What is marketing? Is it taking an ad out in a newspaper, sending a direct mail piece to potential customers, setting up a booth at a local trade show or establishing a solid promotion? The reality is that marketing is all those things. Marketing is everything. A big picture definition of marketing is letting your community know who you are, what you do and enticing them to check out your services. It includes all the typical marketing and advertising options but is so much more than that. It is everything that represents you, everything you do, how you act, how you talk, what you wear, how your customers are treated, the results your clients achieve and the vibe or energy of your business. Marketing encompasses all these things, and the bottom line is that your marketing message needs to be consistent.

Of course, few fitness clubs have the marketing and advertising budget of Nike, so not only do we have to get our message to potential customers but we have to do it in a creative and cost-effective manner.

Most fitness departments that struggle to reach their revenue potential or participation goals are behind the eight ball when it comes to their marketing plan. Either they don’t have a plan at all and are winging it or they have a plan but by the time they start to initiate the process, it’s too late to do any real good. Do you have a plan for the entire year? If not, take some time to map out a plan to ensure a year of successes. If you don’t take the time to do this, you will most likely spend the year in urgency mode. You don’t want to be thinking about a Mother’s Day promotion the week before Mother’s Day.

A good marketing plan should include internal initiatives, external initiatives and team development. Here are the basics for each:

1. Internal marketing initiatives: It’s typically more cost effective to spend your energy and marketing dollars in this area first. This would include ensuring you have a plan for:

  • Team attire
  • What type of training style your team adheres to
  • What type of equipment your team has access to
  • Client forms and materials
  • Client newsletters
  • Referral campaigns
  • Gift certificate promotions (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day)
  • Brochures/fliers posted throughout facility
  • Bulletin boards
  • Educational seminars
  • Group programs and active adventures
  • Client parties/get-togethers/fund-raisers


2. External marketing initiatives: At some point, you must branch outside of your current clientele base and facility into your community. This would include:

  • Memberships to business alliances
  • Community trade shows/events
  • Cross promotions/strategic alliances
  • Media relations
  • Guest speaking/guest instructing
  • Donations/auctions


3. Team development: If you’re going to spend a lot of time and money marketing your programs and services, be sure to spend a great deal of time developing your team so they can provide the experience that is consistent with your marketing message. This would include:

  • Team meetings
  • Individual meetings and role playing
  • Weekly communication memos
  • Evaluations
  • Team get-togethers/parties
  • Continuing education


Here was our January 2010 sample marketing plan. Feel free to use it as a template. You should establish a template like this for each month of the year:



Sherri McMillan, M.Sc., has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 20 years and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, the 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, and the 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year. Her million-dollar training studios in Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA, have received Better Business Bureau Business of the Year recognition. McMillan is a fitness trainer, a fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals (including “Go For Fit—The Winning Way to Fat Loss,” “Fit over Forty” and “The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing”), a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, an international fitness presenter, and a spokesperson for Nike, Nautilus, Twist Conditioning and PowerBar. She can be reached at www.nwFitnessEducation.com or http://sherrimcmillan.blogspot.com.