Alan Ashley on How to Get (and Keep) Personal Training Clients

/ 10 min read
Vrinda Singh

Whether you're just kicking off your personal training business, or looking to fill up your roster with a new set of clients, it's easier than ever to directly reach the people who'll benefit from your expertise - all thanks to the internet.

However, a side effect of this has been intense market saturation and competition like never before. The $30 billion fitness industry has been growing by 3-4% each year for the last ten years and shows no signs of stopping. Amongst all this competition, finding new clients and retaining existing ones can often seem like an enigma.

We sat down with Coach Alan Ashley, Founder of Pasadena's successful PPC Fitness to get exclusive secrets from his 6 years of trials, errors and wild successes. Read on for his tips on getting (and keeping) clients as a personal trainer and running a profitable business in no time.

Find, own, and commit to a niche

When it comes to attracting the right clients, there’s nothing as important as finding and maintaining a specific niche.

This identity should be the driving force behind your online presence and should help your clients understand exactly what you offer and the specific results you can help them produce.

Alan: "When you’re just starting out, try to be known for something in particular— whether you’re the fat loss specialist, the weight loss specialist, the performance specialist, or the post-rehab specialist - try to find what you’re great at. Focus on serving that market, instead of trying to serve absolutely everyone out there.

By doing this, you’ll be able to create a website or social media profile that specifically targets that particular client, so that when they do stumble upon your page, their first thought is ‘oh my god this person is speaking to me, this is exactly what I need'.

If you’re too generic, you end up being like 99% of the websites out there. Once you reach that level, people just end up price-shopping and looking for the cheapest trainer out there, as opposed to finding the one that’s right for them.

Once you have found your niche, don’t let it go. It can be tempting in this industry to look at the next gym owner’s success and get caught up in the hype of shiny new objects or fads.

It’s important to hold on to your identity, stay in your lane and own your speciality - because that’s exactly what makes you stand out to the right clients.”

Tips for finding the right niche

  • Determine what really drives you. What kind of impact are you hoping to have on clients? What kinds of results, events or moments get you excited? Whether you’re passionate about helping women remain healthy through pregnancies, getting people ready for fitness shows or helping clients with wheelchair exercises - hone in on the aspects of health and fitness that excite you the most.
  • Reflect on your own expertise. Is there an area of fitness where you’re particularly knowledgeable? If so, use this expertise to carve out a niche for yourself in your community.
  • Assess the type of client your niche would attract. Do your market research and think about the target audience for your niche. If you’re someone who’s previously worked in a busy corporate job, you might be perfectly positioned to run a personal training business for people who don’t have a lot of time in their week to dedicate to fitness. Consider creating a survey to better understand and target your ideal audience.

Make sure your website focuses on value—not selling

Your website should ideally have a blog, an eBook or any content that would be useful and attractive to your ideal client.

This will help you attract a wider audience, it will be good for SEO purposes and it will give your prospects an idea of the type of value you can add to their lives.

Alan: “When I first started, my website was one of my main marketing tools. The thing I quickly learned was that just because your website looks good doesn’t mean it performs well. The PPC Fitness website has been through a lot of iterations.

Ultimately, what works best is using your website to start a conversation with potential clients instead of trying to sell them something right off the bat. Don’t try to talk about features and benefits on your website, or speak extensively about the type of equipment or experience you have.

Focus, instead, on starting a conversation that is about them and their struggles, something that will get them to reflect on their fitness and engage directly with you. Add value for the website visitor instead of trying to sell them your services. This helps build trust and positions you as an expert in your field.

A quick way to get ideas for content your audience would be interested in is by speaking to people you already know. Use Facebook to ask your network what they struggle with the most when it comes to nutrition and use their responses as ideas for content that would answer their concerns.”

A fantastic example of adding value is the 8 Steps to Fat Loss eBook on Alan's PPC Fitness website, which focuses solely on helping his target audience access exactly the kind of information they’d be interested in.

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Ask for testimonials and social proof

Did you know that over 97% of consumers look at consumer reviews for products or services before making a purchase?

The same applies for your personal training business. Having a real customer testify for the quality of your work and results can have a much larger impact than you promoting your own skills.

If you already have a few clients (even one or two), ask for their honest opinion on your services to add social proof to your website and social media profiles. The benefits of this are twofold; testimonials are not only a great chance to add social proof to your website, but they’re also a fantastic way to gain constructive feedback.

Alan: “Ask any friends and family you’ve helped or ask your first few clients to provide testimonials. Or better yet, record their thoughts to create a video that’s ready to be shared on social media.

I used to be scared to ask for testimonials thinking I would annoy or disturb people. As it turns out, people are actually excited to help you out, especially if you’re doing a great job. They get excited and feel valued when you want to showcase their story and progress.

I’ve had clients who’ve taken time out on weekends to come down and shoot testimonial videos - and they’ve only ever been excited to do it.

If your work is getting results and you’re doing a great job with a particular client, tell them they’ve been killing it and turn it into a partnership.

I usually approach it as the client being a brand ambassador, which helps them feel like they’re helping start a movement to impact other people’s lives. I’ve never had anyone say no to doing that.”

Here's a nice example of an online form to collect referrals.

referral form

Encourage client loyalty and referrals

While it may seem that channels like paid search are a quick way to get an influx of sign-ups, there’s no point in getting leads or clients who aren’t going to stick with you in the long run.

Nothing helps build and maintain consistent revenue for your business as much as a steady group of satisfied customers. Moreover, when those clients are genuinely pleased with your work, they tend to share their satisfaction with the people they know. Soon enough, your one happy client can multiply into two, three, four and so on.

There are plenty of marketing channels—but few as powerful as good old fashioned word of mouth.

Alan: “Referrals were one of the main growth channels for PPC Fitness when we first started out - and they really just start from providing every client with a fantastic experience so that they happily share them with the people they know.

We’ve been able to find success, retain clients and turn them into advocates who refer us to their friends and family largely because we can provide a more intimate experience than a chain gym. This is an edge that should be used as an advantage.

With a chain or corporate gym, you very often have limitations placed on what you can and can’t do with clients, especially on how and when you can communicate or help. Generally, you have an hour with your client and within that hour you have to do everything including training, consulting, creating diet plans, trying to upsell them with unnecessary packages and so on.

With my personal training business, I can text them, engage with them individually or as part of a community on Facebook Groups, provide them with a more personalized experience and create a stronger bond. I also make sure that I constantly receive feedback from my customers through customer satisfaction surveys and membership polls to ensure that they’re getting the experience they’re seeking.

Providing a good experience for clients goes beyond just food or exercise. It’s about finding the underlying issues behind why people make bad decisions.

Having a more personal approach to clients allows you to really understand how they operate and how they think so you can start discovering those underlying issues. And that’s the only way to drive tailored, long-lasting results for your clients.”

If you’re looking to grow further through word of mouth, an effective way to do this is by running a referral marketing program.

Through this, you can provide any existing clients with a small discount on their fees if they’re able to refer a new client to your business.

Looking for inspiration? Here's an epic list of referral programs that might help you get started.

Bonus: how to build better client relationships

Establishing personalized and productive relationships with clients is at the heart of any successful personal training business.

It's crucial that you set yourself up for success from the very beginning by establishing practices that will help you be more productive with your time, handle multiple clients at once and provide them all with experiences that make them rave about you to their friends and family.

Alan: "I use a bunch of tools to make sure that every client receives a consistent and professional experience as soon as they start onboarding.

I create onboarding forms using Paperform, which I use to collect client information. This automatically integrates with my CRM system, giving them access to the right products, information and records, without me having to manually do anything.

I also use a CRM system to standardize and manage my email marketing and Facebook Groups, and Paperform allows me to get them all in those places at once with a heap of useful integrations.

Clients also submit their body compositions and before and after pictures via my Paperform forms, which automatically integrate with Google Drive and go into organised folders with the right timestamps."

Don't wing your social media game

Social media gives you an enormous platform to advertise your services on. However, it should be used in a deliberate and measured way to ensure you’re making the most of it.

When it comes to platforms like Facebook and Instagram, the more consistently you post, the better the platform will understand your page, which means your posts have a much higher chance of reaching your ideal audience.

Alan: “I’m more of an introvert so social media is difficult for me, but it’s been crucial for getting clients and builds a lot of trust with your audience.

Try to share content that helps people see who you are and how you operate on a day to day basis. This helps them know that you’re not just talking about things but you’re living what you’re saying.

Come up with a realistic goal to begin with - whether that’s ‘I’m going to create a content piece once a week’ or ‘I’ll share 3 posts on Facebook per week.’ The key is consistency.

If you try to do too much from the very beginning, you’ll get overwhelmed and burn out. Invest in project management software and automation tools to help you manage your time, create deadlines that you’ll stick to and post with intention.”

Quick social media post ideas:

  • Set up an online scheduling app to book clients on Facebook and improve client engagement on Twitter.
  • Motivational or inspirational quotes that get people to reflect on their health.
  • Client success stories, before and afters or case studies.
  • Your own story. What led you to the path of personal training? Was it a particular moment or event? Be candid and share your journey - you might end up inspiring more people than you think.
  • Workout videos, exercise and diet tips or commentary on trending topics (ie. ‘How much Boba is okay to drink per week?’).
  • Share memes or create quizzes that would attract your audience

📚 Read our ultimate guide on the best tools to create eye-catching social media posts.

Over to you

As Alan stresses, success in this space largely comes down to 3 key things:

  • Being passionate about your particular purpose
  • Focusing on delivering amazing results for every client  
  • Thinking strategically about scaling your services with the right tools.

There's no tool better than Paperform to get you started. Whether you're looking to build a signup form, a lead-capturing landing page or an onboarding form like Alan's that can be integrated with over 3,000 apps, Paperform can get you there.

Access it free for 14 days— and start automating your business with Paperform. No credit card details are required.

About the author
Vrinda Singh
Growth Manager
Vrinda is the Growth Manager at Paperform. In her spare time, she loves learning all things marketing, design & automation-related, and NOT watching reality TV. No, not at all...

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