How to Get More Personal Training Referrals by Stuart Aitken

Referrals are one of the cheapest, easiest and best ways to grow your business, but for most personal trainers, they, unfortunately, happen less often than we’d like. Ideally, every single client we work with would refer at least one person to us. That’s what you’ll hear the gurus say MUST be happening, but every trainer who has been in the game for some time knows it rarely happens like that.

I recall having some very awkward conversations with current clients where I’d ask them if they knew anyone who might want PT. It never felt quite right, and never ended up with a referral. But I now know there are better ways to ask, and better ways to go about increasing the chance of getting more referrals without having to ask.

Referrals are still the most trusted form of marketing and they outshine paid for marketing by a country mile. And they feel nice. It’s like a stamp of approval that you’re doing good work.

But how do you go about getting more of them?


Why Don’t I Get Any Referrals?

There are many reasons you may not be getting referrals currently. Some of these include:

  • People aren’t thinking about you
  • You don’t ask
  • You don’t have a system that encourages them
  • You don’t utilise your clients sphere of influence (the people they know)
  • People don’t know how to refer
  • People feel underappreciated for referring

The main thing I want you to notice about this list is they are all elements, that for the most part, you can control and influence. Now let’s get into how you can go about getting more personal training referrals.


How to Get More Referrals

1. All Referrals Start With Great Work

If you hurt your knee and decide you need to see someone, your starting point is often to ask around. You mention it to your friends and family and maybe put out something to a social media platform. You find someone and go to see them one afternoon. This therapist knows their stuff and delivers a top class experience. You’re seen in a timely fashion, your issue is explored, you’re listened to, the bedside manner was welcoming and they were in touch quickly after your session to send over some exercises to help your issue.

Guess what’ll happen next time someone you know has an issue that falls into this professionals wheelhouse? You’ll be telling them to go see X at Y.

At the core of every single referral is great work so it is well worth basing your business on excellent service standards and a top client experience.

Read: 5 Things That Will Help You Improve Your Service Standards

2. Ask for a Referral, But be Specific

At the end of your next session, try saying something along the lines of “Steve, that was a great session. Excellent work on your deadlifts – they’ve really come a long way over the last month. As you know, I’d like to grow my business and take on some more clients. I have a few slots left and was wondering if there was anyone you know who would be a good candidate for personal training? As a friend of yours, they’ll receive a discounted rate. I understand completely if you don’t know of anyone but if you do, tell them to get in touch with me by text

In addition to this, what can also work well is to get specific on the groups of people your clients spend time with. People rarely think up the right candidates for referrals in a moment’s notice. Let’s say one of your clients meets up with a bunch of friends each week to go for a coffee. This specific group could be useful to mention when you discuss potential referrals as they may be able to picture Mary, who always mentions how much she struggles with her weight or Kelly, who can’t stay consistent with her exercise routine.

If they do say they know someone, or that they are going to have a think it make sure you follow up. “Did you manage to speak to XYZ?” is completely fine and natural.


3. Create a Referral System

An example system that a lot of service businesses is:

  • Send out a survey on day 30 to every new client that asks them to rate some aspects of your service out of 10.
  • Some examples may be: quality of training, quality of support, education, nutrition, results, cleanliness etc
  • If the client scores them a 9 or 10 out of 10 for each they are in a prime spot for referring a new client as they are clearly enjoying things.
  • Speak to them next time they are in a session or email then individually asking if they know of anyone.
  • If they score less than an 8 out of 10 they are automatically asked to book in a call with a staff member to chat about the things they feel are lacking.

You could copy this and put it in place within a couple of hours. Or you could create your own using some of the principles from this example. A simplified version of it could simply be to use what’s called a Net Promoter Score (NPS) where the client is asked whether what score out of 10 they would give on the likelihood of telling family and friends about your service.

Alwyn Cosgrove, owner of Result Fitness in California also has a system that he has used to great effect. Whenever his team book in a consultation, he encourages them to ask, “who would like to bring with you to your consultation?”. This means he often gets two leads for the price of one and an opportunity to sell to another person.


4. Make it Easy For Your Client Base to Refer

One of the issues that clients face when it comes to telling people about you is they don’t know how to refer.

If you arm your client base with the knowledge needed for a client to confidently say “oh get in touch with X. He’ll sort you out. Here are his contact details. Say X sent you and he’ll give you a priority on availability to get started” you’ll have more chance of receiving referrals from your client base.


5. Make Referrals Part of Your Onboarding

When you welcome a new client into your business, make referrals a part of the initial conversation by asking the client to refer people to them if they get results and enjoy their time with you.

If you’re not up for that, you could add it into your email autoresponder (Mailchimp is great and free) by doing something similar to number 3 or by just telling members about your referral system. 


6. Encourage Social Media Conversation About You

I once sent a client who had been with me for one year a protein cookbook as a thank you gift. She was over the moon and ended up posting a picture of it on social media and tagging me in it. I ended up getting two enquiries off of that post.

The point in me telling you that story is to highlight how important it is to encourage social media conversation about you. You don’t want to force clients it, but you can use some specific strategies that will encourage it.

Here are some ideas:

  • Try a check-in competition. The client who checks in the most consistently over the course of a month wins a local restaurant or spa voucher.
  • Have a stamp system. Every time a client posts on Facebook or Instagram about your business they receive a stamp. 12 stamps gets a t-shirt, 24 stamps gets a hoodie etc. Just be mindful of doing this for too long a period of time as some trainers have reported that clients have received negative comments about their use of the gym because they post so often!
  • Send clients certificates when they hit PR’s or session targets. If they hit 100 sessions, send them a certificate and a small gift.
  • Use client spotlights. Post on social media about the clients you train. Post up a picture of them in their element and write something about their journey with you.
  • Post up videos or photos of your clients doing cool things, hitting PRs or hitting weight loss targets. LTB member Jason Leenaarts does this insanely well and is worth following just to see how he does it.

Read: What Are You Known For Online?

7. Personalise Your Rewards

Although there is nothing wrong with a discounted trial or cash incentive for saying thanks for a referral, if you have the time and are willing to put in the effort, a personalised gift will be much more valued.

If you have a client who loves to deadlift, maybe buying them a pair of deadlift socks or some liquid chalk would go down well.

If you have a client who is really into golf, buying them a voucher for a golf shop or buying them a round of golf at a local course could make a great gift.

Every single one of us loves different things. Not only does a personalised reward show you listen, but it also goes a long way to show to that client that it’s well worth doing again.


9. Utilise Networking to Gain Referrals

The chamber of commerce, local business networking groups, toastmasters – these are all groups of people who are looking to network and help each other get more business.

Networking groups can be excellent places to start growing your contacts in the local business game, but you have to ensure you approach them correctly. Rather than going to enjoy the free food and drink, or to have a quick chat with someone new, try to use them to get to know other business owners.

In the book Endless Referrals, the author Bob Burg describes how most people approach conversations in networking groups the wrong way. The minute they get the chance to talk about themselves and their business, they take it. His advice is to start by making the conversation all about the other person and learning exactly what it is they do and what kind of people they work with. This achieves two goals: 1. it makes a memorable conversation for them as they get to talk about themselves and 2. It starts a relationship and shows them you’re the kind of person who can be trusted as a referral source.

It is important to take the time to weigh up the benefit of joining particular groups. A lot of them can easily suck hours out of your week that offer very little. Do your research and look into whether the group you’re considering joining is worth it by seeing if you can try it out, talking to anyone you know who is/ was a part of it and by checking it out online.


9. The “You Get What You Give” Mindset

When was the last time you referred someone to a business? Or made a point of leaving a review for a positive experience you had at another business?

The get what you give mindset states that you’re only likely to get referrals if you actually refer people to other businesses.

If you’ve got a business you’d love to help grow, or that you’ve had a positive experience with, make a point of telling more people about how good it is or head to their social media and give their page a share.


10. Show Your Appreciation

If you do get a referral from somewhere and you know who it is, make sure you show your appreciation. A handwritten thank you card always goes down well and is a simple gesture that takes very little time.

We all like to feel appreciated.


11. Utilise Local Facebook Groups

Local Facebook groups can be fantastic places to show your knowledge and gain referrals.

Start by adding yourself into a bunch of free groups and making a point of skimming through for posts that are in your wheelhouse. Then, start commenting. Show empathy and understanding of people’s struggles and give easy to apply advice.

You could also message the admin and see if it would be possible to run a FB live to the group on nutrition, exercise or a topic you’re confident with. A lot of groups have particular days they allow business owners to post. When you do advertise it’s worth putting the time creating something specific to the group rather than reiterating the same “buy my stuff!” that is all too common.


12. Keep Mentioning Referrals

Taking some of the steps mentioned above will help increase the chance of you getting more referrals, but you have to stay consistent and build in systems that ensure you remind your clients periodically.

Build it into your onboarding systems, ask at the times where clients are positive about their results and your business, run the occasional competition or loyalty offer and aim to make referrals something that is built into how your business grows.


Find Out More About LTB

If you’d like to learn more about how LTB can help you become a personal trainer who gets more enjoyment out of their career, head here. We’ve got courses that cover marketing, programme design, business, nutrition coaching, behaviour change, communication and much more!

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