This chapter deals extensively with how to build a good relationship with clients.
This is the bedrock of your practice.
Let’s dig right into it.
Now you can have numerous types of certifications, all the knowledge in the world as a personal trainer, and be excellent at the theory side of your job. Still, if you don’t have a good relationship with your clients, the chances are that they will quickly move on.
And that’s why I think it’s important that we dedicate a whole chapter of this course to looking at client relationships.
It starts with you
There’s a saying that I came across a few years ago from Zig Ziglar that I like.
He said, ” Your attitude, more than your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”
As personal trainers, who of us doesn’t want to fly high and make a success of our career in helping others?
It’s the trainers with incredible personalities, the “can-do” attitudes, and the friendly demeanor that make a real success of themselves.
Sure, book knowledge is important, but I believe the right attitude is the most important thing a personal trainer needs.
Achieving that attitude is easy, especially with these below as your foundation.
Always be friendly
While this seems pretty obvious, right?
The thing is, when you’ve had a long day and your last client is now 15 minutes late, it’s easy to start to get a little grumpy.
And while that’s understandable, you cannot let it affect your demeanor.
So you must keep on smiling, no matter what! An unfriendly personal trainer just isn’t going to be much of a success.
Patience is key
As a personal trainer, you are going to have to be patient.
Remember the first time you went to the gym? It was pretty daunting.
Now think about your new client struggling with exercises you want her to do.
She already feels intimidated by the surroundings, so she doesn’t need her trainer to start getting impatient with her.
And the situation can reverse itself as well.
You might deal with a client that wants results, and they want them now.
In that case, you must temper their expectations and teach them patience.
Understanding is a key trait for a personal trainer.
The degree of understanding you must show each client will also vary.
You will have to understand exactly why they want to use your services, which means helping to work out their goals and expectations.
By understanding those two important things, you can help them to achieve what they want from their workout program.
Flexibility for a personal trainer comes in several guises.
And no, we are not talking about a flexible body.
First up, you have to be flexible when it comes to training your clients.
While you might have worked out a perfect schedule for the week that fits all your clients, life can sometimes get in the way.
And that means that clients may cancel or ask to be moved, often at the last minute.
Flexibility means accepting that and trying to fit them in at another time during the week.
If you plan well and leave times available to accommodate changes like this, it shouldn’t be a problem.
The ability to be flexible and change things up can also be true for training programs.
If something isn’t working for a client, you should have alternatives.
A single, rigid training program isn’t always going to work.
Be driven and motivated.
A personal trainer must be motivated and driven, especially when dealing with their clients.
Your energy and attitude can even pick them up on days when training is the furthest thing from their mind.
Think of a client that’s had a bad day at work.
Probably the last thing they want to do is spend time in the gym.
Yet, they have made an effort and are entitled to a personal trainer that’s motivated and driven to push them along.
You would be amazed at the impact that this can have on them, even on bad days.
But being driven also applies to how you deal with your clients.
If something’s not working as it should be.
If a workout program is not bringing the desired results, a driven and motivated personal trainer will do everything they can to make the necessary changes that will.
Those are the things that keep clients with their personal trainer instead of looking for help elsewhere.
Above all, be a good listener.
Last but perhaps most importantly, a personal trainer has to be an excellent listener.
And sadly, listening properly is a skill that’s declining in many walks of life.
More often than not, we hear, but we truly don’t listen.
That means we hear what we want when someone speaks to us without really listening to what they are saying.
Sometimes, people don’t say what they feel in an outright manner, but if you are listening, you will get the true idea of what they mean.
For the most part, as a personal trainer, the ideal way to try and get the information you need from a client is by simply asking the right questions.
For example, if a client is training hard but still not losing weight, ask them if they have modified their eating habits.
You might find that although they have for the most eaten healthily, sometimes they fall into the trap of impulsive eating, for example, over the weekend.
And when you delve a little deeper, you may even find the event that triggers those impulsive decisions.
That’s if you listen properly, especially in the right environment.
While asking questions of your client while training can help at times, if you want to listen to what they say, do it in a more formal environment.
So if you have an office, invite them inside, sit them down, and chat.
It’s the perfect way to establish a communication channel that shows you are available to take everything in, process the information, determine the problem, and develop a solution.
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And while they might not open up straight away, there are various ways that you can help them explain just what their issues are.
Break the ice
Even if this client has been with you for some time, chatting in an office might seem a little unusual for them.
So please find a way to make them feel a little less apprehensive.
That could be simply by commenting on something they are wearing, perhaps a new pair of trainers?
Or ask them what they are planning for an upcoming holiday.
Or if they watched the baseball game from the weekend.
You probably will have a good idea about ways to engage with each client, even if they are fairly new to training with you.
What you want to do here is build-up an affinity with them because when someone feels a little bit more comfortable, they are more likely to open up.
- Keeping eye contact at all times. That shows you are interested in what they are saying.
- Smiling. Not a fake smile, however. People can see through that easily.
- Please put your hands where people can see them. Disinterest could be expressed as twirling your hair, tapping on your leg, or fidgeting with your hands.
- Mirroring their body language. Not everything, of course, can come across as a little strange. Mirroring body language is a great way to show empathy and build trust.
Move onto the reason you are chatting to them
Once the ice has been broken and your client is visibly more relaxed, you can move to the reason why you are chatting to them.
Again, I will use the example I did early; you remember the one where although a client was working out well and nailing your program, they still weren’t losing weight.
To understand why they are struggling, it’s best to ask them why they might not lose weight.
Listen to their answers and formulate your next question from that.
Listening carefully is key here because it will guide you as to where you need to go next.
Take the time to formulate your next question, even if there is silence for a few moments.
That might even see the client give up more information, further dropping their barriers and promoting honesty.
In this situation, the client might tell you about weekends when they eat whatever they like and in large portions.
Find their trigger
During these discussions, your questions should be trying to hone in on a few important things.
Now during your assessment with a client, you would have gone over their goals and expectations. It’s time to approach those again.
With our example in mind, ask what the client hopes to achieve by working out.
But you are not looking for the standard “I want to lose 15 pounds” answer.
You need to get deeper.
All overweight people want to lose weight.
That’s a given.
But why? What’s the real reason?
For example, a father might yearn to play with his children as he did ten years ago when they were toddlers.
Now as a teenager, his weight prevents him from simply going out on the lawn and playing ball with them for more than five minutes.
And that hurts.
If you can extract information like this, you have a whole new plan of attack.
You have the prime reason to help motivate them.
It also helps you with their current problem, eating too much over the weekend.
Plant that seed.
Paint the picture to your client of a year down the line when they have achieved their goal of losing many pounds however and now happily get to spend time with their kids without their weight being a problem.
Remind them that every time they want to make poor choices, to visualize their final goal.
And ultimately, that’s not weight loss.
That’s getting their life with their kids back.
That’s the trigger, for sure, and it’s now something that will drive him to reach his goal.
When clients start to look at things from an emotional aspect tapping into the real reason why they want to make a change, you’ve won the battle.
I can’t think of a better way to truly connect with your clients.
If you can find the trigger for each of them, and it can be a tough thing to do, it sets you apart from other trainers who may approach each client in a “mechanical” way.
Happy clients mean they keep coming back
The next important question I want to cover is something that all personal trainers will ask themselves occasionally, especially when they lose a couple of clients.
And that’s “How do I keep clients coming back?”
It’s something that you have to master.
It’s awesome getting new clients but ultimately, you can only succeed in your personal training career if you retain clients.
Imagine the pressure you would under to make a living as a personal trainer; you would continually need to find x amount of new clients each month.
It’s just not sustainable at all.
Retention, therefore, is key if you want longevity as a personal trainer.
So in this section, I want to cover ways to ensure that your clients are in it for the long haul.
Before we get to them, however, when you are looking to set up a client retention strategy, you must ask yourself a couple of key questions:
- Do I currently provide any other value to my clients over and above my training?
- If so, do they know about the extras I offer?
- Do I communicate this extra value effectively?
- Is it for all my clients?
- Do I need to think of more ways that I can add value?
Now let’s look at ways to add value to your clients’ offerings, increasing retention chances over time.
Determine your client’s expectations.
We’ve already covered meeting your client for the first time and how you should deal with their assessment, determining their goals, and all those other critical aspects.
We didn’t mention taking the time to determine your client’s exact expectations of what a personal trainer can do for them.
You don’t necessarily have to do this immediately, say at the initial assessment. Still, chatting with your client about their expectations fairly soon into the relationship is crucial.
That’s because you don’t talk to them about it, and the client doesn’t see that you are meeting their expectations; no matter how outlandish they may be, the odds of the client giving up or going to try out another personal trainer are stacked pretty high.
If a client’s expectations are unrealistic, for example, someone who weighs 140 pounds and wants to bulk up for their first bodybuilding competition in two weeks, you have every right to explain to them that it’s simply not possible.
Remember, you are the expert here.
It’s up to you to direct their expectations to something that can be achieved and remains manageable.
Expectations aren’t a one-way street, however.
You will also have certain requirements for each client.
Things like attending training sessions as scheduled, only canceling if necessary, and others.
Let your client know your expectations as well.
When a personal trainer and a client understand where each side is coming from, retaining a client is made that much easier.
Offer more once they reached their goals
Ok, so once a client has reached their goals, that’s the end of it, right?
Off they go to become a regular gym member, and then you’ve lost them forever.
No, not at all… if you prepare for moments like that.
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Just think about it, a client comes to you with a certain goal and you help them reach it; they know that you are the real deal.
But when they reach that goal, it doesn’t have to be the end of your relationship with them.
As they approach the finishing line to their original goal, you should already have formulated a new goal for them, something else they can move onto that will benefit them.
The easiest example of this is someone who wants to lose weight.
Once they reach their specific number of pounds lost, you can advise them of a new fitness program that you have drawn up that will focus on helping them tone up.
A great way to plant the seed toward the next goal is to talk to them about what they want to achieve after reaching their first one.
If you use apps, you could even send them new training programs you have in mind after they have reached their goal.
This is another way to use personal training software to your advantage.
This is one of the little things that you can use them for, amongst many others. It is an invaluable tool in a personal trainer’s arsenal.
Show that you care
A personal trainer needs to show their caring side.
Don’t just assume your client thinks that you do.
Caring can also be conveyed as an action, such as showing concern.
It’s about guiding them towards their fitness goal, praising them along the way as they make important gains and begin to turn their life around.
That’s not just showing them the results in the form of stats or figures either or just taking them through their workouts with robotic monotony.
For example, the first time they hit that perfect form for an exercise they have struggled with, heap on the praise.
It’s best to show them that you are firmly in their corner.
Or, while keeping track of their progress, send them regular updates on how well they are doing.
So not only are you praising them, but you are reinforcing that praise by showing them you care enough to take the time to send them progress reports.
A personal trainer who cares occasionally chats with their clients to see how everything is going.
For example, for the last weekly training session, sit down and chat for five to ten minutes near the end.
Ask your clients how they are handling their time outside the gym, whether they find the necessary adjustments to their eating habits easy to handle, or if they have anything they feel they need to chat with you about.
This shows your overall concern for their well-being and is a great way to help build rapport and establish a relationship that goes beyond the superficial.
These are just some of the ways that you show you do care about every one of your clients and that they aren’t just a number.
Make use of a reward system
Now you probably think that giving your clients rewards is a whole new expense that you shouldn’t have to deal with, especially when you are just starting on your journey as a personal trainer.
The thing is, rewarding clients who give their all or those who are loyal doesn’t have to break the bank at all. It’s the thought that counts more than anything.
Start with something simple.
If you keep excellent records – and you should – you will know every one of your client’s birth dates.
So when it’s their birthday, a simple birthday card wishing them isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg, right?
Even if they don’t train with you on the day, you could still give them a card in the week of their celebration.
Sometimes, this can be a little bit difficult to remember, especially if you have plenty of clients.
That’s why I suggest using personal training software, as all these amazing details are already built-in.
So there is no need to remember details like birthdays or an anniversary.
The software does that for you.
But a reward system can go so much further.
For example, you could:
- Occasionally buy them a health bar and give it to them before or after the session
- Buy early morning clients a cup of coffee every once in a while, especially during winter
- Present them with a small gift for achieving their goals. This can be something inexpensive like a printed certificate or, if you want to spend a little more, a gym towel or perhaps a water bottle, something they can use while they work out.
- Consider using free sessions for loyal clients. For example, if a client has completed 10 sessions with you, don’t let them pay for the 11th. This is a great way to build loyalty.
There are endless possibilities here.
And believe me, clients do appreciate it when a personal trainer goes that extra mile.
I’ve included a list of cheap presents that you, as a personal trainer, can give your clients to motivate them.
For example, you can use these for when they have reached their goals or celebrate their birthday.
The list is available as a downloadable resource for this chapter and it is called Client Gift Ideas.
Make sure the price is right for what you offer
As a personal trainer, especially when entering the business, getting your pricing right is imperative, especially if you are not working at a big franchise gym where that is handled.
If you price your services too high and a client feels that you are underdelivering on their expectations, why would they look to stay with you as their personal trainer?
They are going to look somewhere else, that’s for sure.
So how do you determine what the right pricing is?
Well, perhaps the easiest way to deal with the question is to check what other personal trainers in your gym are charging and around the city or town where you work.
Based on that, you can either charge similar rates or undercut them a little.
Overcharge, however, and clients might just be too hard to come by, no matter how good a trainer you are.
Consider a regular group meetup
Another extra that many personal trainers offer is free group meetings.
While you can open it to anyone, most of the participants must be your clients.
Hosting something like this, it could be once a week or perhaps every fortnight, shows that you are more than prepared to go above and beyond when it comes to helping your clients and providing additional information that might be extremely beneficial to them.
And the support from others in similar situations to themselves is invaluable.
Plus, group meetups are an excellent way to motivate.
You could even have past clients who have reached their goals successfully come and chat with your newer clients.
Not only can they get awesome motivation in seeing someone who has done what they set out to do, but it will also paint you in a good light as the personal trainer who helped get them there.
So what kind of information could you pass along at a group meetup? Well, you could:
- Ask an expert to advise on nutrition
- Talk about healthy cooking and provide recipes
- Have an info session on dealing with fitness setbacks, for example, an untimely injury
- Talk about effective weight loss tips
- Get various health professionals to deliver info sessions
Those are just a few examples for you; I am sure you can think of plenty more.
And use your clients as sounding boards.
What do they want to know and discuss in a session like this?
Send your clients a newsletter
While sending a weekly newsletter would be first prize, you might struggle to know what to write to your clients after a while, so perhaps one every fortnight or monthly.
But a free newsletter is another brilliant way to show clients that you continually go above and beyond the call of duty for them.
So what kind of information should be in a client newsletter?
Well, you could use it to sing the praises of your clients who have reached their fitness goals, but with their permission.
Or you could highlight important articles and other information that you think will interest your clients.
And it doesn’t need to be the full article, simply a few lines explaining what it is about and the link to it.
The great thing about a newsletter, no matter what its frequency is, is the fact that it’s shareable.
So encourage your clients to send it to others who might be interested in reading it, for example, their friends and family.
And the fact that it is shareable means that it’s a brilliant tool for referrals, which could lead to even more clients down the line.
Also, a newsletter is not the only thing you can produce.
What about things like motivational images, humorous motivational memes, or inspirational quotes?
All of these are excellent resources to pass on to your clients.
Again, they are shareable, especially when you send them to your clients through social media.
So you are interacting with your clients away from the gym scenario and exposing your brand to others when they share excellent material such as this.
And the cost?
Always lead by example
Sometimes personal training is not only about guiding someone but also about showing them how it’s done.
Your clients will appreciate you more if you sometimes get dirty, especially if they struggle with a particular exercise.
Yes, you can take the time to try to guide them to the correct form, for example, but often, actually showing them how to do an exercise that they are struggling with can clear it up for them.
A personal trainer must be prepared to lead by example at all times.
If you have your own fitness story, share it
Now not all personal trainers have a unique story about how they got into the business but for some, there may be something inspirational to share with their clients.
For example, you may have been overweight, worked with a personal trainer, lost plenty of pounds, and realized that this is now something you want to do for the rest of your life and help others do the same.
Don’t keep that to yourself, especially if you have clients that are trying to lose weight.
It’s a great way to build an affinity between yourself and your client.
They will see you as someone who understands how they feel and look up to you because you achieved the change that they want in their lives.
The boundaries that need to be set between a personal trainer and their clients
So we can’t discuss the relationship between a personal trainer and their clients without discussing the boundaries that need to be in place.
We have certainly looked into aspects of this when dealing with personal trainer etiquette.
I want to dig a little deeper, however, because it’s a subject that we need to cover and that you, as a personal trainer, need to understand.
So let’s look at a couple of reasons why boundaries need to be set from the beginning with any client that you train.
For the client, boundaries help them:
- Trust their personal trainer and be safe in the knowledge that they have their best interests in mind at all times
- Understand that a caring and compassionate personal trainer means nothing more than that. Again, helping the client that drives them on.
- Understand that their actions should also be as professional as their personal trainer.
For personal trainers, boundaries help them:
- Keep everything ethical at all times
- Respect their clients in their individual capacity
- Facilitate what needs to be done from a fitness perspective
The thing is, this is just a guideline.
Things can be different for every client because everyone has boundary zones.
So let’s look at a few boundaries you should know. I like to call them.
- The “That’s fine” zone
- The “Maybe” zone
- The “Totally off-limits” zone
The “That’s fine” zone
So what are we talking about when we mention this zone?
Well, for a personal trainer interacting with their clients, you always want to keep eye contact and to flash your pearly whites from time to time.
When greeting, there is nothing wrong with shaking someone’s hand.
It’s very similar to boundaries in other aspects of life.
No one will think you are overstepping the mark when you greet them, look them in the eye, smile at them, or shake their hand.
The “Maybe” zone
The “Maybe zone” is a bit more complicated, and it often depends on some factors.
Perhaps the most important, however, is the relationship that you have established with each client.
For example, you probably wouldn’t give a new client a high-five when they finish their first training session.
Someone down the line, however, when they reach the first mini-goal you’ve set them, then why not send a high-five their way?
But what about this scenario?
You’ve just met a new client and the first thing she does is give you a great big hug.
Where does that fit in?
Well, I think it’s here, in this zone.
I wouldn’t be the person that gives a hug, but if a client hugs first, that’s ok.
Just ensure it remains a friendly hug, and they don’t see it as any more than that.
The “Totally off-limits” zone
Steer clear of anything that you would consider “totally off-limits.”
So that’s any physical contact that’s not training related or any other kinds of infringements of a personal nature.
The thing is, these don’t always need to be physical either; the scope goes beyond that as well.
For example, telling clients about any personal issues you have is not physical in any way but certainly part of the “totally off-limits” zone.
Telling a client a personal story about a similar injury you had could be both in the “maybe” and “that’s fine” zone, depending on the client and the professional relationship between you.
You must understand that what you say and do might be taken up differently depending on the context.
As the relationship between a client and a personal trainer builds, context often changes.
Without clients, you don’t have a business. That’s why this chapter looked into the importance of client relationships.
We covered a range of aspects concerning that, from how everything starts with you, the trainer, and your overall attitude on ensuring clients keep coming back.
We focused on the subject of client/personal trainer boundaries and how they should be enforced at all times.
But perhaps the most important thing we covered in this chapter was the fact that as a personal trainer, you need to be a good listener.
That can help you find the emotional trigger that best motivates any client.
Don’t forget to take the chapter takeaway quiz to make sure you have a good grasp of everything covered here.
Chapter 10 Takeaway Quiz