Marketing is the process of reaching out to new, potential customers. Done right, it’s a systematized, targeted and reusable way to gather fresh sales leads. But marketing small-group training (SGT)—the profitable new industry trend wherein one trainer works with three to 10 clients at a time—has its own special considerations.

A wealth of information is available about marketing in general and marketing fitness in particular. In this latest segment in IDEA’s ongoing series on small-group training, we focus on issues specific to developing new-customer leads for semiprivate sessions.

Consider these five small-group marketing secrets.

Secret #1: Don’t Stress: It’s Easier Than You Think

First, the good news: Relative to one-on-one training, small-group is often easier to market.

That’s because images of groups look safer to newbie exercisers, says Hayley Hollander, training and education coordinator for PTA Global and owner of two Las Vegas–based fitness businesses.

The novice realizes that in small groups there will always be other people to relate to. “The fear of being alone with a ‘drill sergeant’ trainer goes away,” Hollander explains. This is why your marketing collateral should include photos and/or videos of small groups in action.

Consider showing such photos and videos in the form of “before” and “after” testimonials. Why? Because they show that your programs work, observes Brent Gallagher, MS, owner of West U Fitness, a private training studio in Houston. For more about crafting effective testimonials, see “The Anatomy of a Successful Client Testimonial.”

Secret #2: Systematize and Recycle

Marketing is an area that fitness entrepreneurs frequently neglect and rarely systematize. So says Vito La Fata, creator of Fitness Profit Systems consulting and owner of Fitness Evolution—a training club in Laguna Hills, California.

“Scrambling from promotion to promotion, trying to come up with different marketing ideas every month and year, is what I call the ‘Black Hole of Profits,’” La Fata asserts.

Instead, your marketing campaigns should be like the mesocycles of a periodized athletic training program: organized, cyclical and goal-oriented. And, of course, planned out months in advance.

Novice trainers should map their marketing efforts at least 3 months out, La Fata advises. And as you find what works, build out 6 months of plans, then 12 months and so on, he remarks.

Secret #3: Actively Build Buzz

Most of your small-group business will come from converting existing customers, says Hollander. However, the camaraderie inherent in small groups makes it easier to gain outside referrals and penetrate your current clients’ networks of friends and family.

Your goal, therefore, is to create a tight-knit social culture among trainees. This is what La Fata calls “your tribe.” How can you facilitate this?

Don’t always break a sweat. Regularly host nonworkout events—such as client appreciation parties or barbeques—for your small-group participants, suggests Fred Sassani, founder of Bodies by Design Personal Training in Austin and Pflugerville, Texas. He takes advantage of “any excuse to get together” and tells his clients to bring their friends along. Such events create loyalty and build internal marketing momentum.

Play the name game. Introduce clients to each other by name, and by shared hobby or interest if you know it. Get trainees chatting with each other before and after workouts whenever possible.

Keep workouts communal. Include drills designed to drive participant interactions. Try partner exercises that require clients to work together for a set (such as medicine ball throws). Or use team challenges (like a fun competition to complete a set of push-ups), pitting half of the small group against the other .

Secret #4: Market the Short-Term to Sell Long-Term

For Out-of-Shape Joe or Average Jane, committing to ongoing SGT can seem pricey and intimidating. The solution? Market a short-term feeder program with a view to upselling longer-term training to participants later.

A feeder program is a themed, fixed-term small-group session that can be marketed specifically to potential new clients. It might be a 30-day weight loss challenge or a 6-week New Year–New You contest. Programs should be long enough for clients to see some physical results, but not so long that the commitment is intimidating.

Once you have potential trainees in front of you for 3 (or 6 or 8) weeks, you can wow them with your services and demonstrate your value, La Fata encourages. Thereafter, it’s easy to convince trainees to stay with your business longer.

There’s a bonus! These systems are reusable marketing collateral, says La Fata, who coaches trainers on the effective use of feeder programs. He repurposes existing campaigns for different seasons and themes. Thus his “21-Day Rapid Weight Loss Program” becomes a “21-Day Spring Break Makeover” and, later, a “21-Day Back to School, Back to You Campaign.”

“I’ve invested in the content and creation once, but can use the program over and over, saving me time and money,” La Fata explains. The bottom line: Feeder programs provide an appealing, low barrier of entry that makes it easy for new customers to get involved.

Secret #5: Market Benefits, Not Discounts

Too many trainers get caught up marketing the what and where of their training programs (Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:00 pm at the ABC Gym!) rather than the why (Feel better about your body! Look great on the beach!).

Remember, what you want to jump off the page of any of your marketing materials is the answer to this question: “How will small-group training benefit this trainee?”

“People are out shopping for a result, something to take away their pain, move them away from a present reality, without risk, so they can get what they truly want—a benefit or an outcome,” observes La Fata.

Think about what unique benefits SGT offers. For current boot campers, it means more personal attention, direct access to you, and customized workouts, Gallagher remarks.

For current one-on-one clients, SGT benefits include team spirit, group accountability, social support and fun. And, of course, a lower price. But there is a caveat here.

Purely discount-based marketing (“Buy now and get half off!”) tends to attract bargain shoppers and is not sustainable for a business, Sassani notes. “McDonald’s never discounts the Happy Meal, yet it’s a top seller,” adds Gallagher.

Don’t presume to know what your potential clients can or can’t afford. Instead, market low-risk, paid trials such as feeder programs. Or, offer a special new-customer price: Clients receive a month of SGT for a one-time-only low fee (several of the sources interviewed for this article put the fee at $89). But after the month is up, regular prices apply.

Tending Your Tribe

You have only so many hours in a day and only so much to spend. Therefore, you must prioritize and systematize your marketing efforts to drive small-group revenue.

And if you are passionate about delivering a quality small-group program, it will be an easy sell. Declares Gallagher: “When you train with purpose, the profits begin to flow in.” Treat your small groups like the social groups they are, and get ready to be busier than ever before.