards.”
How Westermann chose Vibe
What immediately drew Westermann to Vibe was that, “It seemed like a very open platform where I could manipulate images, and text, and draw in a very open, freeform kind of way.” He added, “I researched at least two other options pretty heavily and they seemed to be much more limited as far as use case and how flexible they were. And Vibe was also [less expensive] than those other two.”
But there was another surprising factor that helped him choose Vibe: “I went to the Vibe website and I had a specific question about something; I clicked the chat bubble and it turned out the person I was talking with was the founder of the company,” he said. “That really said a lot. I mean, as an entrepreneur myself, he was super specific and really helpful. That really said a lot to me as well about the company.”
With that, Westermann was sold on Vibe and has been using the interactive whiteboard since April 2020.
“It’s rare that I don’t use it once a day,” he said. “I’m either working with a student or I’m creating content every day…Pretty much every day I come to work, I use it.”
How he uses the Vibe board on a daily basis
Westermann breaks down his use of the board into two major categories: content and coaching.
“On the content side of things, I use it for slides and presentations to show images, text, graphs, that sort of thing,” he said. But he finds himself using it even more frequently for strategy diagramming, where he uses a picture of a tennis court and two players to illustrate his points. “I’m able to move the players around and draw lines; it’s super flexible for setting up different point scenarios and then making an instructional piece of content around different patterns or targets.”
The other content component is video analysis. He can pull up different video clips for strategy lessons or technique analysis, and Vibe’s annotation feature lets him draw over top of the footage as he breaks it down frame-by-frame.
The video analysis naturally connects to his coaching practice, too. Because video is such an integral part of his coaching style, he’ll set the Vibe board up on the court during his students’ lessons so they can easily evaluate their form and quickly make adjustments.
“I use an iPad to gather clips of my student as we’re training together, and then every few minutes we’ll go to check in on how they’re moving and how they’re executing what we’re working on,” he explained. “I mirror the iPad to the Vibe so that they have a 55” view of what they’re doing and they can get instant feedback on how they’re progressing.”
From here, it’s easy for Westermann to write notes on Vibe’s infinite canvas to develop each athlete’s action plan based on their progress at each lesson. “Every stroke we work on, I’m taking notes on key phrases that work for them, and I’m also writing down all the drills we’re doing together so that when they go home they immediately have that PDF of, ‘Here’s what to do with your forehand,’ ‘Here’s what to do for your backhand,’ ‘Here’s what to do for your serve.’ We create that document together on the Vibe as we work together throughout the day.”
Related: Coaching with the Vibe Board
Westermann’s favorite Vibe features
Westermann finds that in-depth video analysis (particularly the way he uses it) is rare among tennis coaches. So it’s no surprise that people inevitably ask what he uses to create his content when he shares these instructional videos on YouTube. Presenting his coaching material in this manner generates a conversation around his content, allowing him to contribute to the tennis community in a distinctive way.
And as soon as his Vibe board arrived, Westermann was excited to figure out how he could get the most out of this new technology. He said, “Every time I came up against something where a setting wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, any time I’ve ever emailed [the Vibe team] asking them, ‘Is there any way that this could work like that?’ [my feature request has] always been in the next update, which is super impressive.”
With this kind of attention to detail, Westermann has been able to refine his content creation, successfully coach his athletes, and find new and more exciting ways to communicate his message by using the Vibe board.
“I feel like if you’re a professional and you’re not differentiating yourself in any way from the way your job is normally done, then day after day, you’re just becoming more of a commodity and more replaceable,” he said. “I think being able to interact with technology [and with] media and create things of value—whether you’re a service provider or you create actual products—the better you can communicate, the more effective you’re going to be, the more valuable you’re going to be.”
Going forward with Vibe
Westermann has seen an upward trajectory in the content he’s able to create using the Vibe board and said, “It’s enabled me to communicate in more ways, and more interesting ways, so for me it’s super valuable.” He strongly believes that any tool that helps people convey their message in a more engaging and effective way is worth the investment, especially as a business owner and entrepreneur.
“I would say to anybody who is considering [investing in a Vibe board], it’s probably worth it, just to develop yourself as a communicator and as an operator in a 2020, 2021 world,” Westermann said. “It’s critical to be able to differentiate yourself in some kind of way, and I think the Vibe makes it really fun and easy to do that.”