Acquiring clients may not seem effortless to you, but I have a feeling that if Sherlock Holmes, the remarkable detective in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's murder mysteries, were commissioned to attain clients for your gym or personal training studio, he might respond with "Elementary, my dear Dr. Watson!" Why? Sherlock Holmes was a sleuth who looked beyond the obvious clues. His method of deducing the obvious and using evidence as a means to investigate further is one that we as fitness professionals can employ to our advantage. Looking beyond the "obvious" and looking for the "opportunities" may well be a logical step to client acquisition. Let's consider some investigative methods to attract new clients:
Everybody Wants to Be a Contest Winner
Contests are fun, exciting and motivating, and they can be held several times a year. You can hold your contest for short periods of time — 12 weeks, for example. Each challenge can have a different theme, but the best part of the competition is the participants working together as a team. Provide a goal for each competing group, and find prizes within your community to serve as a reward. Where do you find the contestants? Look in your community; enlist firemen, policemen, school teachers, town officials, chamber members, realtors, library staff, doctors and postal workers. The list is endless.
It's All in the Word
Advertising is costly. Besides, print, television and radio ads are often seen or heard once by a reader or viewer. And, unless you have an unlimited budget and can run your ad several times a month, these ads may not provide you with the results you hoped for and can also quickly deplete your bank account. It is also my experience that people do not use your services based on a print or broadcast. They don't know you, your educational background or your expertise. In my experience, word-of-mouth and referrals from current clients are the best way to publicize. I offer each client who sends me more clients a complimentary one-hour personal training session as a way of saying "thank you." This is a win-win for both the client and me. Just think: a referral costs nothing, and the result is a new client who has heard of my reputation as an elite fitness professional and has seen a transformation in the referring client. Plus, the client who referred a family member or friend receives a free one-hour session. Get the word out by telling clients about your referral program, but also remember to continue distributing your business cards to everyone you meet and leaving current promotional materials at doctors' offices, libraries and retail businesses. You can also invite physicians, physical therapists and alternative care providers for a short, half hour, introductory, complimentary session. That way, they experience your training method and can enthusiastically tell their friends and patients about you.
Meet and Greet
Training pays the bills, but you cannot spend every hour of your day executing workouts — you need to add to your client base. After all, clients leave on vacation; many have second homes and can be gone for an extended period. Clients also relocate. People become ill or, for financial reasons, discontinue training. So how do you restock, so to speak? Get out and about! Join your local chamber of commerce. Become active in community activities, charities and events. Be proactive — this is a hands-on, practical approach to finding clients. You need to be seen. You need to be heard. Engage in conversations with everyone you meet and greet about what you do. Exhibit your passion. Promote yourself without seeming egotistical. Be real and true to what you believe in.
Networking groups are another way for you to introduce yourself to other businesses. Meeting once a month, either early in the morning or in the evening, with social or business networking groups offers you a chance to meet people, make contacts and exchange ideas. Interacting even on a social basis gives you the opportunity to brainstorm thoughts that often lead to setting up connections you might have not even thought possible!
What do art galleries, hair salons, clothing stores, florists, outdoor sport stores, bike shops, golf clubs and financial and party planners have in common with gyms and personal training studios? If your answer is "nothing," then you haven't looked beyond the obvious. Think cross-promotion. Successful fitness trainers and business owners market themselves with other profitable establishments. The key is to set up a meeting with the owner of an art gallery, hair salon or sport store to discuss ways to work together on a fundraiser or special event for a charity, school or yearly event.
One year, I worked with a local art gallery, and we planned an event in October to increase breast cancer awareness. Sometime that summer, we learned that several local female artists were recovering from breast cancer, and one woman had died. After a lengthy discussion with the gallery owner about what we could do to foster cancer awareness and educate the public, we came up with an evening event for the community. Local artists, from painters to sculptors to photographers, produced art that reflected their artistic vision of cancer. We invited an internist, a nutritionist, a chiropractor and myself as the fitness professional to speak and answer questions about prevention. After the talks, refreshments were served as the public took the opportunity to purchase the art pieces, and the money from the sale was donated for breast cancer research. This free event was covered by local newspapers, giving the art gallery, the doctors, the nutritionist and myself publicity. Just recently, I contacted our local Housatonic Valley Association in Kent, Connecticut, whose main purpose is to keep our waters clean, and I inquired if they would like my help with any of the events or charities they sponsor. Together, we organized a community river walk at no charge that took place in July; in November, eight businesses, who I asked to contribute to the HVA's annual fundraising auction event, donated gift certificates totaling over $1,000.
Cross-promotion is fun, creative and exciting; it brings individuals together to share in a project, highlights businesses and showcases what we each do well.
The Health and Alternative Care Connection
It's all about working together for preventive care. Imagine working with doctors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, energy healers and nutritionists! Because of his or her expertise, each alternative care provider can often suggest other approaches to get and stay healthy. Contact these specialists either by phone or letter — better yet, draft a letter with an invitation for a complimentary training session with you. Put an expiration date on your gift, then, several weeks later, follow up with a phone call. You may find that these specialists have very little time to come see you, since their schedules are often packed with patient care, so ask if you can spend a half hour at their office to do some exercises with the physician, nurse, physician's assistant or alternative care provider. Offer to host a workshop at their office in the evening. Suggest other ways to use the doctor's knowledge or alternative care provider's healing treatments.
For example, produce a simple tape recording that clients or patients can receive free at the nutritionist or physician's office — you can produce a simple recording of some exercises to do on the job, or you could record fitness tips. Make copies, and leave them at the physician's and alternative care provider's office and your local health food store so that others can pick them up. Bring the doctors', chiropractors' and nutritionists' tapes to your gym or personal training studio. Make them available to your clients. Finally, make sure your label on the CD includes your logo, address, phone number, email and web address. This is a wonderful and easy way to make connections and referrals.
Reading, Writing and Personal Training
Schools ("Elementary!") are a perfect gateway for attaining new clients. Meet with your local principal and PTA chairpersons. Offer to host an after-school exercise program for the elementary school children. At the high school level, contact the gym teacher or the athletic coach, and offer your services to assist with training for specific sports. Develop nutrition programs, with the help of a nutritionist, for the entire school community, or prepare a fun lesson for primary students on healthy eating. You can include weighing and measuring (a math lesson), books on the subject (a library and reading lesson) and creating healthy recipes with pictures (art lesson) and have the children create a class nutrition book. If parents and teachers agree, you can accompany the class on a field trip to the local market or farm to learn how to read labels or discover from where their food is harvested. You will be surprised how parents and educators will want to experience your training expertise as they watch you in action.
Educate and Inform
Part of our responsibility as fitness professionals is to educate and inform our clients. Newsletters and speaking engagements at local cafes or libraries are just two ways to get the word out about healthy lifestyle living, and your website is another place to post information. You can provide a free PDF file that visitors can download from your website, or you can use the CD you produced on functional in-home exercises or ergonomic safety tips to prevent injury on the job. Any pertinent fitness-related topics that you created can be made available for visitors to hear from your website. Just remember to have a way to capture email addresses before a visitor downloads any free information. That way, you will have a strong database to send special offers, announcements for coming events or reminders of annual activities. Creating a blog on your site for clients to share insights on their training, successes and struggles in achieving their goals is also a fun way to attract new clients and share fitness information.
It Takes a Village
Hillary Clinton was right. Communities that sponsor walkathons, marathons and triathlons offer a perfect way for you to volunteer your services. You can help train the athletes prior to the event, do a warm-up or just be on-hand with information on preparing for an event. Get involved with other local charities or organizations that raise awareness for cancer, diabetes or MS, and auction your services off for any of these charitable causes. School auctions, town festivals and causes such as affordable housing and fundraisers in our community, offer fitness professionals a way to be seen as experts in their field and show you care. Be supportive of your community — it is another way to demonstrate your proficiency.
Novel Ideas
Get creative by offering monthly special offers. Create a boxing night, a mother-and-daughter exercise program, a father-and-son night, husband-and-wife partner training, a special bride-and-groom wedding party package or teen training. Hook up with a local retail clothing store, and host a fashion show and make-over, which can be combined with a weight loss program. See which public holidays are celebrated during a specific month, but look beyond the obvious, like Mother's Day. For example, did you know that National Correct Posture Day is celebrated in May or Healthy Aging Month in September? You can create an activity, contest, workshop or a special offer around these events.
Press On
Press releases are another way to get free publicity. Contact your local newspapers, and collect names and email addresses of the people to whom you should send the press release. Find out the cut-off date, and provide "who, what, where, whom and why" in your writing. After sending the release to the proper contact, follow up with a phone call to make sure it was received and to make certain it has met the deadline. Creating a unique business name, logo, tag line, business card and stationery sets you apart when you meet people or write to them. It is more than professional to have these in place in dealing with the public — it is essential.
So it really is elementary, if you look beyond the obvious in order to attain clients. Look for the clues that are all around you — the people, the businesses, the places you visit. Everything, everyone is an opportunity. Get creative through networking by forming alliances and providing unique services and events. Sleuth out every marketing prospect, and be tenacious.
Marilyn Gansel is the founder of Fitness Matters, the personal training studio. Since 1993, her "balanced approach to fitness" and her Optimal Functioning Method have helped thousands improve the quality of their lives. Her customized, creative programs are designed for all fitness levels. Marilyn's credentials include advanced degrees in education and certification by ACE and AEA. She is also a cancer recovery specialist and is currently pursuing her PsyD in applied sports psychology. Marilyn and her daughter, Dr. Heather Gansel, are in the process of franchising the business. She can be contacted at, or you can visit her website at


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