PT on the Net Research

How to Turn Prospective Clients into Paying Clients: The Art of Initial Consultations

Co-authored by Mary Bratcher

The new year brings with it many resolutions from people who are determined to get in better shape. This is great for fitness professionals because it means an increase in initial consultations with potential clients. However, in order to capitalize on this influx of prospects you have to know how to conduct consultations confidently and professionally. This article will discuss the strategies successful personal trainers utilize during initial consultations to convert prospects into paying clients. Integrating these techniques into your own consultations can help you develop and maintain a successful personal training business.

Understand How Your Prospective Client Feels

Prior to conducting any type of consultation, it is important for you as the professional to understand that the potential client has an entirely different perspective with regard to the consultation than you do. When a client contacts you for help in reaching their health and fitness goals, it is in part because they lack the knowledge and/or confidence that they can be successful at reaching their goals on their own (Feltz, 1992). A person may have a desire to lose weight, but may not have knowledge about the appropriate diet and/or exercises to help them realize that goal. Furthermore, they may have made previous attempts at achieving this goal (either on their own or with the help of another trainer) that have proven unsuccessful. This prior failure to achieve their goal has likely compounded their lack confidence in their own abilities and belief that they can ever be successful (Bandura, 1986). Consequently, your potential client may feel anxious about consulting with you to discuss the prospect of losing weight, getting fit, improving their performance, or becoming pain-free. Therefore, in order to increase the chances the person will become a paying client, you must focus your efforts on improving their knowledge base and confidence during your meeting. Increasing their hope in you, your programs, and in themselves will help them realize that signing up for your services is a great idea.

Understanding Your Own Feelings About Consultations

While it is vital to recognize your client’s anxiety, you must also understand that your own feelings may affect your ability to conduct consultations successfully. When a prospective client first contacts you to inquire about services, your initial reaction is probably one of joy that you may get a new client. However, if you lack confidence in your own skills and/or ability to communicate effectively with a new client, your excitement can sometimes turn into anxiety and/or dread. These feelings of apprehension, caused by a lack of confidence, may manifest during your consultations by you either talking too much or feeling compelled to use technical jargon to show the client just how much you know (Whitworth, 2007). These symptoms of nervousness on your part, no matter how well you try to hide them, only make your potential client more anxious about the situation. Therefore, another aspect of conducting successful consultations is being aware of how your own anxiety affects your behavior. Knowing how you act when you are nervous and keeping those behaviors in check can help you keep consultations running smoothly.

Practical Strategies to Ensure Your Client Signs Up

Following are some practical consultation strategies to help you remain calm and confident while increasing your client’s knowledge and decreasing their anxiety.

Set Clear Expectations for the Consultation

When meeting with you for the first time your prospective client likely has little idea about what to expect. They are entering a situation that is unfamiliar (e.g., the gym) or uncomfortable (e.g., meeting a stranger) to them. Naturally, this can compound the level of anxiety they are experiencing with regard to the meeting. Think about how you feel when in a similar situation in your own life. For example, imagine when you have to go to a party or function and aren’t sure what to wear because you are unfamiliar or unsure about what is going to happen at the event. As such, you probably feel anxious about the situation and fretful that what you're wearing is unacceptable. When it comes to initial consultations, your client is going through the same ordeal. Therefore, the first practical consultation strategy is to provide prospective clients with a clear picture of what to expect during that first meeting — including what to wear, what to bring, where to meet you, and how to contact you if they have any questions prior to the appointment.

When you meet the prospective client in person, endeavor to make them feel relaxed by greeting them personally upon arrival and escorting them to the changing area or meeting room. Remember that the person will probably still be very nervous because a spotlight is going to be trained on a discussion about their perceived flaws and shortcomings. As such, they may not act the same as they normally would. Look for signs of excessive nervousness by listening to the way they speak (e.g., they may clam up or talk excessively and very quickly). You should also look for clues that they are nervous in their body language; they may cross their arms and legs, fidget, look away from you or even turn their body away (Whitworth, 2007). Being aware of these signs of anxiety can enable you to reassure the client that there is no need to be nervous. It can also help you know when to change your own behavior to make the experience more positive for the prospective client (e.g., diverting discussion of a particularly sensitive topic or ceasing use of technical jargon).

Curb Your Biases and Evaluate Your Rapport-Building Skills

Our past experiences with people and places affect the way in which we perceive situations and communicate with others. Therefore, it is important to remember that your own personal biases and attitudes can negatively impact an initial consultation. For example, if one of your parents was very overweight and complained of knee pain for most of their life, you might have developed a mental attitude that they would not have had the pain if they had made an effort to lose weight. When you subsequently have an appointment with a prospective client to discuss how you can help them alleviate chronic knee pain and discover upon their arrival that they are tremendously overweight, you may have a tendency to blame the person for their aches and pains. Although you may not be fully aware of it, your communication style may change to be less patient or compassionate when talking with this person. As such, your brusqueness or insensitivity may result in the person declining to sign up with you. Alternatively, you may assume during a consultation that a certain person cannot afford your services by the way they are dressed or the image they portray. Consequently, you may not listen to them as carefully as you would to another prospective client and it may cost you the client.

If you know that you feel uncomfortable approaching or conversing with certain types of people, you can help yourself negate your preconceptions by making a conscious effort to interact with these people on a regular basis. Simply start by saying hello. From there, work on increasing the amount of contact you have with a wider variety of people, thereby making you more comfortable with all types of potential clients.

Once you have expanded your comfort level regarding different types of clients, assess your rapport-building skills. The ability to quickly develop connections with people is crucial when a client is deciding whether to sign with you (Whitworth, 2007). Analyze your verbal and non-verbal communication skills for strengths and weaknesses so you can make potential clients feel more comfortable and confident during an initial consultation (e.g., do you make eye contact with people, do you paraphrase what they tell you to indicate you understand, etc.). You should also assess whether your body language, tone of voice, and spoken words match when conducting your consultations. If your words are positive, but your body language is closed off, your potential client gets mixed messages which may erode your credibility.

Be Professional and Confident

Another element of making a good first impression is convincing the client you can help them with their particular needs. In order to do this you must ascertain specific information about the person and their objectives by asking key questions like “How can I help you?”, “What would you like to be able to do when you reach your goal?” or “What prompted you to see a personal trainer?” and then listening to what they have to say (Whitworth, 2007). Actively listening to clients is a crucial aspect of successful consultations. It gives the impression you are genuinely interested in the potential client’s situation and helps you tailor answers to meet their needs specifically.

The use of methodical and practical assessment practices during the initial consultation process can also make you appear confident and convince prospects to trust you. Use your assessment protocols to pique the prospective client’s interest and communicate the results in simple ways that the client can understand. If a person feels like they have finally found a process that seems logical and practical (rather than mystical and magical) they will believe that it can work for them (Rejeski, 1992). Using assessment procedures to impart knowledge and understanding to clients about their bodies is a great way to increase their confidence in their own abilities and the belief that they have found the program/trainer that is right for them.

The video demonstration below shows how you can use assessment protocols to increase the success of your initial consultations:

Once you have convinced a person that you can help them reach their health and fitness goals it is time to discuss money. To help you appear more confident explaining your fee structure, tie your ability to help a client directly to this discussion. (Link the topic of fees to a summary of what the person has told you during the consultation. Reiterate what they said they want to achieve and then provide them with a clear outline of your proposed program to help them.) It is important to appear self-assured when discussing how much you charge; an otherwise confident trainer that appears nervous when discussing money can send negative signals to potential clients. Finally, make it a point to bring the subject up of fees before the client does. Broaching money matters first keeps you in control of your emotions and instills a sense of confidence that clients find reassuring.

Put It All Into Practice

The secrets to successful consultations are simple. Potential clients lack knowledge about their own situation and confidence that they have the skills to be able to achieve health and fitness goals on their own. Learn to recognize the feelings of anxiety that bring a person to see you in the first place. Then concentrate on improving your communication and rapport-building skills to help decrease anxiety during consultations, eliminate communication bias, and instill confidence and hope that you can assist that person with reaching their goals. Convey a professional image in your business practices and consultation procedures and never be afraid to talk about money. The implementation of these strategies into your consultations will help you appear confident and self-assured. Most importantly, it will enable you to set up positive relationships that will persuade clients to sign up every time.


  1. Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  2. Feltz, D. A. (1992). Understanding Motivation in Sport: A Self-Efficacy Perspective. In G.C. Roberts (Ed.), Motivation in Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  3. Rejeski, W. J. (1992). Motivation for Exercise Behavior: A Critique of Theoretical Directions. In G.C. Roberts (Ed.), Motivation in Sport and Exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  4. Whitworth, L. et al. (2007). Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life (2nd ed). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.