I spend a lot of time in different groups on Facebook tailored to other fitness professionals. As you can imagine, there’s a range of tenure between them (beginners and veterans) as well as a vast assortment of training styles (group exercise, one-on-one training, sport specific, etc). One question I seem to come across with more frequency than others is over client acquisition.
Because social media is the monster that it’s evolved into, there is an overabundance of ” business coaches” who are now advertising their services to help fellow trainers generate more leads than they ever knew what to do with. I’ll reserve some of my more candid opinions by saying, some of these coaches are worth their weight and many, many, many more are not.
However, the same basic conditions apply now as they have throughout history: develop better, trusting relationships with others and you stand a better chance of having a sustainable model for generating new clientele.
I thought I would sink my teeth this week into giving you a free resource to help.
Before I go any further, what I’m about to discuss below can work for nearly any service providing industry. You may have to decide how and to what extent you want it to work for yours (assuming you’re not a personal trainer) but I will tailor the message to others like me.
Please also note, nothing I’m mentioning below is of the “get rich quick” variety. If you follow similar steps, it can take weeks, months or years to achieve what we have at RevFit. I can tell you, it was and has been worth the time and effort.
When I started Revolution Fitness & Therapy (RevFit) in the spring of 2009, nearly 11 years ago, I knew no one. All I knew was that the economy had recently tanked in the U.S. in 2008 and I was damn near out of my mind to make a go out of starting a business.
I started with the lowest hanging fruit I could aim for and I introduced myself to every neighboring business in my plaza. I picked up my very first client just from that first set of introductions. Then, I started going to other businesses in the area and introducing myself to let others know that I was taking on new clients.
I priced myself as low as I could handle just to get people in the door. I wanted more people at an affordable rate so I could get results, gain experience and hopefully get them telling their friends and family about me.
It was slow going at first. I met a lot of really nice people but I wasn’t bringing in new clientele in droves.
I realized early on that print advertising was not working for me. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend and what little I was putting into marketing was not generating new business for me. I needed a low to no-cost option that would net a bigger return for me.
B2B (Business To Business) Networking
I was told about a local networking group that was for fellow non-competing businesses and business owners to refer clientele to each other. I knew that if I could get involved in a group like this it could be monumental for me. I had tried going to Chamber of Commerce events and other networking functions but it was simply too many people for me to try to connect with. I am, at my core, an introverted person. The more people I have to connect with, the harder it is for me to do so.
I knew I needed a more intimate circle to work within and when it became possible for me to join that smaller networking group, I knew I had to make the best possible impression.
If you’re just starting out as a trainer, you may not have much of a clientele roster to work from. Like me, you may need to just get in front of people so they can learn as much about the person you are before they decide to part with their hard earned dollars and invest time and energy with you.
I made a vow to myself to give as much business to others as I possibly could. Sometimes, I did so out of my own pocket. Sometimes, I had to listen to the needs of family, friends and clients to see if I had a viable, trustworthy resource to send them.
For instance, one of the members of my networking group was in insurance. He was able to work with several different insurance companies to shop the best rate for home and auto insurance rates. I went to him first to see where I could save money. Once I saw that he had saved money for me, I got my family over to him as well. Not only was he able to save my family money on insurance rates but I had the added bonus of picking him up as a client. Win-win-win. (Thank You, Mike M.)!
There was also a member of the group who handled credit card processing for small businesses. I had him quote me on rates for what his company would charge to service my business. At the time, I was using a company with a low up-front cost but very high percentage rates per transaction. My friend in the group gave me a quote with a higher up-front cost but a lower percentage rate per transaction. On an annual basis, he saved me so much money as my business continued to grow. He also became a client. (Thank you, Brandon H.)!
I was a member of this group for about 2-3 years before I realized I had essentially hit my relative ceiling for referrals. Throughout that time, I gained tens of thousands of dollars in business not only from members who decided to train with me but from the people they referred to me as well. This was an incredible avenue for me to build my business. I still utilize many of the core members of this original networking group for services even though I haven’t been a member in nearly eight years.
The Unlikely Success of Free Speaking Engagements
As you’re developing your expertise within your given field, you’re likely to come across an opportunity to speak in front of others. I was given a chance like this when the husband of one my clients asked me to come and speak for 30 minutes to a group of junior high students who were about to start high school the following school year. He wanted me to teach them some basics about exercise (with a little bit about nutrition).
I knew I wouldn’t get paid to do so but I liked being offered the opportunity to speak. Since most of my working time was spent within the four walls of my studio, I knew that the only way I could meet more potential clients was to simply get out there and be in front of them. I was allowed to hand out some flyers as well with the hopes that maybe one of these students (or, even better, their parents) might be interested in training with me.
In that first class, a young man (Jack V.) took my flyer home to his mom (Jeanne V.) and she called me the next day to set up a consultation. As a result of working with her, I got to train her husband (Gregg), her son (the one who got my flyer) and their daughter (Jamie). Also, through knowing the family, another gentleman was referred to me (Grant M.). Through him, I got to train his wife (Margot) and both of their sons (Craig and Ian). He was also the guiding referral for another ten clients! All of this came from one free speaking engagement that lasted 30 minutes. (Thank You, Mark O.)!
I will caveat that this kind of scenario doesn’t happen all the time. I’ve given many free speeches that just ended with more practice for me and absolutely zero new business. This is still a win. The more comfortable you can become with speaking in front of others, the better. You can never get too much practice fine-tuning your wisdom in front of a group of strangers.
The Astonishing Zero Cost Power Of Social Media Networking
Several years ago, I started posting pictures of my clients. Initially, there was little rhyme or reason in what I was doing. I just wanted to highlight some weight loss success or show off one of my clients hitting a new personal record. Sometimes, it would just be a picture of someone doing something cool like battle rope sprints or a prowler (sled) push.
Over time, I did start to find a groove with not only what I enjoyed posting (new member introductions, weight loss, and personal records) but I had the added benefit of willing clients who allowed me to tag them in the pictures as well. This opened me up to what author Bob Burg called a “sphere of influence”.
By tagging my clients, their friends could see the great things they were doing at the studio, perhaps get inspired with their own fitness journey, and sometimes, ask questions about us: “Where are you training?”, “How do you like it?”, or “Can I come check it out too?”
Of course, not every client wants to be posted and we are 100% okay with that. For those who are comfortable with having their hard work and success bragged about, we’re happy to brag about it because we know how inspiring it can be.
Even though you have an option of paying to boost your posts on social media, we haven’t needed to do that with client success pictures. The more they accomplish, the more we get to post. The more we get to post, the more their sphere of influence can see what they’ve been doing to succeed. This is a win-win for all parties involved and it’s the best free advertising I’ve ever come across.
Find Complementary Businesses To Help Generate Leads
When I first started, I had an idea to reach out to some local hair salons and spas. I knew that anyone who was looking to improve their self image via hairstyling, pedicures/manicures, and facials would likely be interested in improving their physiques as well. I wasn’t wrong about that BUT I was wrong in how I originally approached it.
I tried to drop off some containers with our business information on the front and with the notion for clients of the salon to drop in their business card and be selected for a free personal training session. In all honesty, the containers didn’t look great so I didn’t get a lot of leads from this.
What I did learn was that I needed to focus on one salon (not several) and develop a working relationship with that salon. This proved to be a huge step in the right direction for me. I gave a generous discount to the owners and staff of that salon and let them know that if they referred their clients to me, their clients would also get a discount. (Thank You, Kristie W.)!
This gave me a much better working environment to start from. Get a stylist in great shape, get them talking to their clients about us, and let the power of networking take over from there. I also utilize this salon when I want to give gifts to my clients. I rarely have a female client who doesn’t have an interest in a pedicure/manicure, facial or a massage. Having a great, mutually beneficial working relationship with my neighboring salon has been pivotal to my business.
Become The Person With The Resources
Over the years I’ve had this business, one thing I’ve tried to always be great at is having great resources.
-Need a great realtor? I’ve got that (several, actually).
-Need a great banker? Let me connect you via email.
-How about a plumber, a computer repair person, a financial advisor, a CPA, a handyman, or an attorney? I’ve got you covered. How would you like me to make the introduction?
In fact, I’ve only been stumped twice. One time, a client of mine needed an audiologist. I literally had no one to refer to. However, now that I know my client had a great experience with their audiologist, I know where to turn. I also had a client ask about a resume building service. I didn’t have an exact resource for that but I was able to refer something close that could have sufficed.
When you work in a service industry, you can never have too many contacts. Yes, you may have more financial advisor friends than you know what to do with but you may also learn over time which of them is the most trustworthy, dependable and worth investing your money and investments with.
Ultimately, the business you want to build as a personal trainer is built on trusting relationships. You not only have to find ways to connect with people that work well for your personality but you also need to be available to give resources out when your clients need them.
Know Your Brand Ambassadors
I’ve been very fortunate that throughout the years I’ve had my business, I have had several clients who knew how to spread the word about us. It wasn’t just that they told their friends and family about RevFit, it was the fact that when they did, people listened.
It’s important that you recognize the efforts of these brand ambassadors. They care not only about the experience you’re giving them but they care that your business continues to thrive. Of my current clientele, I can easily shout out the actions of: Cherie E., Tatsyana H., Brandon H., Chris C., Ned P., and Shon C. as people who spread the word far and wide about training with us.
As a result of clients like the ones I mentioned, my business has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Sometimes, it’s come when I’ve least expected it (that’s always appreciated too)!
Find Your Niche And Spread The Word
I am a middle-class, white, heterosexual, married male. Why does that matter? Well, if you are of a certain ethnic background (African-American, Latino, Indian, etc.) or if you align with a particular sexual preference (LGBTQ+), I cannot recommend more that you involve yourself in networking groups catering specifically to those demographics.
When you become the go-to person in those group for your field, you are opening up a goldmine of business for yourself. Often, people feel they can trust others of like mind, background, or preference. This won’t always be the case.
We proudly cater to everyone of any color, religious belief or sexual preference. We always have and we always will.
I was recently speaking to a fellow trainer who was trying to build his training business. I mentioned the idea about talking to a neighboring hair salon. But I also asked him if he had ventured into any networking groups that cater specifically to gay men.
He had not.
I told him: “You need to find a group like this. You are knowledgeable, trustworthy and you share the same interests. Be THE trainer available to that group.”
As someone who was never going to thrive in a “Here’s my business card, let’s trade” type of environment, I had to find more intimate circles to work within. I love being around people but I also need time to recharge my batteries so that I can engage again the next day.
Nearly every thing I’ve done to build my business to where it is today came as a result of patience, consistency and making sure my clients got good results. It’s also been huge for me to focus on what I can do for others before I could ever expect (or desire) them to do for me.
So, before you sink thousands of dollars into a business coach, see which of the tactics mentioned above work for you. You don’t have to be the neighborhood socialite to build a successful personal training business. However, you do have to make sure that anyone who can know about the great work you do knows it and keeps you top of mind when someone they know needs a trainer.
Want to see more proof of the power of better networking? Take a look at the picture below. Left to right, I’ll tell you how these people found me:
Bill K. (was referred to me by the esthetician at the salon I referenced above, Cherie E.)
Charlie H. (his mother heard about us through mutual friends who train with us).
Kelvin and his wife, Jean (were referred to us by a client, Ryan U.)
Brandon H. (originally joined me from the networking group we belonged to. He was also the person who helped set up my credit card processing).
Shon C. (we met through having a similar bond in raising sons with special needs. In the past year, Shon has sent more business my way than any other client. Thank YOU!)
Eric M. (he found us through a drive by in our plaza).
That means 6 of the 7 people you see below came to us through networking.
It is EVERYTHING to your business and we are grateful to service them.
“We Make Great People Greater”