While the start of 2021 has most gyms re-opened, they are still not at capacity in most states. Many folks have turned to in-home fitness options out of necessity. Remember that this format does not work for everyone, and for those who want to return to the gym atmosphere but aren’t yet comfortable doing so, they’ll be back in droves once the threat of COVID is behind us. For new and seasoned trainers alike there are a handful of tenets that will help secure your client roll without feeling like you’re hard-selling. Putting aside the folks that buy sessions right out of the gate or accept a free consultation, what’s the best approach to turn regular gym members into clients?
Setting the Stage
My first day at a club I joined (as a member, not as a personal trainer), I was approached by a trainer who saw me for the first time, and approached me mid-exercise and with my headphones on. Although he was friendly enough, the first thing he did was offer a suggestion (one that I was not inclined to take, by the way), without first asking my name or offering his, or knowing that I myself was a fitness professional.
This got me thinking about how often trainers make egregious interaction errors such as these, and all of the education, training, and expertise in the world won’t save you from yourself if you make them, too.
My experience as a fitness professional in and out of big gyms, small studios, in-home, and virtual training has been supported fully by these approaches to convert gym members into clients:
Firstly, if you are a brand new trainer there’s something important you must learn that will come with time and increased confidence: Yes, people will absolutely pay (a lot of) money to secure a service they believe will truly help them. You as a fitpro were probably always committed to exercise—self-motivated, driven, excited to work out.
Remind yourself that this is not the norm, and most people who want to hire a trainer either have low drive, not enough know-how, or in need of major accountability. Believe first that people need personal training, and second, that they will indeed pay for it. Not everyone, but there will always be enough potential clients to draw from.
When you see members at the gym, remember that many people have taken a big step just walking in the door to an institution that you feel at home at and suffer from gymtimidation. Make them feel more comfortable by first asking their name after offering your own.
PLEASE don’t forget this part! Your first interaction should be nothing more than an introduction and an offer to be of assistance at any time at all. Then walk away! Go somewhere and make a note of the person’s name and a physical feature or attribute that will help you remember their name. Being addressed by name helps people feel valued.
Next time you see that member, greet them with a warm welcome, “Hi Deborah! Great to see you today! Have a great workout and let me know if you need anything.” She will appreciate your warmth and will feel more at ease in a place she may not enjoy coming to. Be that face and that voice that she does want to see and hear.
Don’t hungrily fawn over a gym member as a potential cash cow. See each member as a person—one whom you’d like to get to know and make a human connection with for no other reason than you actually care. And if you don’t actually care, you’ll have a hard time securing long-term clients since they will sense this pretty quickly.
Whether or not you realize it, you are giving off an aura–an energy–that people will detect on some level. You will either be invisible to someone, repelling, or inviting. Pay attention to how you carry yourself—do you come off as arrogant, intimidating, or negative in a way that is felt by others?
Hang out at the front desk some days or times you are not busy. You will see people’s names when they are scanned in, you can greet them personally, hand them their towel, and wish them a great workout. They will know your face and be more receptive to future interactions.
Authenticity as a person comes first and foremost, but it doesn’t stop there; consider the professionalism you project as a health and fitness coach. Do you walk the walk? Are you familiar with all the machines, how they work, and keeping up to date with new fitness research? If you don’t love all things health and fitness, potential clients will pick up on this.
After a week of saying hello to “Deborah” you might engage in friendly banter. But make sure to read your audience. If Deborah is not receptive to conversation, she’s there to focus and doesn’t want to be bothered. So, don’t bother her.
If someone has headphones on, nine times out of 10–like most of us– they don’t want to be interrupted or forced to remove their headphones. Only ask them to do so if you’ve got a real gem to offer. Otherwise, you’ve just annoyed them and they will flag you as the person to avoid at all costs.
If she is receptive, and you have been observant, you can strike up appropriate conversation. Maybe you’ve noticed she comes in at 5:30 every day in business casual clothes and gets changed. Perhaps inquire about what she does for a living or if she works nearby. If that feels too comfortable too soon, offer a more generic inquiry about her gym routine:
“Wow, Deborah, you’ve been working really hard the past few weeks! Good for you! Are you getting the results you’ve been aiming for?”
If you are more of an introvert or uncomfortable interacting this way and it comes off awkward, then you need to find a different approach so gym members don’t actively avoid you. Perhaps eye contact and a head nod conveys enough? Maybe you have a quiet sense of humor and you can hand out your business card with a funny quip on the back to make them smile. Be creative and genuine!
I like to make fun of my husband for his brief stint as a personal trainer (which is how we met). Not exactly a self-described “people person” as I consider myself to be, he thought the path to success in the fitness industry was to hustle many hours a day. This only resulted in burn-out and lower-quality interactions. In fact, towards the end of his career as a trainer, he would nap in the massage rooms when he didn’t have clients. I literally would never consider doing this.
When I didn’t have clients I was interacting or working out. I worked out hard, usually with another trainer, and visibly. I believe this is the single most beneficial practice a trainer can incorporate when working in a fitness club.
When you work out regularly and visibly, members will see you, notice you, and believe you know what you are doing. (Of course, be sure you actually know what you are doing!) Working out with a colleague demonstrates your ability to collaborate, which is something they don’t think they are looking for in a trainer, but are, deep down. Working out with intensity says something else to these observers: that you have discipline and drive that might just rub off on them if they hire you.
I have never hard-sold a single client in a club. Every client I ever trained either walked in the door wanting to hire a trainer, they were converted from a consultation, or personally approached me and asked if I would work with them. While there is certainly a sales component to personal training, don’t come off like someone “selling” your services. If you love what you do and want to help people, following the above advice will likely bring you all the work you are looking for.