Increase Memberships With A Strong Referral Program

Design a powerful referral program to incentivize your members. Create fun rewards for people to spread the word and watch your revenue increase.

Monica Hilton
September 19, 2022
Increase Memberships With A Strong Referral Program
Design a powerful referral program to incentivize your members. Create fun rewards for people to spread the word and watch your revenue increase.

Referral programs are powerful, but often underutilized in business. In fact, if you own a CrossFit affiliate, you’re basically a referral program for the CrossFit brand. You’re referring your local demographic to CrossFit products and earning money for it.

Let’s apply that same model to your memberships. A referral program can be far more effective - and far less expensive - than ad spending for your marketing plan. It also uses the most powerful, time-tested method of marketing available: word of mouth. Ultimately, you don’t have to spend money because these referrals come straight to you.

Ideas To Implement A Referral Program Effectively:

Refer-a-Friend vs. Referral Program

Encourage members to refer friends

It’s all in the name. If you launch a “new referral program,” it might not be crystal clear to your members that you’re asking them to invite their friends and family. However, if you introduce “Bring-a-friend Saturday,” it’s pretty obvious what you’re asking members to do. Once you’ve made it understandable, make it simple and limited. Bringing a friend to class shouldn’t require anyone involved to jump through hoops. Also, don’t offer an event like this every week or people will lose the motivation to act.

Pro tip: When potential members walk through the door, be sure to provide info about your gym’s pricing and schedule. And don’t be afraid to ask for the sale!

Target Your Ideal Members

People tend to surround themselves with like-minded people. You know that ideal member: The one who shows up consistently, encourages other people, gets involved in your community events, etc. Chances are, that ideal member has other people in their life that would also be ideal for your gym.

Whether it’s consistent promotion of your referral program for a gentle nudge or straight-up asking them if they know people who would be interested, focus on filling your gym with more ideal members.

Highlight Referrals on Sign-Up Forms

Let’s make it easy to refer someone. In your sign-up form, include a space that asks the person if they were referred by someone, and to list their first and last name. You can even include a note that the person who referred them will be rewarded.

From here, make a simple, back-end process. Either offer the reward instantly (much better for member retention and happiness), or monitor new sign-ups a few times often to credit rewards as soon as possible.

Promote your referral program everywhere. When you and your staff are talking to prospects, include the fact that you offer referrals if they have a friend or relative sign up for a designated period of time. Integrate this into the overall plan.

Remember: Don’t put restrictions around referrals. Make them plain and simple so that they’re easy for your members to understand, and easy for you to implement and pay out.

Refer friends to work out together

Get Creative With Rewards

When it comes to rewards, you can stick to the basics or get creative. The most important thing is to make the value of the reward match the value of the referral.

Before you brainstorm a ton of reward ideas, remember that there’s no guarantee the new member will be a long-term one. You don’t want to offer an all-expenses-paid trip to a member who refers a friend that sticks around for one month. Ideally, they’ll be a member for years but don’t take chances with your profit.

Reward Ideas For Every Referral

Credits for Existing Members

When a current member refers a friend, thank them by crediting their account. This is a simple and effective way to build a strong referral program. For example:

You can choose to limit the items that the credit can be applied to. For instance, you can simply credit the amount of their next membership billing. Or you could place a $100 credit on a member’s account that can be used for pro shop items (protein bars, energy drinks, etc.) but not for membership dues.

Cash Back

Cash is always king and that applies to rewards as well. Whether you’re handing members cash on the spot or paying it out through an app, cash is a huge incentive.

The reward doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Remember to make the value correlate to the revenue for your gym. You can give members a choice between a smaller cash-back reward (maybe 25% of the new member’s first dues) or a higher membership credit (40% of the new member’s first dues). This makes members feel like they’re in control, which is an integral part of an unforgettable member experience.

Offer free classes in referral program

“Pay It Forward” With Free Classes

Inevitably, you’ll have members who refer friends just because they like your gym and/or want to work out with people they know. They aren’t necessarily motivated by the rewards in your referral program but simply want to help spread the word for you.

You can still reward these awesome members with free class passes, allowing them to “pay it forward.” Most prospective members can try one class for free. With referral passes, your member has the opportunity to provide a free week for their guests. This makes the member feel unique and their guest feel like they’re getting a special deal.

Since most classes aren’t at capacity, there’s no additional overhead for you. Plus, after a week of classes, there’s a good chance the referral will turn into a member.

Free Merchandise

People love free stuff. Your members will already love the chance to work out with friends and family, but throw in a free shirt and you’re on your way to creating raving fans in your gym.

Even though the merchandise isn’t free for you, your MSRP is likely much lower than what customers think. You can also create an incentive program so that members can rack up referral points for various levels of free merchandise.

Bonus: Merchandise means free advertising for you in the community. When members are wearing your gear or drinking from the coffee mug with your logo on it, potential customers are seeing your brand.

In Summary: A Referral Program Can be Powerful

When your current members are excited about your gym, they’ll do everything in their power to bring in more clients. The first step is creating an incredible member experience to make them die-hards for your brand. Then design a powerful referral program to incentivize your members. When you have the correct systems in place, get ready to watch your brand grow, your members rave and your revenue increase.

Monica Hilton

Monica is our Content Manager extraordinaire for PushPress. She also owns her gym in Indianapolis, Together We Rise CrossFit, which she opened in 2014 and previously worked in IndyCar racing.

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