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ProSource: August 2013

Co-Training Clients: How Sharing Clients Among Trainers Boosts Business Revenues

By Megan Senger

Have you ever thought of sharing your clients with another trainer? If not, it may be worth considering.

Increasing numbers of personal-training studios are moving to a policy of non-exclusivity among trainers—of effectively “sharing” clients among staff. Thus a trainee might work one-on-one with instructor #1 on Mondays, and instructor #2 on Wednesdays, on a regular basis. Some independent trainers are following suit, using colleagues to cover their vacation days. 

The idea of sharing clients may seem counterintuitive after spending so much time building a loyal group of participants, but consider this: “Sharing clients simply translates into better results for our clients,” argues studio owner Tony Chemer, “which in turn makes us more successful business owners and trainers. The most successful trainers and training facilities in the country share clients.”  

So does sharing clients between trainers mean multiplying revenues and results? According to some industry experts—absolutely! Here’s how.

Why Sharing Makes Sense

A shared-client system offers exercise professionals several advantages.

Sharing Boosts Profitability

By sharing clients, your business maintains more consistent revenue even if you or your colleague take a few days off, says Chemer, who is the owner of Paradise Springs Spa and Fitness in West Bend, Wis.

Evolution Trainers in Mountain View California is home base to almost 30 independent fitness professionals, who all sometimes share customers. “Our trainers occasionally have other trainers cover their clients when they go on vacation or are out sick,” concurs owner Ashley Selman.   

Sharing Inspires Both Clients and Trainers

No one trainer can know or teach it all. “Everyone has a slightly different style [of training] and sometimes the way my other instructors do things resonates better with the clients than what I do and vice versa,” says Janet Sunderland, an ACE-certified Fitness Professional and owner of Soma Pilates in Redmond, Wash. 

Sunderland regularly co-teaches one-on-one clients with other instructors on staff. For example, a client may work with Sunderland on Tuesdays and a colleague on Thursdays, on an ongoing basis. “It’s nice to have more than one set of eyes on a body to figure out what will best meet his or her needs,” she says.

An added bonus? This style of job share-like co-training allows a small business owner to maintain personal contact with as many individual clients as possible, yet also find time to complete other administrative duties.

Sharing Creates Workout Consistency

Having access to multiple trainers is a boon to client results, notes Selman. When a customer’s regular trainer is away, the client can still continue the planned fitness program without interruption, she explains.

This means that participants get results they otherwise might have missed out on, Chemer says.

Sharing Dumps “Divas”

We’ve all met a self-professed superstar trainer here or there…the one with the large, slavishly loyal following who threatens to quit your business and take his customers with him unless a pay raise is granted.

A policy of regularly sharing trainees prevents client poaching by weeding out non-team players. And it cultivates customer loyalty for your business rather than to a single trainer.

For this reason, sharing customers is foundational in many studios that are based on small-group training systems (wherein one trainer works with client groups of three to 10 clients at a time).

“The trainers at our facility don’t have exclusive clients,” explains Josh Proch, co-owner of Defined Fitness in Wexford, Pennsylvania. All of his business’ customers are considered “clients of the gym” and the instructors simply coach them through their workout programs. As a result, his studios’ members eventually work with all of the trainers on staff.

Putting a Client-Share into Place 

Of course, no business model is perfect in all circumstances. If not introduced correctly, a shared-client system might create confusion or lack exercise design accountability. Here are five keys to making the switch smoothly.

1. Hire the right people.

In a shared-client situation, personality and attitude are key, says Proch.

“Our trainers need to be willing to learn and follow a system,” he says. “The trainer who wants to come in and do his or her own thing is not going to work in our environment. We are a team and we all work together to deliver the programs.”

2. Keep staff informed.

All your instructors must be on the same page about the goals and practical exercises used, says Chemer. At weekly meetings, his team will “practice exercises, give each other props and work together on ideas to improve our training services.” This ensures participants receive consistent terminology and logical workouts from every staff member.

3. Create a collaborative culture.

For shared-client success, you must foster and support an open, team environment, where everyone respects one another, says Selman. “There needs to be a spirit of collaboration among the trainers, rather than competition. This is not something that happens overnight, but must be a key component of the culture instilled by the business’s leadership team from day one.” 

For this reason, always speak highly of your colleagues and explain the benefits to your participants of having access to multiple instructors, says Selman.

4. Confirm compatibility.

You may be concerned that a colleague you select to co-train your client could lack the requisite technical or motivational skills. And you clearly don’t want to co-teach with someone interested in “stealing” your customers away from you.

Such concerns are valid. Sunderland recounts a misadventure involving an under-qualified instructor with whom she briefly co-trained clients. Her hard-won advice? Ensure that the “other” trainer has a personality and teaching style compatible with yours before you begin.

5. Convert cautiously.

Being shared among trainers “won’t appeal to everyone and clients shouldn’t be forced,” notes Chemer.

“Like all facilities, we have participants who just want to be with that one trainer, even after that trainer has tried to persuade them to work out with someone else while they’re gone,” Chemer says. To enhance client comfort levels, let customers know they can always refuse being “shared” if they really don’t like it, he adds.

Exercise Design in a Sharing-centric Business

There are different ways to create exercise plans when two or more trainers share the same client.

Chemer’s approach? Centralized program design.

Building Business Boundaries

Just because you share clients, doesn’t mean you can or should split up behind-the-scenes paperwork evenly with your co-teaching colleague. So—especially for independent, non-studio-based trainers—it pays to discuss non-exercise administrative responsibilities prior to co-training with anyone.

Before you begin, consider the following:

  • How will each trainer be remunerated?
  • Should the trainer who handles the paperwork and/or who “found” the client get more money?
  • Who will collect client payments and deal with customer concerns?
  • In case(s) of disagreement, which trainer will have the final say on non-exercise-related business decisions?
  • And if either trainer wants or needs out of the arrangement, how should this occur?

Instead of individual trainers writing custom programs, at Proch’s facility a single staff member—called a Director of Personal Training—writes each program based on movement patterns that individual small-group clients are to follow. Floor trainers then lead clients in these set workouts, further customizing the exercises when necessary.

Chemer’s studio model is similar. Indeed, his business philosophy wholly supports centralized program design—he runs a facility predominantly dedicated to small-group training that charges clients a membership fee and pays staff as employees.

“Our Director of Training meets with [all] members [when they first join the studio] and then comes up with an exercise plan to meet that client’s needs,” says Chemer. “Because of this, any trainer can step in and continue forward with any participant toward their goals.”

But this approach is not for everybody.

Consider, for example, Selman’s business philosophy. A studio model that asks only one trainer to write all exercise programs assumes that this one person is more experienced and knowledgeable than all the other trainers, Selman argues. And although Evolution Trainers offers some small-group training, the facility’s focus is predominantly niche, expert one-on-one training.

Thus, when Selman’s team members share a trainee, harmonious program design is only discussed between the two instructors involved.

“The challenge with sharing a client between trainers is primarily in making sure the program design makes sense and is being balanced between the different trainers,” she says. “However, this can easily be accomplished through quick communications between the trainers.”

Of course, in some facilities there is a single trainer with more experience and education than the other professionals on staff. Your approach to shared workout design should therefore align with both your business philosophy and trainers’ abilities.

Sharing the Wealth

Client sharing, when done correctly, enhances your customers’ exercise experiences and your business’ goals.

But there’s an added bonus: It may also usher in independent healthy habits for your trainees. “I think sometimes by not encouraging clients to be flexible with whom they train we might be doing them a disservice,” explains Sunderland.

“I sometimes think that we can make our clients too dependent [on us as individual trainers],” she continues. “Part of my goal is to have my clients be confident and comfortable about exercising in many different situations, including without me.”

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sengerMegan Senger has had a long-term love affair with her passport and backpack. She spent many years traveling the world as a fitness instructor, including extended stints teaching in England, Iceland, Bermuda and Senegal, plus many years on cruise ships. She enjoys trying new yoga poses and overseas air travel (although not at the same time). Contact her at www.megansenger.com.

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