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7 Alternative Marketing Strategies to Digital Ads for Gyms

Published on: 
03 October 19
Posted in: 
11 min read

Everyone is telling you to use ads! While ads work, they are quickly getting more expensive. According to WordStream data, the average cost per click for the fitness industry is $1.90 US (i.e. approximately 1.73 Euros). If it takes 100 clicks to test a campaign, you could quickly pay nearly $200 to fine-tune your campaign. To diversify your fitness business, you need to know how to get fitness clients without ads.  

Relying on a single method to acquire clients puts your fitness business at risk. If you only use Facebook ads, you are at the mercy of that platform. If they change the rules, disapprove of your ads or make some other change, your growth may stall. That’s why we have six strategies to get fitness clients without ads. To see some of these non-advertising strategies in action, listen to our podcast with Stuart Brauer, owner of WTF Gym Talk, on “outside of the box organic lead generation.” 

Skip ahead to:

1. Launch a referral program

Asking for referrals from your current and past clients is one of the best and simplest ways to grow your fitness business. Unfortunately, gym owners and small business owners leave this to chance. Not you! You are going to use a structured process to generate new referrals every month. If you have never been this assertive in requesting referrals, this process might feel uncomfortable. Please stick with us because this process works! 

Use the following steps

Write out a Referral Request Script: When you are new to referral requests, you might not ask for them because you don’t know what to say. Keep it simple to start with. Use the script below and customize it for your gym:

Referral Request script:

“CLIENT NAME: it has been great to have you as a member since DATE. Can you think of one person you know who wants to fit fitness in their life? If so, can you send over their contact details?”

To take this strategy to the next level, transform it into a competition. The top person who brings you referrals this year gets one month free next year! If you are working with competitive clients, this kind of friendly competition is an excellent way to encourage more referrals.

Schedule time to ask for referrals: Asking for referrals sometimes does not happen because there is no time on the schedule to do it. We are going to fix that problem right now. Open your calendar – paper or digital – and put 20 minutes on your calendar tomorrow to ask for a referral. That is more than enough time to make one referral request.

Ask for one referral this week: Put your script and time allocated for referrals into action. Send a text, an email, or make a call to a current customer and ask them for a referral.

Follow up with referral requests: Only a small number of people will provide immediate referral introductions. Everybody else needs to follow up! Make a reminder to follow up 5-7 days from now on your request. Once you receive a referral, send a thank you note to the person who provided the referral introduction.

2. Establish Affiliate Partnerships

Once you are familiar with requesting referrals, you can enhance that strategy further by recruiting affiliate partners. Think of this strategy as systematic referrals. By paying a commission or other reward to your affiliates, you give other companies an incentive to send you new clients.

For fitness companies, the best affiliate partnerships come from others in the health and fitness industry. For example, think about how many of your clients have a weight loss goal when they join your gym. Now, ask yourself who else interacts with people seeking weight loss. The possibilities include nutritionists, physicians, nurses, and health coaches. 

To implement this tactic, make a list of 10 affiliates and reach out to them to propose an affiliate relationship. For example, offer an affiliate fee of $50 for each new signup you receive. If you charge $50 per month and most clients stay for at least a year, you will easily make a return on your investment. Cash payment is not the only way to reward your affiliates. You can also offer payment in kind, such as giving them access to your group fitness class.

3. Public Speaking

Building a personal brand as a fitness expert is an excellent strategy to attract more clients. Clients interested in improving their health feel overwhelmed with all of the options in the marketplace. Every month, there is a new diet program or a new exercise technique. You can help deliver clarity and generate leads through public speaking.

How to implement this strategy:

Develop three speaking topics: Before you approach speaking opportunities, you need to have a few topics in mind. For fitness entrepreneurs, it is best to combine storytelling with advice. For example, prepare one topic about how you helped a coach potato run his first marathon in 3 months. 

Create a list of 10 speaking venues: Look for events in your local community that feature guest speakers. To get the inspiration rolling, start by browsing through event listings on and 

Attend a few events that look relevant: Before you speak at an event, do your homework by attending an event yourself. This will help you better understand the event and whether it is suitable to attract fitness clients. While you are there, make sure to introduce yourself to the event organizers or volunteers.

Reach out to pitch yourself as a speaker:  Using your speaking topics and what you learned from attending the event, reach out by email or phone to propose yourself as a speaker.

There is one downside to the public speaking strategy. Usually, it takes a while to generate a following and generate leads. However, leads you generate through public speaking are easier to sell since they already know about your approach to fitness.

4. Offer Free Fitness Workshops

Have you ever been offered a free sample of a new product? This class marketing strategy is an excellent way to introduce new people to your business. In a product business, offering a free sample is straight forward because you hand over a unit to the customer. In a fitness business, it is a bit different. You face a real opportunity cost if you give away a free 30-minute session without charge.

The solution is to offer a free group session. For example, one day per month offer a 1-hour drop-in session where people can visit for a free workshop. You can vary the theme of your workshop, depending on the season. In the late winter, design a “get ready for summer” workshop where you provide an overview of a fitness program and invite attendees to sign up. At other times, you can offer a seminar tied to a specific sport such as a “couch potato to 5KM” process.

For this strategy to succeed, make sure you follow these critical tips.

  • Set a limit on the number of attendees. We recommend 20 as a limit to start with so that you have the opportunity to answer questions.
  • Get contact information. In sales and marketing, there is a rule of thumb that only about 3% of people are ready to buy Everybody else needs to think about it. Make sure they think about YOUR fitness business by gathering contact information and following up with them regularly.
  • Offer an incentive to sign up immediately. Give your workshop attendees an incentive to sign up during the workshop session. For example, you may decide to offer a 10% discount for immediate sign-up. Even better, look for a time-limited bonus item to offer, such as a free copy of your fitness ebook or another resource.

5. Experiment with Influencer Marketing

Starting an influencer marketing campaign to get fitness clients doesn’t need to be difficult. You don’t have to spend millions of dollars either. Instead, you can work with “micro-influencers.” After all, most fitness companies and gyms want clients in their local area, so signing up with a national or global celebrity doesn’t make sense. 

To get started with influencer marketing, begin with platforms and people you already know. If you have a dedicated client who never misses a workout and they are active on Instagram, reach out to them. They might only have 500 followers, but they might be willing to promote you in return for some added personal fitness attention. 

To scale up your influencer marketing program, expect to pay for the privilege. There are two ways to find paid influencer relationships. First, you can put do it yourself – search for people with a following on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms and reach out to them. This one to one approach gives you maximum flexibility. On the other hand, if you want a hands-off approach to finding influencers and setting terms, consider working with an influencer marketing service like Scrunch or CreatorIQ

Influencer marketing is an excellent way to borrow the credibility of the influencer for your gym. If you don’t have a budget for it, use one of the other strategies we have covered in this article.

6. Systematize Your Follow Up Program

You are missing new deals every day. Fortunately, it is easy to stop the bleeding. Implement a follow-up system and habit. Every time you meet new interested people, commit to following up with them regularly. For this practice to work, you need to make it a regular habit – half-hearted follow up activities do not work. 

To put this change into effect, start by selecting a CRM (customer relationship management) system. When you consistently use a CRM, you never need to worry about questions like “when did I last speak with this prospect?” The system tracks it all automatically for you.

Your next step is to build the follow-up habit into your weekly routine. To get the habit started, we recommend scheduling two thirty-minute blocks on your calendar each week. For example, 8:30-9 am on Monday morning and 1-1:30 pm on Thursday. During these times, you will not accept other meetings or take on other activities. Instead, you will call, email, text, or message with your contacts. If you are using the other strategies in this article, you will have a few points to mention in your follow up. You can invite them to a free workshop or a speaking event. Alternatively, you can chat with them about their fitness goals and what progress they are making.

Book Recommendation: To build a regular habit like following up with past leads, it is helpful to have a habit methodology. We recommend “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

7. Leverage Your Network

We saved the best for last. Your network is one of your most crucial business-building assets if you manage it effectively. Before you start messaging everybody you know with an offer to train with you, you need to prepare. Specifically, you need to assess the strength of your relationships with these three questions.

Start with your warm connections: Before anything else, reach out to people you already know online and offline. Tell them about your fitness company and your latest offerings. Perhaps you just launched a new group fitness program after you read our post on 3 Program Ideas for Group Workouts. Tell them about it.

Add new contacts to your network each week: Each week, set a goal to add 1-5 new people to your network. This habit will help you acquire new clients over time.

Ask for referrals and meetings: Now that you have completed these questions, you can start to reach out to your network. There are a few different types of outreach to use. First, you have direct sales outreach – start a conversation and discover if your contact is interested in what you have to offer. Putting your fitness client acquisition program into action this week.

In Summary

We’ve given you several strategies to get more fitness clients without ads. Your next step is to make a choice. Review the list and choose one strategy to put into action this week. 

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