Personal Trainer

An Introduction to Referral Programs for Personal Trainers

Mar 16, 2017 - 7 min read
woman planing in the gym

As a personal trainer, you rely on a steady flow of clients. The unfortunate truth is no client will stick around forever. One of the best ways to keep clients coming in, is through referrals. However, you can’t always rely on referrals without making an effort. That’s why a proper referral program is an essential tool in the personal trainer’s arsenal. With a referral strategy in place, you’ll have a powerful way to improve acquisition. In this guide, we’ve gathered tips and tricks on how to network like a pro and establish yourself as the expert, and how to get high quality leads through different types of referrals.

Start with Networking

Referrals are great for building up the credibility and trustworthiness of a business but it’s not as easy as ABC. You have to establish yourself as a professional and one of the best ways to do this is through networking. It’s important if not the most important when acquiring new customers.


The first step you’ll want to take is an optimistic attitude. This will help to motivate you to get more clients and increase your revenue but one can’t exist without the other. Understand your area: Finding a clientele base can be tricky. Do you live in a populated city surrounded by corporate offices, hairdressers, and cafes? Or a town? Understand the area where you live and the opportunities it presents.

A Friendly Face

Building up a strong network in the gym and the local spots around you will help you move one step closer to establishing yourself as the expert in your area. If you make sure your face is the one that everyone knows, you’ll start to build up a stronger connection with those around you. You can start by learning the names of everyone you meet at the gym, or in the areas close to your training area. Approaching them with a smile and a firm handshake makes all the difference because first impressions are lasting.

Events and Fairs

Attending fairs and networking events are a great way to meet new people as you can introduce yourself as a specialist in your field, for example, body building, weight loss, or physical therapy. It’ll even help to give you that competitive edge.


To make sure that you are working to your best potential and giving your clients the experience that they want, make sure that you receive regular feedback. This feedback can be through word of mouth, over the phone, through a survey or even an email. A good way to get this feedback is by fostering an environment that is open and friendly towards any criticism.

If you want to go the extra mile and give yourself a good name, show that you know what you’re talking about, try writing blogs in your specific field. If writing isn’t your style, why not try a YouTube video, offering tutorials for free. Even going on Facebook to post daily tips could help you gain more clients. You’ll be out there for everyone to see, and if someone likes your content all they have to do is send you a message. But, this isn’t a one shoe fits all scenario. Social media habits are changing rapidly. To find the perfect mix, you want to find out what your target group is using most. Chances are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will be among the most popular. But, it always helps to do a bit more digging to find the perfect solution for you.

Types of Referrals

Once you’ve established yourself as a professional in your field, you can begin by trying out some referral strategies. The best, and most cost-effective way of gaining referrals is through word of mouth and there are a number of different ways that you can do this. We’ve included a list of the best methods out there, and given a short overview of how they work.

Client Referrals

It’s important to remember that the best referrals will come from the clients who you have shown value to. Give your clients a motive for referring you by offering them an incentive based program. Instead of going for the stereotypical free session for every new referral, offer them something more personal. This will let them know that you value them as a customer.  For example, you could buy them tickets to something that they enjoy. Or, you could give them a voucher for a sport related item. This is where you can really get creative. For every client that brings in a new customer, make sure that you recognize it and thank them for the referral.

Competitive Referrals

A second client referral strategy comes from 30 plus men’s fitness, a personal training group in the UK. His numbers tripled when he began using a referral system driven by a competitive factor. Here’s what he did:

  1. Tell clients that they are appreciated
  2. Tell clients that they are appreciated
  3. Tell clients about the referral competition
    • Bring along a family member, friend, coworker, etc. to a training session
    • If the friend/family member/coworker signs up for a month, the client who brought them will receive a free month of training
  4. Tell clients that the one who finds the most amount of new clients over the space of two months will win a cash prize of $200.

Having clients who are training for free might seem like a big move, but in the long run, it pays off. You’ll have more clients than before, and a great referral strategy in place.

Tip: Provide valuable content made by yourself that your referral sources can use to share with potential clients.

Neighborhood Referrals

Now, remember that bit about using where you live to your advantage. Well, if you get chummy with those in your neighborhood, especially the businesses, you’ll be able to use them as a base for referrals. Give local hangout spots some business cards and in return, you can exchange their business cards with your clients. You can start by visiting the local cafe regularly, using this time in your day to become well acquainted with the staff. Once you’ve built up a good relationship with them, you can ask whether they’ll display flyers for your business or have your business cards on display at the counter.

Social Media Referrals

So, you’ve spent years gaining all these friends on Facebook. Now is the perfect opportunity to acquire customers outside of your own network. What you can start by doing is posting a status about your business and the services you offer. Put a note at the end asking those in your network to share the post. It’s a small step to take, but this in use with one or more of these methods will definitely make an impact on the number of clients that you acquire.

Personal Trainer Referrals

Authenticity, one of the best ways to build it is through referrals to those in your own personal trainer network. For example, if you find a potential client that is looking for a women’s fat loss trainer, but you are a bodybuilding expert, you should refer that person to someone who is an expert in that field. While this can be quite daunting at first, it’s nothing to be afraid of. By forming these connections with surrounding trainers, they will most likely do the same thing for you. All you have to do is ask.

You’ll start to see an increase in your clientele. To avoid damaging your reputation and professionality, follow these three steps.
Relevancy: Every referral that is taken in needs to have some relevance to your personal training business. Quality: If you aren’t posting quality content to fit your quality training, you'll lose credibility. Authenticity: If you’re trying to gain referrals online, make sure that you stick to your field. If you start posting about something that you're not an expert on, you’ll come across as inauthentic.

Prepare for Success

Want more tips and information about how to take your personal training business to the next level? Download our free ebook, Running an Efficient Personal Training Business to receive tips on efficiency, acquisition, retention, sales, trends, and more.

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Anna Thorsen

A Communication Officer at Virtuagym who enjoys traveling far and wide, and I'm passionate about art and philosophy too!