Jim Thomas is the founder and president of Fitness Management USA Inc., a management consulting and turnaround firm specializing in the fitness and health club industry. With more than 25 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, Thomas lectures and delivers seminars and workshops on the practical skills required to successfully build teamwork and market fitness programs and products.

“What am I doing wrong?” That’s the question I hear most often from health club owners and managers when membership sales have slowed. Many times, the answer is that you aren’t doing anything wrong. You just need to do some things better, and you need to start doing a few things you’ve left out of the membership sales process.

Here are some proven ideas you can refer to when you choose to evaluate your own sales and marketing efforts in your health club—and they apply not only to your membership sales, but to personal training, juice bar and almost anything else you market and sell in your health club.

1. Target specific niche markets in marketing your health club. Everyone within a 3-mile radius of your facility may be a prospect for a health club membership. But your monthly marketing efforts will produce the best results for the lowest acquisition cost when you target prospects with the greatest need for what you offer. Identify a niche market for your marketing. Customize your marketing materials to appeal to their greatest need. Then multiply your health club marketing results by defining several other niche markets for your health club and slanting your marketing materials to appeal to the biggest need of prospects in each niche.

2. Promote your health club’s USP in everything you do. Your USP is your unique selling position. It’s the compelling reason why a prospect would join your club instead of the one around the corner. You’ll attract the maximum number of new members when you offer a benefit they cannot get from other health clubs. If you don’t already have a USP, create one by adding something to your health club you’re not already offering. Convert it into a benefit statement and include that statement in all your marketing, advertising and membership sales presentations.

3. Never advertise without a clear offer (with an expiration date). Always include a powerful offer (only one, by the way) when advertising your health club. For example, offer free information related to your membership, personal training or other services to generate telephone inquiries or website traffic. Then, make the most compelling membership discount or bonus time offer you can afford to convert these inquiring health club prospects into new membership sales or personal training clients.

4. Collect contact information and follow up with prospects. Most club prospects won’t rush right in and join your health club the first time they hear or see your sales message. You’ll need to have a system to collect contact information, enabling you to reach them periodically with reminders and offers. More than 50 percent of membership sales will come through the follow-up you do with club prospects or guests who previously requested information but hadn’t yet joined. Advertising and marketing are expensive. Maximize your return and acquisition cost on your marketing by following up periodically with the prospects it produced to convert more of them into new members.

5. Remove any risk to joining your health club. Do you know the main reason why people don’t join your club when it’s clearly something they want or need? They don’t want to take the chance of getting something different than they expect and maybe even lose money. You can eliminate this risk by guaranteeing satisfaction on what they buy. Offer a liberal, money-back guarantee. A 30-day money-back guarantee with a month-to-month membership that can be cancelled with a 30 days’ notice takes all the guesswork out of the buying process. If you’re selling personal training, offer to continue working with your client without any additional charge until the promised result is achieved.

6. Be diversified in your approach. It’s easier and less expensive to get new members from current satisfied members than to advertise for new members. So you must do all you can to keep your current members satisfied. Developing and offering new products and services to your members keeps them from getting bored, increasing their satisfaction and referrals.

7. Never stop testing your marketing. Continually test and evaluate the effectiveness of everything you do to promote your club. Here’s an effective guideline that we’ve used successfully in many clubs across the country: allocate 80 percent of your marketing budget and effort in proven club promotions, events and offers, and 20 percent in testing new ideas. But don’t just blindly try new ideas—do your research. Many health club owners use this approach and continue to see growth even in competitive marketplaces and difficult economies.

Now, evaluate how well you are implementing each of these principles in your health club. Just a small improvement in just one of them will boost your membership sales immediately. An improvement in several will generate a big increase in your total health club sales volume.