The gym floor. For trainers who work in commercial fitness clubs, this is where careers are made or broken.
Sure, you probably have some exercise science classes and a few certifications under your belt, but nothing really prepares you for the reality of building a client base.
You can’t just depend on your manager giving you leads. To build a solid personal training business, you have to win over gym members. And when those gym members become clients, you have to change some lives.
I know this from experience. When I moved from Dayton, Ohio, to Los Angeles a few years ago, I understood that if I didn’t rapidly build my client base, I would soon be slinking home in defeat.
Well, I’m still here, and I largely owe my success to the five strategies outlined below. I hope you can use them to build your own business and dominate your local gym.
1. Change your mindset
Bad mood? Better snap out of it. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure before you even clock in. I’ve seen trainers step onto the floor as if they’re walking toward their own execution.
I’m not saying floor shifts are a nonstop party. But if you approach them like you’d rather be anywhere else, you’ll soon get your wish.
“Positive thinking” sounds like motivational fluff, but it’s a useful strategy for landing clients. Research shows that positive emotion tends to broaden awareness and encourage the kinds of thoughts and actions that foster opportunities. Negative emotion does the opposite, narrowing your mind and limiting new prospects.
I made this mistake one morning during my first month. I’d had a long week, and I just wanted it to end. Unfortunately, it showed. I wasn’t as engaging as usual, and another trainer called me out on it.
“Kasey, you awake? It’s busy out here. You better get to work.”
It was a huge wake-up call. I vowed never again to carry anything less than a winning attitude out to the floor. Who knows how many potential clients I missed that day?
2. Always view your floor time as an opportunity
Anything can happen out there. You could meet your next long-term client, someone who feeds you testimonials and referrals for life.
Or, less dramatically, you could motivate someone who wasn’t feeling it that day. If that client decides to hire a trainer a few weeks or months down the road, guess who will come to mind?
You never know when an interaction will change a life—yours or someone else’s.
When I view the floor like this, I get excited. It makes floor time seem less like work and more like an adventure, something that stirs up my passion for my work. Every new member I meet could be my next long-term client. Every familiar member I interact with could recommend me to someone they know who’s looking for a trainer.
And who knows who’s watching? Anyone on the floor could be a future client.
Case in point: Later that same day, after my attitude adjustment, a woman approached me from the cardio area. “Hey,” she said, “my doctor said I need to strength train to beat my osteoporosis, and you look like a good guy.”
She became my first client, and has been training with me ever since. She’s helped me tremendously with referrals and getting out in the community. All because she saw me being nice and exuding energy on the gym floor.
3. Improve your conversation starters
Unless your gym is brand-new, its members have probably been approached by more trainers than they can or would want to remember. And chances are, each of those trainers opened with some variation of “How’s it going?”
Maybe some of them got more specific—“How’s your workout?”—but the problem is the same. If your opening line is a question that typically gets a one-word response, you’ve stopped the conversation before it began.
You’re not the fitness version of a Walmart greeter. If you want to initiate a meaningful conversation, you need to begin with an open-ended question.
“What are you training for?” has always worked for me.
Theoretically, someone could give you a one-word answer. But who’s going to pass up the chance to talk about why they’re in the gym? Everyone who works out has an origin story. Even if they know why you’re asking, and even if they have no interest in hiring you to train them, most would probably still enjoy the chance to talk about themselves.
And if you can get them talking, you’ll find opportunities to establish yourself as someone who might be able to help them reach their goals.
Another common approach is to offer technique tips. But correcting strangers unprompted never felt comfortable for me. No one likes to feel as if they don’t know what they’re doing (especially in L.A.).
However, when you ask people what they’re training for, questions about technique tend to come up naturally. When they do, you have permission to share your insights and advice, and the person is more likely to accept them, rather than react defensively.
You still have to pick your spots, of course. You still have to read body language to decide if someone is approachable or if they’d rather be left alone. (Earbuds are a pretty big clue.)
Even if you do everything right, you can’t expect every conversation to lead somewhere that benefits you. All I can guarantee is that an open-ended question about someone’s goals will help build your network faster than the standard icebreakers.
READ ALSO: How to Get More Personal Training Clients
4. Befriend employees at the gym who aren’t trainers
I made a point to meet and develop relationships with everyone at the gym. Not just the people on the floor with me, but those who worked at the front desk, gift shop, and spa. Within a few weeks, everyone knew my name, and everyone knew I was the hungry new trainer.
That’s why, almost every day, one of those coworkers would come up to me on the floor and introduce me to a member who had questions about personal training. Just like that, with no icebreakers necessary, I was given opportunities to chat with potential clients. It was the most effortless thing I did to build my client roster.
Those relationships are especially important when you’re new to the gym (and even more so when you’re new to the city, as I was). The gym staff interacts with members all the time, and the ones who’ve worked there longest have the most connections to the members. They know and trust each other.
By developing relationships with them, you’ll be top of mind when a member asks one of them for a recommendation.
READ ALSO: How to Become an Online Personal Trainer
5. Don’t be intimidated
Too many talented trainers leave the industry every year because they fail to build their business and struggle to make ends meet. Don’t let the intimidation of the floor get the best of you.
Chances are, someone on that floor right now can use your help. But you won’t know until you get out and present yourself as the obvious choice.