As a fitness business owner, you likely see January as your favorite time of year: The New Year hits and suddenly customers are pounding on your door. You struggled through the holidays, and now you’re hoping to harness the new-client momentum and ride it for as long as you can. Here’s a thought: Instead of riding this wave, what if you created waves year round?

Do you play an active role in feeding your business, or a passive role? Think about it. If you’re hungry, do you wait until January 1 to buy food? Or wait for someone else to feed you? Of course not! You feed yourself. The same is true for your studio. When your business is “hungry,” you buy leads; in other words, you employ marketing tactics. Some forms of marketing work better than others, and some cost more than others.

This article focuses on marketing best practices—and why they deserve a special section in your operations manual. If you take the time to write this information down, you’ll no longer be waiting for customers to come through your door; you’ll replace passivity with activity.

Start by creating a marketing calendar (if you don’t already have one). Then strategize at least 3 months in advance, focusing on a specific type of marketing each month. At my business, Journey Fitness, we recognize at least 18 different types of marketing, and we use a “marketing wheel” to reference them. Read on to learn about our three best-performing forms of marketing.

Corporate Challenges

At Journey Fitness, a corporate weight loss challenge has been the best way to bring large numbers of prospective members through the door. We opened our fifth location on October 31, 2016, with a 110-person corporate challenge. Marketing often focuses on one customer at a time, but corporate challenges bring in whole groups. The marketing process for corporate challenges is low-cost, effective and simple.

Here’s how we do it: We arrange a meeting with a large company’s wellness director or human resources representative and offer the company’s employees our services free for 21 days&mdash:except for a per-person registration fee of $25, which goes toward a $1,000 grand prize to be awarded to the company team that loses the greatest percentage of body fat. In return, we offer team building, group personal training, nutritional counseling, motivation and accountability.

Operations manual insert: Include systems for bringing in large groups, nurturing the individuals in the group and converting them to members. The main cost is time and the price of creating and printing fliers to bring 110 prospects into your gym. That’s a huge return on investment!

Referrals

In our experience, the second best form of marketing is referrals—which I almost put as the first best form because some of our corporate challenges have come about through referrals from existing members. Word of mouth truly is an amazing form of advertising. The key to gaining customer #2 is to do a great job with customer #1.

Operations manual insert: Delineate this important aspect: Let your clients know that you want their help getting more clients! We often say, “We find that people get better results when they work out with a friend.” Here are some ways to keep this marketing tool top of mind:

  • Give new members a pass that allows them to bring someone with them their first week or two.
  • Over the course of membership, offer promotions such as “Bring a Friend Day.”
  • Reward members when they help you sign up new customers! This shows you appreciate referrals and want more of them. For example, add a free month to their membership or offer them a gift card from a local business.

Social Media

We used to place ads on Facebook and hope that the customers we wanted to attract would see our ads. Now we target based on age, gender, interest, income level, etc. Once people view your ads, you can retarget them with additional ads. Social media marketing has many benefits; among them is the fact that customers can contact you more directly. They no longer have to try reaching you by phone; they can contact your business with just one click. Bonus: You can program the click to accept payment and tie into an autoresponder that takes the customer directly to your website. At Journey Fitness, we classify this form of marketing as “electronic,” because it involves our website, Facebook and email, with the three used in collaboration; however, each can be used separately as well. We run one social media ad per month.

Operations manual insert: We use 18 types of marketing, each of them effective in a different way. Ideally, your operations manual would feature a short description of each type you use, along with an explanation of how you use it in your annual marketing plan. Below are our marketing types, with explanations for some of the acronyms.

  • corporate challenges
  • referrals
  • electronic marketing (website, Facebook and email)
  • events
  • community builders
  • fliers
  • client touches
  • television
  • GIFT, which stands for “Get In Front of Them” marketing. Are you attending Chamber of Commerce events and other community-oriented gatherings to educate and inform people about what you do? If you’re not, you should be.
  • STIPT, which means “Something To Invite People To.” These are hosted events at your facility, such as open houses and workshops.
  • BOM, which stands for “Business Of the Month.” We initiate corporate challenges by choosing one business per month, then delivering a nice coffee basket to that company, with branded coffee cups and a letter telling the business that it has been selected to receive our services free for 21 days. (Businesses that elect not to participate in our corporate challenges still appreciate the gesture, and they serve as a community influencer.)
  • HPOM, or “Health Professional Of the Month,” is similar to BOM, only we include a “prescription” pad so that the health professional can refer patients and clients to us for a free fitness consultation. This is effective because many health professionals struggle to help their clients lose weight.
  • newspaper ads
  • direct mail
  • articles
  • chiropractic and physical therapy
  • press releases
  • radio ads

Your operations manual should include more than just your standard operating procedures and key performance indicators. It should also inform your staff about the importance of marketing—and describe what your marketing approach is. Some business owners wait for success to happen, and some make it happen. What kind of business owner are you?