Grow Your Training Business With Referrals

Every trainer’s dream would be to have clients banging down their door without ever even having to speak the word “marketing”. Unfortunately, this is not the reality that most of us live in. Instead we have to work hard to get in front of new clients by any means possible.

There are, however, ways to increase your client load without spending big bucks and one of the best is through referrals. Also referred to as “word of mouth”, a referral is sales speak for the process of obtaining a client through a recommendation, usually from a current client. If you are a good trainer you have probably even had this happen to you a couple times.

But what if you want to make this a regular occurrence? Well, then you better have a system like the one I’ve outlined below and be willing to do two things: give a great service and make sure to ask.

Do a Great Job

The single most important factor in getting referrals from your clients is doing a great job. Are your clients getting results? Do they enjoy the atmosphere? Do you get to know each one of them and make them feel important? Are you consistently creating a great experience or are you simply winging it every time you work with someone?

These are the types of questions that you need to be asking yourself. In “The E-Myth Revisited” Michael Gerber mentions that it is not enough to be good sporadically; you have to deliver a great experience each time they come in. If you’re not doing a good job, then you really don’t deserve to ask for a referral.

If you are not sure if your business is up to par, then I recommend conducting an anonymous online survey. Make the questions as specific as possible in an attempt to find areas where you are succeeding and also where you need improvement. Consider including a question about whether the client would recommend your business to a friend and if not, why.


While it is certainly possible that you will get a referral or two without asking, why leave it to chance? The most successful businesses out there are the ones that are proactive about putting their products or services in front of potential customers. If you are doing a good job most of your clients would be happy to give you a recommendation, but often they don’t realize that you would like them to do so.

Start by identifying the clients that you have the best relationship with and enjoy training the most. Usually these tend to also be the clients that have gotten the best results from your program. Take each one aside and let them know how much you have enjoyed working with them and why. Follow up by asking if they know of anyone close to them that might benefit from your service and if they would be willing to connect you. A nice benefit to this is that people tend to develop friendships with those that are similar to themselves; therefore, you are likely to end up with a new client that gets along with you well.

Once you get comfortable asking, there are a few times that seem to be optimal to do so.

The 3 Best Times to Ask

Point of Contact – When someone first contacts your business to setup a first meeting, consultation, or trial period there is a great opportunity to ask the potential client if they would like to bring someone with them. Almost everyone has a friend or family member that is trying to lose weight or improve their fitness level and this gives you the potential to obtain 2 new clients instead of just one. People are more likely to step out of their comfort zone and make a commitment when their friends are doing the same.

1-3 Months After Beginning a Program – When someone first begins a fitness program the most drastic aesthetic and strength changes tend to happen within the first couple months. This is likely due to the addition of some behavior consistency and finally incorporating strength training into their weekly schedule. This is also the same time that clients start reaching some of their short term goals, their motivation begins to peak and you really earn their trust. At this point there is a good chance that your client is already singing your praises to their social circle, but you should still ask. You now have a walking, talking billboard for your service and expertise.

After Reaching a Major Milestone – It is not uncommon for clients to have lofty goals, but it is relatively rare for them to see them through. Big transformations like losing 100lbs or deadlifting 3 times your body weight not only take serious dedication, but also serious time. It is not easy to stay focused and work towards a goal for a year or longer which is why these accomplishments garner so much respect and awe. As human beings, we love hearing stories about how someone beat the odds and accomplished something great because they motivate us to do the same.

Creating a Reward Program

The purpose of a referral reward program is to show your appreciation for those that support your business. With that in mind, I think it is best not to mention this when asking for a referral so it may not seem that you are trying to “grease the wheels”. Instead, this generally works best when it is a surprise and something genuine.

For the current client, I recommend giving them a gift that shows personality and thoughtfulness. For example, if you know the client enjoys going out to eat you could get him/her a gift certificate to that new restaurant that they have been talking about during the last 2 sessions. Or if they are an avid reader, you could get them a couple books that you think they would enjoy. This will really set you apart from your competition since their idea of a reward is usually a free session or two.

For the new client, a handwritten thank you note should be just right.

Watch Your Business Grow

The important thing to remember about a successful referral program is that it takes consistency to deliver. You should spend some time each month tracking how many referrals you have received and identify which clients might be likely to send someone your way. By implementing the system I have provided you should easily be able to obtain 1-2 new clients each month and that number will increase as your client load grows.