Retention Trumps Marketing in Gyms—Every Damn Time


Andrew (00:02):

Chris Cooper is back in front of a roaring fire to talk retention and marketing on Two-Brain Radio. Do you need marketing? Absolutely. But it’s not more important than retention of current clients. Here’s Coop with the scoop.

Chris (00:15):

Chris Cooper here, have you got a website designer, a marketer, a landing page software, a calendar, a CRM, and a form builder, communication platform and connecting software? You can get rid of all of it by switching to Gym Lead Machine. I use this platform along with 60% of the Two-Brain mentorship team. The average gym owner saves over 300 bucks a month with Gym Lead Machine and they’ll waive the thousand dollars set-up fee for Two-Brain Radio listeners. Switching is easy and you can go live in a week, visit to watch a demo and book a sales call.

Chris (00:47):

Today, I want to talk about marketing. We haven’t run a Facebook ad at my gym in five years. Why? One simple reason: We haven’t needed to. In a moment, I’m going to be back to talk about marketing, advertising and why you might not need to do it forever. When you want to make a living as a trainer, as a studio owner or a micro gym owner, your focus should be on retention more than on marketing. Now, marketing isn’t bad. So before I get any hate mail, I just want to make that clear. Advertising isn’t bad. Facebook, Instagram, Tik ToK, Twitter, Clubhouse. None of these are bad. They’re just not the thing that most of us signed up to do all day. If you’re like me, you entered the coaching field to share your passion with other people. I was kind of a nerdy kid in high school until 12th grade when a friend drug me into the weight room. He and I were the only two that had this weird lunch hour together. And the only thing to do was to go into the weight room in the gym. And so we didn’t know what we were doing. We just tried out every machine on the old weeder globo gym 3000, including the shoulder press and the leg press. And after a few months of this, I started to feel better about myself. I had a lot more confidence. I could talk to people.

Chris (02:06):

I could look them in the eye. You know, riding the school bus even was, you know, not a problem to start up a conversation with somebody that I barely knew. And by the time I got to college, I knew that I wanted to share this same feeling with other kids who had been in my shoes that maybe they were kind of nerdy. They didn’t really fit in, or they hadn’t found their niche and they really needed some confidence. And so I started taking courses to become a personal trainer, even while I was going to college. And I eventually switched my major to exercise science so that I could help more people. And then when I graduated, I had this four-year degree in exercise science. I felt like I knew everything, like the local expert in town. And it took me a year to get a client because I didn’t know anything about marketing or sales. Like me,

Chris (02:55):

you became a coach, probably because you wanted to share a similar story or some major transformation that you underwent with other people, you cared enough to share it with them. And somewhere along the line, like me, maybe you decided to open a gym. Now, nobody told you that running a gym is a completely different job than being a coach. It requires a different skillset. Hell, it requires 10 different skill sets. You’ve gone from this job that you love to 10 jobs that you well, I’m sure you love some of them, and marketing is one of those jobs. Now it might be one of the jobs that you love. It might not be, but it’s not the real job is it? I think we’re all past the point where we believe if you get people good results, that’s all the marketing you need, right? If you’re not past that point yet, then there’s a blog post that I want you to read about called Microgym Myths.

Chris (03:49):

And I’ll link to that in the show notes. Getting your clients great results is a necessity whether you’re a coach or a studio owner or a microgym owner. It’s your job. But it’s also insufficient to grow your gym. You have to market. You don’t necessarily have to market forever. So here’s how to do marketing depending on size of your business. We break this down by audience size. If you have zero to five clients and you’re just starting out and you’re trying to get the first ones, market through your personal connections. Get your relatives, get your friends, invite your organic connections on Facebook to sign up for your program. This isn’t hard. And we teach this in our startup or our ramp-up program. If you’re trying to go from five to 15 clients, the best thing that you can do is referral marketing. You want to get the people who already know you like you and trust you to refer their friends.

Chris (04:47):

And this strategy is very simple. You have to build up an atmosphere of referral. And so at your intake process with a new client, you say, if this is working for you in three months, I’m going to ask you to guide me to another person, just like you, who can use my help so that I’m not spending all of my time marketing. And instead I can focus all of my time, focus and energy on working with you. If you’re trying to go from 15 to 50 clients, then you have to expand that referral marketing into a process that we call affinity marketing. And that’s just basically you taking the lead on these conversations, lifting the referral process out of your client’s hands and saying, how can I help that person closest to you? So we have a brand new affinity marketing cheat sheet that we work through in our mentorship program, you can download our full affinity marketing guide

Chris (05:38):

if you go to and that will talk about affinity loops. We actually make this easier now. So you book a goal review session with one of your best clients. And before you sit down with them, you fill out the new affinity marketing cheat sheet, which is also in my book, “Gym Owners Handbook”. And you think about that client and who they’re connected to in real life. So who do they live with? Who do they work with? Who do they play with? What group do they also have something else in common? And you write down a name or two in each of those columns before you sit down with the client. So when you’re sitting down with the client, first, you talk about their goals. And then you say, are you happy with your progress? And if the client says yes, as most of them will, then you will say that is wonderful.

Chris (06:24):

Now to best support you, I want to create a caring environment of progress around you. That means I would love to talk to your spouse. You might also say, I know that the biggest threat to your health and fitness right now is the stress that you’re facing at work. I would love to help create a caring environment of support around you at work. Is there a coworker I can speak to who might give you some backup? Who’s your wing man at the accounting office? That’s affinity marketing, and you can go further down that road to, you know, who do you play golf with? Who do you work out with? Who do you go to the other Pilates studio with? You know, that’s a great lead. If you’re trying to go from 50 to 150 clients, we call that a micro gym and you need to do a couple of things.

Chris (07:13):

You need to establish a media presence. You need to start an email list that you email to every day. You need to get at least two social amplifiers. So this would be like Facebook, Instagram, you can use Tik Tok, you can use Twitter. If your clients are on Clubhouse already, then you can use that, whatever, but basically you need to create content. And for Two-Brain clients, we have a blog bank with over 300 blog posts that you can just swipe, copy, set up in your email and send. You don’t have to write a single word. We also have over 400 social media amplifier posts right now that you can, again, just copy, download, send to your list. It’s all included in our growth program. You don’t have to create a single picture if you don’t want to.

Chris (07:54):

Chris Cooper here to talk about Incite Tax. The people at Incite Tax know you’re working long hours to improve health for the world, but it can still be hard to turn a profit. You just can’t focus on your mission without money in your account. So Incite founder John Briggs wrote “Profit First for Mirogyms” and created a system that increases your cashflow so you can be home for dinner with a thriving fitness business. Bookkeeping, profit first, cash flow consulting, taxes, whatever your financial needs, Incite can help. Join their free five-day challenge at profitfirstformicrogyms/five days to get a snapshot of the financial health of your gym. That’s profitfirstformicrogyms/five days.

Chris (08:35):

So to get from 50 to 150 clients, you need to own your media. You need to tell your clients’ stories. You need to tell your own story. You need to publish at least three or four times a week, and you need to amplify each of those publications on at least two social platforms.

Chris (08:53):

You also need though affinity marketing, and you also need referral marketing because these things build. They don’t replace the one before them. And if you start learning referral marketing and you start practicing affinity marketing when you’re small, you will be very, very good at it when you get bigger. Every new client that you bring in your door, whether it’s through referral, affinity, marketing, or even paid ads should lead to at least one more new client that has a close connection to them. Also, when you’re trying to get 250 members, you can turn to things like Facebook ads, Facebook ads work, Instagram ads work, even though there’s highs and lows and pricing and efficacy and Facebook changes the rules all the time. They are more effective than any other advertising ever in the history of advertising. So you can use them. But the key is every new client that comes in, you’ve got to keep them. Retention is the key or else you’ll be a marketing machine forever. Because here’s what happens

Chris (09:59):

if you aren’t keeping your clients. Let’s say that you have even a 95% monthly retention rate. That sounds pretty good, right? But to replace the clients that who are leaving, in other words, just to break even, to tread water, to keep the same number of clients and the same amount of revenue, if you have zero to five clients and a 95% retention rate, then you need to get a new client every six months. Not bad. If you have 15 clients, then you need to get a new client every two months. At 50 clients, a studio, you need to get two new clients every month to replace the clients who are leaving with 95% retention. At 150 clients and 95% monthly retention, then you need to get six new clients every month. And at 500 clients at 95% monthly retention, then you need to get 18 new clients every single month.

Chris (10:50):

What happens if you have 10% churn? Then all of those needs double. Imagine needing to get a new client every single day. Is that what you signed up for in this industry? It’s not what I signed up for. When that happens, you become a marketing machine and because you need a lot more clients, you quickly run out of these warm connections that you have with referral and affinity marketing, and you quickly run out of the high affinity audiences who drove past your sign, went to your website, signed up for your email list and you have to talk to strangers. And as these leads get colder, your close rate goes down and you have to do more and more consultations. And then your retention gets worse and you spend more and more time marketing, marketing, marketing, selling, selling, selling, doing the stuff you hate, like cold calling and debating on Facebook over whether you should post your prices on your website or not, which shouldn’t even matter.

Chris (11:49):

Eventually it all becomes too much. Usually around the three-year mark for micro gymowners, you ask yourself, is this what I really signed up for? And then someday you start to ask yourself, is it ever going to get better? And then boom, a great coach, a passionate person about helping other people is out of the industry forever. If you’re a personal trainer, this actually happens sooner than the three-year mark. We lose over 50,000 trainers in this industry every two years. Not because they’ve lost their passion, partially because they don’t have enough clients to feed themselves. But mostly because they can’t keep those clients once they get them. So what keeps these clients long term? It’s one-on-one communication with your coach. It doesn’t mean a high five in a group class. It means a text to say, how’s it going text to say, where have you been is better than nothing but a text to say, what did you have for breakfast is a lot better.

Chris (12:50):

What else keeps clients long term? A smooth, longer phase onboarding period if the client is going to train in the group. The longer the onboarding period, the more likely you are to keep them long-term after they start the group. Habits-based coaching for nutrition, regular check-ins to talk about their goals, these should be scheduled in advance and should happen about every four months or so. Leaderboards, novelty, and progression. You knew that part already. The community. If they’re in a group, the community does help with retention. If the group has at least seven people in it, and not more than 13 people in it. Groups with less than seven don’t show higher retention rates than one-on-one personal training does. And groups over 13 actually have a negative effect on retention because people tend to feel lost. The community helps for sure. If somebody is a personal training client then helping them make a triad connection in the gym will help with their retention too.

Chris (13:54):

So introducing them to one other client, one other coach, somebody else who’s going to check in on them once in a while, that will help with retention. But in general, personal training clients already have retention that’s about five times longer than a group training client does. What else helps? Happy smiling coaches who know enough to help, not necessarily experts who will get down on their hands and knees and draw spreadsheets on your floor in chalk. I did that. That’s why I’ve got such a vivid picture of that. And finally, cross referrals with other practitioners. What doesn’t help retention is when you’re at war with the local physiotherapists and you spout stuff about how bad doctors are in your community and then your client eventually has to go see a doctor. And the doctor says, I don’t trust that guy. And why should they? Because you’ve been bad mouthing them.

Chris (14:43):

What helps retention is when you have the trust of other caring experts. And you can say to your client, I’m sorry this happened. I think you should go see my chiropractor Mike for a month. Let him get you back on board. We’ll meet up here then. I’m going to put your membership on hold or maybe go talk to Mike. And then we’ll talk about the next step from there. If you have a network of knowledgeable caring experts in your community, not only will you benefit from cross-referrals from each other and the trust necessary to do those things, but you’ll also benefit from longer client retention because they’ll usually work with you when they have to, even when a client is sick and especially right now, do you know how many potential clients are going to see a psychotherapist because they have depression and anxiety.

Chris (15:36):

And when these people know enough to seek help, they also know that they need to work on their fitness. If I was starting out as a trainer today, the first person I would contact in February of 2021 would be all of the local psychotherapists and ask, how can I help your clients? Because they’re overworked too. All right. The most important piece of retention though, is starting with the right clients in the first place. The right clients are your seed clients. And you’ll see an exercise in the affinity marketing handbook, If you’re in the Two-Brain program and you go to the Growth ToolKit, there’s an entire course on retention. It’s actually 10 little courses on retention. And it starts with identifying who your best clients are. The first right clients for you are your seed clients, but the next right clients are those personal connections of your seed clients.

Chris (16:31):

It’s the people that they live with. The people that they work with, their friends, the people that they do hobbies with. Start at the bottom of the funnel, the people who are already in your business, and work up. You can see a graphic in the show notes for your audience priorities. Don’t start with advertising and try to work down the funnel. It’s not really even a funnel. Sometimes it’s a death spiral. It’s hard to get new clients. So grab onto every single one that you can for dear life instead of letting them flow through your business, because retention isn’t just a lagging metric. Poor retention actually causes worse retention. When people see their friends leave, they’ll generally realize there’s a reason and they will leave too. If all of your attention and all of your focus goes into getting new clients, your current clients will know that they are not your priority. People are smart. Keep them around.

Andrew (17:28):

For more from Chris Cooper, join the Gym Owners United group on Facebook. Chris regularly post articles, instructional videos, and advice in there. It’s the only public group he’s in. That’s Gym Owners United on Facebook. Join today.


Thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening! Run a Profitable Gym airs twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Be sure to subscribe for tips, tactics and insight from Chris Coooper, as well as interviews with the world’s top gym owners.

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help, and we read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

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.