Yesterday, I wrote about scaling up from a personal-training studio to small-group training.
But where do your first 20 clients come from?
Heck, where does your first client come from?
Relying on Relationships
When you’re opening a gym, there’s nothing more reassuring than the first client purchase. It’s more than the money: It’s proof that you have something that people want. That you weren’t totally wrong about the viability of your idea. And that all your front-end systems work: You can bring people in, sign them up and take their money!
Marketing is about relationships, and that’s never more true than when you’re in the Founder Phase.
You need to think about each new client individually, instead of an undefined group.
First, before you do any marketing, build your systems to maximize your retention.
Make sure you have your pricing and program offerings dialed.
Your first clients will come from your personal relationships. As I wrote in “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief,” it’s normal for your first client to be your mom. Or your sister or brother-in-law. Who would want to support you more than your family?
And, of course, support means paying you because they believe in your ideas, not enjoying your service for free because you need more practice. Good will should run toward the founder when he or she is starting a business. The new entrepreneur will need it!
Here’s the process:
1. We call your best clients your “Apple” clients. Take them for coffee one on one.
Ask them these questions:
“What brought you to my gym in the first place?”
“Why haven’t you joined any other gyms?”
“What’s your biggest problem in life outside of your fitness?”
2. Ask about the people closest to them.
“Who has been most supportive to you on your journey, besides me?”
“What do the people in your workplace need? How can I help them?”
“What’s your biggest challenge in trying to help your family get fit?”
3. Map your client journey.
Where do new clients generally come from?
What do most new clients say is their goal?
What do your best clients list as their favorite part of your service?
Write all that down, and make sure every new client gets the same treatment.
4. Make your clients famous.
Every week, interview one client on camera. Just ask, “What’s your fitness story? What are you most proud of achieving? What’s something you never thought possible before? What would you say to yourself one year ago?”
5. Answer your future clients’ questions.
Publish one article every week. Start with the most basic questions possible, and answer them. Build an email list of everyone you know. Every third email should include a clear call to action: a clickable link to book an appointment with you.
6. Use your email list to start Facebook ad campaigns.
The key question to ask before you start any marketing is, “Who is my client?”
In my PT studio, that was easy: middle-aged professionals paid for themselves or their athletic kids.
But when I tried to start a CrossFit box, that was hard. I didn’t define my ideal client, so I made wild guesses about my service and pricing. And because I didn’t get my prices right from the start, I attracted a lot of discount-seekers who couldn’t really afford coaching. So I tried to degrade my service to their budget instead of asking, “Who can afford what I want to sell?”
You sell coaching. Who wants to be coached? Tell them how you’ll solve their problems.
I get cold leads all the time. I get them from Facebook ads. I get them from Instagram. I even get them from Amazon.
Only a small fraction of those cold leads ever jump straight to a purchase. Most need to know MORE: they need to know that I care about their problems and have a reasonable chance of solving them.
The job of your website is to get people off Facebook, and encourage them to sign up for your email list (or a face-to-face meeting.) No one browses websites anymore. So you write content to attract people to your site, and then you get them to continue the conversation through email.
The email conversation should explain the benefits of your service, and “warm them up” to book a consultation with you. The emails can easily be set up to run automatically without fancy software – just a MailChimp account is more than enough, and some billing platforms actually allow you to build in email automations. We show you how in our mentoring program.
At our gym, if we get 10 cold leads from a Facebook ad and two sign up for a No-Sweat Intro right away, we can reliably convert three more from our email sequences. Here’s a short video on how to build an email automation in MailChimp, set up a form on your site, and trigger the emails to send on your schedule:
Scroll lower on this post, and you’ll find the DIY guide to writing a six-email starter sequence (we give our actual text and several other sequences to clients in the Growth Stage of our mentoring program.)
Overall look and feel: personal, not like a newsletter. Avoid logos or footers. Use first-person, intimate language. It should look like a real email. Use merge tags to insert the person’s real name in the email, and ALWAYS have a PS with an action at the end.
The goal of our first email sequence: Get the prospect to book a call.
First Email– Thanks for signing up! Here’s what to expect from us over the next few days.
Also include: You’ll have an opportunity to book a free No-Sweat Intro with us. Want to skip right to that step? Click here!
Second Email– Here’s the #1 struggle faced by people like you, and here’s how we solve it.
Follow your Niche ID template from the Authority Ladder to point out the biggest challenges to your niche, and how you can solve them.
Third Email– Link to video. Twist the knife: if the struggle from email #2 isn’t resolved, how bad could things get? Share a story of a worst-case scenario.
Fourth Email– The “light at the end of the tunnel” email. Share client stories with successful outcomes. Show the contrast between the “twist the knife” video and the happy ending.
Foreshadow the next email: “Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how Shane got out of his rut…”
In the PS, share a link to book. “If you’re too impatient, go ahead and skip to the free call with me…”
Fifth Email– the Sales email. Tell the secrets. Remind the reader of Shane’s story, and what he did to reach a happy ending.
Have a CLEAR call to action printed at least twice, with a link to purchase in 2 clicks or less.
Sixth Email (48 hours later) – Send as a reminder to book a call today. Show what they’ll miss out on if they don’t.
No action? Drop their email into your general email list, and keep sending them love letters forever!
Writing good emails might be an art, but you don’t have to be a master. You can paint by numbers.
Marketing strategies to generate cold leads come and go. But as you get further down the funnel, the strategies change less often. Three years from now, if your cold leads are coming from Virtual Reality tours instead of Facebook, you can still point them toward your email list or YouTube channel, trigger an automated sequence, and warm them up.
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Entrepreneurs in the TwoBrain Family spend December planning for the next year.
First, we review “Perfect Day”. Then we choose their goals for the year that will lead to Perfect Day: income goals, time goals, lifestyle goals, and–maybe most important–service goals.
We work on the owner first, and then the business, because the business should be a path to the owner’s perfect day. In other words, the business serves the owner…not the other way around.
When planning the business’ year, I often use the “rocks in a glass” analogy.
In the business, the “rocks” are service landmarks. They usually occur every quarter or so, but some businesses divide their year into 3, 5 or 6 sections. For the sake of example, we’ll stick with four.
My service landmarks at Catalyst are the Intramural Open (beginning of March), the Catalyst Games (beginning of September), and The Gift (Christmas). Obviously, I need a fourth landmark, preferably in early summer. We have an incredible cycling community here; great swimming; and many people want to get out running after a long winter, so I’m going to tentatively create an early-June event we’ll call the Catalyst Duathlon. This is a placeholder; I might change the event later. But an endurance event is also a nice balance to the Gift in December, which is a combination of a weightlifting meet with a big charitable “give”.
My calendar, divided into quarters, becomes: Intramural Open – March 1 Duathlon – June 1 Games – September 1 Gift – December 25
(all are approximate dates).
Next, I’ll add the “pebbles” – the specialty programs to help my clients best prepare for each of the “rocks”.
What can I do to help my clients best prepare for the CrossFit Games Open? Well, they’ll need weightlifting groups. Maybe a competitive training cycle. So I’ll schedule two eight-week specialty courses (one for each) in the weeks between January 1 and the Open. How can I help them be ready for the duathlon? Couch to 5k groups are always popular, and I can partner with a local bike store to run a cycling program in the weeks after the Open and before this event. How about the Games? Competitive group, obstacle course group or weightlifting program.
Next comes the “sand” in the glass: individualized tweaks I can make for specific clients to tailor my program. This means regular goal reviews, so I set a goal for 30 per month. They’ll move in and out of Personal Training or our ID program and nutrition coaching as needed.
Finally, the ever-present, all-filling “water” in the glass: group training. This fills the gaps between everything else we do: the daily dose of constantly-varied functional movement delivered at high intensity. The general prescription that fills all voids.
Now, with my service calendar set, I can begin building my marketing and sales calendar.
“Marketing” is done to people who aren’t already using your service, or haven’t in the past.
“Sales” is the “Help First” process of guiding your current clients to the best possible service for their goals. It’s really coaching, not selling.
“Rocks” require 3 months of marketing and sales. “Pebbles” require two months of marketing and sales. “Sand” requires constant sales (Goal Reviews) and marketing. “Water” requires constant sales and marketing.
When I’m planning the year, I’ll also look for serendipitous overlap.
For example, the CrossFit Games in early August will really fire up my clients for novelty (cyclocross? obstacle courses? swimming? Awesome.) So I’ll plan little outings around each of these, and usually partner with another community group for cobranding.
On the other hand, we also need to identify the valleys or hurdles to achieving monthly business goals. For example, if you’re running a six-week challenge like New You, that won’t be tied to any specific event at the gym. BUT you might tie it to a revenue gap, like mid-August. In that case, consider these groups “pebbles” and follow the marketing guidelines above.
When decisions are made in advance, stress is reduced to a huge degree. Micro-managing at the last minute isn’t the same as effective planning. Walking through the broad strokes with your team means things are done on time, with focused intent. And that’s how you best serve your clients.
Success leads to motivation, not the other way around.
When your clients celebrate success, they’re more likely to internalize joy and gratitude.
Put them on a podium.
This year, we’ll be celebrating Podium Week on December 12-18. It will help our athletes recognize and celebrate their progress. It will help our community see what REALLY goes on at a CrossFit gym. And (I hope) it will help CrossFit gyms flood the internet with positive images of success.
Our “Intramural Open” plan has been adopted by hundreds of other gyms. It’s my hope that Podium Week can help gyms as much as the Intramural Open has. Here’s everything you need to get started:
1. Keep your regular programming. Find opportunities for “podiums” within.
For example, in “Jackie,” there are at least four opportunities to do something they’ve never done before:
1) row 1000m faster than ever before.
2) Do 50 unbroken thrusters.
3) Do 30 unbroken pullups
4) Finish the workout in a PR time.
…and I’m sure you already see MORE opportunities, right?
2. Before the workout, ask each client which podium they’ll aim for.
3. Encourage them to do so.
4. When they hit their mark, write their goal on a small whiteboard and take a creative picture of them holding it up and smiling. Stand them on a plyo box with a small whiteboard listing their PRs and the #podiumweek hashtag.
5. Post on your FB business page AND your personal page. Tag the athlete. Make sure the post is “public” so their friends can see it.
You’re probably already taking pictures of your clients during workouts, right? Uploading and tagging them? That’s not new to anyone. But context matters: a sweaty heap of Henrietta on the floor isn’t as appealing as a beaming Henny, standing on a plyo box, holding a banner that reads, “I DID IT!!!”
This is also helpful to your gym in other ways:
1. It gets your coaches thinking about celebrating success;
2. It teaches the habit of internalizing small wins;
3. It presents a new way to approach old workouts;
4. It puts small wins in context (see “the growth mindset”)
5. It allows for mucho celebration. If you’re using SugarWOD, the fist-bumps will FLY.
1. Review your programming with coaches a week before. What are the best opportunities for Podiums?
2. Get 10-15 small whiteboards and a LOT of whiteboard markers.
3. Allow 5 minutes at the end of class for Podium celebrations, pictures and hashtag-time
4. Post one picture from each class to Instagram; auto-feed to Facebook.
5. Create a FB album on your page for the other photos.
6. Tag every person in every picture.
7. Host a “Podium Party” on the 18th (we have a huge holiday party called “The Gift.”)
Our business isn’t “based on service.” It IS service. The best way to service your clients is to show them the path to success…and help them celebrate when they get there.
CrossFit has championed the “just get work DONE” attitude from Day One.
The second article ever published in CrossFit Journal was called “The Garage Gym.” That was September, 2002, and Coach told us all how to build boxes, find tires and string up ropes. He didn’t say, “Click here to buy my tutorial videos.”
CrossFit.com has featured a free workout of the day EVERY SINGLE DAY since 2001. There’s no sales pitch attached, no “click to sign up”, no “buy our advanced program.” Just: try this.
Like most of you, I just tried CrossFit on my own before I ever sought a coach. On the date of my first CrossFit main site workout, I’d already been a fitness coach for over a decade. I did pretty well–I thought–and then did very poorly the next day. For a little while, that was enough; but then I started seeking tips to get better.
I found those tips on CrossFit.com, too. Free videos, pictures and articles–thousands of them. 40-page downloads for $20 per year. I built my first boxes using the free templates in the Journal. I bought a set of rings from EliteRings.com because their founder chimed in on the CrossFit message boards.
Following that example, I’ve shared almost 100 free templates with other gym owners over the years. As my skill in creating SOPs has grown, I’ve shared them on several different sites, including this one (other sites still offer outdated versions of my old staff contracts, coaching handbook and other worksheets.) I do it because I believe in the DIY mentality: try it yourself. Get your hands dirty. THEN ask for help.
I believe in the value of coaching, to be sure. I get coached in weightlifting and CrossFit, and I coach others in business. But I also believe–strongly–in trial and error. Mistakes are critical to success.
You should know how to change the tires on your bike, the oil in your car, and the pictures on your website. If you don’t, you’re at the mercy of salesmen.
Should you build a website from scratch? Maybe (click here to read how I did it.) Then, when you hire a professional, you’ll know what you’re buying. Should you rotate your own tires? If you’re not too busy. But you should do it once, at least, or you’ll never understand the real value of the service.
These days, I buy my boxes. I know how long it would take me to build them, and the cost of lumber, and I can decide to pay for them from a position of knowledge. I buy my websites from Liquid State Design (and recommend them.) But I’ve built several myself, and know exactly what’s involved. If my site has problems, or I have a great idea, I can just do the work right away.
There are tons of free templates on this site. Some even have instructions. Go ahead and use them. They won’t make you an expert, but they’ll give you a wrench. Get your hands dirty. Until you’re ready for mentorship, don’t be scared to DIY.
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