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The Seven Steps to Fitness Business Success


Seven seems to be a magic number. There are seven dwarfs. Seven wonders of the world. Seven Deadly Sins. Seven words you can’t say on television. There are also seven steps to success for any fitness business. I’ve shared these steps in many seminars, in a variety of formats, but now I’d like to present the “Seven Steps to Fitness Success” specific to personal trainers.

There’s no need for suspense. I’ll get to the steps right now, then I’ll take you through an exploration of each one. An understanding of the seven steps can only help your business grow. Mastery of the seven steps will take you directly to the top of the field, to the place where you have the ability to name your own income... and then go out and achieve it! The seven steps include: getting people to peek, exciting them, influencing them, satisfying them, thrilling them, documenting the moments of ecstasy and expanding the reach of the net.

Any fitness business can optimize revenue generation by adhering to the steps and seeking balance among all of them. If any of the steps are not up to par with the others, it drags down the profit power of each of the others. The real trick is to equally devote your attention to ALL seven and constantly strive to improve whatever is the weakest link in the chain at any given time.

Getting People to Peek

Let’s start with the first one. In training my own staff, I use the analogy of a net. Just as fishermen throw out nets to draw fish into their boats, we as fitness professionals have to draw prospective clients, isolating them from the field of “everyone,” so we can zero in on their needs. Using this analogy, the first step in the seven step chain is “Getting People to Peek.” You want the world at large to curiously wonder what’s going on inside your net. In other words, there are people you’ve already captured, people who are already finding benefit in your offerings, people who are “under your net.” Others should feel as if they are somehow missing out by not sharing in the benefits those under the net enjoy. In order to grow your business, you’re going to want to expand your number of clients; thus, you’re going to have to get greater numbers of people to curiously peek.

This step involves external marketing. Outreach programs where you set up an informational table with the promise of something of value (i.e., body fat testing) are valuable in getting people to peek. Visibly training clients in high traffic settings such as commercial health clubs can get others to peek. Articles you have published, promotions you run and literature you distribute should all be viewed as tools that encourage people to very simply want to “take a peek” at your offerings.

Exciting People

Getting them to peek is simply a first step. Once you have their attention, you want to hold on to it. That translates into creating excitement. How do you create excitement? By helping people to see or to understand that with your help, they can overcome some pain that plagues them or achieve some goal that is extremely important to them. Imagine an aspiring baseball player having the opportunity to learn from Mark McGwire. Imagine the excitement. That’s the same type of emotion you want to create among all of those who take a peek.

Exciting people is simple, but there’s a technique that must be employed if it’s going to be effective in influencing the masses to make fitness commitments. It’s important for you to understand precisely what pain each prospective client is harboring. You can’t prove you can overcome the pain until you understand what it is.

For trainers, ideally the “excite” stage would be a small group orientation. You will spend an hour presenting to between four and eight individuals who have all expressed a fitness need and had enough curiosity and preliminary interest to sign up for this closer look at what you can do for them. I suggest charging $20 for the orientation. If someone who peeks is not curious and intrigued enough to invest $20 in their future health and fitness, what is the likelihood they’ll pay your regular personal training fees?

The orientation begins with you obtaining permission to ask what some of them might perceive as personal questions. Everyone in the room is harboring a pain, and unless it’s coaxed out of them, not a single one will share. If you jump right into an interrogation where you begin firing out questions, you are likely not to excite them but to inspire them to run for cover. Only if they understand the questions are for their benefit will the revealing of the pain begin to elicit further excitement.

I teach trainers to begin their orientations with a dialogue similar to the following:

“I’d like to welcome everybody to this session and congratulate you for taking an action that can have a very positive impact upon the rest of your life. If you look around the room, you’ll find that we have different types of people, probably with different goals. You might be wondering how I can teach all of you, in a group setting, to achieve the goals that are most important to each one of you. The answer lies in a concept we call “Synergy.” These synergistic components lay the foundation of any fitness program, whether the goal is health, muscle or fat loss. Conceptually, what works for a professional linebacker to rid fat from his body works for a sedentary 45-year-old woman. Of course, the specifics of the workouts and meals would be different, but in concept, they’d be doing the same thing. Biologically, biochemically, we are all made of the same material. I’ll teach you how to develop and build new healthy cells, facilitate fat release and teach you to control the amount and shape of the muscle on your body. With that knowledge, you become the sculptor, your body the clay. With that said, there is another concept I’d like to introduce: bioindividuality. While in concept, we will pursue similar paths, we all have different goals, different likes and dislikes, different lifestyles and different metabolisms. In order to customize this one-hour session to meet everyone’s needs, I’d like to first understand some of those specifics. John, can you give me an idea of what you’d like to achieve?”

It goes on from there. You acquire information and then begin to stack up all of the compelling facts that will empower the people in the room to change. As they learn, they also come to understand you have a knowledge that can be very instrumental in bringing them to their goals. They are a few feet away from the individual with the power to change their lives. That’s exciting! The orientation should build in excitement until you take them to the “alternatives” phase. This is where the next step begins to take shape.

Influencing People

At the moment your orientation session is about to conclude, everyone in the room is at a fork in the road. They are about to make a decision. The decision will greatly affect their future. Guide them, slowly and deliberately, into first the hypothetical future that is certain to manifest if they do not connect with you and adhere to a program. “Where do you see yourself six months from now if you continue in the direction you’ve been moving in?” The farther you guide them into the future, the uglier that image is going to become. Next is the moment of rescue. Remove the pain. Take them into the alternative future. “Where do you see yourself six months from now if we make some of the changes we discussed and you start moving toward your goals?” Suddenly that little voice inside each of their heads begins to act as your ally. They have just come face to face with their future. They realize the importance of the decision they must make. If you’ve gotten them to peek, excited them and initiated the influence process, you’re about to gain some new clients.

The next step in the influence process involves getting people to commit. I suggest “qualifying” the audience by subtly asking anyone who is not interested in pursuing a personal training relationship to leave the room. “This concludes the orientation. Again I congratulate you for acquiring the knowledge I’ve just shared. Please remain seated if you’re interested in hearing about the personal training options, about how I can work with you from this point forward.” Anyone who is not interested leaves. If you’ve done a nice job up until this point, it’s rare that anyone will leave. If, in fact, you do have someone in the room who is committed to a decision NOT to enroll in personal training, it’s best if that person is prevented from clouding the decisions of others. If someone does leave at this point, it’s a positive thing for your business.

By virtue of the fact that they’ve remained in their seats, they have in essence said to you, “I’m interested.” There’s no need to ask if they’re interested. Assume they are. In order to elicit a commitment, the question should be “When will we schedule your first workout?” or “How often should we get together?” One at a time, you set the first appointments, and the influence phase is complete.

Satisfying People

This is the obvious step. After all, we know we should satisfy our clients, but unfortunately in the real world, it’s the step that is sadly neglected in most cases. Trainers often become complacent, falling into a routine with each client, and the sessions become more an act of babysitting than training. Take some time to design a program and set some goals. Showing up regularly is NOT enough to satisfy. These people were influenced because they believed you were going to help them make positive changes. Until those changes begin to manifest, they will NOT be satisfied.

Interestingly, while I emphasize the importance of this step, I firmly believe it’s only a springboard to the next step.

Thrilling People

As a personal trainer, there are two secrets to thrilling clients. First, deliver more value than they expect, and second, treat each client as if they are the most important person in the world. Listen to them. Care about them. Guide them. Coach them. Give them more attention than they ever expected and go beyond being a workout leader. Get inside their heads. Understand what it will take to thrill them and then deliver!

Does that sound difficult? At first glance, it might. However, once you realize that people’s actual expectations are extremely low, based upon their past attempts at change, you’ll realize that bringing them the results they want will not only please them but will shock them! While they hope for results, deep down, few of them really expect results. Take them through the little steps of education, empowerment and follow through, and you can thrill each and every client. Remember, I told you all of the steps were equally valuable. You want to achieve balance. At times, you might feel as if the moments in which clients reveal their great satisfaction and exhilaration offer some badge of honor, as if you’ve crossed some finish line. If continually building your business is the goal, you haven’t crossed any such line. You’ve merely opened a door for the next vital step.

Documenting the Moments of Ecstasy

Louise comes to you with her spirit crushed. She has been divorced for a year. Her only love affair in that year has been with donuts. She hates mirrors. She hates her life. She’s completely out of control, and she comes to you for help. You excite her, influence her and satisfy her, and then comes that great moment when she realizes, “It’s working!” She can barely contain her excitement. “You’ve changed my life! I can’t believe it. I never thought I could weigh 120 pounds again. I never thought I’d be shopping for bikinis. Best of all, I got a promotion at work and have been dating a wonderful man, who is also committed to fitness. I can’t thank you enough.” That is a moment of ecstasy. We’ve all been exposed to such moments, but moments pass and quickly become history. You have a responsibility to yourself, to your business and to your future clients. You MUST document those moments!

There is no tool more valuable than evidence. You must collect evidence until you own an arsenal. How do you document the moments? Any way you can. You write down what your clients tell you and ask them to sign it. You take “After" pictures. And since you can’t go back and take the “Before,” it’s important that a part of each client relationship involves a photograph prior to making changes. You can break out an audio recorder and ask them to repeat it. You can sit them in a chair and have them make the statement to a video camera.

The infomercial people know the value of evidence. In fact, it was another point of contention in my most recent infomercial project. They wanted testimonials. They wanted people to speak positively about my programs. They wanted (are you ready for this?) to use actors!

“ACTORS?!?!?!” I lost it! “Why in the world would you use actors when I have thousands of people who would love to give their real testimony as to their results with my program?”

Their answer was absurd. “Because that’s what all the infomercials do.”

My response, “Because most of the infomercial products suck! I’m sharing the fitness truth and people are getting results.” They pushed on the actor point, but I refused. Finally, they had the opportunity to speak with my customers and clients. They could not believe the expressions of, well, being “thrilled!”

You don’t have to wait for an infomercial opportunity to show up before you start recording testimonials. Do it each time you are exposed to one. With each testimonial you receive, your marketing power is increased exponentially.

Expanding the Reach of the Net

Now, with the first six steps complete, you have power. You started by marketing, by taking some actions to get people to peek. Now you can throw the net out with even greater potential for “peekers.” You have testimonials! You have clients who are thrilled. You have evidence. This brings your marketing to a whole new level.

Complacency and stagnation can be your greatest enemies. Even if you feel as if you have enough clients, if your income is sufficient, and you are making the type of difference you once aspired to make, never stop throwing out that net. It’s far better to have to refuse business, to develop a waiting list and to gain continuous exposure than it is to rest on your laurels. Nothing stands still. Things either grow or die, and sometimes death approaches without warning. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic here, but I’ve been there. I’ve made the mistakes. I’ve taken my business to the highest highs and wound up more than once deep in the valleys of frustration. I learn from my experiences. My mistakes become your education as well. When success hits, never let this final step, expanding the reach of the net, gather dust.

With a balance of the seven steps, is there any question your business can only grow and prosper? Of course not! It’s an absolute path to success. Now here comes your homework. List the seven steps. Give yourself an honest assessment for each one, on a scale of 1-10, as to where you stand now. You’ll find a mix of numbers on your list. You might be satisfying at a level of 10 but missing opportunities to document moments. You might be marketing your gluteus off but failing to thrill people. Once you have your list, take an immediate action to improve on whichever step receives the lowest score. Each week, re-evaluate. This constant focus on improvement will bring you to the pinnacle of personal training success in far less time than you expect. When all steps are at a “10,” your work is not complete. We’ll simply add another step!

For now, focus on the seven steps and keep your sights planted firmly on your goals.