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The Token System for Getting Personal Training Referrals and Improving Adherence


I’d been training two clients for 3 years each. They were both retired and had a host of injuries. Now pain free and with regained function it was time to focus on weight loss but that damn stubborn fat wouldn’t go away. I tried everything in the gym from high intensity to low intensity to training every day to incorporating more rest. Nothing would work.

The problem was home time habits.

They both ate pretty well but snacked daily so decided to go to Weight Watchers. Within 3 months they were both down 20-25lbs. My first response was to be as jealous as Betty whenever Veronica goes out on a date with Archie. Then I decided to look deeper into the program to see why it worked so well.

The first thing I noticed what that a point system was assigned and it helped the participant keep a close eye on exactly what they’re eating. What jumped out at me more was the ribbon that was given and proudly displayed by the participant when they lost 10lbs. At every stage in the game a physical reward was given to celebrate achievement. This is where my Token System comes from. Use it to get your clients results and also to make sure they refer you others for personal training. Heck, it can even be used as incentives to clients to spread your word through Facebook.

The Token System

“How do I ask for referrals?”

“How do I get my client to speak about me on Facebook?” (If you’re wondering just how important this is make sure you download the “Facebook Marketing for Fitness Pros” Ebook). Also feel free to add me as a friend on Facebook on my personal page.

“My client won’t adhere to their home-time habits. They still look like Jabba the Hutt and there’s nothing I can do!!!”

Here’s a simple fix to all of these solutions. Build a certificate and give it to each of your clients. Name the certificate something epic. I recommend “The Quest to Becoming Even More Awesome” and have your name and contact info in smaller letters at the bottom. All around the outside of the certificate have room for stickers. This doesn’t have to be professionally done. Do it in word and keep it basic. It’s the perceived value you give to it that matters.

How to become a personal trainer referrals

Create a list of traits that you want your clients to perform. This is individual and something you will have to come up with on your own. Here are a couple examples:

1. 5 Facebook posts tagging you speaking about their workout.

2. 2 weeks without missing a workout.

3. 2 weeks with their home workout sheet filled out in full.

4. Nutrition guidelines followed as shown by a properly filled out nutrition sheet.

5. A direct referral for personal training.

A Couple Notes

Don’t make this all about personal training referrals or the effectiveness goes down. The traits you are giving the stickers for should be about your client’s success first.

Give the stickers to the client immediately after the good habit. Positive reinforcement, as B.F. Skinner explained, is the most effective way to encourage the habit is repeated. This means you must give something to the client immediately after the positive trait is performed.

If that something is of value, or more specifically perceived value, the trait will be repeated. When your client repeats the traits you end up being richer than Macaulay Culkin in Riche Rich (just watch out for Laurence Van Dough, she’ll try to steal your fortune).

 How to be a personal trainer referral

The System

Instruct clients to keep your certificate in a visible place in their house. The fridge is a perfect spot (go the extra 10% and stick a magnet on the back of it even). Visiting friends and family members will see the certificates proudly and prominently placed and ask about it. All of a sudden you’re awesomeness is the topic of conversation at the dinner table. Since they want to get more stickers they’ll encourage other people to give you a call.

The stickers can be uniquely made with your company logo or dollar store dinosaur stickers (I prefer the dinos). When your client performs one of the aforementioned tasks give them a sticker to put on their certificate. Once the certificate is full tell them to bring it in for a prize.

That prize could be any of the following:

1. A t-shirt.

2. A free session.

3. “X” $ off of the next package they purchase. This way they can collect certificates and use more than one at a time.

4. Or anything else. Be creative and use what you have at your disposal.

What Really Matters I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the super secret and totally awesome workouts you’re giving your clients’ don’t matter. Your workout could be the most amazing thing since sliced bread but it won’t matter.

Funny story about sliced bread:

Otto Frederick Rohwedder, from Davenport, Iowa, invented the Rohwedder Bread Slicer in 1912 but it wasn’t until Wonder Bread started to commercially produce sliced loaves in 1930 that it become a phenomenon. They marketed it well while Otto was just the inventor of the machine. Just further proof that the system doesn’t matter if you haven’t given people a reason to care.

The Token system gives your clients a reason to care. It’s fun and different and has a perceived value. You’ll find that they won’t care about the reward as much as they enjoy collecting dinosaur stickers and putting it on their “Quest to Becoming Even More Awesome” certificate that they can show off on their fridge. Just make sure you inflict some of your own personality into the system and it’s sure to be popular.

You have the tools to their success. Sometimes it takes a little creativity and out of the box thinking to pave the way. 

 Give us some help. What are some fun names of the certificates you’re going to use? Comment below and, as always, please share. Also make sure to “like” thePTDC on Facebook.

Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery




Written by Jonathan

Jonathan Goodman CSCS is the author of Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Trainer Career and Race to the Top: How to Take Over the Social Media Feed. He'd love it if you added him on Facebook and/or joined him on Twitter. He also explores the psychology of social media over at Viralnomics

  • http://n8trainingsystems.com/ Nate Palmer

    Such a good tip Jon. I just finished reading “Switch” By Chip and Dan Heath, and was trying to figure out how to actually put some of the stuff they talked about into practice. This is perfect. 

    • Jon_PTDC


  • http://twitter.com/FitTwinCities Fit Twin Cities

    This is a great and simple idea. Implementing immediately!

    • Jon_PTDC

      Good luck with it!

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  • Collin Messer

    Awesome idea! What do you think about my spin on it? On the profile that my clients use to log their workouts online I’ll assign points (instead of stickers) and for certain point levels they’ll get certain rewards. More points = better rewards.

    • Jon_PTDC

      Beauty. Great system. It’s very similar in vein and, as you eluded to, the specifics don’t matter. They only part of yours that I might tweak is giving the client a physical prize whenever they perform a good habit. It’s been shown that physical positive encouragement works better than anything else. Give them monopoly money that they can redeem even instead of points.

  • Diane Lopez

    Yep. Great post! Haha. and very neat tips..just what I needed. Thanks!

    • Jon_PTDC

      Thanks. I’m glad you enjoy it

  • http://www.facebook.com/shamrockraver Livia Vaduva

    I made a pin for my first client when she finished her first month. It had a dumbbell on it and it said: I went to the gym for a month and have survived. Only because she kept repeating that I wanted to kill her every session. (She was 55 and had never stepped into a gym before.) She was so proud of it that she kept wearing it each and every session since then. People are touched when you reward them with something after doing a certain job in the gym. And their opinion on you might improve and they might indeed start telling other people about you.

    • Jon_PTDC

      :) Great! Except you set a nasty precedent of being creative. This is something I am not good at.

  • TommyTraining

     the system doesn’t matter if you haven’t given people a reason to care…… Thanks, I think this sentence envolves everything. Nice article.

    • Jon_PTDC

      Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  • http://www.goldmedalbodies.com/ AndyFossett

    There’s a neat little psychological trick you can use to make punch cards and other loyalty devices more effective: artificial advancement. Essentially, you give people a bonus head start, and they’ll be more likely to continue.

    I won’t go into much detail because Derek at Social Triggers explains it really well in this post: http://socialtriggers.com/get-repeat-customers/ (scroll down to the part about the car wash to see how it’s done).

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