The process of setting goals with clients is vitally important to your business health. It’s easy and natural to talk about goals when prospective clients enter your world as a fitness professional. At that moment we know the potential client is looking for something they don’t already have and it’s only natural to enter into a conversation about goals and aspirations. In fact your success at closing the sale depends on it.

But after a few months or years of training so many fitness professionals lose sight of the importance of continuing this process.

We get busy running the business, meeting deadlines and paying bills and we are always looking for more new clients because of the natural attrition rate in our business.

By paying closer attention to our existing members we can reap huge benefits. It’s cheaper and easier to keep our clients than to find new ones. With new people, at a minimum, we need to recruit them, orient them to our system, set them up in our software system, train them in the fundamentals of our program and guide them into our structure of program offerings as well as answer numerous questions. This all takes a significant amount of time and a lot of personal energy. This is your initial investment in your new client.

With our existing clients all of this initial investment work has been done. Often fitness professionals begin to make some assumptions about their clients, the most significant one is that the client is committed to our program now and all we have to do is to provide our outstanding program and everything will work out fine. Then we are surprised when the client moves on to a cheaper program with our competition, leaving us frantically searching for a “replacement.”

Rather than make assumptions about our clients, we should commit to a routine goal- setting sessions and watch your average retention rate improve dramatically.

Step 1 – Invite Them to a Meeting.

Let your clients know that you are providing everyone with the opportunity to take a few minutes to talk about their goals fitness and wellness for the year ahead. Let them know that this is part of your regular programming and your goal is to help them be successful in accomplishing their goals. If you have a facility with classes, make announcements and hang up a flyer and start scheduling times. This is especially easy if you have scheduling software that your client can use. Simply make yourself available at times and let them schedule at their convenience. If your business is primarily one-on-one, give them a couple of weeks notice of when you plan to have this conversation.

For planning purposes, schedule all of your meetings within a two-week period of time. While it may be uncomfortable to fit everyone in, the advantages outweigh the temporary inconvenience. See the behind the scenes section below:

Step 2 – Choose the Right Setting

If you have a facility your goal setting meetings should be held in a private setting. I highly recommend a closed-door session without distractions. Besides giving you complete privacy, the closed door sends a message about how important this session is.

In a one-on one environment which is already a private session, make the goal setting conversation a part of the general workout session. You can easily ask questions, and get feedback, while the client is working out without interrupting the flow of the session.

Step 3 – Listen

In a goal setting session it is critically important to listen to what the client is saying. Listening is not as easy as most people think. Focus on what the client is really saying. Explore the question and dig deeper. Ask them why they have not achieved this goal already. Ask what will happen when they accomplish this goal. Listen to the words they say and use. Listen for the emotion in their voice. This will help you discover what is really important. Remember the goals have to be important enough for the client to do the work necessary to achieve the goal.

Step 4 – Give Feedback

For example: Everyone wants to lose weight. I get it. But why do they want to lose weight? Nine out of ten times it comes down to the client wanting to look better. This is usually a dimension issue rather than a weight loss issue. Understanding this fundamental difference is critical. Most clients, when they understand this difference, lose their attachment to a number on a scale and focus on more real, achievable and relevant metrics such as belt size or waist size.

Apply the same logic to other common goals such as lifting a certain weight. What will that allow the client to do? Translate it to something relevant to the client such as a better score in the CrossFit Open, or whatever.

Step 5 – Reach Agreement, In Writing

You are the professional and people are paying you for your expertise. They want and expect you to guide them toward their goals. Often times this means scaling their initial expectations back to something very doable. This is where your training and expertise comes in. Make sure you guide them towards goals that are a stretch, but doable. Remember that you will be meeting with this client again in a few weeks and you want to be in a position of building on small, successfully completed steps.

Agree on the goals and the time-line that you are working with.

Make sure that you ask them the all important question: What do they need from you in order to be successful. This is where you really want to listen. You will likely get some great feedback about your program and the areas you may want to address in the future. Take some notes so you will remember and the client will know that their feedback is critical to you.

Step 6 – Schedule the Next Meeting

The best interval for the follow up meeting is generally eight to twelve weeks. Consider this timing when planning out the goals and the small steps required to get to accomplishment. And most importantly remember that this sequence should be repeated throughout the next twelve months. Let the client know this is the plan also. Seeing the bigger picture can be very comforting, especially if the initial goals aggressive, as they usually are with most of us.

Keep your planning flexible. Let the client know that you are available to meet earlier if they need additional encouragement or if they have accomplished the goal ahead of schedule. This kind of flexibility and concern signals to your clients how important they are to you and how much you care about them and their success.

Step 7 – Record Notes

Take the time to put your agreement in writing and have both of you sign it. If it is not in writing, it will be too easy to forget what was said. Of course you want to give your clients a copy of the goal planning sheet and the schedule for the next meeting.

Make sure to take some time immediately after the session to make some notes for yourself and /or your staff. These are your private notes and can include things such as when you should check in to see how they are doing.

Behind the Scenes:

As you complete the sessions, take some time to meet with yourself. What did you learn? What are the common themes? What programming insights did you discover?

Share the appropriate levels of information with your staff team. Obviously don’t share deeply confidential information without permission from the clients. But certainly share the observations and themes you discovered. Then discuss what strategies you should use to improve your programming.

Ninja Tip: if you have enough people wanting the same thing, you might be able to add another program to your offerings. Or you might find a need for other programming such as one-one-one, one-on two, one-on-three, especially if you have several people with similar goals. There may also be an opportunity for specialty classes such as Olympic Lifts.


There is a saying, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” What better way is there to show your people how much you care, than by having routine scheduled goal setting sessions with them?

From a business perspective the time you invest in this process with a single person is less that you will invest in securing one new client and starting from the beginning. People want quality. People will buy quality. Separate yourself from the competition and have routine goal setting sessions with each client as long as they are part of your tribe.