Personal trainers often struggle to build their own business even if they do a great job with their clients.
This results in personal pain and frustration, money worries, and confidence issues. It can even affect your ability to stay in business.
You might get anxious when taking on a new client or when a current client is up for a renewal. You might compromise on booking times and cancellation policies and bend over too much to accommodate the customer at your own expense.
You may discount or take on clients you know aren’t a fit because you ‘really need the money’. The end result is a fragmented workweek, irregular cash flow, and clients you’d rather not have.
This is hard to reconcile, especially when you feel so passionate about your work as someone who brings health and vitality to others.
In an ideal world the client and the trainer are equals and the exchange is fair. Building the business and attracting new clients is as much fun and as exciting as the actual training. The flow of clients is steady and natural. The exchange of money is totally comfortable for both parties because the value is recognized. Everybody wins.
This ideal is not the exclusive domain of those blessed trainers with the gift of the gab or the ‘chosen few’ who just seem to strike it lucky when it comes to getting clients. This ideal world is available to any trainer who has a drive to serve and the willingness to back it up with a good solid delivery of service.
However, getting to that world may require uncovering some uncomfortable truths.
The Reality Of How To Attract Clients
Whenever there’s a mismatch between desired and actual results in business, there’s usually a ‘values conflict‘ at play. You may say you want one thing but unconsciously you might want the opposite.
When it comes to attracting new clients, the external language may be saying, “I want more clients” but the internal language will be saying, “Aargh. More clients. What a hassle! Not so sure if I want that.”
Even if you love training and you love your existing clients you can almost guarantee there will be a part of you saying you’d like to avoid them if you can. That’s the uncomfortable truth.
The client of course comes with benefits — money, personal satisfaction, professional accomplishment, maybe even friendship — but they also come at a cost, such as time, effort, inconvenience, hassle, risk (of rejection or dissatisfaction), complaining, money issues, and maybe more.
Clients take away your leisure time and sometimes they might take away your ‘peace of mind’. That’s the reality for all of us so there’s no wonder we avoid trying to get more of them.
This is of course unconscious, so the trainer doesn’t think about it but it shows in their actions.
They get too busy for the follow up with a new client. They never get around to asking current customers for referrals. The ‘plan’ to speak at the local chamber of commerce meeting or sponsor a local team to promote the business is never executed. And the social media streams are dead through a lack of activity.
Yet the trainer continues to be ‘busy’ servicing clients here and there but raking in a less than satisfactory income. This erodes confidence, builds resentment, and can ultimately lead to a trainer throwing in the towel — not because they’re no good at their job, but simply because they don’t understand the personal dynamic that’s undermining their success.
Meanwhile, the local dynamo trainer seems to work half the hours and earn twice as much. That’s because they have clients that are committed, turn up on time, and pay on time.
But it’s not just a matter of luck — it’s because they’ve reconciled their values so they are more favourable for building a business.
Reconciling Your Values in Favour of Building a Personal Training Business
Some folks manage to fluke the balance but for others, it might require a bit of introspection and new habits. Here’s some concrete steps that you can take to swing the pendulum back in your favour.
1. Be honest about whether this values conflict is an issue for you or not.
Without passing judgment about whether it’s right or wrong, good or bad, notice whether any of the above behaviours apply to you. Do you put off making calls to potential or past clients? Do you put your marketing efforts last in terms of priorities because you’re ‘too busy’?
It’s not a question of being ‘guilty’ of them or not, it’s simply a matter of whether you do them or not. Remember, we’re talking about unconscious behaviours here so there’s nothing to be guilty about.
And this is also not about being lazy. It’s more about the fact that given the choice, most of us would have more leisure time than we do. Most of us would avoid dealing with difficult clients if we could. It’s not wrong to think that way.
One way to check if you’re subconsciously avoiding getting new clients is to notice your reaction to the uncomfortable truth section above.
Was it uncomfortable for you? Did you squirm as you read it? Maybe you smiled and silently called yourself out as busted. Perhaps you’re even feeling defensive about it, “No way. That’s not me. I love my clients.”
Remember, there’s no right or wrong about it and you can love your clients and avoid them at the same time. If the values conflict does not apply for you, then no need to read on. Enjoy the rest of your day. If it does perhaps apply to you, let’s continue.
2. Once the conflict is out in the open it can be dealt with rationally.
In particular, you can reassess your work values in relation to how they can support your leisure and peace of mind values. This can be done with affirming statements such as these:
- The more clients I get now, the more control I have over when and how I take my breaks (including vacation).
- The more clients I get now, the easier it is for me to charge higher rates and the less I need to work.
- The more clients I get now, the more choice I have in who I work with and when.
- The more clients I get now, the easier it is to let go of clients that aren’t committed or are unreliable.
You get the picture. Each of the above statements leverages the idea that you can put in more effort to create an even better leisure experience. This may be something you can handle in a one-off discussion with yourself or it may be something you need to repeat on a regular basis till it’s no longer a problem.
Each time you feel a distraction pulling you away from a business building activity — I’m tired, I’ll do it tomorrow — repeat the statements to pull you back into action.
3. Establish clear boundaries — for your clients and for you.
You teach your clients how to treat you with your actions rather than your words.
If you have a cancellation policy, then communicate that to your clients and stick to it. Think of it as the policy of the business rather than your policy and you’ll be more inclined to enforce it.
After all, if you were working for someone else you’d be adhering to their policies so make the policies of your business of equal importance.
Your rate card is your rate card. Every time you give a client a discount that’s not on your rate card it becomes a cost to you. The time you spend with them at a discount rate is time that you can’t spend with a full paying client so it’s money out of your pocket.
If you’re afraid you’re going to ‘lose’ them because they can’t afford you then accept the fact that they quite possibly can’t afford you, or you haven’t communicated the value of your training strongly enough to them to encourage them to spend the full amount. If they really can’t afford you, putting them on a maintenance program by meshing your in-person and an online personal training business might be the answer.
Either way, set clear boundaries for what your rates are and honour them.
Book yourself out each week for marketing activities. This will be a mixture of follow up calls, referral calls, etc. Don’t leave it for the end of the day or the weekend when you don’t feel like doing it, and don’t just try to squeeze it in between appointments.
Block it out in your diary and make sure it’s you engaging directly with potential clients. Do the social media stuff as well if that’s your thing but the front line of your marketing is and always will be direct engagement with potential clients. This may be the time you need to put the affirming statements mentioned above to work.
Boundaries like these will let you and your clients know that you’re serious about your personal training business.
4. Invest in a marketing system
There are plenty of systems out there catering to personal trainers that take the fuzziness and guesswork out of your marketing activities. These systems sell because they’ve been tried, tested, and proven in the real world and it’s simply a case of following the instructions. If systems are used right they work independently of values conflicts. Find a system that you think is a fit for you and put it to the test for six months or so.
Building a business by attracting new clients can be difficult for anyone but, like fitness training, it’s as much about the inner game as it is about the outer actions. Values conflicts are a fact of life and have a dramatic effect on our results. Positive thinking won’t resolve your values conflicts but by being upfront and honest with yourself you can resolve them in your favour so you become the dynamo trainer in your territory.