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How To Prosper With a Limited Menu

by Phil Kaplan

Introduction: A Very Short Play

Prospective Client: How much is it to train with you?

Trainer: It depends.  It’s like $50 a session, unless you buy 10.  Then it would be $42.50 but you have to pay the $425 up front, and if you buy 20 it’s only $39 for a session but you have to make two payments of $390 each within the first 30 days.

Prospective Client: What if I just want to do a consultation?

Trainer: Well, a consultation’s free.

Test Questions:

  1. Does this dialogue lead the prospect to respect and understand the trainer’s value?
  2. Are the trainer’s fees clear and does the prospect completely understand his potential investment?
  3. Given the choice to spend $50, $42.50, $39, or nothing in order to meet with the trainer, which is the most appealing choice?
  4. How much does the trainer earn if the client chooses the most appealing choice?
  5. What’s wrong with this situation?


1. No

2. No

3. Nothing

4. Nothing

5. Everything . . . and it happens in the lives of most people who earn their livings . . . .

. . . as Personal Fitness Trainers.


Creating Some Clear Distinctions

The conversations as fabricated above, are all too common simply because trainer practices have not been standardized.  Even I get confused in trying to understand precisely how many trainers structure their businesses, and if I’m confused, it’s likely because they are as well.

As an example of the confusion, in my interactions with trainers of all levels, I am frequently asked about methods of handling prospect or client “consultations,” and when I’m asked these questions, I haven’t a clue what I’m being asked.  Other times I’m asked about “Orientations,” and the same thing holds true.  I have to do some probing before I understand what the trainer is asking me.  Let me explain . . . well, let me start to explain . . . let me first take you to a law firm to draw an analogy.

If you were to walk into a law firm and ask for a “Consultation,” everyone in attendance would pretty much know what you’re there for.  You’re going to sit in a conference room, an attorney will take out a legal pad (which is quite likely why they call them “legal pads”) and you’re going to spill your guts about whatever ails you legally.  Then, you take a deep breath, watch the lawyer appear to think, and pray to whatever entity you pray to that he doesn’t ask you to part with more money than you have access to.  You hope for the word “contingency.”

If you walk into a health club and ask for a “Consultation,” you may be ushered into a sales office, you may be steered toward the fitness director to assess your needs, you may be given a tour of the machines by a warm blooded individual with a “trainer” shirt on, or you may get a blank stare from the front desk attendant.  Few things in our industry are standardized which is why, as professionals, we are forced to set our own standards.

Back in the mid to late 1980’s, when I was finding my footing in this field, I decided I was going to attach my own definition to the word “Consultation.”  It wasn’t going to be a free and casual chat.  It was going to be a session.  A paid session.  A session where I acted in the role of a Professional Fitness Consultant, understanding the client’s wants, needs, and goals, and making suggestions that would prove to be invaluable in helping the client find progress.  While individuals who visit health clubs or training studios have no way of knowing what they’re in for, anyone who has scheduled a consultation with me since that pivotal point in my career paid for a session and found value in the time spent “consulting.”  If anyone considering a consultation with me were to ask any of my previous clients what to expect, I’m confident they would get a very fair representation of what the hour will have in store.

With that said, no two consultations I conduct are the same.  There I go, confusing you.  You subscribe to my newsletter for clarity, and I just completely contradict myself.  First I say my consultations are all the same, then I say they’re never the same.  What in the world am I talking about?

Actually, I’m talking about reality.  Every one of my consultations is the same . . . in both intent and format.  It begins with me sitting at my desk, with my standard information form on a clipboard, asking the all-important question, “what do you hope to get out of the next hour?”

From that point on, the specifics make each consultation unique.  I inquire as to eating and exercise habits, medical conditions, physical limitations, fitness beliefs, perceived obstacles, and existing plans as they relate to the issues revealed in the response to the “what do you hope” question.

Some people tell me they have scheduled the consultation because they want to be motivated.  Others tell me they are “on the program” but want to figure out how to make the food part easier.   Still others will tell me they want assistance in understanding how to do the exercises correctly.  The discussion will lead us to wherever we may physically venture within the confines of the hour.  Of course exercise discussions may lead us to the workout floor.  Nutritional discussions may lead us to my display of deceptive food labels.  Motivational discussions may actually keep us both in the chair, but might lead to a scenario where the client closes his or her eyes and begin to journey, mentally, way into the future.

I used to feel obligated to write things down and hand the client “notes” at the conclusion of a consultation.  I no longer do that.  Ever.  Instead I make certain the client has a notebook or pad and a pen.  I explain that we will spend the hour discussing, perhaps demonstrating and experiencing, and gaining clarity in areas where clarity may be lacking, and it would be in the client’s best interest to jot down any notes he or she feels are relevant.  Why did I make the shift?  Well, firstly, because nobody except my two assistants, Holly, and Kira, have ever been able to read my handwriting.  Secondly, because the time I spent writing (and trying in vain to write legibly) takes away from my value within the hour.  Allow me to commit to disseminating information and I’ll make sure the client comprehends the information I share.  If the client then writes something down with comprehension, the note becomes a reminder rather than a resource.  An unreadable resource would hardly be a resource at all.

Then, there’s another animal completely, and that is the Orientation.  I’m going to clarify some of the distinctions between what I call a “Consultation,” and that which I refer to as the “Orientation.”

I remember when I started my freshman year at University of Buffalo.  (Some people refer to it as UB.  I remember it as BRRRRRRRR - with teeth chattering for effect).  I was invited in August to attend my Freshman Orientation.  It was supposedly to introduce me to the school, to dormitory living, and to a new lifestyle that was founded in education.  I’d like to say I have great memories of that Orientation. The truth is, I remember very little.  I do remember the Pub, and I also remember the hangover that accompanied me home, and have vague recollections of a cheerleader who was graduating from a high school in Albany . . . but that’s ancient history.  The point is, every year students would arrive in buses for the “Orientation,” and while I’m sure no two have identical experiences, the format is consistent.

I can honestly say, nobody has ever left my Orientations with a hangover, at least nobody who didn’t walk in with one, but I can also say I’ve managed to deliver thousands of unique experiences to thousands of individuals by creating a consistent structure that applied to everyone.  Yes, sameness can lead to individualization, and the Orientation, as I’ve laid it out, is clear evidence that what I’m telling you is 100% on the money.

The Orientation and Consultation are NOT the same, at least not in my facilities.  They are menu items on a relatively short menu.  At a time when my business was primarily based on live interaction with clients in a personal training format, my menu was limited to four items, the Single Session, the Series, the Consultation, and the Orientation.  That menu can simply lead to a six-figure income and unless you choose to, you never have to grow beyond that menu.  I’ll spell out a few of the menu distinctions as we go, but for now allow me to return to the distinctions between the two menu items I’ve been discussing.

The Orientation is not a one-on-one.  In fact, if you can prevent it from ever being a one-on-one you’re ahead of the game. Once an Orientation is limited to one trainer – one client, you’re blurring the lines of Orientation / Consultation.  A Consultation, remember, is an hour of your time devoted to a single person, and you deserve to be compensated for that hour as you would any working hour, thus the Consultation commands the same fee as a single one-on-one personal training session.

The Orientation is a small group.  So, in looking at the hypothetical menu, we’d see:

Consultation: One Trainer – One Client

Orientation: One Trainer – Several Clients

There’s the first difference.  The second difference lies in the structure.  As I mentioned, the Consultation is structured, but is driven by client response.  No two Consultations will share the same information primarily because no two clients, in a one-on-one setting, will have identical needs. 

The Orientation is structured, and follows a specific outline from start to finish.  While the words, the interaction, and the references may vary, the Orientation uses a checklist, and it delivers specific information starting at the beginning of the checklist and going right through to the end.  Always.

Back to the hypothetical menu for additional clarification

Consultation: the Information presented is purely driven by expressed client need

Orientation: the Orientation is presented in a predetermined format following a set checklist of topics and ideas

Here is yet another difference:

The Orientation offers a method of delivering value at a reduced price without compromising your fees.

The Consultation preserves the integrity of your fees without putting the client at risk.

All of my sessions are backed by an unconditional money back guarantee.  The Consultation is backed by that same guarantee. If for any reason, any client feels that they didn’t receive more value than they expected from a consultation, I will gladly issue a refund.  I know when I bring this up in seminars, trainers are apprehensive. They’re afraid they’ll be giving refunds left and right.  That says one of two things.  Either the trainer needs to develop his or her confidence, or the trainer needs to develop his or her skill at delivering results.  Many of the same trainers who are apprehensive about implementing the money back guarantee policy are still conducting “free” consultations.  They attempt to explain or justify their promotional tactics with reasoning such as:

“My consultation is only 15 minutes, and I don’t actually give advice.”

“When I do a consultation, I do it free and include the fitness assessment so I can help the client see why he or she needs to commit.”

“I’ve been doing free consultations for years and that’s how I got all of my clients.”

Later, I’ll address each of these rationalizations, but for now, let’s dismiss them as excuses indicating a fear or a lack of skill on the part of the trainer. 

Here’s some food for thought for any of you who might still be hung up on the “need” to use the “f” word (free).  Why in the world would you invest your time, full knowing you are NOT going to be paid for it, in the hope that you can convince someone that you do in fact have value, rather than establishing a situation where you WILL get paid and they MIGHT ask for a refund.  In other words, isn’t it better to “maybe fail to get paid” then to “certainly fail to get paid?”

I’m writing this full knowing that my subscribers are competent and are capable of delivering results. That means that if you are still doing free consultations, it’s the result of a lack of confidence or a fear, and the best way to overcome it is to take steps toward, at the very least, testing the waters.  I have never had even a single trainer come back to me and tell me I was off base with the money back guarantee idea.  I’ve had countless trainers, perhaps numbering in the thousands, tell me the money back guarantee and paid consultation had dramatically positive impact upon their positioning and their income.

Encapsulating yet another menu description:

Consultation: carries the established one-on-one fee

Orientation: carries a reduced fee as it is NOT a one-on-one and does not in any way compromise perception of value

Let’s say you typically attract 5 people in your Orientations and that your regular one-on-one fees are $75 per session.  If you charge $20 per person for an Orientation, everyone in the room is going to be capable of doing the math.  You generated $100 for the hour.  It’s clear your value is intact.

The difference by now should clear.  Here’s what a trainer’s menu should ideally look like to optimize the potential for ultimate profitability:

Single Session – One session without any further commitment

Series – More than one session on a recurring basis with a retainer to assure attendance

Consultation – a one-on-one session, usually the first meeting between the trainer and client, that is not part of a program or predetermined plan (priced as a single session)

Orientation – the first meeting between the trainer and a client in a group setting

The Menu, with prices, would look something like this:

Single Session - $100

Series - $75 per session

Consultation - $100

Orientation - $20

You don’t need the “8 session special price,” the “two for the price of one deal,” the “30-minute rate” or the “buy one get one free” offer.  Can you add programming as your business develops?  Of course, but make the short menu work and then everything you add is based on additional revenue rather than need, and that makes for a very healthy business.

With this all spelled out, I know many of you will ask what I cover in an Orientation.  My checklist looks like this:

    1. Justify that I am going to ask questions for the attendees individual benefit
    2. Explain the concept of Synergy and explain how it applies to everyone
    3. Explain the concept of Bioindividuality and make it clear that while the foundation will be the same for everyone, the specifics will be different
    4. Find the primary need of everyone in the room, one at a time
    5. Find out some of the exercise / eating mistakes each individual is making
    6. Explain the concept of metabolism
    7. Explain why diets fail
    8. Explain how the nutrients affect the body
    9. Share the concepts of Supportive Nutrition
    10. Discuss the relationship between aerobic and anaerobic exercise
    11. Discuss the relevance of “working the core”
    12. Ask everyone in the room to think of the future and imagine what life will be like if they make the changes they seek and how that differs from where they’re headed now
    13. Conclude the Orientation with a “Congratulations” and suggest that anyone who is interested in hearing about the Personal Training options remain seated
    14. Present the “short menu” to those who remain seated and schedule one-on-one sessions with everyone who has expressed interest

From start to finish that takes me a full 60 minutes, and I’ve done it so many times I can probably do it in my sleep.  You don’t have to use my checklist, although you’re welcome to.  You just have to make sure that within the hour you spend some time listening, some time “wow-ing” them with the value of your knowledge, and some time compelling them into taking the next step and becoming clients. 

One of the greatest things about the Orientation is . . . I’m only presenting to qualified individuals.  They’ve all paid something to attend which means they all, at least potentially, see value in information and in my service(s).  When you conduct a “free” anything, you are often presenting to people who haven’t the slightest bit of interest in ever reaching for their wallet.  They’ll simply take what they can get.  Combine the qualification element and a bit of expertise and strategy and I can assure you just about everyone who remains seated upon the congratulatory expression will become a client.  It’s then up to you to keep them committed to a series.

When you grow comfortable with this short menu, all your marketing drives people to your Orientation.  Only those who express a unique need or a readiness to connect one-on-one will bypass the Orientation and go through a Consultation.  No haggling.  No hard sell.  It’s just a very clean and professional structure for growing a respected Personal Training business.

Finally, let me go back and re-address the “excuse statements” I shared earlier.  I’ll share my responses to the statements as if a trainer were telling me why these are virtuous strategies.

“My consultation is only 15 minutes, and I don’t actually give advice.”

Most trainers who say this are not conducting back-to-back consultations, so even a 15-minute commitment usually results in the loss of an hour’s pay.  If you don’t give advice, you’re wasting your time and the client’s time.  If the idea is to spend the 15 minutes with conversation designed to excite the prospect about the idea of training with you, aren’t you limiting both your income potential and your ability to prove your value?  This basically says to me, “I’m wasting an hour and I’m not doing anything even remotely related to my profession.”  Why bother? Replace the non-rewarding 15 minutes with a consultation or orientation and get paid!

“When I do a consultation, I do it free and include the fitness assessment so I can help the client see why he or she needs to commit.”

He or she would not be talking to you if he or she didn’t already know there was a need to commit.  The question is, will this person see you as the vehicle to take him (her) from where he is now to where he wants to be?  If you give your consultation away, and you include that service which most positions you as a professional (the assessment), you are diminishing or eliminating the perception of your per-hour value.  Why not do the same thing, but forget the free and offer a money back guarantee.  At least there’s the possibility you’ll get paid.

“I’ve been doing free consultations for years and that’s how I got all of my clients.”

If you’ve been doing this for years, put a pen to all the hours you worked for free.  The resulting number will say it all.  If you begin driving people to Orientations, you can invest a single hour, not in attempting to get one client, but in speaking to a group of 5-8 qualified individuals . . . and get paid for the hour.  Imagine if all of your clients came to you in Orientations and paid $20 each to attend.  How many less hours would you have invested in attracting these clients, and how much less money would you have given up (yes, a free hour doing what you’re paid to do is the equivalent of “giving up” money)?

Whether or not you agree with all of the strategies I’ve shared, at least give some careful thought to the idea of limiting your offerings to few, and making certain that each one of the few reinforced your professional stature and contributes to your bottom line.  Think it through, apply what you like, and 30 days from now you should be excited by the refinements you’ve made and the potential they bring.  Then, just when it sees as if you’re doing everything you can do . . . I’ll get you thinking again!!!  ‘Til then . . . STAY FIT AND KEEP GROWING!


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