How to build a client base without spending any money

You may have heard of Vision Personal Training and know it to be Australia’s largest Personal Training Studio Franchise Network—you’d be right, but like many success stories, Vision started with a simple idea that was executed well. I built up my very first personal training studio business, Vision Personal Training in Caringbah, to consistently deliver more than 800 sessions per week. Long before building the Vision Franchise Network, this studio took out the National Personal Training Business of the Year award a number of times.

I did this while spending only a very small amount of money on external marketing. However, it was only after building the Franchise Network of over 50 Studios (without spending any money on external franchise marketing) that I realised how I’d managed to achieve it. In fact, if I’d realised what was happening at the time, I don’t think I would have bothered spending any money at all on external marketing at my first Studio! Instead I would have invested more time in following the process—the 8 R’s of success, which we now use in all of our Studios within the Vision network. Keep in mind, you must follow the process to achieve great success, so no cutting corners or skipping an “R”!

  1. Role Model

As a health and fitness professional it’s important to be both a physical and psychological role model. A physical role model is obviously someone who models a fit and healthy lifestyle. That is, they eat healthy food and exercise on a regular basis, and as a result, look fit and healthy. Research suggests that people make 11 decisions about you within 7 seconds of first seeing you, so first impressions really do count.

Unfortunately, some Personal Trainers don’t look fit and healthy, whilst others intimidate their market by over-revealing their own beautifully manicured bodies. So it’s important to decide which segment you’d like to attract. Many Personal Trainers focus on becoming attractive to each other rather than to their target market and wonder why they can’t build a client base. So you need to think about your personal appearance from head to toe, in the eyes of your target market:

  • Are your shoes attractive?
  • Are your clothes attractive?
  • Is your posture attractive?
  • Is your haircut attractive?
  • Is your smile attractive?

Being a psychological role model is just as important as being a physical role model. Generally speaking, the daily disciplines required to be a physical role model give you the tools to be a psychological role model. That is, if you live and breathe a healthy lifestyle you’ll understand the challenges and the sacrifices that need to be made in order to live that lifestyle. It’s amazing to think that despite more fitness facilities, Personal Trainers and information being available than ever before, society is actually becoming fatter, sicker and weaker. I believe it’s because of a lack of psychological role modelling skills on behalf of the industry at large. The weight loss equation is really quite simple—eat better and move more. However, I think people are more confused than ever due to the volume of conflicting information.

  1. Rapport

I also believe that it’s a lack of coaching skills that prevents Personal Trainers from understanding what clients are really ready and willing to do to achieve great results. Some Trainers make silly statements such as, “Go hard or go home”. As a result, most people would rather go home. Similarly some say, “Do 30 minutes of exercise or don’t bother”, so they simply don’t bother.

The coaching principle is really quite simple:

  1. Actions speak louder than words.
  2. Everyone acts in a certain way for a reason.
  3. Seek to understand before being understood by using a process called ALF:

– Ask a question
– Listen for their answers attentively
– Formulate another question based on their answer. Repeat.

If you simply follow this process, you’ll truly understand what the client is willing to do. Too often I’ve seen Trainers intimidate their clients and drive them away because they expect people to make change too quickly. A great coaching principle is, “fast is slow and slow is fast”. That is, if you go slow with somebody by asking them great questions, then listen to their answers and formulate questions based on their answers provided, you’ll get faster results for them. By trying to go fast by telling them what to do then expecting them to follow through, they’ll more than likely achieve slower results.

If you follow this process effectively you’ll build great rapport with your clients. It’s often said that successful businesses are built on great relationships and trust. Having the ability to build great rapport ensures this.

  1. Results

A Trainer who builds great rapport with their clients is therefore far more likely to help the client achieve results. It’s important to remember that the results a client is looking for should not be assumed. Whilst many clients may wish to achieve physical results, others look for psychological benefits such as stress relief, companionship, or to simply feel good.

  1. Reputation

If you’re a Trainer who helps your clients achieve great results, you’ll build a great reputation for yourself. Conversely, if you’re a Trainer who doesn’t get great results for your clients, you’ll build a bad reputation for yourself. I often say to Trainers that they don’t deserve more clients if they’re not helping their existing clients achieve results. Some Trainers then suggest that it’s not their “fault” if their clients aren’t achieving results. My response is that they obviously haven’t built enough rapport to truly understand what their goals are. After all, if the goals were truly compelling to the client they would achieve them.

  1. Retention

Businesses often fail because they cannot retain their clients. Unfortunately, historically the fitness industry has very poor retention rates across the board. I believe that poor retention rates occur as a direct result of failings within the first 4 Rs.

  1. Raving Fans

Have you ever had a friend tell you about a great restaurant, and then find that when you get there, it’s packed? Unsurprisingly, businesses that have a great reputation for success, and have great retention rates, have happy clients. They become your “raving fans” or people who talk about you even when they’re not asked about you.

  1. Referrals

Gaining referral business from your existing clients is the key to building a client base without spending any money on external marketing. I believe that businesses built by gaining referrals are much more sustainable. Many Personal Trainers don’t feel comfortable about asking for referrals, yet most raving fans are happy to give you referrals. That said, many clients will provide you with referrals if you simply ask them. As they say, the answer to any question not asked is always no, so there’s no harm in trying. Please note, I strongly believe in rewarding people who provide you with referrals, so I advise you do spend money on internal marketing so your happy clients provide you with more referrals.

  1. Revenue

Of course, if your clients provide you with referrals, revenue will flow into your business and it will become more profitable. This will allow you to reinvest into your clients and improve your services.

In summary
As previously mentioned, it wasn’t until I’d grown a network of more than 50 Studios that I realised I’d followed the 8 Rs process. I’ve used it successfully to not just grow one Studio of clients, but also a network of franchise owners. First of all I needed to make sure that my first Studio in Caringbah role modelled success. I built great rapport with my Trainers within that Studio as I understood and helped them achieve their goal of opening their own Vision Studios. Once this happened, I ensured I helped them achieve great results within their businesses. We successfully did this, as the first six Studios we opened were amongst the top 10 Personal Training Studios in the country.

We built a great reputation due to their success and we retained those franchise owners who became raving fans of the business. Those owners provided us with referrals (the trainers within their Studios as well as friends outside the Network). We then quickly grew from six Studios to over 40 which obviously then lead to a huge increase in revenue to the business. Whilst there are many different ways to attract clients to your business I believe that a business built on referrals allows you to build a greater culture. I would much rather reward people inside the business than spend money externally.

Are there other ways you’ve successfully built your client base without spending big bucks on marketing? I’d love to hear your thoughts

Andrew Simmons

Andrew Simmons is the Founder of Vision Personal Training, Australia’s largest Personal Training studio franchise with 50 studios across Australia and New Zealand. Vision was voted Emerging Franchise System of the Year by the Franchise Council of Australia in 2008, and National Personal Training Business of the Year in 2003 and 2010. Inducted into Fitness Australia’s Roll of Honour in 2013, Andrew has presented at international health, fitness and business conventions since 1995. Andrew is also the author of two best-selling books on health and fitness: “Fat Loss Take Control” (40,000+ copies sold) and “Ready Set Go — 3 Steps to better Health” (10,000+ copies sold).


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