For people who will say almost anything, Jillian Michaels and Giancarlo Chersich are adamant about the importance of control. Perhaps that's not surprising about Michaels, the  fitness and health expert who muscled her way to fame as a trainer on The Biggest Loser. Now she and her business partner Chersich, who interact like profane but loving siblings, have launched Empowered Media to get out Michaels' message that having a strong body makes you strong in other areas of your life as well. As they told senior contributing writer Burt Helm at Inc.'s GrowCo conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday, having a strong business means controlling what's most important to you.

Michaels and Chersich met--where else?--at the gym. Michaels had subject expertise and a compelling personal brand. Chersich had business and marketing smarts. "I said, 'Jillian, you have the opportunity to build something so much bigger," Chersich recalled. They agreed that Michaels should become to fitness and nutrition "what Oprah is to lifestyle, Martha is to home; Suze is to money," he said. (Empowered Media produces books, DVDs, and even a reality TV show.)

Of course Oprah, Martha, and Suze built their huge personal brands before the social media age. Michaels and Chersich imagined a content-rich website as their primary digital venture. But people repeatedly told them to go on social. Fans did consume Michaels' content on sites like Facebook, but at the expense of  jillianmichaels.com. "Then all of a sudden, one day Mark Zuckerberg went, 'Oh, do you want to reach these millions of fans that you have accumulated? You can pay $60,000 to reach 10 percent,'" said Michaels. "It is a useless platform to me now."

Empowered Media hasn't abandoned social entirely; for example, the company has plans to start a YouTube channel. But now the emphasis is squarely on media it controls: a podcast, an app, and a revitalized version of the website. "When you build your business on somebody else's platform, you are essentially a hostage," said Michaels, a fan of The Art of War.

Chersich pointed out that Michaels, who debuted on Loser in 2004, got started early enough that she could still make use of traditional media such as television and magazine covers. With social media, he said, "the credibility factor is thrown out the window. You can buy fake followers. You can buy fake views." Michaels says she counters that with "authenticity and results." For instance, she is currently working on a book for pregnant women, something she feels passionate about "because of what I watched my partner go through with the birth of her son." As for results, "you've seen me take hundreds of pounds off of somebody over and over."

Michaels' independence extends to her relationship--or non-relationship--with sponsors. Lucrative as endorsing products from major food brands might be, she has built a career criticizing their ingredients. So Chersich started sending Michaels to the supermarket to identify products she loved; he then contacted the companies and offered to invest. In January, Empowered Media acquired Lucky Jack Organic Coffee, a nautical-themed brand based in Las Vegas.

Chersich conceded that partnerships with larger companies are unavoidable for many startups requiring specific resources. He suggested several ways companies can maintain control when entering such relationships, such as keeping terms as short as possible and spelling out things like approval rights and the right to meaningful consultation. "Paperwork, in my opinion, is more important than the work you are going to do to grow the business, because it is what the entire thing hangs on," he said. "Whatever deal you do, expect to be sued. Have a litigator look at your deal."

Not surprisingly, Michaels and Chersich are wary of ceding control to investors. Until the Lucky Jack acquisition, they had never raised money. "Money comes with a lot of strings attached," Chersich said. As self-funders, "the mistakes were ours. The successes were ours."