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Why Word-of-Mouth Advertising Will Make Your Fitness Business Strong

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This excerpt is part of's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.

In Start Your Own Personal Training Business, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Ciree Linsenman explain how you can get started as in the personal training industry. From choosing your niche to developing your skills, this guide offers step-by-step instructions to help you create a business that answers the health and fitness needs of your customers. In this edited excerpt, the authors offers tips on attracting new business through word-of-mouth marketing.

Most of your personal training clients are going to come from referrals or word-of-mouth advertising. When someone's happy with what you’re doing for them, they’re going to tell other people.

Marketing consultant Debbie LaChusa calls this relationship marketing. “It means creating relationships with your existing customers and using those relationships to either get more business out of them, or to get referrals for new clients or new business,” she says. “It’s taking really good care of the customers you have.”

This just makes sense--when you take care of a client, not only do they physically see results, but they actually feel different. They believe in themselves, they’re more confident, and they talk about you to their spouse, to their neighbors, to their friends. Also, by teaching clients and helping them to ultimately be successful on their own, you’ll have spokespeople saying positive things about your business in the community. “No matter what your advertising budget is, that’s the best form of advertising,” Atlanta-area trainer Bill Sonnemaker says.

Of course, you can expedite this process by taking steps to stimulate referrals. Lynne Wells, a personal trainer in New York City, takes a very candid and simple approach, letting clients know when she has an opening in her schedule. “I'll also put postcards out around the neighborhood where I work,” she says. Or you can offer a financial incentive, such as giving clients a discount on their next month’s fee if they send a referral and that person becomes a client.

Another way to encourage referrals is to give a gift certificate for a free evaluation and one or two exercise sessions to your clients for them to give to someone else. Do this around a holiday, or tie it to some seasonal event to make it stand out. Give it in December with a note that you’re happy to help your clients with their holiday shopping or in the spring with a “Get Ready for Summer” theme.

Medical Referral Programs

Marketing your services to the medical community can be a challenge, but it can also be extremely lucrative. You’ll likely find it difficult to get through to physicians because their office staffs typically act as gatekeepers and will try to block you from making contact. Be persistent and creative; the rewards are worth the effort.

Traditionally, the medical community has had a rather negative view of the fitness industry and is somewhat distrustful of the credibility and quality of the various certifying agencies. However, physicians and other health-care providers have begun actively endorsing fitness as a preventive measure in health care. Presenting yourself and what you have to offer in a professional, businesslike manner will go a long way toward dissolving the distrust that's existed in the past. Consider offering a few complimentary sessions to show healthcare providers what you can do.

You might try a personalized direct-mail campaign, sending letters to doctors and therapists outlining what you can do for their patients. However, unless the person receiving the letter will recognize your name or has an immediate need for your services, chances are you won’t get a response. Personal visits will likely be more effective, but you’ll probably find it difficult to get a face-to-face meeting just by dropping in.

Because it may be difficult to reach a doctor in his or her office, look for other ways to make contact. Participate in health fairs, make speeches to community organizations, and do volunteer work with groups where you're likely to make contact with health-care providers. If you meet a doctor at a social event, follow up later to let him know about your services. If you have a studio, consider hosting an open house so health-care providers can see what you have to offer.

Remember that medical doctors aren't the only health-care professionals who are in a position to refer clients to you. LaChusa suggests researching other health-related businesses such as chiropractors, massage therapists, health-food stores and supplement retailers as potential referral sources.

In addition to chiropractors and massage therapists, one trainer we interviewed says he also networks with a sports psychologist and golf and tennis pros. He also does cross-promotions with nutrition stores and offers a discount to customers of a major HMO. “We’re very selective about who we work with,” he says. “You want to feel very confident that they’re in their professions for the right reasons and that they’re qualified, so the relationship will reflect positively on you.”

When you get a referral from a healthcare provider, be sure to send an immediate thank-you note and follow up with details of the patient’s progress. The more often you put your name in front of a referral source in a positive way, the more referrals you’re likely to get.

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