At Ripe Sport, we know just how hard it is for personal trainers to get new clients.
Most PTs can work full-time with just 15 to 20 clients as the average client will train twice a week. So naturally, it shouldn’t be too challenging to get those numbers in.
However, there are almost 70,000 personal trainers qualified in the UK and standing out in a heavily saturated industry can be tough, especially given the rate at which it’s growing.
We spoke to two established personal trainers to get their top tips for gaining new clients.
Niki Bird @itsnikibird
Niki Bird is a personal trainer based in London. She’s one of a handful of Fascial Stretch Therapists in the UK and an England Touch athlete. Niki became a personal trainer in 2012 and got off to a slow start, taking her time and learning as much as possible before putting herself out there.
After working in and studying sport for most of her adult life, she’s created an outstanding business as a personal trainer and has spent the last eight years growing her clientele and repertoire.
It didn’t come easy, but Niki has built her business from the ground up. We spoke to Niki to find out her secrets to creating a strong and successful client base.
How do you prioritise your time?
As personal trainers, we’re selling blocks of our time. You have to ask yourself what blocks you want to keep for yourself, what blocks you want to give away to future business planning, and what blocks you will give to what's serving you right now?
I was doing free sessions, I was putting on sessions for family and friends, I was travelling to all ends of the earth in London. I was going from central London all the way out to “Zone God-knows-whatever”. When you go from one area to another like this, it’s exhausting.
I did it for as long as I could tolerate, but there has to come a point where you stop taking on every single client under the sun, and you think to yourself, ‘How can I better use my time?’
So, you should get your hands on as many clients as you can at first, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to see people in one area and make enough money to build your business, then do that. You’ll learn a lot from these clients. But longer-term, you’ve got to start prioritising your time a bit more and learn to say no.
In terms of prioritising that time, don’t spend every waking minute on money now. Use this time to work out what’s going to help you with your future business, whether that’s networking, taking courses, being mentored by somebody, or just taking that little bit of time out to be able to think.
What have you found to be the most powerful marketing tool in gaining clients?
My most powerful marketing tool has been word of mouth. You can read reviews and articles online – which are all incredible, and I’m not knocking them because I’m very grateful for the press that I’ve had – but there’s no better review than somebody praising you and passing that good feedback on.
If you make people feel valued and they feel like they’re in safe hands, they’ll remember this. So, I think if you’re being authentic with yourself and being a caring person, and that comes across, then word of mouth is your best marketing tool, all day long.
I’ve found that Instagram works for me, too. There’s a balance; you want to make sure that you’re putting stuff out there professionally, but equally having your personality come across is really important.
It’s called personal training for a reason, right? Clients pick you, but you also pick your clients by putting yourself out there. If you’re conveying a particular image, you can guarantee that you’ll attract a particular client. So, why not put out the image that is really you?
Older forms of marketing like flyering did nothing for me. I literally printed off thousands of flyers and posted them through letterboxes around whole neighbourhoods, and honestly, I had one person call me. They asked me if I taught yoga as well! I was thinking, are you kidding me? I spent a full week going around posting these flyers, and I got nothing back from it.
How did you go about growing your client base?
I was completely self-employed for the first two years. I was adamant I wanted to build my own business. I didn’t work within any kind of gym, so I didn’t have a team of people around me. I was also absorbing as much as I could, reading as much as I could, and working on a one-to-one basis with clients, so it was a bit of a slow build. But, ironically, what helped my business take off was becoming part of a team of people.
I joined a team at The Bulgari, in the Workshop Gymnasium. That’s where I actually met my incredible mentor, who I spent a lot of time with. He was much more experienced than I was, even though I’d been in the industry for two years at that point, so I absorbed loads of useful information from him. It was this kind of hands-on experience from other trainers that I’d been missing all along. I also benefited from being surrounded by other trainers and seeing what they did on the gym floor. This enabled me to pick up hints and tips on everything from exercises to how to talk to clients.
If you get yourself out there as soon as you can and surround yourself with more experienced trainers, I guarantee this will not only transform your business, but also how you coach and learn.
What is the most important factor when starting out as a personal trainer?
When you take your PT course, you learn the fundamentals, some basic anatomy and programming. Everything is a basic, basic level, so once you’re qualified, you need to build on the knowledge you’ve gained.
There is so much to be said for having the right foundations. For example, understanding how to programme for clients and perform basic movements like pushing, pulling, and hinging.
If you can’t teach the basics, then you’re missing the foundation as a coach. It's so easy to get caught up in making sure that somebody has a sweat on and they’re crawling out of the gym floor. That’s really easy to do, right?
What’s much more difficult is actually putting somebody through a workout that really assesses how they move and picking the right exercises for them.
By all means, you can try and find your niche, but don't stress about it. Finding your niche should happen naturally. Stick to the basics, do that well, and you can build everything on top of that afterwards.
How do you use social media for your business?
Social media is an incredible tool that wasn’t as big of a thing for people starting out in this industry several years ago. But what was always important, from the very first post I put out, was to be authentic with what I was posting. Is that really what I would say if I wasn’t putting that on social media?
The more genuine you are, the more opportunities will come your way that are meant for you. If you start trying to be somebody you’re not, you’ll find that the opportunities that come across are not really true to you as a person. You could get caught up in a vicious cycle of picking up things that aren’t right for you and going down the wrong path.
So, even if building a social media presence takes a little bit longer because you’re not posting the hashtags, or talking about stuff that’s trending, it’s more important to be genuine with what you post because that’s your brand at the end of the day.
It is literally like a live CV, so be very careful about what you’re putting up there. I post professional stuff, but snippets of my personal life too. I’m happy to share certain things that show enough about me as a person, but not too much that it becomes a platform that’s just a self-indulgent Instagram account.
Andy Wilkinson @andyw_fitness
If there’s such a thing as a typical personal trainer, Andy Wilkinson certainly isn’t that.
The 56-year-old personal trainer, who looks strikingly young for his age, joined the industry seven years ago – and his journey recently took an exciting turn.
Wilkinson, a grandfather of seven, became an internet sensation at the start of the year after being featured in a series of national publications.
Whichever way you look at it, he stands out. Not only does he look different to other 56-year-olds, but he thinks differently to other personal trainers. His business model is unique – and some would argue unconventional – but it’s brought him a lot of success. He now trains millionaire and multi-millionaire clients without even working from a gym.
We sat down with Wilkinson to get his top tips for personal trainers looking to attract new clients.
When did you first become interested in fitness, and how have you got your name out there?
I’ve trained for most of my life, which is over 50 years, but I’ve been a personal trainer for seven years. However, it was only in 2020 that I got to where I want to be.
A journalist saw me on Instagram, phoned me up, and asked if they could do a post about me. And then two days later, the Daily Mail wrote something on me, then LAD Bible shot a video with me. That’s how I went from 1,300 followers to 22,000. Since then, I’ve been on Supermarket Sweep with my Mum, and I’ve been on First Dates.
I had a lucky break with being noticed on Instagram, but I’m passionate about what I do, and I’m living the life I love.
What do you feel has helped you stand out and be successful?
My age has provided me with a niche because I’m 56 and a grandfather of seven, and because of how I look.
I’ve got clients who are younger than me who want to look like me, but I’ve got here the hard way. I’ve achieved my physique without steroids or supplements – I’ve just trained hard, and I love what I do.
I’m not your typical personal trainer in a lot of ways. For instance, I haven’t got many clients, but the clients I have are very high-end. I have a couple of millionaires and a multi-millionaire. I’m not one of these trainers that work from a gym.
I also don’t believe in having one session with a client here and there. So as part of my business model, I only do a minimum of 10 sessions. Because at the end of the day, you want to see results. You can’t get results through someone booking you in here and there, even though many people do that. I approach training differently to most people.
How did you go about building your client base from the start?
I went down lots of different avenues, and then I eventually optimised my site for Google searches. At the end of the day, people still Google people.
I learned various Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques, which helped me go from page 7 on Google to page 1 locally. Depending on what you want to achieve, optimising your website for local searches might be the way to go.
I also used Yell.com for my internet marketing and invested in other marketing strategies that cost me a lot of money. I wasted a lot of money along the way, but that’s just the way it is. Trial and error is the only way you’ll find out what’s right for you.
How successful was word of mouth for you, as this is a traditional yet still effective marketing technique for personal trainers?
Word of mouth is still really important for personal trainers, so it’s essential to always give the best possible service to your clients. Don’t cut corners because people talk, and you might miss out on potential clients if they receive negative feedback about how you do things.
I got a very wealthy client at the beginning of the year, and he recommended me to someone else within his social circle. And these are clients who don’t see money as a problem. It’s just, “What can you do for me? These are the dates I can do. Just give me a bill.”
I’ve been very lucky with the clients I’ve got, but I’m not in it for the money. I’m in it to help, motivate, and inspire people. Of course, the money comes with the territory, but I’m not motivated to do more hours for more money. I think that’s to do with my age as well – I have more self-awareness of the time I’ve got.
What advice would you give to other personal trainers looking to grow their client base, particularly those who are new to the industry?
Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and that you’re passionate about it because the personal trainer market is very saturated.
You might look at other personal trainers on Instagram and think they’re better than you and that you’ll never get to their level, but they’ve been doing it for years. It doesn’t just happen overnight.
So many people are in this industry, and I got into it because of my age, as I knew that’s what makes me stand out.
If I was ten years younger and I was 47, a lot of people look like me at 47. But because I’m my age, I spotted a gap in the market. If you don’t carve out a niche for yourself, and if you don’t work out what’s different about you, then you’ll end up blending in. You’ve got to find something different to offer.
Specialist personal trainer insurance from Ripe Sport
At Ripe Sport, we understand the risks that come with having regular clients, such as the possibility of a claim being made against you for injury.
That’s why we offer up to £10 million of Public Liability. This covers your legal fees if one of your clients makes a claim against you after sustaining an injury during a session.
We also provide Professional Indemnity, which protects your legal position if you are sued for giving poor advice.