Tactical Referrals: How to Replicate Your Very Best Clients

A graphic showing how one client can create a network of many through referrals.

Two things that can’t be said enough:

Referrals are one of the best ways to grow your business.

Referrals don’t just happen—you must generate them.

I’ll give you some great ways to do that below.

Tactic 1: Goal Review and Help First

You should meet with clients every 90 days to review their goals and adjust their programs, if needed. A few minutes before you meet with the client, make some notes. Who does this client live with? Work with? Hang around with? You should have three opportunities for referrals right away.

Write down actual names if you can. If you don’t know any names, use the session to learn about your client instead of asking for a referral. Solidify your relationship first before trying to expand it.

If you’ve written down names, decide which person would be the most likely to need your service. Then practice “help first”: How can your service help a potential referral get to their goals?

When you meet with the client, make an offer to help the connection. I wrote an entire book about this, with dozens of specific examples for gym owners. Here’s one:

“Mary, I know your husband Bill likes to golf. What does he do to stay in shape in the offseason?”

Then invite Bill in for a session with Mary. It’s not a free PT session; it’s just an explicit invitation to join Mary for her workout.

After the workout, do a No Sweat Intro with Bill. Your close rate in these meetings should be very high because the person has already received a glowing endorsement from a very close contact.

Tactic 2: Go for the Group

As you build relationships with clients, you’ll be able to identify opportunities to invite someone’s friends, family or coworkers in for an event.

Bring a Friend Friday, Wine + WOD, a corporate challenge, a ninja warrior challenge for kids, a birthday party or even an invitation to watch the client perform a workout—all of these can result in amazing referrals.

Try these approaches:

“Mary, we’re hosting a women-only workout on Friday. I’m going to bring some wine. Who would you like to invite from your friends list?”

“Mary, I know your daughter’s baseball team is nearing the end of the season. What if we brought them in for a team party on Saturday? I’ll set up a little ninja warrior challenge, you can bring a snack, and we’ll just let them have fun for an hour. How about it?” (This is a great way to fill a kids program and acquire parents as clients, too.)

“Mary, I know this time of year is stressful at work. What if we invited your team in on Friday night for a fun workout challenge to blow off steam? I’ll bring snacks!”

Of course, getting people in the gym isn’t the same as signing them up. But it’s a great way to start the conversation. While you’re chatting with your new leads, your goal is to get them to book intro appointments.

The key to accessing this pool of warm leads? Look for ways to meet the people who surround your clients.

Tactic 3: Referral Cards and Invitations

The Planet Fitness Black Card membership comes with lots of perks, including the right to bring a friend to every workout. Planet Fitness doesn’t get to know its clients, so this is a passive play.

In coaching gyms, the bring-a-friend plan is active. I’ll give you two approaches.

Two-Brain mentor Brian Bott has well-designed, black VIP cards he uses to generate referrals—but he doesn’t just hand them out.

Instead, he talks to new members and specifically asks if any close contacts would like to train with them. If the answer is “yes,” Brian assigns the thick, glossy credit card to the specific person. It gives them the right to train with their friend twice a week for 30 days.

The key is that the card carries weight—literally and figuratively. It feels special, and it represents huge value assigned to a very specific person. The client giving it knows how valuable it is, so the client receiving it is much more likely to use the card.

Brian goes over his process at 48:59 in this podcast.

Another Two-Brain mentor, Brian Strump, handed out referral cards at one time but found the general approach didn’t get results for him. Now he has his coaches ask their best PT clients if they have friends who might also enjoy personal training. Or he has his coaches get to know clients and then ask if specific people in their lives would enjoy PT, too.

These contacts are invited to join the client for a free PT session—at no charge to either person.

If they book the session together, they’re going to show up, and the new person is always more comfortable with the friend training, too.

“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. … While PT rates vary, I believe most people understand that personal training is a premium service. This pre-qualifies the prospective new client,” Brian said. 

You’ll note these approaches are very specific.

It’s not “here’s a flimsy referral card along with your receipt. Maybe hand it out to someone if you don’t lose it.”

It’s “this card gives your very best friend Phil a valuable chance to train with you for free to see if he thinks strength training might help him prepare for that 5-km run you said he wants to do.”

Take Action!

All of these tactics will work—if you use them.

If you just sit back and assume your great coaching will inspire your clients to bring their friends, you might get a few new people every year. Maybe. But probably not.

If you get to know your clients and work to connect with their closest contacts, you’ll fill your gym with great people without spending huge amounts of money on ads.


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.