The Perfect Client
When first starting out as a trainer, I remember thinking I was going to change everybody’s lives and it was going to be so easy to do because I knew everything and to whoever was privileged enough to be my client, I was going to be their new god.
I knew what they had to do to improve their health. I knew what they should and shouldn’t be eating, I knew how to get them out of pain, I knew how to improve their posture, I knew when they needed to sleep, I knew it all. All these lucky people needed to do was apply the wisdom I blessed them with.
It doesn’t work like that, I learned.
That’s what every trainer wants though. The perfect client who follows and applies everything. You tell them every single detail of how to live a healthier life and they do it, no questions asked.
Unfortunately, these types of clients are unicorns, they don’t exist.
It’s more likely you get a client who turns up five minutes late, has three days of their food diary missing and needs to borrow some shorts to train in.
This obviously isn’t acceptable, but where do you draw the line?
A client who constantly turns up twenty minutes late without a genuine reason, or a reason that is understandable, should be spoken to firmly and ‘fired’ as your client if they persist in being late.
Circumstances do play a part in this and it’s going to be up to you to decide what is reasonable. If you have a client who’s an on-call doctor, then it’s reasonable for them to cancel five minutes before your session when they’re needed for emergencies.
Being late isn’t the only reason you would fire a client, however, there are a few steps you should go through before making that final decision.
It Starts With You
When you have a client who is either not making progress or not following your programme, you have to look at yourself first.
One mistake a lot of trainers make is they write programmes and train their clients the same way they train themselves, both from an exercise programme point of view and a coaching point of view. The bodybuilder trainer does bicep curls with their fat loss clients. The powerlifter trainer does heavy squats with their office worker clients.
In the same way, their expectation for the office worker (who’s goal is fat loss) is for them to be as strict with their food plan and to implement new lifestyle changes as enthusiastically as an aspiring powerlifter who wants to compete at an international level would.
This is the wrong way to approach training because it is doomed to fail the office worker, and it’s the trainers fault. They expect the office worker to have the drive, the time and the motivation to focus on their health and their performance all day, every day. They can’t do that.
To avoid this, you must meet your client where they are. If they’ve never trained in the gym before and need to lose 20 stone, don’t write a four session/week programme and completely change their diet.
Instead, give them one simple lifestyle change and a bodyweight programme they can do twice a week. Once they’re comfortable with that, progress their programme until they hit the sweet spot. Where they’ve found their point somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between their old lifestyle and a world class weekly health routine.
So if you think you have a problem client and you’re considering firing them, first ask yourself whether your programme could be changed to improve the situation. Are your expectations of them too high for what they want to achieve? Are you coaching them in a way that suits their personality?
It’s very easy to pass off a difficult client as being their fault, but that’s not always the case. It requires a very honest, and sometimes imaginative, look at what you can do to improve the situation before you consider firing them as your client.
The Next Step
If you’ve asked yourself those tough questions and you’re happy you’ve done everything you possibly can to help this person, the next step is still not to fire them.
Next, you have a conversation and explain your concerns. Explain what your expectations of them are as a client and that they aren’t meeting those expectations at the minute.
Also explain that clients who don’t follow the programme to a reasonable degree, negatively affect your business. If you have a client who isn’t making progress, they’re essentially a walking, talking anti-advert for your services. Their friends know they train with you and their friends know that they haven’t changed since starting to work with you. That means zero referrals from every person that client is connected to.
Essentially, what you’re doing in this conversation is giving them an ultimatum- ‘start following your programme or we’ll no longer be working together.’
Set a deadline to reassess their commitment to your programme and when that time comes, make a decision on whether you’ll continue working together.
Prevention Over A Cure
Firing a client is always a last resort but it needs to be done for the sake of your success as a trainer.
There are ways to reduce the chances of getting problem clients or stopping clients becoming problem clients.
For instance, you should always set your stall out when you first start working together. List what you expect of them, list what they should expect from you and get them to agree to it. Some form of written agreement that requires a signature usually works best (and can be referred back to, if necessary).
The Final Chance
If curing hasn’t worked, a way of getting around the need to fire a client is to move the goalposts for what you and they should expect to achieve.
Explain to them that, based on their current behaviours, instead of going a mile down the road, which is what they set their initial goals at, they’ll probably only make it half way. You must set this expectation as early as you realise that it might be the case.
Sometimes it will work to motivate your client to make the changes required to travel the entire mile, other times it’ll make them realise that half a mile is enough for them and suits their current lifestyle.
Where you set the new goalposts must be a point that you are happy with as well as them. If the new goal means they lose a single kilogram in six months, that’s probably not good enough for you to maintain a reputation of being a successful, results-based trainer.
There we go… Should you fire a client? After looking at yourself first, reaffirming your expectations with your client and, as a last chance, moving the goals posts and setting new expectations that both parties are happy with.
If all these fail, fire them.