You’ve worked hard to become an educated, skilled professional. But without any fitness clients, you’ve got a hobby, not a paying career!

To drive your bottom line, you need to know how to attract new trainees. Here are 15 ideas for getting more prospective leads to keep your business moving forward.

Everywhere you go you meet people—at the coffee shop, the bank, your kid’s soccer game. Every encounter is a chance to (appropriately) share your message. Always have business cards on hand (preferably with a special offer with an expiration date on it, such 14 days of free boot camps). Be prepared to offer a 30-second summary of what you do and why you do it.

Another idea? Create branded shirts, with your logo and website clearly visible. “Wear those wherever you go,” says Karin Singleton, a training studio owner in Raleigh, N.C. You’d be surprised how many people will ask you about it.” She also recommends branded car decals or magnets, which can be ordered inexpensively at Vistaprint

Send a big bouquet of balloons with a card to your client’s work congratulating them on their progress with you, says Pat Rigsby, a business consultant and the CEO of the Fitness Consulting Group. 

The workplace gift is a subtle method of generating buzz, he explains. “What will happen is that everyone at your client’s place of work will ask who the balloons are from. The client will tell everyone about you and how much you’ve helped her. The balloons act as a talking point about how happy the client is with her trainer (you).”

Invite your current clients for a nutrition-oriented, how-to-shop grocery store tour, ensuring they all wear your branded shirts, says Fred Sassani, founder of Bodies by Design Personal Training in Austin and Pflugerville, Texas. The bigger the group the better, so your presence is noticeable and creates the image that your services are in demand. “Always do this on Saturday around noon when many people are shopping with their families,” Sassani adds.

Turn a holiday into a reason for your clients to give the gift of health. For example, in the month prior to Father's Day, give out 30-day gym or group-training passes for your current clients to give to their own fathers. The dads can then accompany them to workouts, says industry consultant Thomas Plummer, the Cape Cod, Mass.based founder of the National Fitness Business Alliance.

Have plastic gift cards made with your business logo, and encourage your current clients to pass them on to their friends as gifts, Sassani recommends. “Include a price value on the front.” This could be for the value of a two-week-free trial to your boot camp or group personal-training services, which costs you nothing extra out of pocket but has a high perceived value. 

For even more new client leads, donate your gift cards to local charities or organizations that can use them as prizes for their fundraising raffles or silent auctions. Or, hand the gift cards out to the “influencers” in your neighborhood. These include local hairdressers, baristas, realtors and nutrition store employees, according to Jonathan Goodman, the creator of thePTDC, a collaborative blog for trainers, and the “1K Extra” course on creating an online training business. 

Plastic gift cards can be ordered from many online sources, including DGI, Inc.

Think about local businesses that share your client niche. Consider who else might have customers of the age and gender of your target trainees, who also want to look and feel better. (Tanning salons? Chiropractors? A particular spa or clothing store?)

Offer to train the owner or a high-profile employee for free in exchange for spreading the word about your services and/or giving out your gift cards to their best clients as a concrete referral tool. This makes your relationship a win-win for both parties, says Rigsby.

Through an email or at the end of a workout (perhaps during stretch time), ask your trainees if they know of anyone who might be interested in training with you. Follow up with an email with helpful health information that also asks your current client to pass the email along to the friend who might want to hire you, says Goodman. 

The key to successful referrals is to reward your clients twice, says Rigsby, with a small incentive when they refer new customers to you, and with a larger one when that new customer signs up for your services. Sassani does this by providing a free month of large group training or boot camp to any current client who introduces a new paying customer. 

Twice a year, allow every client to bring guests for an entire month of your group training services for free,” says Plummer. This will have minimal impact on your expenses, but will inexpensively expose your business to a lot of guest traffic, he notes.

Similarly, Sassani’s business offers a free community boot camp every Saturday to provide would-be customers a sampling of his services with a low barrier of entry. 

“One of our more successful promotions has been our ‘New Year, New You’ challenge in which members compete in teams of three for a cash prize,” says Josh Proch, co-owner of Defined Fitness in Wexford, Penn. 

“All members pay an entrance fee and then the winning team splits the grand prize, Proch explains. “The winning team is determined by the percentage change in team body fat. This helps to introduce new people to the club who then become members.” A powerful way to ensure this happens is to require all teams to have at least one non-member enter the contest.

Short-term fitness and/or nutrition packages (such as a three-week weight-loss program, or a six-week lifestyle reboot) entice would-be customers to try out your services without the intimidation of a long-term commitment. Rerun the programs seasonally with a new message (for the new year, bikini season, back-to-school and so on) and you’ll get new leads each time, without having to reinvent the marketing wheel.

Non-fitness-related social events help unfit would-be customers feel less intimidated at your facility. Try out trivia nights, barbecues and healthy food cooking contests, suggests Steve Long, the owner of Complete Fitness Results, a training studio in St Louis, Mo., and the co-creator of branded exercise program Smart Group Training.

If your current clients bring a friend, waive their attendance fee. And follow up with your new prospects with a great offer to try your services out, Long adds.

Offer to give talks at schools, Rotary clubs, “or any group you can get in front of,” says Sassani. “Talk about different health subjects. The more active you are in the community the more you will position yourself as the local expert.” 

Conclude your talk with a call to action, such as an invitation to join an upcoming transformation program at a special price. And don’t forget to get attendee email addresses to add to your newsletter mailing list.

Join your local Chamber of Commerce and reach out to other business members with a special fitness offer (such as a half-price trial membership) for their employees, suggests Rigsby. Joining has other potential benefits, including networking opportunities, free local media promotions and a regularly updated list of new residents in your area. 

“Periodically we will offer a workout to the public to raise money for a charity. This benefits a good cause and gets us in front on some new people who may like what we do and decide to join,” says Proch. 

Cross promote via the charity’s social media channels and event updates. And ensure you reach out to local media for maximum exposure.

Email or call your ex-clients and let them know they crossed your mind. Ask them how they and their family are doing using personal details (such as asking about their birthday, or how their back is doing), says Goodman. Extend a special training offer, such as several weeks of free training when they come back, no strings attached, says Rigsby. Or, invite them to an upcoming event (such as a transformation challenge or charity workout) and ensure you reconnect with them there. 

First, Master the Basics 

To maximize the effectiveness of your customer-seeking efforts, you need to know your niche clientele and what you can uniquely offer them. Ask yourself what groups you tend to enjoy working with the most and know the most about. (Moms in their 30s? Seniors with arthritis? Recreational golfers?) Once you have gotten clarity on who it is you want to attract, you can focus your marketing efforts on the places they go, items they read and the concerns they have. This is the key to getting the leads you want! 

Building Long-term Value

Here’s an important concept: Getting new client leads (marketing) won’t work if your sales skills are unpracticed and your services are lackluster. If you’re great at marketing but so-so at fitness, you will be able to attract clients, but not retain them. 

Remember, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of generating new client leads, says Rigsby. “But you need to remember who’s signing your paycheck, and what they are really paying you for,” he says. 

Bottom line: Balancing broad business skills and ongoing education with exercise science knowledge is the key to a lucrative, well-rounded career in fitness. With these tools, says Rigsby, the possibilities for growing your business are endless.