The Personal Trainers Guide to Client Retention

Most new Personal Trainers (PTs) struggle with client retention and I think the reason this struggle exists is that trainers spend very little time focusing on the correct aspects of it.

PTs focus most of their time on lead generation, and rightfully so; when they start out they NEED to bring in leads to get new clients to make ends meet.

However, this should not come at the expense of spending some of their time considering the ways they can keep their current clients happy and continue improving their service.

Just as one of our long-term members at LTB, Ian Stevenson has been quoted saying:

“Concentrate on the client’s you do have instead of the client’s you don’t have.”

Read Ian’s Previous Blog “You Don’t Need to go it Alone” here

In the “how to retain your clients” course that is available on the member’s site at Lift the Bar (if you’re a member click here to start the course. If you’re not a member, click here to sign up for a 2-week free trial), I go through how Personal Trainers can start thinking about ways to improve their retention rates. In this blog, I’ll be looking to show what matters when it comes to client retention over the long-term and building a sustainable personal training business.


Why is it Important to Focus on Client Retention as a Personal Trainer?

One of the main reasons it’s essential to focus on client retention is because it’ll help you last as a Personal Trainer in a very competitive industry. If you’re only retaining 20% of the clients you work with (2 out of every 10), you’re going to struggle to maintain any regular income.  In addition, at some point, your business will struggle to exist.

Retention is the foundation of any successful, long-standing business. Consider the following:

–    Income

If your business doesn’t retain its clients, your income is going to suffer. You will have to spend more money to market, advertise and bring in leads continuously.

If a business can retain 90% of clients, who are paying £100 per month vs a business that keeps 60% of clients paying £100, the one with the higher retention rate is going to be more profitable.  As a result, the financial stress and worry of how to pay the bills is significantly reduced.

–    Relationship Development

client retention relationship

One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a Personal Trainer is the development of the relationship you have with your clients.

You may end up spending more time with some of your clients than you do your friends.  You get to know their families, careers, insecurities, challenges and what makes them tick. This in turn, allows you to support them better and builds trust further.

If you’re not retaining the clients you work with, you’re not getting the opportunity to develop that relationship properly and really get to know the people you’re working with.

–    Job Fulfilment

Job fulfilment follows on from relationship development nicely.

Watching a client walk through the door of the gym on day one confused about what to do and unhappy in their skin, to hitting their first pull-up or fitting into a new size of jeans is incredibly fulfilling.

If you can retain your clients, you’ll have more chance of helping them achieve things they never thought they could, and this is easily one of the most rewarding parts of being a Personal Trainer.

–    Referrals

If retention rates are low and you’re struggling to keep clients, this is going to affect the chance of current clients referring their friends, family and colleagues. If we’re keeping clients, there is a much higher chance they’ll want to talk about us and encourage the people around them to come and see us.


Why Do Clients Leave Personal Trainers?

(data gathered from surveying 200 Personal Training clients from LTB members in October 2017)

Before we get into the pyramid that will help make sense of how to structure how you think about retention, here are some of the reasons given by clients who left personal trainers before starting with their current one:

  • Training was boring and repetitive.
  • Lack of connection.
  • Felt judged and shamed.
  • The trainer didn’t take any interest in them as a person.
  • Lack of professionalism.
  • Training was out of alignment with their goals.

As you can see from these reasons, they are all things that, for the most part, can be positively affected by us doing our jobs correctly.

As I’ve now covered why retention is essential and why clients tend to leave, in the following section I’m going to present a way to make sense and conceptualise how to think about retention by placing the considerations into a hierarchy of importance.


How to Make Sense of Client Retention — The Retention Pyramid

the client retention pyramid

At the base, there is the foundation and the most critical part of retaining clients — trust, care and respect.

On level 2 there are the results that we get with our clients.

On level 3 there is the actual personal training session and everything this encompasses.

Level 4 contains all the strategies, tips and tricks you can use to assist your retention rates.

The point in this pyramid is to highlight how essential it is to focus on building the foundation before concentrating on the top levels.

Retention is built by the client knowing they can trust you to help solve their problem, that you care and connect with them, and that you can deliver something they enjoy coming back to. The individual strategies that follow can undoubtedly help, but stepping back and getting a bird’s eye view of what counts towards client retention is the focus of this part of the article.


The Client Retention Pyramid Level 1 — Trust, Care and Respect

This level is all about how your business builds trust, care and mutual respect between you and the client.

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that this takes time and that it needs to be considered from before you even meet a potential client. We form first impressions in under one second without even realising it. Therefore, it is paramount that everything you do shows you care about the people you’re working with and are someone who can be trusted.

Trust is something that is built by two things: our competence and our character. Competence is to do with the results we get with clients and what knowledge we have available to help those clients. Character is to do with our integrity and how congruent our behaviours and actions are with who want to be. This is important to understand as you can control both of those elements.

You can spend the time improving your knowledge (by doing a course or watching a webinar from a PT development site like LTB), and you can control how honest and sincere to your word you are.

As Jean Claude Vacassin, owner of W10 performance in London has been quoted as saying,

“every single thing we do says we give a shit or we don’t.

Care, trust and respect come down to considering the simple, under-appreciated aspects of day-to-day personal training. Things like: the way you walk the gym floor and speak to members, how you interact in classes, onboard new clients, discuss ideas on social media, present yourself when you’re with other clients and take the time to update your knowledge so you can help support your clients.

It all counts and it’s important we keep this in mind for building this first level.

We go about building this by doing things like:

  • Doing what you say you are going to do
  • Knowing how to solve the issues that your clients to come you with
  • Taking time to listen to and understand each client
  • Improving your knowledge and understanding of topics that will help your clients (nutrition, psychology, behaviour change, training)
  • Acknowledging when you don’t know the answer to something
  • Getting systems in place that allow you to onboard and work with your clients in an effective manner
  • Asking for feedback regularly so you can identify where you need to be doing better
  • Ensuring we turn up to sessions on time, well presented and prepared

Level 1 Task

When was the last time you asked your clients for feedback about how they feel your service, quality of training & nutrition advice and level of support is?

Create a feedback form from somewhere like TypeForm, Wufoo or SurveyMonkey that allows you to send it out to your current client base.  The responses may surprise you and will give you valuable insight into your clients view of your service.


The Client Retention Pyramid Level 2 — Results

Results can mean very different things to each client.

Some come you to for a very specific result, like losing 20lbs for a wedding this summer while others come to you as it’s the only hour of their week that is all about them.

It’s about knowing their why, helping them achieve this and giving them the tools they need to get the result they want because without results of some kind they probably won’t stick around.

Level 2 Task

Having regular reviews with each of your clients can be very useful for this level. At the start of your next session, take 10-15 minutes to ask them how they are getting on with their goal. Take the time to explore, ask questions and encourage them to think deeply.

Try asking:

–    What’s been getting in their way?

–    If the goal they initially set themselves is still the goal?

–    If there is anything you could be doing to support them better?

Then use this information to ensure you are helping them move in the direction they want to go.


The Client Retention Pyramid Level 3 — Personal Training Sessions 

Client Retention - Person Training Sessions

As an in-person Personal Trainer, the product that you offer is your training sessions. Everything from the way you approach the session mentally, down to the way you wrap it up and ensure you’re finishing in enough time to get into the right mindset ready for your next session is going to play a part in your retention rates.

The training sessions could be the only hour of your client’s week that is all about them, so it’s crucial we work on delivering an excellent and ever-improving product.

A significant focus of your development time should be going into considering how you can better at:

  • Designing effective and enjoyable training programmes
  • Cueing each exercise
  • Communicating with your client before and during the session
  • Showing your professionalism
  • Understanding how to progress/ regress your exercise selection
  • Utilising the facets of self-determination theory (autonomy, competence and belonging)
  • Making the PT session something the client wants to come back to
  • Knowing where your weaknesses lie and doing things to bring these up to neutral

Level 3 Task

Regularly reflecting on your personal training sessions is a great way to decipher what aspects you could do with improving.

After your next personal training session/s, take a note pad and pen (or your phone) and ask yourself:

–    What went well?

–    What could I improve for the next time I take that session?

–    How would I rate it out of 10?

–    Why did I score it that number?

–    Is there anything I need to start putting time into improving?

If you do this consistently, you’ll start to notice patterns emerging.

Maybe you keep realising that you’re struggling to help your clients change their behaviours, so you decide to start learning more about that. Or perhaps you notice you can’t quite coach the squat as well as you would like so your focus goes on learning about coaching the squat. Your development plans should always be driven by the needs of your clients and the service you run.  Therefore, self reflection within the context of your business is vital in order to avoid being distracted by what others are doing.


The Client Retention Pyramid Level 4 — Client Retention Strategies

client retention cards

Level 4 is the last level as it’s too easy to put all your focus into just this level without stepping back and thinking about the bigger picture of how we retain our clients.

If you type “client retention strategies” into google, you’ll find thousands of results and most will talk about different ways you can include things that will solve your retention issue. The reality is that it’s going to take a 1% improvement approach across all parts of your business and service to start making changes to something like your retention, but this doesn’t mean that smaller individual strategies don’t have their place.

Here are you three you could consider using that other trainers/ facility owners have found to be beneficial:

  1. Thank You Cards — As part of your onboarding procedure for bringing in new clients, you could consider sending out a handwritten thank you card for coming on board with your business.
  2. Reward Structures — When your client hits a certain number of sessions (like 50 or 100) this could be a point where you reward them with something like a massage or local restaurant voucher to say thanks for their business.
  3. Client Meet-Ups — Arranging something like a hill walk, group meal/ night out or taking part in a Tough Mudder or Obstacle Course Race are all great ways to bring your clients together and bring about more of a community feel to your member base.

Level 4 Task

If you haven’t done so before, try using one of the suggestions from above and consider how you could go about integrating one into your business on a regular basis. Think about other ways you can potentially delight your clients because that will strengthen their connection with your business.  The stronger their connections with you and your service, the longer they are likely to stick around.


Retention is a big topic. It’s a combination of all that you do as a personal trainer. From the way you interact with people who are just becoming clients to how you ensure those same clients who started with you 18 months ago are still moving in the direction they want. If there was one bit of advice that I think would be useful to finish this off with its a quote from LTB’s Head of Education’s Gregg Slater,  “be good and give a shit”  Although not quite as simple as that, I hope the pyramid above and each task gives you a better insight into how you can take a global perspective of improving your retention rates.  Therefore building the kind of business you want and one that will be around for a long time.


For more from Stuart on Retention, Client Consultations and Self Determination Theory, as well as access to loads of other resources, start your free trial here.
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