No matter how successful your fitness studio or gym is, you always need to attract new clients. But bringing in new members can be challenging, especially when you’re running a small studio with a limited budget. Apart from go-to marketing and promotion strategies like discounts, member referrals and social media and email campaigns, what can you do to increase your client base? We asked studio owners to share the strategies that worked for them. Here are five unexpected ways to grow customers at your studio or gym.
Seek Out Corporate Partnerships
Who are the big and medium-sized businesses and corporations in your neighborhood? Make a list and contact their human resources departments to pitch a partnership. You’ll get access to a new group of potential clients while the company benefits from a free class or wellness talk on the business site or class discounts for employees.
“Corporate partnerships have always been a great way to drive new clients in the door,” says Kate Grove, master teacher and owner at Bar Method in Marin, CA. “We try to canvas our local area and check back in with our partners once a month. It is also helpful to talk to your current clients — they may work someplace that would make a great corporate partner and would be willing to set up a private event. It’s a great way to host a fun event and for the studio to get in front of new people.”
Offer Free Classes to Your Local Community
Reach out to small, independently-owned businesses, schools, local clubs and volunteer groups to offer free classes. Offering a chance to try a workout for free is a great way to bring in new clients for little to no cost, says Paul Michael Rahn, founder and CEO of SWEAT in Chicago. “It’s an easy, quick way to engage with neighbors (and who doesn’t like something free) that gets some foot traffic in the door,” Rahn says.
Mckenzie Howarth and Sarah Kuzniar, owners of the Bar Method in Boston, say they’ve found success working with teachers and staff at local schools. “We pick a local school and offer its staff free classes for a week (or month) then a discount on the intro offer when done,” Howarth says. “It’s been a great way to get in front of the local school communities and drive new clients.”
Invite Clients to Bring a Friend
Make bring a friend day a regular event at your studio. Instead of planning seasonal promotions, plan on a bring a friend free day monthly or bimonthly. Your most loyal members who love their workouts will do the recruiting work for you by inviting their friends.
Make sure instructors introduce themselves to friends and potential clients who are trying a workout for the first time. Making personal connections during and after class is key. For example, make sure instructors take the time to ask if newbies in the class have any questions. Rahan says he’s had success with “bring a friend for half off” classes or days, describing it as an “easy way to generate some revenue while marketing to the friends of your current clients which is always a good motivational push for our community and their friends and family.”
Make Donations to Local Groups
Donating to local nonprofit organizations is smart so many reasons. Besides helping a great cause, there are plenty of other benefits, too. Donating a few blocks of classes gives you free exposure to a new group of potential clients and it can be a tax write-off if done correctly. Talk to your accountant about the steps you should take.
For starters, look for fundraising events that are planned in your area. Ask clients, friends and neighbors if they know about charitable events in your community. Local PTAs, youth athletic associations and area charities that raise funds for a cause (like breast cancer awareness or heart health) are a great place to start. You can also google “charitable events [city]” to find out what’s coming up or what has been held in previous years.
Once you identify groups you want to donate to (either because they are in your backyard or raising money for a cause that speaks to you), contact the event organizer and offer to donate a block of classes or personal training sessions as a prize. In exchange for the donation, make sure your studio is listed in all the event’s marketing materials in print and online. The winner of your prize (and maybe even his or her friends) might end up being your next long-term client.
Start a Cross-Referral Program
One of the most common ways to bring in new clients is through member referrals. Loyal members who are invested in your fitness community will always be an incredibly valuable part of your marketing. But when it comes to referrals, there’s a lot more you can be doing to bring in new customers. For starters, think about how you can work with your own network of health and beauty professionals.
Do you go to a chiropractor or acupuncturist? What about a physical therapist, massage therapist or nutritionist? Don’t forget about local salons for hair, nails and skincare. Reach out to each of these professionals as well as area pros referred to you by friends and colleagues to set up a cross-referral program. A program like this can start with making sure you share literature about your studio at the work spaces of your partners and vice versa. Work out an arrangement where you’ll offer a free class or discount to their patients and customers and they’ll do the same for your studio clients. Because these health, beauty and wellness services complement the work you’re doing in your studio, cross-promotion is natural and will likely help you grow clients in an organic way. And that’s a win for everyone involved.