January Joiners: Your Emergency Retention Plan

Smiling, fit man with water bottle and gym bag entering health club.

I know you have new clients in your gym.

It’s January, and we’re all enjoying the influx.

But here’s a secret: Lots of your new members are already thinking about quitting.

They’re nervous and wondering if they made a huge mistake in signing up.

Some of them are going to start skipping classes in January, and they’ll be gone by February. Others will last a little longer, but not much.

But if you do something today, you might be able to change that.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

I remember the thrill of January as a new gym owner. The bottom line suddenly looked better, coaches were swamped with onboarding work, and the gym was full of new faces. I felt a sense of relief after a slow December, when people are always more focused on retail spending and partying than self-improvement.

In my complacency, I didn’t do anything to try and retain the most fickle kind of gym client: the January Joiner.

Here’s what I’d do today to give my business the best chance of retaining my new members.

Step 1

Call every new member and ask how they’re doing.

You don’t have to do this personally. You can delegate this task to a coach or client success manager. But someone from the business should reach out to every new client and check in. Do it this week.

You can, of course, do this in person—but don’t rely on a seat-of-the-pants plan to “catch people when I see them.” You won’t see some of your new members because they’ve already quietly quit.

Reach out to every new person. Don’t stop calling until you talk to them and find out how they’re doing.

Step 2

Create an encouraging email sequence for all new members.

You might have this in place as part of your onboarding process, but many people do not. All you have to do is write about five to 10 short emails and schedule them to go out automatically to your newest clients at intervals—maybe every two or three days.

What should you say? The exact content matters less than the constant contact. But I’ll give you a six-email sequence off the top of my head:

1. Congratulate them on making the decision to work on their health and fitness. Welcome them to the gym and ask if they have any questions.

2. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to make them more comfortable, and remind them how to sign in for classes, book PT sessions and so on.

3. Ask them if they’ve thought of any new goals after being in the gym for a few weeks. Remind them that they can message you anytime if they think of something they want to accomplish.

4. Ask for a Bright Spot: “What’s something you’ve accomplished since you started?” Remember, success comes before motivation. Make sure they notice their successes. For some, just going to the gym three times in one month is a big deal, but they might not realize they’re winning. Celebrate every accomplishment.

5. Send a helpful tip—anything that might help. This could be a simple message about post-workout nutrition. Or maybe some info about how mild muscle soreness is normal when starting a fitness program. Maybe send a recipe. Supply some resource that will help solve a very common new-client problem, then ask if they have any specific questions you can answer.

6. Message with a direct question and ask for a response. I’d go with something short and direct: “Hi! I’m dying to know how your workouts are going. Hit ‘reply’ and give me a quick update.”

Step 3

Monitor new client attendance closely.

Again, you can use staff or automations to do this. But nothing will be as powerful as a text message from you that says “Hey! I missed you this week. When will you be at the gym next?”

Do not let January Joiners go more than three or four days without a workout. If you do, they’re gone.

Step 4

Identify at-risk members and reach out to them to address any concerns.

You might have to work very hard to get hold of some people, but keep trying. If you give up on them now, you aren’t doing your job as a coach.

As an experienced trainer, you’ll be able to spot your at-risk clients as Jan. 31 approaches. The bad news is that you just can’t save everyone. The good news is that you can save some people.

Step 5

Send each new member a personalized congratulatory text.

Ask your coaches for any info that will give you a way to customize your message, and end the message with a question so you get a response. For example: “I heard you deadlifted 100 lb. on Monday. Way to go! What’s your next goal?”

Step 6

Ensure you have a series of scheduled touch points set for February and March.

Stay in contact. When the conversation ends, the membership ends.

Step 7

Remind clients of their 90-day Goal Review Sessions.

You should have booked these sessions on sign-up. If you did, send reminders. If you didn’t, book these sessions immediately, then send reminders.

These sessions have been proven to increase average revenue per member and length of engagement. You can absolutely review goals before the 90-day mark if doing so would improve your retention.

Step 8

Evaluate, optimize and systemize.

Review all your efforts to retain January Joiners. Discard tactics that didn’t work and look for ways to optimize tactics that had a measurable effect on retention. Then create a document you and your staff can use in 2025 to retain new members.

Do Something Today

This is just my simple list of suggested tasks. Your final list might look different.

And if you work with a mentor, you’ll get an expert evaluation of your unique business and data-backed tactics that will improve all your key metrics.

But if you want to retain more of your newest clients, you must do something, and you must do it now. If you do, you’ll improve your bottom line while delivering on your promise to help clients achieve their health and fitness goals in 2024.


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.