Now that you’re keeping your existing clients satisfied and happy, the timing is right to ask, “How do I get more clients?” The answers include service, trust, results and personal referrals.

Part of your marketing campaign is grassroots and ongoing in nature. Because a majority of new clients will result from client referrals, expand this word-of-mouth gold mine. A personal referral implies an implicit trust and confidence in your services.

Satisfied clients are usually very enthusiastic when it comes to recommending a service that has had a significant impact on their personal well-being, health and fitness, but you have to ask for business. Let people know that you have openings for clients. Many of my clients know that I am very busy and are often surprised to find that I have openings for additional clients.

Although many clients express an interest in referring new business, most never follow through. Reasons range from forgetfulness to lack of incentive. What will remind and entice clients to refer people to your business? During special holiday seasons, or on a quarterly or semiannual basis, it’s a good idea to contact clients and thank them for their business. Remind them that if they refer someone to your business and that person becomes a client, they will receive a complimentary session. Additionally, cards and fliers should be available at the training site and regularly sent with invoices or other business mailings.

Making the Most
of Personal Referrals

Personal referrals occur when clients tell a friend, family member or business associate how much they enjoy your service. Give people something to talk about—as long as it is positive—and you’ll never need to advertise. This is especially true of personal training. It is essential to preserve positive word of mouth about your business and training skills. This kind of client testimonial will always be your best marketing tool. Successful trainers repeatedly affirm that personal referrals are their primary, if not only, source of new client referrals. Successful businesses that provide excellent service can derive 80%–90% of their new business from satisfied customers.

Personal referrals are powerful because they are, well, personal. An immediate confidence is established in prospective clients because someone they trust has suggested your service, and obviously, the person who recommended you has also shared his positive experiences.

Quite simply, it is much easier to get clients who have been referred to you than to close a deal that stemmed from a cold contact with a person to whom you had not been personally recommended. Since warm and fuzzy referrals are much easier to close, it makes good business sense to concentrate on generating this type of interest in your business. An additional benefit regarding your most effective marketing tool is that it’s free!

Is Asking for Referrals Professional?

Most personal trainers work hard to exhibit a professional image. Many trainers think it cheapens or lessens professional representation if they solicit clients for referrals. Will your clients think you are too self-promotional, too focused on self-interests, rude or pushy if you express an interest in referrals? The answer probably depends on how they are approached and whether they are pleased with the services you are providing.

Move forward with confidence. Clients who are using your services are happy with your program and the personal benefits that come from participation. Many clients see training as a gift they would like to share with others. A pleased client is already telling family members, friends and acquaintances about how fun, interesting and motivating the sessions are—not to mention the great impact they have had on her life. Simultaneously, many associates or family members of your client may have already noticed the physical and self-esteem changes that have occurred, leading them to ask the question, “What have you been doing? You look so great!” As is evident, the referral machine is already set to be placed in motion just because you are providing outstanding service to a very satisfied customer.

Here’s the hard part for most trainers who struggle with the referral issue. Personal training is a business, and if you have something great to offer in terms of a product, it is fitting to ask for business. Asking for referrals is not overstepping your bounds. Realize that some people will respond to this request and become your best cheerleader and other clients will not. The choice to act on the referral request is your client’s. Many service businesses provide referral cards for clients to share their great find with people they think would benefit from a service they hold in such high regard. Have you ever told a friend he has to read a particular book, subscribe to a health and fitness newsletter or purchase a useful piece of training equipment? It is natural to refer people to legitimate products or services that have a positive impact. People like to help people, and all of us love to spread the word about positive experiences that have greatly affected us. Get over your concerns about unprofessionalism and take advantage of this marketing tool.

Asking Versus Soliciting

Uninvited solicitation is, to say the least, irritating and sometimes outright intrusive, rude and grossly unprofessional. Can you ask for referrals without soliciting your clients in a rude or intrusive manner? The answer is yes. The key is to listen for openings or inquire in subtle ways.

For example, one of your clients may have mentioned a close friend who has diabetes. You might suggest that you’re available to meet with the person and could probably help him or her. If a client says she is concerned about the lack of fitness activities her children partake in, an opportunity is presented for you to offer your services.

You can also ask questions that encourage referrals. For example, you could inquire how a male client’s wife is doing postpartum and ask if she has developed a postnatal exercise plan. Or, you might ask if your client’s spouse engages in a regular fitness program. A client may share with you how stressful his job is and comment that he couldn’t handle the pressures without his regular workout. This is an opportunity to ask whether his corporation has an on-site workout facility or whether the business offers any incentives to employees if they engage in a fitness program. If there is interest, you could give a presentation on the importance of fitness activity to his associates and follow this with a formal business proposal to management.

Who knows where any of this banter may lead? At the least, you will become more familiar with your client, and this information is invaluable in that respect. Once the seed is planted, more times than not the client suggests the next step that would enable you to reach a new client.

Make sure the conversation does not become an interrogation based solely on your hope of procuring more clients. The conversation, questions and responses should flow naturally and should stem from the fact that you care about people and are available to assist them. Rely heavily on your intuitive feeling. This will keep you on track professionally and inform you whether your advice is obnoxiously opportunistic or professionally suitable.

As mentioned previously, newsletters, billing invoices (use this mailing to also send other information about your business) and printed fliers placed at the training site are subtle and consistent ways to trickle information to your clients and make your intent known. If this aspect of your business is going to be successful, your clients need to know that you are interested in receiving client referrals.

The key to avoiding irritating and unprofessional solicitation is to first develop a relationship with the client. The relationship should be based on trust and excellent service and allowed to mature. If you dive in too soon, your request for referrals may seem inappropriate.

Closing Strategy That
Keeps Referrals Coming

After you have been in touch with the potential new client, make immediate contact with the referral source. This could be in the form of a verbal thank-you in person, on the phone, or via voice mail. Follow this up with a handwritten thank-you card to the referring client after you have met with the new client. Keep the referring party in the loop as to how things are going with the family member, friend or coworker, as long as you don’t violate privacy issues. Although client conversations are confidential and the privacy of any client must be carefully guarded, an occasional thumbs-up with regard to how the client is doing might be appropriate, and it gives you a chance to thank your client once again for the referral. If you have a particular client who is especially enthusiastic about your services and he or she has given you multiple referrals, small gifts expressing your appreciation are appropriate.

New Client Closing Strategy

Some personal trainers place the burden of introduction on the referring individual. I think this is a big mistake. If you ask the referring party to contact the referral, it requires more time and effort on her part and may actually kill the deal and future referrals. Assume a client has already spoken to the person about your services and communicated this to you. A more subtle closing strategy is to say, “If you happen to talk to John, let him know that I’ll be calling.” This kind of response is very open-ended and does not require your client to give information to the prospective client. Because you have this inside connection, immediately request contact information from the referring client, and use your client’s name as your “password” for entry. n

Referral Incentives
for Clients

Although you may want to provide an incentive for clients who refer individuals who become paying clients, you don’t have to give anything away. Most referrals will come your way because people promote a business they really believe in and especially one that offers superb service. People love to play matchmaker and derive
a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction when they believe they have
created a win-win relationship.
They understand they have helped a friend or a loved one and benefited
a trainer whom they admire and
respect. Your demeanor and professionalism will serve you well in this area of referral business.

Offering incentives can cut both ways. The positive is that incentives can remind people of something they have said they would do but have failed to follow through on. Going overboard on giveaway incentives can indicate a condition of need. It may raise a question, “Why does she need new clients all of the time?” Pushing this edge of your business to extremes doesn’t present a professional image. A successful business often projects an image that is discerning and selective or has a waiting list of clients. In your hunt for clients, don’t destroy the quiet confidence your business should emit. A desperate and over-the-top search for clients—if it’s all you talk about—does not portray a busy and successful trainer. By all means, use incentives if you need to and have the time (i.e., complimentary workouts cost you time and income). All trainers and businesses need new clients from time to time, but ask for client referrals in a discriminating, sensitive and professional manner.