The following is a guest post by Kyle Byron.
I‘m a nutritionist in Toronto who includes personal training as part of his services. I’ve been doing this for seven years. I’ve worked successfully with over 1,300 clients and spoken at all the big banks and many other corporations. So you might call me an expert.
But over the years, I’ve made mistakes.
Fortunately, you can learn from my mistakes and have better client relationships. Here are four stories about mismanaging clients.
1. Taking on the personal training client who wasn’t ready.
This client was quite obese when he hired me. He said he would do anything to get the job done. In fact, he was already working with a therapist, a chiropractor, a financial planner, and more. So obviously he was cool with receiving coaching (this is very important to figure out before you take someone on).
One thing he hated, however, was writing food journals. I didn’t see this as a big deal at the time. Surely he could come around on that issue — or so I thought!
Eventually it got to the point where he absolutely refused to document what he was eating. This didn’t just take away my ability to provide quality nutrition advice, but worse, it was a symptom of the biggest problem of all:
He wasn’t ready to admit to me, or maybe even himself, what he was eating.
After a few months with me and a few thousand dollars spent, he’d lost only a few pounds. Emotionally drained, he vowed never again to try to lose weight. A few years later he still feels this way (I check up on him twice a year).
Had I stuck to my guns and demanded food journals, he may have given in and would’ve been more likely to lose weight. Or I would’ve fired him before he became emotionally drained. Then maybe a few years later he’d have the emotional bandwidth to try again.
But because of my oversight, he blames himself and doesn’t have the heart to try again — when really, his lack of results was partly (or mostly) my fault.
Since then, I make potential personal training clients sign off on some responsibilities before we work together:
- Agree to exercise five hours a week (three must be lifting)
- Agree to prep food 3-5 hours a week (or get a meal service)
- Agree to do food journals if I require them
- Agree to look at the social/emotional aspects of eating
- Agree to be patient at the beginning of a weight loss goal
- Agree to consider my advice if I think they need a physio, counsellor, or other therapist.
Does all this apply to personal trainers? You bet! The principle is the same:
Being a great fitness professional starts with setting expectations.
If you spend 2-3 hours setting expectations before you take their money, your practice will improve by leaps and bounds. The good clients will become great and the ones who aren’t ready will never start. Sure that’s less income in the short term, but over time, your referrals will go up — and so will your success stats.
Perhaps more importantly, you can sleep at night with the utmost of integrity.
2. The List of Won’t-Do Exercises
I had a client that didn’t get results because he wanted to do things his way.
I gave an inch here and there. Before I knew it, the training wasn’t intense and the nutrition coaching wasn’t in line with my philosophy. It was extremely stressful and he dropped out, never to be heard from again or refer me anyone. See above about setting expectations.
3. The personal training client who left me at the altar
I think this came down to my weak “elevator pitch” but I can’t be sure. You be the judge.
This potential client found me, filled out all the forms, came to the clinic, and talked for an hour about how great I was, and how ready he was. I pitched him a written proposal and he asked me what he could expect for results.
I found this to be a very strange question. We’d just spent 45 minutes setting extremely specific goals and I outlined exactly how long that would take and what it would cost. No client has ever done all the goal setting then asked me what to expect (because by then it’s crystal clear).
Maybe I should have said, “You can expect to achieve all your goals in the timeline we’ve set out in your proposal.” Instead, I tried to explain it all in a different way, by email, which confused him even further.
Not only did he not work with me, he accused me of personally attacking him.
Maybe things would have been clearer if my elevator pitch, or summary, was more succinct. I thought back to our meeting. He asked me to sum up our project in a sentence and I couldn’t do it (I needed about 10 sentences). I ‘m ready for that question now. Here’s how you answer it:
“You are going to succeed because I’ve screened you for being ready, we’ve set expectations, you’ve agreed to do the work, and I’ve helped hundreds of clients just like you.”
Bonus points if in this sentence, you can repeat vernacular that they have used, or their exact goal.
4. Friends, family, and colleagues
I can group several stories into one with this theme.
Don’t do your friends any favours by cutting your rate or skipping steps in your assessment. You’re not helping them and you’re hurting yourself in many ways.
Also, don’t let them buy single sessions if you don’t normally do that with clients (I don’t sell single sessions — I assess and recommend appropriate packages).
In seven years, any friend or sponsored athlete that I cut my rate for, or bent my rules for, didn’t get results. Either I missed something because I didn’t take it seriously, or they didn’t fully commit to the process.
So what happens?
You’ve just shown a referral source that you aren’t good at your job. They now probably think you are sloppy or lenient on all your clients.
The last colleague who came to me for help, I promised myself to treat him like a regular client. Wouldn’t you know it, he asked me several times to cut my rate. He scrutinized the proposal repeatedly. It was a stressful negotiation given that I share a staff room with him, and he is a referral source, plus could potentially influence other people in our clinic.
Because of my past experiences, I stuck to my rules instead. I’d rather not work with him than treat him differently. Eventually, he signed up with me, paying way more than he wanted to. But he’s doing amazing in my program and well on his way to his goals. What’s more is that every time I see him, he tells me how great a nutritionist I am.
Yes, I’ve made mistakes
But the good news is that you can learn from them. So if you’re scratching your head, searching for something to come away with, here it is:
- Have a formal intake process for screening and assessing new clients
- Once you find something that works for you, don’t stray from it, even for friends and family
- A major part of your intake process should be telling the client how difficult it is to achieve what they’re trying to do, and that they are responsible for a lot of work. This is only telling the truth and it takes the onus off you to “give them results”
- Never reduce or cut your rate. It hurts you and the client
- Don’t be afraid to tell a potential client that it isn’t a good fit. You win if they agree to change their approach, and you also win if they never work with you and you’ve avoided an unhappy customer
- Be able to sum up your awesomeness in about 1-2 sentences. The only way to do this is practicing in the mirror or with friends