Whether you run an online personal training business or are a personal trainer at a gym, the goal is to build a sustainable roster of clients to feed a healthy business. The goal seems so simple, but it’s a struggle that many personal trainers face. And yet, these same trainers continue to do the things that don’t work but expect different results.
I’m reminded of this powerful quote by Dr. John Spencer Ellis:
“After identifying patterns and areas of discomfort, commit to pursuing the action that you do not want to do.”
If you find yourself constantly scrambling to get clients, maybe what you’re doing now needs to change. It’s time to really think outside the box. In this article, we’ll outline the various ways that can increase your client load in ways you never thought of before.
1. A true fitness professional doesn’t just walk the walk, they also look the look.
Sometimes getting more clients has less to do with training itself and more to do with how you and others view you and your business. That is, can you obviously look like you’re actually a legitimate and professional business? Because if you walk into the gym with basketball shorts and flip-flops, no one is going to take you seriously.
Nail your “professional” image, even if it’s just workout gear.
The gym is hardly a suit and tie environment, but you should still take tremendous pride in your appearance and fashion. You need to still look sharp and professional because you want your clients to take you seriously, not like someone who couldn’t cut it in some other profession.
Presentation and certain uniform characteristics are very powerful indications of someone who knows what they’re doing. When you see someone wearing a lab coat, for example, you can’t help but think maybe they know medical stuff–even if they really don’t. So separate yourself from the other trainers in basketball shorts by looking like a fit professional (a nice, ironed collared shirt with khaki shorts, for example). If you want to emphasize your personal flair, you can do it in subtle ways like with your shoes or the way you do your hair.
Talk like you mean business.
While you want to build a close-knit relationship with your client, certain topics for discussion, especially around others, should be taboo. Use your best judgment here, according to your gym’s culture. Moreover, the language you use, specifically profanity, should be limited to only absolute special occasions (i.e., “Holy F#!K that deadlift was amazing!”). Remember, someone is always listening, so be smart, even when you’re talking with friends and fellow trainers.
Give a damn about yourself and your business.
Be on time--actually, scratch that. Be early to your client’s appointment and be ready to have a back-up plan in case the client doesn’t feel up to your normal workout. Don’t point at a treadmill and tell your client to warm up while you continue flapping your lips with your fellow trainers. Don’t “forget” to answer emails. Don’t cancel a session just because you don’t feel like doing it and don’t oversleep in the morning either.
Really, this all can be summed up as, “Run your business like you give a damn.”
2. If you want more clients, they have to actually see you.
If you want to train clients, then you actually have to be around and build relationships with members before they, or someone they know, want to train with you. Show up and show up often. Even if you run your own facility, you have to show your face to be considered. This is not the Wizard of Oz; do not be the man behind the curtain.
John Romaniello of Roman Fitness Systems says it best:
“The [client’s] thought process is, ‘If he’s training that many people, he must be good.’”
Even if your client book isn’t full yet, being a familiar and friendly face lends itself to building a credible business.
Set out a plan to be in the gym as though it were a normal shift at any other job. If you want to train clients from the early morning until lunch hour, then you’d better be available at those hours to scout the floor, see which clients are actually there around that time, and use these tips to approach them on the gym floor.
As Pat Rigsby points out, it all comes down to attention and authority.
“Get their attention by being different and better, and become the authority by delivering greatness.” – Pat Rigsby
So maybe you could take some time to study your next certification in a visible place, or work out amongst the members. Maybe write your client programs or host an event table and engage with members. The more times people see you, the more familiar they become with you and the easier it is for you to talk to them later.
3. Your “different” ideas don’t need to be radical.
All too often, trainers desperately attempt to reinvent the wheel. They might look at what other coaches do and decide to do everything as differently as possible to be fresh and unique. A few examples:
* Having your client bear crawl across the gym with a sandbag on their back and dumbbells isn’t a “fat-crushing workout.”
* Doing partial ranges of motion on loaded exercises to “limit the growth” isn’t right either.
Reality check: those ideas suck (for most people).
You can’t be a snowflake if you didn’t start in a snow storm. Stop worrying about being unique and start worrying about nailing down your basics.
Eric Cressey, co-founder of the majorly successful Cressey Sports Performance gym in Boston, points out perfectly,
“Remember that proficiency precedes popularity. You’ll get really busy when you are really good at what you do.”
The industry is full of talented professionals who maintain a steady flow of clients, a positive reputation, and live an exceptionally comfortable life. They coach proper technique, market themselves by producing results, and focus on the subtle differences in between individuals instead of assuming all people can do the same stuff.
These individuals are not the ones who make the loudest noises, film the craziest Instagram videos, or do random things to draw attention to themselves. Rather, these coaches have mastered the art of delivering elite training sessions that are founded upon hard science and the fundamentals of customer service.
If you want to build your personal training business into a sustainable lifestyle, then start by ensuring you know the basics and essentials. Understand how the body works, the biomechanics behind movement, and what energy systems are capable of doing.
Don’t worry about being the next big thing. Worry about being the best thing at your gym, in your world. You can achieve that by studying advanced certifications, staying active in your personal studies, attending seminars, allowing your programming to be challenged by other professionals, and refining your craft to the point of mastery.
A fool draws a crowd, but it is a master who never loses them.
4. Communicate with the intent to deliver results.
People are busy and they are only getting busier. Time is precious and brevity is a virtue. Keep your communications concise by following several rules:
* Write what you need to say using as few words as possible.
* Provide clear options if there is a decision to be made (i.e. a client’s training schedule).
* Reach out to clients on a monthly basis regarding scheduling all of their sessions.
As an example, don’t write:
“Hey client, what times would you like to train this week? I’ve got a bunch of openings and I want you here training, so let me know what times you have so we can cross check them and find out what works.”
“Hey client, let’s schedule all of your sessions this month so that you aren’t worried about doing it week to week. I want you to be excited about training with me – not worried about making it fit in your calendar. You’ve been doing six sessions, two per week, these last few months, so let’s nail down your six dates you can commit to right now. See you soon!”
Your communication skill set extends to your actual training sessions as well. Use short and sweet coaching and cueing so that they:
* Know exactly what is expected from them during a given exercise–and nothing more.
* Understand the intent of your session that day as well as your program as a whole. They don’t need to understand all of the science, but help them feel confident that you have a plan. Remember to “speak at the level of the client“–that is, use terms and concepts that normal people understand.
How you communicate in a session helps your clients get better results, which leads to them enjoying their time with you and more likely to speak highly of you to their friends and family. Never underestimate how your clients talk about you when you aren’t looking…
5. Create a niche and make it your base.
Once you’ve become comfortable to the point of being great with a particular population, lift, or modality of exercise, don’t keep it a secret. Make sure everyone is aware of your mastery over that domain. You could hold a clinic for members that introduces them to a training concept, teach a group class, or provide a free tip to someone whom you’ve been chatting with on the floor.
Let’s assume you have become incredibly proficient in squatting for strength. You routinely train yourself and your clients with near maximal loads on the back squat, front squat, goblet squat, and so on. You could leverage this mastery by hosting a squat clinic that doubles as a meet for members to test themselves. You could begin the event with a lecture on the squat, progress to some floor demonstrations, and finish by turning up the jams and moving some weight. Attendees will leave with a few awesome takeaways:
* Appreciation of your mastery of the subject.
* Enjoy the event and positively associate exciting training experiences with you and your business.
* Some doubt over whether they can succeed without your input and likely reach out to you about training.
An event like this could have a series of follow-up emails, like a monthly squat round-up, that continues to keep members engaged with the event and you as a professional.
6. Hang on to every word from every person you meet.
When you’re armed with every answer about every question and insecurity, you can easily forget the number one rule in sales and in life: People want to be heard.
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemmingway
When a prospect or current client speaks, they are giving you a chance to embrace them. At first, their words sound like everything you’ve heard before: they want to lose weight, put on more muscle, and get in shape. Don’t automatically go into “selling mode” and bombard them with jargon and things you think they want to hear.
It is this moment that risks killing most personal training businesses before it even starts. Whether the client purchases sessions or not often depends on how well they feel you understand them and their needs. You can be better at this immediately by asking questions that go a bit deeper, such as “why is “x” your training goal?” or “what does it mean to you?” In addition:
* Asking how a prospect views personal training, the training experience, or gym culture as a whole. Coming to understand their attitude toward you and your business may help you adjust your language and training style to meet their needs.
* Sending a follow-up email that summarizes your discussions and provides some of your thoughts on each topic. Show you care!
* Creating a training experience that makes that individual feel welcome. Never treat a person as “just another customer”, even if your business needs customers. It is called personal training for a reason.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” –Steven R. Covey
Ask questions with the intent of learning about the individual underneath. Learn about their families, jobs, and interests during the very first session, and keep all of these details in a spreadsheet. Sometimes a client can get emotional and share pain with you. They’ll let you in with the hope that you can help them find the answers they’ve been searching for. They just want you to show them you give a hoot.
Don’t forget that people are your business and your people will never forget that you have a business to run.
7. Build a great community that provides value to everyone.
Social media is the backbone of the modern existence, for better or for worse. They’re effective because they bring people together. Every single person, including the biggest lone wolf, wants to feel a part of something bigger.
Therefore, a successful fitness professional finds ways to bring his clients together and build upon each other’s energy.
Try to introduce your clients to one another in person. Ask for permission and introduce them via email if you must. Or make a Facebook group. If you want to go the extra mile, create “client-only” events. Other ideas include:
* Monthly jam-sessions: Keep it a two-hour or so window where people can come and go if they can make it.
* Monthly newsletter: Highlight success stories and call people out by name, so your clients can see what you’re doing with others.
* Occasional happy hour or dinners: You don’t have to pick up the bill, but you merely provide a chance for your clients to see who you are outside the gym and bond with other clients.
Do these things and your clients can further commit themselves to you and your business.
8. Expand your brain beyond fitness.
The most interesting trainers seem to be avid readers of books that have nothing to do with exercise science, nutrition, or coaching. Whether it is Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald, a self-help book, or an autobiography, these trainers never stop consuming information that excites their brain.
The mistake many people make on the road to mastery is the commitment to only investing in the things that obviously link to their craft. For a fitness professional, that might be health and wellness, business, marketing, and biographies of great businessmen and CEOs–snore.
What about the novels to expand your vocabulary? What about books about history or art to expand your perspective?
What if the problem with your career’s success was that you can’t exist without its nuts and bolts?
People, in business and in life, want to be intrigued. They like people who provide a depth of character and intellect that extends well beyond the limited boundaries of their industry. Read and absorb information of all types. As you meet people, you’ll soon bond over your shared experiences and perspectives, and the mutual interest in fitness simply serves as a cherry on top.
Being a personal trainer is one of the most rewarding careers in this world. In a crowded field, however, it can be easy to get lost and never find your success. Focus on applying the principles above and you’ll find yourself in the position of leader, mentor, and teacher before you know what happened.
As Hayden Wilson points out,
“You create your ultimate life full of love, happiness, and well-being.”