Summer Retention Strategies

by Gina M. Crome, MS, MPH, RD on May 27, 2014

Profit Center

How to help your personal training business during the lazy days of summer.

Helping your clients stay active and take care of their health is a year-round challenge. In the summer, your efforts often seem to get lost among shifting schedules, vacation plans and other activities—all of which affect client outcomes and, ultimately, your bottom line.

Navigating around this complicated time takes some flexibility and planning on your part. Discover strategies for motivating and retaining your clients during the summer months.

Flexibility Is Key

The lure of summer activities—whether people are on vacation or staying home—can prove more tempting than the rewards of a workout. Although you probably won’t be thrilled if your clients miss their sessions with you, it’s important to be realistic about the summer. Think about what these people can do to stay active when they aren’t with you. For instance, if they want to hit the beach, you can recommend exercises geared toward that environment, such as volleyball, body-boarding, surfing, or simple strolls along the boardwalk. Your making these suggestions helps people understand that exercise doesn’t always have to occur at the gym, and it lets your clients know you support them even when they are not working out with you. If clients continue to be active even when they’re not with you, they are less likely to stop training with you altogether. These activities also give you something to talk about when clients do return to training.

Be sensitive to the fact that changing summer schedules can mean greater stress for your clients. If you notice this during a session or an email exchange, demonstrate some stress release techniques or provide the information via email.

Most importantly, if people start missing workouts, keep your own reactions in check. Focus on effectively addressing the challenges clients face, rather than making them feel guilty.

Running a Group Event

You may also want to adopt a flexible approach for yourself. Start preparing for summer’s potential impact on your business by keeping an open mind. Try to look at things with a fresh eye. Ask yourself what you can do differently from your peers and what will keep your clients engaged.

How about organizing group events, such as fitness contests or weight loss challenges? These can be fun and rewarding for your clients. Incentive programs can help you to reach existing clients— and potential new clients—and to promote your services. Offering prizes or incentive items adds to the excitement.

It’s best to start planning an event several months in advance, to allow time to advertise the program and generate as much interest as possible. What type of program should you run? Examine your individual specialties and develop a program around them. For example, if your areas of expertise include women’s wellness and endurance training, you could organize a “Girl’s Hike Out” group and get your female clients together regularly to hike nearby trails. Over time, you could give awards and recognition to individuals based on longevity, number of trails hiked and so forth.

Remember, however, that you want to be able to adapt your program for varying levels of skill and fitness. Also consider potential obstacles. For example, if you run an event outdoors, know that some of your clients may not be able to exercise outside in the summer heat. Make sure you can offer them an alternative—or do some hikes in the morning or evening when the weather is cooler.

Sample Contests and Challenges

Here are some other ideas for summer fun. You may want to solicit feedback from current clients before deciding to offer these—or other—programs.

Example #1. Run a weekly summer food/activity log contest. Ask participants to keep a record of their food intake and the exercises they performed between sessions, and have them bring it to their appointment with you. After discussing their progress and any challenges they encountered, give them a raffle ticket for each day they tracked successfully. At the end of a specified time period, draw a winning ticket for a wellness-related prize.

Example #2. Offer a walking challenge as an easy way to get clients moving between sessions. You can administer this kind of program individually or in groups. Set a specific goal each week and provide a way for participants to track their progress. By monitoring number of steps taken, miles covered, or amount of time spent walking, clients will be more actively engaged in their progress.

Program incentives can take on various forms. You may wish to offer two levels: One—such as a gift certificate that’s good for a bonus session with you—could be given to everyone simply for participating in the program. The other incentive could be specific to the challenge winner.

In group contests, members could make a monetary contribution toward a common fund at the beginning of the challenge. Then the contest winner would collect the total amount. With individual challenges, you can work with clients to develop personally meaningful rewards that they give themselves. Ideal incentives should support your clients’ overall goal of better health. Prizes might be new workout clothes, new athletic shoes or even a day at the spa.

Example #3. Organize a summer slim-down to motivate clients to drop a few pounds before vacation time.

Should you discount your fees?

Summer weight loss challenges may also help you attract new clients at a time when other personal trainers are simply looking to retain their existing clients. Promote your challenge through social media, so participants can check in and offer support to others. Doing this will boost weight loss results and promote your business.

You may want to partner with another professional or an organization—such as a registered dietitian, physician, local running club or walking group—to spread the word and increase participation.

Staying Connected

Remaining in contact with clients will also help you retain them. As personal trainers, we provide much more than just workout programs. The relationships we build are powerful, because our clients often look to us for guidance, information and training that impact their overall health and self-image. It's important to build or maintain that relationship during the summer— either in person or through online contact. If clients disappear during the summer but you keep them engaged they are more likely to return to you in the fall, because they have a history with you and they've seen the benefits of the relationship.

  • Providing tools such as a food/exercise diary or small fitness equipment like a pedometer will help clients track their own efforts, and it can provide a good reason to stay connected between sessions.
  • You may also want to take advantage of online tools like IDEA FitnessConnect’s free e-newsletter to give your clients interesting articles to read each month. (See www.ideafit.com/fitnessconnect.) You can easily set up a distribution list from your IDEA profile page.
  • Even something as simple as a midweek email, text or phone call—to check in and offer encouragement— can have a big impact.

Partnering With Clients

When it comes to lifestyle changes, goal setting is an important factor. You can strengthen your partnership with clients by helping them create targets that you can track during the summer. Short-term milestones and longer-range goals can be rewarded with incentives. A simple behavior contract is a great way to begin the discussion process about goals and help your clients determine

  • what they want to achieve,
  • when they want to achieve it, and
  • what they want as a result of their achievement.

Goals and incentives must be relevant to your clients. What’s important to you may not be as important to the client, and vice versa. Therefore, your clients should determine their own goals, their dates for meeting those goals, and the incentives that keep them striving—while you provide support. Talking about the behavioral contract will also help you better understand the unique qualities of individual clients and give you a clearer picture of what motivates their behavior change.

For a Healthy Summer

If you want to build your clientele and minimize income fluctuations over the summer, you’ll need to address potential seasonal impact before it, happens. Making that little extra effort to strengthen existing relationships, while exploring new ways to engage clients in the process, will pay off for both your clients and your bottom line.

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 11, Issue 6

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About the Author

Gina M. Crome, MS, MPH, RD

Gina M. Crome, MS, MPH, RD IDEA Author/Presenter

Gina Crome is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise. She holds a dual Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology as well as a Masters in Public Heal...