Personal Training: When to Give a Freebie

A coach leading a couple through a PT session - when to give a freebie

Dr. Brian Strump, Certified Two-Brain Fitness Business Mentor

I’ve made just about every mistake you can imagine with “free” since opening our gym in 2010. 

  • Free intro.
  • Free week. 
  • Bring a friend for free for a day.
  • Buy this, get that free. 

I’m sure my mistakes got some people in the door, but the people they brought were not our ideal long-term clients for the most part. 

Without a proper introduction to certain movements, people who came without paying created more stress for the group coach and took coaching time from paying members. These free sessions often ended in frustration for drop-ins because they felt unsure of what to do and self-conscious within the established group. 

Still, in the last 24 months, offering something for free has been one of the most effective things we have done to grow our personal training revenue.

The Right Offer With the Right People

In the past, we’d give a “referral card” of sorts to our personal training clients and ask for referrals. It was a waste of paper and yielded few results. Most of those referral cards ended up lost or in the trash, I imagine. 

Then one day a personal training client asked about bringing a friend to join a session. No one had ever asked about that with regard to PT, and we said “yes.” The two came and had fun—and we earned a new personal training client at a rate of more than $600 per month!

After that, I instructed coaches to ask their best PT clients if they had friends who might also enjoy personal training, and I asked our coaches to pay attention to the people their clients talked about often. When a client brought someone up regularly, the coach could ask if the client wanted to bring the friend in to train together for an hour at no charge to either person.

The key word is “together.”

We’ll regularly get clients who say, “I’ve been trying to get my friend to sign up for your intro but he hasn’t yet.” Or they’ll tell us “my friend is busy” or provide some other reason why a friend hasn’t contacted us. We now use this approach 100 percent of the time: “Why don’t you bring the friend to a free personal training session and you can work out together?”

“Together” dramatically increases the likelihood that the person will show up to the session, and he or she is always more comfortable with a well-known workout partner. Sometimes, the new person will purchase one-on-one training sessions, but we’ve also sold two-on-one sessions because the friends enjoyed the free session together and wanted more.

In addition, we’ve found that a free personal training session with a friend feels more exclusive than a “bring a friend to class” offer. The cost of a group class in a gym can vary tremendously, so people don’t have a lot of context for rates. While PT rates vary, I believe most people understand that personal training is a premium service. This pre-qualifies the prospective new client. 

Investing in Warm Leads

When we offer a free “buddy session,” the coach doing the training will get paid the gym’s regular one-on-one personal training rate. He or she gets the same rate for the hour and views it as a great opportunity to add another PT client.

On the business side, paying the coach makes sense. It’s a one-time “discount” that costs us only the staff pay for the session, and I’ve found it’s a low price to pay for a very warm personal training lead.

You can definitely make mistakes with freebies. But you can make mistakes with ads, too, and you might end up paying a lot for a small number of cold leads. With our free PT sessions, we’re acquiring hot leads who are closely connected to our best clients and likely to make purchases.

So I wouldn’t offer a “free class” anymore, but I wouldn’t hesitate to set up a free session for a high-value contact and his or her best friend.

Two-Brain gyms use Affinity Marketing tactics like this to replicate their best clients. Download a complete guide to Affinity Marketing from our Free Tools page.

Other Media in This Series

“Stop Losing Clients Before They Start”
“Stop Losing Clients After the First Session”
“Customizing Your Gym’s On-Ramp for Better Retention and More Sales”


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.