The Importance of Client Retention

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In today’s day and age being a personal trainer runs somewhere in the spectrum of one of the most rewarding careers out there and a dumpster fire.

The latter comes into play often, especially when you work in a large commercial gym where you’re one of dozens of trainers vying for everyone’s attention (and wallets). It’s seemingly become harder to separate yourself from the masses, and when you compound that with the long hours and the massive trepidation from many trainers to understand the business side of the equation, it’s no wonder the burnout rate is so high.

In today’s excellent guest post Michael Anderson he explains why keeping the clients you do have may be the “x” factor.

The Importance of Client Retention

This is sort of a weird post to write for me because I’m specifically speaking to the coaches and trainers that read Tony’s blog rather than the average Joe or Jane who just likes training and wants to be awesome.

It’s also weird because I don’t often talk about the business side of this industry…mainly because I’m a WAY better trainer than businessman.

Today’s lesson is one I learned probably 7-8 years ago and it should help anyone who heeds this advice make more money: retain your clients.

I don’t mean tie them up and keep them in the yoga studio, I mean make sure that once you get a client you’re keeping them for the long haul.

Many moons ago I was a personal trainer at a fairly upscale privately owned globo gym in Boston. Per the usual for a commercial gym like that they constantly pushed the trainers to sign new trainees up for sessions. The owners and manager went to great lengths to keep increasing new sign-ups. We offered two free sessions when you signed up for a year membership, several times a year we offered a special deal where you could buy three sessions for $99 and they started to give bonus incentives to trainers who signed up new clients for X amount of sessions.

The only problem was that this ultimately didn’t make anyone any money; neither the trainers nor the gym itself.

The two free sessions would work well if you had a really polished approach, but it took a long time to get comfortable with it. The sessions that we put on sale were a waste of time and effort; the “sales hunters” would wait until these were available and then buy a few of them with no intention of training beyond the length of those packages.

They’d do a few sessions and get some new ideas and then work out on their own until the sale became available again. As the trainer conducting these sessions, you were doomed to fail.

These people almost never wanted to continue as a regular client.

Providing a financial bonus to the trainers when you signed up a new client created a system where people were more interested in selling packages to get the extra money short-term than they were in building a solid long-term client base.

The result of this was that there were a lot of gym members who did a few sessions with trainers who were just trying to get paid vs enjoying quality sessions. Ultimately these people would now be harder to convince to use our training services again.

Why Long Term Is Better

As a personal trainer it is going to benefit you dramatically in the long term to have clients that come back to you month after month, year after year.

During my five year stint training at that gym, I had 8-10 clients who would train with me multiple times per week and that core group lasted for 2-5 years.

Most of these clients would purchase our largest package of sessions (52) which was sold as the “annual package” and resulted in the cheapest per session cost; my clients were going through 2-3 of them a year!

Out of about 35 available training hours per week, my schedule typically contained about 20-25 hours of long-term clients. The rest of my schedule was usually filled in with new members who were using their two free sessions. My conversion rate with these was pretty good, so my goal was to get them interested in training regularly and then I would pass them off to other trainers who had more availability or were just starting out.

I hate suggesting this, but its important thing to remember from time to time: your clients are your business and each one represents money to you.

In the grand scheme of things you will make more money having 3-5 people train 2-3 times a week each for multiple years than chasing new clients every month so you can get the bonus. 

I’ve heard a general rule when it comes to business marketing that it takes 5-10 times as much money to obtain a new customer as it does to retain an old one. In the personal trainer world this means it takes you more time talking to people on the gym floor, more time emailing and cold calling and more time doing intro sessions that I’ve always found to be much more draining and intensive than someone you’ve been working with for a while.

If you’ve ever had a day where you do 3-4 first time sessions with someone then you know what I’m talking about. Now, I’m not suggesting you should be opposed to doing all of those office-work things, but I feel like many of you would agree with me that it’s more fun to be in the gym coaching than it is to be sitting at a computer send out the same annoying email over and over.


The other benefit is that when you work with someone for a long time and they really trust and appreciate you they will do the marketing for you.

These clients will tell other gym members and friends about how much they enjoy working with you. If you read Pete Dupuis’ blog (and you should) then you’d know that word of mouth advertising is the One Ring of fitness business advertising….it rules them all.

These referrals almost always produce a stronger client relationship than someone who just walks into the gym and says “yea I guess I’ll try a session with you”. If a person you’ve been working with for 18 months can produce one or two more people who will work with you for 18 months each, you’re doing really well.

But, How?

Unfortunately this is where I tell you that there is no secret formula to creating and retaining a good client base.

I think Tony’s blog in general is filled with great advice that will help you succeed in this regard; I know that it helped me tremendously back in the day when I was figuring this shit out (and still today). Other than that you just have to work hard and refine your technique.

It also really helps if people like you. No one likes working with a dick.

Make sure you take care of your current clients first.

Much like exercise, make sure you master the basics of good customer service first: be on time, don’t smell like hot ass, don’t let them see you pick a booger at the front desk, don’t complain about your personal problems during a session, don’t allow their time slot to get compromised because you’re a shitty scheduler, and ensure that you’re doing your part to help them meet their goals.

Personal training is both a soft science and an art form. You have to do what you know is right to help them achieve a goal, but you also have to relent a little on some stuff. If a client hates push-ups and you keep forcing push-ups on them, they will just say “F it” and not come back.

You’ve got to develop a broad enough range of methods and approaches that you can meet any client where they are and create an enjoyable training experience.

As a current small business owner, I’ve seen this scenario play out even more substantially than it did when I worked at a globo gym.

I don’t have the capital to spend on any advertising and showing up at high school sporting events to hand out business cards isn’t a great use of my time. It has become even more important that I focus on keeping the clients I have and slowly adding to my roster through word of mouth referrals.

While getting new clients in the door is important, I’d be a fool to not first take the best care of the people currently coming to train with me. Do right by those you train now and build on that slowly.

If you have any questions please feel free to reach out!

About the Author

Mike is a personal trainer and strength coach living in Cleveland with his fiance and adorable pit bull. He is the owner of Anderson Strength and Fitness, the strength coach for Healthy Green Athlete and is an all around badass dude. You can follow him on Instagram @AndersonStrengthFitness or shoot him an email at

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Comments for This Entry

  • Trish

    Such a great article! I don't get why gyms still do the "get new clients" model. Indeed, I've had greater success with clients who refer their friends to me than to go out hunting for new ones on my own. You also mentioned not doing stuff they hate. It was subtle but I think super important and deserves a round of applause. The point is to make their time working out with you enjoyable enough that they come back...and this was a great reminder to stop making my clients do burpees ;) (just kidding...I don't do that unless they talk back). The Lord of The Rings bit was a nice touch.

    February 19, 2018 at 4:15 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Andre Brown

    This was a great article to read! I'm a relatively new online fitness trainer who is trying to build up their client base. This article will definitely help me out in the long run when I have more clients and I'll be able to retain them. You have to push your clients just enough for them to see results, but not so hard that they don't want to come back. It's all about your client not you. Even if you want them to do an Incline Bench Press to build up their chest, don't have them do it if the exercise bothers their shoulders. Opt for the Incline Dumbbell Press instead. I'm currently looking to find clients online, do you know of the most effective way to do that? I've used Facebook and LinkedIn so far. I already have a google sign up form for my online training and an ethic bribe set up. -Andre

    February 21, 2018 at 9:32 am | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    Great work Micheal and congrats on making the PTDC articles of the week. I loved this line"Personal training is both a soft science and an art form. "

    February 25, 2018 at 8:20 pm | Reply to this comment

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