Will My Online Personal Training Clients Drop Me When Gyms Reopen?

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Posted on: June 20, 2021
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This article was originally published at and is republished here with permission from our partners over at the PTDC. 

I’ll never forget it. It was a Friday—March 20, 2020—and I was sitting in the staff room with some other personal trainers at the gym in Edinburgh where we worked. We were listening to a live broadcast from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had just ordered a nationwide shutdown that included gyms.

I had sensed something like this was coming. When soccer leagues in the U.K. cancelled play a week earlier, I realized COVID-19 must be serious, so I had started recording an exercise library. I shot every variation of a squat I could think of, every version of a lunge you could do at home, every single push-up variation. I was at the gym until midnight, and then the next night I recorded 20-minute classes.

Other personal trainers kept asking me, “What are you doing?”

I was the only one preparing.

Even so, when gyms officially closed, it didn’t seem real. That night I couldn’t sleep. I got up at 4 a.m. and built my whole online training system. By the time my clients woke up wondering what they were going to do, they already had an email from me with the solution. I kept all but one of my original clients, and I added more at a time when most trainers were losing theirs.

In April, I saw a post about the Online Trainer Academy Level 2. This wasn’t about building a business; it was about scaling a business, which is what I needed. I’ve since left my in-person position because I got so busy online. I earned my Level 2 certification and became an Online Trainer Academy Level 2 mentor, helping online coaches all over the world reach their goals.

What follows are the most important things I’ve learned during these challenging times that can help you grow your online personal training business, too.  

1. Invest in the Long Term

Right before I joined the Online Trainer Academy Level 2, my mindset shifted from just training people online, which is what everyone else was doing, to being an online trainer. There’s a huge difference. One involves watching people exercise; the other involves learning marketing, sales, retention—an entire system and thought process. One is a temporary solution; the other is a permanent solution.

So, while other personal trainers were thinking maybe two months ahead and trying to save money, I saw an opportunity to invest in myself for the long-term.

If you’re afraid of losing clients when the gyms reopen, or if you don’t want to return to in-person training, ask yourself, “Have I made the decision to become an online trainer and make this permanent?” or “Have I decided to just watch people squat?”

Here’s an example: For many people, running a marathon is a one-time thing. They buy some shoes and clothing, and then once they do the marathon they may never run again.

But if you decide to become a runner, you buy the best shoes, the best water bottle, the best everything, and the marathon becomes just one part of being a runner. It’s an investment in a new lifestyle, and that’s what it takes to succeed.

(Find out what investment is right for your online personal training business.)

2. Make Yourself Indispensable

Think about the experience your clients are having. If they’re reaching their goals, if you’re following through on your promises, if you have them set up in a good program, they won’t want to leave you. They will consider you indispensable.

When COVID struck, many trainers got dropped because they were perceived to be a luxury. My clients stayed with me because they saw me as a necessity. This is a massive perception change that all personal trainers need to work on. And you do it by seeing the client as a person. You must understand what’s driving them. You must care.

That was the difference for me: I saw my clients as people. I made it a point to have a 15-minute chat with each client every three to four weeks. This was never scheduled; I would just call. And it wasn’t to talk about exercise; it was to check in on them as humans.

How have you been sleeping? What’s your stress level? How is home-schooling the kids going? Sometimes I even sent them gifts. And I’m not talking about a shirt or mug with my logo on it. I’m talking about a personal gift that comes from paying attention. For example, a client mentioned once that she’s a huge Star Wars fan, so I sent her a Star Wars mug.

Connecting with clients on a personal level makes you a member of their support team, much like a partner or a friend, rather than a luxury.

(Need more clients? Here’s five steps for building your personal training client roster.)

3. Find the Pain Point and become the Solution

As an in-person trainer, I never had to sell on the phone. The Online Trainer Academy Level 2 taught me how to do that. The biggest thing I learned is you must dig deep on a phone call and reach the person’s pain points. A pain point is the root cause of why someone wants to work toward a specific goal such as to lose weight or get back in shape, and they usually won’t tell you this straightaway. Instead, a potential client might say, “I want to lose weight.” When asked what they are hoping to achieve by working together with you.

Well, I’m going to need a bit more. A good follow up question may be Why do you want to make this change? “Because I want my clothes to fit better, so when I look in the mirror I like what I see” There you go. That’s the pain point. You may not get to the clients “why” on the first question. You get that by being curious, asking questions, listening without judgement and to understand, and by demonstrating unconditional positive regard

This can be effectively accomplished on the phone because people aren’t expecting it. They’re expecting you to say, “Oh, I have this program that does XYZ; do you want to try it?” Instead, take them on this journey and once you understand what’s really driving them, don’t just offer a program—offer a solution.

And that’s irresistible, so they sign up.

4. Charge for the Solution, not your Time

Clients expect things online to be less expensive or even free. Every in-person trainer transitioning to online worries about this. But don’t fall into the trap of charging by the hour. Online you don’t charge people for your time; you charge them for the solution.

If a client needs a 50-minute call with you instead of 15 minutes, they get it. If someone needs more support from you, they get it. This mindset shift changes the psychology of the entire relationship—for them and for you. It’s what has allowed me to double my monthly rate because of the perceived added value.

The Online Trainer Academy Level 1 taught me that people who pay, pay attention, which means that when they’re paying top price for something, they’re going to be more invested and do everything theyagree to do. And of course, they’ll get better results, which ultimately makes you look good and be more successful.

Not sure what to charge? These tips will help you figure out what to charge for your personal training.

5. Never Mention a Timeframe

If you signed up a client for 12 weeks, never say, “Oh, you’re on week four” or “You have eight weeks left.” Instead say, “You’re making such great progress. Imagine where you’ll be in six months or a year!”

That’s because the minute you start talking about a specific timeframe, they’ll start seeing 12 weeks as the end point. And you don’t want them to think like that. Instead, when week 11 rolls around, say: “You’ve done an amazing job in the last three months. You came to me wanting X and we achieved XYZ. What else would you like to achieve in the next six months?”

Once you get them thinking like that, say: “I’m not sure if it’s for you, but I do have a legacy program that will allow you to continue training with me so you can smash those goals. Sound good? Let’s do it!”

6. Don’t be Afraid to hold your Clients Accountable.

If a client says they struggle with making decisions and then hesitates when you tell them the cost, say: “Do you mind if I hold you accountable for something you said to me earlier in the call? You told me you struggle with making decisions, and now we’re in the same position. Are there other times you can think of where this has held you back from bettering yourself?”

7. Talk to your clients the way you like others to talk to you

I often get messaged by business coaches saying, “I can help you grow your business to six figures in the next 30 days.” I find this approach off-putting. If you do, too, don’t use that strategy with potential clients. Instead, ask yourself how you would like that conversation to happen.

Maybe you’d prefer for a coach to get to know you, interact in a few posts, and then reach out when you show interest. If so, then that’s how you should interact with prospects, because that’s what feels natural to you.

8. Celebrate all forms of success.

A lot of issues personal trainers have can be solved well before they come up. I’m talking about doing things as simple as having regular check-ins with clients; people are craving connection during this unprecedented time in history.

And make sure to celebrate all kinds of success, not just weight loss or setting a new personal best. Celebrate a mindset shift, which can be a massive win for many people. For someone to be able to eat a chocolate bar and not punish themselves for days afterward is a triumph. Eating normally the next day and not feeling guilty is going to have a much more significant impact on that person’s life than being able to squat an extra 10 pounds.

Look for these things, call them out and celebrate.

9. Lead your clients

When I transitioned my clients to online training in April 2020, no one had any answers. I hadn’t trained online before and neither had any of my clients. I had no idea if it was going to work, but I didn’t tell them that. I showed confidence. I led them.

And that’s key. If you lead, they will follow. If you  work together with your clients to break down barriers and collaborate on next steps and goal setting to find the best way forward for them—then they will be more invested in the program and feel that you are more invested in them

And don’t forget the free upgrade! If they’re used to doing an hour-long Zoom call with you privately each week, and you’re worried how they’ll react if you take that away and go to an hour in an online group, tell them they’ll get more support because they’ll be in a community and will be able to ask you questions anytime. (Although, you answer them at a time that suits you.)

Say: “So on April 1, this is the model we are going to have, and I am going to give you a free upgrade to that.”

You lead, they’ll follow.

If You’re an Online Trainer, or Want to Be …

You can’t move forward in your career while learning how to coach fitness and nutrition online responsibly, effectively, efficiently and confidently.

Enroll in the Online Trainer Academy and find your unique business recipe. Learn how to get and train clients online or get your money back!

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