Everything You Need to Know to Get Awesome Referrals From Personal Trainers

Marketing is no fun.

For years the word “marketing” conjured up thoughts of sleazy pitchmen and ads full of unsubstantiated claims. It didn’t seem like much fun. In fact, it seemed like something I didn’t want to be involved in at all.

“Marketing sucks,” I thought. But so did my client roster.

With a young child and a single income just surviving wasn’t good enough.

Given I lacked the money for fancy advertising I set out on a journey to find a way of getting the word out about my services to potential clients. There were many options out there but they all had price tags attached and made some rather outlandish promises.

I needed something that wouldn’t break the bank.

Something I could live with. Something that didn’t spread half-truths or make empty promises. Something that worked.

What I soon learned is that my initial impressions of marketing couldn’t have been more wrong. Marketing doesn’t have to suck. You are the one in control. You can market your services ethically and have fun if you put in the work. The work, in this case, consists of building relationships and a referral network which can keep you busy without risky ad campaigns or flashy “click funnels”.

Sustainable marketing efforts all come back to building value for both those in your network and your clients.

The following process is the same process I used as a fitness coach. This process has been refined to help Massage Therapists pull great coaches/personal trainers into their referral networks with the help of my co-author (a former personal trainer and current RMT) Keenan Hollingsworth.

The Benefits of Trainer Referrals

Before we dig into the process of building a referral network let’s first talk a bit about what makes personal trainers a great source of patient referrals for Massage Therapists.

A personal trainer is someone your patient sees very regularly, often multiple times per week, every week, for months or even years on end. One of the biggest reasons people stay with their trainer long-term is the strong relationship they develop; there is trust, camaraderie, and mutual respect. This rapport goes a long way when it comes to referrals. People trust their trainer, and having the trainer’s stamp of approval is going to make it much easier for you to get the patient in the door, and have them buy into the treatment plan.

Personal trainers are told by their clients about all the client’s little aches and pains, old injuries which they felt hadn’t healed properly, or certain exercises they couldn’t perform because their “ _____ is falling apart”.

Unfortunately, the truth is that these complaints often go unaddressed because the trainer hearing them doesn’t have a trusted source they can refer to. Building a strong connection with a personal trainer can lead those “my knee has been killing me lately, I can’t-do squats” comments into new patients for you, and hopefully, in turn, better feeling knees for the client!

A huge benefit of working with a personal trainer is home-care.

We all know patients can struggle with completing their home-care. Whether it’s due to lack of motivation, feeling like they don’t have time, being uncomfortable performing the exercises unsupervised, or any other of a million reasons, “compliance” can be a difficult hurdle. A good personal trainer is a perfect adjunct to this.

If you communicate properly with the patient’s trainer, they can help reinforce the importance of doing the home-care, and help the patient work through it during their sessions. If I think a patient will benefit from strengthening their upper back, what’s going to be more effective, sending them home to do rows with a TheraBand, or working with their trainer to program in a variety of progressively harder upper back movements within the workout they are already going to be doing? Someone who’s going to coach them through every exercise, push them for quality technique and effort, while programming in methodical increases to improve strength and endurance…or their kid watching them fumble around in the kitchen trying to remember exactly how to do an exercise they were taught them 3 days ago? I think the answer is clear (and it isn’t the TheraBand).

A lot of research is beginning to highlight just how important “general exercise” really is, for health, mental wellbeing, and even pain management. Unfortunately saying “just go out and get some exercise” can be a daunting task. If a patient mentions the desire to “get in shape”, or the need to “get back to the gym”, having a personal trainer you can trust to work with them in a safe, effective way is an amazing resource.

Whether they just want one session to learn what to do on their own, or they’re looking for a long-term trainer, being able to recommend someone with a similar philosophy and message as you, is valuable to both you and the patient.

Define Who You Are Looking For

The first step to finding the best referral sources is to define the type of client/patient you are looking for.

Experienced trainers often specialize and target a specific population. This can mean that while some work with the general population others focus on specific genders, ages, sports, levels of athletic performance etc. If you define your dream population it will start to narrow down the list of trainers you should be trying to recruit into your network.

Once the perfect client has been defined it’s time to think about the perfect referral source. Personal Trainers with an approach similar to your own will always provide better referrals than trying to solicit everyone to pass your name along. As a Personal

Personal Trainers with an approach similar to your own will always provide better referrals than trying to solicit everyone to pass your name along. As a Personal Trainer, I want someone in my network who understands the value of exercise, the power of the words we use and the importance of evidence. I also want someone who is used to working with a wide range of athletes. The more my clientele aligns with a Massage Therapist, the more people I can refer to them.

Think of the values that define your massage practice. On a lined scrap of paper record these values. This set of values can function as a checklist which you can quickly refer to, allowing you to decide if someone will ultimately be a benefit to your network or more trouble than they are worth.

Referrals are a two-way street. If you don’t trust a trainer’s expertise enough that you would feel comfortable sending patients their way, it is not worth your time to recruit them into your referral network.

Getting To Know The Locals

Providing a service which revolves around physical contact means local clients are needed.

As such, a strong local referral network is one of the keys to success. Building this network isn’t as complex as it may seem. If you live in a place which is large enough to support your business, you live in a place where there are trainers who want to be part of your network.

Finding them isn’t as hard as it may seem at first.

In my experience the better relationship you have with a potential lead the higher chance you have of bringing them into your network. Due to this, I like to start with the people closest to me and work my way out to new contacts and relationships.

Marketing is all about building and supporting relationships and this task is no exception.

Start With The People You Know

This step seems hard for many people.

To ask those they know if they would be interested in forming a mutual referral relationship takes courage as it opens a person up to rejection, but if you believe in your service (and theirs), not asking is a missed opportunity.

My favorite approach in this situation (especially if you are prone to nervousness), is to write down who and how you are going to ask in advance and don’t over think it. Contact every trainer you can, be it a new relationship or one that has slipped into the past.

Take an interest in what they are doing, ask about both work and life outside of it but eventually come around to explaining that you are open for referrals and open to referring to them. Build on the relationships you have as chances are if you trust in them already they trust in you as well.

Ask The People You Know If They Know Anyone

Trainees are passionate about their personal trainers.

If they think their trainer is amazing they will tell you. Likewise, if they think they need a new one they will tell you that too. Asking friends, colleagues, and family for introductions to their trainers is a win-win-win situation. Not only does the person you are asking feel their opinion is valued but the trainer feels valued to be considered worthy of consideration and you gain a potential lead.

Ask EVERYONE whose opinion you value.

Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, and other healthcare professionals are great sources especially if they are already in a trainer’s referral network but anyone in a highly social profession could be an exceptional source for information about local personal trainers.

Trainers often target highly social professionals as referral sources so real estate agents, lawyers etc. all may have been approached previously by the trainers you are trying to target.

Social Media

Social Media is ubiquitous, it is the perfect tool to find local, proficient and engaging individuals able who are able to provide clientele fitting the criteria you defined earlier.

Almost every trainer has a social media presence and almost every trainer is looking for ways to increase client retention and acquisition rates.

The most effective way I have found to locate Personal Trainers and other referral sources on social media are by using Facebook. Facebook provides query filters which allow the narrowing of friend searches to your current city, hometown, mutual friends etc. This is a powerful tool. Search, pick the people that seem to best fit your desired criteria and start communicating. Posting insightful comments on things that they post, friend requesting them as you build a repertoire and then speaking via messenger is extremely effective. It’s not an immediate payoff but relationships take time. A little effort each day is all that it takes.

It’s not an immediate payoff but relationships take time. A little effort each day is all that it takes.

Of course with local personal trainers, the real goal here is to meet them in person and see if both your clients and theirs would benefit from being part of the same referral network.

Meet, Connect, And Assess

The main task you have in the first meeting with a potential referral source is to get to know them and for them to get to know you.

Finding common ground is a requirement before trying to convince them of your value and bring them into the fold. Most of this should have been done via your messenger conversations but this is a chance to build on it.

Buy them a coffee (or a beer if they so please) and just have a conversation without thinking too much about referrals and such. What makes or breaks your referral chances is the personal connection. Essentially they are buying into you, not just the value of your services. Keep it light, keep it fun, and don’t be a pushy salesman, nobody likes that crap. More than likely work and the purpose of the meeting will come up naturally as it will be a “common thread” which is easy to fall back on when conversation stalls.

Just like a date, if it goes well follow-up, heck even if it doesn’t go all that well follow up. The trainer that doesn’t mesh with your style may know another one who does. Don’t burn bridges if you don’t have to. 

The follow-up, continuing to speak to people on a regular basis, and offering support (where you can) is probably the most overlooked variable involved in getting people to refer patients your way. A continued line of communication builds trust, it keeps you in their minds and it shows you are in this for more than just yourself.

Photo by: StartupStockPhotos

Expanding Beyond The Locals

Due to the rapid expansion of online training and trainers working remotely, the potential for referrals from trainers all over the world now exists.

A personal trainer in Cork, Ireland may have a client in Burbank, California for example. Trainers are no longer limited by geographical location which means they can work with people who are local to you.

If they don’t they probably know someone who does. Bringing trainers from all over the world into your network and expanding globally is the same process as with local trainers.

Sure you can also join mutual Facebook groups, use Twitter, Instagram etc. but the idea is the same. It is all relationship building. Meeting for coffee gets replaced by meeting via video chat or a phone call but the steps remain the same.

The Process in 35 Words Or Less

  • Define who you are looking for
  • Ask your existing network for introductions
  • Search using Facebook’s search modifiers
  • Comment on their posts to open the lines of communication
  • Move it to messenger
  • Video chat
  • Keep communicating, nurture the relationship

A Word About Incentives

Small personalized gifts are a great way to leave a lasting impression and keep you in their mind but never devalue your services. I’ve sent books, birthday cakes, and cufflinks but I’ve never provided a discount on my services to get people signed up. If you provide value they will pay what you are worth. No discount needed.


In many ways building a referral network is not unlike building a client base. The ideal person of interest must be defined and a search for such a person must be undertaken. This initial phase is followed by building/expressing value over time. It isn’t a “quick fix” but a strategy for long-term growth. Answers to common questions can be pre-written and rehearsed but relationships can’t be automated. In a world of gimmicks and inauthenticity personal connection is what will make you stand apart from the crowd.