Future-proof your personal training business

March 25, 2019 Steve Calechman

Personal trainers tend to share certain qualities. They’re energetic, disciplined, and willing to share their knowledge.

Those qualities often lead to a full roster of clients, which isn’t a bad thing, except it leaves you with little reason or time to think about what you could be doing to build your business.

One of the simplest ways to attract new clients and retain current clients involves focusing on the qualitative areas of coaching. Here are three ways to hone these softer skills and make your business operations more efficient, more responsive, and more productive.

Create community with small group training.

One-on-one personal training sessions aren’t going to vanish, but trainers should be looking to sell an experience, not sessions, by offering small group training. From a business perspective, small groups make more financial sense. When there’s only one client, there’s only one fee to charge; scaling up becomes difficult. In a semiprivate setup, there’s the ability to charge less per person, but make more overall, and still provide personal attention, says Stefan Underwood, director of continuous improvement at EXOS.

But more than money, one-on-one training limits your clients’ energy and enthusiasm. A sameness seeps into sessions, and results can be harder to achieve. By nature, people are social creatures and train better with others. Most of us respond to a sense of relatedness when in a small group, which enhances our resolve to change,” says Roy Sugarman, Ph.D., director of neuroscience at EXOS.

The results don’t automatically happen. The group needs to be the right mix, with people who like each other or at least see each other as positive. As Sugarman says, people ultimately want role models.

Along with achieving better results, small groups create appeal.

Looking to build your group training clientele? Offer a referral incentive to members who bring a friend.

Creating the perfect group isn’t an exact science, and while there may be limited numbers to put together, the trainer needs to be something of a matchmaker. The one-on-one session plays a vital role. Offering a free, 30-minute introductory session allows the trainer to both establish rapport and determine fit. So how do you play matchmaker? Age is a good first filter; after that, goals, functional movement, and the harder-to-quantify qualities of desire and chemistry are solid barometers.

Along with achieving better results, small groups create appeal. Clients often invite their friends to join the class, which is an easy way to increase clientele – offering a referral discount is a good incentive – and create a good group dynamic. There’s an exclusive aspect, which can be appealing, but it’s also something that looks different. And there’s an energy and sense of fun, which can pull in people who wouldn’t otherwise consider it, because they want to be part of “that, Underwood says.

Group training has an energy and a sense of fun that can draw in clients.

Take a client-centered approach.

Offering guidance and feedback is what trainers have to do, but they can trip themselves up by talking too much. Whether it’s in a group or individually, two things get missed when it comes to motivation: people want to feel a sense of accomplishment, and they want to feel like they have a choice in their workouts, Underwood says.

The trainer has the expertise. The challenge becomes finding ways to downplay a trainer-centered approach. The tweak could be as simple as saying, “Why don’t you try your foot here? rather than giving a long correction that involves an explanation of kinetic chain explosiveness. People can take in only so much information.

In addition to keeping it simple, try to be more of a guide than a taskmaster. Select some exercise options and let the clients choose which ones to do. Play a game every 15 minutes. Any fun activity catch a ball or balloon tennis — makes a session less like boot camp and somewhat equalizes the relationship between trainer and client.

When providing group training in a shared space, let the gym members know how long you’ll be.

The challenge becomes finding ways to downplay a trainer-centered approach.

Try to be more of a guide than a taskmaster. Select some exercise options and let the clients choose which ones to do.

And always pay attention to the cues clients give off. If there’s a regular grimace or dismissive comment about a certain exercise, quietly eliminate it and invite the person or group to help pick some exercises for the next circuit. Again, the clients feel a sense of control and ownership, and everyone in the gym sees a trainer who’s flexible and collaborative, Sugarman says.

Lead with empathy and appreciation.

Ideally, a gym should have separate areas for personal training and semiprivate training. The benefit would be twofold: creating an enticement to sign up for and alleviating equipment fights with people working out on their own.

When a designated space doesn’t exist, trainers should display empathy toward other gym members, Underwood says. One simple move: Greet everyone by their name. Acknowledge that a personal training session or group workout is taking up space and let the gym members know how long youll be. Engaging with people who aren’t group training clients will make them feel appreciated and might even tempt them to join the small group workout.

Interested in more strategies to connect with clients? Become an EXOS-certified fitness specialist.

About the Author

Steve Calechman

Steve Calechman is a Boston-based writer and longtime contributing editor for Men's Health.

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