How to Create a Client Base
Narrow your focus to build a booming business.
Who do you most want to work with? Since you can concentrate on so many populations or specialty areas as a trainer, it can be challenging to pinpoint what you really want to do. However, if your focus is not clear before you create your fitness business plan, you won’t know who to reach out to, potential clients won’t understand what you do, and your business may be less successful than you want it to be.
That being said, creating a client base is as simple as determining what you enjoy about fitness and concentrating your message around it. Building a successful business in today’s health and wellness market requires you to have a niche, effective branding and the ability to get your message to your target audience. Here’s how to accomplish all three.
What Trainers Can Learn from Studios
To get an idea of what focus looks like in the fitness business, consider boutique studios—for example, F45 Training, CrossFit®, Orangetheory®, SoulCycle, Pure Barre®, TITLE Boxing Club, and CorePower Yoga®. These businesses are each built around one type of exercise. The bottom line is that they sell a narrow range of services, and the clients know what to expect at each workout.
The success of focused fitness programming can be seen in the numbers. According to IHRSA’s 2015 Health Club Consumer Report, studio memberships drove around $2.45 billion in monthly subscription revenue, compared with around $1.49 billion for traditional commercial fitness clubs (Kane 2016). IHRSA’s 2017 report showed a 15% increase in studio memberships from 2015 to 2016; more than 18.2 million people have studio memberships that claim around 40% of the total gym industry memberships (SBG Media 2017). These statistics demonstrate an important trend in fitness, and they deliver an impactful message to trainers. When you provide a focused fitness experience, clients are willing to pay for it (Kane 2016).
While boutique fitness is different from one-on-one or small-group personal training, the message is similar: Successful trainers stand out by showing what makes them unique. They are experts in a small area of a giant industry, and people know them for it. So when you are brainstorming your target market, keep boutique/specialty studios in mind. Use their example as a springboard to convey who you are to other industry professionals and the general public—and to convert them into buyers and clients. To help do that, follow these guidelines.
Guideline #1: Define Yourself
With one quick tagline, show who you are and what you uniquely offer. An example of a successful tagline is “The Glute Guy”—used by Bret Contreras, PhD—which focuses on an expertise. By committing to your niche, you make your focus clear, you narrow your services and products, and you tell your buyers where they can get specific products or services in your area.
To get started, ask yourself these questions (and answer honestly).
- What do you do best?
- What are you most knowledgeable about?
- Where does the bulk of your fitness income come from?
- When people want your help, what do they want to know? For example, are they asking for help with weight loss, with strength gains, with general health and wellness or with the mechanics of exercises?
- What do you enjoy doing? Do you love resistance training? Yoga and mindfulness training? What is your passion?
- Where do you want to work? In private homes, at athletic training centers, in large chain gyms, in studios or in the outdoors?
- When you have leisure time, how do you like to spend it? If you can incorporate your business life into your personal life and enjoy it, you are more likely to be successful.
- What is your ideal tagline? Don’t be afraid to tout yourself as the expert. If you don’t, no one else will! Examples are “Your Strength Programming Expert” (I use this one), “The Core Girl,” “Your Pilates Expert” and “The Power Guy.” The key is to focus on your niche first, and then in three to four words define yourself as the expert in that area, normally with powerful descriptors like The and Your.
Once you define what you do and who you are as a brand, your confidence will soar.
Guideline #2: Target Your Ideal Client
When you set out to build your business, you need to recognize who your target audience is. To do that, answer these questions:
- Who is already doing what you envision yourself doing? By identifying what you would like to do, what that looks like on a daily basis and what type of clients you want to work with, you identify a client profile and a unique business model.
- When you think about training people, who do you see as likely clients? Do they want to lose weight, are they elite fitness enthusiasts looking for the next trend, or are they niche fitness enthusiasts like Tough Mudders® or amateur powerlifters training to compete?
Once you know your brand and your target audience, develop a strategy to sign clients. To do that, you need to create a basic program outline.
Guideline #3: Create Programming
To help you determine your unique fitness method and program, answer these questions:
- If you had to give a 1-hour workshop to a room full of strangers right now, what topic would you choose? This is the most important question. Pay careful attention to how you answer it, as it tells you what your program is.
- What content do you feel most comfortable with? Are you comfortable, for example, with endurance training programming or with powerlift techniques?
- Which training tools do you use with ease and confidence? Are you most effective with machines, free weights, kettlebells, foam rollers, etc.?
- Do you have a preferred training method? Answering this question requires you to reflect on your own workouts.
- How do you replicate your training method with other people?
- When you train and work with clients, do you follow a structured routine? If yes, what does it look like? Break it down in time. How do you spend an hour in the gym?
- Which strategies do you use to customize workout sessions? For example, do you use different strength exercises or equipment like bands or free weights?
Guideline #4: Build a Platform
You may be able to easily envision your training method, but to brand it and build your platform you have to be able to convey the method to others. Work through these questions:
- Can you put your program in writing? If you need help getting started, prepare a simple outline of your favorite workout.
- What is unique about your workouts?
- Can you develop a video that shows a unique feature of your sessions?
- Can you train other trainers to easily do your program?
- What benefits does your program offer to clients and clubs? The ability to show benefits creates value.
Now that you have determined your program, you need to get it to the right people. Consider these marketing tips:
- Write blogs for popular fitness websites that cater to people with interests similar to yours.
- Prepare a continuing education course around your program. (Before you invest time doing this, decide which agencies you want to be approved by and check their websites for credential requirements.)
- Put together workshops for professionals and for the general public based on your training method, and then apply to present at regional conferences.
- Teach group fitness sessions at local fitness centers, and include your unique programming elements in those sessions.
- Inquire about teaching college-level activities courses. (Be advised that the instructor requirements will vary significantly from school to school, so check these out before applying.)
- Develop your own website. Create an information website about who you are, including services and products you provide, partnerships, media coverage and testimonials.
- Use your LinkedIn page to showcase the services and products you offer now. Many people treat LinkedIn as a resumé service. That’s a mistake. Better to use it to build your current presence and community and to post about your interests and the services and programs you offer that are designed to help others.
Focus Leads to Success
In any business, there is no way to simultaneously “do it all” and be great at anything. No one will ever be the fitness trainer to everyone, no matter how successful the trainer is. Not every person will want to work with that trainer. You can, however, become a master of your fitness niche by understanding who your clients are and how to engage them.
Kane, B. 2016. What traditional health club operators can learn from boutique studios. Club Industry. Accessed June 28, 2018: clubindustry.com/resourcebeat/what-traditional-health-club-operators-can-learn-boutique-studios.
SBG Media. 2017. IHRSA: Boutiques continue to lead health club gains. Accessed June 28, 2018: sgbonline.com/health-clubs-look-to-build-on-studio-boutique-success/.