How Long Should You Keep A Client?

Is our job as coaches to make ourselves unnecessary?
 
Our coaches’ motto at Catalyst is “Teach the client to know more than any other trainer in town.” We’ve had it since 2005. Transferring knowledge is an important part of coaching: when our clients know more than their coaches, there’s no reason to seek knowledge elsewhere.
 
But teaching isn’t the only part of coaching. And our clients DO leave to find other coaches.
 
My longest-standing client at Catalyst just reached the 18-year mark. His name is Kris; he’s younger than me, fitter than me, and he’s CrossFit L1 certified. But he doesn’t coach. He has a coach because he’s busy working elsewhere, and doesn’t have time to figure out his optimal fitness path. Or maybe he doesn’t want to waste the mental energy combing through workouts online. Maybe he’d like to be efficient with his training so he can spend more time with his daughter and wife.
 
Kris knows more than he needs to about fitness. But he still wants a coach.
 
My second-longest client relationship is 17 years old. That client’s name is Wayne. Wayne is far older than me. He doesn’t like groups. He needs an appointment to, in his words, “Get me off my ass and out of the house.”
 
My third-longest client relationship is 16 years old. Her name is Betty-Lou, and she’s one of my favourite people on the planet. I actually started training her daughter–also still a member of the Catalyst family–back in 2003, but Boo started soon afterward. Her husband trains with us, but he’s only been here for a decade, so he doesn’t make the top five list.
 
All of these are smart people. They know enough to take care of themselves. So why do they pay for coaching?
 
Because coaching is far more than teaching.
 
Coaching starts with teaching, because a new client usually needs knowledge first.
 
After a few sessions, a client’s needs begin to shift toward accountability. And a good coach makes that transition smoothly. But some coaches could be technical experts, and nothing more: their clients won’t stick around as their needs evolve beyond knowledge.
 
After a year or two, a client has built a habit. A great coach will transition into a mentor, helping the client alter their workouts and nutrition; finding new goals, and mapping the journey to achieve them. For example, I encourage many of our clients to participate in their first 5k, or weightlifting meet, or Spartan Race after they’ve been around for a year.
 
After five years, the client has built a relationship. An excellent coach will work hard to challenge the client, instead of just holding conversations while the client works out. In some cases, I was smart enough to add another trainer into our appointment calendar to keep client accountability high. Clients learn what you’ll let them get away with over time.
 
After ten years, the client should still be working with your gym. But if you’re the gym owner, you might not be doing any direct coaching anymore. Or you might prefer to work only with these long-term clients; or only with new clients. If you have great systems and consistent delivery across your team, your best clients can stay with you without needing to see you every day. I still have lunch with many of my longest-term clients, and I see them in class, but I never coach them myself anymore. I’m busy doing other stuff.
 
I am a coach, and I am a client. I have coaches for business; coaches for CrossFit; coaches for cycling. Even though I’ve been a fitness coach for 22 years, I STILL know that I need a coach. Knowledge isn’t the problem: my coaches rarely teach me. They don’t have to.

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