Customer retention is key to the success of any business, especially those in the fitness industry that rely on continued memberships and class attendance. But how to get new gym members who will stick with you? One way is through a gym referral program.

Referral marketing is the most effective marketing strategy for fitness businesses, as data shows that referred clients have a 37% higher retention rate than non-referred clients. It’s also a low-cost, high-impact way to grow your business.

In this article, we’ll explore what gym referral programs are and how they work, the benefits of using a refer-a-friend program for your gym, the key factors to consider when deciding if a referral program is right for your business, and how to best leverage a gym referral program. Whether you’re a seasoned gym owner or just starting in the fitness industry, this article is packed with valuable information and ideas for your referral program, to help you attract new members and grow your business. So let’s dive in and learn more about the power of gym referral programs.

What are gym referral programs?

A gym referral program (or fitness referral program) is a digital rewards program that incentivizes your current gym, fitness studio, or health club members to refer their friends and colleagues to join your gym.

With a gym referral program, you offer rewards or incentives to your members for each successful referral they bring in, such as discounts, free classes, upgraded memberships, or other perks tied to your gym. By offering these rewards, you can motivate current members to act as advocates for your business and help you acquire new members through word-of-mouth marketing.

Gym member referral programs can also help build a community and increase retention among your current members. When members connect to and invest in your gym, they are more likely to stick around and renew their membership, which is essential for the success of any fitness business.

crunch fitness referral program

Gym referral programs are automated

A gym referral program is an automated program that tracks the referrals your existing customers make. It’s not a cumbersome manual setup where friends mention the name of the member who referred them and you have to keep track on your own. And it doesn’t involve print referral cards, either.

It’s best to set these programs up with referral marketing software. This makes it easy for you to manage the program – and accurately reward gym members for their referrals.

Top 5 benefits of gym referral programs

A gym referral program can be a powerful tool for attracting new members, increasing retention, and growing your business. By leveraging your current gym members’ positive experiences and recommendations, you can reach a larger audience and create a sense of community that sets your gym apart from the competition.

Here are just a few of the benefits of gym referral programs:

1. Members are your best advertisers

As they are already familiar with the benefits of your gym and have firsthand experience with your services, they can provide reliable and trustworthy recommendations to their friends and colleagues. This can be especially effective as people tend to trust the recommendations of their friends and family more than any other form of advertising.

2. Referral programs tap into community-building

Working out is more fun with friends, so members have an intrinsic motivation to refer. When members have the opportunity to invite their friends and work out together, it can make the gym experience more enjoyable for everyone involved. This can lead to increased retention and loyalty among your current members.

3. Tracking the advocacy of your members is easy

With a referral program in place, you can follow the advocacy of your members and measure the success of your referral efforts. This can provide valuable insight into how well referrals promote your business and help you identify areas for improvement.

4. Referred members have a higher lifetime value

Referred members are more likely to renew their membership and remain loyal to your gym because they trust the recommendations of their peers. This is especially important for the long-term success of your gym, as membership renewals are a vital factor in the sustainability of any fitness business.

5. Gym referral programs are cost-effective 

By offering rewards or incentives to your current members for each successful referral they bring in, you can attract new members at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing methods. This makes a gym referral program a cost-effective way to grow your customer base.

HFMA Membership referral program

Referral software for gyms [Free Tools]

These referral tools for gyms are a free and easy way to help you start your referral program.

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Will a gym referral program work for you?

Deciding whether a gym referral program is right for your business requires careful consideration and evaluation of your circumstances. While referral programs can be a powerful tool for attracting new members and growing your business, they may only be suitable for some gyms.

One of the critical factors to consider is whether you have the necessary digital infrastructure to support a referral program. Referral programs track referrals and reward members digitally, so it’s essential to have a website or online member management system in place. Referral programs can work for some brick-and-mortar gyms, studios, and fitness clubs, but only if they can manage referrals and memberships digitally (via their website).

Another important factor is your reputation for providing a high-quality gym membership experience that sets you apart. If your gym is known for its exceptional services, equipment, and facilities, it will be easier for your members to recommend you to their friends and colleagues. On the other hand, if your gym is struggling with customer satisfaction or lacks the amenities and services that set you apart from competitors, a referral program may not be as effective.

Finally, it is crucial to have a solid base of happy, engaged members who enjoy their experiences at your gym. These members are more likely to recommend your gym to their friends and become advocates for your business. If you don’t already have a strong base of satisfied members, it may be worth focusing on improving the customer experience before launching a referral program.

Overall, a gym referral program can be a valuable tool for attracting new members and growing your business, but it’s essential to carefully evaluate whether it’s the right fit.

Gym referral program best practices

Implementing a successful gym referral program requires careful planning and attention to detail. Here are some gym referral program ideas, and best practices to follow, to ensure the success of your program.

1. Select motivating but cost-effective rewards

When designing a successful referral program, one of the critical considerations is selecting the right rewards. The referral incentives you offer should motivate current and new members while also being cost-effective for your business.

Rewards that tie back to your gym or fitness center, such as discounts on membership payments, free membership for a month, or free classes, are efficient and cost-effective. These rewards motivate existing and new members to stay with your gym, increasing retention and loyalty.

Other options include upgraded memberships, fitness apparel or gear, free classes for referral program participants, membership perks like exclusive events or discounts on personal training sessions, and branded swag.

It’s also worth considering non-traditional rewards, such as cash incentives, coupons, or gift cards to other health-minded businesses that don’t compete with yours. These rewards can appeal to certain members – but weigh the cost and effectiveness of these rewards against options that connect with your gym.

Ultimately, the key is to find the right balance between offering motivating incentives to your members and being cost-effective for your gym. By carefully selecting the right rewards, you can maximize the effectiveness of your referral program and drive growth for your business.

world gym referral rewards

2. Reward both the referring member and the new member

The best referral programs reward both the referring member and the new member, for maximum effectiveness.

Rewarding the referring member can motivate them to continue advocating for your gym and encourage their friends and colleagues to join. This, in turn, can drive more referrals and help to grow your business.

Offering rewards to new members can also be beneficial, as it can help to make their transition to your gym more welcoming and encourage them to become loyal, long-term members. This can be especially important for new members referred by a friend, as they may be more likely to trust the recommendation and feel more connected to the gym.

jetts gym referral program

By offering rewards to both parties, you can increase the likelihood that the referring member will make more high-quality referrals and that the new member will stick with your gym. This will create a more seamless and effective referral process that drives growth for your business.

The best rewards for new members are the ones that tie back to your gym. For example, you might offer a free month of membership, a free week of classes, a discount on their membership payment, or a membership upgrade.

3. Mobilize your best advocates first

Mobilizing your best advocates is essential in launching a successful gym referral program. By engaging your best advocates first, you can tap into their enthusiasm to build momentum for your program. This can be especially effective in driving high-quality referrals, as these advocates are likely to be trusted sources and have a strong influence on their peers.

Where to find your best advocates? Identify your most committed members, who have been with your gym the longest or have taken the most classes. Also, look for the members who already talk about your gym in person, on social, or in positive reviews – the more frequently, the better. And if a member recently posted a positive comment, left a positive review, or gave positive in-person feedback, they will also make a great advocate. 

Once you’ve identified these members, reach out to them with a personalized note. Invite them to help recruit new members through the referral program, and provide them with any resources or information they may need. Consider offering special incentives or referral rewards for these members to thank them for their loyalty and support.

After you have mobilized your best advocates, you can roll out the referral program to all members. By following this process, you can ensure that your referral program is off to a strong start and drive growth for your business.

4. Make sharing easy and compelling

To make sharing easy and compelling, consider the user experience of your referral program. Members should be able to find and share the program in as few clicks or taps as possible.

On your program page, include an eye-catching headline that encourages sharing and that advertises your referral program’s incentives. Then, explain concisely how the program works and provide step-by-step instructions for referring friends (listing three to four easy steps is best).

manny cantor fitness: refer, receive 50% off, repeat

It’s also essential to clarify the reward rules so members understand exactly how they can earn incentives through the referral program. For example, specify whether the existing member gets the reward when the new member makes their first payment.

To make sharing even easier, provide multiple sharing options, such as email, social media, SMS, or a referral link that customers can copy and share anywhere.

Also, consider linking to a separate referral FAQ page to answer any additional questions members may have about the program. By making sharing easy and compelling, you can increase the effectiveness of your referral program and drive growth for your business.

5. Focus on friendship and community

It’s important to highlight the personal connection between existing members and their friends when promoting your referral program. On your program page, emphasize the idea that members are helping their friends by referring them to your gym. Remind members that there’s no better proof of the value of your gym than a recommendation from a satisfied member.

Highlight the benefits of your gym, like state-of-the-art equipment and professional classes, and explain how to pass on these benefits to friends through referrals. You may also mention how sharing helps a friend’s well-being through improved health, wellness, strength, or confidence.

Finally, remember to play up the community element of your gym. Emphasize the idea that working out is more fun with friends, and encourage members to refer their friends to join the community at your gym. By focusing on friendship and community, you can create a sense of connection and belonging among your members and drive growth for your business.

pa fitness referral program

6. Promote your program

To maximize the success of your gym referral program, promote it on various channels and at a regular cadence.

This includes promoting the program on your website, through dedicated emails and newsletters, on social media, in your email signature, through physical signage in your gym, with flyers, and in direct conversations with members.

gold's gym twitter referral promo

Pro tip: Using real testimonials of successful referrals can be a powerful way to promote your referral program on social media. Promoting your referral program on multiple channels and consistently reminding members about it increases the chances of acquiring new customers through referrals.

7. Use referral software

Using referral management software is essential to running a successful gym referral program. Not only does it make it easier to create and manage your program, but it also helps track your program’s success and identify areas for improvement.

With referral software, you can create a personalized referral experience for your gym, track referrals with unique referral links for each member, issue rewards for successful referrals, and collect program data to measure success and make changes as needed.

Set up your gym referral program in days (not months) with Referral Rock software – no coding needed! Plus, Referral Rock lets you promote your program automatically, for scalable, cost-effective growth.

8. Track and measure your success

The key to any marketing campaign is tracking and measuring your success. You’ll want to follow your referral program’s performance over time to see how many referrals are coming in and how long they stick around once they join. This will help you determine whether or not your strategy is working, which will help you tweak it as needed.

Here are some essential metrics to track for gyms:

  • The number of referrals: This will give you an idea of how well your referral program is performing. Keep track of the number of referrals you receive over specific periods.
  • Referral conversion rate: This is the percentage of referred friends who ultimately join your gym. Tracking this metric will show you how effectively your referral program converts leads into paying members.
  • Referral retention rate: This is the percentage of referred members who stick around. Compare this to the overall retention rate for all members to see if referred members are more likely to stay.
  • Percentage of members making referrals: Knowing how many current members are participating in your referral program can help you identify potential bottlenecks or issues.

Tracking these metrics will give you valuable insights into the performance of your referral program, allowing you to make data-driven decisions to improve its effectiveness.

Overcoming gym referral program challenges

Although referral programs can be highly beneficial, you may still run into some challenges when starting one. If you have a brick and mortar structure, you’ll have a more limited radius for referrals than fully online businesses do. Also, customers’ friends who are interested in a gym might already be working out at a competing gym – or working out at home because a gym isn’t a priority expense. 

How to overcome these challenges? Try the following strategies:

  • Offer membership discounts for referrals that beat the membership price of your competition.
  • Play up the benefits of working out at the same gym as friends do.
  • Ask current members what they’d like your gym to offer, and what would encourage them to refer friends to join. Then, apply their suggestions.

Wrapping up

A gym referral program is a cost-effective way for fitness businesses to acquire and retain new members. Statistically, referred individuals tend to have a higher lifetime value and are more likely to renew their gym membership.

By rewarding both the referring member and the new member, gym owners can encourage more high-quality referrals and increase retention rates. To make the most of a referral program, select motivating but cost-effective rewards, make sharing easy and compelling, and promote the program on various channels.

Referral software can also streamline the process and make tracking and measuring success easier. By following these best practices, you can effectively leverage the power of word-of-mouth marketing and grow your fitness business.

If you want to get started with a referral program, contact Referral Rock today to schedule a live session and learn how to get more referrals and new members with our software.