Personal trainers can be uncomfortable about asking for referrals. But don’t be shy, says author, presenter and 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Sherri McMillan, MSc. Your clients train with you because they like you. And they want to see you succeed. Asking for referrals is not overstepping your boundaries. You are providing an exceptional service most people would want to share with their friends, family members and colleagues.

McMillan suggests trying this system to help you comfortably ask for referrals.

  1. Inform Clients of Your Present Situation. “John, I’ve just had a time slot open up on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Do you know anyone who might be interested in getting some help with an exercise program?”


    “Sue, I’ve just started accepting new clients. Do you know anyone I could call to offer a complimentary initial session?”

  2. Listen for an Opening. Many of your clients will mention people in their lives who are struggling with their health and fitness. For example:

    Client: “My husband’s back has been killing him.”

    Trainer: “Really? Well, why don’t I call to offer him a complimentary session? I could show him some exercises to strengthen his back and abdominals.”

  3. Ask for the Referral. Get the potential client’s name and number. Explain the process to your client and ask what he or she would feel most comfortable with. The conversation might go like this:

    Trainer: “This is great. John will be so pleased you thought of him. Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to call John, let him know you’ve arranged a complimentary personal training session for him, and book him for an appointment. Are you comfortable with that?

    Client: “That sounds great. But let me tell him first.”

    Trainer: “Good idea. I’ll make a note in my day planner to ask you about it at our next session, and then I’ll contact John once you’ve informed him to expect my call.”

    Also be prepared to simply send a complimentary pass to the potential client. Some clients may feel that a gift certificate sent in the mail is less intrusive than a phone call.

  4. Show Your Gratitude. Your client has just helped you grow your business, so show your appreciation. A thank-you card or call may be all that is needed. Some trainers reward clients with a free session or a gift when they refer someone who purchases, say, 10 sessions or more.

Source: The Successful Trainer’s Guide to Marketing by Sherri McMillan,
MSc (IDEA 2000). You can order the book online at or call (800) 999-IDEA, ext. 7.