Delighting Your Clients: Giftology

Delighting Your Clients: Giftology

I love giving presents. I get more excited than my kids do. I am horrible at keeping gifts a secret.

Every time I build a new tool for gym owners or create a new handbook, I feel amazing—that’s why we spend around $20,000 per month publishing this stuff and then giving it away for free. Here ya go!

I love giving my gym clients the Intramural Open experience every year. It feels like I’m giving them a present.

I love giving my coaches an annual shopping spree on me at Christmas.

I love giving less-fortunate families in our community a huge present every year (we call it “The Gift”).

But the greatest gift I give is opportunity and empowerment.

When a gym owner shares an amazing blog post, social post or other media with me, I sometimes send them some money. Then I turn around and give it to the Two-Brain community as a gift.

When outside experts have brilliant ideas but no audience, I pay them for their education and then give the idea to the Two-Brain community as a gift. For example, we have amazing new templates for nutrition challenges and online coaching thanks to this acquisition process.

Giving gifts makes you feel great. And it can make your clients feel great, too.

But giving gifts costs money. And the ROI is impossible to measure. Many businesses give their clients gifts for the wrong reasons:

1. They think it will increase retention (there’s no data demonstrating that to be true).

2. They think it will make a deposit in the client’s “emotional bank account” (which doesn’t exist).

3. They think it will encourage a higher perception of value from the client (again, impossible to measure).


Welcome Boxes?


Welcome boxes and packages are becoming more popular, and some companies have even tried to provide custom welcome boxes to gyms. It seems like a great idea but sometimes backfires because:

A. The gym is spending money without tracking any kind of outcome. Does it really change anything? If so, what? And by how much?

B. The gym has to buy a ton of inventory to be cost effective, tying up resources that it could invest elsewhere.

C. It’s awkward to give a great gift to a new client without giving anything to your existing clients.

On the other hand, a “welcome package” is a great way to share your policies with new clients, kickstart their journeys and empower them to be successful. There’s a great example of a “welcome package” done right in the next section.


When Should You Give Clients Gifts?


1. When they show up for a No Sweat Intro, give them bottles of water. This triggers an impulse of reciprocation.

2. When they sign up for your gym, give them your welcome package, which includes your client handbook (or gym rules, or whatever). Give them the rules, but make it feel like a present. Add a couple of little surprises. Here’s a great example of a cost-effective welcome package from Push511:

(Can’t see the video? Click here.)

3. When the client hits a first little accomplishment, give the gift of a podium. Read more about that here.

4. When your client hits a new milestone, give the gift of recognition: a small badge, some social media posts, a round of applause from classmates. These are gifts your clients can’t get anywhere else. I like the Level Method for creating these powerful moments.

5. At the big milestones (100 workouts, three years as a member, becoming a coach, etc.), you should celebrate with a gift. Some ideas are below.


The Two Best Gifts I’ve Received From Other Businesses


1. Incite Tax—When I referred my first client to Incite Tax, John Briggs sent me a pretty amazing gift: a jersey from the Sault Greyhounds. The jersey wasn’t cheap. But the real gift was knowing that John’s team had done some research: They had figured out that I liked hockey, that my highest-level hometown team was the Greyhounds, what size I wore, and that I went to watch the Greyhounds play every month or so. That is a thoughtful gift.

2. Forever Fierce—Matt Albrizio once sent me a custom North Channel Lightning banner. I volunteer to coach and sponsor a team of local kids. Every year, we travel to a couple of tournaments, and I usually have to cover some travel costs, food and hotels for families who need it. I love doing it. We buy the kids warmup suits and new uniforms and everything they need to make them feel like pros. Matt made up a huge North Channel banner that the kids signed, and we take it to tournaments to rally the crowd. They love it. The gift was incredibly thoughtful.


Top Lessons From Gifting Pros


Here are the basics of great gift giving, according to John Ruhlin, author of “Giftology”:

1. Buy the best in the category instead of a mediocre gift in a higher category. For example, you’re better off to give the best speed rope in the world ($20) instead of a cheap water bottle (also $20).

2. A gift with your logo on it isn’t really a gift. This is a hard line to walk, because some clients really do want to show off their membership. I’d go with a combination gift: something best in class and something with your brand on it. For example, a great backpack and a bumper sticker.

3. It’s more important to be timely than to give a big gift. Immediate recognition encourages repetition. When clients hit PRs, it’s better to stand them on boxes and take their pictures right away than to give them a “shout out” in an email newsletter later.

4. A gift is not a bribe, and a bribe is not a gift.


Top Lessons From a Bad Guesser (me)


As much as I love giving presents, I’m really bad at guessing what individual people will want to receive. So here’s what I do:

1. Personalization is best, but cash will do. Our local team gets a “shopping spree” at Christmas because it’s fun. And they show me the stuff they’ve bought themselves. It’s never anything I would have chosen, but it’s always something they love (skis and boots were really popular this year).

2. Presentation is everything. If you make a big deal about giving the gift, you’ll increase its perceived value. If you downplay it (“I’ll just leave this on the desk”), you’ll decrease the gift’s value. For a gift to mean something to the recipient, it must mean something to the giver. So when you give a client a “100-workout badge,” it’s critical to stand the person in front of the class and make a huge presentation.

3. The best gifts don’t cost much. Recognition on your PR board, a round of applause, a picture on the internet—your clients probably don’t get these awards anywhere else in their lives. Their bosses aren’t writing their names on the office wall to celebrate their performance. Their family members aren’t clapping because dinner was great. Their spouses aren’t celebrating them on Instagram.

4. Use something you can automate, like We use it at Catalyst and Two-Brain. The site has my handwriting uploaded as a font, so cards look like they’re handwritten. Put a personal picture of your client on it, type a quick note and hit send. And the cost to send a card is usually around the cost of postage.

Delighting your clients can mean giving them gifts. All of us have money to spend, but none of us has money to waste. Approaching gifts pragmatically means optimizing the gifts you share—and making the most of the Big Give.


Other Media in This Series

How to Delight Your Clients
How to Help Your Clients Win
What Jason Ackerman Learned From 10,000 Hours of Coaching
How to Delight Your Clients Online

How I Built an Audience for My Gym

How I Built an Audience for My Gym

In this series, I’ve been sharing the importance of building an audience. In the previous post, I gave you the step-by-step process of Affinity Marketing, which you must master before turning to paid lead generation.

This process has been tested and refined over the last two decades of gym ownership and proven by thousands of gym owners around the world.

Of course, when I started Catalyst, there was no guide. So my approach wasn’t optimized, but I still covered all the bases. Here’s how I did it.


“Need a Writer?”


Starting around 2000, I realized that the path to becoming a superstar trainer was to get published on websites like (it’s called T-Nation now). There were other models at the time (I wrote for and was actually offered the option to buy the site for $400—which I turned down. Sad trombone.).

I eventually realized that my training clients would come from our town—not the internet—so I emailed the three local newspapers and offered to write a column. Two actually took me up on it.

Because I wanted to train athletes, most of my posts were about athletic training. As crazy as it sounds, two online articles about linear periodization actually got me my first paying client—Nick, a soccer player. I was working in a treadmill store, and his dad marched him up to the desk to ask if I’d train him. Then he wrote me a check!

I trained Nick in the back parking lot of the treadmill store for a few months—using equipment that I stored in my truck and a “sled” that I’d built from a broken shopping cart. Nick got results, and soon a teenaged girl named Holly showed up in the treadmill store to ask about training.

What did they have in common? Both were multisport athletes, but both played soccer. And both were being shopped to NCAA schools by a local promoter. So I called him to ask how I could help his other athletes.

He showed up to make training videos, and he loved the unconventional training we were doing—sled pulls, barbell work and sprints instead of the bodybuilding and distance running most athletes were doing in town.

And I kept publishing. I was prompted to write about weight loss because the treadmill store was sandwiched between a Weight Watchers and a herbal weight-loss supplement store. I got pissed, wrote about it in one online newspaper, and soon had my first weight-loss client.


Slow but Steady Expansion


So my first clients came from publishing content, direct referral (one parent to another) and publishing different content.

My next half-dozen came from the college recruiter because I took the time to find the common link between my current clients.

Then it got cold. I couldn’t train people in a parking lot or city park anymore. I had to find a place to train them. So I asked the owner of the gym where I trained if I could use his space.

“Sure—just make sure they buy a membership!” he said.

Memberships were $30 per month. I stressed about telling parents they’d have to pay for a membership and pay me (I was probably charging around $35 per hour back then).

I printed two T-shirts that said “FOCUS Strength and Conditioning” and a dozen business cards on my printer at the treadmill store. I wore the shirts when I was training the kids. The gym was clean, but it was in a bad neighborhood and had a bit of a reputation for steroid use. Unfortunately, as my clientele grew, the gym declined and was locked up in the middle of the night.

I had to find a new home for my growing stable of athletes (now up to seven). Luckily, the owner of a small personal training studio walked into the treadmill store to buy a triceps pushdown bar. We made a deal: I could use his studio space when he wasn’t in it and he’d charge me rent.

The studio referred me a couple of clients, but they weren’t in my target demographic. In fact, the first referral—a lawyer’s wife—walked into the space I’d set up for her, saw chains hanging from the cage, said, “What the f— is that?” and never came back. I couldn’t rely on the studio’s typical clientele, so I had to build my own book of business.

Within a year, I had 34 clients: I kept publishing everywhere I could and asking my clients about their friends and families. I told them how to help their husbands lose weight, advised them on home exercise equipment, listened to their frustrations with their kids’ coaches. I eagerly sought out opportunities to say, “I think I can help.” When my teenaged athletes were competing, I went to their events. I set up a tent beside the track for my runners. I sat with their parents at hockey games. I was introduced to families and other future clients. I even got invited to their weddings!

It’s important to note that I’m naturally introverted. I wasn’t comfortable doing any of that. But I did it because I had to eat.

It’s also really important to note that the other trainers at the studio did none of these things, and they grew their clientele much more slowly. Same location, same equipment, same pricing, same Yellow Pages ads, and most of them copied my training plans. But after two years, I had a waiting list and they were going hungry.


Have Gym, Will Train (and Create Content)


In 2005, I realized that I couldn’t make enough money even with 10-12 hours of training per day. I decided to open my own gym to earn more.

Now, I had around 30 personal training clients by that point. But there was no guarantee that any would follow me to Catalyst. I was still writing for local news blogs (and occasionally got something in a print newspaper), but in 2005, most people just bought ads in the Yellow Pages.

So when the Yellow Pages rep visited my gym, I expected to buy an ad—until I saw the price. I didn’t have any money, and I needed to buy groceries, so committing thousands of dollars to marketing just wasn’t possible. It wasn’t a budget problem—I had no budget. I literally had zero dollars.

In the mail the next day, I received a local chamber of commerce guide. In the back cover, the guide printed the email address for every single chamber member. It was 2005. There was no spam. I copied and pasted every email address into the CC line in Yahoo Mail and sent my first “newsletter” to around 45 people.

Two weeks later, I had to hire a second trainer. Not only had all my clients from the PT studio followed me to Catalyst but I’d also signed up several from my first email.

All these clients were busy professionals—lawyers, dentists, entrepreneurs. They were tactful and discreet, but when I asked one, “Why did you come to Catalyst?” he said, “I know more about training than the other trainers at your previous gym.”

This was an epiphany that I’ve always followed to this day: “Teach my clients to know more than any other trainer in town.” I think that’s a necessary part of audience building. But it’s not sufficient.

I kept writing in local news blogs for another year until both fired me on the same day. Luckily, I still had my (growing) email list. I’d simply add every email I found to the CC line of my monthly newsletter. Even when I bumped into Yahoo’s send limits, I’d copy and paste 100 at a time. And it was already clear that every email I sent was worth hundreds of dollars.

When our scheduler books got full, we started to look for online scheduling software. In 2006, we found MindBody, and its integration with Constant Contact really ramped up my emails. I think it’s key to realize that I chose the software based on its ability to send content; that wasn’t an afterthought or “feature” or “automation.”

By that point, I was hiring other trainers and filling their schedules. I remember filling our four private training rooms, and one coach—Tim—was training his clients in the stairwell because we were jammed. But what I didn’t notice—and should have—was that all the clients were coming in from the work I did. Very, very few—maybe one in 20—were brought in by the other trainers.

Audience building was my job. I was the only one doing it for our business. And I didn’t even focus on it—I wrote blog posts at 4 a.m. before my clients got there, or on weekends.


A Few Mistakes—and a Mentor


In 2007, we found CrossFit. I was trying to find a way to earn more per hour than I could as a 1:1 trainer. So I emailed my list and asked, “Who wants to volunteer for this eight-week trial?” I had 13 people reply before I even thought to put a cap on the group.

By 2008, CrossFit was all I wanted to do. We opened a second location because we couldn’t get out of our PT studio lease and couldn’t drop barbells there. My first member was the father of a PT client; my second member was her brother. Both heard of me through the stuff I’d written, and their trust was reinforced by their peer group.

By late 2008, I was almost bankrupt. And I thought it was because I needed better marketing. But I was dead wrong: I needed a better product.

I had plenty of clients and plenty of future clients who were paying attention to anything I did. But my product sucked; it was underpriced and I was exhausted while delivering it. There was no joy in either of my gyms in 2008. The real failure was mine: I thought CrossFit would sell itself. I didn’t think I had to build an audience for CrossFit. But no one in my town had heard of it, and its obvious appeal to me didn’t work for anyone else.

I was still getting PT clients, and they were paying the bills. But, stupidly, I tried to push all my 1:1 clients into group training that they didn’t really want.

I kept publishing, and everything we introduced sold out right away: kids groups, running groups, barbell specialty programs. But I was still running out of money. Somehow, it never occurred to me to charge more, that my audience trusted me enough to pay what I needed to survive. And I was routinely killing the golden goose by pushing 1:1 clients into group training they didn’t really want.

I found a mentor. I saved my gyms. He fixed my service and freed me up to do what I do best (build an audience.) Using what he taught me, I launched and sold two other companies in the next five years.

But sticking with Catalyst, we just kept publishing. We sent out a monthly newsletter. We wrote blog posts almost daily. When we finally got on Facebook around 2012, I shared our stuff there, and the algorithm didn’t block it. My focus shifted to telling clients’ stories on the site instead of simply providing educational content. I put clients on a podium. They shared our blog posts with their friends (they were thrilled to be “on the internet”). I kept looking for opportunities to meet my clients’ spouses and friends.


Don’t Buy Ads?


Today, Catalyst has still never paid for a Facebook ad. We have thousands of people on our email list, and our specialty programs fill every time (usually in less than 48 hours). We’re the most expensive gym in town by a huge margin. But our audience trusts us enough to accept our guidance.

The difference now is that we have excellent operations, processes, programs and pricing.

But my real skill is building audiences. And I built them one person at a time, following the now-tested Affinity Marketing strategy I shared in the previous post, plus consistent publication of good content.

I’m going to run a free webinar on audience building on Jan. 10. Click here—you have to register because I’m capping it at 200 people, and 125 seats are already taken.


Other Media in This Series

How to Build an Audience
Building an Audience: Start With One
Stockholm Success: How to Build an Audience With Per Mattsson

How to Build an Audience

How to Build an Audience

“If you know how to build an audience, you’ll never go hungry.” —Todd Herman

There are really two parts to a gym business: operations and audience building.

The “operations” side is your service (CrossFit, personal training, nutrition coaching, bootcamp, whatever). It’s also how you deliver your service (your systems, your pricing, your location and setup). If we were selling a product, this side of the business would be the actual product.

The other side of the business is building an audience for your service. Building an audience is different from “lead generation”—though lead generation is part of it. Building an audience means attracting attention but also establishing long-term trust. It means leadership. It means keeping people attached and engaged. And it means willfully excluding people from the audience when necessary. That last one might make you a bit uncomfortable—but I’ll explain more later in this series.

Picture your business as a big wheel you keep pushing forward down the road. There are really six things you can do to turn that wheel, or six “handles” you can grab onto and push:

If you look at those handles, you’ll see that half of your time as a gym owner should be spent on delivery and improvement of your service, and the other half should be spent building an audience. 

It’s not a coincidence that our Incubator program is set up to do exactly that.

The brain is often described as two parts: the left hemisphere (responsible for analysis, sorting and math) and the right hemisphere (responsible for creativity, communications and relationships). That’s why we’re called Two-Brain Business.

Marketing is fun to talk about. Sales is fun—well, it’s fun to get paid. But those are merely chapters in a long story. In this series, I’ll tell you how to build an audience (including how I did it for my gyms and how I did it for Two-Brain).

In Part 2, I’ll talk about how to build an Audience of One and then how to duplicate that ideal client over and over.

In Part 3, I’ll tell you the story of how I built an audience for Catalyst (my gym) step by step. I didn’t use a single paid ad from Facebook or the Yellow Pages or newspapers.

For Part 4, Per Mattsson will be on Two-Brain Radio to tell us the story of how he built an audience of 280 for an event in Stockholm, Sweden, and how their trust got him out of a jam.

After that, I’m going to do something different: host a live webinar on How to Build an Audience. You can watch for a few minutes and then ask questions. Go ahead: I’m an open book. After 10.5 years of publishing every day, I have no secrets left—but you might have missed some of them along the way if you haven’t read every post.

As always, you can email me if you have questions or if you think I left something out!


Other Media in This Series

Building an Audience: Start With One
How I Built an Audience for My Gym
Stockholm Success: How to Build an Audience With Per Mattsson

How to Change Your Clients’ Behavior

How to Change Your Clients’ Behavior

Humans do things for a reason.

You can’t improve a person’s health until you change his or her behavior. This includes your clients, your coaches and yourself.

The process I’m about to teach you is the result of all the current research on behavioral change. It’s the sum of two decades’ worth of study in changing behavior and making people healthy. It’s so important that I co-founded Two-Brain Coaching to help coaches learn the things that really change lives.

Everyone teaches cues and corrections; no one teaches how to change behavior—until now. It’s a fundamental part of our courses at Two-Brain Coaching.


8 Steps to Behavior Change


As I’ve said earlier in this series, behavioral change has to come before motivation, before adoption of a new fitness program and before adherence. Retention—keeping a client long term—is the result of mastering behavioral change. It’s a lagging metric, not a leading metric.

Here’s how to do it, step by step:

1. Start with a clear picture of success. No one joins a gym for the sake of joining. Ask every client—in a sit-down, 1:1 conversation—what his or her goals are.

2. After you get a clear goal, ask “Why?” until you get to the root motivation. You need to know what the elephant likes to eat, so to speak. In this analogy, the elephant is the client’s emotional mind, and the rider atop the elephant is the client’s rational mind.

3. Show the client your plan to get him or her to the goal. We call this the “prescriptive model.” If you read the previous post in this series, you can call it “informing the rider” atop the elephant.

4. Provide a 20 percent bonus. Show the client what he or she is already doing right. It’s easier to modify an existing behavior than to start a new one. I wrote about “head starts” in “Two-Brain Business” and “Help First.” It’s important to show people they’re already a little bit successful.

5. Find Bright Spots. Motivation requires success, not the other way around. Highlight wins early. Celebrate them. Make this a priority for your coaches.

6. Put clients on podiums. A podium is a victory over a previous best. It’s also a chance to step up and move to a higher degree of challenge. And it’s the best marketing you can do. Make your clients famous. Tell their stories.

7. Ask for the next goal. This is the step most coaches miss.

8. Repeat.

The fitness industry is changing. Selling the same thing to everyone means selling a commodity. But no one can compete with personalized delivery. Even if your gym sells only group programming, your program must be delivered in an individual way.

Gym owners in our Incubator program build out their Client Journey step by step. They plan every interaction with their clients in advance. They keep clients longer. They don’t sell memberships; they sell change. And they can make this righteous claim because they understand behavior.

In the next installment in this series, I’ll talk with Ty Krueger of Behavior Change Collective and Packerland CrossFit on Two-Brain Radio. He’ll give you some real-world examples of behavior change in action.


Other Media in This Series

How to Change Your Clients’ Lives
Changing Behavior: The Elephant and the Rider
Behavior Change: How to Turn New Year’s Resolutions Into Long-Term Success
What’s Holding You Back?

How to Change Your Clients’ Lives

How to Change Your Clients’ Lives

Your best programming is useless if members don’t show up.

And your cues and corrections might actually be hurting your clients’ progress.

We’re in the business of teaching movement. We’re in the business of correcting nutrition. But before any of that, we’re in the business of changing behavior.

People do things for a reason.

You probably don’t know the reason.

They probably won’t tell you.

They might not know the reason themselves.

When you focus on keeping clients in your gym for a decade or more, your perspective changes from “funnels” and “sales scripts” to behavior modification. You start to wonder about motivations and world view.


You Must Ask “Why?”


People don’t always put their best foot forward at the gym. After a long day at the office, they might still be replaying an angry conversation with their boss while you’re talking about the box squat. They might be thinking about what they’ll feed their kids later. Or they might be wondering, “Why am I here on a beautiful day like this?”

As coaches, it’s our job to understand why a client is falling off a diet, why a client has bad posture, why a client is distracted in class. We have to ask “why?” before we can explain “how.”

Jill is canceling her membership in the middle of the month. Why?

Rusty hasn’t been to the gym for two weeks. Why?

Trina showed up late for her appointment. Why? Is she disrespecting me? Does she need to be punished? Or is it something else?

We’re emotional creatures wearing a thin skin of rationality. The more I study behavior, the more I can help people change theirs.

In this series, I’m going to tell you what we know about human behavior, how to change your clients’ behavior so they can achieve the results they want, and how to identify the behaviors that are holding you back (that last one is the toughest).

In Part 2, I’ll tell you about how the rational mind works with the emotional mind.

In Part 3, I’ll tell you our step-by-step process for changing clients’ behavior and improving their adherence (and, thus, their retention in your gym and their long-term results).

Part 4 will feature a conversation with Ty Krueger of the Behavior Change Collective (and Packerland CrossFit).

In the final installment, I’ll hold up the mirror to help you identify the behaviors—and beliefs—that are holding your business back.

In the end, theory doesn’t matter. Actions matter. Changing health means changing behavior first.


Other Media in This Series

Changing Behavior: The Elephant and the Rider
How to Change Your Client’s Behavior
Behavior Change: How to Turn New Year’s Resolutions Into Long-Term Success
What’s Holding You Back?

Rep Week: Goal Reviews

Rep Week: Goal Reviews

In this series, I’m asking you to practice the most important conversations in your business.

In Part 1, we practiced the intake process (we call it the No Sweat Intro).

Today, we’re going to practice Goal Review Sessions.

Every quarter, you should meet with each client and review progress. That’s what coaching means.

Our data shows that the best gyms do this regularly. A regular system of feedback analysis and new prescriptions is the separator that microgyms need. More and more, the prescriptive model is becoming our actual job; the delivery of nutrition and exercise programs is just how we implement our prescriptions.

I want you to practice 10 Goal Review Sessions. Practice on your mirror, on your dog or—best idea—on your coaches. Talk about their goals, measure their progress, and make a new prescription for the next three months. Then book their next Goal Review Sessions before they leave!

Start the Goal Review meetings with Bright Spots: What are they most proud of achieving?

Follow with this question: “Are you happy with the progress you’ve made so far?”

If they say yes: Move to the Affinity Marketing process (we’ll cover that tomorrow).

If they say no: Work on a new prescription.

Today, we’ll focus on the prescription side. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Affinity Marketing.


The Prescriptive Model


Start with the goal: What exactly would the client like to attain?

Next, measure the starting point. It’s important to measure the thing the client wants to improve. For example, doing a Functional Movement Screen on someone who just wants to lose weight isn’t going to convince the person that you can help. If a person wants to lose weight, measure his or her weight. If the person wants to do a max thruster, measure the max thruster.

Now, break the goal down into smaller steps. What’s the halfway point to the goal? What’s halfway to halfway?

Show the client the larger plan using the template below. Identify his or her three-month goal and put it on the timeline.


What will it take to achieve the first goal? That’s your next prescription.

Write the prescription on your prescription pad (we give you a template in the Growth Stage of mentorship).

Ask the client if he or she agrees with your prescription.

Present the price.

Collect the money.

Schedule the next appointment.

Set up a tracking process. Will you monitor the client in SugarWOD? Trainerize? MyFitnessPal? Will you use Streaks?

Notify coaches to watch for Bright Spots. Each one will reinforce the idea that the client has made the right decision—a decision that will result in an accomplished goal.

Repeat the process every quarter.

As you practice, this process will become a natural extension of your coaching business. As you make it the standard for your clients, it will become the core of your coaching business. It’s a great idea to become very good at it.


Other Articles in This Series

Rep Week: Sales
Rep Week: Affinity Marketing
Rep Week: Coach Evaluations
Rep Week: Hard Conversations