The Problem with Giving Away Training Services For Free

When I first started personal training, “free” was a big part of my life. In the very large 24-hour fitness facility I worked at, it was one of the few ways to obtain a new personal training client.  And, this was important because training clients was both how I gained experience and how I made the majority of my income. You know the drill: members are offered a free personal training session or assessment, you, as an unpaid trainer or trainer earning a floor-hour rate, take them through some equipment, possibly some testing and hopefully sell them on being a client.  

The process is often not that successful in converting people into paying clients. (Explanation forthcoming.)

Later, when I first started as an independent trainer, my then studio manager told me, “People love free.” So, not knowing any better, I offered a weekly body weight boot camp class for free hoping to obtain a client or two. Considering it was just a few hours of my time per month, it was worth it. Right?


Quote: The problem with free is that you're attracting the wrong kind of client."


First, it wasn’t a well thought out marketing idea. Nearly everyone at that personal training studio was already paired with a trainer. In addition, we had very few strictly gym membership members that would be expecting a group class or looking for a trainer.

To be clear, my experience is not the only gauge. In fact, many free classes and promotions are well attended and that’s great. You and I have taken advantage of such events, I’m certain. We have even hosted such events. But, what is your specific endgame in marketing your services with a free offer? Take a moment and think about it. I’ll wait…

What is your hope in offering something for free? Why are you giving a free assessment, free introductory session or free class? To gain exposure to more people? To increase your social media following? To offer the community a valuable, complimentary service? To practice your assessment or training skills?

My belief? You ultimately offer your services for free to OBTAIN CLIENTS.

And let’s think it through, you don’t want just any client, you want AWESOME CLIENTS.

You want clients that understand what kind of services you provide, what you are worth and the value your services bring to their life.  You want clients that want to make a change and are willing to follow your guidance, pay for your services and put in the work required to transform their bodies and lives. And, quality personal training is a high-end service. No doubt about it. No way around it. And, great clients understand that or have some inclination at the start. (And if only an inclination of your place in the market, you then gently and subtly teach them that quality personal training is a high-end service with a price point reflecting such.)

With all of that in mind let’s examine…

7 Reasons Why FREE Fails

Reason #1 You’re attracting the wrong people.

Ideal clients are not necessarily the people taking advantage of free sessions. Why? Because awesome clients want to find a long-term trainer that can get them to their goals more than they need a free session. In addition, they understand that your services have value and as such require compensation.

Reason #2 Ideal clients understand that quality personal training costs money.

Most great clients understand varying price points within a category of products or service. A four-course meal at a fine dining restaurant costs more than a fast food burger for a reason. You, as a quality professional offering a potentially life-changing personal service deserve more than a workout DVD that, understandably, offers no accountability, feedback, assessment, follow-up and limited education.

Reason #3 Not using a proper client intake process.

No one is talking about it, but this nonsense in our industry of putting someone through a very intense free workout with no assessment, conversation about goals and history, protective waiver or PAR-Q as a tool for showing the client how out of shape they are and subsequently in need of training is asinine.  Some clients do sign up after this very misguided tactic. However, many are left unduly sore, once again turned off to the gym/training environment, or (heaven help us) injured. Giving free workouts without the proper intake process puts the client, you, your reputation and your assets at risk.

Reason #4 You’re selling yourself short.

Strictly from a sales perspective, no matter how conscientious you are in an initial free workout, unless you have asked important questions addressing the client’s medical and injury history, goals and preferences you are still at a disadvantage. Without this knowledge, you are unable to offer them the best impression of your training. You have eliminated your potential to show them your knowledge base and how your skills can solve their particular problems.

Reason #5 Missing out on potential revenue.

An initial assessment is a very valuable aspect of your training. It is time-consuming, takes advantage of the systems you have created as a business owner, tests your knowledge and often involves some research or resource suggestion. If clients don’t know that, they should be gently taught. How? By your decision to charge for this valuable service. Your attention to understanding their history and their future goals and developing suggestions and plans for them has tremendous value. This value is understood and appreciated when purchased. It is often dismissed and undervalued when given away for free.

Reason #6 Missing out on the value of your services.

We generally DO NOT value what we get for free. How many of you have had a potential client cancel or no show a free initial appointment? I’m guessing a lot. Why? Because, it is free.  Of those that do show up, how many become long-term clients? Or how many are shocked by the price of personal training? Let’s think this through; it’s not really their fault. By offering that session for free you are teaching the potential client: “what we are about to do does not have enough value for me to charge you.” Yikes. That. Is not. The case. You have a responsibility to communicate your worth.

Reason #7 You deserve to be paid for your services.

I frequently witness a discomfort in asking for what we are worth among women. This alone could and will be the topic of multiple subsequent posts. For now, keep in mind that in the United States, women are still earning 79% of their male counterparts according to the American Association of University Women. (Anyone else’s blood pressure go up?) Implementing a rule for your business that you will not give services for free not only affects your bottom line, it gradually and effectively affects your sense of professional worth. And, that is priceless.

Much is communicated in charging competitive rates for your services and understanding the inherent problems with free. Take these points as your inspiration and open your mind to more effective marketing tools in your quest to obtain awesome clients.

Where does FREE function?


A weekly newsletter (and repurposed blog and social media posts) that inspires and educates is a great way to keep current clients engaged and share your voice with potential clients debating whether or not to make that initial contact.

Open House with a theme or presentation

Inviting current clients to an open house with a free gift when you bring a friend IS a good idea. Consider offering an explanation of a common fitness myth or workshop that would help attendees define their healthy living goals.

Gifts for existing clients “just because.”

Whether it’s choosing their favorite from a basket of your favorite protein bars or company screen-printed tees, a spontaneous free gift is a great way to generate client loyalty and appreciation. Happy, clients are one of the absolute best marketing tools we have. Care for existing clients and illustrate your appreciation for their patronage with a spontaneous “thank you, just because.” (Read more about that here.)

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