Let me tell you a story.

This story is real (with changed names) and it illustrates where 99% of people misstep when they try to promote personal training. At the end of the story I'm going to give you a system to start using today to get new clients, make sure you don't miss that.

It was 6 months after 123 Fitness opened up a new location. The personal training offered was the best around and the facility was state of the art. The problem? Nobody knew about the gym. It was in a new neighborhood where big box chains already had a strong presence.

So the passionate and skilled trainers from 123 Fitness sat on chairs and tables in the break room. They scanned Facebook, brought in pillows to made makeshift beds, and created memes making fun of each other -- all the while they worried about how they were going to pay their bills (sound familiar?).

By all accounts the gym should have been a success but it hadn't promoted its personal training program at all. Apparently in the fitness industry if you build it, they won't come -- 123 Fitness found this out the hard way.

Amidst worries (that became a reality soon after) of trainer atrophy, 123 Fitness decided to invest what seemed like a lot of money into a direct mail promotion -- they sent flyers to 30,000 homes in the area. The flyers were professional designed by a marketing design firm and everybody had high hopes.

It Was All Hands on Deck

An onslaught of phone calls and inquires were expected the day that the flyers were delivered. Both receptionists were called in to work and the trainers were asked to stick around the gym and answer inquires.

The gym had two calls that day -- both were from people upset at it for clogging up their mailbox with spam.

The failure was blamed on direct mail being a poor way to market, and not on the horrendous implementation.

Do You Pay Attention to Unsolicited Advertisements?

According to a study by the market research firm Yankelovich, in 2007 we saw 5,000 marketing messages a day! Imagine what those numbers are at now. I probably expend more energy attempting to avoid paying attention to advertisement than I do in my workouts.

Nobody paid attention to the flyers from 123 Fitness because they were another piece of spammy trash. There was no way to discern whether 123 Fitness was promoting the best personal training around (which it was) or the same shit that our industry has a reputation for.

In fact, I neglected to mention in my story above that the big box gym 2 blocks away from 123 Fitness is a national chain. They sent out 2 beautifully designed flyers a week promising miraculous results for pennies to promote personal training.

How is the prospective client supposed to make a decision? In The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, she showed that human beings often run away instead of making a difficult decision. That, in combination with the incessant fantastical promises by the big box gym, made it impossible for 123 Fitness to compete unless they showed that they were different -- unless they showed that they were better.

Anyone Can Promise the World -- Only the Special Can Deliver

"We specialize in fat loss"

"We can make you feel better and have more energy today!"

"Sign up for our 30 day transformation program. Lose weight today!"

Prove it -- and not by offering a free session or trial period. Prove it before a client even meets you. When they walk through your doors they should be saying "how do I start?" and not "why should I choose you".

Introducing the Value-Add System

Step 1: Identify the largest needs of your target population.

You should already know this, but what is your target population struggling with?

  • Want to train baby boomers? It's probably low back pain or fitting workouts in busy schedule.
  • Want to train athletes? It's probably explosiveness.
  • Want to train the eldery? It's probably maintaining quality of life.

You get the idea. Take a minute before continuing and create your list. 2-4 specific training goals should suffice.

Step 2: Decide on your distribution channels.

You have two options

Option 1 is direct mail

Direct mail works exceptionally well if done properly but it takes careful planning and an initial investment. The plus side is that it's more scalable as opposed to option 2. In step 3 I'll outline how to implement the Value Add System through a direct mail campaign.

Option 2 is aligning with strategic partners

Here you pick a couple key neighborhood mavens or local businesses and align with them. In step 3 I'll outline how to implement the Value Add System with strategic partners.

Step 3: Add Value

For direct mail

Flyers largely get ignored but, in the age of electronic communication, a letter get extra attention. Here's how to do it right:

  1. Pick an existing client who suffered from one of your conditions from step 1 and ask them to write you a story about their fitness journey. Have them include their initial reservations, any previous failures, details on how they felt when they met you, why they think they have had success, and how their life has changed.
  2. In exchange for the story you can offer them a free session or phrase the writing of it as an exercise. I had my clients do this and didn't give them anything in return. They all said that they enjoyed the process and it helped them put into perspective their journey.
  3. Ask their permission to use the story in your marketing and promise to show the final copy to them before sending it out.
  4. Hire somebody to self-address each and every envelope you're sending out. Put out an ad on Craigslist. It will cost a bit of money but is worth it. Self-addressed letters get opened, printed labels do not.
  5. Take the clients story and form it into a letter on regular paper (not your companies letterhead). This is to look like a letter sent from a friend, not an advertisement. Type at the top, "dear neighbor" and start it off with the words, "I live down the street from you and want to tell you a story about how my life has been changed by the better". Continue with the letter.
  6. At the end include a coupon. You can put it in a box with dashed lines so it stands out. Make sure it's on the second page though. The coupon is your call to action. End the letter with your client signing off and saying that she wanted to share her wonderful trainer.
  7. Include whatever promotion you like in this coupon. I recommend saying that, for a limited time, you will donate the entire initial 3 session package to a charity of their choice. This maintains the value proposition, makes the client feel good, gives them a push to act right away, and you help charity.

For Strategic Partners

Instead of leaving a flyer offering personal training in your partners business, I suggest writing an article about one of the conditions you identified in step 1. Give 3 tips on helping to deal with low back pain or debunk 5 myths about nutrition.

Ask the strategic partner that you want to leave the article with if it is ok to co-brand the article with their logo. (They will say yes, it's free marketing for them.) In addition, you can offer a commission to your partner and include a unique tracking number on the page somewhere. Put a call to action at the bottom with a limited time promotion.

Leave a stack of these articles in visible places in your partners business. Follow up weekly and replenish the stack.

Note: The best strategic partners are those who have waiting rooms or where people sit for long periods of time. These are medical offices, hair dressers, coffee shops, and spas.

I Heard You Were an Expert On...

He (or she) who writes it down, becomes the expert. You don't need to be a professional writer but you must put your thoughts down on paper. You can hire an editor on Craigslist for cheap to perfect your article or letter if need be.

You are different and better than the majority of trainers. They claim that they can help with low back pain or fat loss but you can actually do it. You just need to show it.

Traditional push advertising where you lay out your products and services and hope that the prospective lead will respond is dead. Pull advertising allows you to educate your client and show them that you know your stuff before you meet. When they do come in, they're confident you are the man or woman for the job. Look forward to hearing "how do I start" more often.