Coach Emily’s Client Retention Tips of the Week

If you’re a coach, you probably would agree with me that training a brand new client takes way more effort on your part than training a self-sufficient client who has been around for five years.

The new client stands arounds around looking intimidated waiting for you to tell him what to do for warm-up, and then he stares at you blankly when you tell him to grab a 25-lb. bar. All part of the learning process, of course, and I’m happy to help. However, if I had to do 4 Introductory sessions a day I’d burn out in a hurry.

An experienced client, on the other hand, warms up self-sufficiently, understands how to load a 45 lb. barbell to 70 percent of his 3RM back squat, and needs no further explanation when he sees 21, 15, 9 of walls balls and burpees written on the board. 

I know for me, when I finish an hour with a new client, I feel like I just spent three hours coaching my 3-plus year clients. Imagine for a second that all your clients were like the guy you have been training for 8 years? Easy, peasy, breezy!

Hence, the importance of client retention!

Alas, some practical client retention tips that have helped me build a book of long term clients, many of whom have been with me for 3 to 8 years. 

Invite them into your home

This past weekend, I had 7 clients over for dinner (and three spouses who aren’t my clients).

I did some quick math the next day: I have taken home approximately $45,000 off those seven clients, who have been training with me for 8, 7, 7, 4, 4, 3.5 and 3.5 years respectively. (The gross revenue these 7 clients have generated for the business is a little under $100,000. From a pure business standpoint, the $300 I spent on dinner on the weekend = well worth it).

Let’s be clear: I don’t host dinner parties with clients with the intention of building loyalty to ensure their retention—I do it because they’re my friends, I happen to enjoy cooking, and it’s always a fun and social night of eating, drinking and bonding—but client retention sure is a great side effect. I mean, who’s going to quit the gym the month after you had them over for dinner? It’s kind of like that time in my 20s when I was dating that guy I wanted to break up with, but it was still too close to that Chilli Peppers concert he took me to, so he got a couple more months out of me.

Baking a cake for their birthdays also goes a long way…

So do good salads (who said you can’t make friends with salad anyway?)

I digress…

I’m not suggesting nobody in the group that I had over on the weekend will ever leave the gym, but let me ask you this:

Have you ever had a client quit on awkwardly, probably via e-mail or text message, who has been to your place for dinner?

This particular weekend was followed up with four of us meeting the next morning—8 a.m. on a Sunday—for an impromptu workout together to burn off the calories from the night before.

During the workout, one of my clients, who has been doing personal training only for 3.5 years because he prefers it to the group classes, told me how great it was to hang out socially with a group of people that have so much energy. It was heart warming for me to hear, and I realized that these dinner parties aren’t just a way for me to show my appreciation to them, but also an opportunity for tighter friendships to form between them. Again, a side effect is they’ll continue to be part of the community for years to come.

Meet up with each client outside the gym at least once a year 

On a similar note to dinner parties, I try (although sometimes you get the odd anti-social client who isn’t interested) to meet up with each of my clients—be it having them over for dinner, going for breakfast, lunch, coffee, drinks, or attending an event of theirs, like a Christmas concert—at least once a year.

With the clients I’m close with, it’s way way more frequent than once a year, but having a real conversation with each person outside the gym periodically goes a long way in helping me understand what they want and need from me as a coach, building their continued trust and loyalty, and finding out what’s going on with them outside the gym.

Hybrid PTs

I wrote about this last week in this blog, but to reiterate: A few years ago, we introduced Hybrid memberships, meaning all our clients do a combination of group classes and one-on-one personal training sessions. Some meet for a pt once a week, others once a month, others once a cycle (every 6 week) and others once a quarter. This session gives us a chance to re-connect, and also lets us address any issues—frustrations they’re having, new goals they want to achieve, working around and on rehabbing injuries etc—they have been experiencing in classes.

These sessions have been particularly useful for clients who have been floundering and are on the brink of quitting; sometimes they just need to share what’s going on in their lives, and then they remember why they started in the first place and they reset their commitment to their fitness. I know I have “saved” more than a handful of clients from calling it quits during these periodic personal training sessions. For example, the client I mentioned above who only does personal training: During one of these hybrid pt sessions he revealed that he would rather do personal training than group classes, so we switched him to personal training only, and for the last three years he has been paying $4,500 + a year for personal training. Had I not offered that to him, he wouldn’t have lasted another month in classes. 

Formal Annual Client Night

I also host a wine and cheese client night for all my clients once a year. Not only is it a great social opportunity and has been hugely successful in helping new clients in classes get to know people and feel more comfortable in the community, we also always reserve 30 minutes or so to go around and get everyone’s formal feedback about what they love and what they’d like to see more of, less of, change etc., which helps us constantly improve our service, as well.

Tell me your best client retention tips!

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