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How to Grow Membership by Building a Gym Referral Program

Posted by Chaviva Gordon-Bennett on Sep 21, 2021 2:09:13 PM


Believe us when we say your current members are your gym’s strongest asset, particularly when it comes to bringing in new members. Today, more than 90% of people trust suggestions from family and friends, so asking your current club members to refer their friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues to your gym is a no-brainer.

Build a program with meaningful incentives, and you’re sure to watch your gym membership, retention, and revenue grow. In this article, you’ll learn why you need a referral program at your gym, how to build one, how to market your referral program, and more.

Why You Need a Gym Referral Program

Not only are referrals a low-cost way of growing your gym membership, but referrals also help you engage and retain current members. Most gyms focus all of their energy on finding new members, but retaining your existing members may be even more important to your bottom line, according to Bain & Company. In fact, a 5% increase in member retention rates could increase profits by as much as 95%.

If you can balance member retention with referral growth, you’re setting your gym up for long-term success. When you incentivize the referral process, your existing members not only gain tangible benefits (e.g., discounts, swag), but they also gain more reasons to stick with your gym and write positive reviews of your gym online.

Gym referral programs have lasting and far-reaching benefits, but gym referrals won’t happen simply because people like your gym. You have to set up a strong referral program and market it to encourage your members to bring people in.

How to Build a Gym Membership Referral Program

There are a million different ways to set up a referral program, but the most successful referral programs are based on incentives that speak to what your members want — and fit into your gym’s budget.

For example, do your members love their post-workout smoothies? Are they worried about their budget and are considering canceling? Does a member wish they had a workout buddy but doesn’t want to feel salesy with their BFF? Start by speaking to those desires or challenges by creating a referral program that offers members one-off incentives for each referral that signs up. Here are a few ideas:  

  • 20% membership discount for the next three months
  • One free smoothie or a protein bar per week for the next month
  • Free swag: branded towels, bottles, or t-shirts

You can also offer incentives based on the volume of referrals who become members. For example, if a member’s five referrals sign up, offer them a 30-minute personal training session, one-hour massage, or free body composition analysis. If you have power members who surpass five referrals, offer them a long-term membership fee discount or personal training package.

For members who want to ask their friends to join but don’t like feeling pushy, offer both the member and their friend an incentive. Whether you offer a membership discount or free group class, make sure you find out what will resonate with your members and their friends so you hit the right note on your incentives.

How to Market Your Gym Referral Program

Once you’ve created your referral program, it’s time to start marketing it to your members.

  • Step 1: Create a dedicated page on your website. Think something like thebestgymever.com/referrals. Keep it simple, and add it to your site’s navigation, too.
  • Step 2: Add as much information to the page as possible to really sell your referral program. Include what the incentives are, any disclaimers, how members can refer their contact (e.g., a form on the referral page), and so on.
  • Step 3: Start advertising your referral program to your members in as many ways as possible.

Unfortunately, you can’t rely 100% on face-to-face interactions with members to drive your referral program. To ensure your program is successful, we recommend leveraging the following strategies for marketing and advertising your program:

  • App notifications: Does your gym have a mobile app? If you don’t, you should! In-app notifications are one of the best ways to reach members about your referral program.
  • Flyers: Don’t underestimate the power of handing out flyers as members enter or leave the gym! Sometimes, a tangible document is a great way for members to carry something away to share with friends or family.
  • Posters: Hang posters around your club with concise information and invite members to find out more at your website. Include a QR code so people can quickly snap it and move on with their workout.
  • Snail mail: Send members a postcard about your new program! Include tantalizing copy, the URL, and a QR code to scan. You might even want to feature a few of the incentives to push them to find out more.
  • Social media: Share your referral program on all of your social channels to reach current members and prospective members.
  • Text: Look around your gym and you’ll see members on their phones — before, during, and after their workout. Text them about your referral program, and they can easily forward the message or sign-up link to anyone.

Lastly, don’t forget the power of email! Announce your referral program in a dedicated email to your members. Here’s a template you could use:  

Subject Line: Refer a friend and reap the rewards! 🥳


You’ve inspired us with your fitness journey, and we want to help you inspire others too.

Starting today, when you refer someone to The Best Gym Ever and they sign up, you’ll get 15% off of your monthly membership for the duration of their membership. But wait, there’s more: This offer is unlimited, which means you could be working out for free if you refer enough people!

Visit www.thebestgymever.com/referrals to learn more and start referring friends now.

See you next time!
Your friends at The Best Gym Ever 💪🏼

 Then, make sure there is a link to your referral program in every email you send out so it stays top of mind.

What to Do If You’re Not Sold on a Gym Referral Program

If you’re hesitant about launching a permanent referral program because you aren’t sure whether it will appeal to your members or you don’t have the budget, there are still a few things you can do.

Start by running a limited-time competition in which you ask members to refer people and then reward the member who submits the most referrals with a high-value incentive, such as a digital fitness tracker or vibrating foam roller. Even if none of their referrals sign up, you can still get a feel for who is interested and whether a permanent referral program makes sense and is worth the time, effort, and cost.

 Another idea is to invite members to bring a friend or family member on a specific day or over the weekend. You can offer them a free group class or an all-access pass to experience everything your gym has to offer. This tactic can help you capture prospect information and potentially gain referred sales.

 Lastly, ask your current members to “make an introduction” to someone who might be a good fit for your gym as opposed to asking them to “make a referral.” Words matter, and language around referrals can turn people off. At the end of the day, all you want is an introduction to potential members, so ask for that intro.

Work with Club OS to Measure — and Achieve — Success

More than likely, you’ll be running multiple referral programs at once, and keeping track of what is working and what isn’t working will be vital to your gym’s success. The more insight you have, the more you can repeat wins and increase gym revenue.

The easiest way to keep tabs on your referral program is to use software that can automate the gym membership referral process. For example, Club OS can automatically enter a referral into your customer relationship management (CRM) system as a prospect for proper tracking. You can then review your referral conversion report, which shows referrals acquired, who referred them, whether they attended a tour or joined, and more.

 Once these prospects are in your system, it’s time to win them over. But how? Download our free guide to why first impressions matter and learn five strategies for sealing the deal, whether online, in-person, or over the phone.

Topics: gym membership club-os prospect gym membership sales referral program increase gym revenue gym membership referall program scripts referral revenue retain how to increase gym memberships impressions


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