Business professionals are always talking about the importance of networking to grow your business. This marketing tactic is especially critical in the personal training industry. Since this business is a face-to-face, service-oriented one, the most effective marketing initiatives will always be face-to-face encounters.

At Northwest Personal Training & Fitness Education in Vancouver, Washington, we have achieved exceptional results from networking. We attend events in our community; join business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and professional women’s associations; and provide booths at local business and health fairs. We often leave meetings and events with three to 10 business cards, having developed new friendships and knowing that these relationships will eventually turn into direct or indirect business for our company.

Just yesterday, for example, our local business journal hosted an educational seminar. This event not only provided a number of great tips for our business but also offered the opportunity to meet other people. By the end of the day, two of the eight people sitting at our table realized that they could use our services and requested that we call to set up an appointment.

So we heartily urge you to get out into your community and connect with people. Yet we have received numerous calls and e-mails from other trainers who say they have attempted this approach with zero success. Why? Sending these trainers out with instructions to “network” without telling them exactly how to do so is like asking someone to build a house without providing the training, tools and blueprints to build it right!

What tools do you need to be successful at networking? How, specifically, do you go about connecting with people, building relationships and, ultimately, growing your business?

Step 1: Determine Which Events to Attend

Before you can start attending events to make connections with potential clients, you have to determine what is going on in your community. The best source for this type of information is your local newspaper. Call to find out when the calendar of events is run. Newspapers typically run these calendars on Sunday, and then often print an additional calendar on Thursday or Friday to let people know what’s going on over the weekend. You can also get a more business-focused list from the Chamber of Commerce or your local business journal. If you live in a large community, you will have numerous events from which to choose. You can’t attend all the events, so you have to pick the ones that suit your needs. How do you decide? Ask yourself:

  • What type of clients am I trying to
    attract?
  • Based on the characteristics of my
    ideal clients, which events might they
    be most likely to attend?
  • Which events appeal to my own
    interests?

You might decide to attend only those events in which you are personally interested. The advantage is that if the topic of a meeting or event genuinely captures your attention, you won’t come across as someone who’s just there to “work the crowd.”

Any event—whether a trade show, health fair, book club, fund-raiser, seminar or focus group—can offer excellent networking opportunities. If you have a team of trainers, assign different ones to attend different events. This strategy ensures that your company has a profile at each event without putting the burden of attending all the events on you.

The more gatherings you attend, the more people you’ll meet. You’ll probably start seeing a lot of the same people at different events, and this will allow you the opportunity to build on the relationships. Word will get around. When people think about health and fitness, they will think of you!

Step 2: Attend the Event

Once you have picked the event to attend and have arrived, what do you do to ensure that you go home with new contacts?

Scan the Room. Have you ever gone to a party and looked around to discover that you know no one—and that everyone there seems to be deeply involved in conversation, making it awkward for you to break into anyone’s circle? You stand there alone, becoming more horrified by the moment, and all you want to do is make a quick exit. How do you avoid this scenario?

Whenever you enter a room, go just past the doorway, step to the side a bit and take a moment to look around. Look for someone who is standing alone. This person is probably experiencing what we just described above, and is praying for a kind soul to come to his rescue.

Another tactic is to look for two people who are in conversation but appear to have run out of things to say to each other. Their bodies will be slightly turned out to the crowd, and they will be glancing around the room, sipping their drinks. These people are also looking for a
diversion—someone who can come and add a spark to their conversation.

Either of these situations offers an ideal opportunity for you to make your approach. Interrupting people who are deeply engaged in conversation is not usually a good idea. On the contrary, your intrusion may make you appear rude and obnoxious.

Introduce Yourself. Once you walk up to someone, what is the first thing you are going to say? You could easily start a conversation by making a comment specific to the current environment: “Wow, that Christmas tree is beautiful,” or “There sure are a lot of people here!” You could begin with a question: “Have I missed anything?” or “Do you know what the agenda for the evening is?” Then introducing yourself should come naturally.

Practice your intro ahead of time, making sure it tells who you are and what you do—and makes you sound interesting. Adding humor to your introduction can be helpful. For example, you might say, “Hi, I’m Ann. I’m a personal fitness trainer and I spend my days torturing my clients!” or “I’m Joe. I’m an exercise conditioning specialist. My job is to force my clients to do the things they know they should be doing.” Making light of what you do is just a fun way to segue into a good conversation on the topic.

The beauty of our industry is that everybody is interested in health, fitness and nutrition. The owners of an auto glass shop have to cope with the fact that not everybody needs a new windshield. But everybody does want and need to look better, feel better and have more energy, so engaging someone in conversation on the topic of fitness is easy.

Be Curious and Listen Carefully. Avoid talking only about yourself and what you do. When discussing health and fitness, avoid lecturing and preaching. Instead, ask lots of guided questions; show genuine interest in the other person’s comments; and provide eloquent, concise, accurate information in response to any queries. (See “A Sample Conversation” on page 16.) Try to get a clear picture of what the other person does professionally, recreationally and socially. Look for some common ground—a topic in which you are both really interested. Before you know it, you’ll have made a new friend.

To really connect with someone, you have to invest some time and energy. That means you can’t expect to meet everyone attending a given event. Some trainers get so stressed about trying to collect a lot of business cards and distribute theirs to as many people as possible that they never allow themselves to really connect with anyone and instead create only superficial acquaintances.

People do business with people they know and like. You have to give someone the opportunity to really get to know you, and that’s not going to happen in just a few minutes. At any event you attend, your goal should be to retrieve and distribute about one to three business cards. If you exchange more cards than that, great—but make sure to really connect with one to three people.

Step 3: Follow Up

After you leave an event, immediately make notes on your new friends’ business cards. Write anything relevant to the conversations you had.

These notes are invaluable because they will remind you of the specific conversation you had with John. The next time you talk with him, the knowledge you have will make him realize you were really listening to everything he was saying.

We don’t usually call anyone who has not specifically asked us to. However, we often send a person a note saying that we enjoyed our conversation, and if someone asks to receive our weekly fitness tips, we make sure to add her name to our e-mail list. Although you should certainly call anyone who has asked you to, calling without an invitation to do so could be perceived as too aggressive and intrusive. Sending a nice card is a much more subtle way to follow up.

Building According to Plan

Getting out into your community is one of the most effective and inexpensive
ways to grow your business. All it takes
is your time, a plan and a bit of practice. Good luck—and have fun building
relationships!