Want Gym Member Referrals? Create Raving Fans.

Forming meaningful relationships in your fitness business can be the difference between a new client coming or going. That's why creating a process to generate raving fans is so important.

Dan Uyemura
August 31, 2022
Forming meaningful relationships in your fitness business can be the difference between a new client coming or going. That's why creating a process to generate raving fans is so important.

Short on Time? Here’s the Quick Summary!

  1. Raving fans refer new members.
  2. You probably don’t have a scientific way to create raving fans.
  3. There’s science to human relationships that we can use to create raving fans.
  4. We outline the five steps of human relationships and apply them to stages of membership in your fitness business.
  5. Get your members to go through all the stages of human relationships and you’ve got yourself a raving fan.

How Can I Get Member Referrals At My Gym?

What makes Apple, Tesla and your fitness business similar?

It’s probably not your income statement. However, you are operating on par with some of the world’s best companies in one way: Creating Raving Fans.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that without even really trying, you probably have more raving fans per capita than any of the iconic brands we think of.

That’s quite an amazing statement, but there’s one thing I really hate about it:

You likely do not have a formal system built around something that you’re naturally doing very well.

I believe that nothing important in this world should happen by luck or accident.

If it’s meaningful to your business, yourself, your clients or your coaches, it should be well thought through and optimized for maximum results.

Your fitness business should have a strategically-designed system for marketing, sales and new-member onboarding that all but guarantees their experience and results are so great they have no option but to become a raving fan.

The Science of Human Connection

In our industry, we often talk about the “first 30 day” or “first week” experience. While this is generally the right way to think about things, I’m working on a more scientific approach.

Let’s think about this in the lens of how research shows humans form relationships - something that has been studied in depth over the last 100 years.

Conveniently enough, the framework for relationship creation follows a timeline that parallels the stages you most likely use in your gym.

Armed with this knowledge, you can think more systematically about how you approach each stage, using science as your backdrop.

The 5 Stages of Relationships

A lot of research has been done around the formation of relationships and we can leverage this to understand the path in which a person logically takes towards becoming your best client.

In future posts, I’ll dive into each stage and discuss how we can work tactics into your business that enforce or enhance these relationship stages. For today, we will just take a moment to understand them.

Here are the five stages of forming a relationship (and what stage of membership this falls into generally):

  1. Initiating (Pre-Marketing / Marketing / Initial sales conversations)
  2. Experimenting (In-gym consultation and onboarding)
  3. Intensifying - (First 15 to 60 days)
  4. Integrating (First 30 - 90 days)
  5. Bonding (45+ Days - Where fans are made!)


In our line of work, initiating is a discovery and marketing phase. Initiating is generally done before they step foot in the gym.

During this phase, people are often open to learning but defensive in nature. They are trying to pick up as much info as possible about your gym, and at the same time, they may potentially present themselves in a defensive manner.

In a business setting, this is often the cliche “tire kicking” period. A customer might be gathering information about your fitness business while also trying to signal they aren’t really interested.

It’s important to also understand that the initiating phase includes them consuming anything about your business: your blog posts, social media posts, and doing background research (Yelp, Google, etc.).

This is why it’s important to carefully groom your personal and business posts, continually solicit reviews and reply to social feedback. It gives your prospects more (carefully curated) information to base their initial impressions on.


In our setting, the experimenting phase starts when they step foot in your fitness business.

This might be for a free trial, initial consultation or onboarding experience.

In this stage, a base level of trust and mutual understanding is formed, allowing a discussion with less posturing and more reality.

The key to this phase is to make sure a personal connection can be made and trust can be formed. If a basic level of trust cannot be formed here, the relationship will end at this point.

This means you need to start demonstrating expertise and value immediately. Initiate conversations and build processes that allow prospects to connect with you as much as you’re trying to connect with them.

It’s easy to focus on what you need to do to earn their trust, but don’t forget that your potential member also needs to feel trusted for a true relationship to form.

The easiest way to make sure this phase ends in mutual trust is to find mutual connection points and dive into those.

For example, if you both love the same sports team, talk about that. Find points you both agree on. People trust those who mirror their interests, beliefs and thoughts.


The intensifying phase is a period where the relationship deepens and commitment is not only possible, but expected.

In a gym, this would be the period of buy-in. After an onboarding class or process, you might notice your member asking you about better shoes, accessories or supplementation.

This is a signal of deeper commitment and an indication of an intensifying relationship.

During this phase, you will also witness your members start to connect with the community. They might find one or two other people in the gym they gravitate toward, or begin to show interest in community events and other offerings you might have (different classes, etc).


At this stage, a member will have adopted the culture, rules and community of your gym, and see themselves as “a part of the family.”

They might start talking about your business using terms like “us” and “we” as they mentally make the shift from being an outsider to insider.

They will begin to take steps towards merging your gym’s culture and identity with their own, buying branded clothing and discussing your gym with their friends.

It’s important to notice that during this stage, they are integrating but not integrated. They will still hold some space and boundaries around their personal time.

Here, they might consider quitting an existing gym they’re a member of if they’re still holding on to that membership. But they also might hold it, just in case.


At this stage, your members are making public declarations of love for your gym - The Raving Fan!

There is no opportunity they won’t take to bring your studio into the conversation when friends, family or co-workers bring up any fitness or training conversation.

They will perform other bonding rituals including volunteering at events, asking about learning to coach, sticking around for additional help or skills, upgrading their membership, buying personal training, etc.

Relationships Are A Funnel

Like most things in business, there’s a logical funnel to relationship building. If you want to build a fitness business with hundreds of raving fans, you need to follow the natural funnel that’s engrained into our social structure.

As with other social functions, if you try to skip steps or accelerate the funnel artificially, it will feel weird and likely result in the opposite results you desire.

For instance, if you join a new company and tried to jump from orientation directly into becoming best friends with your cube-mate, that person might feel a bit creeped out.

Make sure you understand and respect this fundamental law. Everyone needs to go through each of these steps in their own time to progress to the next one!

Dan Uyemura

Dan Uyemura built his first gym in 2008. Since then he's built and sold a couple of gyms. In 2011 Dan decided to help gym owners run more stable, profitable businesses.

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