Recently, I was at the doctor’s office with one of my sons for his check-up. I was in my usual fitness garb, because I had trained clients and taught a class that morning. While we were waiting, another patient said to me, “What do you do to stay in shape? Run?”

“No,” I laughed. “I hate running.”

This opened up a conversation about what I do for a living and what her health and fitness needs were. Fortunately, I had just put more business cards into my phone case, so I naturally handed her one. In discussing her needs and what I could offer her, she said she got shivers, because it was perfect timing for what she needed and what a blessing it was for her to run into me there.

You Never Know…                                 

Chances are your clients come from all walks of life and are active in your community in many ways. This means there are potential clients everywhere you go. This also means that if you're aware, you can market yourself in your everyday life—without sounding salesy.

“To push your services in a social situation is the perfect way to not get clients,” warns Story von Holzhausen, creator and master teacher/trainer of Liquid Strength, based in New York City. 

Von Holzhausen says that she tends to wear clothes that keep her cool, leaving her arms exposed. As a result, she is often asked about her toned and defined arms. “I am very humble, but very social in nature, so I am usually already in deep conversation when this occurs. I tend to drop my head and blush a bit then say, ‘Well, it is my job and I have found a really easy way to look like this,’ and I leave it at that. I find that people either want to know more or they do not, but when the ‘lead in’ is at their request, it gives my words much more weight.” 

Restaurants, says von Holzhausen, are a perfect venue for social marketing. “The best advice I can give you is to dine at the bar and not at a table. This gives you a great opportunity to get to know the people who work at the restaurant and to have natural interactions with other diners around you.” 

“There are several unexpected places I meet clients,” says Justin Seedman, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach and Behavior Change Specialist, and owner of JustinFit, an in-home personal training and health coaching practice in South Florida. “I often meet [future] clients at my son’s daycare. I occasionally even meet them at the grocery store and in line at Starbucks.” 

Seedman says he’s also met clients by getting involved in his community and doing volunteer work, including a Kids Can event called Kids Night In. “I was in charge of the physical fitness activity,” he explains. “I set up several field day-type activities for the children. The event went great! Afterwards, I was approached by one of the children's mothers. She loved my positive energy and the way I worked with the kids.” 

This mom became one of Seedman’s long-term clients. “I encourage all personal trainers and health coaches to get involved in their communities and make a difference,” he suggests. “Who knows? You may even meet your next long-term client.”

“My longest client—over 14 years and counting—I met at another client’s son’s baptism,” says von Holzhausen. “I met all of her friends and neighbors and started training another woman in her building after a lengthy conversation over paper plates. After the baptism, I organized a group session with anyone in the building who wanted to come. This is what solidified my relationship with my longest regular client and provided short-term work with many others in the building.” 

“One of the most unlikely places to find new clients in in the checkout line at the grocery store, cosmetic store or clothing store,” adds Dorian Marie, owner of Sphericality in Flemington, N.J. “I always carry VIP guest passes in my purse. My kids laugh, because they see me eye someone up and know that I will march right up to them and say, ‘Hi, I'm Dorian and I own Sphericality Fitness and Lifestyle Studio. You look like you take care of yourself, so I'd like to give you a guest pass to come in for a class.’ 

“What usually happens is that one or two other people in the vicinity hear what I’m saying and chime in. It never fails. I end up giving away multiple passes. And I always ask them their names, so if they do come into my studio, I can greet them by their name. They are pretty impressed by that and it helps to establish the all-important ‘know, like, trust’ that it takes to begin a long-term relationship.”

It Helps to Be Prepared

I'm not the only one who finds potential clients at the doctor’s office. Steven McDaniels, owner of Fit & Focused and director of fitness and athletics at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., has had similar experiences. In fact, rather than depending on chance encounters or divine intervention, he takes it one step further. 

McDaniels once went to the grand opening of a medical clinic in his community, armed with a letter that included his credentials, experience and what services he offers, and gave copies to the front desk receptionists. He ended up getting a chance to speak to one of the doctors about referrals.

“Not only was she excited about having a trainer that she could recommend for exercise, we found out that our kids take karate classes with the same Sensei,” recounts McDaniels. “I was very happy to be able to accomplish my goal of starting a relationship with a doctor’s office.” 

McDaniels recommends setting up a reciprocal referral program with healthcare providers in your area, including physicians, physical therapists and chiropractors. “Potential clients have medical issues and doctors simply tell them to go get some exercise,” he explains. “Sometimes clients do not really know how to exercise or where to start. Be the go-to person for [the healthcare providers] in your area.” 

Von Holzhausen suggests being a walking advertisement for your business. “Use your ‘commute’ as advertising. Invest in a logo and tag line that represents you well and have many shirts and jackets printed that feature you and your contact info.” 

Because we work so closely with people in this industry, personality matters. You must “get out there” so that you attract your ideal clients—and be prepared to “sell yourself” at any time. 

“The tricky thing with personal training,” says Henry Halse, C.P.T., C.S.C.S., owner of Halse Strength and Fitness in Philadelphia, Pa., “is that you not only have to sell your service, you have to sell your personality. You might be the best trainer on the planet, but if you aren’t personable, people won't want to train with you.” 

“Don’t be afraid to talk to people about yourself, without any intention of a ‘sell,’ but merely about how you started out and what you love about what you do,” suggests von Holzhausen. “Personal training is just that—personal. You need to connect with a person enough that they want to spend more time with you. Be a friend first and a trainer second. Be outgoing and friendly to doormen, bartenders or anyone who works with potential clients. The more people who truly like you and whom you are good to, the better your chances of being talked about in a positive light—no matter what you look like, years training or fame. It is you personally that you are selling.”