Obviously, you need to advertise your business to draw clients. However, you can’t promise them the moon just because you’re desperate to lure them. As commercial speech, advertising is less protected by the First Amendment than are other forms of expression. Both federal law and state law regulate it.
Generally, the law prohibits ads that even tend to mislead or deceive. Whether or not the different parts of your ad are technically accurate, its net effect, as Fred S. Steingold writes in his book Legal Guide for Starting and Running a Small Business, “must fairly inform the ordinary consumer” to avoid legal trouble. To help keep you in the clear, Steingold offers some advertising rules that can apply to your personal training venture.
Be Accurate. Make sure that your ad is factually correct and doesn’t tend to mislead prospective clients in any aspect of your business, including pricing. A false statement violates the law, whether or not you know that it is false. Furthermore, be frank about what clients can expect from your service. For example, if studies suggest that a particular training regimen won’t be able to help them lose more than 2 pounds in a week, don’t promise them that it will make them lose 10 pounds in a week.
Get Permission. If your ad features someone’s picture or endorsement or uses the name of a company or national organization, get written permission. The “fair use” doctrine does allow limited quotations from copyrighted works without specific authorization from the copyright owner. Nonetheless, brief quotes from favorable reviews aside, it is always wise to secure authorization to use protected material.
Treat Competitors Fairly. You wouldn’t want your competitors to lie about your business, so don’t lie about theirs. Don’t disparage their services or reputations with false or misleading information. You are free to compare your services with theirs, but check the accuracy of your information repeatedly.
Watch How You Use the Word “Free.” You may not advertise as “free” or “without charge” any service with hidden costs or unstated terms or conditions. For instance, don’t offer a free yoga session to those who pay more for a Pilates session than you normally charge; this would conceal an expense. All limits must be stated clearly.
Advertising what you can’t deliver may make you look more appealing than you are, but clients and competitors may sue you for it. Ironically, that would make your reputation much worse than it would be if you ran a straightforward ad from the outset. In advertising, as in life, honesty really is the best policy.