People ask me a lot of questions. Most of the time I’m happy to help.
But one question gets to me. In fact, when I hear it, I can’t help but get annoyed. Angry, even. Not because I don’t know the answer, but because people still have to ask it.
“How do I get more personal training clients?”
Consider that full-time personal trainers need just 20 to 30 clients to fill their schedules. It’s a benchmark every trainer should be able to meet. Moreover, if you do a good job and encourage referrals (I’ll have much more on that in a moment), you won’t need to do much outside marketing to keep your schedule full.
And yet the question gets asked, and often.
So to save you the time (and me the frustration), this article tells you once and for all how to get more personal training clients by following these marketing strategies:
Before I get into all that, let me ask you something.
Why don’t you have more clients?
When I ask trainers this question, I typically get one of the following responses:
• My gym doesn’t support me.
• I don’t know where to start. I can’t get personal training clients in front of me.
• I get personal training clients in front of me, but don’t know how to sell.
• Clients never seem to be able to afford personal training.
Sorry, but it’s time for some tough love. First and foremost, you must take ownership of your business.
This applies to all trainers, including those who work in gyms. You can’t count on your gym to feed you clients. Clients have to like you before they’ll pay you to train them. To get them to like you, you have to build relationships with them.
You are your own product. You’re in charge, and you have to act like it.
I have two rules for success, and I’ve followed them every day for nearly 10 years:
Rule #1 – Do a great job.
Rule #2 – Make sure everybody knows it.
Along with “people buy trainers, not training,” these are the foundational rules of marketing. Follow them while implementing the five strategies I’m about to describe, and you’ll get as many clients as you can handle.
How do you start? You already have. You’ve found your way to the PTDC. That means you’re different, and you’re better. Regardless of how experienced you are, the simple fact you’re here, making the effort, sets you apart.
Key strategies to get and keep more personal training clients
That anger I mentioned earlier? I’ll admit I was projecting. Years back, when I started out, I too struggled to get personal training clients.
I made cold calls, canvassed door to door, even gave free demos at Lululemon. I hated it all (although the free clothes were nice). I’d started this job to train clients, not attract them. But if I wanted to grow my business, I realized I’d have to do both.
So I read every marketing book I could find. I tried every marketing tactic that seemed to apply. And I came to two conclusions:
1. I had to stand out.
2. I had to show my value before clients stepped in the door.
Two more quick things about attracting new clients (apparently, my best advice comes in pairs):
1. You don’t need personal training skill to do it. It’s more important to create the perception of skill and expertise. You’ll need to deliver results if you want those clients to stick around. But they won’t give you a chance if they don’t believe you have the skill before they see any proof of it.
2. Once you collect a few clients and prove you’re the best, they’re apt to brag about you. That leads to referrals. You’ll soon find yourself wondering why this used to seem so hard.
Now let’s talk about those marketing strategies.
1. Connect with neighborhood mavens to expand your network
Every neighborhood has “mavens,” well-connected people who hold influence in a network. I first learned about mavens from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and quickly put the concept to use, netting two clients in two weeks. (Each one bought a 50-session package.)
Who are the mavens? I’ve had success with four types.
Real estate agents
When affluent people move to a new neighborhood, one of the first things they want to know is which gym they should join. Who do they ask? The person who just sold them their house.
Call a few of them up and offer to add value to their service. Provide a gift certificate good for $500 worth of training (not “free sessions”; don’t ever devalue your service) to give to anybody who buys a house.
The average American has a body-mass index just north of 29, and doctors are professionally obligated to remind their patients that they’re overweight. What if, instead of merely handing them a photocopied list of what they should and shouldn’t eat (a strategy with a success rate of zero and a 2 percent margin of error), they could hand them a card for a local trainer who’s especially good at helping people lose weight?
Do a little research to find doctors in your area who specialize in weight loss. Bariatric surgeons are an obvious choice. Also consider naturopaths and holistic practitioners; you know their patients are willing to invest in preventive care.
Set up a meeting to introduce yourself, and leave handouts (with your business card attached) for the doctor to give to her patients.
Anyone with hair has gotten a haircut, and anyone who gets their hair cut knows one important fact about the people wielding the scissors: They talk. A lot. (Even the pope has noticed.)
And most of them, even in popular salons, don’t make much money. You can provide a chance to make a little more by offering a financial reward for any business they send your way.
Leave them with handouts and business cards they can set out in their waiting area. If they send you potential clients, be sure to reciprocate by sending referrals their way.
This one’s simple. Drop in for a coffee every day. Wear your training uniform, smile, say thank you, and leave a tip.
A few days in, there’s a good chance the barista will ask if you “work at that gym down the street.” That’s your opening to start a conversation (not a sales pitch), and to encourage whatever interest she has about who you are, what you do, and where you work.
When you’ve developed some rapport, and you see an opening, ask if you can display one of your articles or leave some business cards on the counter. You’ll be surprised at how effective this can be.
2. Market your personal training services on social media
I don’t recommend training close friends and family. But leveraging them to help spread the word about you? That’s something you can and should do.
Two ways to pull it off (again with the twos):
Create a simple tip of the day
It could be something like, “Did you know your brain is 73 percent water? The average adult needs two to three quarts of water a day just to break even.” Or, “Push-ups too hard on your shoulders? Try a standing chest press with bands or a cable machine.”
The goal is to make it interesting enough for people to share.
Follow the tip with a soft call to action, asking people to send you their health, fitness, or nutrition questions. There’s nothing like answering someone’s question to establish you as an expert in that person’s mind.
Celebrate your client’s achievements
Tag the client in a post saying, “Awesome 200-pound deadlift today, John.” Or, “I just want to take a minute and congratulate Amber for her amazing dedication to her workouts. She brings it every time!”
All of John and Amber’s friends now know they’re working out and killing it. And, oh yeah, they have an awesome trainer, too.
3. Ask for client referrals the right way
Every time a trainer neglects to ask a happy client for a referral, a kitten dies. And you don’t want kittens to die, do you?
Seriously, it’s not complicated. It’ll feel awkward at first, but it’s a lot easier if you remember one important thing: Your clients like you and want to see you succeed. Once I explained to my clients that my business depended on referrals, they jumped at the opportunity to help.
Wait till the end of a session, when you’re stretching or foam rolling. Ask if you can chat about something. When the client agrees, tell him you have some new or anticipated gaps in your schedule. You’d like to give the client’s family or friends the first shot at those spots before you make them available to new clients.
Key line: “Do you know anybody who might be interested?”
Let’s say the client tells you about her sister, who’s struggling with an old shoulder injury. As it happens, you tell her, you have a lot of experience working with clients who have shoulder issues. Have her ask her sister to give you a call. To sweeten the deal, offer a card for a complimentary assessment and one-week membership to your gym.
(Pro tip: Be sure you have those cards on hand.)
This next part is crucial:
Find a great article related to what you just learned about the prospective client. In this case, it would be something about shoulder rehab. And if it’s something you wrote? Double word score.
Send it to your client within 24 hours of your conversation, asking her to pass it along to her sister. This reminds your client to tell her sister about you, and underlines the value of your service.
4. Follow up on every lead
I once followed up with a lead for eight months before he finally became a client. But when he did, he paid $4,463.50 up front for 50 sessions. It happened early in my career, and it’s a lesson I’ll never forget. Even today, years after I moved on from training clients to training trainers, following up with prospects is a crucial part of my business model.
That client is a textbook example of a “slow lead.” We all love his opposite, the fast-lane prospect who comes in the door ready to get started and willing to pay whatever we happen to charge. Those prospects are wonderful, but rare. Slow leads are the norm, and to convert them to clients, you have to be both patient and persistent, with a system in place to remind you to follow up on a regular basis.
That’s especially true when you’re just starting out. They know your schedule has plenty of open spots, which means you can’t speed up their decision-making process with fear of missing out.
But it also applies to experienced trainers. Take Gavyn Berntsen, for example, owner of Start Afresh Personal Training in New Zealand and an Online Trainer Academy graduate. Using an OTA email template, he reconnected with 100 former clients to wish them a happy new year.
In each email, he added a line unique to that client—something he remembered from their time training together.
Four of them immediately thanked him for the note, and told him they were ready to start training again.
The lesson he learned: “Just follow up with lost contacts. They actually want to hear from you.”
How to follow up with a lead
You don’t need to do anything fancy or clever. Simply check in every few weeks. Ask how they’re doing. Don’t try a hard sell; if that was going to work, they’d already be your clients.
And don’t make it spammy. Personalize it in small ways that show you remember who they are and why they came to you in the first place.
One easy way to follow up: holiday cards. Send them to current clients to help with retention and referrals, to former clients to remind them of how much they benefited from your workouts, and to future clients to show you’re ready for them whenever they’re ready for you.
5. Write content that’s worth sharing
People view writers as experts on the topics they cover. Why? No clue. I didn’t make the rules. I just know how to use them.
Self-publish a pamphlet you can give away at your gym. Start a blog. Send a weekly newsletter to your email list. (Sign up for ours here—it’s a FREE monthly newsletter covering marketing, sales, client care & retention, productivity & work-life balance, finance, and more.) Any of these options can serve as marketing material.
Here’s an example: Say a member of your gym attends a dinner party with a friend who complains about low-back pain. The person remembers seeing your pamphlet, or a blog post you printed out and pinned to the gym’s bulletin board, or a newsletter somebody forwarded.
Whatever it is, she passes it on to her friend.
Impressed, the friend pays you a visit. You’ve already positioned yourself as the expert, so that deal should be easy to close.
A few writing tips: Keep the language plain. Short sentences, simple words. Avoid jargon, and don’t try to be profound. For samples, flip open any fitness magazine.
Consider investing in the book On Writing Well. It will take your writing to new levels.
Not sure what to write about? Start by jotting down your thoughts about fitness articles and studies as you read them. (You do read those things, right?) Make sure you have a notebook and pen with you at all times.
If you cook a nutritious meal, write about it. Learn a new exercise? You know what to do. From there, pick areas you’re proficient in, and pay attention to common problems people face.
Remember, everybody likes to brag when they know an expert. Your goal is to be the expert they brag about. The best way to do it is by creating content your clients and followers will want to share.
Schedule time in your calendar to market your personal training business
Do all the things I just described—or even some of them—and your client roster will soon be full. But that leads to another question: How do you keep it full? How do you plug the inevitable holes when clients move on?
Look over your schedule every two weeks. Do you know of any clients who’ll be leaving soon, or taking extended time off? Are there any who’ve made a short-term commitment and don’t seem likely to re-up?
Don’t wait for the openings to affect your income. Take action now. If you have a waiting list, send a friendly email offering them the first shot at your anticipated openings—especially if they’re at coveted times in the morning or early evening.
If you don’t have prospects lined up, you need to fix that. Tell colleagues, ask clients for referrals, work your network of mavens and healthcare professionals.
And if you still have questions about how to get more personal training clients, even after using these tips and tactics, feel free to ask.
But I have a feeling you won’t need to.