When I have asked gym owners why they run 6-week challenges, they usually all give me the same type of answers:

“It’s a good way to get more people through the doors.”

“It’s a great way to get those who are scared to commit to the gym to come in because it’s a short time commitment. Just 6 weeks!”

“It brings people in who are hesitant and want to test it out before they commit to paying for an entire year.”

No surprise, the above is exactly what you get at your door: People who aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for, people who are scared to commit to a fitness program, and frugal deal-hunters and dabblers who go from Yoga to spin classes to CrossFit to Orange Theory, constantly looking for a solution to their problem, but never committing to anything long enough to see results.

As a gym owner or coach, I ask you this: Is the latter your ideal client?
If it is, it is, but I know the frugal, non-committal client isn’t my ideal client.

I have been coaching at Madlab School of Fitness in Vancouver for 10 years. We used to attract those types of people: The people looking for a cheap group exercise facility. It was frustrating.

In about 2013, I remember announcing I was tired of the dabblers and wanted to start capturing the market of people looking specifically for personal trainers. Those people expect to pay $60 to $100 an hour, actually want to receive one-on-one coaching, and are ready and willing to make a true commitment to their health and fitness—not just for a 6-week challenge, but for life.

We then started changing our message on social media, on our website and with our current clients. I started adding keywords like “personal trainers in Vancouver” and “best personal training in Vancouver” to all my blogs and writing blogs about topics such as the advantages of hiring a fitness coach. Our social media presence became one about a long-term commitment to fitness, where we highlighted clients who were having huge success working with a coach for life. We stayed away from promoting any quick and easy 6-week transformation or weight loss challenges. We became more honest about how difficult yet rewarding committing to fitness for the long term will be.

As I mentioned, we also changed the message on the floor with our clients. One of the biggest changes included introducing the concept of a Hybrid Gym Membership, where all our clients do a combination of group classes and personal training sessions. 

And we started changing the way we speak to people during their introductory session. Now, one of the first things I tell people (after asking them a ton of questions about themselves) is:

“First and foremost, we are a coaching service. If you’re looking to come in here and do your own thing in the corner, we’re not the place for you. With us, you will have your own personal coach, who will put you through personal training until you’re self-sufficient, and then you’ll do a combination of group classes and personal training. Again, if you’re looking for a group exercise-type of boot camp environment, we’re not the place for you.”

(As a side note, it’s amazing how receptive people are when you suggest you might not be the place for them. It’s almost as though they want to prove you wrong because they don’t want you to reject them).

It took a couple of years for us to stop attracting the cheap dabblers looking for group classes, 6-week challenges, Groupons and free weeks. But lo and behold, about two-and-a-half years ago, IT FINALLY HAPPENED: Someone walked in off the street and told me she was looking for personal training and had discovered on social media that we offer personal training. 

Was she easy to “sell?” Hell, yes! She was expecting to pay $80 an hour indefinitely and was stoked when she discovered she’d pay $80 an hour during the fundamentals stage but could then spend around $300 a month for her Hybrid membership.

Since that day, more and more people have trickled in looking specifically for a personal coach and one-on-one training. These people are always willing to pay what is required and are ready to commit for the long term, as they value how a professional coach will improve their lives.

To say the quality of leads we are attracting today is far superior (in terms of bringing in our target market) than five years ago is a gross understatement.

As a result, our coaches can make a better living, the business is flourishing, client retention has skyrocketed, and our clients are less injured and much more fit—a triple win.

So I ask again: Why are you selling a 6-week challenge when you can sell fitness for life?

- Emily Beers 

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