Many trainers struggle to maintain consistent numbers at their group fitness classes.
Take me as an example: During my first year I had to cancel all classes during winter because numbers were so low.
Sure, weather and the amount of daylight over the year can play a part in the overall size of your bootcamp, but this should be due to sign up rates being lower (less people want to begin training when it’s cold and dark) and a small amount of natural attrition (people moving away, having babies, etc). Not massive hemorrhaging of your clients.
After I worked out how to fix my Leaky Cup Syndrome, during the summer I would see over 80 clients a week and even during winter when I had to cut back my classes I still had a core group of 50+ clients would train all year round.
It’s possible to find more reliable, long-term clients or to turn your existing flaky clients into them. It’s also possible to create momentum in your bootcamp that gives it a life of it’s own.
Finding a solution
Once I had identified what was happening, the problem for me was finding good advice. There was so much business and fitness advice out there I didn’t know who to listen to. Now, 5 years later, there is even more advice out there!
So today I wanted to carve through some of that noise for you and share what I learned and what worked. I thought a good place to focus would be on the three main questions that I hear trainers ask.
Question 1: What is the best marketing strategy?
This question drives me a little bit crazy. That’s because when someone asks this question usually what they are really asking is, ‘What is the one magic thing that I’m not doing that when I do do it is going to make my business explode? Oh and can it please be passive so I don’t have to think too much about it.’
Harsh, I know. But that’s directed at me too because I used to ask this question as well!
The truth is that the best marketing strategy is going to be unique to you, your business and your clients. If there was a one size fits all method, you would already know it and be doing it.
That said, I can give you some advice that will help.
Be smart and work within your Circle of Influence.
Here’s what I mean by be smart:
Don’t spend hours learning some new marketing area that you don’t already know like Facebook ads, print advertising, lead boxes, etc. Instead focus on what you are already doing. Focus on one thing for now and get really good at it. Stop jumping ship to the newest marketing boat.
Then, learn basic copywriting. This will make whichever marketing avenue you are using way more effective.
Here’s what I mean by working within your Circle of Influence:
If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a term from Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Your Circle of Influence is the people around you who will listen and be influenced to what you have to say.
Don’t spend hours trying to convince people outside your Circle of Influence to join your bootcamp if you don’t need to. Instead focus on people already inside it and have them spread your message to their circle of influence.
I am talking about referrals. Not just from your clients, but also from your family, friends, barber, etc.
A recommendation is a lot more powerful when coming from someone you trust and over time your circle will grow and grow.
Question 2: I don’t have enough clients for referrals, how can I get more clients?
This question quite often comes after someone reads or hears about how powerful referrals are but only has a small pool of clients or maybe no clients at all.
It’s a valid question because yes, the more clients you have, the more referrals you tend to get.
And I have a good answer for it: Hustle.
For example take my friend Jess Griffin who runs NJ Fit Training.
When Jess was starting her bootcamp for moms she was relatively new to town and didn’t know many people.
Her biggest challenge was going from no clients to some clients so she could start her classes.
She was thinking about this as she left the grocery store one day. While crossing the car park to her car she noticed this tall, fit, tanned mom also packing her groceries and kids into the car.
Knowing she needed to find more members she grabbed a flyer out of her car and dashed over to the women to tell her about her classes. The woman signed up and 6 years later she still trains at NJ Fit Training.
That one small brave action gave her a client who has spent thousands of dollars on training with her.
The point of this story is that if you really want to get your bootcamp going in those early days, you are going to need to step out of your comfort zone. Just like you ask your clients to leave their comfort zone when they train with you, you need to do the same.
Have a few awkward conversations. Keep a set of business cards or flyers in your pocket. Be friendly and smile at people you meet.
You don’t know who will say yes unless you ask.
This TEDx talk about approaching strangers and asking them for something is fantastic for helping with this fear:
Question 3: How do I deal with different fitness level variations?
The last couple of questions have been about clients, this question is the biggest question on actually running the sessions that I get.
It’s a common problem because no matter what kind of classes you run you are going to get young and old, flexible and immobile, fit and beginning and people with various little injuries.
The solution is to write scaled workouts.
But this can be scary. I’ll tell you why.
The first time I ran a scaled workout for my clients I split the group into four smaller groups; A, B, C and D with A being the fittest people and D being the least fit people.
After the warm up a I read out who was in which group starting with group A and finishing with group D. I remember the look on the faces of the 3 clients who were in group D by themselves. It was that same look you see kids get when they are picked last for a team in P.E.
I felt awful but I didn’t really know what else to do so a tried an awkward, reassuring smile at them then quickly moved the session on.
I think this fear of singling out less fit or able clients and feeling like you are putting them on the spot is a fear a lot of trainers have also.
That’s not what is actually happening! That’s just how it feels to the trainer.
The reality is that your clients want to work at a level that is safe and achievable for them. The fittest clients want workouts that are challenging to them and your least fit clients don’t want to be demotivated by a workout that seem impossible.
You can give scaled workouts, just be mindful of how you separate the group.
- Assign the least fit group members first and maybe call them group A or group 1 (instead of making them the last group).
- Don’t make a big deal out of it. If you are feeling awkward about it they are going to pick up on that.
- Some drills work best with a fit client and a beginner paired together. Use this so it’s not always the same groups of people together.
- Split the class into as few groups as possible when splitting by fitness level. Maximum 3 groups: Beginners, Intermediates and Advanced. If your overall group is small, 2 groups might be enough.
- Don’t always split into groups by fitness level. Sometimes have clients choose their own level and do the workout by themselves or pick timed intervals so everyone is doing the same thing together at their own pace.
For some ideas on how to scale workouts, I’ve written a free PDF on different ways to scale sessions in your own workouts.
Most trainers believe that there is some missing piece of knowledge out there that if they just knew it, they would have a thriving fitness business.
Instead, I’ve discovered that learning about tried and true business techniques and creating a powerhouse community is just as important if you want to avoid working like a dog and getting nowhere.
I’ve created a course called 31 Days to a Better Bootcamp Business which removes the guess work and gives frustrated trainers daily actions towards creating a reliable, fulfilling bootcamp.
Over 200 fitness businesses have been improved from 31DBBB. From bootcamps that were just starting out to others that had been running for years and just needed a boost.
In the next post I’ll share with you one little action that I took (and that you can take) that helped turn my bootcamp around. I’ll give you step by step instructions to go through it.