Sherri McMillan is co-owner (with her husband, Alex) of Northwest Personal Training and Northwest Women’s Fitness Club in Vancouver, WA, and Portland, OR, which was recently awarded the Better Business Bureau’s Business of the Year. She holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and was awarded the 2006 IDEA Program Director of the Year, Inaugural IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 1998 CanFitPro Canadian Fitness Presenter of the Year, and was a finalist for the 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year. She has been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years and has presented hundreds of workshops to thousands of fitness leaders throughout the world. She is the author of five fitness books and manuals and is the star of a variety of educational fitness DVDs. She is a Nike, Nautilus, Twist Conditioning and PowerBar-sponsored fitness athlete and is a fitness columnist for various newspapers, magazines and journals throughout the world. Visit her Web site at www.nwFitnessEducation.com for more details.

Think about the last time you were looking for a good restaurant. Let’s say you came across a restaurant that was empty. What were your first thoughts? Probably that the restaurant couldn’t be that good since no one was there. Typically, you’re more drawn to a restaurant buzzing with a lot of people because it seems like a good sign to you.

Well, it’s similar for a personal trainer. One of the worst things is to see a trainer sitting around all day behind a desk or just hanging out talking to other staff. The perception to a potential client is that the trainer must not be that good since he or she doesn’t have any clients.

In order to get busy, personal trainers have got to look busy. Here are some ideas to share with your team about how to look and then become busy:

Offer free training. New trainers should offer some training for free. Did I actually say free? Yep, I did. But they need to be selective about how they go about doing this and to whom they give this free training so they don’t devalue their service. They should give away training to movers and shakers in the community or high profile staff in your club. They could give a few sessions to the top sales staff, who then will talk them up to the new members, or give sessions to the most popular group fitness instructors, who also will rave about them to their class participants. They could train a few of the customer service reps, who also will share their experience with members. They could offer free training to popular veteran trainers who are too full to take on new clients so they are comfortable referring their overflow clients to the new trainers. They could choose someone in your community—a radio talk show host, the mayor, an elite level athlete, a business owner with strong relationships with lots of people in your community or the mom who is the PTA president. The only rules are that the clients must keep private that their training is free and, in return, they must rave about their personal trainer to everyone they know. Create an arrangement so that for each new client they refer, they will receive a free training session. Your new trainers will look like they have a lot of clients plus they’ll have a whole sales team selling their services. Club owners and managers should consider setting up an agreement with the new trainers to pay them a small rate (minimum wage) for doing this a certain number of hours per week as they develop their clientele base. After all, it’s in everyone’s best interest that they get a full schedule quickly.

Do mini-sessions. There is absolutely nothing like face-to-face marketing. So if a trainer doesn’t have any clients or has long breaks between clients and they want to fill their schedule, encourage mini-sessions as a way to look busy and to develop relationships with potential clients. All they have to do is approach a member doing their own thing and say something like “Hey, Sally. I have 20 minutes before my next client. I’d love to take you through a mini-workout.” Then, after finding out what they’re working on, they can take the member through a mini-session. Encourage the trainers to strut their stuff and show the member the value that they can add to their exercise experience. Nine times out of 10, this type of connection opens a dialogue about the trainers’ services. Members often tell the trainers that they had been thinking about seeing a trainer once a month to create a program for them or sometimes members ask the trainers whether doing personal training once a week would be beneficial since that’s all they can afford.

Spot in a Group Fitness Class. Suggest that your trainers approach the most popular group exercise instructors about coming to their class and providing some spotting and technique monitoring during the strength and/or abdominals sections. Any group fitness instructor would love to have this type of assistance. In return, the trainers should ask that the instructor mention the trainers’ skills and availability to offer members some solid accountability and help in reaching their goals. Spotting in a group fitness class can help trainers connect with multiple people in a short time. The trainers might meet 20 to 50 people in 10 to 15 minutes.

These approaches absolutely work, as I saw when I was consulting with a club in Oregon. The owner had just hired a new trainer who in his first month generated $7,000 in revenues. I asked the trainer what he was doing to fill his schedule so quickly. He told me that first, he gave away two personal training sessions to every employee at the club and was even doing some partner and small group training with various staff members. He had created a buzz, and everyone was talking about him.

Second, he was offering mini-sessions. One day after watching him train one of the members, I spoke with the member about how her training was going. She said, “Oh, he’s an amazing trainer. You know, I’ve been a member here for 15 years, and he’s the first trainer that has ever talked to me.” I shared this valuable information with the other trainers to emphasize the importance of connecting and developing relationships with members. They couldn’t believe it. They all insisted that they had said hi to the member every day. So I told the member what the trainers had said. Her response was, “Of course, they say hi to me and are very nice, but my trainer was the first one to ever approach me and take me through a little workout. He really showed me that I could take things to a whole other level by working with him, so that’s why I started training with him.”

When I relayed this information to the other trainers, they said that since she was at the club all the time and was in good shape, they thought she knew what she was doing and didn’t need any help. My response was, “Well, obviously, you were wrong because she’s now training three times per week and will probably be one of the best personal training clients ever.”

So never assume someone can’t benefit or isn’t interested in personal training. Even high-level, highly motivated athletes like Lance Armstrong have a whole entourage of coaches and trainers. If they can benefit from the services of a trainer, we all can.

Let your trainers know that if they get the brush-off from a few members, it shouldn’t detour them. Sometimes, you have to experience a few rejections to find those awesome, life-long clients.