Creating a solid plan can help you increase personal training evenue at your facility. Get your whole staff involved, offer a variety of training options, and educate your members through orientations and seminars.

Even though you may be satisfied with your facility's current level of personal training usage (you are tracking your metrics, aren't you?), it's not high enough. After all, when you think about it, there is not a single member in your fitness center who could not benefit from some level of personal training - whether it's a single, one-time assessment or a lifetime package. Your trainers should have something to offer virtually every member. You must instill this truth as part of your facility's culture.

There are two reasons your members aren't signing up for personal training: "I can't afford it," or "I don't need it." Strike that. There's really only one reason: perceived lack of value. There are two ways to attack this perceived lack of value: Educate your members and lower the price (relatively speaking, as compared to traditional 60-minute, one-on-one training sessions).

Your sales staff

I once worked with a fitness center that had disappointing penetration rates, and I noticed that its membership consultants were simply pointing to the personal training studio and saying, "There's the personal training studio." Period.

Sell your sales staff on personal training. Establish personal training as part of your culture. Pat Rigsby of Fitness Consulting Group, Elizabethtown, Ky., recommends making personal training an important part of the tour (better termed "presentation"). Make sure your membership staff uses what sales trainers call "assumptive closes." For example, Rigsby says, "Once you authorize the paperwork, we'll get you signed up with one of our personal trainers, who will make sure you get started on the right foot."

Remember the adage, "You can't sell what you don't buy." The best way for your sales staff to understand the advantages of personal training is to make sure they experience personal training themselves. Although you may later have to deal with political issues concerning which membership consultant works with which trainer, you may consider either assigning a buddy system, or, better yet, offering discounted personal training for your sales staff.

One thing to avoid is having an "Up System" for your personal trainers. Up Systems often get members assigned with trainers who may not be qualified to help that member's particular needs. Remember, you want to do what's in the best interest of your members. Employ a thorough questioning process to discover the member's goals, needs, limitations and motivation. This will build rapport, and help the trainer best present how personal training will be of benefit to the member.

Pricing structure

It's traditional to charge "x" amount for a one-on-one session, then charge less for a package of 12, and even less for a package of 24, or whatever magic number you make up. But, what's the true cost of a one-on-one session? Is the cost truly lower when clients sign up for more sessions? Because that's certainly what you're implying.

If you have a marketing budget, you can make a case that selling packages costs you less money, so you can charge less. Also, some fitness centers see personal training hours like nights in a hotel - you can justify discounting that open slot with a client you can count on rather than dealing with an empty hour. If that's your thinking, then go ahead and offer packages. Just make sure you have a reason that makes sense to your clients.

Another issue is how to come up with the price itself. When I look at the typical menu of personal training services in the standard three-panel brochure, I see prices that look made up. I learned years ago in Mark McCormick's What They Still Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School that round numbers look made up. There's no reason to charge all sessions in $5 increments (i.e., $60 per session, $55 for multiples). Do the actual math and figure out what the prices need to be in order to reach your financial goals. So what if it comes out to odd numbers here or there? It adds integrity to your price structure, which instills faith in your clients.

Rigsby is a firm believer in using EFT for collecting personal training payments. There's really no reason to hit members with a 12-session-package fee all at once. Charge clients at the end of the month for the sessions they used that month.

Education

Education starts with offering seminars for your members. For instance, combine outside professionals with your personal trainers as speakers. This will help show your trainers as experts. The relationship can also lead to referrals from the professionals. Phil Kaplan, a fitness expert, has had success by having his trainers lead group orientations based on his NAVAQA philosophy. NAVAQA is an acronym for need, ammunition, vehicle, alternatives, quality and advise.

Need. What is the perceived "need" or void the client hopes to fill by hiring a personal trainer?

Ammunition. Listen for vital clues that indicate how your clients truly feel, then use their words to both establish more rapport and to use as "ammunition" (in a nice way) to persuade them to invest in personal training. As you take notes on their exercise history, for example, also note comments like, "This is really important to me" or "I've tried everything else and nothing has worked." When you repeat these comments back, it takes your clients back to the frame of mind they were in when they said it the first time.

Vehicle. Prove you are the obvious choice as the most effective vehicle to get clients to their desired goals. The best way to do this is with testimonials. Have at least one testimonial on hand for the most-common sales objections.

Alternatives. Demonstrate that previous alternatives the member may have tried before did not accomplish the desired goal.

Qualify. Ask qualifying questions, sometimes called "trial balloons" in sales-training speak, so you're not premature in closing the sale.

Advise. Be an advisor and trusted source of helpful information, not a used car salesman.

Kaplan also recommends taking advantage of the NAVAQA assessment to identify potential obstacles and negative self-talk, and to help clients recognize false beliefs that might serve as pitfalls if they aren't replaced by new, empowering beliefs. The goal of the assessment is not just to gather physiological data, but to amass emotional information about the member that you can address - then offer them the opportunity to take advantage of the only logical solution to their problem: personal training.

Biomechanics expert Dr. Mark Slavin has a unique approach he calls Lessons vs. Sessions. As opposed to the standard one-on-one session, the lesson focuses more on education than actual training. Lessons are held in small groups, and typically meet once a month or every other week. The key is to have your trainers make it clear that your members will get results because your trainers know things members can't get anywhere else.

A prime example to attract training clients is a Core Training Lesson. Discuss myths vs. science, and demonstrate a few sample exercises. Give attendees a handout with pictures of exercises they're not familiar with, including an explanation of why they should perform it a certain way. The lecture format is less intimidating and more inviting for some people; however, they may then sign up for personal training to learn more.

At the Baltimore Country Club, Baltimore, Md., we offer monthly programs coordinated with golf and tennis seasons so members get a form of periodized training specifically for their sport. Not only does this generate more personal training revenue from members who weren't interested in one-on-one training, there are plenty of "lesson" members who are so impressed by the knowledge and skills of the personal trainers that they move to "sessions" for more personalized attention.

Lower the price, but not really

There's no physiological reason to offer only 60-minute sessions. The marketplace demands it, but you can also offer 20- and 30-minute sessions, plus semi-private ones. Clients are paying for results, not necessarily minutes of training time (although you may have to remind them of the difference). These strategies lower the price to the member, yet yield more income per unit of time for you and your trainers. Everyone wins.

Make your personal training department an integral part of everything you do in your fitness center, and you can't help but increase the percentage of members taking advantage of what your trainers have to offer.

     
 

A New Billing Structure for Personal Training

By Brandon Flowers and Rick Caputo February 2008

The personal training industry has been struggling for a system that provides a consistent, more predictable income stream. Many organizations and individual trainers use a system of selling sessions that are bundled together, which typically offer volume discounts to clients. Others use a system that requires clients to pay for their session every time.

When the time comes for trainers to prepare a monthly budget for their expenses, and correlate that list with their projected revenue for the month, it can be a difficult and frustrating process, since clients are not paying on a preset schedule. This method also makes it easy for clients to reconsider their commitment if they haven't paid up front. What can possibly be done to change this process?

A monthly schedule for getting paid Fitness managers should consider charging for training services the same way they charge for memberships: on a monthly basis. To consistently receive some monthly revenue from clients, you can invoice them initially for the training sessions they are projected to complete in the upcoming month. This "pay in advance" system has clients pay for their fitness programming on a specific date each month.

To make this payment process more convenient, you can accept payments from a credit or debit card. This gives you and your organization control over the exact day you'll have your clients' funds deposited into your bank account. There is usually a fee of 2 to 5 percent of the gross dollar amount that will be charged by the credit card processing company for this service. However, it is comforting to know that the money will be in your account on the days you select, instead of having to wait for a client's check to arrive.

Of course, many clients may still wish to pay for their training with a check. If your invoice reflects that a payment is due on a specific date, such as the first of the month, it should also stipulate that a late fee will apply if the payment is received after the fifth of the month. When sending the invoice, be sure to include a pre-addressed return envelope. This small extra step encourages those who pay with a check to treat you just as they would any other service provider.

This payment system keeps the money aspect of personal fitness separate from the experience clients have at each training session. It will also save trainers from having to ask clients for the money they owe.

Requesting payments after providing services Another twist on this plan, which can be effective for people who travel frequently or can't commit to a consistent monthly schedule, is to invoice clients after their training sessions have been completed. The obstacle here is that many in the fitness business have been conditioned to believe that if they are not paid up-front for their services, then they will be exposing themselves to the risk of clients quitting their program with an outstanding balance due. However, if you are doing business with people who appear to be reputable, and are truly seeking you out for the benefits your programs offer, the likelihood of acquiring a non-paying client is slim - especially if they are members of your facility. In fact, clients who pay after their sessions are often the ones who pay early - they do not want to feel accountable to you for a long period of time since you have already provided a quality service to them.

Group session options If you offer small group personal training as a reduced-cost option, you might consider having your clients pay for their monthly programming with a credit card based on a predetermined commitment level. For example, clients can commit to one, three or six months at a time. You can offer these sessions in a predetermined time slot once, twice or three times per week. Most months have four of the same days of the week in them, such as four Mondays, four Tuesdays, etc. This equates to four, eight or 12 sessions per month, based on a commitment level of once, twice or three times per week. Fees should not change if there happens to be five Fridays, for example, in a particular month. Those are considered bonus sessions.

The program operates like a season ticket - the session occurs whether your client is present or not. Typically, make-ups are only allowed during other sessions on a space-available basis. When clients become aware that training spots are at a premium, they are less likely to miss their usual sessions.

You can develop a consistent revenue stream by only accepting credit cards for this training option. Plus, you can process payments between the 25th and the 31st of the month, in advance, for the upcoming month. This ensures that sales revenue will be generated during the last week of every month on a consistent basis.

A more-predictable income Instead of having a system of purchasing training sessions as a package, where clients are left debating whether the timing is right to make another randomly timed, large-dollar-amount commitment to your program, consider rethinking your pricing strategy. Enjoy the benefits of having more consistent, predictable income each month, while reducing your clients' focus on their financial commitment to you.

Brandon Flowers, B.A., RTS, CPT, and Rick Caputo, RTS, CPT, are the principal owners of The Dynamic Advantage, a professional fitness training business based in Eagle Rock, Calif. Their company specializes in portable personal fitness programs for older adults and cancer and organ transplant survivors, and corporate programs for medical centers and corporations such as NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. Visit them online at www.dynamicstrength.com.