Five Internal Marketing Strategies to Retain Clients and Get Referrals


Never underestimate the social aspect of fitness. In today’s ultra-competitive landscape, the success of your fitness business often requires you to look internally.

The clients you have are your biggest cheerleaders or sometimes referred to as your “talkers.” 

When these individuals leave your business, they will talk about you to their friends and their family. In fact, they want to talk about you. You or your trainers have inspired them to change or see results. These are the people you need to leverage.

People are more apt to provide referrals when they are in a heightened emotional state. And guess what? It’s your job to get them there. Asking for referrals doesn’t have to be daunting but something every fitness studio and gym must integrate into their business strategy.

Here is an example of how to integrate referrals into a conversation in a way that heightens their emotional state:

Client: “How are you?”

You: “I’m outstanding!”

Client: “Wow! Why? What happened?”

You: “Oh I’m just ecstatic because one of our members just referred their good friend to us to become a member here, and I just love it when our members trust us enough to introduce us to other people who they are close to.”

Here are five tips for retaining members and getting referrals:

1. Create a referral culture. The above conversation is part of that equation. Your clients should know how much you appreciate referrals and that it’s “what we do” at this studio or gym. Show your gratitude, recognize those who refer and shout it from the rooftops when someone does.

2. Make it easy. We use a VIP 30-day membership card that is only given out for a specific person who our client has mentioned. By handing them a VIP membership card and saying, “I heard you mention how close you are with your sister, Janet. I was just thinking how great it would be if Janet could come in and work out with you. Here’s a 30-day VIP pass for Janet.”

3. Reward them when they refer. By rewarding someone when they refer someone, you are rewarding that behavior, which usually means they’ll do it again. Send them a handwritten thank-you card at the very least. We give them $50 worth of “studio bucks” to use, and if someone has referred us a lot of people, we will find something individual for that person that they will love.

4. Publicly recognize anyone who has referred someone. We have a chalkboard that says, “We Think You Rock!” and we list the names of everyone who has referred us someone that month. This board creates conversation in the gym, such as questions about how to get on the board. Many times, clients will take a picture of the board with their name on it and post it on their Facebook page.

5. Timing is everything. A big mistake is not asking for the referral when members are excited. We ask for referrals when they first come in by asking if anyone is supporting them on this journey. At the beginning is when they are talking to their friends and loved ones about joining your gym. Another example is after they hit a milestone, for example, after they lose their first 10 pounds or a dress size. The point is, don’t wait to ask.

There are many referral strategies studio owners can implement, but seeing results and taking care of the little things will ultimately go a long way in today’s competitive fitness studio space.


Rachel Cosgrove has co-owned and operated Results Fitness in Southern California since 2000. She was the 2012 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year. She has authored two best selling books, "The Female Body Breakthrough" and "Drop Two Sizes," published with Rodale. She also created the Drop Two Sizes DVD set. Cosgrove lectures nationally and internationally on topics such as strength training, fat loss, business and nutrition. She is a consultant for Nike and is on its advisory board. Cosgrove is a columnist for Women's Health Magazine and has been featured in almost every fitness magazine on the market. She oversees a team of 22 people who help her run the gym while she works full time coaching up-and-coming fitness professionals through, a resource for trainers to join in to the mission of changing the way fitness is done. Cosgrove also is a featured content contributor to the Association of Fitness Studios.

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