Everyone in the fitness industry knows that being a successful trainer or coach is no walk in the park. It’s hard enough to create individualized programming, teach new movements, and make sure everyone is on track — let alone constantly be on the hunt for new clients and find a way to retain them. Sure, there are tons of positives about becoming a trainer, but before you start running recklessly after your dream, make sure you’re prepared for the potential storm ahead.
We’re here to help you avoid the potholes and find smooth sailing. Sam Pogue, Vice President of Brand at TrueCoach, sat down for an in-depth conversation Jim Crowell, CEO of OPEX Fitness, whose work is dedicated to helping coaches build a successful, sustainable business in the Wild Wild West otherwise known as the fitness industry. We condensed their conversation into an easy-to-understand pocket guide for anyone who wants to grow their brand and train more clients.
Watch the full interview here:
Figure Out a Long-Term Payment Model
Jim knows that most of you who are visiting this page and asking these types of questions are doing individual personal training and building an independent brand. He encourages “every coach or business owner to define the model” you’re working in “as well as what success looks like within that model.” OK, this sounds smart. But what does it mean exactly?
It’s all about building a financial or payment methodology that retains clients the longest. Ask yourself what model you’re currently using with your clients. Are they buying one package of sessions at a time? Paying you on a weekly basis? Or are they paying you session by session? You likely don’t have them on a long-term plan.
“I think success comes in the consistency of retention of clients on a monthly basis,” Jim said. The goal is to get people to commit to 12-24 months and get them accustomed to that commitment, rather than ask for their credit card over and over again so you can charge them. This is fatiguing for them because they have to make the decision multiple times to hand over their money.
Create a payment model that will allow your clients to lock in for the long run. If that means you get them to sign up for a year, that’s great. If that means you give them a deal that locks them in for two years, even better. “They will probably want to do a month-to-month thing and that will be the challenge — moving them from monthly payments to annual commitment,” Jim concludes.
“Give them a sheet for them to sign,” he advises. “‘Hey, what are you committing to? Let’s rock and roll. I’m going to commit to that too. I’m going to show up and do a great job with you every day you’re coming in and that’s $200 a month. We’ll just hit your card every month, that sound good? Yep, let’s roll.’ Now they never have to think about it again.”
Put their goals in writing and promise you’ll be with them every step of the way. That’s how you can move your clients from a week-by-week relationship to an annual commitment.
Define the Services You Offer
“If I want to make more money, of course I can pull people in through marketing,” Jim said. “But the more people that I lose out of that system, the more expensive it is to replace all of them with new clients.” This is why it doesn’t make sense to pay hoards of money for marketing services or advertisements, because this doesn’t connect you with clients who are searching for you and what you offer.
“You have to define the service you are most confident and most capable at delivering the most consistently,” Jim advised. Explain exactly what you offer. Is it individualized programming? Nutrition guidance? Consultation and accountability? All of the above? Communicate clearly what sets you apart and make sure your clients understand it. Jim says you should start by defining your service and “how that service differentiates or is similar to other services” so they understand your pricing.
Jim also notes that a lot of people get into training because they wanted freedom or they wanted to live out a dream. That’s all well and good, but that’s not a “business reason.” You need to “create a business reason” so you have a reason to charge whatever it is that you charge. “If you can’t talk about how you’re different and better as a coach, you will struggle to earn a price point,” he says.
Connect With Your Clients in a Real Way
Hardly any of your clients care about the specifics of training. They don’t care about energy system levels and exactly how protein metabolizes in the body. All that nerdy stuff is for you to think about. Your clients care about how they feel when they wake up in the morning, the long-term benefits of working out, and having a trainer who actually cares about them.
Jim says the client “has to be able to connect with you.” This is why it’s important to have a specificity of relationship. He cites one of the most common clients we run into — the one who wants six-pack abs. Jim suggests you ask them first and foremost, “Why is this important to you?” instead of just jumping on the train and giving them an ab-focused program.
“If you have identified an audience that you can uniquely help solve their problems, your value starts rising,” he explains. “Then they start talking about how you’ve solved their problems to their friends and their family and their co-workers. And your value rises more. Then you start to show these stories on social media and your value rises more.”
You get here by starting at a simple place: understanding your clients’ goals and why they have these goals laid out for themselves. At the end of the day, it’s not about washboard abs. It’s about something else entirely. Perhaps it’s about feeling more confident, being able to wake up alert, or having a healthier relationship with your family. Your job as a trainer is to help your client identify what it is that drives them so you can help them reach their true goals.
“Even if you’re online coaching, you’re probably going to have some version of a consultation or you’re [going to see them] in videos,” Jim said. Use this time to connect with them, which will help you deliver your service with integrity. Show them who you are, why you care, and how your personal story can help them along their way.
If you sell everything based on a specific number, that’s the value your clients are going to put on your service and they’ll wonder if every single session is worth it. But if you connect with them and show that your value is so much more than a specific hourly rate, they will never have a problem signing up for an annual contract.
Jim says even when you’re working with athletes, it’s not necessarily about winning at the end of the day. “They want to get better. They want significance, meaning they want people to know that they’re great, and they also want growth,” he explained. “If you, as a coach, can talk to them and connect them to human emotion, that’s when they’ll buy in.” Make your client the hero.
Research and Understand the Competition
Part of setting the right prices is knowing what’s out there and what people are paying for already. “Get out there and understand what the features and benefits are selling for,” Jim said. “Structure your pricing around that.” You want to create the right options so that people choose the right option. And make sure you’re not just doing this for a cash grab; this should be the right offering for them.
If you take a look at what’s floating around in your area — the facilities, the trainers, the group fitness classes, etc. — you can identify all the ways your brand can be (and should be) better. From there, “you should be able to charge relatively more than another service or another company doing the same thing [not as well].” Jim reminds us that there are a lot more options now than there were just a few years ago. So you have to be both better and unique. “ All the textbooks would say that it’s the uniqueness of your service that ultimately creates best willingness to pay,” he concluded.
A bonus pro tip from Jim: “If I want to put clients in faster I might open a hair less expensive just to start, and that could be your founding member rate,” he advised. “You’re not going to do it forever, but if I’ve done my research and my service is tight, I should be able to sell more people into that faster.”
The Final Word
“A lot of coaches make decisions in emotionally mistaken-driven scenarios and they make short-term decisions without fixing the problem,” Jim said. “And that problem then spirals to something that they can’t fix.” Before you make any big changes to your platform and your brand, make sure you identify any serious problems you might be facing. Only from there can you set the right prices and grow your business in a sustainable way.