Should You Run a Free Trial?

A client lacing up her gym shoes - should you run a free trial

Gyms go out of business all the time.

New gyms also open all the time.

That means many of the old myths reappear every few years as “new ideas.” One of those myths is the free trial class for onboarding new gym members.

Today, I’m going to tell you why the free trial is a bad idea and why the idea keeps showing up every few years. Then I’ll tell you what you should do instead.

Ten years ago, a “free trial” was a great entry point. Early adopters to CrossFit, novelty seekers and gym hoppers just wanted to dip their toes into functional fitness. They had already jumped through several hoops:

  • They had decided they needed to exercise and were probably already exercising.
  • They were bored with their current routines.
  • They were adventurous enough to try something they knew nothing about.
  • They had already done background “research” on CrossFit (and they were pretty much sold when they walked in the door).

All those people did a free trial. It was enough back then. Now it’s not.

In 2021, a “free trial class”—or even a “free trial personal training session”—is no longer the best way to acquire long-term clients. Here’s why:

  • We’re now into the third tier of client engagement with a new idea (the “late majority”). Members of this group have preconceptions about CrossFit but probably haven’t done thorough research.
  • Members of the late majority are less fit than the early adopters were. A free trial workout is more likely to discourage than encourage them.
  • A free trial doesn’t show anyone how you’re going to solve their problems. “You’re overweight? Let’s make you throw up!”

Think about this: how did you choose your dentist, lawyer, accountant, wedding planner, T-shirt printer? Through a “free trial” or through a consultation?

Why Does This Myth Keep Coming Back?

The free-trial myth pops up from time to time for two reasons: Gym owners hate “selling,” and most of our entrepreneurial role models sell products instead of services. But you and I sell a service, not a product.

Back in 2010, most of us were using the free trial as our sales process. We just hoped clients would love it so much they’d whip out their credit cards and say “sign me up!” But most people don’t buy that way anymore. You have to talk about their goals, then about how you can help accomplish them. And then you have to “prescribe” your workouts in that context.

Putting a free trial in that mix just kicks the buying decision further down the road. It puts the onus back on the client to say “sign me up” instead of the coach saying, “Do you want to sign up?” And it drops your retention because you’re just selling the same thing as everyone else, so clients will leave for convenience, novelty or price.

“Try before you buy” works with products. You’re not selling a product. The closer you are to a customized service, the more stable your business.

What to Do Instead 

We’ve been tracking data for hundreds of gyms for years. The best way to meet new clients, help them plan their training, sign them up and keep them is the No Sweat Intro. We even have data on the name!
Mentoring clients get the full script and training for themselves and their staff. They have the philosophy of the Prescriptive Model drilled into them until they’re rolling their eyes. It’s a big deal. We’re not just guessing about this. Here’s the rough overview:
Start by inviting people in to talk before they do anything else. Ask for their story—the whole thing. Listen. Write down the stuff that’s important to them.

Measure what they want measured. Tip: No one in 21 years has ever told me, “I want to move better.” Think twice about using a movement screen here.

Make a recommendation. It must be based on what the client wants—not what you like—and then schedule a follow-up visit.

Start the client’s path to fitness. This might be training in a group but could just as easily be personal training or nutrition coaching or anything else you offer.

Reinforce the client’s journey—heavily at first. Overpraise in person. Call him or her according to the Bright Spots strategy.

Three months later, review their progress. In person. Don’t run a “goal-setting seminar”—they already have goals. Groups don’t have goals. Your individual clients do.
You’re in the relationship business. Your services—bootcamps, CrossFit, challenges—will come and go. But your relationship with clients as a coach should supersede any of these.

So kill the free trial class. Stop handing out samples. Start coaching people.
Is this something different from what you’re currently doing? My friend, it’s the tip of the iceberg. RampUp gives you all the tools—including the No Sweat Intro—you need to build a 30-year business.


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.