One of the most common questions I hear from personal trainers is, “how do I get clients when I am a new personal trainer?” Since clients are the basis of your business, this is a very valid question, and one that I know many people struggle with. So let’s dive right in.
From a philosophical point of view, there are two main things: hustle and develop a unique offering. From a technical point of view, there are many channels to acquire potential new clients, but your offering will dictate the most effective ones. This is coming from a trainer/gym manager turned tech entrepreneur, so the innovative/lean startup bias is apparent, but I really think it is important to take more of a long term approach to your business, rather than just trying to get a bunch of clients to fill up your hours (read more about that here).
Starting out is very tough, and many trainers do not make it past the first 6 months because it is hard work to build up enough clients to make a regular income. You need to be willing to put in the unpaid time and effort to meet new potential clients, assess, and sell them training. You also need to hustle on the follow up and feedback for anyone who does not purchase training, focusing on 'aggressively caring' as opposed to aggressively closing. If you don't manage your own expectations correctly, it is easy to get discouraged. Many trainers expect to get busy right when they start, not realizing what it takes to build a client base, and quickly come to resent the non-training side of the business. Instead, use your downtime to learn, iterate, experiment and improve your process and brand. You can not sell or help everyone, but you can definitely learn from the time you spend with them, you just have to make sure that you are listening and paying attention.
This approach will also help you understand what makes you unique as a trainer, and what your strengths are. Every trainer does some version of the same thing: provide accountability, motivation and applied knowledge to a potential client's fitness plan. The question is what do you do better and for whom? This does not have to be inventing some new form of exercise or equipment, it is more about how you combine your specialties to deliver the service and help certain segments of the population. You will probably not know this when starting out, but it is never too early to start defining your brand as a trainer, and the first few months of hustling and experimenting will define this further if you take the right approach. Understanding your offering and communicating it clearly (in the proper channels) will help you maximize the unpaid time by drawing out more likely candidates.
The other key to your approach here is flexibility in the services you offer. Keep in mind that trends are heading to more online/remote options not just because of convenience, but because of affordability. Being able to effectively provide services both in person and through an online platform keeps you competitive and on trend, but it’s important to keep in mind what your key value as a trainer is (accountability/motivation and applied knowledge), and make sure that you are still delivering that value remotely. To me that means closing the feedback loop between you and your clients so that the online relationship is not just one sided (i.e. in addition to sending them their programs, you want them to track their workouts so you can get feedback on the programs you are giving them). Having this flexibility in service expands your pool of potential clients to people who may not be able to afford or make time for regular training sessions. It also helps you convert more of these potential clients you speak with into some sort of support, which can lead to more involved support in the future or referrals to others.
As for the technical side of things, there are many different channels from the traditional to the digital:
Word of mouth - still the best form of lead generation. Give thought to both your own personal network and how you can encourage your first clients to refer, or the groups they are in that you may be able to help.
Work at a gym - not the sexiest, but still the best place to get clients easily. Just be ready to give about 60% of the revenue to the gym (on average).
Put up posters - really analog here, but I still talk to lots of trainers who do this effectively, especially if they have a varied offering like personal training and Bootcamp, or online training.
Google/Facebook ads - People search the internet for most purchasing decisions, and most people have Facebook. If you know what you are doing to target ads, experiment and refine this process, these tools are very powerful to get results that would lead to a much higher ROI than other channels, given the lifetime value of a client (and assuming you convert leads fairly effectively).
Craigslist, Thumbtack, Yelp - another effective way for some paid ads, and requires less technical knowledge to target since you just post your ad in the relevant category. These are great places to start your business, but harder to scale over time.
Fitness/Wellness focused marketplaces - there are a number of apps attempting to connect clients to trainers, some with more success than others. I think it is worth setting up a profile on some of these places for free, but I have not heard big success stories....yet.
The reality today is that none of the above matter too much if you do not have some online presence to direct people to and provide credibility for your brand. While many of these places can be a great place to start, people are more likely to be engaged and potentially purchase if they come from a warmer referring source and you already have some trust before meeting them (built from them reading or hearing about you first). You don't necessarily have to have a website, or every social media channel, but should have some presence on at least one of: Website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube and make sure the ones you do have are integrated together to help SEO and the impact of whatever you do share. If you’re going to have just one channel, I would not recommend Twitter. Twitter is better as a supplement to a platform with more engagement such as Facebook. Also, while a website isn't necessary, it makes you look a lot more legitimate in a prospective client's eyes who does not know you, and with Squarespace, Wix, Wordpress, etc, there really is no excuse not to have something. If you're really technologically disinclined, many web developers are in need of fitness support and may be willing to trade services (the majority of trainers I talk to have some arrangement like this).
Ultimately, you want to have a couple of channels set up that work well together and help target your audience effectively. That way you can focus on creating content that serves them well and leads to more potential clients, easily spread across different mediums to get more impact for the time spent. It also makes all of the more analog solutions above more effective if you or your clients can direct people to your web presence, where it should be easier for potential clients to engage with you directly.
If you can do a good job of developing your brand in a way that puts your clients first, and getting that message through the right mediums, you should be busy with clients in no time.