Strategies for retaining your clients and achieving long-term success.
I have been blessed with 20 years of business, a great client base and a plethora of growing and learning experiences. Although I never feel that I have done all of my work or that I know as much as I need to, I have fine-tuned my in-home personal training business into one that fits well with my goals, values and desired schedule. I finally feel that I am living a calm and fairly stress-free life, no longer running from one appointment to the next or working when I really don’t want to. But arriving at that place has required a lot of personal work and growth, a narrowing of my boundaries and a consistent focus on three important areas that make a difference in the longevity of any business today: customer service, marketing and education. Discover how I’ve handled these three topics, and glean insights into methods you can use in your own business.
I have observed very few companies over the years that practice what I consider real customer service. It is easy to be sloppy or lax in this area unless you have actually sat down and planned in advance what you want to do for your potential or current customers. I regularly perform the actions I describe in this section. They appear to make and keep my clients happy with my services. (Some clients are still training with me after 17+ years, so thankfully I must be doing something right.) Improving your customer service skills is the most important work you will do. It is much easier to keep a great client than it is to find a new one!
Calls and E-Mails. Returning calls and e-mails is essential to me because it shows a true desire to do business with people. I recommend returning all calls and e-mails within 24 hours, or the next business day if you do not want to respond over the weekend. I am disappointed by how few companies respond to a business inquiry within that time frame. If I have to call more than twice to inquire about a service provider, I know I don’t want to do business with the company. Either the workers are unorganized, understaffed, overworked or lazy or they just don’t care. Clients will think the same of you if you are slow in responding. Even when I don’t have any client openings, I quickly answer calls and e-mails to let inquirers know this, rather than leaving them in the dark. A timely response is the professional response.
Follow-Up Correspondence. After I meet with a client and complete her initial 2-hour consultation and assessment, I follow up with an assessment report and letter. I also write correspondence when someone sends me a referral or when I meet another business owner or an individual with whom I would like to network and keep in contact.
Personal Correspondence. In general, my goal is to send clients cards and notes two to four times per year, congratulating them on their dedication and hard work and thanking them for their ongoing business. They always seem to appreciate the effort. After all, who gets cards in the mail much anymore? A card is always a welcome surprise.
“Marketing” tends to sound complicated, expensive and boring. I used to envision myself yawning through boring chamber-of-commerce meetings, participating on committees that I didn’t want to be on or schmoozing with people I didn’t have anything in common with. But I’m glad to say I rethought the whole marketing process over the last 20 years and have found that I make myself known and keep my name on the minds of potential customers, without suffering in the process, if I do the following things:
- Write articles.
- Speak at conferences.
- Take group cooking classes to come into contact with fellow students who might be interested in my services.
- Send a monthly mailer to 100 or so contacts.
- Keep my promotional materials and photo current.
So far, my marketing plan has worked well for me, it is virtually painless (some money is involved), and I take pleasure in it! My advice? Outline a plan that works for you and that you can enjoy, and note at least three actions you can take monthly to keep your name and face in the public eye. It is always important to be out in the public educating people about your services and availability.
If you want to avoid being referred to as a dinosaur in the industry, you must stay up-to-date with research, exercise modalities and current trends. It is easy to burn out when you do the exact same programming with clients every week of every year. It is also easy to grow apathetic about your business if you do not interact with other professionals on a regular basis. In order to stay stimulated, motivated and challenged to maintain a fresh business and a positive, excited attitude, fine-tune the following education areas:
Conferences and Online Courses. Make sure you attend one conference or take one online course per year to refresh your skills or learn new ones. In today’s confusing financial market, it is important to consider your education options carefully. Should you attend a conference or take an online course? Will you glean enough to make the per-hour cost worth the investment? If you work in a setting that allows little or no interaction with other fitness professionals, attending a workshop or conference will be ideal for you. We all need a regular review of the principles of physiology, exercise technique, program design and nutrition.
Certification Renewals. Keeping up numerous certification renewals can be an ongoing challenge, but maintaining your credentials is critical too and lets clients know that you stay busy attaining the knowledge you need to be an effective trainer. At the beginning of each year, identify which certifications will need to be renewed, and if possible, plan your CECs so that you can use them for multiple certifications. Attending a conference is a great way to do this.
Current Practices. Are you truly current with your practices? Do you assess what you need when you need to? Are your program design skills effective? Do you know the latest research? Are you knowledgeable about healthy nutrition practices and the current good and bad fad diets? During one of your business development days this year, ask yourself these questions and determine where you need additional education and training. Go through all the manuals and articles you have, and start implementing current information in your weekly sessions.
Several years ago I sang in the church choir. When all the individuals were singing on key and at the right time, it was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, I once found myself next to a woman who sang her heart out—but was always flat! It was such a struggle to ignore her voice and sing on key. The law of attraction is extremely powerful, but so is the law of distraction. If you want to continually draw great people to your personal training business, you must operate a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine. Regardless of the state of the economy, customer service is crucial to keeping great customers, marketing is critical for the continual draw of new customers, and staying current with your education is essential for your effectiveness and your clients’ happiness. With your due diligence in fine-tuning all three areas, your business will begin to thrive with a harmonious edge. n