Building a book is vital to any good personal training business, so trainers tend to spend most of their time trying to get new clients. But maintaining and nurturing relationships with your current clients can save you time and money in the long run.
While even the best trainer/client relationships can end for reasons outside your control (losing a job, moving, illness), there are common missteps personal trainers make that can cost them clients and tarnish their image.
Regardless of how “cool” your client is, or how “good” your relationship is, there’s always a breaking point where subtle disrespect turns a small amount of frustration into a large amount of resentment, which is the death of the trainer/client relationship.
Pay attention to the list of mistakes below to make sure you aren’t making any:
1. You Start/Run Late
Disrespecting a client’s schedule is one of the most discourteous things you can do. When someone makes an appointment, they expect it to both start and end on time. Starting late and/or running over the agreed upon time makes them feel as though their schedule is not important to you, and makes them feel as though they’re not a priority.
Also, running late with your first client creates a domino effect within your day. This will result in the rest of your day falling behind and has the potential to upset and alienate almost all your clients scheduled for that day.
Running late can happen from time to time, and if it occurs as an aberration to the norm it will usually be forgiven and dismissed. But once it becomes the rule rather than the exception, feelings get hurt, people get upset, and relationships get damaged.
This is your client’s time, not yours, so it’s up to them how they choose to spend it. If your client runs late on a regular basis, ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them (move times, send reminders), but your client choosing to be late is their prerogative, not yours.
HOW TO FIX IT
Arrive at your location 15 minutes before your first session is slated to begin. This way you can get situated, go to the bathroom, take care of any setup or planning that needs to happen, and be ready and waiting when your client arrives for their session.
Also, try to limit sessions to 55 minutes to allow five-minute period in-between appointments for you to go to the bathroom, check your phone, and get re-focused for your next client.
2. You Don’t Review Policies and Expectations Before Starting
When starting with a new client, it’s very important to go over all the relevant policies and procedures — billing, cancellation, no-shows, and gym policies — and make sure that there’s no miscommunication between you and your client.
Billing someone at a time or in a manner that they’re not expecting can send up a lot of red flags. And while you can always issue refunds if need be, your client needs to know how and why they’re being charged before ever giving you their credit card.
Furthermore, many trainers forget to initially explain exactly what they plan on doing and what their expectations for the training relationship are. Without this conversation, clients may think that their trainers are on the hook for far more than they initially thought, and can end up blaming shortfalls or failures on the trainer.
HOW TO FIX THIS
Before your first session, sit down and explain all the ins and outs of your billing and gym policies. This means reviewing your policy on cancellations, rescheduling, illness, how you charge and when, and anything else that they need to understand before beginning. You should have all of these things written down in point form for easy reference.
Also, explain what you do and what you don’t do. Make sure your client understands your role in their healthy journey and what you can and can’t do for them.
If they have questions or concerns about policies or procedures, get them out in the air right away so any future miscommunications or conflicts can be softened or avoided altogether.
3. You Don’t Know Their Real Goals.
It can be tempting when a client comes in the door raring to go to simply sign them up, take their money, and send them off to the races.
However, not taking the time to learn about who they are, what they are doing, and what they want to accomplish will leave you without answers when they hit a wall down the line.
Most people’s knee jerk reaction when you ask them what they want as a fitness goal is simple. They’ll fire back with a “want to lose 5 or 10 pounds,” or “just to tighten up my arms a bit.” Digging deeper can help you expose their real motivation, and will form a stronger connection between you and your new client.
Too often trainers are afraid of this conversation as it forces them to ask potentially uncomfortable questions and even worse, witness some uncomfortable or painful answers.
But shying away from interactions where you explore your new clients wants, needs, and motivations will help you more effectively connect to their drive and passion, and can result in making a client for life.
HOW TO FIX THIS
Meet with new clients before you begin working and ask them what their goals are, and how they arrived at said goal.
If they say they want to lose 5 pounds, ask how they got to that number. They may say that when they were 5 pounds lighter, their clothes fit better and their abs were flatter, so you can then ask if their goal is 5 pounds or if it’s to have looser clothes and flatter abs.
This conversation will help you determine how you can best assist your clients in achieving what they really want, not just what they say they want.
Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions — it may take them somewhere emotionally that’s sensitive for them, but in the end will make you seem more invested and trustworthy.
Note: Read this article from Jonathan Goodman to learn more (click the link to open in a new window and read after):
–> Why Smart Personal Trainers Set Stupid Goals
4. You Cross The Line Of Being a Professional
Usually after a few sessions, clients can become interested in their trainers lives, be it to meet their significant other, invite them to their home, or bring them to some large social gathering. While there are plenty of ways to be involved with your clients in a social capacity, respecting that there is a line you can’t cross is very important.
There’s a bit of mystery to the trainer/client relationship that needs to be maintained to keep the proper working dynamic, and meeting three times a week to pound beers does a lot to damage that relationship. Creating a social bond like that can initially be fun, but will end up hurting your credibility as a fitness professional.
Also, these social relationships can turn into a “mooching” relationship dangerously quick. Being invited to dinners, parties, vacations, and other social outings can make you turn into the person who “always needs to be paid for” in the minds of your clients.
I’ve seen countless trainers who work in high-profile establishments become glorified entourage members for their wealthier clients, and while this gravy train may be fun and seemingly harmless to ride for a while, you will quickly outlast your welcome.
HOW TO FIX IT
Always try to keep a little professional distance between your clients and yourself. Pace yourself when handling invitations to events and outings and make sure that you’re always keeping a professional relationship in mind. Getting wasted on your clients dime and having to be driven home or taken care of hurts both your credibility as a trainer and your reputation as a professional.
It is possible to have a friendship with a client while maintaining a professional working relationship. Just remember that if push comes to shove, most people can have one relationship or the other. Establish which relationship is more important to you before engaging in both.
Editor’s note: Client-trainer boundaries are an important consideration both for maintaining professionalism and avoiding conflict. For full guidelines on how to establish boundaries and deal with common situations that arise (i.e. getting text messages on a Saturday night from a client asking you to “hang out”) read Ignite the Fire: The Secrets to Building a Successful Personal Training Career.
5. You Give Up On Yourself
Clients hire trainers they hope to be like. A client wants a trainer who is excellent at something they’re trying to get better at. That’s why aspiring bodybuilders hire top-level pros, entry-level triathletes go to Ironman veterans, and people looking to get in great shape hire people who are.
There’s no way to outsmart being out of shape. You could have the best workouts, the tightest nutritional plans, and the best people skills, but if you don’t exercise regularly, don’t eat well, and don’t take care of yourself, you’ll ultimately come off as a fraud.
The best and busiest personal trainers in the world are people who have bodies and lifestyles that their clients aspire to have — that’s what sparked the initial interest in training with them.
Sure there are trainers who have managed to achieve moderate success without being in shape, but they’re in the minority.
HOW TO FIX IT
Remember, you are your product. Always appearing with your shirt off on Instagram or hanging your bodybuilding contest photos on your office wall is obviously overboard, but you should always be ready and prepared to lead by example.
Even if you aren’t in what you’d consider the best shape of your life, you should always be pushing yourself to improve in the same way you push your clients. The drive to improve is what makes hiring a trainer worth it — make sure you still have that fire yourself.
Being a successful trainer means both getting new clients and retaining clients for as long as possible. Working to reduce client churn rates is vital! If you take the time and consideration to correctly nurture your professional relationships, you’ll ensure not only long-standing clients, but also increased referral sales and more word-of-mouth advertising.