Maintaining a business edge in any economic environment requires skills and practices that we examined in the two previous articles in this series: a good work schedule with effective scheduling policies and excellent recordkeeping.

This article covers the third part of that edge: client adherence.

Do your clients stick with their fitness programs? Do your customers continue doing business with you after the first year? Are they comfortable coming back to you after they’ve had a break from your services? Do you make them feel welcome and important? Do you follow up with clients once they have started? What about after they’ve quit?

Here are a few recommendations to help you get great clients, and to help you keep them once they’ve begun using your health and wellness services. It’s an ideal situation when clients stick—both to their training and wellness programs and to your business.

Ask for Their Goals and Needs

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it is surprising how few businesspeople ask their customers what they want and need before overloading them with information they think clients need. My rule is always to ask questions first and impress later. If my personal training and coaching clients haven’t filled out my questionnaire beforehand, I will ask the following questions during our first two sessions:

  • What are your short-term goals (the next 3 months)?
  • What are your goals by the end of the year?
  • What are your biggest challenges right now?
  • What one change would make the most immediate and positive impact on your life?
  • How many days do you realistically have available for exercise?
  • How many minutes per day do you have available to work on your goals?
  • Why would you like to work with me?
  • How will you know that you have succeeded at your goals?
  • How can I best support you during and between our sessions together?
  • What relationships can also give you great emotional support?
  • What can we do to keep you happy and coming back for the long haul?

Based on their answers to those questions, I present them with a coaching and/or personal training plan intended to get them to their goals in the shortest time frame. I make sure my recommendation fits their financial means and their schedule. My note to you: the easier and more convenient you make your services and payments, the more likely your clients will be to stay with you. Also, I review a client’s goals every 6 months, usually in January and July, to keep the client headed in the right direction. My advice is to ask clients to put their top three goals on paper, and be prepared to remind them of those goals every time you meet.

Provide Assessments and Reports

A real motivator and reality check for most people is regular fitness and coaching assessments. I provide clients with complete fitness assessments when they start, then at least two times per year thereafter (January and July) as long as they remain my clients. I print a multipage, full-color fitness assessment report for each client, which is very impressive.

I also use several different coaching assessments for personal or business coaching clients, and I redo those quizzes every 3 months to compare scores. The best advice in the area of assessments and reports is to ask clients what they want included in their assessments and how often we need to do the assessments to maintain client motivation.

Some of my personal training clients are just fine with staying “fit and fat,” so they don’t want to know their body fat! Consequently, we just track their weight, blood pressure, resting heart rate, girth measurements and submax VO2. Clients who are highly motivated by numbers and are serious about weight loss are weighing in every week and checking their body fat monthly. Find out what each individual wants and needs when it comes to assessments, and put a reminder on your calendar for each time an assessment is due. Match your assessment schedule to the client’s needs.

It’s easy to get lazy in this area. Time can slip by, and before you know it, you’re 2 months late with personal training assessments for your long-term clients. Be sure you mark assessment dates in your PDA, phone or work calendar and get the assessments done. Remind your clients in advance so they have a “goal” to work toward. It can be a real motivator.

Use Food Logs and Wellness Trackers

To aid in reaching and adhering to fitness and coaching goals, I have several worksheets and logs that clients can use to stay on track: food diary logs, behavioral contracts, exercise calendars, fitness and wellness logs and health and wellness reports. Some of my clients prefer paper; others prefer the all-digital route: apps for their phones, forms by e-mail, etc. Make sure you have both digital and paper options available. My favorite iPhone applications are Lose It! and RunKeeper. Find out what motivates clients, does not bog them down and keeps them happy. Then provide just that!

Keep It Fun and Interesting

Many people quit their personal training, coaching and health club memberships because they are no longer getting enough out of the investment. They get tired, overwhelmed, bored with their program or dissatisfied with customer service. In a previous article titled “A Family Business,” I discussed keeping clients by building a connection—making them feel they’re part of an exclusive and caring “fitness family.” If you help clients feel that they belong, they are much less likely to let you or themselves down.

To keep clients motivated and coming back year after year, make their sessions fun and interesting and keep them that way! I guarantee that if you are feeling burned out and bored, your clients probably are too.

Use stability balls, kettlebells, medicine balls, tubing, balance boards and foam rollers. Vary the workouts, challenge your coaching clients with big goals and assessments and keep your sessions interesting. Find out what your clients and members enjoy and what makes them laugh—then use that knowledge to keep them happy. And for those of you who have a front-desk check-in, hire the friendliest, most outgoing person—someone who will be sure to know members’ names and make a human connection. That employee can make or break your business, because many people will show up just to see that one person! If you have clients or members who’ve “gone missing,” call them and find out why. Stay connected to your clients, and they will more likely stay connected with you.

Making Them Stick

When I run the numbers for my 22-year-old business, I find that 41% of my current clients are coaching clients who have been with me 1 year or less (most coaching contracts last 6 months), 41% are personal training clients who have been with me 12–19 years (WOW!) and 18% are personal training clients who have been with me 3–5 years. Not bad statistics!

Getting people to adhere to anything is a tough job. There will always be people who come for help but just won’t stick with any plan. Be mentally prepared for that. You can arm them with all the information and support they need, and it still won’t be enough. Yet there will also be clients who enjoy you or the process enough that they’ll keep coming back, even if they never reach their fitness goals. This is still good!

I cannot stress this truth enough: Life is all about relationships. Build caring relationships with your clients and you will have a huge edge: a business that cares for people and helps them reach their human potential through exercise and wellness, as well as a business that keeps clients for a very long time. You can’t beat that for having a 21st-century business edge.