4 Secrets to Engaging and Retaining Clients

by Brian Wright on September 11, 2013

bwrightSo many of us as trainers, coaches, and fitness business owners get caught up in studying our craft…sometimes to a fault.
We work on programs for clients, we study manuals, we read blogs, and we attend countless workshops.

I have a long list of letters after my name, so clearly I am not saying that I am above any of that, or even non-supportive of it! In fact, I believe that we as a fitness professional community need MORE quality education. It is through that knowledge base that the RKC, CK-FMS, Primal Move Cert, PCC, and other personal training certifications helps us to change our clients’ lives for the better!

I am suggesting that perhaps we focus too much on the specifics of delivering program instead of the overall feelings those programs are supposed to create.

Let’s ask ourselves what people want…

  • They want to feel successful
  • They want recognition
  • They want a sense of belonging
  • They want to have fun

No matter how great of a program coach you are (and there have been some of the best in the business to have called themselves RKC’s), your clients will not stick with you unless their needs and wants are being met immediately. No matter how great of a marketer you are, you will not be able to hold onto those that the message reaches unless they have feelings of complete satisfaction relatively early into your program.

How do we create these feelings as business owners?

We might need to become better instructors! The answers are not in more education in this case.  They are also not in attending another workshop to learn corrections, form and technique, or even which direct mail campaign to write. The answer is that we need to create a tribe feeling that people flock to in droves.

People want to feel successful. On the first day of training – either in a group or individually, people need to feel like they can do it right away. I believe as good instructors, we can find certain exercises that they can complete while being challenged. These exercises need to have benefit and they need to be within your program framework. That way you will maintain your fluid message, illustrate your passion appropriately, and be able to build on your education model.

For example, if a client goes through the RKC plank, the deadlift motion, some FMS style corrections, and maybe completes a few static stomp deadlifts or even some “sloppy” low swings within the first hour they meet you, they may not feel the same sense of accomplishment you do as their instructor. They have no real patience for the end product. You may have had this client sign up for a full 12 weeks, (as I hope you do in your training agreements) but without some immediate successes, they will be hard pressed to be engaged.

As a business owner – when is the best time to get a referral? Within the first 2 weeks of a new client signing up! Because they are excited! They want to tell people about the program they just signed up for; they want to share their successes! GIVE THEM SOME right away.

Focusing my attention on getting my clients success fast, I use the TRX. The program has a quick learning curve with good strength circuits. I bring in the Kettlebell early as well, as it often times is a major reason why people have sought me out.  I teach them the RKC plank and explain to them that a 10 second plank is a great tension practice (most people can find decent tension for 10 seconds). I teach them the deadlift and the beginnings of the swing, but for many their success is in TRX inverted rows, TRX counter balance squats (even while holding a racked Kettlebell if they have the strength), and in feeling a good plank. They feel like they get their expectations met right away (I’m working hard from day 1) as well as moving closer to better understanding tension and the proper neural patterns I want to teach. It’s a win/win scenario!

Here’s the key – no matter what they do, I make it a big deal!!!!! That’s their success – that you are VERY proud of them, happy for their effort, their accomplishment, and their decision to begin a workable program! As their sessions click on, they start swinging, doing presses, pushups, a flexed arm hang or assisted pull-up – these are GREAT accomplishments! They get written down, they form the beginnings of their 6 week goals, and they feel like they are doing well right from day 1.

They want recognition. Clients feel successful because you are recognizing them. Blast them out on Facebook, put them in your newsletter, but best of all – just send them a text or phone call. People see that a FB blast or newsletter mostly helps YOU out – to promote your business. (It’s still important, but it’s second to the personal relationship building that a one on one contact can forge). If you are managing trainers, then not only coach them to do this for their individual clients, but as the business owner – do this as well!!! Remember, the clients write their checks to your business and your program philosophy – not to their individual trainer. It is ultimately your responsibility to keep those clients happy – that comes with their feelings of success and getting the personal recognition they deserve.

They want a sense of belonging. You know what line people remember from the TV show Cheers? It’s the line about everyone knowing your name. You know why CrossFit is so successful (a multi-million dollar business)?  It’s because of their community they have created! As business owners of outdoor/in-home training businesses, training studios, or just a handful of neighborhood clients, it is our responsibility to create a tribe! Our clients are the members and we’re the chiefs. Who sets the tone? We do! Who does the work? They do! All you have to do is create the model. Here are some suggestions:

Motivational music THEY like is a must.

A slow clap build up before the start of a PR attempt or a difficult circuit/work set

Inclusion of team work drills like team carries and races against time, I go/you go drills, friendly competition (if it fits into your community – it mostly does not fit into mine). Borrow ideas from team sports blogs and books. Coaches are great resources for how to bring a team together. This mostly applies to the group training model – but it doesn’t have to be! Who’s the teammate for a one-on-one training session? You are! Get in there and do the carry with them!

Lastly, people want to have fun. Most people don’t really want an exercise regimen or physical therapy program. But they see it as necessary to their health; they see value, and they probably don’t hate it once they start. That’s not good enough! Even though it’s sometimes painful, we can create an environment that people love! Play games, make them laugh (while they are working!), come up with themed sessions. As trainers, we have the best jobs in the world. We are teachers of recess! I always tell my students –this should be the most fun you have all day! The 3 hours I see them each week should be fun, exciting, and fulfilling on all levels!

All of these four points do not negate a progressive, safe, and workable program approach. You still can teach all the fantastic things we learn in the workshops and certifications we attend. We can help people improve their ankle dorsi flexion with FMS corrections, we can improve their squat pattern, and we can get them strong and conditioned swing/goblet ladders. We can do all this while we are playing music, making jokes about tough love to check core tension, joining in on their goblet squats – being a teammate in their pain – keeping energy high over the loud “eye of the tiger” music we blast and congratulating them on their effort.

Using the 4 key elements for engaging and retaining clients, here’s a sample group session (can be modified for an individual session very easily):

2-3 mins foam rolling and general prep (as people trickle in – it’s the “how you doing” time)

2 -3 mins of meditation – I turn off the lights, I tell people to forget about their days, and think about the tasks at hand – basically a mental awareness time with drills on “really feeling” their bodies. (I play some hokey meditative music at this point – something I can joke about later on) – but I believe there is still real value in this for my program

5-10 mins of primal move, dynamic warm-up, general corrections (naked getups or drills with pauses for dorsi flexion focus, T-spine rotation repetitions, bridge variations depending skill levels (there’s a progression for all)

5-8 mins of loaded prep – deadlifts, carries/holds, plank drills, more corrections that feel harder maybe (face the wall squats for example) goblet pry stretches, or stick overhead squats, maybe a few swings (no more than 50 – 5×10 at most)

Note: (We are 20 mins into the session and so far have not done any WORK, but we have laid foundations, prep, addressed progressive corrections and of course furthered the culture of the tribe – that we are here for your total health with high emphasis on your mental state, your mobility, and your feelings of fun)

The Program  sometimes has a theme – today is Aug 6th – so we will do the devil’s workout – 6 -6 -6
6 double KB Deadlifts
6 pushup variation – 1 arm progressions for advanced, just good quality range of motion for others
6 double clean and squat

NEXT Series
6 TRX Rows – pretty aggressive in the angle
6 double clean and press
6 kneeling windmills (3 each)

NEXT Series
6 overhead lunges
6 double swings or heavy 2 hand swings
6 getups to the hand (floor press, elbow, hand ) 3 each hand
That’s 6-6-6

10 mins conditioning games

Then we do trivia questions about the other members in class – I have asked each person to write down 2 little known facts about themselves (what country were they in when their first son was born? What position did they play in high school football?) and other things people can guess at. The class then will buzz in and attempt to answer. A right answer means they get to choose from one of 6 low skill conditioning exercises, a wrong one means I get to choose.

Exercise list

  • Burpees
  • Carries
  • Stair sprints
  • Hollow rocks for time
  • Crawls
  • Sand bag drag

5 mins recovery – static stretching, rolling or other low grade correctional drill.

That’s the hour – I’ll point out successes, bring the entire “team” together in shared pain, joy and camaraderie.  Come renewal time – we’ll rely on this “tribe” experience to drive not only the business success – but their success in that they are sticking to a program for years!


About Brian Wright MS, CSCS, RKCII, NSCA-CPT: Brian is the Owner of BW-PT and Director of Sport and Spine Athletics, with 13 Studios in the DC metro area with over 520 average sessions per month. There’s a renewal rate of 83% on our personal training packages and group training packages.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Previous post:

Next post: