Referral marketing is both a powerful and cost-effective way to grow your client base. To get more referral business, you have to approach generating word-of-mouth as a marketing strategy – not just as a way to serve your clients in hopes they tell their friends about you.


Happy clients are your greatest sales people, so go the extra mile to make sure your existing clients are satisfied. Kelvin Gary, owner of Body Space Fitness, has built his business through client referrals. After just three years in the ultra competitive New York City market, Body Space Fitness has grown to six trainers, 151 personal training clients and countless clients who come to his studio for any one of the four to six classes per day. Gary follows four basic rules for generating positive word-of-mouth referrals:

1. Give people results. Your clients are walking billboards for your studio. If your existing clients are feeling good and are happy about what they are achieving by taking your classes, they are going to tell people. Gary says that when coworkers notice your clients looking fit, or teammates from the intramural basketball league notice your client’s improved performance, they’ll likely come to you looking for the same results.

2. Teach the why. Creating needy clients who rely totally on your fitness expertise is a mistake. Gary’s approach is to teach his clients more than just what exercises to do, how to do them and when those exercises should be done. He also teaches his clients why a particular exercise will help the client meet his or her goals.

“I might see a client for two hours per week,” says Gary. “I need to be as impactful as possible during that time. I still want them to be effective in their other workouts and activities when I’m not with them.”

3. Remember that you are in the service business, first and foremost. While fitness is your industry, your service is at the core of why your clients chose you. Gary gives his employees the autonomy to fix any client issue on the spot so they always leave on a positive feeling about the studio. After each session or class, Gary personally walks his clients to the door, giving words of encouragement about their workout and wishing them a good day.

4. Don’t hurt people. It is one thing to provide a challenging workout. It’s another to make them debilitatingly sore or cause an injury. The last thing that you want is for your clients to walk around telling people, “I’m in so much pain from that class I took last night.” Before each class, ask every client if he or she has any injuries or soreness. If you have some new faces, be sure to include instructions for beginner modifications.


In addition to providing buzzworthy service, you may want to create a more official benefit package for both referring clients and potential new clients. The first step is to choose a reward and set the conditions of eligibility. For example, if a client brings a friend who ultimately buys a class package, both the new client and the person who referred both receive a free class or small group training session. Another incentive could include swag consisting of gear useful to your studio’s workout, such as yoga blocks, weightlifting gloves or barre socks.

In the fitness industry, exclusivity is often a more effective incentive than discounts. Come up with ways you can offer VIP treatment to those who are referred by your clients and to those who refer. The more you can offer that’s inaccessible to regular patrons (opportunities for early class registration, waiving equipment rental fees, free locker access, etc.), the more enticing the referral incentive will be.

Once you have a formal referral package in place, start an awareness campaign. Print some free pass cards and give a five-pack to all of your current clients to give to friends and family. Include an outline of your member referral program along with the benefits. You should also create a member referral form on your website and promote the page through your social media channels.

Promotion is key for any successful word-of-mouth campaign. Get your instructors talking about the program before or after class. Create professional looking signage for your locker room or reception area. Develop a social media campaign around referrals and make posts that let followers know there are benefits to referring a friend.