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Create and Market a Client Brag Book

Use the words and pictures of your current and previous clients to attract new ones.

In the world of marketing, many devices and activities fall under the broad category of “promotions,” and not all are created equal. Samples, coupons, cash refund offers (rebates), price packs, loss leaders, patronage awards, free trials, POP (point of purchase) promotions and demonstrations are all promotional activities.

As many professionals—including myself—have learned the hard way, traditional tools for promoting fitness can be costly and yield low rates of return. But there is one form of promotion I have found highly effective and very inexpensive. Best of all, any fitness professional can use it, regardless of marketing background or experience. Introducing the client brag book.

A brag book is a very powerful closing tool. Imagine sitting down for an initial consultation with a potential client and pulling out a slick, well-designed brag book. As your prospect leafs through it, your past and present clients tell their real-life stories without you having to say anything or sell anything. The pictures, testimonials and success stories say it all for you and go a long way toward securing new business.

Brag books are not difficult to put together. A quality book can consist of just four or five key elements: a photo album, client testimonials, “before” and “after” photos, sample exercise programs and sample diet/nutrition/calorie-content logs.

Photo Album

Albums range in price, size and quality. You can find a high-quality album in the $20 range. Pick one that is similar to those used for wedding albums, with a padded or leather cover, a quality binding and the capacity for pages to be added later, as needed.

Buying a cheap book may be penny-wise, but it’s pound-foolish, as there’s never a second chance to make a first impression. Wow prospective members or clients with a brag book that is gorgeous on the outside and filled with excellent, credible materials.

Client Testimonials

The staple of the brag book is client testimonials. One of the best ways to highlight your excellence is to let others do it for you. Testimonials are very powerful, yet fitness professionals often overlook them as marketing tools. People connect with other people. For this reason, client testimonials are an invaluable asset, as important as a well-designed business card.

If you’ve ever seen those “Lose 300 Pounds Today!” ads and infomercials on television, in which “real clients” talk about their journeys from “flab to fab,” then you know how powerful testimonials are. Everyone loves a good success story, particularly when faced with a similar daunting task. Testimonials add credibility. Viewers have a visceral reaction that’s almost automatic: “If that person can do it, so can I!” The value of well-written testimonials cannot be overstated. Get them, organize them and use them.

Clients who are truly pleased with the results they get from working with you, and who feel a personal bond with you as their trainer, will be more than happy to write a testimonial on your behalf. Have them keep it brief (a paragraph or two) so it can be read quickly.

Almost as important as the testimonials themselves is making sure that your name (along with your business name, if it is not the same) is associated with them. This may seem obvious, but leaving out this step has been known to happen. Consider the following example:

“For the first time in my life I’ve been working out 3 days a week. I’ve stuck with it for over a year, and it’s been going really well. I feel and look better than I have since college. The facility is large and has lots of equipment. I would recommend that everyone get on a regular exercise regimen.”

While this example says good things about your program and gym, there is very little direct benefit to you, since your name is not mentioned. The testimonial also lacks details. A much more powerful example would read like this:

“I’ve been working out with Laura 3 days a week for over a year, and it’s been great! She provides me with the expertise and motivation I’ve been lacking. I’m 48, and I hadn’t exercised regularly since college. Laura has held my hand every step of the way. She pushes me hard, but not too hard. I have more energy, I’ve lost 4 inches off my waist and I can keep up with my two teenage sons now!”

Benefits, Features & Tailored Content

While you can’t always control the content of client testimonials, there are ways to ensure that the ones you publish provide the greatest worth. First, use testimonies that are rich in benefit statements, not just features.

The first testimonial above emphasizes featuresthings, in other words. “Lots of equipment” is a feature; “equipment” is a feature; “a large facility” is a feature. The second example above emphasizes benefits. “I can keep up with my two teenage sons now” is a benefit; “I have more energy” is a benefit. Benefits provide potential clients with motivation to act or, more specifically, to purchase your services.

Second, use testimonials targeted to specific demographic segments. For example, in the second testimonial, the client states that she is 48 years old and has two teenage sons. This is an excellent testimonial to use in venues that will reach “soccer moms.” Tailor and target testimonials to get the most mileage out of them. Generally speaking, people want to know that others occupying their same station in life are doing what they themselves are contemplating doing—and that they’re succeeding.

If your potential client is a 24-year-old, 235-pound male who wants to train for mixed-martial-arts combat competitions, skip the “mom” testimonials and go straight to the ones written by men who came in with a similar goal and achieved it. Be smart and judicious about your testimonials. Like begets like, and prospective clients feel more confident and motivated when they see people with whom they identify become successful.

On a side note, testimonials can be useful for other promotional activities. They can be printed on marketing materials, posted on a Web page or blog, laminated and carried in a binder or included in e-marketing newsletter campaigns.

Before and After Photos

Also used consistently in TV infomercials are before and after photos. They are always present. Before photos typically show a person in a pair of pants or a skirt that he or she could (supposedly) wear just 6 weeks ago. In the after photos, that same person is usually at a pool or beach in tight swimwear or holding up the “huge” article of clothing that no longer fits. Why do marketers do this? Because the photos work!

It is important that your before and after photos have dates. This enables you to show prospects that change can and will happen, possibly in far less time than they think. Set expectations early. In the initial meeting, get permission from new clients to snap their before photo on day one of the workout. As you’re flipping through the brag book and relaying client success stories, let them know, “One of the things I’d like to do is add you to this book! I would like to take your picture. Then we’ll take another in 16 weeks. Would that be okay?” In my experience, most people find this exciting, and some even find it motivating. The subconscious message you are sending is, “Sixteen weeks from now you’re going to look very different.”

I think it’s wise to advise (weight loss) clients to get rid of their “fat clothes” as they “undergrow” them. Destroy that bridge back to yesterday. The message this conveys is that the person will never fit into them again, so there is no point in keeping them. Ask clients to keep one outfit to use for the after photo. This image is particularly powerful if it features the same outfit worn in the before photo.

Sample Exercise Programs

An architect shows blueprints. A writer shows published books. Any master of a skilled trade should be able to produce written evidence of their handiwork. The same is true for fitness professionals. In your brag book, include workout plans designed for clients of different ages and conditioning levels. The more variety, the better. In this way you can tailor the consultation meeting specifically to the prospective client and his or her unique set of goals. Being able to point to different exercise programs and explain them is an excellent way to put your knowledge on display.

For example, point to the photo and exercise plan of client “Joni,” who had twins by cesarean section 8 months ago. Explain your reasoning and methodology for focusing on strengthening the core and abdominal wall. Next, show client “Kevin,” who lost 80 pounds and wants to complete his first half-marathon. Explain the cardio progression you’ve designed for him. This demonstrates your knowledge and competency, builds trust and credibility and helps dispel any safety concerns the prospect might have.

Sample Diet/Nutrition/Calorie-Content Logs

An area where many clients struggle mightily is diet and nutrition. As fitness professionals, we know the importance of eating properly. We know that the best exercise program cannot be effective if clients are poor eaters. But many of the clients who come to you for help are legitimately unaware of this and may even believe the myth that says, “Now that I’m working out and burning more calories, I can eat whatever I want!”

Among all the aspects of fitness programming, there is probably none more varied and complicated than the question of eating as it relates to goal achievement. While giving nutrition advice may be beyond your scope of practice (unless you have the required credentials), there are still things you can do to guide clients.

First of all, get to know some nutrition experts in your area, and keep their contact information handy for situations that warrant a referral. Second, have all clients keep a diet log. For many people, just a simple awareness of exactly what and how much they are eating is enough to improve eating habits. Make copies of some of the diet logs and include them in the brag book.

If clients need education in order to fill in a diet log, provide some general information sheets with common foods and their caloric values. It’s one thing to tell a client, “For optimal results you have to get down to about 2,200 calories and 50 grams of protein per day,” which is probably outside your practice boundaries, and another to say, “The ‘best’ way to eat can vary from person to person, but keeping a diet log can help you see patterns and problems.” Having a diet log to show your nutrition expert referral partner is also a helpful step.

Selling Without Really Selling

When you meet with a potential client and begin discussing goals and habits, flip open your brag book and share the story of someone who came in with similar goals or habits. For example, if the new prospect is a 47-year-old mother of two—one in high school, the other in junior-high—you can pull out your brag book, open to the pages for “Helen Henderson” and begin this way:

“This is Helen Henderson. Helen is 51, so just a few years older than you. She’s about 5’5˝ and weighed slightly over 180 pounds when we started training together last August.” Open to Helen’s before photo—dated August 9, 2009—and look at it with the prospect.

“When we first began working together, I asked Helen to write down everything she consumed for one solid week. Look here.” Flip to “Week 1, Diet Log.” “For her size, activity levels and goals, it was recommended that Helen consume no more than 2,100 calories a day. What she discovered was that she’d been consuming more like 2,900.” Point out her calorie sources, fat grams, etc. “It’s easy to see why losing weight was tough for Helen. So, in consultation with a nutritionist, we tweaked her diet a bit to get her down to within 1,800–2,100 calories, while leaving her enough flexibility to eat some things she didn’t want to give up.” Now jump to the most recent week’s diet log and point out how Helen has successfully stayed within her calorie count and yet is still eating well.

“She’s also added lean muscle mass and is much stronger. Here is her very first workout.” Flip to “Week 1, Day 1, Session 1.” “As you can see, on our first day together she could perform just one push-up and five squats, and in 60 seconds she could execute about 16 abdominal crunches. Three weeks later she was up to six push-ups, 14 squats and 27 crunches.” Flip to “Week 3, Day 2, Session 1.” “Now look at last Monday’s workout.” Open to that session log. “As you can see, she was able to do two sets of 20 push-ups!”

Seal the deal by opening to Helen’s most recent after photo. “We work together 3 days a week, we have brought her eating under control, and voilà: here’s how she looks today.” And there’s the swimsuit picture of Helen by a pool, looking good; the photo dated just a couple of weeks ago.

“Here, read what Helen had to say just 2 weeks ago about the journey.” Turn to Helen’s well-written testimonial and give the potential client a few moments to read through it. Not only is the prospect now thrilled with the idea of duplicating Helen’s success; she is also impressed with you! And she is excited to think that you might use her pictures and testimonials 6 months from now with some other prospective client, just as you used Helen’s today with her.

Do you now recognize what a powerful closing tool a brag book can be? It’s not complicated. Everything needed to put together a winning brag book is already at your disposal. Invest an hour or two each Saturday for a month, and your book will be finished. Once you have a quality brag book, you will quickly realize how indispensable it is. Use it consistently and you will see the number of client “closings” go up with equal consistency. Start bragging!

John’s Story

Use before and after photos of clients, along with their stories and testimonials, to bolster your efforts to win new clients. Here, the author shares a page from his brag book.

In John’s Own Words: I became inspired as a teenager by the early 1990s bodybuilding scene. I trained for my first show at 18 and was determined to become a professional competitor. Unfortunately, I suffered an injury as a patrol officer and was told I would never lift weights again. My dream crushed, I stopped training and focused on my career, becoming an undercover narcotics officer. Three years later I visited family to watch my brother-in-law compete in the Boston Marathon. I returned home inspired and resolved to commit to a novice bodybuilding show and get back on stage.

Since beginning my journey back to fitness, I have competed in eight bodybuilding shows, placing seven times in the top five. I have come to value patience, having learned to train slowly in order to strengthen and repair my injury. Not only has my physique drastically changed, but I now perform deeps squats at 525 pounds, dead lifts at 575 pounds, chest presses at 425 pounds and shoulder presses at 350 pounds. I’m doing more weight than I ever have done, and I don’t have any pain at all. I am currently aiming to compete in a national show.

Insights from Derrick Wilburn, John’s personal trainer and owner of Wholly Fit: Working with John was a trainer’s dream. He didn’t make excuses and did everything he was told. As driven as he was, it was hard to convince him to start out slowly, with light weight, strengthening his back (the site of his injury) so he could eventually perform the exercises he would need to build the body he wanted. In the beginning, he could not squat or perform any movement that required bending over or rotating at the hips, and he was frustrated that he needed to start with extremely light weights. The fact that he started out with just a barbell and today can push serious weight at perfect form while continuing to strengthen his back is truly an accomplishment!

Getting Extra Mileage From Your Brag Book

The brag book concept is such a powerful tool that you should consider using it for more than new-client interviews. For example, it can be equally useful for partnership and business development. In the course of conducting business, develop the habit of collecting testimonials, not just from clients, but from professional partners and vendors, as this can really boost your business. Did you work with an insurance agency and help 12 people on staff lose a combined 150 pounds?

Document that, and get a testimonial. Perhaps you developed a partner relationship with a chiropractor and referred 15 new patients last year. Document that, and get a testimonial. Imagine the power of meeting with a physical therapist as a potential business partner and being able to pull out your brag book and show the section written by that chiropractor. Right there in print is documentation by a peer describing your professionalism and ability to increase a colleague’s client load—all as a result of your working relationship! That documentation of your skills immediately sends the physical therapist’s confidence and desire to work with you through the roof because you’ve established a track record. You’re not just making claims; you’re backing them up with third-party verification. That’s powerful stuff!

Derrick Wilburn, MBA

Derrick Wilburn, MBA, is founder of Wholly Fit Ministries, Colorado Dance Machine, Achieve Fitness Colorado Springs and a co-author of ÔÇ£The Success ExpressÔÇØ, a book series mapping a path for fitness professionals making the transition to successful entrepreneurs. He is also pioneering the Achieve Fitness USA Licensing Program, the nationÔÇÖs first mobile fitness training licensing system. Reach him at [email protected].

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