How do you feel when consulting with another professional and it seems like they're just working down a checklist?

This happens too often during an initial consultation (IC) between client and trainer. In doing so, many important objectives can be overlooked that would otherwise set the client/trainer relationship up for immediate and long lasting success.

To conduct a home run initial consultation, certain key objectives should be addressed, but in a way that feels like a genuine conversation. This article will identify these key objectives, and suggest some ways to accomplish them.

The key objectives include the following:

  • Setting the client at ease
  • Building rapport
  • Gathering necessary information and setting intelligent goals
  • Educating the client
  • Establishing an initial game plan and mutual expectations
  • Assessing necessary baseline fitness parameters

A vital aspect of the initial consultation (IC) is to address these objectives by having a conversation with your client. I recommend addressing each item in the order listed above. This isn't a hard and fast rule, however, in my experience I've found this allows for the easiest "flow."

Mastering the Initial Consultation | thePTDC | Consulting Skills Training

Setting the Client at Ease

It took courage for a client to walk through your doors or pick up the phone and call you for more information. As such, the initial consultation process may be quite intimidating for many clients.

Setting your clients at ease at the beginning of the initial consultation will allow for a more genuine and thorough exchange of thoughts, information, and ideas. Some tips for setting clients at ease include:

  • Greeting them as they enter your facility with a big, genuine smile, a firm handshake, and good eye contact while using their names. These little things make a big difference. Think back to some of your own experiences when meeting someone new in a slightly intimidating environment -- that big smile is a great way to cut through any initial tension.
  • Confirm your excitement about working with them and affirm your client by letting them know they'll do great and need not be worried about the initial consultation process.
  • Foreshadow your initial consultation process, letting them know your objectives for the meeting. Generally, most clients are concerned with the fitness assessment aspect of the process. Help set them at ease with this, or use any knowledge of their anxieties about this to determine if you might need to move their fitness assessments to closed rooms, etc.

Here's how this might sound:

"Hi Jon! It's great to meet you/see you again! I'm really looking forward to getting started with you. As we discussed during our last phone call, we will begin by gathering a little bit of information and then finish with a fitness assessment. Don't worry! You are going to do great! Are you ready to get started?"

Building Rapport

Building rapport is an extension of setting your client at ease. It's the process of getting to know them more because you have a genuine interest in who they are and what makes them tick. Start by asking some simple questions

"Tell me...what do you do for a living?"

"How long have you been doing that?"

"How long have you lived in the area?"

"Do you have any children? Can you tell me a little bit about them?"

Take some time to let them know a little bit about you, if the conversation allows. Things like what you enjoy most about your profession, how long you have been doing it, and what some of your favorite hobbies are would be appropriate.

Just be careful here -- this time is about the client, not you!

Both the "setting the client at ease" and "building rapport" objectives begin here at the initial consultation. However, both objectives are an ongoing process in the relationship that increases overtime as trust is established.

PTDC head coach Jonathan Goodman wrote a full article on building rapport (click the link below to open in a new window and read after)

--> 6 Ways to Establish Rapport With Your Clients

Gathering Necessary Information and Setting Intelligent Goals

There are few key things to remember when addressing this objective.

1. First, keep the flow! There will always be some sense of 'checking things off the list' here. To avoid a complete robot like conversation, start with some simple open-ended questions, such as, "Tell me about your medical history or family history." Let them start talking and then guide the direction of the conversation as it unfolds.

2. Second, do some digging. You're looking for any type of information that you can use to help your client be successful, which may include:

  • Reasons they've struggled with prior fitness initiatives
  • Exercise likes and dislikes
  • General feelings/perceptions about exercise and healthy eating
  • Past injuries, how they were acquired and how they were treated

3. Third, seek to establish intelligent goals backed up by a really big "why."

Start your questioning open-ended. For example, "What do you hope to accomplish with your time with me?" Usually clients will speak in very general terms, saying; "I want to be in better shape." Or, "I want to be healthier.

These are good starting points, but you should dig a little deeper. Follow up by asking them "how will they know when they are in better shape (or healthier)...what will that look like and feel like?

Read about why smart personal trainers often set bad goals (click to open in a new window and read after)

--> Your SMAT goals are STUPID

Once it's clear what your client is looking for, ask them why achieving that goal is important to them. This is an important piece of the puzzle that will help expose a greater vision for your client's health and fitness.

It's this vision that can help sustain motivation when the going gets tough and will help to keep them exercising even after they've reached their initial fitness goal (which will keep you in business longer as well).

4. Finally, see if you can put a deadline to their initial fitness goals. For some clients this will be easy. Maybe they have an event coming up that they are training for or simply want to look their best at.

However, in some cases this may not be as cut and dry. Get creative and use your best judgment. Explore simple solutions such as "x" amount of weight loss per week (generally no more than 1-2 lbs per week) or a drop in pant size by "x" number of weeks.

The deadline setting process is vital as it gives some "teeth" to your client's goals and their action plans.

Educate Them

skills of a consultant in fitness | thePTDC | effective consulting skills

Generally you will have to educate your client about how to reach their goals or at least confirm what they may already know.

Just a few things to remember here;

  • Be clear. Don't beat around the bush. If they want to lose weight, paint the picture very clearly to them of what successful weight loss strategies entail.
  • Be concise. This is not your time to "stand up at the podium" and lecture! Your time and your client's time are valuable. Much like writing, strive to convey your message with as little words as possible. This may sound silly, but practice with family members and other trainers.
  • Make sure your client understands. It's one thing for you to be clear and concise, but you should never assume everything you say is completely understood by your client. Simply ask them if what you're saying makes sense to them at key points in your discussion.

Establish a Firm Game Plan and Mutual Expectations of Each Other

Once your client has a solid understanding of how to achieve their initial fitness goals, it's time to create the game plan. It's best if your client takes an active role in deciding the initial strategies they will employ.

Begin by asking your client what they feel they can realistically commit to at this point. It could sound a little like this:

"Okay Jon, now that we've explored all that it would take lose that stubborn weight, what do you feel you can commit to at this point?"

Suggest making just a few lifestyle changes at one time (1-3 items) and be sure there's a high sense of confidence from your client that they can follow through with each commitment.

If there isn't a high level of confidence simply regress the strategies to a point that your client feels they can be successful with.

For example, exercising 5-7 days per week may initially seem like too much for your client. No worries, can they confidently commit to 3 days per week? If they can, great!

The key is to find an area of initial success that you and your client can build on. Remember success breeds success!

Still, be transparent about your process and what your client can expect.

If they want to lose weight but can only commit to training 2 times per week and drinking one bottle of water each day (amidst a rather crappy diet) it should be clear to them that they should not expect to lose weight. In this case modify their short term goals to one of developing better habits. Once they have decent habits then you can focus on weight loss.

Once your initial strategies are established, set up an agreeable system for accountability. Discuss how compliance and noncompliance with initial fitness/nutrition strategies will be tracked and dealt with.

I'd suggest assessing compliance every two weeks at the least. This allows enough time for habits to start forming and doesn't allow too much time to go by with if your client is noncompliant.

Finally, be sure all of your operating policies and procedures are clearly understood and accepted. Cancellation and payment policies should be discussed from the beginning so that they don't become a potential issue down the road.

At the heart of this objective is the desire to make sure there are no surprises for your clients and that you have a smooth system of operating with them!

Assessing Initial Fitness Levels

essential consulting skills | thePTDC | consultancy skills training in fitness

Now let's get your client out on the fitness floor and assess their initial fitness levels.

You should always assess. However, you should assess only what's necessary. If a client wants to simply lose weight you don't need to do a 1RM bench press with them!

Use your client's goals and needs to strategically assess what you will need to know to design an intelligent initial fitness program.

The power of the assessment is to expose areas that may need addressed from a safety standpoint and to provide initial baseline metrics for a solid starting point with your program.

No matter how you slice it, you're better off knowing where they struggle and programming intelligently based on that.

This can help prevent any injury from exercise and aid in the initial feelings of success with a program. If your client doesn't squat well, don't load them up and squat right away. This could injure them and possibly contribute to a feeling of failure.

Wrapping It All Up

When all is said and done with the initial consultation your client should walk away excited and confident about this new journey they're embarking on.

They should have a clear plan and understanding of how they will reach their goal.

As their trainer, you should have all the info you need (objective and subjective) to create an initial program and have a strong sense of how it should progress.

If this is true, you just hit a home run!