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5 Steps That Could Help You Retain 87% of Your Members


It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to figure out that retaining your members is one of the most important factors in your business’ success. The situation we find ourselves in 2020 has emphasized the need to build long-lasting relationships with members when growth just isn’t possible at the scale it was previously. And the secret to building long-lasting relationships with members? 

A highly effective onboarding process.

The reason for this is that if your members are onboarded correctly, they are likely to stay loyal for longer. In fact, there are studies to prove this – most notably by retention expert Dr. Paul Bedford. In his landmark study entitled One Million Strong: An In-Depth Study of Member Retention in North America, one of his key findings was around the effectiveness of a thorough onboarding process – 87% of members onboarded correctly still remained active after 6 months. 

It can’t be overstated enough that how you welcome a member into your gym defines your long term relationship with them. However, there are still a lot of gym owners getting this wrong. Worse still, they aren’t identifying the key gaps where you can potentially lose a member forever… 

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Member Onboarding: What You Need to Know

Onboarding can mean many different things to many different gym owners. For some, it’s just a simple hello and tour around the facility before leaving the member to their own devices. For others, it’s so much more. It’s actually about setting this member up for success so they can achieve their goals – when they succeed you succeed. 

The Purpose of Effective Member Onboarding

According to this article from Hubspot, there are two main reasons why a customer churns. They either don’t understand the product or  don’t understand the value they obtain from it. In the sales process, you have sold them on both these areas – but along the line, the messaging gets muddled and lost (including one key area we will look at later in the article). 

Effective onboarding can go a long way to solving these issues. Getting the experience right from day one is crucial. In a 2018 IHRSA webinar on member retention, Don Murphy, a Managing Partner of Gold’s Gym in Newbury New York, described the purpose of onboarding as this: 

“How are you delivering the valuable programs and amenities to your brand new people in a way that they are inspired, they are educated, and they are empowered to make their own decisions? That is the purpose of onboarding.”

The real key part of this description is empowering your members to make their own decisions. You don’t want to hold their hand everyday for the duration of their membership  – and you won’t have to if you hold their hand in the crucial first 90 days..

The Key Area Where You Can Lose A Member Forever 

As well as being the author of One Million Strong, Dr. Bedford has also been a guest on our podcast, The Fitness Founders Podcast. In this value-packed conversation, Dr. Bedford explained the one key in the members’ journey where you can lose them forever – and it’s likely an area you wouldn’t think of. 

According to him, the drop off occurs in the handover between sales and onboarding. The salesperson puts all this time and effort into building a positive relationship with the member and then once they have signed off, the next form of communication is from the onboarding person, and they never hear from the salesperson again. 

The main takeaway from this is that you need to make sure every handover in the member’s journey is seamless and the relationship built is not just transactional in nature. For example, as part of the onboarding process, the salesperson should check in a couple of times over the first 90 days to show they are truly invested in the member’s success and not just interested in getting a sale out of them. 

Recognizing these gaps and putting the right systems in place goes a long way to improving the members’ experience. Another factor overlooked in onboarding is that new gym members are different and different types of members require a different type of onboarding – let’s look at this closer in the next part of the article.  

The 3 Different Types of New Members

Not every person who joins your gym will be the same. They won’t have the same experience, fitness levels, or confidence. It’s crucial that you recognize this. And while most gym owners with any experience in the industry will notice the two main categories of “new exerciser” and “experienced exerciser,” one particular category can trip gym owners up – let’s take a closer look at each category. 

The New Exerciser: This type of person has never really set foot in a gym before. Usually they will need the most “hand-holding” to get them where they need to go in terms of results. With this type of new member, the fear is the person will be too intimidated to attend after their first couple of times – this person will need the most attention. 

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The Experienced Exerciser: This person is pretty self-explanatory – an exerciser who has attended the gym a lot before, is likely in good shape and doesn’t need their hand held constantly. With this type of person, engage with them with the mindset that they know what they’re doing and that you are there to facilitate their continued improvement. 

The Yo-Yo Exerciser: The one type of new member that fitness studios routinely overlook is the yo-yo exerciser. This person is best described as someone who has been a member of a gym before but didn’t stay for one reason or another. The danger here is that they can sometimes be categorised into a “experienced exerciser. The reason being is that they usually answer “yes” when asked if they have ever been a member of a gym before. 

Now that we have looked at the purpose of onboarding, the places you can lose a new member, and the types of new members you may encounter, let’s look at the steps you should put in place to create an effective onboarding process. 

5 Steps to Creating A Churn Proof Onboarding Plan 

Creating an onboarding process that will retain the majority members should be one of the main goals of your business. The pandemic has taught us a lot about the value of current members. No matter what happens, if you have invested time into their success from day one, they are more likely to stay loyal. The following steps are based on the excellent conversation we had member experience expert Chris Stevenson on an episode of our podcast. 

1. Have a Clear Idea of Who You Are

Know who your brand is and communicate this at every level of your organisation – we wrote about this extensively in this article on building out a branding strategy. It may seem like something you have established already with your business but it’s always good to review what exactly your values are. 

Chris Stevenson makes the point that you need to have an organisation that actually cares about providing a great member experience. Your vision, values and purpose needs to all focus on providing this great experience – and a big part of this is hiring the right people to carry this out. 

2. Hire and Onboard With a Focus on Member Experience

Before you onboard your members, you will need to make sure that your staff are onboarded –  meaning they fully understand their roles and responsibilities when it comes to providing a great member experience.

In the hiring process, Chris advises that you focus the interview around the member experience.  For example, he always recommends asking to describe a good experience they have had as a customer. You really want to find out if someone knows and understands what makes a great experience – that way they are more likely to be a better culture fit. 

3. Set Out Clear Goals With the Member 

First and foremost, a person is joining your fitness facility for one key reason – results. When it comes down to it if you can help a member achieve their fitness goals, they are far more likely to stay with you. A big part of building a relationship and showing you care is to make sure members get where they want to go. 

It’s very likely that in the sales process the sales person will discuss goal setting with a potential member so make sure this is carried over to onboarding. As we discussed earlier in the article, the gap can be where a member is lost so have your process set up correctly. Once the goals are clear in the beginning you can tailor an onboarding program that sets them on the road to success.

4. Communicate Early and Often with New Members 

One of the important points Chris makes in our interview is around communication with new members. Something he points out, that often probably isn’t done, is that you should set out expectations of how often communication will happen between you and the new member. Preframe the sequence of emails they will be getting so they don’t feel bombarded with communication. 

Another great tip is to have a welcome call for new members from a general manager, along with sending out a handwritten welcome postcard. Both these seem like small gestures but will go a long way to putting new members at ease. After that it’s a 90 day process where the communication sequence you have set out with the member continues. Chris recommends check-ins at 30, 60, and 90 days with quick check-ins in between depending on attendance – it’s all about keeping them accountable to the goals they have set out.

5. Consider a Rewards Program

Regular communication with a member is key, but the communication also has to be valuable. If you are just bombarding a new member with calls and emails to tick a box, they will see through it. Always have something of value for the member – like a reminder if they turn up two more times for class, they are in line for a reward. 

According to Chris, a rewards program is a great way to incentivize your members to turn up. It’s a technique he has used with great success before. Many gyms don’t care if a person shows up or not after they’ve signed up. However if you actually give them something for turning up a set amount of times, you are showing that you do care. This will help them establish a routine and make working out a habit. 

In Summary

New members need a roadmap to success and it’s your job to provide this with a great onboarding experience. The most fundamental part of this is to show that you care about the member and are invested in where they want to go. In a time where the industry is changing due to the rise of digital it’s important to get the simple things right – and it’s very simple to show a new member that you want them to succeed and follow through on that. 


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Owner at Carpe Diem BJJ

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