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The Thinner Winner Contest

Weight loss contests are not reserved for the bright lights of reality television. When properly executed, these contests help fitness pros slim down community residents while beefing up the bottom line. In five steps, you can promote, run and celebrate a community-wide Thinner Winner contest. You can tweak details, but results will be the same: Your current clients will stay happy and engaged, you’ll attract new clients, you’ll generate buzz in your community, and you’ll amass a wealth of transformational stories to fuel your business.

Here’s how you can launch a Thinner Winner contest or transform an existing weight loss contest.

Benefits of the Program

Contests drive revenue. In our small town of 12,000 people, we have run four Thinner Winner contests, with more than 50 teams and 200 participants in each. We net about $20,000 in program revenue and additional sales during a contest. Beyond that, we keep more members, sell hundreds of new memberships and boost our other profit centers, like boot camps, personal training, logo wear and juice bar.

Besides raising money, the program creates raving fans. They recruit and refer new people and tell contest stories all year long. One woman’s success in our first year proved to me that Thinner Winner was here to stay. Sue Sexton, a married mother of four young kids, was a yo-yo dieter before her friends recruited her to their team. An overweight mom who took care of everyone else, Sue joined skeptically—and finished a believer. She lost 18 pounds and has since kept off nearly 50 pounds.

Sue is a vocal supporter of fitness and our business. This year, she is competing in her first triathlon. She wrote on my club’s Facebook page that if someone had told her 4 years ago that she would be swimming in a triathlon, she’d have thought it was more likely she would be swimming with sharks. You have hundreds of people like Sue in your community who need a contest to shock their normal routine and spark lasting change.

How Does Thinner Winner Work?

Thinner Winner runs for 6 weeks and is open to the community. We charge $50 for members and $100 for nonmembers. Consider giving nonmembers full access to your club, training studio or boot camp business. Then, pick a suitable price to charge.

Each team is composed of four to six people. To encourage recruitment, we require at least one nonmember per team. We have found that nonmembers feel very taken care of during the contest and 80% of them join our facility in the end. Talk about a powerful feeder system!

The contest is not a boot camp. It is for all fitness levels. People can participate in as many or as few of the elements as they choose. Aside from attending the kickoff and the finale, participants do not have to be anywhere at any given time. This makes it easier to recruit people and preempt their excuses.

The two winning teams are the ones that average the greatest percentage drop in body weight and the highest number of inches lost. (One team can win in both categories.) Each victorious team receives $1,000 cash to split among its participants.

Note: As fitness professionals, we know that fitness is more than weight loss and that people need internal motivation (not just the promise of cash) to achieve long-term results. We run the contest annually to reinvigorate participants’ commitment, and then we go to work keeping people engaged the rest of the year.

Ready? Get your contest roaring with these five steps.

Step #1: Set the Date

It sounds so simple, but many people never take action. After you read this article, what will be your biggest obstacle? You. The first step is setting a date. We have found that contests are great in the fall when kids are back in school and life is not yet hectic with the holidays. You can also run a contest after the New Year rush and before spring break.

Step #2: Promote, Promote, Promote

We give our contest a theme: “Take the Money and RUN,” and all our marketing efforts feature this tagline. Keep your entire promotion time to 1 month with a blitz of heavy marketing. Include real people and real testimonials. If this contest is your first, then feature only successful clients. You must show results and give hope.

Internal marketing. Our internal marketing is forceful and fun. We attach postcards to cardio equipment, feature specialty banners on Facebook, promote success stories in our newsletter, send a short promotional video to our entire local list, decorate a huge bulletin board at the club with pictures from previous years and hang fake money from the ceiling. We also invite our employees to form a team (and we waive the admission fee). One of our group exercise instructors lost 12 pounds of postbaby weight and got in the best shape of her life.

External marketing. We hit the town. We decorate gift bags with our fliers and stuff the bags with colorful tissue paper, fresh fruit, granola bars and applications. We divide up the streets and go out in pairs wearing our logo wear to visit local businesses. If you’re in a larger city, scale this approach down to a few city blocks. To get a new team, you only have to spark interest in one person. He or she will recruit the others.

We run 15-second radio ads over a short amount of time—approximately 10 per day for 5 days on two stations, giving the vital information of who, what, when, where, why and how. This is a great way to maximize our budget.

We’ve also inserted a neon-green flier in our local newspaper; this was more economical than running an ad and had a bigger impact. We do little paid advertising throughout the year, so when we advertise, it’s unique.

Of course, we use lots of free social media as well. Every day we post items like quotes, pictures, teasers, trivia and video on our Facebook page.

Step #3: Kick Off With a Bang

Whether you have 10 teams or 50, start with a party. We kick off our program on a Sunday night, and our entire staff participates in making the night electric. We greet people and send them to one of four areas—team photo, low-impact workout, the scale or registration. Participants rotate through the stations. We gather everyone for a quick, motivational talk and introduce the teams. The teams select their own names—from “50 Shades of Fat” to “Celery Stalkers”—which always invokes cheers. We invite our local news to cover the event, and we also capture our own footage.

Step #4: Set the Bar High and Overdeliver

What should you include in your contest? Whatever makes your business amazing! Show off your best assets. Where do you want to increase revenue? Make sure you give teams a taste of these areas. Here is what we offer:

  • full access to our facility and all group exercise classes
  • a clean-eating food plan with 20 breakfasts, snacks, lunches and dinners
  • a journal for tracking daily food choices
  • 10 (optional) Thinner Winner group workouts on a variety of days and at different times (Two to three trainers lead each workout. Attendees choose between low impact and advanced.)
  • two Shakeology® luncheons, for an extra fee (We provide meal replacement shakes and host a vibrant roundtable discussion. Participants love connecting in person, and the luncheons help us promote a product in our juice bar.)
  • a coach for each team (The coaches are our personal trainers. The critical role of a coach is to keep people engaged. Coaches send a weekly, personalized email to each of their teams and answer questions on basic fitness and nutrition.)
  • a small-group training session with their coach, for an extra fee

Step #5: Celebrate

To celebrate, we need results. Participants are weighed and measured again on the last Friday morning of the contest. We plug the data into our spreadsheet and quickly identify the winning teams for that night’s celebration. We give smaller prizes to the top three teams in each category and the two winning teams get the cash. It is important to give everyone a taste of the limelight, however. We invite each team to the stage for applause and call out their names and results.

My best advice? Celebrate in a big way. Make the party memorable. We hire a DJ, provide healthy finger foods, and rent a stage and lighting. Many of the teams dress up and go to dinner afterwards.

Finish the program with a bang and send participants home talking for the year to come. Then use their stories to promote your business and shine a bright light on the people you’ve helped. Take a deep breath, give yourself a pat on the back and gear up for the next year.

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