Simple Systems for Generating Referrals
“How do I get new clients?”
It’s a question that perplexes a lot of coaches, but it’s an important question all the same. Gaining new members, in most respects, allows us to live out our personal missions—helping as many people as possible. But it does something fundamental to that, it keeps the doors open. It’s hard to build a sustainable life in fitness without earning enough money to make it worthwhile.
The problem that makes the question even more perplexing is the amount of options now available for marketing your services and spreading your message to the world. There’s Google, Facebook, Instagram, and email, print ads, direct mail, events, and joint ventures. How do you know what you should be doing to promote your business at a given time. It’s sincerely a tough question to answer.
There’s a window of clarity in all this confusion about how to promote your fitness business, and it’s a perpetual truth about the work we do—we’re in the people business. And being that we’re in the people business, the most time-tested and proven way to get new clients is via other people, namely those that you’ve helped and that like you. It’s historically called word of mouth, and it seriously works.
Here’s the issue with word of mouth—most folks approach it using hope as a strategy. They follow the Field of Dreams logic that, “if you build it they will come.” And that’s true to a certain extent. But it won’t keep the referrals coming in steadily. What you need are simple systems for generating referrals to avoid the high peaks and deep troughs of hoping for word of mouth lead generation.
In this lesson, we’ll outline for you a simple system, two-part system that we use to consistently generate referrals. Pay attention, because there is nuance in these tactics.
Two Beginning Basics
Let’s handle a few seemingly obvious, but easy to ignore, things first.
First, you have to ask. Yes, there are going to be some folks, usually one or two, that just feel compelled to spread the word about you and will do so freely. But most people need a prompt. Folks have a lot going on in their lives, and even if they love you, they likely won’t think to refer someone unless you ask. They need the trigger and they need the context to think about it. So, don’t sit back and just hope word of mouth will spread. You have to get in the habit of asking for referrals. The rest of this lesson will talk about an effective way to do that, but you have to get in your head to ask.
Second, you have to have a referable business. What exactly does that mean? It means that your service has to be remarkable in at least one way. And when I use the word remarkable, I mean it literally—worth remarking about. (Read: worthy of attention, striking.) Whether it’s the social atmosphere, the specific type of results you get, or your ability to make your clients skillful in some respect, you have to capture it. Think about what you do well, and what you’re trying to do well, and double down on it.
Think, also, about whom you’re trying to serve. For example, most folks that hire a trainer don’t feel competent and comfortable in the gym setting. If you sort out all of the ways that you can do that, and then actually do those things well, it’s something that people will want to talk about with their friends.
How to Make the Client the Hero While Asking for a Referral
(Here comes that nuance we asked you to watch for.)
Before we talk about the systematic tactics, let’s talk about a subtle way to frame your ask so that you give your client the opportunity to do something good, rather than just making an ask of them.
You’re going to give them the opportunity to give a gift.
Rather than saying something akin to, “If you know anyone that might be interested, I’d really appreciate it if you let them know about me/us.” You’re going to say:
“You know, if you know anyone that’s interested, and you think would really appreciate being here, you could gift them a free month.”
Humans innately like to give. It makes us feel good. When you put someone in a position to give something to someone that they care about, it enriches their life. That in itself is a good thing. But it also makes them more likely to act. Rather than responding to an ask, they are actively seeking to do something good for someone else (the person they like and you) and they are going to feel good about it.
We’ll talk about the “anyone that’s interested” part in just a tick of the small hand on the clock.
The Two Times We Ask for Referrals
There are two, main times that we ask for referrals: during our End of Block meetings, and when a client expresses excitement over an accomplishment or gratitude for some aspect of being a member. Let’s walk through each scenario.
End of Block Referral Ask
A “block” of training at BSP NOVA consists of four programs. That means a client will finish a block of training every four to six months, depending on how many times per week they train with us. To prepare for that meeting, a client fills out a document that recaps the past four to six months of training, as well as asks them to look ahead for the next year or so—then working backward to plan for the next block. The main goal of the meeting is to help them get a grasp on where they currently are in their training process and then project themselves forward so that they can set a meaningful set of goals.
At the very bottom of the sheet we include a question that denotes their Net Promoter Score—which means how willing they are to promote our business. It asks:
“On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to refer a friend to BSP NOVA?”
It’s a simple but powerful question.
If the client answers with a 9 or a 10, we ask them for a referral. This is done after all of the goals talk is completed and it’s done as a matter of walking through the form. It goes a little something like this:
“I noticed that you marked down 10 for likelihood to refer someone. That’s awesome. Thank you. Do you have someone specific in mind? If so, you can gift them a totally free month. All you have to do is give them one of these metal cards and they’ll bring it with them when they come in for their 1-on-1 Assessment and Goal Setting Session. If you give them the card, and their interested, we’ll snag their contact info and reach out to them.”
There also times when the referred person simply reaches out because they received the card.
Here’s the thing, sometimes folks mark 10 but don’t have anyone specific in mind. That’s fine. Let them know that they can gift a free month at any time it doesn’t have to be right now. But here’s the key, you have to follow up with them down the line.
For us, we remind folks in the emails that we send out to our client email list. And we also have a flyer displayed at the entrance/exit to our gym that reminds them that they can give a free month at any time. We also follow up in person, but we’ll talk about that in the section on asking after they express excitement.
This simple process has dramatically increased our referral flow, and consequently, dramatically grown our business.
The logical question that follows is, “What do you do when someone marks below 9 or 10?” That’s a fair question with a simple answer—you find out why. That means checking in with them and either talking during the current meeting or setting up a time to talk. Most often, we’ve found that marks lower than 9 or 10 are because the client can’t think of anyone that they’d like to refer.
But if you see a really low marking, say 7 or lower, it could indicate that there is a significant problem to rectify in how you’re running your business and/or providing your service. You definitely need to have a conversation about that. It could be that the person is simply confused, but it also could be that you’re significantly missing the mark.
Asking After a Client Expresses Excitement
People like to share positive feelings, and most folks like to be the person that’s “got a guy.”
“Oh, you have to go see my hair dresser, she’s amazing. And she gave me this card for a free shampoo…”
When someone expresses excitement or gratitude, it’s a great time to ask them for a referral. There’s no exact script for this, and they’re likely shouldn’t be, but here’s an example of how it could go down:
Client: Man, I’m feeling so much better. My clothes are fitting better and I have so much more energy. Thank you. I’m really glad I came here.
You: That’s awesome! I’m so happy to hear it and thanks so much for telling me. Thank you for being here. You’re exactly the kind of person we want here.
Client: Well, thanks.
You: And if you know anyone else that you think would love to be here and get the same results you are, we’d love to have them, too. You can gift them a totally free month…(see above discussion on gift cards)
And then the client will either have someone on the spot, or they won’t. If they don’t, the key is top of mind awareness. That’s provided by making it continually known that folks can give a gift (emails, flyers, etc.), and by just following up and asking if they thought of anyone—especially if they expressed serious interested in referring but didn’t have any one on the spot. Don’t be a pest, but give it some time and then follow up.
We offer a free month and use metal gift cards as the medium of exchange, but we do that because it makes sense for our business. Our actual onboarding system is based on a month-long process during which a new client gets a free week followed by a three-week trial at reduced cost. So, gifting a free month fits and gives the person plenty of time to find value in what we do.
If it makes sense for your business, you can try the free month. But you don’t have to do that. Think about how your service runs, how you onboard clients, and what time frame might make sense for giving the person a chance to value what you do. Then experiment. There is no definitive answer. You have to try shit and see what works.
Rewards for Referrals
Outwardly saying, “If you give us referrals, we’ll give you X…” often doesn’t work. It’s based on a contingency, and people typically don’t like contingencies. It demotivates action. Personal, unexpected rewards, however, do work.
When a person refers someone to BSP NOVA, we use our knowledge about them to get them a personalized gift. For example, one of our clients referred his girlfriend, so we asked her what would be something he’d really like and appreciate. She said that he loved milkshakes from a local diner. So, we got him a gift card to that diner and thanked him. He was blown away.
You don’t have to go nuts with spending on this. Do what you can afford, but make it valuable to the person. Don’t break yourself, but don’t go cheap either.
The take home is, don’t base your referral rewards on contingencies, make them personal. There are exceptions—running a referral contest comes to mind. But we haven’t done that yet, so we can’t tell you anything about it.
Take the First Step
Now’s the time to take the first step toward systematization. Start with one thing and experiment with it. Consider the systems we presented in this lesson and while also considering how your business currently runs (even if you’re a commercial gym trainer, you’re your own business within that realm). How can you set your clients up to give a gift? What training landmarks can you use as an opportunity to ask. Examine them and then start systematizing today.