When we started our business, we heard over and over how word of mouth is the best form of advertising. Even though we had success with our clients, we found that word of mouth just didn’t kick in for us. Then we realized we had been relying on passive word of mouth so we needed to get more active word of mouth happening! To encourage more referrals we began a Christmastime promotion. We mail two complimentary 30-minute personal training session passes to our clients to give as Christmas presents. We include a letter saying “Congratulations on receiving such great results! We would love to see your friends and family feeling as fit and vibrant as you.” The comp passes have an expiration date of March 31 to give a sense of urgency and are in color and laminated to give a sense of value. We have tried this promotion twice. The first time the letter that accompa- nied the passes was fun, friendly and casual, and we got approximately five new clients. We conducted the promo- tion again one year later, but this time the letter was a little more formal. We did not get one new client! We will try again this year, going back to our origi- nal fun writing style, but will change the look of the letter and passes to keep the promotion fresh. We also receive referrals by encouraging current clients to directly refer people. After clients have been training with us for several sessions, we ask them if they have any friends or coworkers who might enjoy a compli- mentary session. We usually ask for referrals at the end of a session during stretching so that we can chat without feeling like the session is being side- tracked. We normally mention it in a very casual way-generally when the opportunity presents itself, rather than pushing it on the client. For example, the client may mention how much he is enjoying the training. I might then say, “That’s marvelous! You know the best way to thank me is to tell your friends about us! I am more than happy to give your friends or colleagues a comp ses- sion so that they can see what we do. By the way, Dave, for every friend who starts training with us I will give you a free session. Why don’t you think about anyone who might be interested in a session and let me know?” I generally then follow up with an e- mail in the next couple of days asking for possible names and e-mail addresses or phone numbers. If the client doesn’t seem keen at the initial stages, I just let it slide. Some people are natural net- workers and will tell everyone they know and others won’t tell a soul-no matter how happy they are! Frequently clients will say, “Actually I do have someone in mind.” I have yet to experience any real negativity with prompts-but of course I use a soft approach when applicable! As our client base grows (at present we have 140 active members across two clubs), word of mouth is happening a lot more. We gain two or three new members a month via word of mouth alone.
Like many trainers and professionals in other fields, I used to offer incentives for referrals ranging from resistance tubing to a free session to heart rate monitors. However, I learned years ago at an IDEA® Personal Trainer International Summit that referrals are better if they are 100 percent genuine. They should come from the client’s earnest desire to have his or her friends, family and acquaintances enjoy your services. A referral should be earned and not bought. I now feel that incentives can make the referral seem tainted. I’ve found that obtaining referrals is more of a mind-set than a specific technique. If you are focused on helping as opposed to selling to as many people as possible, you will naturally ask for and get referrals without directly working on it. Say, for example, a client mentions her husband. If your first thought is, “I want to help him, too,” your first words will naturally be, “What does he do for exercise?” If you’re doing a great job with her, she will volunteer, “I should get him to work with you, too.” This strategy produces the best type of referral. The referral will come in her words and with her enthusiasm and sincerity. I prefer that the client then recommends my services to her hus- band and that he call me. That shows he is truly interested in my services. Workouts with a reluctant client are no fun for the client or for me. Supposedly, the average person has 250 people in his or her sphere of influ- ence, and I’m sure you have clients who will tell you something about all 250 of them! Think “help” first, and you’ll soon have more referrals than you can handle.
We motivate clients to give referrals by offering them one free training session for every person they refer who then joins First Fitness. When new clients start with us, we send them an information packet about our company, including our policies and trainers’ educational backgrounds. We include a colorful, index-sized card that describes our referral program. We thank them for becoming clients and tell them they get one free session when they refer a friend or family member. (The referred client needs to purchase a package of 12 sessions in order for the current client to receive a free session.) Trainers remind their clients of this program and when I follow up with a client I also mention it. As manager of the trainers, I contact clients after they start training and later in their pro- grams (or as needed) to check progress, get feedback and ensure satisfaction. We also run promotions during holiday times to increase referrals. For example, during one six-week Christmas- time promotion, we mailed clients promotional information describing how they could get a free session for referring a new client or purchasing gift sessions, as well as earn points/fitness dollars during this period. For example, one new referral might equal 10 fitness dollars, which could be redeemed for First Fitness T-shirts, sweatshirts or in-home exercise equipment. We also reward our trainers who generate referrals with a $50 bonus for each client referred. In addition, we give another bonus (money, fitness apparel, shoes) to the trainer who generates the most new clients during a special holiday promotional period.
I find the best way to get clients to give me referrals is by the way I train them. I gather as much information as possible about clients and then start their pro- grams. In most cases I try to change their general lifestyles. As they feel the changes, they will automatically tell others about their results and my services. Offering fun training sessions and social activities also helps keep clients satisfied, which leads to referrals. When possible I bring a group of clients together on a Friday morning at my studio and we train together. They enjoy this and see results. Also, I make sure we have a social gathering every now and then. There’s nothing better than a cup of tea and a chat to motivate new business.