Whether you’re new to the health and fitness industry, or have been coaching a while, getting (and keeping) more clients is a skill you’ll need to master. Here’s Precision Nutrition’s three-tiered approach to leveling up your marketing and ramping up your business.
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A friend of mine—let’s call her Stacey—used to be one of the world’s top fitness models and figure competitors. She won many professional figure contests. Made the covers of the biggest health and fitness magazines. Appeared on network television shows.
But at the height of her fame, she was also living in her parent’s basement, barely making ends meet as a personal trainer.
Surprised? It’s a little-known fact that physique athletes make almost no money competing in fitness contests or doing photo shoots for magazines. Even network TV shows pay very poorly.
Stacey was a household name in fitness, but all that celebrity translated to very few dollars. At least she could leverage her fame to get clients, right?
Even with her fame, she wasn’t attracting many more clients than before she was recognizable. (Of course, she was so busy doing figure shows, photo shoots, and auditions, she didn’t have much time to develop her personal training business or even serve her existing clients.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. Stacey has done some really cool things. She’s worked extremely hard. She’s proud of her trophies, her fitness modeling successes, her network appearances, and her magazine covers.
However, there’s an important lesson here.
Like many people in health and fitness — both experienced professionals, as well as folks new to the field — Stacey assumed famous = rich. In fact, people in a host of different fields assume “getting exposure” or chasing fame will help them earn a good living.
But it rarely does.
That’s why, if you want to get (and keep) more coaching clients, I have a counterintuitive suggestion: Do the opposite.
The difference between celebrity and success
In my experience, coaches who achieve financial success and make a real impact in this industry rarely focus on themselves (i.e. personal fame).
Instead, they focus on their clients.
- They focus on figuring out what their clients really need and want.
- Then, they deliver it in an awesome way.
Sure, sometimes they do get famous. But they’re not out there chasing fame.
Rather, they’re focusing on doing the right work for the right people. They’re mastering their coaching craft. They’re relentless about serving people well.
Personal accomplishments—like getting published in a magazine, or winning a competition—feel good. And they’re fun. But they’re not business opportunities.
They don’t make the rubber hit the proverbial road. They don’t attract people to you. They don’t help you expand your coaching practice or hone your coaching skills. And they don’t build your business in a real, practical, show-me-the-money, make-rent-on-time sense.
In fact, focusing too heavily on your own accomplishments will often distract you from the things that can actually help you achieve success and make a difference.
Fitness fame is for people who think a lot about themselves.
Fitness success is for people who think a lot about their potential and actual clients.
How do you do that?
Enter the Precision Nutrition “Tripod Marketing Formula”.
The Tripod Marketing Formula
Picture a tripod: All three legs equally spaced and perfectly balanced.
Take away one leg from the tripod, and it immediately collapses. A tripod needs all three legs to be complete.
Now apply that concept to marketing.
- Step #1: Find out what people in your community / market really want.
- Step #2: Do something awesome to deliver that thing.
- Step #3: Tell everyone about it.
Think about your own coaching practice: Are you trying to balance it on a tripod with only one or two legs?
You may know what the people in your community want… but do you know how to deliver it? And then tell everyone about it?
More likely: You think you know what your market needs and wants. But you don’t really know. So what you give them may not match.
I speak from personal experience.
What I learned from getting honest client feedback
At Precision Nutrition, we used to think people joined our coaching programs because they wanted to be healthy and fit.
Maybe they wanted to lose weight. Or maybe they wanted to gain muscle. Whatever their physical goal, we thought that as soon as they attained it, they’d be happy.
We were wrong.
Some years back, I read a review from a former client. Someone asked her if she would recommend our program. Here was the gist of her response:
I don’t recommend it. I lost some weight, but I never felt like I connected deeply with my coach. I didn’t really need much help from her. But if I would have needed help, I’m not sure how much I’d have gotten. So no. I don’t recommend it.
This woman, by the way, lost over 50—yes, fifty—pounds working with us.
I was floored.
All this time, we expected women like her would be happy if they lost weight and kept it off. Especially if they’d tried and failed using other programs before. (Which she had.)
As it turned out, there was a completely different and legitimate reason why she couldn’t recommend us:
She didn’t feel like anyone cared.
She didn’t feel heard or understood.
Losing weight, while nice, wasn’t enough.
How to know what your clients want
People passionate about health and fitness — experienced hobbyists and professionals alike — often assume they know what people really want when it comes to nutrition and exercise: To “look good naked”, to improve their blood panels, to get better at their sport.
And while that’s likely part of why they hire us, it’s probably not the full story.
We assume. We guess. But we don’t know for sure.
The best way to find out what’s really important to people is to study them.
In Precision Nutrition’s case, I realized we needed to learn more, and learn better, about what our clients really wanted.
We spent months doing client interviews and exit surveys with people who left our coaching program. We wanted to figure out why they were leaving, even when they were getting great physical results.
This exercise—and the humbling yet powerful data and insight it yielded—was a turning point for us.
When we learned for sure what our clients were seeking, business took off.
Our clients felt better served and better connected.
We felt happier and more satisfied in our work.
And I’m confident this approach can do the same for you.
To this end, I encourage you to become an “anthropologist” of your clients (or potential clients).
Here are some ways you can get started:
- Watch. Pay attention to what makes them light up and get excited. Notice their body language and self-expression. Look for small details that could tell you more about them and what they might be seeking.
- Listen. Hear what they have to say and ask follow-up questions to make sure you understand. Wait a moment or two before jumping in to give advice.
- Practice effective coach talk. Use a client-centered coaching style to understand them better, and learn what methods work best for them.
- Stop assuming. Start knowing for sure. Ask them directly what they like, what they want, what they need. They might not know right away, but working around “not sure” is way better than not asking at all and getting it completely wrong.
- Observe. Where do your prospects hang out online? What social media channels do they use, what kinds of things do they respond to, what kinds of content do they like and share?
- Find out their story. Why did they come to see you, today? Why not six months ago, or six months from now? What series of events brought them through your door today?
- Ask for feedback. Ask probing questions and create a safe environment for them to answer honestly. Yeah, it can be uncomfortable, but it’s incredibly valuable if you’re brave enough to step up and really absorb that input.
If you want to go deeper, try a method like Jobs to be Done. (That’s what we use at Precision Nutrition and we highly recommend it.)
How to do something awesome to deliver that thing
We learned that everyone who hired us wanted the same thing:
They wanted personal attention. But they didn’t necessarily want a lot of it.
Another way to think about it: They wanted to be pleasantly surprised by personal attention. They wanted to feel cared for and acknowledged outside the context of a normal coaching interaction.
So it wasn’t enough to respond to their emails quickly and offer guidance when asked for. To give our clients what they truly needed, we needed to find strategic ways to show them we were paying attention—especially at times when they were least expecting it.
This didn’t have to be complicated.
For instance, we made small changes to our client “intake questionnaire” that made it much easier to deliver a personal touch.
Previously, when a new client joined, they’d fill out a comprehensive form that asked about everything from their previous exercise and nutrition experience to their personal goals and any injuries or illnesses they had.
But armed with our new insight (people want unexpected personal attention), we added a few more questions, including things like:
- Do you have any pets? If so, what kind of animal and what’s their name?
- How will you reward yourself if you achieve your goals? (Will you take a big trip somewhere? Try a new sport or hobby?)
We also ensured that coaches had this important information about their clients close at hand.
Every client soon had a “profile” and their coach could see things like:
- Their clients’ exercise and nutrition history
- Where they lived
- The names of their family members and pets
- Their hobbies and what they did for fun
- Their goals and aspirations
- How they planned on rewarding themselves once they accomplished their goals
- And dozens of other data points.
Our coaches could now offer exercise and nutrition help and personalize their interaction with their client in small ways that had a big impact.
They started adding simple comments like:
Make sure to stay warm out there this week; looks like you have a hell of a snowstorm on the way.
Hey, I see it’s your birthday coming up. Do you have any plans?
My dog loves these sweet potato doggie treats; I hope you don’t mind, but I just sent you and Sparky a box. Let me know what he thinks!
It may not seem like much.
But when you’re working with an online client, any kind of personal connection—especially an unexpected sentence or two—is amplified and appreciated.
So. Think about your practice.
How could you offer unexpected personal attention like this for the people you serve?
My favorite way is something popularized by Jon Goodman, creator of the Personal Training Development Center (the PTDC).
Here’s his strategy, in a nutshell:
Whenever there’s an opportunity to do something cool (and quick) for your client, take it.
For instance, let’s say during one of your training sessions, your client mentions he’s sick of eating the same thing for breakfast every morning.
You can try to give him some suggestions right then.
But there’s actually a more thoughtful and personal way to show you care.
After your session is over, you can make a note for yourself:
Bill hates eating oatmeal every day for breakfast.
Find a couple of recipes and send them his way.
Then, before your next session with Bill, prepare your gift. It could be a simple link to an article with breakfast ideas. It could be a list of your favorite breakfasts and how to make them. It could be a cookbook or even a Magic Bullet blender. If you like playing chef, maybe you even make him some simple homemade granola, pop it into a Mason jar, and include the recipe. (Very hipster.)
Whatever it is, the next time you have a session with Bill, hand him the gift and say:
Hey, I was thinking about you after our last session, and I thought you’d really like this.
Why is this simple act so powerful?
1. Bill doesn’t expect it.
Telling Bill that you’re going to get him a cookbook or write down your favorite breakfast meal is nice, but it’s also an explicit promise.
If you fulfill that promise, Bill feels good. But if you don’t fulfill that promise—if you forget to grab the cookbook or didn’t have time to write down your ideas—then Bill loses a little bit of trust in you.
By writing a note to yourself and surprising Bill with the gift the next time you see him, you’re calling attention to the fact that you listen and you care.
It’s unexpected personal attention.
2. It shows you don’t stop thinking about them once they’re out of the gym.
And that comes down to how you frame your gift-giving:
Hey, I was thinking about you after our last session, and I thought you’d really like this.
Who wants to be thought about and cared for, even if they’re not around?
How to tell everyone about it
Once we figured out what our clients wanted (unexpected personal attention) and simple ways to deliver it awesomely (small, strategic comments and better coaching intel) we wanted to tell everyone about it.
The goal quickly became clear: Find a way to tell our story to more people.
For an online business, that means getting more people to visit our website.
Of course, more website traffic (especially if they’re legitimate prospects interested in what we offer) means more people sign up for our coaching programs. When more people join our coaching programs, we make more money. More people get help. Plus, when we make more money, we can pay our team members well and help even more people!
The cycle continues in perpetuity.
(Illusion shattered: Precision Nutrition does not use its profits to pay for lavish parties, artisanal kale-and-caviar canapés, nor Dr. Berardi’s private invisible supersonic jet. All we earn goes back into serving more clients, better.)
But… how to get more people? Better yet, how to get the right people?
You’re probably wondering this yourself. There are so many options out there. And none of them are necessarily “right” or “wrong”.
For instance, do you:
- Write more blog posts and articles targeted specifically to the kinds of people who would be most likely to join your programs?
- Write guest articles for other blogs and get a link back to your website?
- Improve your referral network and get more affiliates who can send you more website traffic?
- Improve your website’s SEO (search engine optimization) and do more targeted ads?
- Put strategic promoted posts on Facebook targeted to people who had friends who know about your business, and link them to helpful articles and free courses?
- Or do you choose from about a dozen other possible options?
Your coaching practice may not be exactly the same as ours, but business realities are the same: There’s only so much time, money, energy, and resources to go around.
You have to prioritize and focus. Pick a path. And have a solid, data-driven rationale for it.
We went with the option with the highest probability of paying off big for us: Promoted posts on Facebook, targeted to people who had friends familiar with Precision Nutrition.
We chose this for a few reasons:
We already had many Facebook fans: just over 100,000 at the time. That meant millions of friends of friends we had the potential to reach.
Through our interviews and research with clients, we realized one key factor: People were more likely to join our coaching program if a person they knew (a friend, family member, or acquaintance) had tried it and been successful.
We were already getting roughly 10,000 website visits per week from Facebook; in other words, there was already an established connection with room to grow.
We spent the next few weeks coming up with a strategy and a budget for running promoted posts on Facebook and then rolled it out.
Ka-blam. In a few weeks, our weekly Facebook traffic went from around 10,000 visitors per week to just under 100,000 visitors per week. More people visited our website, more people heard about the awesome things we’re doing, and more people signed up for our programs.
But let’s be clear:
There’s no best diet, and there’s no magic marketing method.
The particular tactic that worked for us may not work for you.
(Plus, unless you’ve spent the time to deeply understand your prospects and devoted resources to deliver something awesome, marketing doesn’t matter. Worry about making something valuable that people really want first, then figure out how to sell it.)
Focus on the one or two methods that best connect you to your audience (or your potential audience). Look at your data on your clients and/or the people you want to work with. What does it tell you about where and how to get more people to find you?
Choose the option that brings in the most qualified leads. In other words, the people most likely to buy your product or service and get benefit from it.
Sheer numbers don’t count. Anyone can print out a thousand flyers and plaster them all over the neighborhood.
Instead, ask yourself:
Where is my ideal audience? And how can I reach them?
(By the way, if you aren’t sure who your specific audience is, go back to Tripod Leg #1: Know your audience.)
Gather the data. Look at your current roster (if you have a good group and they represent your ideal client) and ask yourself: How did these people find out about me?
You may quickly find a pattern (e.g. most of your ideal clients heard about you from a friend or family member). Once you find a pattern, you can find ways to do more of that.
What to do next:
Some tips from Precision Nutrition.
Understand the difference between a personal accomplishment and a business strategy.
Don’t confuse your personal awesomeness (abundant though it is) with real business strategies like interviewing customers, creating new services, and designing a marketing or referral plan.
Keep the lights on first.
Discover what clients / prospects really want.
Brutal honesty: People don’t really care if you’re a superstar. They care about whether you can help them with their specific concerns.
We discovered our clients wanted more than improved health and fitness. They also wanted unexpected personal attention.
Make it your mission to understand your prospects and figure out what they really want.
Start by paying closer attention. Become an anthropologist. Ask questions, watch and listen, take notes. Then, if you’re ready for prospect studies 2.0, consider trying a method like Jobs-to-be-Done.
Do something awesome to deliver that thing.
To give our clients more unexpected personal attention, we created a more in-depth questionnaire for new clients and gave our coaches more easily accessible intel. Then our coaches were able to strategically reach out to clients and offer value when they were least expecting it.
You can do something similar by following Jon Goodman’s rule: Whenever there’s an opportunity to do something cool (and quick), take it.
Don’t tell your folks you’re going to do it. Don’t be predictable about it. Surprise them. Let them know you’re thinking about them.
Make a list of ways to tell people about it.
Remember, your resources are limited. Focus your efforts like a laser beam. Prioritize.
Use data. Find the pattern. Look at your current roster (or your prospects) and ask yourself: How did these people find out about me?
As soon as you identify a pattern, simply improve and amplify what’s already working.
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
You can help people build sustainable nutrition and lifestyle habits that will significantly improve their physical and mental health—while you make a great living doing what you love. We'll show you how.
If you’d like to learn more, consider the PN Level 1 Nutrition Coaching Certification.