Growing A Healthcare Referral Network - Fitness Centers

Learn how to grow your healthcare referral network with new types of referrals, such as partnerships with fitness centers.

In the world of wellness, fitness and nutrition are a natural partnership. Many clients seeking a healthier lifestyle are interested in making both dietary and exercise changes. This partnership is so natural, that many nutrition professionals also have certifications in personal training, yoga, pilates and other areas of fitness. When it comes to marketing your nutrition practice, creating partnerships with fitness centers and gyms can be a great way to gain new client leads.

Despite how naturally exercise and fitness go together, there can be some barriers to creating a mutually beneficial partnership. Learning how to approach fitness studios and pitch your nutrition services to help reach your ideal client requires a strategy. Even more, it’s essential to know the value of your services, and not to enter into any partnership where you agree to give your time or services away for free (or at a significantly discounted rate).

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Follow these tips to help you sell your nutrition services with fitness centers:

1. Network with Personal Trainers at Fitness Centers

Personal trainers at fitness centers are great individuals to help you promote your nutrition services because like you, they too have clients who have goals. It’s most likely that many of their clients share similar goals as your clients. Collaborating together to help your client reach their overall wellness goals is an effective way to achieve success.

Dietitian Lisa James, MS, RD of Newtown Athletic Club (Bucks Co PA), emphasizes that new client referrals for dietitians can come from both gyms and individual trainers. Even if your nutrition practice doesn’t specialize in sports nutrition, there is value to building relationships with trainers. As experts in fitness, collaborating and seeking advice from trainers can elevate the care provided to clients. Nurturing relationships with trainers make it easy for them to refer new clients to you, and vice versa. As you’re networking with personal trainers and selling your services at specific fitness centers, the most generous thing to do is refer clients back. You want to show your appreciation to the people working at the fitness center, and make this partnership mutually beneficial to all parties involved.

2. Join the Fitness Center Community

Successful partnerships with fitness centers often start from within the community. By becoming an active member at the fitness center, it lends an opportunity to network with trainers and members alike in a way that feels organic.

With Newton Athletic Club, James started to build her partnership with the club as a member. “You need to have your finger on the pulse of the community and/or fitness studio before you can build a relationship with the members of that studio,” James shares. This partnership later led to a job offer, as she became the registered dietitian for the club.

Similarly for Brittany L. Jones, MS, RD, LD – CEO, creating a partnership between Orange Theory Fitness (OTF) and her practice, began when she joined as a member. Instead of overtly marketing her nutrition private practice and soliciting members, she took active steps to become involved with the OTF community. Focusing on building a relationship with the studio and its members, Jones learned that “fitness studios are small businesses too and they want to support their community.” With this approach in mind, Jones was able to nurture her relationship with her primary OTF location, to create natural partnerships with multiple OTF studios in her area. As both members and the studios know her, she consistently receives referrals for her nutrition practice.

3. Display Pamphlets and Business Cards in Fitness Centers

Although basic, this approach is a great way to share your contact information with prospective members. Talk with fitness studio managers to learn about their current nutrition services and programs, and build a rapport with them. Ask if they would be willing to display your business cards and pamphlets for members to refer to. Most likely, a lot of individuals and families join a gym with different goals. It might be in hopes to lose weight, gain weight, stay in shape, or generally learn how to work out. Having your personal business cards handed out by a gym that they trust will potentially give you a greater chance of obtaining more business.  

4. Create Recipe Cards with Your Practice Contact Information

In today’s competitive business, it is more important than ever to stand out with your marketing materials. Getting creative with your marketing strategies will help your practice grow and hopefully acquire more prospective clients.

Creating recipe cards are an eye-catching way to subtly market your practice. Printed in a post-card size and on heavier stock paper, they make the perfect marketing material for fitness centers, clubs, health stores and grocery stores. Ideally, these recipe cards should have a full sized image of the finished recipe in full color on the front. The other side would be the recipe itself and your own personalized business information including your contact information and maybe a short and sweet goal setting statement.

Easy, healthy recipe ideas to include in your recipe cards for fitness centers:

  • Healthy smoothies and shakes
  • One-pan dinner meals
  • High-protein lunch options
  • Snack tips for pre-workouts

5. Host a Table During Wellness Events

Having a presence during a wellness event can be a great way to market your nutrition practice. Hosting a table during off-times at the fitness center will likely get you little visibility, so push to be included in one of the gym’s larger events. Many gyms have periodic wellness events throughout the year, and you can ask to see a calendar of their events. Find the wellness events that may be of value to your ideal client, and offer to host a table with information and other engaging incentives that will compliment the event.

Below are some ideas to help you work out a successful table to promote your services.

  1. Offer free mini nutrition consults for gym members
  2. Have a table with handouts and healthy snack or smoothie samples
  3. Offer a healthy cooking class
  4. Packaged fitness and wellness challenges

When hosting wellness tables at her fitness center, James includes information to attract her ideal clientele, including: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, behavior modification and sports medicine. Although, she shares that you don’t need to specialize in sports nutrition for you to be able to successfully market your practice to club members. If this is not your niche, there are likely members in the club who are your ideal client.

Quite typically, you should expect to host your table for free (fitness centers won’t generally be willing to pay you for this time). However, the time invested in running your wellness table for a few hours can have a great payoff. When launching her nutrition practice, Jones found that in one month, 40% of her clients came from referrals from her fitness center.

6. Create a Nutrition Workshop

Creating a nutrition workshop for gym members can be a great way to get “in-front” of your ideal client. Workshops allow you to showcase the value of working with you, and establishes yourself as a nutrition expert in the fitness center.

Jones recommends getting creative with your workshops, by picking timely and relevant topics that will resonate with gym members. Her nutrition workshops focus on either seasonal challenges like “Tail-gaiting” and “Healthy Vacation Tips,” to combatting the “Top diets of 20XX.” Getting in front of members and trainers alike, has allowed her to establish herself as the nutrition expert. Per Jones, “you need to make sure that they see you as the nutrition expert and that their trainers aren’t giving out  [nutrition] advice as well.”

For fitness centers, having a comprehensive practice management system is also imperative. Click here to learn how you can try Healthie’s platform for free.

7. Offer a Sign on Discount for Gym Members

When individuals are already spending their money on a costly gym membership, they of course look for anything that can save them money. To further help your nutrition practice, provide a discount for any gym members that sign up for a consult in the first two weeks after meeting you and learning about your services.

Pro Tip: Be wary of any fitness partnerships that ask you to discount your services significantly,  give your time away for free or promise to pay you at the end of a program. Your time is valuable, even if you’re just starting your nutrition private practice. Gaining new client leads, and offering a slight sign-on discount, is different than offering to do a workshop for free. If you begin your partnership by giving away time and resources, it will be hard to negotiate higher, fair rates for your services down the road.

Building a referral partnership with fitness centers is a valuable, and natural way to grow your nutrition private practice. By creating relationships with fitness centers, trainers and members, it helps to create a natural referral path back to your business. Taking steps to establish yourself as the nutrition expert within the community will keep your business top-of-mind for referrals.

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