In the past six years I’ve had to rebuild my business three times.
Now lest you think I’m useless at business, I can explain. I’ve been in the fitness industry for 14 years and successfully worked as a trainer in a large city for over 8 years before my first rebuild.
Due to family circumstances I was forced to transfer professions into sales, while still training part time. Circumstances changed again and I was allowed to get back into training full time – but I didn’t have many clients and had to start again without a client base or facility to work out of.
Then my wife was offered a dream job in another city where I didn’t know a soul. We moved and I worked for a year rebuilding in a suburb a 30-minute drive from home because it was the first place I got hired after we moved.
After 9 months I was recruited into a new company and had to start from scratch at a new facility. Again.
After another 18 months I had enough of a thriving business that I could easily set myself up independently and have had a successful fitness training business in a city where I knew nobody four years ago with as many client hours as I want to work.
So how did I do it, over and over again? Well, the first lesson is not to need to do it at all — but if this is something you really want to do then here are some useful tips that I found brought me great success while also costing little to no money.
Networking is everything.
Whether it’s inside your facility or outside of it, getting to know people face to face is your most important resource for gaining new contacts and prospects.
When I joined a new commercial gym I got to know all the staff and salespeople and offered them workouts to get to know my style, but also to establish myself as an expert at what I did best, which is injury rehabilitation. They became a natural referral source, because they deal with the people who come into the gym first. Several even became loyal clients over the year I was there.
Outside of the gym, joining local business networking groups is your best bet, or regularly attending business breakfasts and lunches is a close second. I was a member of Business Networkers International in my area, but any large city will have groups that you can check out online at places like meetup.com.
You can also volunteer to give speeches on simple topics for these types of groups because they’re often looking for guest speakers. This takes a bit of work and you end up giving a lot of time away for free, but you should never shy away from the opportunity to get in front of people and make connections.
Live social events are also great things to attend when you have the time, and treat it like a networking event. Have your elevator speech prepared (and if you don’t know what that is, learn one) and take business cards with you. I gained clients when simply at a birthday night or other celebrations quite frequently.
Establish a specialization as soon as you can.
My niche is injury management and endurance athletes and has been for about ten years, once I grew comfortable enough to call myself an expert at it. When I moved cities I quickly became the trainer that even the other trainers would point to if anyone stepped into the gym with a serious rehabilitation issue.
You could be into powerlifting, Crossfit, yoga, or whatever you prefer. Just make sure that you have studied your area well and feel confident calling yourself an expert in it and market yourself that way. You’re better off working with clients you feel comfortable with and motivated by.
I know what you’re saying: “What about weight loss, the number one reason that people join gyms?” Well, 80% of the trainers out there specialize in weight loss. Often myself and maybe one other trainer out of 20 at a large facility would have expertise dealing with injuries and difficult health issues.
Your competition narrows significantly, especially after you go independent. I’m known in my city as an expert on injuries of all types and often get questions and referrals from other trainers.Even though I have a business, I will often refer clients out to others who are better at coaching things like athletic training or heavy lifting because it isn’t my niche. Stick to what you know and admit when you don’t. You’ll likely gain clients because even the people who don’t end up working with you will see you have integrity.
Client Retention is Vital
Even though I have only been in my city for four years, some of my clients have already been with me for three years and through at least one change of venue. Keeping clients happy and making sure they get results is an obvious thing that you can do, but keeping clients happy long term sometimes requires a bit more attention. It takes far more time to find new clients than to keep the ones that you have.
Professionalism is often something that many trainers lack, and is something I can’t emphasize enough. I show up on time, communicate with clients promptly if they have questions or need anything, and make sure that during sessions my focus is 100% on them.
One of my favourite client quotes ever was “I think a bomb could go off in this gym and you wouldn’t take your eyes off of me.” And it’s true. This is what your clients are paying quite a bit of money for and is the easiest way to maintain client loyalty and progress.
Treating clients like gold is also the easiest way to generate referrals. This is the lifeblood of your business! I generate a new referral at least once a month through existing clients (and I only have a roster of about 15-20 people).
The benefit is that you don’t even have to sell the referral on your services, because you didn’t approach them – they approached you.
You can apply these three simple things whether you’re a new trainer working in a chain gym or a struggling independent trainer. Just understand that it takes time to apply and see results. If you work on these things consistently over the next three to six months, I can almost guarantee that by the end of that time your business will be thriving and you will be in a much better position.
Speaking from experience, I’m quite happy to not have to rebuild my business again, but I still manage to get these things done regularly. Good luck with your respective business.