We recently completed an anonymous survey of our email database resulting in 507 personal trainers (PTs) and coaches leaving their feedback. We asked them what they perceived to be their biggest challenges when it comes to advancing their career in the fitness industry.
Overwhelmingly, the response that sits at the top of that list (in almost 70% of cases) is finding enough clients to work with. This is seconded by finding the right clients to work with, writes Brendan Chaplin (pictured), CEO of Strength and Success.
Our findings are supported by recent research from Mindbody¹ which suggests that although 20% of all gym goers feel that PTs or fitness instructors are the most important factor when it comes to sticking to a new routine, just 4% of those people have found their perfect instructor. It’s clear there is a very visible disconnect between the instructor or coach and the customer they are looking to serve.
These are the facts, however when we asked the simple follow-up question to our survey recipients, “What have you done to attract your ideal clients?”, the responses showed a real lack of clarity when it comes to finding the right people to work with and building a sustainable business. Over 80% of respondents stated that they didn’t feel they had the right tools to take their businesses where they wanted to.
From a personal perspective, drawing on evidence from well over 10,000 PTs and coaches I have supported over the last 10 years, this is something I would wholeheartedly agree with. It’s not the technical knowledge but rather the mindset and approach towards applying that knowledge that appears to be the biggest challenge.
In this article I would like to lay some foundations for how to do just that with a framework for how to build a brilliant PT business.
Model the best to accelerate success
Let’s not forget that there are many coaches and trainers out there who have incredibly successful businesses. When we look at these individuals who have had sustained long-term growth, we notice some commonalities between them. I have broken these down into a simple framework which makes up the Strength and Success Business Growth Blueprint, the first two steps of which we will go through to get you well on your way.
This is an interpretation of one of the great marketing texts of all time: Permission Marketing by Seth Godin².
Become a great coach (You can’t out market a bad product)
The basis of long-term business growth is having a great underpinning product. If your clients are not able to get the results you promised them they will leave dissatisfied. Furthermore, they are more likely to communicate that experience to their friends and publicly on social media. This is a sure-fire way to slowly (or rapidly) kill your business.
So what is the blueprint for becoming a great coach?
K x A + E = S
K stands for Knowledge. We have to learn from the best and stay on the cutting edge. When new trends emerge we must learn about them so we can continue to refine and develop as practitioners. But having knowledge alone is not enough…
A is for Application. We must apply that knowledge ruthlessly with ourselves and our clients. We are our own best case study, and over time we can introduce this with our clients. Your gym is your laboratory. If we don’t apply our knowledge we don’t improve, it really is that simple. We must raise our standards.
E is for Experience. This is a little controversial in that it is entirely possible for someone to have 20 years industry experience and still be a poor coach. They key is to learn from your experiences through effective reflection. Ask ourselves what went well, what could be better and how could I make it better?
S is for Success. If we reflect on our experiences on a very regular basis, stay on top of new trends and make sure we are applying our knowledge we cannot fail to improve and develop ourselves in an accelerated manner.
Get clarity on what you really want, who you want to work with and what you’re actually selling with the 7 Killer Questions.
Successful people know what they want and put plans in place to achieve it. Do you want to work in a big box gym or a smaller more bespoke environment? Is your goal to have your own gym? Perhaps you want to work with elite athletes and teams? Is it all about online coaching for you?
Knowing what you are looking to achieve in isolation will accelerate your progress³.
When it comes to who you are looking to work with I recommend taking the time to work through the following 7 Killer Questions…
1. What is your vision or definition of success?
If you’re anything like me it might read ‘Living life on my terms, working with the clients I enjoy working with, having a choice of whether I work or play every day’. (If it is similar to this then you absolutely MUST learn about how to build a brilliant business).
2. What does a perfect day look like for you?
Are you coaching people all day, just as few hours a day or not coaching people at all? What environment are you spending your time? How close are you to that ideal day right now? What changes do you need to make?
3. Who are your clients? What are their fears, beliefs, goals and dreams?
The clearer we can get to identifying with our clients the more successful we are going to be communicating with them.
How can we possibly hope to connect with people if we can’t speak their language?
Only 4% of people looking for a PT have found their perfect trainer. Perhaps it’s because we are doing a substandard job at speaking and connecting with those people?
4. How can you help to solve their problems with your products or services?
Something brilliant about the fitness industry is that it is so open to creativity and new ideas. Once you understand your customer’s needs, desires and fears you have full artistic license to create the exact solution to their problems.
We must remember that we do not sell training sessions or coaching. We sell a transformational experience. People don’t buy coaching they buy the transformation as a result of the coaching. We need to communicate that.
5. What are you doing to attract your ideal client?
Where do your customers spend their time? Whilst it might be Facebook and Instagram, we’ve got to be smarter than this. Think laterally here. Do they go to specific restaurants, bars, hairdressers or sports clubs in your community that you can work with to promote your services along with theirs? Are you producing good quality content on a daily basis to educate your ideal prospects?
Notice I used the word educate and not market or promote. We have to show people what we can do and what we are about through our communication before people will come to us. No doubt you’re familiar with the phrase ‘people buy people’. Well the full phrase is actually ‘people buy people they know, like and trust and have an emotional connection with’. Your marketing needs to be consistent, but it also needs to communicate your personal values, beliefs, fears and dreams. Doing this will attract the right people to you. These are the people who also have those beliefs, values and similar goals and connect with you on an emotional level.
Guess what? The people who don’t like your content will not become your clients, and that is fine too. If you try to please everyone, you please no one. Don’t be afraid to repel people. For each person who doesn’t identify with you there will be people who do.
6. What are you doing to repel that client?
Imagine you have identified that your ideal client is somebody who works in a professional job, is extremely motivated in their fitness, enjoys weightlifting and wants to work with a trainer who has similar qualities.
Is your behaviour and online profile congruent with these qualities? If you have pictures of your Saturday night out all over social media, using bad language and showing none of the qualities this person is looking for then you are actively repelling your ideal client.
Very simply, clean up your act, look at your online blueprint and make it work for you. Your prospective clients will do their research.
I once had an intern working with me in my gym who was a student. Two or three times he turned up stinking of alcohol and looking like he’d been out all night whilst my clients, who were performance athletes, were warming up and watching this. His behaviour was repelling his ideal clients (and my clients too). He didn’t last long, as I’m sure you’d imagine.
7. What can you do in the next 90 days to move forward?
So now you know what success looks like for you, what your perfect day would be, who your ideal clients are, and you have a baseline on what you’re doing to both attract and potentially repel those people.
The final step is to plan what you can do in the next few months to move forwards.
For this step I would encourage you to utilise the Strength and Success Coaching Model, which we aptly call the GROWL model, adapted from Sir John Whitmore’s exemplary text ‘Coaching for Performance’4.
Goals: What are your goals for this next 90 days?
Reality: Where are you right now? What’s the reality of the situation?
Options: What options do you have to move forwards? Tip: There are always more options than you think. Very often we need someone to help us tease all the potential options out.
Way Forward and Will: You’ve explored the options, what is the best way forwards? Do you have the will to actually take this route? If not you may need another one.
Learning: What learning do you need to move towards your goals? If your vision is to open the doors to your own gym very soon, you may need to go on some courses to learn how this works. Perhaps you have no idea how to promote seminars that your ideal clients would be interested in attending. A consultant or coach may be able to help you to learn this.
Over to you
There is absolutely no reason why you cannot achieve everything you are looking for in this fantastic industry, provided you approach it in a smart, focussed and consistent manner.
Follow the blueprint I’ve laid out for you, but remember it starts with you. You must know what you want. Give yourself permission to succeed, work smart and stay ruthlessly focused on your goals.
If you need help with any of these steps the place to start is to take our free personal performance assessment. It will give you clarity on your current situation and a breakdown of how to move forwards. Check out the Strength & Success website for this.
To your strength and success.
Brendan is an experienced performance coach specialising in both business and sport.
He is the founder of Strength and Success, Strength and Conditioning Education and the Youth Strength and Conditioning Association and is also a Princes Trust mentor working with young people to help them build their businesses.
Contact him through his website Strength & Success as well as through Instagram @brendanchaplin or @strength_success
1. Mindbody:REPS research https://www.exerciseregister.org/blog/post/new-research-reveals-the-impact-fitness-instructors-have-on-client%20retention/
2. Seth Godin, Permission Marketing https://www.amazon.co.uk/Permission-Marketing-Turning-Strangers-Customers/dp/1416526668
3. Tony Robbins, Unlimited Power https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unlimited-Power-Science-Personal-Achievement/dp/0743409396/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1531314840&sr=8-3&keywords=robbins+tony
4. Sir John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance https://www.amazon.co.uk/Coaching-Performance-Principles-Leadership-ANNIVERSARY/dp/1473658128/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1531314936&sr=1-1&keywords=John+whitmore