Chris Cooper (00:02):
What do you do when a client is stinky? What do you do if a client falls in love with one of your coaches or complains too much or posts negative stuff on social media? What do you do if a client is a great person but not a great fit for your gym, I’m Chris Cooper. And today I’m gonna tell you the answer to these questions and give you a great solution for those clients who maybe aren’t a great fit. If you wanna chat about this episode with me, go to Gymownersunited.com. That’ll redirect you to our public Facebook group, where you can ask questions about this episode or any episode on Two-Brain Radio or anything pertaining to owning a gym. I’m in there. The team of mentors from Two-Brain are in there. And around once a day, we like to comb through and just help people out for free. That’s our mission and Gymownersunited.com is where we do that. Today, I’m gonna talk about what we call “weed clients.” These aren’t bad people, but they’re a bad fit for your gym. What do you do with them? I had this experience around 2009: My gym needed money, and I had a great client. She was a personal training client, regular recurring client, great person, very well connected in the community. And she was absolutely enamored with one of our coaches. I don’t just mean a fan. I mean very over the top, enamored beyond the scope of what is acceptable. And of course he was married and not open to these advances. And these advances became clearer and clearer and more obvious and more overt. And we had to finally say, “Look, we can’t have her in the gym.” We had to say, “It’s not you. It’s me.”
Chris Cooper (01:39):
And even when the client makes it easy for you by making negative posts or complaining or talking over your coaches or being late or being stinky, it’s still hard to say goodbye to any client, good or bad. It’s even harder to say “we’re not a good fit” to a prospective client who comes in the door—and especially when you need money. As a people pleaser, I’ve struggled with saying “no thanks” to people my whole life, but I’ve finally found a way to do it: I refer imperfect fits somewhere else. And today I’m gonna tell you how. So first I want you to remember that when you refer a client somewhere else, you’re still serving the client, right? So I decided in the case of the previous client to just find her a new home. I would go out of my way, do my research, do my diligence to actually find her a place to land.
Chris Cooper (02:31):
So I called around to the other local gyms. I introduced myself and I asked about their programs. And so finally I found one that I thought could really help her. I called them up and said, “I have this client. She’s amazing, but she’s not a good fit here. She has a $270 credit at my gym. I would like to transfer that to you and get her started with you right away.” Well, of course they were suspicious. Right? What kind of monster was I dumping on their doorstep? I just told them, “Hey, look, if you don’t like her, you can just refund her the balance. Okay?” And so they agreed. And the client wasn’t exactly thrilled that I was referring her out, but it was better than being dumped by my gym completely. She tried the other gym. She liked it, and she lost 70 more pounds in the next two years there. It was a win for us. It was a win for them and it was a win for the client. So the last service that I could perform as her coach was to give her a way to continue her path to fitness, even if it wasn’t with us. But the experience opened my eyes to the value of a referral partner. I was no longer afraid to say “you’re not a great fit for our program” because I didn’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings anymore. And that meant that I could work only with clients who were a perfect match for my coaches and my gym. So here’s how to find a referral partner in your town. Number one, grab a piece of paper here. We’re gonna work through this. Grab a pen, too. I’m old school, but you can type this in your notes or your phone or whatever. So Step 1: make a list of all of the coaching practices in your town.
Chris Cooper (04:03):
These are people who are offering the same service coaching that you are. Step 2: pick the five gyms who can care for your poor fits the best, right? The five best gyms other than your own, because of course you’re the best. The five gyms that you would join if for some reason you sold your gym or stopped owning a gym. Now you’re not looking for technical expertise necessarily. You’re looking for somebody who can demonstrate care for that client and orient their service to that client’s goals. In other words, you’re viewing the person through the eyes of the potential client. Now, a lot of us have something that’s called “the technician’s curse,” right? We think that the more technical knowledge, certifications, stuff like that that we have, the better the trainer. That’s not necessarily true. Some clients will do way better with a very empathetic but less-educated coach.
Chris Cooper (04:56):
So think about this through the eyes of the client. Next, visit the websites of the five top gyms from your list. If you’re in a small town and there are only three gyms, pick like one or two and keep going through these exercises. Visit their website, then call the top one or two or three of them and ask if you can drop by with coffee. Then drop by with coffee. Literally do it. Show up, give them a coffee and say that you want to refer the clients who aren’t a good fit. Don’t try to set up a contract. Don’t try to set up a reciprocal agreement. Don’t try to partner with this gym and nobody else and exclude everybody else. Just say “I have clients who might be a better fit with you” and then ask them “would you welcome those clients if I sent them to you?” And that’s it. Again, do not try to set up cross-referral fees or some other kind of exclusive deal. This should be a win for the client and the other gym. Your win is not financial. Your win is maintaining the cultural integrity of your gym by moving people out who aren’t a great fit. And the more successful your gym is, the more picky you have to be about people that you choose to include in your community. It’s really hard to remove clients who aren’t a good fit because none of us likes to hurt a client’s feelings. So we keep them around. We receive their private texts and DMs with dread. We keep a suspicious eye on them when they’re around. We harbor a grudge. We keep things in the back of our mind like, “Hey, that guy owes me money” when we’re working with other clients.
Chris Cooper (06:31):
In theory, firing a client is easy, but in practice firing a client is really super-duper hard. I used to try and keep every client or take every person who wanted to join my gym, even when I didn’t need the money anymore. I just didn’t wanna say no and hurt their feelings. But then I learned the value of a referral partner and my life got 300% easier. And then one day my partner referred someone to my gym. That was a bonus. The real win is working only with the clients that I love to serve and surrounding myself with people I can serve. So I’ve got a video that I’ll link in the show notes on how to identify and focus on your “seed clients.” These are your best clients. I’ve got to share one more example with you of how this went wrong.
Chris Cooper (07:21):
So I had this client who was a competitive athlete, and she joined our gym. We were a CrossFit gym, and she really wanted to do CrossFit, and she wanted to compete at CrossFit. And so for the first year, all of her athletic habits served her really well. She was insanely disciplined. She was a super fan. She dove all in. She became a big evangelist for my gym. She posted all kinds of stuff on social media about how Catalyst had changed or saved her life or whatever. She learned how to eat better. She learned how to perform better, but eventually things took a turn, and she began looking for outside programming because she wanted to be quote-unquote “more competitive.” And she started following these coaches who had been to the Games but didn’t really have successful gyms. And she wanted to do extra programming, and she wanted to come in between classes, and she wanted to spend three hours a day at the gym.
Chris Cooper (08:13):
You know this story. I don’t have to tell it to you. And eventually what that led to was this feeling or this sensation that she was different from other people. Maybe she was a better athlete than other people and needed different things. But that eventually led to this feeling of isolation between her and the other members. So they would see her coming in at the end of their class and warming up to do her secret-squirrel programming. And she would kind of stay outta their way, but you know, maybe she’d bang things around, and she would push the boundary of what was acceptable in the gym. You know, for example, we don’t allow people to show up on their own time and just do their own thing. That’s not what a coaching practice is about. And so eventually these things heightened, and it finally reached a point where the other members didn’t really want her there, and she didn’t really want to be there.
Chris Cooper (09:02):
And so after one confrontation with one of our coaches, I went into my office. I found out exactly how many months or sessions she’d bought in advance. I wrote that dollar amount out on a check and put it in an envelope, went to visit her where she was warming up. And I just said, “Hey, look, this is not working out. This relationship isn’t making either of us happy. Here’s the remainder of your funds. Godspeed. I wish you all the best.” And she was flabbergasted. She couldn’t believe that any business would ever give a client a refund and not wanna work with them anymore. And I think that personal shock hit her really hard. I think if I had said “here is a better gym for you” or “here’s a guy that does CrossFit competitive training in his garage” and handed her off that way, she might have viewed the conversation as an ascension instead of as a demotion. And that would’ve really cushioned the blow. It would’ve made a better segue instead. What happened was she cried, she screamed and then she attacked us on social media. You could have seen that coming. Giving your clients a place to land, a place to go, a path forward instead of just a “we don’t want you anymore,” that makes the process easier for them. And making the process easier for them means that you’re more likely to do it because you are an empathetic coach who never wants to hurt anybody’s feelings, right? I know because I am you. I’m Chris Cooper. I’m the founder of Two-Brain Business. And if you wanna chat through this, share client stories, talk about how you’ve offloaded poor clients and promoted your best clients, you can do that at Gymownersunited.com. Feel free to join the conversation there and talk about this podcast or any topic you like about gym ownership.